Godzilla and Kong are back on theatrical big screens in “Godzilla vs. Kong” and that’s a good thing. In home video, “Operation Varsity Blues” is a documentary that’s so compelling it’s hard to believe that it’s all true.
It’s Viewing the Videos.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (Netflix)
The story of parents willing to do anything to get their children into a prestigious college attracted headlines when people like Felicity Hoffman and Lori Laughlin ended up going to jail.
The documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” tells the astonishing true story of parents who were so obsessed with that idea that they made cash payments under the table to a man who was able to facilitate the admission with the help of corrupt university employees.
Chris Smith, the man who produced last year’s hugely popular “Tiger King” documentary, tells a compelling story using the actual words of the people involved taken from wire taps and bugged rooms. Since the man primarily responsible for this con, Andrew Singer, is not giving any interviews, Smith used actor Matthew Modine in recreations of actual meetings and phone calls.
The movie points out that there are three ways to get into college. Front door, which means applying and getting admitted. Back door, which has having your parents give millions of dollars to a school, which pretty much ensures your admission.
And finally, the side door, operated by Singer, which involved faking transcripts, tampering with admissions exams and creating completely false profiles of students, like one purporting that the student applicant was a rower, which she wasn’t.
With the complicity of some morally corrupt university employees, students would get admitted, often not even knowing what their parents had done.
“Operation Varsity Blues” looks at a bizarre underworld that many of us did not know exists. It’s very well done and gets right to the point with a sleek running time of one hour and 41 minutes. You have to see it to believe it.
Four Palm Trees.
Godzilla vs. Kong
Two cinema icons are back, fighting it out on the big screen where they belong.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” might not be an Indiana Jones movie, but it delivers what viewers want: gargantuan creature battles and a story that doesn’t get in the way.
Kong has been living in a gigantic dome in the South Seas, under the care of Dr. Andrews (Rebecca Hall). Kong has made friends with a deaf child, which takes the place of the young woman he usually connects with.
In this movie, the villain is an industrialist played with considerable charm by Damien Bichir (“Hateful Eight,” “Alien: Covenant,” “The Nun”). He wants to reawaken Godzilla to tap into his energy to do…. something. It’s a little hard to follow what’s going on but fortunately, they move briskly through the exposition to get back to the action.
The cast is mostly mid-level stars who may not have the onscreen presence of people like Harrison Ford or The Rock, but they’re all very believable in the face of some meandering plot points.
A King Kong movie always needs a female acquaintance. This time, it’s Jia, the adopted daughter of Dr. Andrews. Little Kaylee Hottle does great work without talking. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that she’s obviously not acting with a real giant ape, most likely reacting to a tennis ball on a stick or possibly another actor wearing a suit. It’s hard to make an impact when you’re such a tiny person and can’t speak in a movie of adults and giant monsters, but she’s very enjoyable.
This is a quality piece of work and while it might not reach the level of “Star Wars,” it has a sense of humor about what’s going on without making fun of the audience for watching something that doesn’t really have a coherent plot.
Five Palm Trees. See it in the theater on the biggest screen possible.
“Courier” is based on a real-life espionage story without any James Bond embellishments and so it’s really a relatively small character study.
It’s not flashy cars, larger than life villains or climactic battles to the death between the forces of good and evil. It’s really kind of an old-fashioned story in the style of “Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy” or the “Spy Who Came in From the Cold.”
“Courier” tells the story of two men, both married with children, one Russian, one British, and what happens when they get in over their heads. They’re both trying to prevent nuclear war in a time of extreme tension between President John Kennedy and the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.
It’s easy to see why some talented actors, like the great Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze an actor from Georgia (formerly the USSR) were attracted because it’s focused on the lives and feelings of the two individuals.
Both characters are well-developed even if the progression of the story is somewhat wooden. If you’re not going to have your characters mixed up in massive superhero special effects, you need a better narrative than they have here.
Good acting, average suspense, good atmosphere, and scenery, but this is not a big enough picture to hold its own in theaters. Wait for home video.
Two Palm Trees.
FROM THE VAULT
Kong: Skull Island
From 2017, is an earlier version of the King Kong story. There’s a lot of action and performances by Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly and the great Samuel L. Jackson. There’s nothing too serious here. It’s really fun.
HOW WE RATE THE FILMS
Home videos are simply rated recommended or not recommended.
New Releases are rated as follows:
Five Palm Trees: Must see
Four Palm Trees: Worth seeing on the big screen.
Three Palm Trees: Recommended for home viewing or on the big screen.
Two Palm Trees: OK if you’re not paying
One Palm Tree: Skip it. Save your money and your time.