Darke Reviews | Justice League (2017)

This is probably one of the most anticipated or dreaded reviews this year.

*sigh*

*heavy sigh*

Can I just re-watch Justice League (the animated series) and review that instead? I suppose not; since that would just repeatedly talk about how even it’s weakest attempt is greater than many TV shows and movies best attempts. Justice League Unlimited – I mean it had some weaker episodes, but even then most of their episodes are still better than most TV we get – and their greatest episodes just down right heart breaking and or epic. If you look at my reviews for the prior DCEU films, you will see I raved on Man of Steel at the time – I blame the initial hype; but I still believe we need a world where we can look up in the sky and see a Superman. We need that sort of hope these days, it is in short supply. Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice. Even the extended cut, which I have watched the add-ons from don’t help enough. I still will defend Suicide Squad, even if its editing is nothing short of a train wrecking into a train wreck with a cruise ship. Wonder Woman is near perfect (for the DCEU). Don’t you speak ill of her or it – I will fight you.

So where does that leave us? Justice League. Right right.

Is Justice League the final nail in the coffin for the DC Extended Universe?

I am going to structure the review from here on out a bit different than usual so bear with me while I try this out.

Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio (Justice League, Argo), Joss Whedon.

Whedon ends up getting a credit due to the reshoots, with him as a director. I will absolutely not allow anyone to bash Snyder for stepping away from the project when he did and for the reasons he did. I will absolutely bash Snyder for the work he did leading up to it. The script is a mess. The story is convoluted and ultimately as hollow as the rest with of course earth shattering stakes that will have no lasting impact, no risk, and no one you actually care about. The add on scenes for Themiscyra are just short of offal; which is to say it shouldn’t have been used, but if it had been done by a better cook it wouldn’t have been awful. It does bother to slow down and give a few character moments but they seem so out of place against the others that if they were part of the original script and shooting it makes the movie worse. If they weren’t it adds a redeeming quality, but they don’t fit tonally or even in how they were shot and coloured. Snyders vision still sucks and there were small overtures to move from that in how the story played out, but not enough to salvage this.

Actors: All of them I think. Breaking it down by main characters shall we?

Affleck is still a good Batman and Bruce Wayne and while they lift some scenes from Justice League the animated he works. He is also given some ridiculous dialogue to have to work through and some repeats that make him look like the worlds greatest idiot than detective but I don’t blame Affleck as much as the aforementioned script. I honestly hope he comes around on the stand alone film he can do it.

Gal Gadot is perfect. She also plays Wonder Woman really well. The problems with this Wonder Woman vs. the standalone come down to cinematography. Could you not put her in skin tight pants and stiletto heels? In one scene I thought it was Catwoman or her character from the 5th Fast and Furious movie not Wonder Woman. She is an (beyond) attractive woman, yes, but we don’t need almost every single intro and outro for her being a butt or legs shot. She has a face – focus the camera there ok? Thanks.

Henry Cavill. This isn’t a spoiler folks – he’s in the bloody trailers as Clark. *sigh* There’s going to be a day where you get to have fun. I saw part of it here. Part, and it’s enough for me to want to see you finally get to play Superman. Well done sir for trying to rise above the limitations and be charming.

Ezra Miller as the Flash. He isn’t Grant Gustin, which we covered why not in the BvS review. The idea that Gustin wouldn’t fit is odd with what they did give us for him. I *think* they were trying to get him to play someone who wasn’t neurotypical, on the spectrum somewhere, but I can’t be 100% sure. He is very ok as a young, just starting out Flash. They use him for the comedic beats well enough, but I am a harsher judge there. I didn’t hate his performance by a long shot, but it didn’t blow my skirt up. I don’t think they knew how to use him as a character well, which isn’t on Miller at all it just didn’t give him enough to work with beyond the comedic expression.

Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Yes ladies, he is very pretty. The character I saw was Jason Mamoa playing Aquaman, not Aquaman. He came across as a half drunk biker with aquatic capabilities. Even the one scene with Mera (Amber Heard) shows him more as a rogue than a ruler. I am pretty sure I know what they were going for by the very bad dialogue they gave Heard, but its so rushed its hard to tell. This was more similar to his performance in the really bad werewolf movie “Wolves” than it was an Aquaman. Is it him or is it the script and directing. I am not sure, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for a great Aquaman stand alone film based on this.

Ray Fisher as Cyborg is literally a deus ex machina. Again he tries but the script and directing here is like a black hole swallowing anything greater than itself; and I feel bad for Fisher. He is just fine, but the overly computer look for the costume just looks wrong. I want to shake Weta Digital who actually seems to be regressing and point them at Robocop, which came out almost 30 years ago and looked better as a half man half machine. You can do Cyborg with practical then enhance with digital. The all digital did not work. If there was practical at all it was lost, like Fishers performance in distractingly bad graphics.

Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf, well his voice. The voice is fine. Absolutely nothing else works here. The look is awful, the dialogue is worse by a hair. Just no. Honestly, as I think about it, they may have reused the skeleton from Incubus and El Diablo from Suicide Squad for the underlying animations for him – this is not a compliment. It looks recycled and honestly bad.

Technicals: Graphics – Weta Digital, Rodeo FX, Double Negative, Scanline VFX.  Music – Danny Elfman

The good – Danny Elfman. Mr. Elfman, I have found you haven’t grown in your work in some time, but here you did as well as anyone possibly could. But there’s one piece of magic you wove into this that lifted my spirits. Hearing the chords of the original Batman and Superman themes, even for a few bars was enough for this geek girl. Thank you.

The bad – The graphics. Just…no. No. No.

                                        My face during most of this movie.

I totally appreciate the amount of time, skill, and effort that go into animating a single frame. I totally appreciate that it is *not* an easy art form; but when it was the end of the day, when it was closing in on the end of the project did anyone look at the final product and go “can we have another week? Please?”. If I know my artist friends well enough – they did. They were told no, or were given unrealistic deadlines to complete the work. Perfect is the enemy of good enough but I would ask the executives at Warner Bros to please consult the following ven diagram. This is presented in the form of a chart to ensure you understand. Please refer to this on your future projects as I can tell it will help.

 

Here is a small list of what is wrong: Physics fails, even by superhero standards. Corn. Lighting during reshoots. Steppenwolf. Fight scenes that looked better before you lifted them from an Injustice video game.

Here is a sample list of what works: Aquaman standing as a massive wave hits him. Mera. Wonder Woman’s speed, though guys she isn’t the Flash.

Final technical and the worst sin: I condemn the costumer for the Amazons to walk through a shoulder high briar patch for all eternity in the costume they designed. You are the worst. The absolute worst.

(Left) Amazons as designed by a woman and someone with sense. (Right) Sense and the woman have left the building.

TL:DR?

No force in the vast heavens or all the realms could have saved this movie. The majority of it was shot and “in the can” as they say before Wonder Woman came out and DC and WB learned what works. The reshoots may have helped some on the final project and I think they did, but nothing could save the overall project. This movie was a ship that had caught sign of the Flying Dutchman and was doomed.

But….

It had some moments which were good. Not enough overall, but some.  It *was* good to see the Justice League fighting as a team. It was good to see more Diana Bruce chemistry.  There were a few more good parts as well and based on the reshoots and Wonder Woman – maybe…maybe the next one can be better.

Should you see it?

*sigh* I think you plan to anyway. Look a lot of people are enjoying it. If it’s your cup of tea I think you will get your moneys worth. If you have hated all the DCEU outings, except Wonder Woman – don’t. Just don’t. It can wait til disc or digital.

Will you buy it?

I am undecided. I am trying not to hate on it because its trendy.

Oh?

Look, the DCEU is one of the easiest cinematic punching bags there is. They’ve made it easy to hate for purists, movie goers, reviewers, and critics. Much if not most of it is deserved. But when I hear the young teenage boys and girls laughing and cheering like I did back in 1989 with Batman, which objectively is pretty bad 30 years later, how bad is this one exactly? We live in a society that is clinging to our childhoods and geek culture because its one of the few safety nets we have in a world that is largely devoid of hope or joy for far too many people. I am very OK with that (and part of it), but if we want to cling to those old fantasies, let’s consume our media as if we had as well.

This is why I still think the DCEU and Zack Snyder still have much to answer for, but finally, finally they are moving the right direction. It’s taken too long, too much money, and too much fan goodwill, but finally they are showing the faintest glimmers of getting it.

I am just afraid they (WB) will throw the baby out with the bathwater and not keep trying to get better and relax to what hasn’t worked yet.

This turned into a very long review, but ultimately it comes down to this:

If you think this looked like a good time from the trailers. Go see Justice League.

If you are expecting enough wreckage to sink a continent – give it a pass and let others enjoy it for what they can.

Also, this review is officially 2000 words, making it one of my longest.

 

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Darke Reviews | Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

This is one of the rare reviews in which I have read the book, but I think I was like twelve at the time. I also saw the 1974 movie with a cast of the time to rival this one: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, and Richard Widmark. Yes, I saw it on network tv as a little girl, pretty sure I also saw Ten Little Indians as well (or And There Were None if you are purist). I didn’t read much else of hers beyond the two, though I did get my share of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as well (preferred Nancy tbh). I remember seeing the trailer for this remake and asked myself “who asked for this?” and “Doesn’t everyone know this story?”. Apparently someone did ask, and as I found out tonight not everyone knows the story. Learn something new every day.

Is this a mystery with uncovering though?

The screenplay by Michael Green is of course based on Ms. Christie’s original story from 1934; which is generally considered a seminal work of mystery fiction. You don’t even have to be a fan of Agatha Christie to acknowledge that her stories are some of the most influential structures to the murder mystery genre we know today. Her work has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and re-imagined dozens of times over the last century. Her work is so important to this genre that the 1976 parody Murder by Death (a must see by the way – even if Peter Sellers caricature is problematic) includes send ups of two of her characters.  Green himself is a mystery to me, as one of the many writers on Green Lantern and Alien Covenant – he also has this, Logan, and Blade Runner 2049. Sure there’s hit and miss, but I feel like he’s shooting at a dart board blind folded for the hits to be so strong and the misses to be so abysmal. In this case he had a master to work with on the source material and an expert director, yet at the same time the dialogue was sharp, witty, and clean in such a way that it made several of the characters truly engaging beyond their role in the film. This is a mystery for me to solve, but when you have Agatha Christie to work from – it’s difficult to fail.

Ok the original writer helps, but then you add the director Kenneth Branagh. The man is a talented director and a true master of his craft. He too has hits and misses, but with few exceptions even his misses are better than much of what Hollywood puts out from it’s “best”.  He works at his “best” when dealing with period pieces and this is no exception. Every performance from the talented cast is absolute in its precision. The execution of beats, pacing, costume, colour, sound and blocking are exceptional – even if a few of them are a little derivative and on the nose for the shot. It still takes an expert to frame a shot that is derivative and make it work in a way that you don’t care. What impressed me most was the control of the camera with frequent Branagh collaborator Haris Zamarloukos – who was the director of photography. I absolutely adored the movement of the camera and how they made three cars of a train feel expansive and moved the camera around, through, and over them. There’s one tracking shot during the middle of the first act I didn’t even realize it WAS a tracking shot until it was half over because of how clean the camera moved through the scene. While I am sure there’s edits and I would need to watch the scene again to catch them, it looks like a single take at a massive scale that few save Speilberg can pull off.

From an acting stand point – what do you think happens when you put Daisy Ridley (Star Wars – Rey), Leslie Odom Jr. (CSI Miami), Penelope Cruz (Blow, Vanilla Sky), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, The Kings Speech, The Secret of NIMH’s Nicodemus), Michelle Pfieffer (Scarface, Batman Returns), Willem friggin Dafoe (Boondock Saints, Platoon), and the amazing Dame Judi Dench (Casinoe Royale, Shakespeare in Love) in a single film? Ok Branagh playing the part of Hercule Poirot is a bit of self insert fan fiction, but if you had a chance to play one of the worlds greatest detectives and COULD do it justice -wouldn’t you? I didn’t mention Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast),  who needs to move from comedy and get into drama. He is one of those actors who has the timing, presence, and gravitas to move between the styles of film and succeed remarkably well. The other standout is Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons, Jekyll & Hyde) as Bouc, director of the Orient Express. His intro is nothing short of entertaining and I think I could watch a movie about just him and Poirot and be happy.

The movie is near technically perfect as I mentioned before. Near though, not perfect. The green screen for Istanbul isn’t quite right and noticeable for someone like me. The computer rendered train on wide shots as she moves into the snow covered alps again just isn’t quite right. It’s gorgeous, but not right. It isn’t uncanny valley where I am unnerved by the perfection of it, so much as I think another rendering pass would have solved it on the light diffusion and textures of the train. That’s it though, those are my only complaints.  For purists I know the mustache is an issue, but since I am not one – it wasn’t one for me.

TL;DR?

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most expertly made films I have seen this year. I was entertained as a film goer and amazed as a film reviewer. It is near technically perfect with only a few nitpicks and probably a few others I could point out if I really wanted to dig. This movie has an uphill climb against the juggernaut that is Thor and the upcoming disappointment Justice League, which will still make more money than it deserves; yet it deserves recognition and an audience.

Sadly, I don’t think it will find it. Everything about it is solid, but it’s really banking on the actors names as much as anything to get people into the theatre and it still must compete with the raw popularity and “enjoyment” value of Thor Ragnarok. This is a murder mystery, its here to make you think. It’s a period piece; which is to let you embrace the costuming, acting, and other components that come with that. I truly hope people go out to see this movie and hope this review convinces people on the fence to see it.

Should you see it?

Yes. Full stop. Yes. It’s a really good movie with a good story and great production values.

Would you watch it again?

I knew the ending going in from seeing a previous version and I still saw it. I would absolutely see it again if someone wants to take me.

I deduce that you are are buying it then.

You would be correct in your logic.

Ragging on Justice League before it comes out – really isn’t that unfair?

Not in the least. DC and Warner Bros have only gotten one absolutely right, and one absolutely enjoyable (for me). This was scripted, filmed, and in the can before they could adjust based on lessons learned. It *looks* bad. Even the Joss Whedon reshoots can only do so much with the framework already there. Most people I’ve talked to are going to see Wonder Woman and drool over Aquaman. The rest is irrelevant. The movie could surprise me, but I doubt it.

I will probably tell you to see this instead.

Darke Reviews | Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

There are now officially seventeen movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They come in varying quality, public, and critical opinions. I have seen all of them at this point, including Doctor Strange when it came to Netflix. My issues with the movie stand. As it pertains to the rest of the series, I do find my opinions differ than many, many others, as I rather like Iron Man 2 and loathe Iron Man 3. I think the rationale for Doctor Strange as mentioned before is B.S. and even after watching it I found it even more so. I think Thor is solid, but slow, but solid and shows that Marvel was still finding its footing on the MCU. Thor 2 is completely and totally forgettable.

So where does Thor: Ragnarok rate?

It was quickly noted how much they (Marvel) was going for a Guardians of the Galaxy feel on this one. My criticisms of Thor being slow and Dark World being bleak AND slow were common; which lead to a complete and total 180 on film styles. I am going to refer to this going forward on all reviews as the Suicide Squad Effect (SSE). Why? Due to the initial grey and bleak promo for Suicide Squad, DC went back and re edited the movie, re-shot, and recoloured it to make it more vibrant and “fun”. It became even brighter and more colourful with each trailer that came with. With the unprecedented success of Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s style it was clear that Marvel decided to go in this new direction full bore with the third and ostensibly final in that particular franchise. This goes as far as bringing in director Taika Waititi best known for Flight of the Conchors and the new cult classic What We Do in the Shadows (he also plays Viago in that) – which I somehow haven’t done an official review of?

Going to a full on comedy director like this isn’t unheard of for Marvel but the brand of humor is an interesting choice, more on that in a minute since what he has to work with is based on script. A script by Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle, who have mostly done writing for Marvel cartoons and comics; though Yost was also behind last years bomb Max Steel. They both get points for creating X-23 though, but much of this work for non written media production is around cartoons, especially for younger children. Eric Pearson is our third writer, that’s right rule of 3 invocation has begun, who has only written some of the Marvel one shots, such as The Consultant, and Agent Carter. He was also an executive Story Editor on the Agent Carter series. What I take from this is that Disney and Marvel were running a gamble that newer writers with less experience on blockbuster movies might be a good idea. People who have written for their target demographic will be able to help sell a Thor movie, which has proven a challenge historically.

I’d like to say it worked.

It didn’t for me. There was just too much…of everything; yet at the same time some plot holes you could fly a Death Star through. The movie jumps across too many locations and shots so quickly very little of it has time to sink in and let it resonate. Some obvious green screen effects which differ from trailer shots don’t help. An early sequence extends what was previously a post credit stinger and just goes too long and has far too much near slapstick comedy to work for me. I am not saying the movie can’t be funny. I am saying you need to balance your moments and the movie doesn’t do that. The script doesn’t allow for it and Waititi’s direction during those moments save some of it, but make others worse. If you underplay your epic moments they cease being epic. Sure you can satirize them, but is that wise to use the humor as punctuation marks through the movie called Ragnarok? A movie where Thor loses his hammer? Is Prisoner? Is facing the Goddess of Death?

This isn’t to say it’s all humor all the time, but it never allows for any emotional resonance to take place that isn’t around the humor. There are some epic moments which are still well and truly epic, but surrounding clunky dialogue and odd beats can cheapen them. There are, again, some really great shots and moments but most of them are cheapened by a weird or off putting joke or bit of dialogue.

The acting though saves it. Chris Hemsworth has good comedic timing and does his best to let the more intense moments last a bit longer or be a bit bigger than the camera and script allow. He’s showing a Thor who actually has been through all the other movies and learned a thing or two which is nice. Tom Hiddleston is as always amazing, then there’s his performance as Loki. He…doesn’t work as well as he could. He works, but this isn’t the Loki we got to know through the other movies and I am not sure why. Hiddleston is as good as he can possibly can be with the shackles, but there’s only so much the man can do. Jeff Goldblum played Jeff Goldblum as you would expect and was fine. Idris Elba was fine as Heimdall. There are some amusing hidden cameo’s which are fine. Karl Urban is like the others and does what he can and is fine. Most of the actors are just fine.

I haven’t mentioned Cate Blanchett? No. I Haven’t because she is more than fine. She comes out in full force and not even this script can stop her. Her take on Hela (not Hel to be clear) is amazing and menacing. She does carry some weight even if the fight scenes with her don’t. She is bloody awesome, but you know what’s odd – there’s someone I like more, but only a little more. Tessa Thomspon (Westworld, Creed) is Valkyrie and we are here for it. She is an absolute scene stealer at all times. All times. She’s bad ass from her entry to the credits rolling and looks good while doing it. Her dialogue is only slightly less cringey than others but again she makes it work like Blanchett does. All points to the women in this movie.

You probably want to know about the action and fight scenes? Yes. They are good. They are shot pretty good too with a mix of wides and mids to let you see what the action even looks like. It really works for the movie. The Hulk vs Thor scene is worth it. The fight on the Rainbow bridge is excellent (see above for Valkyrie entrance on this). The action is really solid in the movie when it happens; but at 2 hours and 10 minutes the movie runs a bit longer than it needs to. There are other technicals I could harp on but they mostly go back to script, editing, and what can only be some significant material on the cutting room floor.

TL:DR?

Everyone and their mother will be talking about how fun Thor is. How awesome it is. How it is one of the better MCU movies.

I think it’s OK. I found myself annoyed at the overt comedy, distracting beats, and odd pacing. It is certainly not the worst of the MCU by a long shot. I know comedy and I don’t typically get along well so your mileage may vary on this one. The action is solid. The acting is the best it can be from the actors with the script they have. The effects are pretty solid as well as is the camera work. The movie just suffers on a genetic level with it’s tone because it leans too far to the comedy to carry any weight to the moments that should.

Should you see it?

Matinee. I mean I know a lot will pay full price, but I wouldn’t. I am not sure if 3-D will help on the visuals. I know that D-Box was kinda interesting for it.

Are you going to see it agai – wait D Box?

First – no. Not likely. Second – most theatres are going through and adding reclining seats to their houses in light of how well that is taking off and to compete with chains that have seating like that plus alcohol and such. They also have a “4 D” experience as well with chairs that recline and such, but also move and jostle and vibrate with the action. You saw this in limited scope in shows like T-2 3D at Universal Studios 20 years ago, it’s advanced enough to get into main chains and try out. It’s been interesting so far, but between this and Geostorm I don’t have a lot to judge on. If you do get motion sick – no.

Ok cool – will you buy it?

Probably if I am being honest. I think the movie is Ok. It was fun mostly. Valkyrie and Hela make it work. Some of the third act effects and fights are really nice.

You know we have to ask – whats the MCU order right now?

This comes with a caveat – Dr. Strange is at the bottom due to justifiable (in my opinion) boycott and is based solely on what I think of them as movies. Still not 100% on the middle of the list, but I am pretty sure on my top 5. The list has changed with time since some of the reviews have come out and I had time to think on them as well. I was once far kinder to movies than I am today. I am not sure if the movies are worse or I’ve come to expect more. Maybe both? Probably just me though.

A lot of the reviews linked. I would rewrite now, but they are what they are.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. Marvel’s The Avengers
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Iron Man
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Captain America: Civil War
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Thor: Ragnarok
  11. Thor
  12. The Incredible Hulk
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Ant-Man
  15. Thor: The Dark World
  16. Iron Man 3
  17. Doctor Strange

Darke Reviews | Geostorm (2017)

There were no Thursday night screenings of this one. That’s probably a good thing. Regardless since I heard MovieBob discuss it in his movies no one asked for/worst movies prediction at the beginning of the year I had to admit curiosity. I do love a good disaster flick, I love a bad one too as long as I am entertained. They are flat out a guilty pleasure and no one does them better than Roland Emmerich who gave us such amazing classics like Independence Day, Godzilla 98, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. So when I heard about this I knew I was in for a ride like those.

What?

What do you mean he’s not involved? It’s just Dean Devlin? But you don’t get one without the other on these….well that’s odd. Guessing he was busy, but it is odd. Let’s not kid ourselves on this one, it’s not a movie you are asking if you will see or not. It’s a movie you are asking:

Just how bad is it?

It looks like we have an original script by Paul Guyot, who has mostly written and produced for TV with shows like Leverage and the Librarians; which has Dean Devlin as a producer. That explains the joint writing credit. So here’s how I imagine the pitch went.

It’s late after shooting an episode of Leverage in 2012. The writers room is dark save a single burning bulb shining through a half emptied bottle of Jack. Paul and Dean have just finished watching the dailies for the episode and one of them, probably Dean goes. “You know what Paul…I’ve been working with Roland for years. I know how to do a disaster movie. He didn’t have me involved in his movie 2012, but I bet we could do better.”

“Oh, what do you have in mind?”

“What if…” takes another shot of Jack then holds out his hands, “hear me out, but what if we learned to control global warming.”

“Why not just fix it?”

“Bah too ridiculous. Let’s just control it. That’s how we do things; but then! THEN someone goes and turns it into a weapon and only one man can stop it.”

“I am not drunk enough yet. Pour me another and I will start writing…”

Then Devlin because of his track record is able to get a budget. a greenlight, and a cast and starts shooting. No, there’s nothing more complex to the plot. It literally is as the trailer delivered where the man who oversaw construction of the satellite is sent back for one last mission after it starts doing things it shouldn’t. It has all the markings of previous films of it’s ilk that were mentioned above and add the Core for more benefit too. The plot is paper thin and motivations are even thinner. The script is as predictable as they come and the destruction is not nearly as prevalent as the trailer would lead you to believe. I was hoping for good disaster porn but alas no.

This movie was supposed to come out around 2014, but initial screenings indicated it was so bad it was literally unwatchable. It looks like Devlin was in over his head on this one, in my head canon we can blame the Jack. It’s as good a theory as any. The more likely one is that with full control he didn’t know what to do with himself. The best directors either have clear vision or a sounding board who tells them no. My best friend and I plot ideas for games and stories all the time and it usually has the following words at least twice, “That’s good, but I don’t think it will work, what if we did this…”

I don’t think that happened here. Jerry Bruckheimer (National Treasure, Armageddon..heyyyy wait a minute), or at least his company, was brought in for re-shoots, editing, and some supplementary direction as near as I can tell; but he has no credits on this.

I could talk about Gerard Butler (Olympus has Fallen, 300) and Jim Sturgess (Stonehearst Asylum, Cloud Atlas) acted as brothers. This would imply there was acting. They mostly sleep walk through the movie. Andy Garcia as the president mugs for the camera in competition with Ed Harris. I think Garcia won. What surprised me amdist the dull acting, horrific dialogue, and predictable beats was the women. I mean surprise isn’t the right word, but I guess pleased to see someone tried? Talitha Eliana Bateman was probably the first person in the movie that made me realize at least someone was trying. It’s sad when the 13 year old (at the time) was the best actress in the movie. Zazie Beetz (soon to be seen as Domino in Deadpool 2) had more personality than most as a hacker, while Abbie Cornish (Robocop, Sucker Punch) can’t catch a cinematic break is honestly the most bad ass.

Technicals I guess? The destruction is…ah no it’s really not that good. It has its age and while they could have been more interesting they largely recycled ideas shown in ‘better’ movies. The editing is laughable, the blocking worse. There’s nothing good here. It is watchable, but the reshoots and editing somehow barely made it so.

TL;DR

It is bad. It is worthy of MST3K. It is worthy of beer and pretzels. It is worthy of  drinking game.

It is not worth your money.

I have to admit though I was entertained but only at how bad it was and by Abbie Cornish and Zazie Beetz.

So should I see it?

If you have HBO or the like when it comes out and nothing better to do with 2 hours and a bottle of Jack (or other) of your own? Maybe.

Will you buy it?

HAhah…no.

Anything else this week?

No. I have a vacation coming for my birthday and won’t be near a movie theatre. Wellllll I might have a surprise later tonight, nothing new though.

EDIT UPDATE: In light of the death of Robert Guillaume, who I watched a lot as a little girl on Benson, I won’t be doing the review of The Core I had planned to do tonight. Doesn’t feel right.

Review Trivia?

When I was writing Olympus Has Fallen, I had to retype it 5 times. I kept combining other bad Butler movies, like Gods of Egypt and London has Fallen.

Darke Reviews | American Satan (2017)

About 4 months ago I posted on my personal wall about this movie. I was interested from the word go seeing Andy Biersack in a movie. I am quite a fan of The Black Veil Brides in recent years and have played his song, (as Andy Black) “We Don’t Have to Dance” on repeat way too many times. Then on top of that you see Malcolm MacDowell in the movie, and Mark Boone Junior (who is almost always a pleasure) and I am even more curious. You tell me the plot is about a band who is potentially, and literally, selling its soul to the devil to become famous – how can I pass it up?

Oh, it doesn’t get a showing in Tucson on it’s release date of October 13. That’s problematic. Yet good news came to me Wednesday as they announced a release date here well…today. Granted one theatre. One show, but I will take it.

The question is do I regret it?

Let’s start as we always do with the writers. We have Matty Beckerman and Ash Avildsen. I had to dig beyond my usual IMDB searching to find much on them. Beckerman is an interesting one mostly having functioned in a producer role; which means funding projects and  in one of his prior lives arranging soundtracks for movies. He has no writing experience. This brings us to Ash Avildsen, who is the founder and CEO of  Sumerian Records , who have among their roster Asking Alexandria. If I had to guess looking at the former bands Beckerman and and Avildsen met while working with some of the same bands. He too has little writing experience that I can find or any real experience in the directors chair. Both of these facts explain more than a few things.

The story here isn’t much deeper than described above. A group of friends who met online meet in L.A. and try to make their dream come true. Before they have the chance to succeed or fail on their own a man makes them a deal that is hard to refuse. Of course they COULD refuse, but to quote Once Upon a Time – all magic comes at a price dearie. The rest of the movie focuses on lead singer Johnny Faust trying to decide who he wants to be in the dark side of the music industry you hear about, movies talk about, but no one ever has the fortitude to show.

This movie does. It gets so much credit with me for actually bothering to show up to a movie about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with those same three things. You always hear these things like a mantra from musicians, the media, and magazines, but you only hear the aftermath of wrecked rooms and wrecked lives. American Satan doesn’t shy away from any of it and to it’s further credit doesn’t glorify it either – which was a fine line to walk.

On the acting front Andy has a lot to carry as the front man for the band and the target of attention by the powers that be. Damn if he didn’t try. He put his heart into his performance and when he’s on stage, when he’s in the studio he absolutely nails it. The scenes with Olivia Culpo (Miss USA 2012, Miss Universe 2012), as Johnny’s girlfriend,  just don’t quite have the chemistry or dialogue to work as strong as they could. Like I can see them both working their butts off to make the dialogue, blocking, and scene work but it doesn’t quite land for me; and I have to wonder why they didn’t cast his actual wife Juliet Simms as his girlfriend. Conversely the scenes with Jesse Sullivan, who plays the band bassist Lily Mayflower, work. I don’t want to call it chemistry between them, but there is something there. She does capture the eye and the camera when on screen. It was good to see the Mayflower character be a confirmed bi sexual with only a little pandering – but she was never shamed so again credit. I think I want to see more of Sullivan in the future.

Ben Bruce who is the lead guitarist of Asking Alexandria acts his living heart out. He has not one, but two great emotional scenes I think other Hollywood productions should take a look at and get an idea of what such scenes look like. Booboo Stewart (X-Men Days of Future Past, Twilight, He Never Died) is good and has screen presence,  but the camera forgets him during the bridge between Act I and Act II.  John Bradley (Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones) as Ricky is delightful. Then the movies goes and gives us Bill Goldberg of WWE fame, Bill Duke (Predator, Commando, Payback) and Denise Richards (Wild Things, Starship Troopers) in small parts; which was surprising but adds something to the movie I will talk about later. Mark Boone Junior (30 Days of Night, Batman Begins, Sons of Anarchy) was fantastic as Elias, the executive of Akkadian Records. The one you need to hear about is Malcolm McDowell – there is no piece of celluloid that went undevoured. He chews scenery in in the role like he is a starving man and the movie is even more glorious for it. He’s an absolute delight as he helps drive the movie forward.

What matters most is every actor and every singer tries their best. You can absolutely tell they are putting heart and soul to make this work. The movie may not be their comfort zone but again effort counts and not one performance – not one was wasted. Every last one was enjoyable to watch.

That said, as the youtube channel Cinema Sins comments, no movie is without sin. This has them but the truckload. I appreciate this is a passion project between friends, coworkers, and family with fans who support it. I appreciate Avildsen and Beckerman haven’t officially dipped their toes in this space before. You boys really needed to let someone else take a pass at the script. You have a lot of great concepts but you never quite nail any of them to the wall. They are close don’t get me wrong, but the ideas introduced never quite form the way they could. The movie isn’t subtle in either dialogue or metaphor which could be intentional, but the editing chopped just a bit too much in all the wrong points which almost left the movie a bit of a mess. Ok it did leave it a bit of one. No almost.  The editing was nothing short of a train wreck as it cuts from disjointed scene to disjointed scene some running too long, others running too short; and others still with things left in frame that take away from the moment.

Even with the sometimes cringey dialogue, tonal shifts, the bad edits, bizarre camera work (like seriously black and white in one scene? Why?); I still find myself enjoy it. The music was nearly a list of some of my favourite current tracks or covers of my old ones. The production designer (Tracy Dishman) worked her butt off and gave us very visually interesting sets which almost kept me from realizing how many of them were reused. Even with the realization I don’t care! She did great work.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed it.

I am still smiling a bit as I listen to the soundtrack thinking on what I watched. I laughed, intentionally, more than a few times and lost myself in a few moments of the film and forgot about the world for a bit. It is however flawed on a structural level and I have crucified movies for less than this movies flaws. There are so many mediocre films with no heart, no passion, that give the appearance of trying that don’t even have a tenth of the effort this one put forth. In the main body above I keep talking about credit where its due. I will praise an indy movie on just the right side of bad when it tried its damnedest with everyone giving it their all and in the same breath condemn a studio production that I know someone cared about but clearly not the studio itself.

I keep thinking of Flatliners as an example. It has one of the major flaws this did. It introduced ideas but never really explores or realizes their full potential. Flatliners sucked. This does not. I can’t really put my finger on it beyond the fact I was engaged here. I saw a movie doing something others only tease about when it comes to the dark side of music (real or fanciful).

American Satan goes where few others are brave enough and for that succeeds despite its flaws. The actors do a great job letting me care even when the movie sometimes forgets about them. I can’t quite call it original since it is all but literally a rock and roll version of The Devils Advocate and well….Faust, but its original enough.

Should you see it?

If you like movies that are literally about sex, drugs, rock and roll? Yes. Do you like edgy indy movies? Yes. It has a great soundtrack and for the nth time during this review – IT TRIES! A movie done on the cheap that tries its hardest despite its limitations

Would you see it again?

I think so. I know I am buying it when it comes out for purchase.

So I like Andy Biersack too, how does he sound?

*sigh* Sadly, due to conflicting contracts we never actually get to hear his vocals. It’s a shame to cast such a talented voice and not get to hear him. Also this is not a musical. It is about music, but this isn’t like Rock of Ages.

Anything else?

I am perplexed at how much I find myself really enjoying this movie. It just kind of clicked with me and in a year of mediocre and meh beating me up one side and down the others. I will take a hundred American Satans.

 

My final words are a Thank You to the social media team of American Satan for getting the word out there and whoever got us a showing in Tucson. I am glad I saw this tonight.

Darke Reviews | Happy Death Day (2017)

Review 2. It’s 1AM? Do you know where your writers are? Probably awake like me thinking of the thousand ideas that didn’t come to them when they were coherent enough to write them down during the day. True story. Ask a writer. They can confirm this. That isn’t why you are here though or likely the time you are reading this. You want to know if the idea of Groundhogs Day as a horror movie works. The trailer sets it up nicely and I am surprised by the amount of restraint they show.

So did it work or will watching this make you relive a nightmare over and over and over…and …

Scott Lobdell, yes the same guy who wrote Uncanny X-Men in the 90s  and created one of my favorite characters “Blink”, takes a stab (sorry I had to) at big screen film writing with Happy Death Day. We are not discussing 2005’s Man of the House or a potential sorority focus he may have in his work. We are, however discussing the fact he wrote a fairly straight forward slasher film with the Groundhogs day twist. It’s a slasher film with a hidden killer and a time loop story. I can’t say much more on it without spoilers. It’s pretty basic, but utterly functional in its application. Director Christopher Landon (writer on Blood and Chocolate, and director of Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones) has enough to work with and a few good set pieces to play with, even if they are basic in the college slasher film. The remote college campus, a hospital which always seem to have abandoned wings in them, and a sorority/frat house.

Again it’s all pretty basic, but as I mentioned to a coworker today – in the horror genre if you can make basic work that isn’t so bad. They play with some interesting conceits in the film which was a nice change of pace and try to keep it interesting. The primary failing and I have to warn is that there is not a lot of gore here as Blumhouse (production company) and Universal went for a PG-13 rating rather than a hard R. This is October guys. Go for the R. Nothing is going to disappoint a horror movie fan more, especially in the month of horror, than a weak film that doesn’t go for the throat when it can. You can get away with a PG-13 horror film but to do that you need more than this delivers in the story, scares, and thrills department. I am not sure if they shot for the R and it got edited to the PG-13 or what, but the lack of some key slasher genre elements really weakens the film. I know some are booking this a horror comedy – but the comedy doesn’t quite land for me. It does have fun with it’s premise and that at least counts for something.

It isn’t a total waste though as Jessica Rothe (La La Land), who plays our victim Tree (yes…that is her name) does carry the film to the best of her ability and I like her! This is necessary and it works and really keeps the movie out of the bad category. The problem of course is it isn’t a lot of weight to carry. She covers the gamut of emotions in her performance and it does work to watch her develop after each death. The film does not spend  too much time before getting to the first kill which was pleasing; just enough to establish and then get into the guts of things. I’d like to say any of the deaths were inventive within the trope they were playing with, but it’s all pretty straight forward.

TL;DR?

Happy Death Day is an OK film, but literally almost anyone could have succeeded with this concept. It isn’t a stupid film, nor does it really treat the characters or audience in a stupid way but it also doesn’t challenge us. The rating and lack of guts (figurative and actual) hampers the movie in ways I didn’t realize until I was writing this. I just kept feeling something was missing and now I realize what it was. Do I want to see Rothe die over and over again in gory ways? Eh not particularly, but if you want a real “Final Girl” you have to give us something to sink our teeth into and taste and this one just doesn’t do it.

Should you see it?

If you are a genre fan maybe, but at matinee only.

Are you going to buy it?

Ask me in 4 months when it comes out on BluRay and I’ll decide then, right now that is up in the air. Unrated then yes.

Was it bad or something?

No. I was in fact entertained, but in this field I want to also feel some tension but I felt absolutely none. So it fails as a horror movie even if it succeeded at being mildly entertaining.

Ok so what’s next for October?

Well, I was hoping to see American Satan this weekend, but Tucson has no screenings of it. I really like Andy Black and this just looks positively interesting – and I will take interesting.

Darke Reviews | The Foreigner (2017)

One of two reviews tonight, so apologies if they are both not as in depth as others tend to be. While I don’t sleep *much* even Undead Princesses need some rest prior to putting on her guise of a normal mostly functional human being to obtain income. I first came across the trailer for The Foreigner a month or so ago and was delighted to see Jackie Chan in a role as a heavy against Pierce Brosnan. There was just something in the trailer beyond what looked to be a fantastic performance from Chan that grabbed my attention and apparently others as well. If you aren’t familiar. Here you go:

Looks interesting right? Good action and of course you know Jackie does his own stunts when he can.

So should you see it?

Based on a book titled “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather, and converted to a screenplay by David Marconi. Now Marconi is best known for his story of Die Hard 4 (Live Free or Die Hard) and Enemy of the State; which puts him in solid political thriller territory as a writer. Considering how LFDH looks, I would say he wrote a story and the other producers  shoved John McClain down it’s throat rather than it originally being a Die Hard movie. After a quick check to the Wiki, turns out that was a correct theory. Huh. With that sort of pedigree he does seem appropriate to adapt this story.

I want to talk about Leather for a moment. When I write these reviews I do some *very cursory* research to tell you about who they are and other things they’ve done. Something in Leather’s IMDB profile caught my eye. A story/TV movie called the Bombmaker; which has this as the story: “A former IRA bombmaker is forced to resume her craft when her daughter is kidnapped.” Now what are the odds of a writer having two books about the IRA and bombs? Turns out Stephen is from Manchester and worked as a journalist during the time the IRA was active and roughly around the time they bombed Harrods in ’83. I suppose this would inspire me as well to have a perspective and want to write about it.

Write he did, the story of a former special forces soldier from South East asia (Vietnam in the book, China in the movie) whose daughter is killed in an explosion. He then travels to Ireland to seek revenge on the killers.

Straight forward plot, so to make it something we need a director. For this task we gain Martin Campbell, who brought us Casino Royale, Mask of Zorro and Golden Eye (Yay!); but also brought us Legend of Zorro and Green Lantern (ugh). Ignoring the latter half of that list, let’s look at Casino Royale. Ostensibly an intense spy thriller with twists, turns, and solid action. The camera work and acting were well done and the movie revitalized a franchise that had been on life support for a few years.  The question was of course, at this point, could a director like this direct Jackie Chan?

I am happy to report yes. Yes he can. While on a technical side, I wasn’t a fan of a few of the camera angles and shots overall it was well crafted and spent a lot of time making sure to show what could be shown and hide what needed to be. Face it dear readers, Jackie Chan is 63 and he is amazing but he is not going to pull Rumble in the Bronx stunts anymore. Especially when his trademark use anything style isn’t in the forefront of the movie, though don’t worry you do get some of it. What amazed me most though is his choices involving Jackie and the amount of pain that was expressed through acting and camera. It takes no time at all for me to nearly be in tears just from how Jackie performed the scene immediately after the bombing and how it was all shot to bring it together and deliver the required weight.  I liked what action there was and it felt plausible for each of the characters involved and their backgrounds and associated skills.

From a performance, I cannot gush enough on Mr. Chan. His performance is so consistent and weighty throughout. He feels and looks like an elder man who is broken by too much weight of loss on his shoulders. The way he shuffles with each step plays so well when matched against his action sequences. It all stays within the realm of character and capability and knowing the actor you know what is in camera is him; which makes it even better. Brosnan finally gets to use his birth accent. The Irish born, UK Raised actor really delivers here. While not as convincing or powerful as his films nemesis he is standout and believable in his role. Game of Thrones fans will be delighted to see Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) in a supporting role in the film. The only other actor that stands out is Rory Fleck Byrne. There is something about him rather than anything specific in his performance that made him quite riveting during his scenes. I promise you it has nothing to do with him being in Vampire Academy. I find nothing good coming out of that movie.

TL;DR?

The Foreigner is a good film. I liked it. I can recommend it, but with some warnings. It is not an action movie, it is more of a political thriller with action set pieces, like something Clancy would have given us in the 90s. I am not nearly familiar enough with the troubles between Ireland and England beyond some surface knowledge of the IRA, northern/southern Ireland, and that the IRA typically would warn people before setting off an explosion to minimize casualties.  This relationship between the countries features heavily in this story and almost as much screen time is devoted to it as there is the revenge story. This is a non spoiler warning that is worth mentioning as it sets proper expectations.

Should you see it?

If the trailer intrigued you and you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet? Yes. This is a well made movie with good action, a solid and understandable plot; which has characters you can understand the motivations of.

Will you buy it?

The odds are in this movies favor of it being added to the collection.

Anything else?

I hope I can move as well as Jackie Chan when I am his age. It was impressive to watch.