Darke Reviews | Mulan (2020)

It’s been awhile, but you can’t keep a good Vampire Princess down. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that yes I threw down the $29 to watch Mulan today. I had a single member of the Darke Court with me today who has been part of my pod during the needed safety precautions. You may be asking if I will review Tenet or New Mutants anytime soon? I shan’t. Arizona is still no where near safe enough for me to go to the theatre and while I trust my local cinema to do its best and that it is doing its best, it’s the other humans that are not to be trusted. My safety and the safety of my Darke Court and Dark Princesses comes first. Thankfully Disney did offer this alternative and for a price point that is still cheaper than the theatre is for me; and let’s be honest if you’ve had my cooking – my food is better.

Now Disney has a very loaded track record when it comes to their live action remakes, despite making tonnes of money few of them are actually “good” to me.

EDITORIAL ADD: I mentioned in the review I cannot speak on the Cultural implications. Someone who can has. I urge my readers to check that review as well as mine. I stand by my review, but with the problematic elements identified…not good.

Editorial Add 2:  9/17 – I maintain the review for the purposes of my opinion at the time. I However CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS MOVIE after finding this quote from the director: “Although it’s a critically important Chinese story and it’s set in Chinese culture and history, there is another culture at play here, which is the culture of Disney,” Caro said in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “And that the director, whoever they were, needed to be able to handle both—and here I am.””

Is Mulan a movie worth fighting for?

Let us begin as, we often do, with the writing. The movie does violate my rule of 3 (writers), with Amanda Silver and her husband Rick Jaffa who worked together on The Relic, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic World together. We add Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek who are making their cinematic debut, after a short film and a Lifetime Christmas movie together. I need to address the elephant in the room – none of the writers are Chinese. So while intentions may have been good, even great here, if there are cultural or other mistakes around the legend of Mulan they perhaps could have been avoided. I also am not Chinese and will defer to Chinese voices on such mistakes – so you won’t see me discussing the legend of Mulan or any potential significance here. Nor will I stray into current geopolitics – because we don’t have all night. Well you don’t. I’m the vampire here.

What I can say is that structurally, the movie fixes many mistakes (*cough Eddie Murphy*) made in the original animated version. It removes more than a few elements of second hand embarrassment and some of the stereotypes shown in the first that make it a legitimately uncomfortable watch for me at times. They wrote in two villain characters with Bori Khan and Xianniang who have definitive weight in the story and solid throughlines that inform the rest of the emotional arc of the film. What they do best here is not just remove some of the more problematic elements of the original, but they deviate the story enough that this movie can stand on its own and not be seen as many other live action remakes are of pale reflections of the original animated. Overall the script and story that is delivered is fairly strong, with a handful of exceptions that may be a result of director or editor.

On the topic of director, we have one the short list of female directors in Niki Caro (The Zookeepers Wife, Whale Rider) at the helm. While there are many female directors out there, Hollywood still doesn’t give enough of them the chance to lead such high budget projects. Again a missed opportunity by Disney to give the directors chair to someone like Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs, Birds of Prey) or Lulu Wang, but this was in production long before she exploded with “The Farewell”. Back to Caro, she knows how to get good shots and performances from her actors; and in all due honesty as with the animated movies, the villains performances overshadow everyone else. I think there is a really solid first act to establish and second act to bring it together, but the third act and choices made by the director here leave it a bit rushed for me. Some moments needed more time to breathe and just a few more beats between them to let the weight of them sink in.

From a technical perspective, Caro clearly worked well with Cinematographer Mandy Walker. Walker is one of the 5% of women who can claim the title of director of photography and that’s a damn shame. Her ability to capture and frame shots in this movie are amazing. While I admit I am not a fan of some of the closer quicker cuts that are clearly a western influence in what is supposed to be a Wuxia low/mid fantasy epic, there are a handful of mid and wide shots that are really quite good. Choices made between her Caro deliver for a solid 95% of the movie – but not every shot sticks and sadly some of the ones that don’t are towards the end. One cannot talk East Asian film and not discuss the costume and set awe they often bring. Bina Daigeler (Costumes) and Anne Kuljian (Sets) deliver strongly here and practically where possible – which really puts this as top tier Disney live action. I’d love to say its a home run but when I consider movies like Hero, Crouching Tiger, or Curse of the Golden Flower, at best I can give them a triple and loading the bases. Yes. I can do sports metaphors.

Of course we do need to talk the actors themselves. Yifei Liu (Forbidden Kingdom, The Assassins) doesn’t have an enviable task as Mulan, as she is following after the incredible Ming-Na Wen, but she proved herself capable of the task before her. She brings the heart, sincerity, and weight to all the scenes where she is allowed. I will give the blame to Caro on some of the scenes that didn’t work as well for me on that front since Liu can do the emotional work. Thankfully she is not expected to carry the movie and has the incomparable Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, character actor Tzi Ma (Wu Assassins) as her father doing more with body language and facial expressions than most ever achieve, and Jet Li as the Emperor to help bring decades of work to bear. Yoson An takes up the role of comrade and the romantic tension for Mulan and also is able to do quite a bit with a look or a look away and still be charming as hell. As mentioned before though the villains. The villains are just fantastic. Jason Scott Lee (Dragon the Bruce Lee Story, Soldier) is just a PRESENCE on screen. The make up and hair help obviously, but on someone else they may not have worked. My only complaint here is that they didn’t use him to his fullest, but they did use him and the movie is better for it. Li Gong (Memoirs of a Geisha, Curse of the Golden Flower) is probably the real stand out as her villain the sorceress Xianniang. She is everything I want my villainesses to be and more. Every scene she is in is better for her in it and the biggest flaw around her is they don’t use her more.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed Mulan for everything it was and many of the things it wasn’t. I can honestly say of the live action Disney remakes this is the top of the list. True the bar is very low here, but I spent a solid ten minutes debating between this and Maleficent for the top. The debate was only because Act III didn’t quite stick the landing for me as well as I think it could have. I wasn’t -as- emotionally satisfied as I think it could have delivered for me. That said, I was still satisfied enough that there was even a debate between the two movies.

Taking the movie for its craft, its film making, storytelling, and everything it does – this is a very solid film and absolutely worth the watch. Aside from the emotional resonance of the movie not being everything it had the potential to be, the only major drawback was the westernization of what could have been an incredible Wuxia epic that would have rivaled the greats. I would have enjoyed seeing Donnie Yen pull double duty as Stunt Coordinator over Ben Cooke. Not that Cooke was horrible, just it could have been MORE. Some of the CG is a little rougher than I’d prefer, the blue screen rougher than I prefer – but the net product is greater than those flaws.

Mulan is a good movie that is so close to being a great movie it kind of hurts.

So should I pay Mouse for seeing it?

I can firmly recommend this movie. I do recommend if you are to watch it at home and pay the extra to do so you should have a large screen. While not AS big as some other films, this is still a big picture and deserves more than a phone or tablet to watch on.

As to paying vs waiting until December. If you plan to watch this multiple times, have friends or family with you to watch it with – absolutely. Figure it’s $10 plus for a single ticket normally, then concessions, etc. Now I can watch it tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month. I normally pay for 2-3 tickets for my Darke Court, so this is already the price of admission for me. The fact I can watch it several times within this price point makes it worth it for me. If you have kids – hands down yes. The price point is mathematically worth it. We can have the debate if you should have that extra price point another time.

So do you plan to watch it again?

Absolutely. I had some stuttering due to bandwidth as probably a few million other people are watching this tonight and want to go back over it again.

Buying it…wait…

Yeah I mean technically I have already and have it so long as I have Disney+ which is at minimum until 2022 since I already paid them for a 3 year sub.

It’s been awhile – any parting thoughts?

I miss a handful of beats from the animated. Obviously I miss some of the songs, but the music here is solid and used well. I think like I mentioned in my Aladdin review when the Disney Live Actions really try to do more and fix the mistakes of the past or deviate the plot in meaningful ways the DLA’s show their true potential. Maleficent did it. Parts of Aladdin did it. This absolutely stands on its own as a separate film where you can see some of the callbacks and references, but is definitively it’s own movie.

I don’t have faith movies like Cruella, The Little Mermaid, or anything else that is in production will learn this lesson and embrace it, but maybe I can be surprised.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Bit (2019)

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know one of my nicknames is The Vampire Princess. Sadly, that does make me the Vampire Princess of Tucson. Unfortunate. I have my Dark Court, whom I adore, with the possibility of some new membership from some new folks in my workplace. I have literally almost a hundred (possibly more) vampire movies in my collection. I really need to update my catalogue. I love everything about them and will watch, or attempt in some cases, any vampire movie I can find.

Surprisingly though for a creature that is centered around the forbidden and eroticism since LeFanu, and then later Stoker, there is not a lot of Queer vampire content. Sure there is a significant amount of 60’s and 70’s exploitation films in the genre; but when you examine the past forty years there is not a lot. Embrace of the Vampire in 1995 positively was shocking to people for its content, which is so mild its like putting Salt on a meal and calling it “too spicy”. Sure the flavor was there, but it didn’t push boundaries. There’s argument to be made it was because America grew up with Alyssa Milano and to see her in this role was too much for the pearl clutching set.

Why is that important now and to this movie? 

Bit is written and directed by a Cis-Het-White Man (self described) who gets what I was missing in my vampire movies..

In an interview with Vulture

I really love The Lost Boys. I really love Jem and the Holograms and glam rock and David Bowie. So it was like, how do we do Jem and the Holograms and The Lost Boys? And one of the big things was, I think we all kind of know that most R-rated movies are sort of coded for 13-year-old boys. I’m not saying 13-year-old-girls don’t like them, too! But I wanted to make a movie that was coded for young girls that’s just as R-rated as anything else.

He did it. But then, THEN he went and made it inter-sectional. He wrote a white lesbian character, a black lesbian (or bi), someone who coded non-binary (possibly ace), and a latina vampire who wasn’t hypersexualized (sorry Salma Hayek). Oh, but I am so not done. Our main character is Transgender – and not once, not one bloody time does the term come up in the movie. There’s no reveal, no exposition, just the language that so many transwomen and those around them live with. The doubt, the fear, the anger, the platitudes. The entire script is done with total respect to all the intersectionality presented and the main character in a way I could not have fathomed.

And on top of all of that, the writer and director (Brad Michael Elmore) made it non negotiable that the main character be played by a TransActress.

I was very adamant about the fact that the role was only to be played by a trans actress. It’s in the script, and it was a no-deal if it wasn’t. The script also makes note of the fact that I don’t care what level of transition the actor we get is. Because producers can be horrible, I didn’t want to pin it on anybody’s ideas of what should or should not be passing, what should or should not be considered trans. – Source Vulture

Do you have any concept how empowering it is to see a woman like me on screen as a vampire? This is *my* representation. This is the representation for a lot of women out there, Queer or otherwise.

But is it good?

For a movie with a $1.5 million budget, yes. Yes it is. Elmore is aware of his limitations and pushes them where he can, but delivers the goods with what he has. The fangs, the gore, the overall vamp effects, and some burns are better than movies with budgets ten times that size, or twenty. It gave me a story I’ve been craving and the conversation that comes with it and never forgot atmosphere along the way.

The actors of course have to deliver as well. Nicole Maines (Supergirl) is front and center as our protagnoist Laurel and delivers solidly and cleverly, bridging both snark, emotional pain, and a special kind of ennui that felt like I was watching me. Then we have the “Bite Club”, with Diana Hopper (Goliath) as Duke, Friday Chamberlain (The Fear of Looking Up) as Roya, Zolee Griggs (Wu-Tang: An American Saga)  as Izzy, and Char Diaz as Frog.  In a small, but important role, James Paxton (Eyewitness, son of the late Bill Paxton) as Laurel’s brother Mark. There are going to be some who interpret her and some of the actors as flat or stilted. That is not what I see at all. For me I read them as me and my Dark Court talking. A level of casual, snark, and familiarity that sounded like actual people talking. Even the parents of Laurel are scripted well and in a way that had my friends going “yay”.

It does have some flaws. There’s a scene or two that seem to come out of nowhere, some dialogue choices that don’t work and a scene or two that feel missing or could have been fleshed out. That being said from the other technical aspects it is tightly edited and without a single gratuitous or exploitative shot in the entire damn movie. When does that happen? Oh when the director takes the time to have the female director of photography ensure that the male gaze is not owning the camera.

TL;DR?

Bit is the movie I have been waiting for and needed for my collection. I couldn’t say its the movie I didn’t know I needed, because I have been craving this style, this feel for a very long time now. It is not blockbuster material and had it been released would have made its budget back and probably a few times that before fading, which is sad. It’s VOD release enables it to be the cult classic vampire movie that I think it is destined to be. It manages to be fang in cheek enough without crossing the line of being too self aware.

This is a completely original, beautiful, fun, feminist vampire movie that the GENRE needed and no one had quite nailed so perfectly before. I’ve watched it three times since its release on Friday and know this one will make my regular rotation when I am in the mood.

Should I watch it?

Yes. Yes you should. Support this movie so the director and the cast and the producers know it is right that the audience is there and we can get more like it.

Would you…never mind you did watch it again.

Yep. At least one more viewing this week is expected.

Did you buy it?

Twice. Once on Amazon and once on Vudu, just in case.

I guess that answers where to get it.

Hope so. It’s worth the price.

Any final thoughts?

I need to get a copy of the soundtrack for my vampire writing playlist. I also want the movie poster for my collection.

Darke Reviews | The Hunt (2020)

So this is what all the controversy was about? Originally slated to be released on September 27, 2019 the movie was pulled after the shootings that had occurred in both Texas and Ohio back in August of 2019. This was the right call to make, as I had previously mentioned in my Death Wish 2018 review. I will be honest, I can easily quote my opening of that review here and the context would remain the same, and so I shall.

*sigh* Movies do not exist in a vacuum. They exist as snap shots of culture, whether in the form of parody (comedy), our fears (horror), our hopes (science fiction), or in some cases wish fulfillment (action). These of course are generalizations of the genres and what they represent as you look at the passage of time. Not every movie fits neatly into that or you can mix and match to your hearts content. I’ve talked about how this applies specifically to horror movies in other reviews and that there’s a cultural shift to the idea of home invasion being one of the major themes in modern horror. The faceless killers, the victims, and eventually the final girl. There’s even a half dozen movies this year in that particular subgenre of horror to reinforce this.

 

That has not changed. What does is context and story.

What do I mean?

The Hunt is the newest variation in the well past the glue factory beaten horse of “The Most Dangerous Game” – Hint. It’s MAN. The short story was written in 1924, the first movie adaptation was in 1932. The making of the movie is as interesting than the actual movie. The essence of the story is Rich People hunt other People because reasons. The reasons vary from story to story, but the prey rarely does. Most of the time it’s prisoners, the poor, the homeless, or the otherwise desperate. This movie written by Damon Lindelof (Watchmen, World War Z, Tomorrowland, and dozens of other projects) and Nick Cuse (Watchmen, Maniac) changes it up a bit, just barely. The Rich this time are “Ultra PC Liberal Elites” *shuddering at having written that sentence* who are hunting conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and people who made fun of them on social media. No seriously. Thats the plot. Gather the prey, drop them in a field Hunger Games style, and …thats it. On Jason Blum (Blumhouse Productions) budget.

I spent the better part of the movie trying to figure out who the movie was for. If it was supposed to be making fun of everyone Mel Brooks style, it forgot to be funny. If it was supposed to be a lampoon, it didn’t remember who the target was. If it was Satire it forgot to actually be ironic and have a message. Who is the mass audience that would be coming to see this. Sure Blumhouse probably made this with a budget of three packets of Pixie Stix, a roll of duct tape, and one live pig, so if anyone saw it it might break even. Might. Instead you have a muddled mess with mildly entertaining death scenes that Spinal Tap would give the thumps up to. I am pretty sure the movie wasn’t taking itself too seriously, but then I go why not? If you are going to make this – take it seriously. If you aren’t going to take it seriously, make it funny. You have to pick…one. At least one.

Betty Gilpin (Stuber, GLOW) is one of the hunted and makes it work and honestly is rather entertaining. There’s an edge she rides with the character between stoicism and sarcasm that really is the highlight of the movie. I could talk about anyone else, but…there really isn’t a point. They are so two dimensional a piece of paper has more depth to it.

TL;DR?

This movie should have absolutely been delayed. I stand by the decision on that. That being said, the concept that this movie glorifies hunting people or gun violence shows me no one actually watched it. Gun violence is part of the movie, but unlike Death Wish which romanticized it, this…exists. That might be the kindest thing I can say about it. It exists.

Some of the headlines are pure hyperbole – “Designed to stoke division in this country”. Yeah no WSJ. “Gory Battle Royale”. I’ve actually seen Battle Royale, this doesn’t even rate in the top 30 gory movies of its kind. “Shows Hollywood for what it really is, demented and evil” – Fox news. I don’t even know where to begin on this one on how wrong it is. “Exploitative rather than opinionated” – the Daily Mail. I swear these headlines really are clickbait and I watched a different movie.

The actual controversy around it was sound and fury constituting nothing and may have only existed as part of the movies marketing mechanism, which it’s clear the poster for it’s actual release intended to use.

There’s nothing particularly “wrong” with the movie other than it isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is. It’s not as gory was people claim it is (one scene exception).  It wanted to be witty but amounts to little more than an ill placed whoopee cushion where everyone kinda chuckles but no one had a good time.

Should I see it?

No. It’s not even worth the curiosity fee.

Would you see it again?

Only if one of my reviewer friends gives me a hot take I missed entirely and when I can watch it for free on Netflix.

So …not buying it.

No. No I am not

You’re usually more wordy than this on a movie you hate.

I don’t hate it. I am just confused by it. I literally hit my friends up in discord going “what did I just watch?”. This isn’t like The Lighthouse or High Rise where I know what I watched was good but I can’t make heads or tails out of how I feel about it. This is a movie that exists, had its moments largely thanks to Betty Gilpin, but just left me very very confused as to what it wanted to be and was trying to do.

Who knows maybe Bloodshot tomorrow will be something….I doubt it, but I can hope.

Darke Reviews | The Invisible Man (2020)

I jokingly referred to this as Gaslighting the Movie when I saw the trailer. I’ve been debating, until watching it, how to do a Claude Rains joke, or if someone asks me “Did you see the Invisible Man?” making a crack “of course not, he’s invisible.” This is not the movie to make those jokes. Now, I have no confirmation of this, but this also feels like a movie that might have been shelved for a bit, as part of Universal (the movie’s distributor) and their ill planned (but not ill advised if we’re being honest) attempt at a Dark Universe. There was of course “The Mummy” in 2017 and my undying hatred of it and its ham fisted attempt at a solid launch of this Universe. Dracula Untold back in 2014 which had a shoe horned ending to try to insert it in the DU. Looking back at the classics, we’re only missing a few, Phantom, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Invisible Man.

The character of the Invisible Man first appeared in 1897 with a short story by H.G. Wells. It was further and widely popularized by the 1933 classic produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., directed by James Whale, and staring Claude Raines. The first two names are important because they *WERE* the Universal Monster makers. This movie was so iconic, as many of these were, that it spawned many sequels and other interpretations. I would say one of the more successful and well known attempts at a remake or re-imagining was in 2000 with the Kevin Bacon lead Hollow Man. This iteration introduces the sexual predator aspect, which brings us to our movie tonight.

Trigger Warning – Sexual Predation, Domestic Abuse, Gaslighting

Yeah, no quippy question today. The movie was storied, screenplayed, and directed by Leigh Whannel, who brought us much of this centuries modern horror. He is the writer of Saw, and two sequels, the Dead Silence remake, Insidiious and two sequels, and 2018’s Upgrade; which he also directed. I was not a fan of Upgrade, though many critics and others were. With this one Whannel has left his gore hound and supernatural horror background and continued his exploration of science horror as he did with Upgrade. Ironically, one of the major set pieces here is the same house from that movie. So if you do watch this and watched that – that’s where you’ve seen it before.

*sigh*

Ok, my joke title isn’t. This movie’s opening sequence is probably one of the most anxiety inducing scenes I have seen in an extraordinarily long time. While I myself have never been the victim of physical abuse, I know more than a few people who have and listened to others. I do know Narcissitic types and gaslighting, and other mental and emotional abuse techniques from having them used on me more times than I can count, and probably more than I was aware of if my reaction to this movie is any indication. The first seven to ten minutes of this two hour film are nothing but watching someone escape from their abuser. There’s barely a line of dialogue, the musical queues are light, but the camera control is on point. You watch as this woman, Cecilia Kass (Handmaids Tale Elisabeth Moss) clearly is trying to escape someone she is terrified of. The movie doesn’t waste any time showing you what she went through, or even telling you, it skips to the escape. The tension is real here, or was to me, with it continuing to build even through her actual escape. THEN the movie shows you what she was running from in just a few short seconds.

The rest of the movie plays like this. You spend the entire time watching this woman get broken down -after- she escapes her abuser. After it appears he is dead (not a spoiler, its in the trailer). Watching as someone or something manipulates her world and those around her to make her look more and more irrational to a situation. Full props must go to Ms. Moss here. She plays the descent like Nero played the fiddle. Aldis Hodge (Turn, Underground) and Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time) show up and play it all straight, but are completely overshadowed by Moss.

The tension and anxiety I felt going through the first act and a half of the movie were palpable. Enough that a few times I considered leaving. Not because I was scared, but because the movie made me uncomfortable. There are different kinds of horror, and this type, this type did not need to make the monster invisible to have him be the monster he is. He was all too real a Monster before hand and there are too many people in relationships with such monsters. That’s the power of this movie. Not the method in which he became invisible, or even the fact that he is, its that this kind of evil is real and doesn’t get tied up in a bow in 120 minutes.

If anything the last half of the movie becomes easier to watch, but this is where the plot holes form the largest. While there are a handful in the beginning, and they are significant, the last of them is large enough I could drive the USS Nimitz through it. This is also where IQ’s drop significantly with some of our protagonists. There are important questions that *are not answered* that leave me scratching my head even now.

TL;DR?

The Invisible Man is a rather well made modern horror. Easily made on the cheap, with a $9 million budget, production studio Blumhouses MO, the movie can’t help but turn a profit this weekend at the box office. It is well shot, though Whannel did clearly want to get a few “Upgrade” style camera move shots in.  I would say a solid quarter of the running time the movie is shot with Moss in a medium shot where you can see her and the entire room she’s in. No one HAS to be there, but her acting and the movie lets you think there is without a single drop of effect. Shots like that pepper through this film and build significant tension that never quite gets released. I would say the movie only even has one actual jump scare in it.

All of that being said…I drove home and was still feeling unclean having watched it. Normally when I write these reviews I listen to music or nothing at all to let me focus on the writing. Anything with actual dialogue can be distracting, but here I had to put on a nice safe horror movie like “You’re Next” to feel better.

Wow, should I watch this?

If any of my trigger warnings were relevant to you. No. No you should not. I am having a hard time recommending this movie. Despite some glaring plotholes, it really is well acted and well shot and does make you feel. You feel her fear, her anxiety, and the tension.

Would you watch it again?

Not for a long time.

Buying it? 

I really do not know.

You don’t usually ‘feel’ like this about a movie.

I know. I am a little surprised myself. While the IQ’s dropping and plotholes annoyed me the emotional resonance of the rest of the movie hit hard enough and well enough that I consider it an overall success. Just…its a little too real for my tastes with that opening.

I just can’t shake that people will be entertained by this and not get the horror isn’t the invisibility, its the abuser and the victim no one believes.

Darke Reviews | Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

It actually took me almost two hours to decide what to write about this one. Most of us are familiar with the abomination that was the original trailer. Just in case you wanted nightmares tonight here you go:

 

This trailer formed one of the few universal truths on the internet, that being Sonic was a horrifying CG mess. The studio all but immediately vowed to fix it without changing the release date. Now if you don’t know much about the industry you’d think “so whats the big deal, its just CG.” I wish that were the case. As it stands most studios are dealing with 11th hour production changes, after already burning the midnight oil and their staff, and are also generally the lowest bid to complete the effects. A not insignificant number of smaller studios go out of business after some productions. So when we complain about horrific CG, like say the Black Panther final fight, that would be an 11th hour (read weeks/days before the release to get it fixed). CATS, which I refused to see even on curiosity (irony?) was in editing up until hours before the premier.

I told you that to tell you this. The studio who picked up fixing Sonic, “Moving Pictures Company” (MPC) and turned THAT into this…shut down its entire studio in Vancouver this December. That’s after the redesign work and the positive comments from the internet from their work. (source: CinemaBlend). Why? Because they barely made a profit from the work.

Image result for sonic before and after

 

All of this is important to understand when you consider the movie as a whole. It means that one of two things happened with the production. Someone at the head of the studio thought original design was perfect and didn’t need any updates; which implies they didn’t listen to anyone with an inkling of sense or they really didn’t care. Option 2, less likely, but far more insidious, is that they dropped a horrific trailer and knew it was bad but wanted the press. Then spent the money to fix it. The first is more likely and quite honestly more expected. We’ve seen it time and time again and will continue to do so.

What I don’t get is why? Paramount, the studio who is the lead on this production, barely has a leg to stand on box office wise. Not a single movie last year of their eleven broke $100 million. Rocketman was closest at $96 million and is in 32nd place in total gross.. They completely have destroyed any faith in most of their major IPs, like Transformers and Star Trek. This years bets aren’t looking so hot for them either with The Rhythm Section being a massive bomb (still disagree, but facts are facts) and only pulling in 5 million so far (ouch). Like a Boss with a whopping 22 million isn’t exactly stellar when a movie like Knives Out, in its 5th week by New Years, has pulled in 29 million this year. They have 16 movies this year and they have to be banking on the fact that A Quiet Place II does something and Top Gun: Maverick does as well. I mean one of their productions is a new GI Joe movie?

I am talking about all of this to try to help you and myself make sense of what myself and one of my Dark Court watched today. I thought the first twenty minutes or so were actually pretty solid. Good intro for Sonic. Good intro for James Marsden, who this movie owes it’s life to. Comical introduction of Robotnik was ok until he spoke. I leaned over to the member of my Court and was like “ok this movie knows what it is” with a Leslie Neilsen esque Airplane style joint chiefs meeting that checked off more cliches in two minutes than some movies do in two hours. I was wrong. I was so so wrong.  Marsden is the most charming thing in the movie. Sonic is entirely puntable 90% of the time, and the 10% is actually very bearable. If it weren’t for the new look this would be even more of a train wreck than it is.

I am not sure what writers Josh Miller and Patrick Casey (writers of Transylmania, a vampire movie I won’t even watch) were going for. Buddy Cop? Family Road Trip? Pure Kids stuff? A plot? They achieved none of these things. Writing is hard. Trust me I get that, but you have friends, you have others look at it. Hopefully someone goes “so …..I have some questions” and you take that and go. This did not happen. I could maybe fault Jeff Fowler the director in his first cinematic picture, but something tells me he had studio notes, a horrible script, and no one who could help him. Like the direction in the movie is not the worst and Jim Carey when told to combine all his various previous life personalities has to be hard to direct, especially if starstruck, but…yeah.

TL;DR

This movie is a bleeding hot mess. It is not a good movie. It’s not even an adequate movie. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t entertained. There are a few moments of joy and smiles to be found sure, but when those moments are gone the movie is pure cringe. I wish I knew why studios had no faith in Video Game movies. Many popular games in the past few decades have quite a bit of lore and story to them and studios want to ignore it. Yeah there’s actually a story to sonic beyond running and collecting rings.

Instead we’re given yet another “Masters of the Universe” where we put our character on Earth, ignore anything of interest from the original material and create…this.

I was told by the Manager of the theatre he is hearing good things. Maybe if it was from kids, who were having a good time in this. There is just not enough meat here for an adult to enjoy so I am asking who is this movie for?

Should I see it?

If I thought the animators would see even a penny for their work – I would say yes. Since I am not sure – thats a no from me

Would you see it again?

I barely want to remember seeing it now.

So…not buying it.

That would be correct.

Is it really that bad?

It didn’t anger me. It’s just badly put together. I am more annoyed and confused by it than hating it. It exists. It’s on the same caliber as Super Marios Bros and He-Man, but still better than anything Uwe Boll did.

Here – the trailer for the good cartoon. I am going to find my happy place in my crypt.

 

 

 

 

BIrdsofPrey

Darke Reviews | Birds of Prey (2020)

Ahem, the full title: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). 1992 was a good year for the comic industry, a brand new character was introduced that would rehape an entire mythos simply by existing. Batman the Animated Series was on air, was impressive in its style and decades ahead of its time. It became the definitive Batman for many of us with his rules and his choices, and the voice of Kevin Conroy. Then Paul Dini and Bruce Timm went “let’s give Joker a proper side kick.” – and we got Harley Quinn. She was popular on the show and continued to become a recurring character and a character in her own right with motivations and growth. Then the comics got a hold of her, then toxic fan boys, then somewhere along the line someone somewhere realized Joker x Harley is not a good thing and she once again came into her own. Now she has her own movie after a blow out performance in Suicide Squad. I still stand by my review on that one. It’s not as bad as people say. I still rate it above most of the DC collection

Would you be crazy to see this DC movie?

Let us for a moment and pause to appreciate that we have Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Shut In) on script and producer credit and Cathy Yan as the director in her first major cinematic work. That’s right folks, a woman on script, a woman in the directors chair, and all of your protagonists are women. This is important. This is rare. You don’t see this in most genre’s especially action or superhero movies that have major theatrical releases. Since 1977 there have been four. Four out of over a hundred films and only one of them previously had women on the script (Captain Marvel). Here’s the list by the way.

  • Rachel Talalay – Tank Girl (1995)
  • Lexi Alexander – Punisher War Zone (2008)
  • Patty Jenkins – Wonder Woman (2017)
  • Anna Boden – Captain Marvel (2019)

That’s it. Now I liked Hodson’s work on Bumblebee, which gave us probably the most faithful Transformers movie since 1986. Then with Yan in the directors chair you get something different working with a script about women directed by a woman. This is a hard topic to explain, so bear with me as this is important for the context of the movie. Harley is a highly sexualized character, like ridiculously so. So when you think of how you’ve seen her in movies, you have her in tight hot pants bending at the waist to show off her butt – to who exactly? That is sexualization. Now compare that to this movie where in one sequence, while wearing a white shirt sprinklers go off. Many of my readers are rolling their eyes now going “oh god…”. Except what you are expecting doesn’t happen. It *doesn’t* turn into a wet T shirt contest with Margot Robbie. It actually becomes one of the more interesting fight scenes in the film. It’s all in the how the camera moves and follows her and the action. It’s centered on frame or on her face, or goddess forbid, the action.

Another example, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary. Her first appearance in the film is on stage singing in a seedy nightclub. Let’s play direct this scene. Do you

A: Do a long slow pan up from her heels, over the back of her legs, turning the camera at her hips to accentuate the hips and butt, staying on side angle as you raise to her chest, turning again after those curves are shown and then maybe show her face in some beauty make up, holding the microphone to her mouth seductively as she sings.

or

B. Silohuette at first. Then an over the shoulder from the back looking at the room, then cut to her from the shoulders up singing.

If you picked B, then you went the Cathy Yan route. 96 times out of a hundred you get option A. Option A also includes extended shot of her walking if you are Joss Whedon. Don’t ask just trust me.

This particular segue is important to the discussion of the movie because in it the characters ARE beautiful, they are sexy, but it isn’t sexualized. They feel like this is what they WOULD wear and its empowering to them. It does all of the above and more through the movie without once literally saying “Girl power”.  It’s overt sure, but it’s never once stated and that matters.

Our main cast of characters are women of all ages and colors, another thing different from literally every other comic book movie out there. Again, this is important. REPRESENTATION MATTERS. You have Margot Robbie reprising her iconic turn as Harley Quinn and getting to run the show full Deadpool style. Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Underground, True Blood) as Black Canary reminding us that Canary is a street fighter first, super powered voice second.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Gemini Man) as The Huntress, possibly the least developed of the characters, but making that work to her advantage. Rosie Perez (Untamed Heart, White Men Can’t Jump) comes out swinging as Detective Renee Montoya and Ella Jay Basco (goddaughter to Dante Basco!) in her first cinematic role as Cassandra Cain. Every single one of these wonderful women own their roles, the screen, and perform. It’s fantastic that each gets their time on screen and gives definition to the characters.  Of course there is also Ewan McGregor as Black Mask deciding that the scenery needed to be chewed. He would not be one upped by the manic Harley Quinn and boy did he take it to Jeremy Irons levels and you will hate his character for it. Chris Messina (Argo, Devil) also decided this was the direction to go with his take on Victor Zsasz. This is not a Zsasz I have seen before and it was …perfect for this movie.

We can also take a moment, but just a moment to talk about the fight choreography. Have you ever complained about not knowing what is going on in the fight because of quick cuts or weird angles or shaky cam? Watch this movie. It has none of those problems. They put our heroines (..and Harley) front and center in the action and they do a lot of in frame in camera stunt work and fighting with a single focused camera. Its a thing of beauty to watch multiple fights like that. The music is on point, with a special nod to a cover of Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Adona. It’s not perfect though. There are some pacing issues at times and maybe five total minutes could have been paired down. Atmosphere is hit or miss depending on the scene, mostly hit.

TL;DR?

I had my entire Dark Court with me tonight. We were highly entertained. We sat after the movie talking about our favourite scenes and all the things that really made the movie for us. I will warn there’s a trigger warning I need to give around two scenes that may be difficult for those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. I can say the way in which they are shot does not translate to a male power fantasy or helpless woman who needs to be saved/can’t save herself, the trauma of the victim. Both are uncomfortable scenes and made show this is not acceptable without being exploitative of the victim. Another touch you wouldn’t have gotten without Yan at the helm.

Birds of Prey, as launched by Harley Quinn is a very good movie and also happens to have characters from comics in it. Good fight sequences, no blue beams from the sky, low key, street level film and it was a breath of fresh air. I still want my Gotham City Sirens with Harley and Ivy , but this…this is a good start and I want it to do well.

Should I see it then?

You’d be crazy not to. Seriously, its good and entertaining. Again there are flaws, but nothing the whole of the movie doesn’t overcome.

Would you see it again?

Full price even.

Buying it?

Do you have to ask?

I always do.

Then yes. Yes I am

Anything else to add on this one?

These are not spoilers, but things that will please fans of Harley and her comic runs

“Babies!” (ok there’s only one but you just wanna snuffle Bruce)

Bernie the Beaver.

Carnival Hammer

So much..more.

 

RhythmSection

Darke Reviews | The Rhythm Section (2020)

An interesting trailer. Noted girl crush Blake Lively. The Sleigh Bells covering Lead Belly “In the Pines” aka “Where did you Sleep last night” with a modern pulsing beat. I admit I was hooked from shot one. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get from it.

Sure, it looks to be a pulse pounding action thriller like a Jason Bourne movie. Perhaps something like American Assassin a few years ago? Barbara Broccoli is a producer and the Broccoli estate *IS* the James Bond film franchise.

So what’s under the surface?

Begin as we often do with written by, screenplay, and executive produced by Mark Burnell. Burnell is taking his novels to the big screen in a way few authors actually do with direct script control making the movie *his*. The film is based on his own book series around our central character Stephanie Patrick (Lively). An truly ordinary woman on a path of self-destruction after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash. When Stephanie discovers that the crash was not an accident, she enters a dark, complex world to seek revenge on those responsible and find her own redemption. This is not a super woman, she has no special set of skills, nothing that makes her more than an above average college student consumed by her grief after the loss of her family. A line in the movie calls her a cliche, which to some extent she is. She’s so wholly been destroyed by her depression and guilt she’s at the bottom when the story begins. I am torn on this portrayal, but it’s only part of the movie. The rest is a spiral and its hard to tell if its up or down for her as she enters the world of espionage.

If anything, this is not Bourne, Bond, or even Atomic Blonde. This is La Femme Nikita without the glitz and glamour. It reminded me of both the original Nikita (1990) and Point of No Return (1993), watching as a true nobody gets deeper and deeper into a world she isn’t ready for by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the feel comes from director Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale, I Think we’re alone now) and her knowledge of how to get intensity with both camera and actor. Morano has over 50 credits as a cinematogrpaher since 1999 and it shows with her choices to use natural(ish) lighting in more than few scenes, how to use her angles, and fish eyes to maximum effort through the movie, even as it slowly transitions to stable and clean as the movie progresses. It’s hard not to feel in the moment when the camera operator is in the passenger seat of a car during a chase sequence with constant pans and very clever cuts between driver, the road, and what chases the driver. Much like last nights Gretel & Hansel distortion is the name of the game and the game is played well here.

Blake Lively is absolutely amazing in this. I missed Gossip Girl with her, not my thing, but she came to my attention with Green Lantern and her strong desire to play Star Sapphire in the sequel that will never happen. Her first truly memorable turn was in the supernatural romance Age of Adeline (which I owe a review to), then The Shallows where she has to carry a movie alone. A Simple Favor was damn near perfection from her, and the contrasts in camera work and director are clear between the two. Some might say her performance is flat, but I would argue that as subdued and relying on more body language than dialogue. There is a lot going on there. I’d love to talk more about Jude Law or Sterling K Brown in this, but in a movie of spy vs spy….where they are the spies and the support for our star I wish to reveal nothing. They are fantastic actors and do their jobs and do it well.

TL;DR

I didn’t expect La Femme Nikita. I expected American Assassin. I am pleased in my disappointment. This is a well paced, well shot, well acted spy thriller with a fully developed lead character. While I am aware that there are more books in the series the movies doesn’t end on an obvious cliffhanger or stinger for a sequel. Bold move from the filmmakers and I support it. I can’t say there’s a deeper message to the movie, I can’t even say it’s not cliche in its own ways checking off tropes left and right as it does.

What I can say it was gritty in the right ways. This felt, for Hollywood, what a raw amateur with some training from a competent teacher might look like. There’s nuance and weight to it. Is it realistic? Of course not. That wouldn’t be entertaining. It is however entertaining and delivers on promises it didn’t know it made. It also delivered on good fight choreography in a way that you may not even notice at first, but there’s a oner hidden in the movie and I was pleased to realize it AFTER the fact.

So should I see it?

In the drought that is January for movies? Yes. If the genre you like is portrayed here – then yes. Even at full price. I think even the big screen helps with the camera work.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

So whats with the title?

It’s related to some in movie dialogue comparing your own pulse and breathing to parts of a band. It’s weird yes, but it works in context. It’s also the novel title so that’s a thing.

 

Darke Reviews | Gretel & Hansel (2020)

I had secretly been asking for this of any power that be that would listen. While I am still awaiting a new vampire renaissance, I still have enough material coming out of various and often dubious quality. I watch as the zombie era desiccates as it should after a time. I see the Werewolves still awaiting their due, I am sure it will come at some point. The one I have been missing for some time and longing for in the dark was The Witches. I am not sure what happened with them after a brief surge in the 80’s. The Craft and Practical Magic did what they could, but alas it was not enough.  I am not talking a movie that is vaguely about Witches (sorry Blair Witch) either, I am talking about movies definitively about the Hollywood and Fairy Tale witch. Perhaps my timelines are blurring a bit where the space between is not as noticed, but since 2016 we have the superlative VVitch, then we had the rise of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina  now in its 3rd season; and now in the beginning of 2020 we get Gretel & Hansel. I could be hopeful in believing this, but I will take what I can as this is a painfully under served genre.

NOTE: The genre with few exceptions has little to nothing to do with any actual practicing witches. These films should never been conflated with any sense of realism so my term of Hollywood and Fairy Tale witches is important to consider.

With that out of the way should you fall under Gretel’s spell?

The movie was written by Rob Hayes in his first long form and theatrical turn. He has some shorts credited as well as some TV, but this is that first foray into the bigger machine. From a story perspective it is at its simplest a fairy tale with a modern storyteller. Gretel and Hansel are left to their own devices in a time not quite defined, but clearly intended to be 1600-1700’s. In an attempt to find food, shelter, and perhaps a permanent home they end up off the path and in the care of Holda and within her house in the woods. Holda has much to offer both of the children, but all things have a price. Who will pay it and how steep will it be?

You know how from time to time two movies come along that make you think the script was shopped around and while one studio officially turned it down they then had someone else write something similar? Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Normally that happens in the same year, this happened three years apart. This attempts to invoke the VVitch and could very well be a distant cousin to that film as the ties are close. Perhaps too close? I don’t mind it as much because the stories themselves are different and the temptations offered are more or less real to each other. I suppose my confusion with this one is – what is the message Hayes is trying to tell?

The visual style and direction of Ozgood “Oz” Perkins started as an actor in a variety of films from different genre’s before taking the directors chair in 2015 with The Blackcoats Daughter. It’s clear to me he has seen the VVitch, but has also seen The Neon Demon. There is a real love here shown for Giallo style movies and high art, style over substance film making. Clear intent is made with distorted focuses, abnormal perspectives, colour palettes both muted and vibrant, and a synthwave soundtrack (by Robin “Rob” Coudert) straight from a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. There is a very real pulse from the music that drives the movie as much as the actors do with it’s own dissonant chords that aren’t done by sharp notes across the strings. The entire aesthetic leaves you just enough off balance that with the stilted dialogue and harsh performances a viewer begins to question dream, reality, or both? Sadly, the questions are answered by modernism. The veritable green curtain is pulled too far and we don’t get to savor some of the key moments because the final cut of the movie was perhaps too direct.

Now I mentioned above harsh acting. This is not bad acting. Quite the contrary, Sophia Lillis (IT, Nancy Drew) has a lot to do here as Gretel. She has to be controlled and controlling. She has to go to what is trying to be unnatural dialogue from that mysterious period and on top of that still be someone we wish to see victorious – however that victory may look. Samuel Leakey, roughly age 8, doesn’t have an easy time of it either. Equally challenging dialogue and a need to be both childish and quiet isn’t easy. The amazing Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Silent Hill) was made to be the Witch o the Wood. Her presence and experience clearly helped here with both young actors and also bringing a level of menace from moment one that cannot be denied. These performances were harsh but its by design and good acting that they succeeded.

TL;DR

I found Gretel & Hansel a satisfying film. It was the film I was looking for and hoped it would be from the trailer. I also know this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. There is severe style over substance here despite this quote from (Ozgood) Perkins:

“It’s awfully faithful to the original story. It’s got really only three principal characters: Hansel, Gretel, and the Witch. We tried to find a way to make it more of a coming of age story. I wanted Gretel to be somewhat older than Hansel, so it didn’t feel like two twelve-year-olds – rather a sixteen-year-old and an eight-year-old. There was more of a feeling like Gretel having to take Hansel around everywhere she goes, and how that can impede one’s own evolution, how our attachments and the things that we love can sometimes get in the way of our growth.”[Ew.com]

This theme is spelled out too much. The underlying currents within the movie are at odds with one another, despite the metaphor for puberty and finding ones own place in the world. Maybe they intended to leave it to discussion, but with a movie like this I don’t advise it. It will leave most audiences going “ok and?” where they should be going “ok more..”

I want more of this and more like it. I haven’t felt the way I did on the drive home in some time and the charge I felt was good. It only comes when a genre movie hits me right and this one did, but I promise it will miss the mark for most.

Should I see it then?

If this looked of interest to you? Yes. If you enjoy Witch movies ala Hollywood? Yes. Want atmosphere for days and some rather nice visuals? Onward to the Matinee you go.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres? Perhaps with friends who would wander into the woods and wish to stay.

That was cryptic. Are you going to buy it?

Yes.  Yes I am. My shelf of magic movies is too small and this will go nicely.

Were you scared? I mean this looks to be a horror movie.

No. It was far too tame to scare me or disturb me. Others might find some aspects a bit more on the squeamish side. Thematically it’s more dark fantasy than horror to me, but much like with the cold I am hard to impress. I’d love to get some time with the director and discuss with him the authorial intent.

All in all this was a satisfactory outing for me, but won’t do it for far too many to be considered a success story. There are too few jumps and oohs and ahs, and that message just leaves everything too murky despite its visual appeal.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Dolittle (2020)

I think as a child I knew *of* Dr. Dolittle, but I really cannot remember anything with the character itself. I mean I know I knew the Rex Harrison movie from 1967, which apparently was written by the lyrcisist (Leslie Bricusse) for one my favourite musicals ever and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good one). I don’t think I ever read, and I know they were never read to me,  the original stories from the 1920’s, but the concept of people talking to animals was always tied to this character “Doctor Dolittle”. We are not discussing the 1998 Eddie Murphy movie or its four sequels. Ever.  That said, the concept of this character does seem pretty eternal and I don’t think there’s a child alive, or child at heart, who didn’t wonder about talking to animals. So when this trailer dropped, I was curious to say the least.

So should you go on a journey?

As mentioned, this character is based on a series of shorts by Hugh Lofting in the 1920’s and this particular iteration has a screenstory credit, and three screenplay credits. Usually a dangerous thing. The screenstory is by Thomas Shepherd, in his first cinematic body of work, and I don’t know the character or stories well enough to tell how his work is there. Two of the other credits go to Doug Mand and Dan Gregor (How I Met your Mother), who based on that shows success have a knack for comedy bits. Then we have our third screenplay credit, which is also our director, Stephen Gaghan, who worked on films like Traffic, Abandon, and Syriana. Clearly an obvious choice for a children’s movie about a man who talks to animals. Yet it worked. If you were to ask me to get technical, the movie is both rushed and slow in its script and pacing. It feels as if it rushes to get to the moment of wonder – and there are many – and then languishes between them before you are given the next. Despite it’s “period-ish” set pieces and existence, the dialogue from many in the cast is rather modern and may date the movie some in coming years. I have a feeling these were more adlibs than actual script. I hope they were anyway.

What amazed me most wasn’t the animals or even the adventure, but the setup. In an opening reminiscent of UP we are introduced to the character and his past deeds for Queen, Country, and Animals alike. THEN the movie begins. A fetch quest to get the McGuffin, to do the thing, against impossible odds, and enemies abound. A heroes journey that you see one beginning and the bottom of another. The movie checks most of the fantasy boxes and is proud of itself in doing so. It does have a right to be. True, its a mixed bag of characterizations and odd choices, but the emotional core of the movie never falters and I will take what is offered.

Characters themselves? The actors behind them. So bloody many. You have Robert Downey Jr. acting his heart out and reminding us he can be so much more than a man in a suit of iron. Sure everyone else I am about to list is fine, but RDJ and the accent he affects have to carry the movie. We count ourselves lucky he can do it and then some. I want to re-title this character “The Anti Toxic Masuclinity Hero” because it’s there and he does it so well. Michael Sheen is a hoot as the blatantly cartoonish Dr. Blair Müdfly, with the umlaut. I always like this man when he is having fun and it appears the direction he was given was to have fun. Then we have the last of our live actors of significance, with Harry Collett as Stubbins who does his best to shine with RDJ and the voice cast and doesn’t do too shabby a job. This isn’t to say he’s successful really, because the voice cast of animals of like a who’s who of personalities, with Emma Thompson (Brave, Harry Potter), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Robot) , John Cena (Bumblebee) , Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber, Silicon Valley), Octavia Spence (The Help, Hidden Figures), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindlers List), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, Hotel Transylvania), Marion Cotilliard (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), and more. If I was having to say this outloud on my new Youtube channel, I’d be out of breath. It is awesome that we have all these talented actors in this movie, but they are all vying for their moment and thankfully it works out mostly. This is part of what I am sure other reviewers will complain about. This is a very busy movie with characters and it doesn’t work to the movies credit as much as it could or should. It almost, almost detracts for me, but what keeps that from happening is its, to use modern meme language, Pure.

Technically it’s fine. The CG work on the animals works well enough and is A grade, but still CGI. It’s so present though you forget about it and just see another character. I will also give technical props for what I can only see as a jab at 2019 Lion King and emotionless lion cubs. I looked to the member of my Dark Court with me tonight and we both giggled when the little lion cub emoted better than all the animals in that other movie combined. The editing is…a choice. It’s not something I was particularly fond of and again will be a detractor for many.

TL;DR?

The trailer grabbed my attention and I don’t want to say the trailer lied, but it did – a bit. It showed something a bit more dramatic and intense then what was actually delivered. This is truly the first family movie of the year. I mentioned in the full review how the movie felt pure, or genuine and it does. Whether it is or not is another story, but this doesn’t feel like a cash grab. I couldn’t help but feel good watching this movie. I laughed quite a bit and that felt good too.

So I suppose this isn’t just the first family movie of the year, but the first movie that makes you feel good watching it. It’s a sense of escapism at its best, where for just over 90 minutes you are transported to a world where we can talk to animals if we listen and we can solve problems without hurting people. Surprising coming from the Vampire Princess, but even I like to feel good from time to time and don’t need everything to be explosions and darkness. This movie is a very strong response to Toxic Masculinity and we need that. Need it more than ever.

Should I see it then?

Yeah I think you should. Take the partner, take the kids, take other people’s kids. People you know sheesh! This is a good little romp for really all ages.

Would you see it again then?

As always, you buying.

Unlikely, but I will assume you are buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. This is one of those soft movies I can put on when the spoons run out and I can’t even muscle the knives. This is The Great British Bake Off of movies. This is going to be a helluva year and having this in my collection will give me a bit of good to watch from time to time come May.

But is it good?

Ok trying to pin me down I see. I don’t necessarily think so. I do think it hit my Three Writer Rule, I think the adlibs were clear, I do think its a bit slap dash with the editing. Not everything enjoyable has to be good. This isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure, this just is fun and warm. Its comfort food. I think it, without seeing the other here, will be a better film than Bad Boys 3. No I won’t be seeing Bad Boys 3, it just didn’t look good and the humor looked as if it should have died with the franchise a seventeen years ago.

Alright, so January. Bad releases normally…got anything else coming?

I love Mackenzie Davis, but I am not sold on The Turning, so unlikely something next week.

The following week you may get two movies with The Rhythm Section and Gretel & Hansel.

 

Underwater 2020 Poster

Darke Reviews | Underwater (2020)

Feels like it’s been forever. Granted it has been two full weeks since I wrote a review, I also didn’t give you my friends my best and worst of 2019…might still get around to that. Usually around this time in the review, especially one early in the year, I will remind you that January is one of two things, a dump slot or Oscar bait. 1917 was released limited prior to this week so it could be the Oscar bait, literally nothing came out last week and this week we get a comedy I don’t imagine many will see and this bit of film that did not get a lot of promotion as near as I can tell. Granted, I have ad blockers, and pay for YouTubeRed so I don’t get commercials, but I truly don’t believe many know about this movie. Sadly I had to see it alone, as my two thirds of my Dark Court aren’t for horror and the other third did not think this was for them.

So is this a dump slot movie?

To me yes, in so much as that the studio wasn’t sure what to do with it or how to market it.

Example: The trailer

 

I Really don’t expect the average studio to look at some finished projects and know what they have and don’t have, especially on something like this; and this movie being a 20th century fox property prior to the buy out makes it more of a “well lets drop it and see if we can make something” move from the Mouse House. That said, you have a story by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter, Insurgent), with screenplay credit also going to Duffield. Adam Cozad (Legend of Tarzan), also receives a screenplay credit. I like what they do here. This is not a dialogue rich movie, but it is a dialogue appropriate one. What do I mean by that? Well despite most trends where this could have been exposition heavy to explain this thing or that thing or THAT thing, they don’t do it. Sure there’s some exposition, but it’s just enough to let you hear it and either follow along or don’t. The rest of the dialogue, with the exception of one character who I will get to in a bit, all feels natural given the circumstances and very directional to the story driving it, or the characters forward in a refreshingly honest way. The movie this reminds me most of, and I have a feeling this is Duffield coming through, is Alien. Imagine that crew, but underwater. The staging is different, the threat is different, but its that feel of character that is there and I was honestly riveted.

Credit has to go to director William Eubank (The Signal) for that as well. He makes beautiful use of Production designer Naaman Marshall’s (Art Director: The Dark Knight, PD: Don’t Breathe) work to create a both infinitely huge and claustrophobic space. The terms and conditions of being that far down are set up early and the movie reminds you of them frequently enough to make you worry, but not frequently enough to make you go “get on with it.” The Darkness and the depth of being nearly seven miles down on the Ocean floor have their own weight and menace to them, as much as open space did in well.. Space. To paraphrase, from a cheesy, but albeit really enjoyable movie, The Core – “Space, space is easy. There’s nothing there. When you go down, you have tons and tons of pressure.” That, in this case is both figurative and literal.

While not a cast of one, like Moon, the cast is small, with only 7 credited characters. Kristen Stewart gets top billing as Norah, a mechanical engineer on the deep mining rig and carries much of the movie on adept shoulders.  This is not, nor are any of them, a deep character, but that means in a film like this the work is even harder. Stewart not only has to make you care about her characters fate, but that of the others, and doesn’t get a lot of dialogue to do it. This relies on her abilities as an actress to use body language and expression; you know that thing everyone picks on her about, to sell the movie and she does. Jessica Henwick (Nymeria Sand on Game of Thrones, and Colleen Wing on The Defenders), plays Emily a research assistant in the wrong place at the wrong time and here again has to deliver and I find that she does. French Actor Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Brotherhood of the Wolf) as the Captain brings weight to the movie, while John Gallagher Jr. (Peppermint, 10 Cloverfield Lane) brings some humanity. I am really starting to like this actor. The one stand out however, is TJ Miller. He adds nothing to the movie other than wasting the oxygen of the rest of the cast and crew. He could, and should, have been replaced with most any other comedic actor if they wanted levity in the film and it would likely have improved things. But can’t win them all I guess.

I would spend another few hundred words here raving on the production design of the movie, instead I shall be concise. I love the production design. Literally everything about it. That is all.

TL;DR?

This movie is hard to market, which is sad, because I haven’t had this good a time with a movie like this in a very long time. I am trying to remember the last time a movie made me feel tense and looking at the screen for something, anything that seemed out of sorts. They don’t play with jump scares or high shrieking notes, they actually just build tension and dread. When the characters get to breathe, so do you. I came out of this movie excited for what I saw and what it delivered. It was surprisingly satisfying end to end.

This is a dump slot movie in that I also don’t know when else it could be released and do well enough for “Top men” at the studios. It’s not avante garde enough for the major awards circuits or indie circuits, but would never be a blockbuster either. So it’s in a weird limbo, but feels right there too.

I also mentioned Alien before. This movie is possibly the most Alien that has Alien’d since Aliens and there’s no xenomorph. The deep sea suits look both futuristic, yet lived in and rugged, but also reminiscent of those on the Nostromo. The tight corrodors, the cables, the pressing threat of death all evoke more feelings like Alien did than the last four movies combined. I suppose that is setting a high bar for the movie to draw that comparison but its what I was feeling as I watched it.

Should I see it?

If the trailer seemed curious to you, yes.  While not as “huge” as Space, the movie benefits from a big screen viewing.

 

Would you see it again?

Yes. Even at full price.

Buying it then I guess?

Yes, yes I am. Hopefully I can work the Dark Court up to it at the Manor.

Alien huh?

I know. I know. Underwater won’t win any awards, it doesn’t change the status quo of film, it doesn’t particularly do anything groundbreaking, and sadly will go overlooked by most. It is a solid little near future tension packed film. The characters felt real enough and Stewart carries well. When people say “we made the lead like Ripley”, this is what that SHOULD look like, vs….well every other time they claim that. Thankfully here, no one claimed it, but they did earn it.

What’s next?

Why Doolittle of course!