Darke Reviews | Proud Mary (2018)

2nd review in a week. This is good. Not getting a Thursday night showing – not so good. It’s about as indicative as anything else when it comes to the industry. There are always signs they have no faith in a movie. Review Embargo’s until release day, no screenings for the press at all, and lesser known and of lesser impact to the box office take no Thursday night shows. It wasn’t too long ago the only early shows were the 12:01AM – which was technically Friday right? Eventually we got more 11’s, then 10’s, now 7 is the average. Special screenings may even get a 6, like I had with Last Jedi and will likely have with Black Panther next month. All of that said, the lack of a Thursday release even in January is never a good show of faith from the studio or the theatres.

The question you are here to find out is just how proud should Mary be?

The movie does invoke my Rule of Three when it comes to writers, with Christian Swegal in his first theatrical film, John Stuart Newman trying to move from daytime TV (Days of Our Lives) to movies, and Steven Antin (writer of Burlesque and actor of Troy from the Goonies). As I look at this creative team I come to understand some of the flaws in the movie, but first the story. This leans close to spoiler territory but I also need to do so to set expectations because the trailers for this one lied like a cheap rug. Mary is a hitter/heavy for a Boston crime family who takes in a kid she inadvertently orphaned during a job. In protecting the child lines are crossed and forced to be redrawn, but this comes with a body count and soul searching. Can she save the boy and maybe herself in the process?

Now, I said the writing teams credits explain much of the flaws. First and foremost, there is a fundamental flaw in the pacing which left me bored for much of the movie as this is not, and should not be classified as an action movie. This is a Mob movie. This is a Boondock Saints, but with a female lead. The action happens, but it is not the foremost element of the movie, the relationship drama is. At least one character apparently exists only to deliver every single trope line you have ever heard. To his credit he does and it works better than it has a right to, but his dialogue is so bad. The ideas they want to explore are all there and they clearly cared about the project, but couldn’t pull it all together into a cohesive clean story.

Bringing us to the last major flaw of the movie, the director himself Babak Najafi; the man who had the same chair for London has Fallen. You may ask where’s the link to the prior review, but I cannot provide it. The movie was so bland that I couldn’t even be arsed to write about it.  I haven’t seen his earlier work from Iran, so maybe with a smaller budget or other material he’s solid – here he is not. The pacing issues, beyond the script and some clunky scenes and dialogue, also are his fault as well. There was too much shot repetition, the action scenes were dull. Yes. Dull. They are cleanly shot and there’s no shaky cam, but they also don’t to have real weight or depth to them.  On top of that, there are some choices made for some of the actors that diminish the characters; which is unfortunate because of of the actors knocked it out.

Taraji P Henderson (Hidden Figures,  Empire) absolutely holds the movie together as it’s title character. She delivers every scene with a passion that was lacking in any performance from the earlier review this week. She plays with the complexity of the character well even if the direction during a handful of scenes detract from what is otherwise a stellar character.  Her chemistry with Jahi Di’Allo Winston is incredible. Winston, who plays the child Danny, has only a few TV credits to his name but would be wasted there. He elevates a simple childs role far and above what many his age (14) could do. We’ve seen this type of character before become an anchor or an albatross around the neck of a film. They are played as cute, annoying, or obstinate to the point of stupidity. Winston and Henderson navigate the waters well, and here’s one of the things both director and script got right. Every scene with these two is near perfect. There are of course other names I could mention, including Danny Glover or Billy Brown, but the real stars are the two I’ve mentioned.

The technicals here are a bit short, as the camera work is pretty solid overall with some good choices on when to do a close or a tracking shot. The music doesn’t overpower and supports the story – always good. The action as I mentioned is not as good as it could be, but isn’t horrible for what it tried. The pacing though is awful which left me waiting for it to end as it went through its four act structure.

TL;DR?

Proud Mary is a beautiful mess of good intentions and well wishing that gets an A for effort, but a C on its final tally. I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did; granted being given a different movie than the trailers lead me to believe didn’t help. What helps the movie is how much everyone is trying. There’s real desire here to let the character beats breathe, let the camera help tell the story without any overt exposition. Unlike Commuter, which came across as a lazy pay check grab for everyone involved Proud Mary feels far more of someones passion project that didn’t quite end up the way they wanted. There are not nearly enough movies like this lead by non-white actors, much less actresses and I was hoping this one could change the tide.

Sadly it doesn’t look like it will. The studio has no faith nor does it’s marketing department. The final project tried so hard and didn’t stick the landing.

Should you watch it?

If you need a movie to watch this weekend – sure. Though depending on your local ticket prices you may want to wait to stream or rent it in a few months. I want to give this movie money, but it just isn’t quite good enough for an absolutely go see

Will you buy it?

Yeah actually. Like I said I do want to support it and projects like it, so Hollywood keeps trying to get better with them.

Why are you giving this one a pass?

Because I can see the effort. Every actor clearly was trying and no one phoned it in. That gets you miles of credit with me. Also because there are enough scenes I like that it warrants a “Well could have been better”  out of me versus a “That was awful”. Also original movie in a time when we still complain about everything being based on or a remake of something else – lots of credit.

Ok, so next week?

I am debating if I am taking next week off from new releases. Gerard Butlers next spin around the proverbial toilet (Den of Thieves) comes out next week and I am not sure if it warrants my time much less anyone elses.

I will however see Maze Runner: The Death Cure on the 25th or 26th. I don’t expect it to be good, but at two movies in I am committed to see it through. Also I like Dylan O’Brien.

 

Thanks again for reading, but overall Proud Mary will be a pass for the majority of folks. It’s close to really good, but didn’t quite get there.

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Darke Reviews | The Commuter (2018)

First review of 2018! Happy New Year folks and welcome back to AmusedintheDark.  Don’t worry we still keep things spoiler free around here. I know towards the end of the year I picked up a few new followers (still haven’t broken 200 on Facebook yet) and a few regular readers. Some of you have been with me since the beginning – to which you have my thanks for every Like, Share, Retweet, and Reblog. I managed to get a public screening pass for this today, sadly I am not online press – yet, but that is why you are getting this review a little ahead of the Thursday night release.

I’m breaking from my normal format on this one for a bit of discourse, a conversation if you wish to have one over on the Facebook page. It’s relevant to the final review so please bear with me and I promise you there’s still a TL:DR waiting for you at the end.

I mentioned to a few people that I was seeing The Commuter today and a few were like “this looks really good“, and I was confused. From the moment I saw this trailer I was at the most non-plussed by it, so how is it people have such a different reaction. I mean sure everyone has different opinions on things – that’s obvious. But peel the layers back and I realized, I’ve seen too many movies.  It’s the Reviewers Paradox (I should trademark that).

You see there are people who go to see movies and don’t care, which is absolutely fine. Don’t let anyone tell you different. There are people who want to see movies that make them think or feel something; to get that personal reaction of it whether or not it’s horror, comedy, romance, drama, or a philosophical film bridging one or more genres. Also perfectly fine. These are not mutually exclusive either. You can mix and match to your hearts content and I encourage you to do so if that’s what you want from movies!

Then you have reviewers or critics which I kind of consider similar but different enough for distinction. I’ll cover that in another post. We go to a movie for the reasons above, but also to constructively provide our thoughts to others on it’s merits and flaws. To provide a recommendation based on the experience of having watched a given movie and hundreds, if not thousands more. We observe the technical components such as editing, plot, story, camera work as much as the acting, and post production sound and effects. We store all of this and continually learn. If you look at many of my early reviews they are far less technical, but also neither more or less forgiving than I am now. Only now I can articulate better what is good or bad about a film. Which is part of the problem….

Reviewers and Critics – we see A LOT of movies. On average I watch 38 theatrical films a year as new releases and double that via mediums like Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, Vudu, etc. that don’t make the theatrical cut. We observe patterns in releases, such as January and August being dump slots for movies that no one cares about. December being the drop site for Academy Award contenders. March, May, June, November being your tent-pole pictures studios hold their breath hoping to beat the others soundly with.

The phrase “we’ve seen it all before” comes to mind. This is why you will often see score sites, such as RT sometimes be so drastically different than the theatre goer. We honestly do, sometimes, see it differently because we’re comparing it to everything else we’ve seen before. We can see the parallels and repetitions. It isn’t always bad either. Movies can repeat themes, repeat core ideas, hell repeat entire plots and still be good. It just means we notice when they do and have to decide for ourselves

Can this trope/thing/mcguffin be forgiven? Does it add to the movie? Hurt it? Have no impact whatsoever and pass the pop corn please? 

This is the Reviewers Paradox. We are expected to provide constructive opinions on movies, but the movies themselves are by nature so repetitive in their components we can be seen as too harsh.

You will see in many of my reviews if you look back me use phrases like “I was entertained” – even on movies which are kinda bad. You’ll also see a lack of Oscar contenders on my list quite frequently as well. There are amazing films being made that are just plain “Great” that I will never see because the subject doesn’t interest me. Because sometimes I want to keep from getting too jaded from seeing proficient films that I end up judging other movies too harshly, where they aren’t as proficient in whatever arbitrary category you look at but provide some form of entertainment to its audience. I am never likely to watch Dunkirk, or The Post, or even things I am told are amazing like The Phantom Thread.  They didn’t get my interest and I may find myself not being fair to them or becoming less fair to movies that don’t have Oscar Bait written on the projection reels.

I reposted an article the other day talking about how Hollywood blames certain review sites and people like me for why people aren’t going to the movies. While the most common response to this is “Try making better movies” – I can’t help but ponder is there a kernel of truth. Look at what I’ve written so far about the difference between an average movie goer and a reviewer or a critic. I think about how many movies I put in the “Meh” to “Bad” category last year when I was writing my Best and Worst of 2017.

I even considered maybe I should stop reviewing because I am getting too jaded.

Then I saw The Commuter.

I heard people on the exit interviews saying “I was on the edge of my seat”, “It was good.” I thought about my own review for it, my own thoughts and how they lined up. The question stood out even more. We’re just over a thousand words on this review and I haven’t even discussed the movie yet; but I think this topic was worth it. Putting these words to screen from the horror show that is my head can help me articulate why some folks like a thing and others don’t. It can help you as my reader understand why you enjoyed a thing when me, or some other reviewer or critic didn’t.

I promise you, if you read a review of mine and see a movie, and disagree with me – let’s discuss it! Please! I absolutely have not and will never begrudge someone enjoying a film I didn’t or hating one I love. In fact, quite often, I’d love to talk about it with you. Not to change your mind but maybe to change mine. There’s a really good chance you saw something I didn’t, or appreciated something I couldn’t. This always intrigues me. 

TL;DR Part I

Which brings us to The Commuter itself and the question is this a train you should miss?

Director Jaume Collet-Serra returns to the screen with clearly his favourite actor Liam Neeson. Serra has previously directed him in Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run all Night. He was also the director on the fantastic horror film The Shallows. The writers on the film are Ryan Engle (Non-Stop and Rampage – to be seen later this year), Philip deBlasi, and Byron Willinger in their first official scripts; which does invoke my Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three continues its validation. The premise of the movie at its bones is “The Box”. Press a button, getting a life changing amount of money but someone you don’t know dies. Now they’ve added layers to it, such as an isolated location but we’ve seen these layers before in movies that didn’t make it work then, such as well….Non-Stop. You’ve seen similar “do x or y will happen to your family” before and mysteries on a train, on a plane, on a bus. It CAN work, look at Speed, Locke, or even Snakes on a Plane as examples. They all have very similar components but were just done better.

Sometimes they add humor, sometimes they add good action, sometimes they add tension. This movie tried to do the tension and action but failed miserably. Tension works best when you increase it and release it as the movie goes on. But never release it all the way. This failed to release the tension and continued it’s attempts to build it. Attempts is an important word because if you fail to increase tension by slowing the pace down or adding little twists and red herrings, but never giving an out – you end up with the opposite reaction; which is boredom. The Commuter is only 1 hour and 44 minutes when your average blockbuster is 2 hours plus these days and you don’t notice. This felt considerably longer than it’s running time and just when you thought it might be wrapping they keep going. It was like all the worst parts of the Return of the King ending.

This isn’t to say it’s all bad. I did, from a technical perspective, find the opening of the movie a creative way to show the day in and day out of a mans life and the repetition we all go through on our morning routines. It was needed for establishment and it was done well. It’s also at least an ‘original’ film, not based on a book movie or anything so that’s something. Next to nothing else worked for me though. The actors were wasted, the pacing was awful, and nothing came as a surprise.

No surprises mean you fail as a mystery. Even movies where you know the ending can still surprise you or engage you if done well. Look at Murder on the Orient Express. You KNOW the ending, but you sit through and wonder how it’s going to unfold.

With this movie? Not so much.

TL;DR Part II

The Commuter derailed. It fails on basic principles of being an action movie, a thriller, or a mystery. It doesn’t succeed at one when it tries to be all three. I maintain Liam Neeson, and most of the other actors, took this for the paycheck. Neeson himself has become a parody of his own roles to the point where people are going to want to see this to see him be “bad ass” since Taken reinvented him back in 2008 from a dramatic actor to the action star.  I would actually pay to see him take a full on parody role of himself in a feature film.

I really feel for everyone who made this or put money into it. No one goes out to make a bad movie, unless you are The Asylum. You make a movie because you love making movies. I feel bad when the final product is derivative and dull. Being a creator isn’t easy. I hope they find a new project that’s better because while Bryan Mills may have had a special set of skills, this movie sure doesn’t.

Should you see it?

Nope. I am hoping when I see Proud Mary later this week I can recommend that instead.

Were you really thinking of quitting reviews?

Yeah right up until I wrote this. I realized if nothing else Reviewers can hold Hollywood somewhat accountable. If “we” are to blame for the down turn in box office – maybe rather than being antagonistic towards its audiences and the reviewers Hollywood might start talking to us? It’s a vain hope, but hey a girl can dream.

So you’re not?

Nope. Still going strong. Still trying to see what I can do to stir up more viewers/readers, but I have ideas.

What’s Proud Mary?

Atomic Blonde/John Wick but with Taraji P Henderson and it looks awesome.

Thanks for bearing with me on this really long review and editorial folks. Hope you stick around and as always if you want to support me remember to like, share, retweet, and reblog!

Happy New Year.

Darke Reviews | Best and Worst of 2017

Tried this last year, seemed to work. Let’s go again – top 6 movies and worst 6 movies. 38 movies reviewed this year 12 make the list.

Rules:

  • Now this list is strictly based on movies I have watched as part of a First Run experience in theatres.
  • Boycotted Movies don’t get to make the list – so no Kingsman.

 

Best of 2017

    1. Wonder Woman
      This shouldn’t surprise anyone, not only was Wonder Woman one of the most watchable and re-watchable films of the year. It was a landmark movie as the most profitable movie by a female director (Patty Jenkins) ever, best DCEU movie, best Superhero movie of 2017, 5th best Superhero movie ever (behind the two Avengers movies and two Dark Knight movies), bringing in over $412 million domestic for a total of $821 million world wide. DC nailed it with this one and it shows. They beat Marvel to the punch and proved it could work, despite Marvel CEO’s saying it couldn’t. Wonder Woman lived up to her name and truly was a wonder…and the best movie of 2017.
    2. Blade Runner 2049
      This one didn’t fare as well at the box office bringing in only $91 million (domestic) on its $150 million budget. I truly believe they misjudged the market for this one as much as anything. This is an amazingly well crafted, cerebral, and beautifully shot. It makes number two on my list without question.
    3. Logan
      Just watched this again the other night. It holds up so well. It is unlike every other superhero movie that has come before, well used R-rating aside, it is both heartbreaking and visceral at the same time. None of the others have managed to do what Logan did. It has a few flaws in Act II but still just an amazing movie breaking outside its own genre.
    4. It
      Three viewings in and a fourth today this, the highest grossing horror movie ever, is an amazing adaptation of the material. While I will admit some of the horror is lost over the successive viewings, it holds up and I think it will continue to hold up for years to come. I do worry about the sequel though based on some things I have heard…
    5. Atomic Blonde
      This one beats out John Wick 2. The action is amazing and done in camera. Long tracking shots of fights. Charlize Theron doing much of her own work. The music is incredible. I’ve watched this five times now and still enjoy every minute.
    6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
      Three viewings of this one as well, as promised in the review. It is flawed in a few areas, but is still one of the better films of the year for pure entertainment and structure. It uses its budget well, the actors are all on point.

Special Mention: The Shape of Water – I watched this the other day and did not get a review up. My bad. It would have made the list about this spot, or beat out Star Wars. Yes. It is that good.

Worst of 2017

  1. Geostorm
    I was torn between this and Flatliners, but really this was worse. Its harmless, but it is just bad across the board with few if any redeeming qualities to it.
  2. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
    I am just copying my TL;DR for this one: It is a kinetic, frenetic, frenzied mess of a film with no sense of itself. It isn’t bad enough to be mocked by MST3K or good enough for me to actually hate it. It just is a disappointing film in which the actors I think try but are hampered by a script held together by bailing wire and day old bubblegum; and direction that leaves me wondering what happened to Guy Ritchie.
  3. The Dark Tower
    Originally in my number three spot. I considered this one so bland it left me unfeeling where I felt real anger at Covenant. Its a mess. I might have moved it to number five, but I think King Arthur has some aspects that are ok, but none of this works. None.
  4. Alien: Covenant
    A beautifully shot failure. Every aspect of a solid Alien movie is missed here. Every aspect of Good Sci fi is missed here. Nothing works and it left me angry.
  5. The Mummy
    This was almost the worst movie of the year for me. Its bad in every single capacity. From the first trailer to its final credits roll, it does nothing right. Nothing good. Nothing interesting. Ok it did cast Sofia Boutella, but misusing her so badly is a crime in itself. It absolutely nuked the Dark Universe that they were planning and for that I am thankful if the rest would end up like this. It could be saved, but not with this as a groundwork.

Special Nomination and Worst Movie

Ghost in the Shell

This was in my rollover text on the review of the 1995 film and deserves to be shown in it’s raw form now: Screw this movie in the face with a rusty chainsaw dipped in blow fish poison wielded by someone who has a personal hatred for that face.

As you know when the first casting came out I was against it due to Scarlett Johansson, who is a good actress, being given the role over someone like say Rinko Kikuchi, or any other of the dozens of Asian actresses who should have gotten the part. I have talked about White Washing before on several reviews. I am going to link to the bowl of raisins story again because it still explains it better.

Mostly white people go “I don’t see the problem”.  It has nothing to do with her acting. I am sure her acting is fine. The problem is the part could and should have gone to any number of Asian actresses. You are going to see counter videos of people going to Japan and speaking with Japanese people what they think. They in the clips shown – don’t seem to have a problem. They of course are not looking for representation of themselves in Western media. They aren’t looking for heroes, icon’s, actors, actresses, stars, and the people we look up to here to go “I can be that”. Representation matters.

Fine. Ignore both sides of the theoretical argument of who could have and should have been cast. The weak excuses about why it was done. The spoiler. They literally white washed the character. Literally.

The character in the movie was a Japanese girl named Motoko, who was kidnapped and had her brain implanted into a Caucasian cybernetic body and had her identity stripped from her. 

What the actual…

How..can anyone justify this? Please tell me.  They literally took an Asian and “improved her” and made her white in the process.  It doesn’t matter that most reviewers I have watched said its great visually, but ok otherwise. Just ok.  They literally and figuratively white washed her and have spent the past year defending it.

This movie needs to be burnt to the ground. This is a problem and folks – you need to help stop it. Please stop supporting movies like this.

 

 

So that concludes my list – thoughts? Feelings? What are your best and worst of the year?

Darke Reviews | Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

NO SPOILER ZONE AHEAD. REPEAT NO SPOILER ZONE AHEAD.

I only say this as I found out today more than a few people don’t read my reviews as they are afraid of spoilers. Thought it would be worth it to recap that, especially on what has been one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Now as to the movie, I have given my fan girl credentials before so no need to do so again. Let’s get to the meat of this review right away and not waste anymore time with my usual preamble. Not even going to get quippy or referential with the question I ask:

How was the Last Jedi?

The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson who doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name, but is beloved by the majority of the folks who have seen his previous work; most especially 2005’s high school retelling of a noir mystery film Brick. 2012’s failed film Looper of course gave folks pause, but his vision on that was clear its how the studio muddied the waters that left a far murkier film that should have been better. Of course that brings us to The Last Jedi and Disney, ok Kathleen Kennedy specifically, giving the reins of one of the most profitable franchises ever to a director who is at best 50/50 on his success. Granted this can come from his ability to be directed by the producers effectively so they don’t run into a Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) situation again, yet at the same time it is also trusting a man who its clear has vision and capabilities that exceed many of his peers in the past ten years. What could he do with that opportunity I wonder?

For one he could make a solid Star Wars movie that doesn’t lean too heavily on what has come before. While I am sure there will be people who invariably compare it to Empire Strikes back, and there are similarities in more beats than I like, it doesn’t hit it as close as Force Awakens did to A New Hope. The arc of the movie is wholly original within the Star Wars stories we’ve seen before, and even a majority of other science fiction. He does manage to craft real tension and characters into the story that have purpose, meaning, and weight to them which only adds to your investment into the story. You come to understand why Luke gave the look he did at the end of Episode VII. You get more into the psychology of Rey, Finn, and Poe to a point that they are truly exploring their own arcs and identities and all of it makes sense and shows the characters growing into the people they are meant to be for better or worse along the journey. It is a much smaller story than we are used to as well, and while it does hit the three planet rule most of the other films do, they aren’t the focus or even a true backdrop to appreciate against the overriding pulse of the film – with perhaps the exception of Crait.

Yet, it is far from flawless in its scripting and story. It is bloated with truly unnecessary characters and beats, which hurts when you consider the movie runs just over two and a half hours from crawl to credits end. There’s easily ten to fifteen minutes of unneeded footage in the film that does nothing to add to who the characters are, their arcs, or the arc of the greater ‘verse that is being told. There are too many humorous beats that don’t work or are otherwise just a touch awkward and out of place. It’s not nearly as bad as Thor Ragnarok was in this regard, but it was noticeable. Frequent readers may go something like this now “Jess, you don’t like comedy” and this is true for the most part. The trick here is this piece of feedback, while noticed by me, was commented on by my movie going partner this time and they DO like comedies. A few jokes here and there are good, and there’s more than a few that land just right. The movie did edge into the land of too much comedy and oddly modern dialogue here – but only just a little. There are other flaws beyond this though that detract from the movie if you think about them in the slightest; most of which are flaws in logic and for me a few beats of “why was that needed?”

The actors were all on point though, Daisy Ridley (Rey) continues to impress, Oscar Isaac (Poe) can do no wrong, and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) glowers his conflict well. Carrie Fisher will bring you to tears every time Leia says farewell to another, even if she comes across more Carrie than Leia – but she’s earned that. Mark Hamill (Luke…duh) was a joy and gets to do far more than glare this time.  We need to talk though about John Boyega.  His character isn’t treated as well as he could be, but damnit if this man can’t react so well with his face. I absolutely loved him in Attack the Block and he continues to impress here and show a wider and wider range. I don’t think next years Pacific Rim movie will do him any favors, but I promise you he is going to act and emote his heart out like he did here. Alas; even in casting there are weaknesses. Familiar faces show up and while one may not detract (Laura Dern) another (Benecio Del Toro) did for me. It is great and all to have familiar actors in these roles and I am sure they loved getting to act along side the others and be in a Star Wars film, but some folks just have a certain presence they bring with them which can be detrimental to the production – even if it is *very* minor. You would expect Jack Nicholson to swagger and smarm his way through any performance, Clancy Brown to use his voice and physical presence, and with Del Toro you expect some weird voice affectation and odd body language that just leaves him feeling off. He does that here and it just doesn’t work (for me).

EDIT INSERT HERE: I did not talk about Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. She is a gift and I owe her an apology for not including her in the review when I first published it a few minutes ago.

From a technicals perspective there’s much like the rest of the movie good and bad to discuss.

Johnson’s camera work with his long time cinematographer collaborator Steve Yedlin (Brick, Looper, Carrie, San Andreas) know how to move the camera for the most sense of scope, scale, and action. There is a good use of wide shots and pans with good angles to let you appreciate what you are seeing, while the close ups really bring you into the characters emotions. The shots on the planet Crait (white and red planet from the trailer) are gorgeous and weighty and I could watch those a few more times happily. There is nothing ill to say about the camera control here, but alas there is in the effects department. I know right? This is an absolute nitpick but there are enough unfinished – just not quite looking right – effects that eject you from the moment. Conversely there are hundreds that are beyond amazing with one in particular that is breath taking. There is an inordinate amount of practical work and puppetry here that brings a tear to the eyes and gives me hope we will see more practical in the future thanks to films like this and Blade Runner 2049.

John Williams Score. Its perfect. Fight me.

TL;DR?

The Last Jedi does live up to its hype with me. It is a good movie that verges on the edge of great, but within the pantheon of Star Wars it is truly solid with its dedication to practical effects, characters you care about, and a story you want to see to the end. It does feel a bit long towards the end but nearly everything pays off in a satisfactory way. This review wasn’t going to convince anyone one way or another, but we or at least I write these to praise movies for what they do right and call them on what they could do better. The things this could do better are minor and really could help edge it into one of the great Star Wars films, but even a good Star Wars movie is better than the majority of what we received this year and last combined.

Should you see it?

Why are you asking me? You already plan to. Seriously though its good. I like it a lot. I am a bit overly critical but you can get that way after seeing literally hundreds of movies in a year and as my understanding of film theory grows my critical eye does as well.

Are you going to see it again?

At least once, probably twice.

How about buying it?

Without a second though. Yes.

Can I have a little spoiler? Tell me about Luke or Leia or something.

No…

How about Carrie Fisher – did they do right by her?

She’s our Princess and our General; I and this movie salute her. I understand that there’s enough footage for her to be in Episode IX posthumously, but if this one was all we had. I’d be OK with that too.

Any last thoughts on the movie?

Rian Johnson did a good job. The franchise was in good hands and I am looking forward to see what he does with his new trilogy that is being green lit – that isn’t tied to the Skywalker arc.

Also, I like the Porg still.

 

May the Force be with you to my Jedi friends and to my Sith may the Force serve you well.

 

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.

 

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