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Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.

Kong: Skull Island
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and Corey Hawkins
Synopsis: It’s been more than 80 years since King Kong, the giant, powerful gorilla first swung into our lives. He famously made his debut in 1933 in a feature film, and has been part of the cultural landscape ever since. King Kong has been on the stage, a part of the studio tour for Universal Studios, in the comics, in video games and a featured player in subsequent films in 1962, 1967, 1976 and 2005. Each time the stories have changed but the basic essence of King Kong has remained the same. And he’s remained a vibrant cultural symbol since his first appearance in 1933. Now, Kong is back in another feature film — “Kong: Skull Island,” which opened last Friday. The film, set in 1973 at the tail end of the Vietnam War, takes a group of soldiers, scientists and explorers to a previously unknown island where they find more than they bargained for. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who previously directed the smaller independent film “Kings of Summer,” does a nice job with the scope and spectacle of this story. While at the same time, “Skull Island” is a film that is mostly interested in building its characters. But it is still a King Kong movie. There’s plenty of action, plenty of destruction and many characters who meet and untimely fate. It also diverges from some of the typical clichés — including the forced love story between Kong and the only major female character in the cast. That’s a welcome change. And rather than bringing the battle to New York or another major metropolitan city, “Skull Island” feels a little more like a “Jurassic Park”-type film. It’s contained on the island of wonder, and the major players come, endure a struggle, and make their way home at the end. The film is blessed with a star-studded cast who all do a nice job with the action and the story. I liked Hiddleston and Larson in the lead roles, Reilly adds plenty of comic relief and Jackson is always a welcome sight in these kind of films. “Kong: Skull Island” adds a new chapter to the lore of King Kong. It doesn’t seek to re-create earlier films, but rather to use an iconic character to put its own spin on the genre. And it does so in an breezy, entertaining way. It’s not deep, but it’s like a little bit of summer movie season come early. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon in March.
Rating:  PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

The Shack
Starring: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Radha Mitchell, and Tim McGraw
Synopsis: Based on the popular novel, this film is about a man going through a Spiritual crisis. He had a rough childhood and the loss of a child pushes him to the breaking point. But a weekend at the shack where his daughter's body was found turns out to be the salve needed to help heal his wounded soul. This film is well-made, and has a decent cast. I liked a lot of the visuals and the way the film is put together. You know from the jump that this is a film meant to elicit a strong emotional response, and for the most part it does. There's some beautiful moments and some tough moments. Ultimately, the film isn't the greatest theological tool. If you go in looking for something deep and profound, you'll likely be disappointed. But it's far from the worst faith-based film to hit theaters in recent years.
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including some violence.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.

Upcoming Releases:
Friday, March 17 — "Beauty & The Beast"
Friday, March 24 — "Life," "Power Rangers," "CHiPS"
Friday, March 31 — "The Zookeeper's Wife," "The Boss Baby," "The Ghost in the Shell"


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