Darke Reviews | White House Down (2013)

Darke Reviews – White House Down

Ahhh Hollywood, nearly every summer we get a glimpse of how ethical the studios really are. I want you to think back over the years and consider the number of times a movie comes out in theatres and then a few months later a very very similar film comes out. It happens in both movies and TV. This is what happens when a writer shops his script around trying to sell it to the studio to get made. The studio declines to pay him for his treatment and then hires another writer to make a film using the same concept. One is often more dramatic, the other more action oriented depending on the year, the studio and the environment. This years winner of the golden rip off pair is Olympus Has Fallen & White House Down. I cannot tell you which one was pitched first, so I do not know whom ripped off whom.

SO where does that leave us with White House Down, the second of the White House attack films this year? In a very interesting place by comparison to previous outings of a similar nature. WHen I saw the first of the two I thought it was the action oriented love letter to Die Hard and the first actual Die Hard film in nearly a decade. Tonight I saw another ode to John McTiernans classic action movie from the 80s. Thats right folks, we have another contender in the “I am a fan of Die Hard so I want to honor it with my take.”

Did they do it justice? Well..yes and no.

Director Roland “If Its a landmark I will destroy it” Emmerich actually has reigned his damage in and learned a slight ounce of subtlety. At the same time he wanted to do that THING. Writer James Vanderbilt (Amazing Spider Man, Losers, Basic) is probably the best script writer that Emmerich has worked with to date giving us more than a few characters that have the slightest degree of emotional investment and a plot, while still heavy handed in many respects, that is quite entertaining.

Channing “I’m hot but can’t act” Tatum, plays John McClain..er Cale (Yes his Jame is still John) who much like our original hero is a cop in the wrong place at the right time. He even spends half the movie in a white tank top that gets progressively dirty. He has a wife – sorry – daughter in harms way as one of sixty hostages. He must run around a complex building trying to avoid bad guys while getting more and more beaten up as he goes. There’s even a rooftop fight where the choppers are coming in.

Jamie Foxx is our President in this one. Don’t laugh. It works. Much like any president he is a man who has to be more than that. He has to make decisions no man should have to make and live with them. Sometimes they have costs in other peoples lives. FOxx delivers all of this and brings a much needed levity to this film.

Olympus has fallen was all action all the time. White House Down is action with the humor that OhF was missing. Even Tatum delivers a few good ones from time to time, which is hard for man whose cardboard cut out has more acting range.

Yes Jess – but is it good?

God no. But it is entertaining. Much like Fast 6 this is a Popcorn fest that this summer needed. Yes it has it’s eye rolling plot holes and things that just would not work, but that isn’t the point. While there is a not so subtle political message embedded in the film it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be self righteous. Point in fact I was having a conversation with someone earlier today about movies that try for too many tones and don’t go far enough. This one goes for a few different ones and gets them right. It went just far enough and didn’t take itself too seriously at all.

This is what makes White House Down work

So for the TL;DR

If you are looking for a good popcorn flick – This will do just fine.

It isn’t weighty, it isn’t trying to sell something. It’s just raw very silly and quite ridiculous fun. Again, it is NOT good, but it is entertaining.

Darke Reviews | World War Z (2013)

I promised someone today I would write this review tonight depending on how livid I Was after the showing. Well Rocky, here you go. I find myself in a difficult position in writing this particular review. I have gone on record many a time as saying – “I don’t read books to the movies so I can judge the movie as a film without considering the source material.” I also hate hypocrisy and since I have read the book (4 times), listened to the audio book and met the author once its safe to say that I am a fan of the material, neh? That being said I will give you two reviews in one. The first will be the objective review of an amateur film critic and that of someone who loves movies more than almost anything. The second half will be the one for the other fans of the material, don’t worry the wait will be worth it.

Heads up this is a long one – feel free to skip to the section of your choice. TL;DR at the bottom this time.

Ok objectivity time.

World War Z, the film has some interesting history. The most noticeable of which is during post production (thats after all filming has been done) the producers of the film, which include star Brad Pitt himself, ordered six weeks of reshoots. Now if you don’t spend a lot of time reading about movies and looking at behind the scenes that doesn’t mean much. Those who do know are already wincing. You see six weeks is how long some movies take to actually shoot all of the principal photography for the film. Thats right in six weeks many of your favorite movies have been shot end to end. This one….had six weeks of reshoots?

So what might there be to that? Well that brings us to the second warning in the films opening credits – which are told via jumbled news broadcasts that seem to tell you nothing really – where we are shown that the movie has four writers involved. Again if you know movies you are starting to go for the wine like I just did. If you don’t I will ask you to watch the opening credits next time you watch a movie. At most you may see 2, Story By / Screenplay by. This one…four. Four. During the six week reshoot the fourth writer was brought in. some of these writers are very talented giving us some of the best episodes of Buffy (Drew Goddard), and Babylon 5 (J. Michael Straczynski) – others gave us Cowboys and Aliens and the worst parts of Prometheus (Damon Lindelof).

Do I lay all the blame there for the two and a half hours of bloated film? Nay I cannot. Perhaps I should lay it on director Marc Forster, who gave us the most boring Bond film Quantum of Solace. Don’t remember it? You may have experienced brief bouts of narcolepsy watching it. Yet…his incompetence behind the camera does not lay the blame on his shoulders either. I then look to the producers. Who put the money of their investors into this, green lit it, called the shots and threw their proverbial weight to make this movie and at the end of the day were satisfied with it.

Sounds like I hate it and I am not being objective? Actually…I am experiencing a profound sense of ennui from it. It exists. It will continue to exist and there will be people who like it. There will be people who call for blood, but at the end of the day I feel “Meh” about it as a film. It is deeply flawed on nearly every level but doesn’t actually exert enough effort to be that good or that bad for me to exert enough effort to hate it as a film on its own merits. So whats the story here?

Brad Pitt as jesus, no sorry Gerry Lane, a former U.N. agent who goes into hot zones around the world and does…something. Is he a doctor? No. Is he a soldier? Nope. Is he a survivalist? Almost. What exactly are his qualifications? If you figure it out let me know. Apparently though he is very good at going into these places and surviving, every one he knows told us so.

The movie begins with an introduction to Gerry and his McGuffin – his family. He loves them. He quit his job to make pancakes for them – no I am serious. The outbreak has already begun around the world and we are treated to society as we know it breaking down. Gerry gets a call from the deputy secretary of the UN who wants to help save him and his family because Gerry can save us all by finding the patient zero and finding a cure for the zombie virus. The rest of the movie is Gerry travelling various locations in the world with a horde of red shirts trying to find the cure.

That there is the problem. Its a film full of red shirts and superman. Who despite his own mistakes that cost others lives (a trope came into play and I was irritated) and to save his own life crashes a 737 which he and his red shirt of the moment are the only two survivors. I really don’t care about anyone in this film. It takes no chances and theres no real risk. He is worried about his family that never actually feels in danger. He is traveling the world watching people die but it holds no weight. None of the people matter. The writers give it an effort with one or two but really thats it. It was the end of the world as we know it and I didn’t care. It lacks heart. It lacks the subtlety to make you feel for a world that is dying and being overrun.

Let’s talk about that shall we? 12 second bite to full on zombification. Interesting. Hasn’t been done. Yes, the movie did something I hadn’t quite seen before, the closest is 28 days later which did it slightly better and actually made you feel for the characters. So a highly virulent incubation time with a near hive like mentality. We have in fact now created zombie ants. Feel the terror. No? Alright. I didn’t either. When I heard Max Brooks speak he said there is a fundamental difference in the type of terror between fast zombies and slow zombies.

A slow zombie, with a slow infection time is like standing at the door of a plane with a parachute waiting to jump out your very first time. A fast zombie is already being in free fall and pulling the rip cord and nothing happens on the first pull. I won’t get into which is better, thats a matter of taste. Suffice to say I prefer the slow zombie.

I won’t even get into the pseudoscience of the contamination and it’s vectors. Anyone with the barest inkling of medical knowledge will skip the wine and go for the hard alcohol and pray they can drink themselves to enough of a stupor that it makes sense.

Now if you do like your zombies fast, then this movie has your zombies. It has them move like a CGI tide of angry ants, leaping, climbing and launching themselves with a sense of nigh invulnerability. Of course you will have trouble seeing that except for a few star zombies here and there. Once again I am left to wonder if upon graduating from film school all directors, cinematographers and DP’s have the words – Steady Cam and Tripod – removed from their brain. If the shaky cam wasn’t bad enough, you would think the action scene editors was suffering some horrible mental illness that didn’t let him keep his attention for more than two frames at a time and that he felt if he couldn’t no one else would.

Then there is our ending. I promise as always to be spoiler free. It annoyed me with the sheer weight of its self indulgence. The time I wasn’t annoyed I was also pleasantly surprised by the idea. Again something I had not quite seen before.

So two things new brought to the zombie film genre which is tough to do these days. The North Korea solution is also inventive. Those are the pro’s to film full of cons. Going forward those who hold the rights to films like this need to have a 10th man.

With that particular inside joke if you wish to continue reading please prepare your blast shields now, though I cannot promise they will help.

The Compare and Contrast Review –

WHAT THE ?!!?!?! The only thing the movie has in common with the book is the god damned title. ok sure Jurgen Warmbrunn makes a cursory appearance. There is a ostensibly black boy with a cricket bat a bit far from south africa and possibly a reference to Raj but not sure….yeah ok thats it.

No Lawrence Kansas, No Athena, No LOBO (even the SEALS in South Korea didn’t have one), No Yonkers, No False cures, No Decimation, no Raj Singh, No China, No Reddeker, and no winters where everyone ate just fine. I needed a pessimist to look at me during this film and tell me “everything will be just fine.” It clearly wasn’t.

I know there is an internet meme about that says in short “I want this book into a movie actually means I want every page and nuance on film.” I may be victim to this but when you title a movie World War Z and say its based on the book by Max Brooks I would expect some similarities. I know that book to movie is difficult, things need to be cut. It happens. Its the nature of the beast and I am ok with my favorite scenes not being in a film as long as the film actually follows the arc of the source material. This does none of that.

This needed to be an HBO or Showtime series. Maybe FX or SPIKE as counter programming to Walking Dead. The book just cannot be done in 2 hours, or three or four. Shame on them for trying to think they could bring any of what makes the book special to screen in two hours. They failed so miserably I can only hope that in retrospect that they break their own hands to avoid writing something so horrible again.

For me at least the story of world war z is about humanity. Humanity at its worst, humanity at its best. Humanity trying to survive despite itself and maybe being a little wiser for it. Yes there is sociopolitical satire laced through it but it has heart. It tells the story of people you can believe might actually be real. That there are people like this in the world. They aren’t just archetypes in the book – they are living, breathing entities that has more definition than the quislings this movie gave us.

I think I could keep going on napalming this movie but I am going to cut to the chase. (too late I know)

TL;DR version!!!!

If you are a zombie movie fan who must watch every zombie flick – alright, you might get your monies worth.

Anyone else. Anyone with an ounce of self respect and a desire not to waste two hours of their lives that can never be recovered – DO NOT SEE THIS FILM.

Go to the book store, get the paperback copy of the book, get it on tape, anything else, but just don’t see this movie. Give to the person who deserves money for seeing his work whacked apart with a LOBO. Deny those who thought this was a good idea any sort of support to the idea.

To borrow from Doug Walker, The Nostalgia Critic – I am Jessica Darke I saw it so you don’t have to.

Darke Reviews | Man of Steel (2013)

As a warning this may be one of my longest reviews to date, but I also believe this movie is one of the few that deserves to be talked about and thought about. There are bones of contention scattered through the film by many fans and some critics and I want to lay them to rest from my point of view. So I am going to break tradition for me and give the TL;DR upfront.

SEE MAN OF STEEL. At the moment this is the absolute must see film of the summer. Pacific Rim and Lone Ranger haven’t come out so this is the movie to beat right now in every respect.

Why? That’s what you may be looking for in my review.

Director Zack Snyder, best known for 300 and Watchmen (and lamented for Sucker Punch) with writer David S Goyer (the last three Batman films, Blade films and Dark City) have departed from the hyper realism of Nolan’s Batman universe and given us the Man of Steel of this era. To take liberties with a line from  Dark Knight, this is the Man of  Steel we need, not the one we deserve.

Henry Cavill (best known for the 300 knock off Immortals), plays the titular character with all the complexity of a modern hero. He has internal anger, he has his reserve, he isn’t entirely the boy scout of the 1930’s and he has fear and he has doubts. Cavill expertly delivers the range of emotions and conflict of a man with two homes, two worlds and of a man who belongs to both and neither. An alien wherever he goes this Clark Kent is guided by his conscience and the words of his two fathers. He is a literal god among men who can shake the pillars of heaven with a passing glance and yet turns the other cheek when confronted with those he could so casually defeat. It amazed me to see the nuance to a character like this and to let him become human for the first time, not in the genetic or literal sense; but in the sense that he has the emotional frailties and concerns of man raised as a human by humans living with humans but never quite human. To quote one of the animated series, “I live in a world made of cardboard, always holding back, afraid to break something, someone.”

This is that Superman. That being said, this is also the first time ever that we get to see the rest of the line I just quoted, “Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment or someone could die. But you can take it, can’t you big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you how powerful I really am.”

He does and we are amazed. We get the slug fest we have as an audience been waiting for ever since Superman hit the silver screen. For the first time in 75 years we are treated to watching our big blue boy scout have an aerial fight. Have a fight that is appropriately epic for him. We get to see him moving with super speed and believe it. We watch him break the sound barrier, we watch him fly and we watch him be the Superman we have all been clamoring for. The effects have finally gotten to the point where we can as fans of the character see this fight for his life and the life of the planet and people he loves.

Lets talk supporting cast as there are some nitpicks many have had.
Lois Lane – played by Amy Adams (you don’t need me to tell you who she is). She is missing some of the snark and sass that we have come to know from recent animated outings and this most certainly is not Margo Kidders portrayal. This Lois Lane actually IS an investigative reporter who isn’t happy unless she’s in a free fire zone. She is smart enough to follow the bread crumbs and put what she needs together. She also shows, perhaps due to writer bias, a sense of journalistic integrity that we have lost in our media outlets; choosing what stories to run with and what not to run with. She doesn’t flinch at the strange or danger itself and all but runs into it. This makes the new Lois Lane the partner our man of steel needs. She isn’t the Damsel in distress (as much) because she is an active participant in the story. She is also the one person that can support HIM. That’s a strength that should not be undercut or under emphasized. It takes big shoulders to be the Man of Steel, it maybe takes bigger ones to be there for him when and if it is needed.

Perry White / Jenny Olsen – This is perhaps some of the most controversial casting. I only need a moment here. Get over it. There’s nothing central to these characters that couldn’t be changed. Perry is still the editor and he lets you know he is in charge. He cares for his people and his paper – in that order. Jenny -…aka Jimmy – exists, in a future film they may be more important but right now, they exist. Deal with it.

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. This deserves an extra moment because of a scene that was shown in the trailers. People are up in arms about JK telling young Clark “I don’t know maybe” when asked if he should have let kids die. I am not a parent, but I want you to consider raising someone for thirteen years as your own. You know full well that they are not of this earth but you have made them yours. You know at any moment people will come to take him away, take your son away if his secret is let out. You know that people are afraid of what they don’t know and that though they cannot hurt your son physically there is a lot of other types of harm that can be done. This is the Jonathan we have. A loving father who wants his son to be a good man some day, to be safe and to have no harm come to him. No matter the price he has to pay all he wants is to protect his son.

All of the other major characters in the film are played equally complex both good and evil, who believe in what they are, what they do and why they do it.

Lets talk FX and I know this is a long review. This may be one of the few flaws in the movie. They are not perfect. They made a man fly and it looks far better than it did in the 80’s with the Reeves versions; yet it isn’t always quite clean and the line of the green screen can be seen ever so slightly to the discerning eye. Does it affect much? No. Its still awesome to watch him break the sound barrier and fly across continents its just not “perfect”. There are other flaws in the FX during some of the fight sequences where I could tell CG was used in place of the characters. While much cleaner than the FX in Matrix 2 and overall better executed I could tell. I hope you can’t.

Camera work – FOR GOD FRAKKIN SAKES – STOP WITH SHAKY CAM. I am going to do a new series called Rants from the Darke and this will be my first major rant. IT ISNT NECESSARY and in fact hurts your film. The quick zooms to bring you into the action from a wide pan and scan shot into a close up are a bit jarring in 3D. I will see it in 2D tonight and hope that it’s not as bad.

Those are the two areas the movie lacks, aside from some small pacing issues and deus ex machina occurrences. Aside from that, it’s really the epic superman reboot we have been waiting for.

It leaves one final question for those who go – does the world need superman? Is Superman still relevant other than to make money for DC comics who can’t get their cinematic act together?

As many of you know I am a sarcastic witch when I want to be, I am cynical and jaded to the world and have one of the lowest opinions of humanity one can have. I say Yes to the question. The movie tells us that the S on his chest is the symbol for the house of El. It means Hope in Kryptonian. I think we need a little hope. I think that as a country and a species we are in a world of polarized extremes with only a few bright spots in the dark. That while we are not “teetering on the brink of the abyss”; that we need heroes. We need that which is good and represents the best of what we can be. That while heroes that kill are sometimes needed and wanted, we should hope for more we should want more. I think we need a hero that doesn’t kill unless he has no other choice. A hero that is there to protect the people even if it could mean his own life.

I believe we need a Superman, I believe we need a little hope. Collateral damage of fights aside, I want a world where I can look up in the sky and see not a bird, not a plane but Superman.

This movie gives me that world and I am happy for it.

Darke Reviews | After Earth (2013)

Movies like this are why Hollywood is afraid of Science Fiction. The danger of bad science fiction is real. It is an expensive investment, when it goes wrong you never recoup your money and this generates fear in executives. Hollywood has tried this market over the years, some better than others for what you get. Many are box office flops (Waterworld, John Carter, Battlefield Earth) and unfortunately only very few succeed that don’t have the word Star in their title (Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).

M Night Shyamalan directs and writes once more with all the subtleness of an anvil and free fall. In a show of gross incompetence he has written a part for Will Smith, one of the most charismatic men on the planet, and made him stoic and dull. MNS doesn’t deserve all the blame, Smith produced it and in his ever growing production nepotism has cast his son as…surprise his son. Next I hear he has considered casting his daughter Willow as little orphan Annie in the musical remake – no. I am not joking.

SO what do we have here with After Earth? It’s a coming of Age story mixed with a Pursuit of Happiness desperation of father and son bonding through impossible odds. Jaden plays Kitai Raige (Rage..) while his erstwhile father players General Cypher Raige (seriously, these are the names. When their ship crash lands on an earth that has been untouched by humans for over 1000 years Kitai must travel to the tail section of the ship to send a signal flare with his injured father watching over him from the other half of the wreckage.

Thats it. Thats the story. Nothing more to it. There are elements that happen in the movie, dangers and threats abound but none of it seems interesting. In fact a few times its even ludicrous. There’s MNS heavy handed metaphor for environmentalism perhaps he thought since the Happening failed so spectacularly he could try again in actual sci fi? He was wrong.

Really, I cannot think of one positive thing to say about this film other than – it ends. It does have an ending. Thats it. Thats the best I can come up with. M Night needs to stop making films and go back to film school. The Sixth Sense is a beginners luck fluke in his career that has careened down hill like a runaway truck in the Rockies. I still have not forgiven him for the abomination that was The Last Airbender. With that in mind, I consider the acting and emotional range he brings out of his actors, which is to say he dulls them to the point of being boring. Every single film I think of his, every last one the characters are monotone, emotionless dolls with only the barest emotion. The only exception is Samuel L Jackson in Unbreakable and that may be because Sammy cannot be subdued – like ever.

So for the TL;DR –


If you want Sci Fi – Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is coming.
If you want Sci Fi – Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9) not so subtle classism film Elysium is coming

For the love of all that is celluloid, do not see After Earth. – How the hell do you make Will Smith uncharismatic?! Really. I needed an escape pod from this film. To paraphrase an awesome critic, I watched it so you don’t have to.

Darke Reviews | Now You See Me (2013)

As I prefer to give spoiler free reviews as much as possible, this film presents an interesting challenge. How do you review a movie about magicians and their tricks without giving the slightest hint about what is inside? I don’t have the luxury of misdirection and slight of hand. I would tell you the closer you are the less you see, but this is a text medium and you see everything that I write and can interpret it as you see fit.

Director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Clash Of Titans) brings us the tale of four street magicians trying to make it big. We have the talents of Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave “We couldn’t get his older brother” Franco, and Jesse “Not Michael Cera” Eisenberg as the aforementioned magicians. They have come together for a heist of what we can only assume is epic proportions. Hot on their trail is the FBI, Interpol, the 1% and a professional debunker.

Lets talk about the acting a bit, the four magicians all play their parts well. They deliver on their promises and keep you wondering what is real and what is not. In this they succeed. If you are looking for character growth or depth, I hear that Joss Whedons “Much Ado About Nothing” comes out next week. Then there is the FBI Agent, the now famous Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk in the Avengers), who plays his part admirably; which is to say frustrated, annoyed and always a few steps in the wrong direction.

Interpol is played by relative newcomer, Mélanie Laurent, who sadly lacks any form of chemistry with Ruffalo and largely ends up as window dressing. Then we have Morgan “Is my voice epic enough” Freeman playing a magician turned debunker. It’s entirely possible they cast him for his expositional abilities. He too is after our four maverick magicians for his own reasons. Freemans confidence and usual swagger, along with the writing keep his character an interesting part of the game being played in the roughly two hour running time.

The movies largest flaw is the Director of Photography feeling the need to do spinning 360 camera shots incessantly. I am truly boggled at the Director/DP need to use tricks of the camera that people have been complaining about for years now. Shaky Cam and Spin Cam are nauseating and do not actually bring you into the action of the film. If he was deliberately trying to be disorienting, then he succeeded, disgustingly so.

SO where does this review leave us for the TL;DRs out there?

If you want to know the trick, want to see it play out? The grand scheme?

See it, matinee would be fine.

If you weren’t the least bit curious, you can give this a pass til Redbox or Netflix.

I was entertained for my two hours, I had a good discussion on the film and its characters and their motivations. I believe that is what a movie should deliver at the end of the trick and it does. It doesn’t take a mentalist to see through it; so come in close and stay for the trick.