Darke Reviews | Power Rangers (2017)

I really don’t know why I wanted to see this movie. I was not a fan of the show when it premiered the first time back in the early 90’s. I was a bit disappointed considering I had grown up on Voltron and thought I was getting a live action version. I was young. I didn’t know better.  So despite that the trailers did their job and I wanted to go see it. With that in mind I figure if I enjoyed the movie then it is a solid movie without nostalgia glasses getting in my way to either love it or hate it for its differences between then and now.

So should you go go to the theatre to see it?

I invoke the three writer rule as the movie goes to five. We have story by Kieran and Michelle Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold,  Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt) and Matt Sazama (Dracula Untold,  Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt) and the final screenplay by John Gatins (Flight, Kong: Skull Island). At this point unless I am given photographic evidence to the contrary I am going to say Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama are a modern version of Alan Smithee. The real surprise here despite the rule being invoked – they told a decent story. Sure it’s origin story 101 but unlike so many other movies with a wide cast to introduce they actually let you get to know the characters. The dialogue, the character decisions, all felt natural. There’s one particular scene around a campfire that was in the paint by numbers guide, but it worked. No this isn’t going to win any awards for storytelling or doing something particularly new but it did its job. It does have a few plot holes you can pilot a zord through but you forgive them because the characterizations of your five mains are as strong as they are.

This is director Dean Israelite second feature film since Project Almanac; and while he shows more restraint than he did there he still has not quite mastered the camera. I will give absolute credit for trying a few things with the camera that worked, but then he went too long on them and it stopped working. I get the sense that there’s more to him, as overall the movie was surprisingly enjoyable. Directorially speaking the beats work mostly, the camera work is solid for a majority of the film and the performances and blocking are good. His sense of pacing was on point, but his tonal choices were a tilt a whirl of emotion. I remember looking to my sister during the movie going “well that was bleak” during one scene; yet they earned the beats they got and the emotions they drew out of me.

What takes the movie to the next level is the actors who had remarkable chemistry with each other. Dacre Montgomery as our Red Ranger Jason isn’t just a bland white guy lead. He tries to be more and largely succeeds; and I will be curious to see him in Stranger Things Season 2. British actress (of Indian origin) Naomi Scott (Lemonade Mouth) is our Pink Ranger Kimberly and much like Dacre really makes more of the character than I thought possible. RJ Cyler ( Me Earl and the Dying Girl) is our Blue Ranger Billy, who I am going to talk more about in a moment. Ludi Lin is Zack, the Black Ranger; which leaves us with singer songwriter Becky G  as Trini our Yellow Ranger.

Bryan Cranston returns to Power Rangers, this time as Zordon and I must say he makes an excellent face on the wall. Elizabeth Banks steals the show as a semi serious and surprisingly menacing Rita Repulsa. That isn’t to say there aren not fantastical elements to her performance deserving of a laugh but much like the heroes, her moments are earned well enough you enjoy seeing her.

Why did I not talk about the five mains more? Because they need to be talked about together. If you read my reviews with any regularity I speak of representation and how it matters. This movie has given us Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and Black actors in what is easily claimed as a superhero role. Ok so the movie hits you over the head with it with a line, but I forgive it for them actually bothering to do it in the first place. On top of that we have a character who identifies on the autism spectrum – and actually calls it out in film. This movie made a real effort to have multiple types of representation across the board and succeeded where other films fail. What makes it even better so it feels less forced than it is – the actors have amazing chemistry with each other. When two of the characters meet for the first time I was taken aback by how well they sync’d and felt right on camera together. This kind of interaction continue to go on as the movie moved forward; furthering my surprise.

So we have good representation and good actors who connected with a decent script and pretty solid direction – this lets me overlook the movies flaws.

Oh yes. There are flaws.

As I said, the camera work is improved over Project Alamanac, but definitely still needs work. I would shake the director of photography to make him use a steady cam, but I don’t think he’d notice the motion as there are more than a few shots that had noticeable wobble that didn’t need it. The fight sequences when the camera is still? Great. When it’s moving. Kinda a mess. The same can be said for the Zords. I know there’s a T Rex and a Pteranodon, but due to camera movement and poor design of the robots the others are kind of a mess. There are a few plot holes that are glaring and can leave you with a lot of questions if you think about them too long and some effects work – others not so much.

TL;DR

Power Rangers is a surprisingly good movie. There are a ton of callbacks to the series that even I picked up on. It, in my opinion, has a lot of heart to it and I feel there was some passion by the cast and crew in getting this made. It while following the formula of origin stories and generic teen filler movies somehow stands apart from them. The production crew was serious about making this as good a movie as you can while still embracing what makes it Power Rangers.  If anything, they did lose *some* of the hokeyness that was part of the charm, but the cast’s charm overpowers that flaw.

Should you see it?

It is different than the show as I know of it, but if you are even remotely interested yeah its a very entertaining ride.

Would you watch it again?

Probably.

Really? You going to buy it too?

Yes. No doubt.

Any warnings?

So Power Rangers the show is very kid friendly no matter the age. 5 and under I’d keep out, maybe 7 and under on this one. This is a solid PG film that wanted to dip its toes into PG-13 (well modern PG-13).

I like the movie and don’t have issue recommending it at all.

Surprise!

Oh and there’s some product placement in the movie used as a punchline – and I didn’t mind it. It worked and I liked it.

So where’s Beauty and the Beast?

I was on vacation. Haven’t seen it yet. Might this weekend. If so you’ll get a review.

Darke Reviews | Life (2017)

If you are not new to my site you know that I love good sci fi. If you are new to my site, you now know I love good Sci-Fi. If you want to make it horror sci-fi then you better hold to your science while telling me your fiction. I think this belief of mine comes from most horror sci-fi being relatively close in period to our own and with our own rules of science, biology, chemistry, and physics. If you want to violate these rules you need to establish you are acting outside of them early on or you risk losing me to wondering how within the confines of known science you are operating.

It’s why I buy phasers, lightsabers, xenomorphs, and flux capacitors. You laid forth rules. You have not violated them within your own fiction. We’re good. Tell me your rules, your world and I will board the suspension of disbelief train and ride it to the end. If you present me my world, my rules (as I understand them) you have established the protocols by which your science will be held standard. Violate them at your own risk or at least the risk of me ripping your movie apart.

So does Life need to find a way or is it worth exploring?

Written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, LIFE is the story of scientists aboard the I.S.S. in a “near future” time that is otherwise undisclosed. During a mission in which samples are being brought back from Mars for study, they find proof of life. Maybe they wish they hadn’t.

Rheese and Wernick who worked on Zombieland and Deadpool together  would seem an odd choice for this movie as their comedy/action and comedy/horror don’t lend themselves to a tension based sci-fi thriller when you first think of them. Yet – somehow they did it. In the vein of Alien nearly 40 years ago they  did a well paced, no forced humor thriller.  The science is good, the fiction is good,  the thrills are solid enough; but within that something is missing. The characters themselves. You don’t get to know them as much so when the movie begins traditional Ten Little Indian’s as it needs to, you don’t feel it as deeply as you could.

Swedish director, Daniel Espinosa (Safehouse), shoots the movie rather well and he apparently knows how to deal with the limited space provided and uses that to add to the innate claustrophobia of having no where to run. Though, much like I feel about the script I don’t think he teases enough out of his actors to elevate the characters and really get their motivations – beyond the one who gets a bit of a monologue. It’s clear though he had a vision along with the writers and I feel that they executed the vision well enough but didn’t quite elevate it. More on that in the TL;DR.

From an acting perspective everyone is absolutely passable. Ryan Reynolds was well Ryan Reynolds in space, but he dialed himself back from an 11 to a 5 and the restraint was to his benefit. Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai, The Wolverine, 47 Ronin) may not be able to turn out a bad performance if he tried. Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya makes a good mission commander despite this being her first American produced film. Ariyon Bakare, mostly a TV character actor, satisfies as our biologist. Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust from Mission Impossible Rogue Nation) plays my favorite character, the CDC specialist; leaving us with Jake Gyllenhaal who is the only one who just has a weird read. Each of the others despite having limited dimension still come off as normal people, Jake’s character just comes off …odd. I don’t know if it is a specific affectation he was directed to do or choose to do but he just was…odd to me.

From an FX standpoint they are 90% solid. The creature is interesting in its design and it’s movements. The overall space scenes and movement through the zero-g environment is beginning to be mastered after films such as Gravity nailed it as well as they did. The best effect though is a subtle one involving one of the characters. While it was an attempt to give one of them more depth (it kinda failed) it did succeed in making you believe the visual trickery before your eyes without looking overt. I would guess it was a mixture of practical and CG and that is often a winning combination.

TL;DR?

Life is good. The movie that is. Maybe the cereal too. I think what frustrates me about it is it could have been more and I think it wanted to be. I just don’t think the director or the script knew how to take it up just one more notch from something good to something great. There’s half-hearted attempts to ask the deeper questions that could come from this, but it’s just that half-hearted. Effort was definitely put into the production; but the net result was a “Good”. I honestly believe this movie could have been great, but it just didn’t know how to get there.

One other thing in it’s favor – the trailer did it’s job and was cut very specifically and rather well.

Should you see it?

It’s not bad sci-fi. So if you enjoy a lil in the Sci-Fi Horror genre give it a go. I’ll be curious to what you think.

Would you see it again?

Matinee maybe? If someone else paid.

How about buying it?

…the magic 8 ball says undecided.

Last thoughts?

Life is a good movie in its genre, well above average but not quite making a mark. Effort was there and it shows and that alone gets merit. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it and if nothing else someone tried and succeeded at a good sci fi horror. There is a lot worse coming this year (*stares at Geostorm*) and I do believe it deserves to make a profit just so we keep getting good pictures in this genre. It just could have been better.

Darke Reviews | Kong: Skull Island (2017)

I had two movie experiences tonight. Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Kong: Skull Island. These experiences were diametrically opposed with SAO being with friends and an audience who was clapping, laughing, crying with the beats of the movie. I haven’t seen an audience as passionate about a film and reacting so strongly in many many years. I was among those feeling with the movie and cried quietly after my friends had to head home.

It’s been a long time since I remember seeing a movie that made me feel like that and with friends and fans who were as engaged. I miss it and I cherish tonight’s experience.

Then there is Skull Island. There were maybe 15 people in the theatre, but two men behind me who may or may not have snuck in, were quite obnoxious and very very drunk. Kept calling me bro. As I was not in the mood to be assaulted tonight I said nothing. Do I think it may cloud my review of the movie? Perhaps.

The real question is should Kong have stayed on the island?

First, let me make one thing very clear, this *is* in fact tied to the same universe as 2014 Godzilla movie. The studio in it’s…vain… attempt to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is trying to create one with it’s own properties (or Toho’s I guess?). This isn’t a spoiler as it actually has no bearing on the film, but the company Monarch from the first one is present here and it is no accident. There will be a roll over spoiler at the bottom though for those who want it.

The story credit goes to John Gatins (Flight, Real Steel, Need for Speed and Power Rangers later this month). Suffice to say his style of story is all over the place in his work history as much as it is in the movie. Though his story was adapted to screenplay by Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World), Max Borenstein (Godzilla 2014), and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Real Steel, Bourne Legacy). The people behind the pen and on the paper of this movie have left me a mixed bag of emotions as to how I feel about the work they produce individually and collectively – much like the movie. I feel that the people of the pen paid attention to the feedback from Godzilla being too slow, focusing too much on boring non dimensional characters, killing off your most interesting actor. I also believe that they overcompensated the other direction; but still never quite nailed the characters.

Just as I feared from the trailers the movie isn’t quite sure of the tone. It very obviously moved away from the sedate, dry, and washed out tones of Godzilla; but in it’s quest to be different didn’t stake a claim as to what it wanted to be. It knew it just HAD to be different than it’s predecessor so it tried everything! A bit of horror, bit of adventure, bit of action, bit of war, bit of comedy, and bit of Oh god look at the size of that thing – and little of it worked. I may have to send their agent a small booklet on the word subtlety and how to write  a script with it. None of the characters are particularly compelling and you spend the time wondering when most of them will be picked off by the denizens of the island. The amount of stupidity shown as nearly as big as Kong himself; while the broad strokes used to paint the near caricatures of human beings is wide enough to paint the deck of an aircraft carrier. You just won’t care, and the only reason you might is the raw charm of a handful of the actors.

Oh the actors. Hiddleston is doing his best to be the adventure movie lead despite the flaws in the script, directing, and just the movie itself. He tries and I care simply because he is Tom Hiddleston. Samuel L Jackson phones in a performance of Colonel Kurtz, I mean Preston Packard. Brie Larson does little, but tried to do more than look pretty. Not her fault either. More on that in a bit. John C Reilly is absolutely fine. He was not in full comedy mode, in fact he’s a touch tragic but due to the script and directing you don’t get that 100%.  There isn’t much else to mention here; which means I can begin the ritual execution.

What. Was. Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Thinking? Also what was the studio thinking? They want this to be a tentpole level feature that can help continue to drive interest in their plan for a Giant Monster Cinematic Universe, so lets hire the guy who did a few episodes of Funny or Die and some other comedy work. The direction in this movie is nearly as bad as the editing. I can think of nothing good to say here. The contrivances were god awful while the shot choices laughable in their forced attempt to be ‘epic’.  The pacing is all over the place, the characters have hints of being more and are flatter than the ground under a giant gorilla’s foot.

What does work are the visuals. Kong is amazing. The creatures are…ok, but Kong is amazing. There are fights with him, more than Godzilla offered and far more clear than the previous film. That is one of the movies few credits in which the fighting of Kong vs Monsters is very clear and easy to understand. I think they used music when they couldn’t figure out how to test the speakers or the dialogue may have been even worse.

TL;DR?

It’s not good. I am away from the experience and the movie just isn’t good. The visuals are good and they waste no time on the reveal of the big guy. So thats the positive column. It does try, and mostly succeed at giving us a King Kong story we haven’t seen before, but that isn’t much praise. The money shots of him standing and his size are there and worth it, but they do not carry a film.

Thats all I can say – I really believe it’s bad.

Should you see it?

If you are a Kong fan? Sure. Otherwise see Logan again or save the money.

What if I really must see it? I mean Hiddleston.

If you must, the 3D does add something. Mostly digital embers, but the depth of field is nice and the XD speakers were amazing in more than a few shots.

Are you sure the jerks that were behind you didn’t sway your opinion?

Yeah pretty sure. Its why i still write these vs impromptu videos.  It gives me time away to think. Honestly, the review is kinder than I thought it would be.

But Jess – it’s a giant monkey fighting weird reptiles movie. Isn’t it just good for popcorn?

Honestly. No, not really. Sure the big guy should be the focus, but the movie is just badly done.

Anything else?

Next week is Beauty and the Beast and The Belko Experiment, but I will be traveling for work so may not get to see B&B before Friday.

 

 

Rollover begins

Ok if you do see it stay for the end credits. I noticed it said “Rodan”, “Mothra”, “King Ghidorah”  are trademarks of Toho. Then we get an end credit scene where they absolutely set up King of the Monsters.

 

Rollover Ends

Darke Reviews | Logan ( 2017)

In yet another movie this year, I get to go “17 Years ago…” we were introduced to this world and this character. Things really haven’t changed much in a lot of respects. When Jackman was cast no one wanted him in the fan community. He’s too tall. He’s not stocky enough. Cast Glen Danzig, were just some of the many things being said. Granted the only casting at the time that anyone really felt was right was Patrick Stewart as Professor X, at a spry 60 taking the role of the iconic character. Granted since 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation aired, he instantly made the top of everyone’s who to cast list. Now, we are hard pressed to think of anyone but these two in these roles. I mean look at this opening.

 

Sure there have been calls for Jackman to retire after the past three movies. People have been getting tired of Wolverine and the X-men which the movies had become for a bit. The first spin off movie X:Men Origins Wolverine was absolute garbage which didn’t help.  Too few people saw the redeeming The Wolverine in 2013, or its even better directors cut on DVD. Then there were rumors of “Old Man Logan” being adapted, but nary a still or production debacle to make the waves. Then the trailer was released and we realized we may have something good.

A tired Logan, an aging Charles and a world that wasn’t quite as familiar. Oh and one of my favourite characters – X-23, which came as a complete and happy surprise to most people. When that trailer dropped people lost their minds “is that X-23?” then they confirmed it…and the hype train grew to the tones of Johnny Cash.

So should you board the hype train?

Let us discuss the writing. 3 Writer rule – revoked for this one. Scott Frank (The Wolverine, The Lookout, Get Shorty) gets a screenplay credit with Michael Green a TV (The River, American Gods, Kings) producer who has his own share of screenplay listings (Green Lantern, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049). Additionally director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) has both story and screenplay ties. So Mangold comes up with the story he wants to tell and then the others are brought in for polish and adjustment. Based on what I saw, probably by Mangold himself as there doesn’t seem to be significant tonal or story shifts as the movie progresses. Significant ones. There are a few beats, a few story elements which seem to clash with the overall film and some near unnecessary third act exposition but it doesn’t detract from the overall story being told.

It is a good story. One we haven’t seen a hero movie do before, or at least not in awhile. I was literally commenting to my sister the other day – “When is Hollywood going to remember bigger isn’t better with the bad guys? That not every plot has to be an end of the world. Sometimes smaller is better.” You see if the stakes get too high and you stop caring. You know they won’t destroy the world. You can’t have a sequel that way. Mangold apparently knew this and rather than a bombastic end of world apocalypse, he tells a smaller story. A story about people, about life, death, and hope – just with the lens and world view of a tired, bitter old mutant who has seen and done too much.

The story is good and so is the direction. I found no camera angle wasted. No colour palette bled. Every beat existed for a reason that I could tell. Some last a few too long, true. Some will complain about the pacing not being as quick as others. That’s the point. The director wants you to spend time with the characters, remember them, and feel them again as you did back in 2000. He wants you to learn about Laura in her own way through careful interaction that is well crafted and bothers to show who and what she is without exposition.

The acting is spot on from our two stars we know. Jackman didn’t phone this in and Stewart looked like he was having the time of his life, despite what I would guess for both of them involved at least 3 hours in the make up chair each day. Jackman lets his characters age show in every moment. Stewart steals the show as a 90 year old Xavier in every bloody scene he is in, but there’s quiet competition from Dafne Keen (The Refugees) as Laura aka X-23. The 12 year old (11 at filming) Spanish actress is once again why I will say child actors can be just fine – bad direction and bad scripts are the problems (sometimes). She gets added to the list of young actresses who really make a mark in a good film. I don’t know if she did her own stunts, but if she did I am even more impressed.

I’d like to say the villains of the piece leave as much a mark but in what is quickly becoming tradition – they don’t. I think that is ok in this case as they are but a catalyst for the story not the be all and end all of the story. Richard Grant’s (Bram Stokers Dracula, Dig) Dr. Rice is passable just as Boyd Holbrook’s (Narco’s, Gone Girl) Pierce. Pierce is a nice change of pace for a villain though as he does show intelligence, cunning, and actually using his brain. I liked him, but will quickly forget him. That’s ok. Again, as it’s worth repeating the story here is only driven forward by the villains but the focus is where it should be – Logan, Laura, Charles.

On to the technicals? Have you heard the phrase “a hard R” before? Ok short version it means that they are going for an R Rating that really can’t be disputed. I think they went for a soft NC-17 just to get the R rating.  Every F— they couldn’t use in all the other movies were saved up here. Oh and a vicious and violent Wolverine movie that was being asked for. Your wish is bloody granted! Heavy emphasis on bloody. Not gory though, just brutal and ferocious as the character deserves – both of them. Yes, if you’ve seen the trailers Laura is just as violent and you will love the movie more for it. The make up effects are good and a lot of practical to cherish.

TL;DR

 

The movie deserves the praise it is getting from audiences and critics alike. It is absolutely savage in its many, many take downs. The action is clean (ish). The story good. The movie lets you breath. It’s shot really well. The movie proves Fox is getting it as with half the budget of Civil War, Batman v Superman, Amazing Spider Man, Man of Steel, Ultron, Dark Knight Rises – they made a far better movie. It isn’t some over the top send off for beloved characters, but instead a tighter picture with a lot of restraint.

It should remind you of a good western; the movie hits you over the head with it a few times in case it doesn’t. It also goes on to prove GRITTY and REALISTIC doesn’t mean grey, bland, dirty. You can have colour AND grit. Pay attention to that lesson and that lesson alone.

While I haven’t yet watched Movie Bob’s review, I agree with his title: Don’t try to make this again. It worked for a variety of factors, not the least of which was 17 years of investment. If you feel the need to emulate it learn how to focus on the characters – not bigger/badder – XTREME (missing “e” intended).

Logan is the movie that Wolverine deserved. Logan is the movie we’ve been wanting

Should you see it?

Yes. Please. Let this make all the money this month. Let this make all the money this part of the year. Let them know they were right to make it this way.

Are you buyi-

Yes. Next question.

Will you see it again?

If I can talk folks into seeing it with me? Yes.

Can I take the kids?

Depends – did you think Deadpool was watchable for them? Thats the benchmark. It is good ol fashioned violence, blood, and foul language. Even Robocop would be impressed.

FYI – this would have been PG-13 in the 80’s….maybe an R. Maybe.

Last thoughts?

Guys, I gotta tell you this movie is the best one I have seen this year. I will be surprised if it doesn’t stay in my top 5 through the year. It made me feel something more than once and for a superhero movie – that is saying something.

Darke Reviews | The Great Wall (2017)

First, let me make this clear. Yes I was amongst those who was very upset over the Matt Damon factor of this otherwise Asian centric cast. Yes, I did initially plan to boycott it. Then I read about the director Yimou Zhang and what he represents for China as a filmmaker. I read his quote

In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.

Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall. Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese. The collective struggle and sacrifice of these heroes are the emotional heart of our film. As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics, I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision. I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.

So…here I am, a white girl, enraged over the perceived white-washing. Then I get the director of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Jet Li classic Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and so many more telling me give it a chance.

So I did.

The question is – how true was the statement or was it just PR?

Let’s get the big question out of the way. Is Matt Damon another White Savior trope?

First for those who don’t know, the trope is the idea of “white man saves all” – even Game of Thrones hits this with Dany and the slaves of Meereen. Some movies even lampshade it, “You can do anything. You’re white.” (Ghost and the Darkness). There’s waaaay too many factors that play into why this exists, why it still exists, and why people care or don’t care about it.

So does the movie do it? Yes….and no. It really rides a delicate balance between both sides of it, I think it does lean a lil to the wrong side, but just by a notch. His impact to the story is definitely there, he is our audience PoV character; but there are a few elements of the trope he doesn’t hit and the movie does avoid rather well. So in that respect – well done.

To the second point – could it or should it have been done with another ethnicity? Eh….I agree with the director on this one. He is but one component and his actions do not take away from the movie, nor would someone else particularly add to it. That’s the trick. He doesn’t take away, but casting someone else doesn’t add – when all but three members of the cast are Chinese.

That out of the way? Good.

So let’s talk the movie. It is a joint American and Chinese production and I have to say it shows. There are so many elements of great productions I have seen from China that are here, but there’s a heart and overarching symbolism and depth I found missing. Maybe not missing, but not as fulfilling as I think it could have been. I’ve talked about the director and his accolades and that alone I believe elevates the movie to the level it hit. There are some magnificent shots and yes even nuance in some of the performances I don’t expect from Stateside productions.

There are the brilliant colours of the armies, the long sweeping camera moves, and more extras than you would believe making a noted difference in the film.  The enemy is of an interesting design, origin, and weaknesses – but ….not wholly original. There will be those who go “oh this reminds me of this…and this aspect this.” They aren’t wrong, but it’s ok. Not everything has to be 100% original. Few things are.

The script. Hmm. It hits the three writer rule and beats it upside the head like an overfilled pinata. Six writers; starting with three story credits to Max Brooks (World War Z novel), Edward Zwick (Jack Reacher 2, director Last Samurai) , and Marshall Herskovitz  (Jack Reacher 2, screenplay Last Samurai). Three screen play credits follow – Tony Gilroy (who may be surgically attached to Matt Damon now after all the Bourne movies), Doug Miro (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), and Carlo Bernard (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time).

How do I parse this out? 3 really good writers give us a story, of heroes on a wall. Make us care (Brooks is really good at that) and figure out how to have multiple heroes with their own arcs in the film, even if they are minor turns in the end.  The polish is added by Matt Damon’s friend (I would guess he was asked to help by Damon, but I could be wrong), and the writers of two fairly decent Disney bombs; granted I like Sorcerer’s Apprentice but PoP:TSoT….is just bad. Considering I think Gilroy may be at fault for some of my displeasure with Rogue One – I kind of want to blame some of the choices in script on the trio of screenplay. It’s a personal inclination based on all bodies of work known – then again Zwick did give me the rather bad Jack Reacher sequel so I am back to I don’t know what to do on this one.

The script is serviceable with all the turns you expect. All the lines of dialogue you expect. All of the surprises you expect (yeah I said it). All of the elements you expect. It works. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It just is.

Acting? Yes. Acting. It happens here. Let’s begin with Damon. We all know he can act. We all know he can do physical. I just have absolutely no idea why he decided to try an accent. I can’t even place the accent and I am pretty good at those. If anything I would have to say Saxony? I think it’s supposed to be some kind of nordic/germanic based English – but I just am not sure and it is a touch distracting. Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell) is enjoyable and I am glad to see him after Game of Thrones; while we get a surprise paying for a new car performance from Willem Dafoe.

Lu Han carves a niche for himself as Peng Yong and I could see good things ahead for him if he desires. It is impossible to look away from Andy Lau’s (Infernal Affairs, Shaolin – a must see) performance as Strategist Wang; but if he is impossible to look away from then one can only stare while Jing Tian (Special ID)  is on screen. It has nothing to do with her looks (she is beautiful), the vibrant blue of her amazingly crafted armor – but everything to do with the presence she brings to screen. I will tell you she plays Commander Lin Mae, but when she’s on screen I buy it.

Mostly.

This is where the last half of the movie fails. So much of the characters, the power of them, their unique styles and way of being seems to be left behind as the movie rises to the middle of Act II and then is gone the rest. It makes highlights but never quite recaptures the elements the beginning had me leaning forward in my seat to see and even feel for how a particular element was shot.

Which brings me back to a weakness of American productions by comparison to their Chinese counterparts in this genre. Let’s take Hero. It could only end the way it did, but you felt something every step of the way. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you never lose what makes them unique.  Here it falls apart in spectacle that diminishes the movie.

TL;DR?

The movie got an emotional reaction from me. I was leaning forward more than a few times as it played out. That absolutely graduates it from “meh” to at least mediocre. My disappointments with it are enough to take it from a solid good down a notch.

In the end we have a generally well constructed, well shot, well acted fantasy piece with a mythology we are not familiar with and characters we want to be familiar with. If the biggest failing is that it doesn’t deliver on letting me really feel them all the way beginning to end – there are worse things out there.

I agree with Zhang Yimou – we should do more productions like this. I also am glad I gave it a chance.

Should you see it?

If you are a fan of Sentai style films, Chinese cinema, or just in the mood for a decent pop corn flick – sure. Matinee maybe – possibly full price if you are feeling froggy.

I know a lot of folks won’t and that’s a shame. It’s absolutely serviceable. It will not make its budget back Stateside unless a miracle happens.

Is it worth High Def? XD, etc?

Act I and part of Act II  indicate yes. Just make sure the theatre is on the newer end. The screen at my showing was a touch dusty and when the vibrant colours of the army walk by it was noticeable.

Will you buy it?

Pretty good odds.

Why didn’t you see A Cure for Wellness? I heard it was good.

Me too! But sometimes I need popcorn and fluff. This movie delivered that. When I am in the mood to think some more and wince some – so probably next week I will see A Cure for Wellness.

 

Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I still fondly remember seeing the first one on a lark. “Ah what the heck…I don’t mind Keanu.” What I then received, despite the theatre being empty was one of the best action movies of that year and arguably the next. Of course, everyone who did see it got others to see it and word of mouth of this diamond in the rough spread and a cult phenomenon formed around the little movie that could. It deserved the attention. It stands out amongst action movies with a very low end, for Hollywood, budget of $20 million – which it went and doubled domestic and quadrupled world wide. That isn’t counting after market sales once it left theatres. Again – it is right to have this praise. I ended the last review saying we need Hollywood to pay attention to it and learn from it.

Well they got it half right. They paid attention and gave us a sequel. Sadly I cannot think of a movie since 2014 that is such a magnificently choreographed ballet of bullets and blood. Sure we’ve had good action movies, I’ve seen most of them, but most of the time I am complaining about the camera work or editing.

The question is – Is the magic that made John Wick back or should it have stayed in retirement?

The pen of Derek Kolstad returns to the script, not really having worked on anything since the last film. He had a task I have seen many fail at before. Write a script for a sequel to a movie a lot of people liked, but closed its ending quite nicely. How do you bring your principle character out of retirement – twice. How do you get people to care about the story? How do you avoid rehashing the literal same story or other story again? Time and time again people fail at this when going to sequels. Usually they are rushed, but he had at least a year to write and they had a year to film before this release.  The time helped. Kolstad told the story that we came out of the last one wanting more of. He brought us more into the world of Hitmen, Coins, and The Continental. I do admit I want more of that world, and it delivered. For those familiar with the World of Darkness, take notes – you have good source material here. Is the plot complex? No. Is it more than avenging the death of his dog. Yes. What you should take away from it  is that he bothered with a plot rather than a thinly veiled way to string together gunfights. Thank you Derek. We mean it.

At the helm is previous director Chad Staheleski, minus previous director David Leitch; though Leitch does have an executive producer credit. He does as well as he did in the first one and it is very clear that he paid a lot of attention over the years on the films he worked as a Stuntman and coordinator on. The beats, the blocking, the  shots were gorgeous. There is one in Rome, near a large bathtub that is one of the most gorgeous shots I have ever seen on screen. He and cinematographer Dan Lausten (Crimson Peak, Brotherhood of the Wolf), do some really amazing shots and made some otherwise risky shooting choices all of which paid off. Shooting in a mirror maze is difficult enough. Shooting with a moving camera in a mirror maze with moving panels must have been a nightmare. They did it.

My only complaint on the technical facet of the film is that there’s a bit of shaky cam on a handful of sequences; and overall most of the gunfights could have been shaved by a few seconds or beats. One in particular could have lost two minutes and we would have been ok. There’s a touch more CG enhancement to shots that really didn’t need it when a composite shot could have done better. That said, on the flip side – the practical in camera effects are just damn good. They are as visceral and brutal as you would think. Also – that bathtub sequence. I don’t want to know what it took to get that – but it was perfect. They really, as a pair, grasped when to use the different lenses and how to do different depths, angles, and movement with the cameras.  There’s no shot I found off putting and they flow well to the credit of editor Evan Schiff (Pans Labrynth…huh thats two who worked with Del Toro).

So yes, the technicals are really solid here – a little more flawed but nothing game breaking or even really detrimental to the movie. I think I am more trying to show it can still be critiqued; because otherwise the stunts are FANTASTIC. This is a love letter to so many stunt performers over the year (including an intro shot with Buster Keaton on a wall). The stunts are not over the top. They are very human very real and require high degrees of skill.So much is done in the frame you can see the actors doing their work and the movie always benefits from it. They also give you time to breath, they let the plot breathe. They let you see the injuries without being gratuitous. They let fatigue set in.

From an acting perspective Keanu does a excellent job of showing John’s state both mentally and physically as the movie progresses.  This man is 50+ years old and his own stunt work is just incredible.  Ricardo Scamarcio (Burnt) does well as our antagonist. Ian McShane is still  Ian McShane and we all love the movie a bit more for him end to end. Ruby Rose, as Ares, in her third performance this year does well with little. She does have weight and does well with it. I am unsure why they made one of the choices about her character – it didn’t hurt that it was made, but still wondering why.  Common (Smokin’ Aces, Selma) continues to impress me with both his delivery of what he must and his action capabilities. Claudia Gerini (nothing stateside) is a stand out performance in the movie and for what time she had made an impact.

TL:DR?

This is a very good sequel. Again I want the movers and shakers in L.A. to pay attention to the movie and learn the right lessons. You will be hard pressed in this genre (sorry Godfather fans) to find a sequel that is as good a follow up to it’s close ended predecessor.  While it isn’t quite as good as the first, it is still bloody awesome.

Should you see it?

Do you like action? Gunplay? Keanu? The First movie? If the answer to any of these is Yes. Stop reading my review and go. Seriously…

Go.

Are you still reading? This movie is that good. Just go.

Will you buy it?

Without a doubt.

Anything else?

Yes, the music. The music was fantastic. I am trying to hunt down the soundtrack.

Darke Reviews | Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

Final review of January. Final (?) chapter of the Resident Evil franchise which began 15 years prior.  It seems this month, which is usually relegated to dump slots for the studios has, in addition to its usual role, begun serving this year as the franchise test for long running, often lamented, or forgotten franchises. We had Underworld, xXx, and now this. To their credit each of them have been able to maintain their original star, despite waning bankability as a name. Technically Diesel is still bankable, but only within known franchises. His forrays outside of his own franchise have not done well, even if they were fun. Granted the franchises he is in (Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy) might as well print money. Jovovich is not so lucky, and I was surprised to find she hadn’t been in a major project for a few years. So this makes her first major on screen appearance in almost 5 years, again as Alice.

So should this movie have been put down before it started?

The film is written and directed by the man who started it all…and somehow continued it all – Paul W.S. Anderson, not to be confused with critical darling Wes Anderson. Paul, is also the one who…gifted us..yes thats a good word, with the Death Race remake and AVP: Alien vs Predator and Pompeii. Conversely, he also gave us from the directors chair, Soldier and Event Horizon. In my review of Pompeii I covered that I find most of his bad movies guilty pleasures. Actually, they aren’t bad – they just aren’t cinematic masterpieces. Which is acceptable, as some movies are there to help you escape. It’s why, despite critical and audience appraise I won’t see Hidden Figures. The story is incredible, the acting incredible, the pain very real. The history more relevant than ever, but I often find myself in the movie to escape the real world and real world scenarios. Even with that need for escapism I expect, and so should you, a certain level of quality and care.

There’s something of that here. I get the impression, unlike Uwe Boll, he isn’t doing it for a paycheck. There’s a passion here for this world and this universe he’s crafted over six movies. Granted, from a writing standpoint he’s retconned (Retroactive Continuity adjustment) multiple elements of the story between 2002 and 2017 and this is no exception. The first 8 minutes of the movie, yes I checked my phone, are literally retelling and adjusting the story accordingly to bring everyone up to speed – much like the last two Underworld movies did.  I wonder if anyone is planning to see this who hasn’t watched the others though? The plot is about as thin as cheese cloth, but unlike the past several films when it comes to our heroine herself and her arc – there’s caring involved. I was pleasantly surprised to find that her arc was brought full circle and while she’s still a killing machine – she is not a totally invincible killing machine. I won’t say there’s a lot of complexity but there is a much slower focus as the movie progresses.

Now….while the storytelling and pacing of the movie are surprisingly richer than I thought, the um…camera work for fights and monsters. Yeah, so that was a choice.  It is next to impossible to see what, if anything, is going on for 90% of the fights and creature shots. I understand that the budget is lower, I understand you have a grand vision, but I would caution you to to figure out how to make more practical. If you can’t make it look good – figure out another way!

From an acting perspective – it’s Resident Evil 6. None of the performances are going to really help the careers, buuuuuut – they won’t hurt them either. Everyone is absolutely serviceable from an acting standpoint. Why am I not spelling each and everyone of them out? If you’ve seen the franchise you know why – if not, well…I won’t say more. There’s one call out however, and it isn’t Ruby Rose. It’s our new Red Queen as played by Ever Anderson. Yes, that is her name and yes, she is the daughter of the director and Milla who have been married since 2009. She actually does a good job as the homicidal AI and brings a surprising element to her. So nicely done there as she still had to have the chops to pull it off on her own, even with her father as the director.

TL;DR?

I rather enjoyed Fallout: Raccoon City. It was a good wrap to the franchise if they keep their word. It is not a good movie, it is certainly not a bad movie – but I found I was not rolling my eyes through it. Some of the effects are good and the chances taken with the characters actually work surprisingly well. It bothered to care to set a good pace and when it goes practical does so nicely. There was real tension and some of the camera work was not horrible.

This probably comes in as the 3rd best of the franchise for how it looks and feels and the overall effort put into it.

Not a bad way to end January

Should you see it?

Do you like the franchise? Yes. Just…not in 3-D

Otherwise – no.

Will you buy it?

Yeah, I have the others so might as well. Beyond that no.

Anything else?

I really hope this is the last one. Please?