Darke Reviews – Paranoia

I am reasonably certain most people have not heard about this little film, even with its star packed cast. What a lot of folks don’t know is that August is often considered a death slot for the summer season. This is where studios send movies to die that they have little faith in. Schools are coming back in session, last minute summer vacations and just the dog days of summer keep people away from the theatres by comparison to the  May, June and July releases. Studios will spend less time marketing, with rare exceptions, anything in August and if something sells its a blessing to them more than anything else.

Why do I tell you all this? Because it’s clear to me this is how the studio felt about this movie. A director (Robert Luketic) best known for his mostly unsuccessful comedy work such as Legally Blonde, the Ugly Truth and Killers was given what should be a high tension corporate espionage thriller. Odd match right? The movie shows it as well with a definite lack of finesse and technique through and through.

Nearly every twist and turn is telegraphed a mile away by anyone paying the closest bit of attention. Because of that moments that should have you wondering what will happen next you already have the answer. Ultimately the movies greatest sin is a lack of consequences for actions. Sure the big bad pays, but there are other elements to the film that should not be tied up as neatly like a christmas present.

That isn’t to say this is a bad movie folks. It sounds it, but it’s not bad. Bad is reserved for the equally uninspired World War Z. This film has the benefit of a relatively strong and motivated cast that I didn’t feel was going through the motions. It’s a testament to the actors natural ability that they could do what they did with what they had to work with.

Liam Hemsworth (Thors little brother, yes he is as cute) plays Adam Cassidy a young technician for a multi million dollar cellular company. He is up to his eyes in bills paying for his sick father (Richard Dreyfuss). He is offered the proverbial golden goose  by his boss played by the eternally awesome Gary Oldman; who per normal puts all his passion, his accents and his ability to blend into any role he does into the part. All Adam has to do for his boss is fake being a successful executive in a rival company to steal ideas from them. The owner of the other company is played by an oddly shorn Harrison Ford who felt that he needed to go toe to toe with Oldman in the acting department. Thankfully he is more than capable of keeping up, though once or twice I wanted him to yell Get off my plane. The supporting cast is surprisingly talent and believable in their roles. Amber Heard as the love interest, Lucas Till as the geekier best friend, Julian McMahon as the wanna be heavy (the weakest of the supporting) and Losts Josh Holloway as an FBI agent.

There are some twists, but as I said before most if not all of them are telegraphed long in advance. The pacing is off the entire film however keeping you just off balance enough that it is awkward more than tension building.

TL;DR

Paranoia isn’t going to be a summer sleeper, but you may fall asleep watching it. Save this one for the DVD or TV you aren’t missing anything.

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Darke Reviews – Kick Ass 2

Ah the comic book movie genre, how I both love and hate thee. In the same year that you give me Iron Man 3 and it’s attempt to personalize the Hero and look at what it means to be a man in a mask you also give me Kick Ass. Within a few months of DC comics trying to give us a Super-hero in the “Real world” we are again given Kick Ass.

I would like to believe that Kick Ass 2 performs the task better than both Man of Steel and Iron Man 3. While not as humorous as the first, it certainly is more satiric of the comic film these days. DC Comics after the success of the first Nolan Batman movie felt the horrific need to make their next few movies hyper realistic; which is to say removing much of the fantastical and “four color” elements of comic books and replace that with darkness and grittiness of the late 70s and early 80’s cop movies. Changing them from being things to aspire to and be wondered by into something hollow and even a bit shallow.

Kick Ass 2 does not necessarily fix these things but it does call attention to them. The first film introduces us to a world that quite frankly is ours. Then it gives us Aaron Taylor Johnson as the title character who decides to try to make it a slightly better place by being a superhero. His decisions come with a price and some level of pain. We are introduced to Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who have also decided to put masks on and try to end crime in their city. It brings a sharp focus to the child sidekick and the concept of being behind a mask and what lessons we teach those around us. Also what sacrifice must be made of your real life to be a hero.

The sequel extends that particular narrative and explores the concept of what it means to be a Hero in the real world. It picks up a few years after the first and ends appropriately as a movie like this should.

It is completely and totally over the top and does a far better job of calling attention to what masked superheroes in the real world would deal with than anything DC has put out this decade. Ultimately what it does that DC has failed to do is remain fun while doing it. To have a plot and characters you actually care about and moments that carry weight because they earned it.

TL;DR

If you are a comic book fan and a fan of the first movie. Go see this.

If you haven’t seen the first one, while not entirely necessary it really does help. Then see this one.

It is looking to be one of the more enjoyable movies in the August death slot this year and there isn’t much else coming out soon that could rival it for sheer violence and fun.

So put on your mask, pull up your big girl pants and go enjoy Kick Ass 2

Darke Reviews – Elysium (2013)

I apologize for the delay on this, I watched this film Thursday night and it took me this long to settle on what I needed to say about it. If you are worried about the girl who won’t shut up about movies having to figure out what to say about this one; you should be.

This is Writer and Director Neill Blomkamp’s sophomore effort in the US. Most people remember the Peter Jackson produced (that means he was the money) District 9. A not so subtle story about the effects of racism in his native country of South Africa using aliens and humans as the opposing races. While many Americans that I know of derided the movie for it’s obvious themes and what appeared to be a “why now?” mindset. What those individuals forget is that while the laws against segregation were enacted within the US in 1964 it wasn’t for another 30 years until they were put into place in his country until 1994. Thats right, everyone reading this review was alive then. It was only 19 years ago (15 when District 9 came out); so it was fresh in his memory and his countries memory not something told in history books and hundreds of movies since.

This may seem like a long diatribe on history and this director without point, but I swear I have one. It’s that he has gone back to what the best of Science Fiction used to do; which is focus on social or current issues framing it in an alternate world that provokes thought and with a bit of luck awareness. So while films like District 9 and comics like X- men (originally) focused on racism, Elysium and other films in the sci fi and horror genre are beginning to focus on a new *ism*, class-ism.

But do they do it well?

That’s the question that kept me silent and wondering on this one. The answer I am afraid is *No*. While Elysium sets up a dystopian future with clear lines between the haves and the have nots, it doesn’t really do anything with it in a meaningful way. No one learns anything, no one evolves. While the plot lines introduced in the movie are resolved in a nice tidy bow, the only lessons the film teaches us:

If you are amoral – you will die If you are a have not – you will suffer first, then die. The only way the Have Nots can achieve what the Haves have (sounds weird), is through violence, treachery and few Haves wanting more and making a well timed mistake.

From a storytelling perspective, the movie does nothing new. If you saw the recent Total Recall remake (it is not as bad as people say), you have watched Elysium. Don’t believe me? While I normally remain spoiler free I feel that I must provide some synopsis that may contain spoilers.

Try this: A blue collar man who works on the robotic line that makes the robot police that keep him and the rest of the low class oppressed rises up and through violence and criminal amoral acts with the inspirational help a woman who loves him and reaches the other side of the world, while being hunted by a terminator esque force, where the Rich live and brings down the threat of oppression allowing his people, the poor working class to be free and live happily.

Another one? Johnny Mnemonic. Don’t boo, it has nostalgia value and is highly entertaining in the cyberpunk genre.

A man with a dubious and somewhat criminal history has data that can save the world implanted in his head. Rather than wanting to save the world, he wants nothing but to save himself. The people who like the world just the way it is dispatch a terminator esque creature to stop him from reaching a resistance that he is being guided to by a woman who cares for him. In the end to save his own life and those of the people around him he goes for broke and manages to use whats in his head to save the underclass citizens of the world.

Both of these synopsis just describe Elysium. WHile there are different effects, different characters, filming styles, etc Elysium adds nothing truly new other than a medical McGuffin that everyone wants. The acting is fine, the actors themselves are fine even if they are playing two dimensional stereotypes we have seen before.

STOP. WITH. THE. SHAKY. CAM.

I wanted to watch the fights and I couldn’t because the camera man was clearly involved in a 7.0 earthquake at the time of filming. I want to hunt the inventor of shaky cam to the ends of the earth for it.

TL;DR

WHile Elysium isn’t bad, I wasn’t really entertained except for a few moments of the film. Matt Damon and Sharlto COpley are all that save this from being a bad movie.

Matinée it if you must, skip it entirely if you mustn’t.

This movie doesn’t have a chance of overriding the system.

Darke Reviews – Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

There are days I don’t get Hollywood. These are days that end in Y.

Why would you make a sequel to a critically and financially maligned movie? Why would you cast a 23 year old as a *young teen*? Why would you wait three years between films. These are the questions I had when I saw the first trailer to Percy Jackson SoM awhile back. Now that I have seen the film I can say with all honesty I still don’t know the answers to any of those questions.

Perhaps it’s because I am not the right age. This movie is clearly targeted at a significantly younger demographic than sat in the theatre last night. Appropriate considering the directors (Thor Freudenthal) other known work is also based on a childrens book series (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Lets not get into the fact that a man named Thor is directing a movie about greek gods.

The writing never quite delivers on any of the promises it wants to make, again showing its target. When I was a lovely ten year old girl I would have been quite ok with the superficial story telling, plots so thin they are transparent and intrapersonal conflicts that seem to be resolved at the drop of the hat. This my friends is the work of Marc Guggenheim, one of the 4 men in the writing credits of that gem “Green Lantern”.  Same writer and it shows.

But Jess! It’s based on a book. That is true. I happened to be in a showing with half a dozen fan girls of the book. When asked what they thought in comparison to the source material it was a universal “well they fixed this from the first and still got alll this wrong.”

Acting and Casting! That can save even a badly written movie. Alas, we have a 27 year old playing a character in her teens that is nearly as wooden as the acting in Avatar the Last Airbender. Alexandra Daddario’s performance as Annabeth the daughter of Athena fails nearly as much as it did the first time. I really want the writer to go back to basic college mythology and look up Athena. Do it. Really. She emulates nothing. Logan Lerman who actually can act does well enough as the titular character. They all needed to look at the imminent Stanley Tucci who phones in a performance as Mr D; even as uninspired and seemingly bored he still has more talent and charisma than nearly the entire cast combined. Nearly. Nathan Fillion. He plays Hermes also known as Nathan Fillion. Love him. He even was able to get a Castle AND Firefly joke into the movie.

The rest of the film seems to exist. The effects are Made for TV movie level; still better than a SyFy original, but only just. The camera work is there, nothing special other than no shaky cam – so thank you there.

TL;DR?

The movie is a resounding meh. It had entertaining moments, eye rolling moments, thankfully no true groaner or why is this in the film moments. It *is* in fact slightly better than the original, which I have to confess own and enjoy. Unless you are somewhere between 8 and 12, then you might really like it. Unless you’ve read the book.

Overall I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t have missed much waiting til DVD and neither will you. Once again I think Percy will be second best around.

Darke Reviews – 2 Guns

I find myself often amazed by the number of movies coming out based on graphic novels these days. Now for those who are not as well versed in the comic industry there is a bit of a difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. Some years ago it was the level of writing, where these prints would have an amazingly well developed arc that no comic book would dare print. V for Vendetta and Watchmen are two of the most prominent, with Dark Knight Returns being one of the ones to cross, perhaps blur the line between the two. These days the primary difference between a Graphic Novel and a Comic Book is Rating and that graphic novels are a closed arc where comics are continual arcs.

I bring this up because I was surprised to learn that 2 Guns had it’s basis in the graphic novel industry. This puts it in the same league as The Losers, 30 Days of Night, Road to Perdition and A History of Violence. Did that conjure some images for you? If no, it’s ok barely anyone saw the movies I mentioned and for the most part they missed out. 2 GUns is in the right company with this material and comparison. Ultimately it is a filler movie that *may* have far more interesting source material than the movie was able to deliver.

I did laugh more than a few times and the action scenes when they happened were well executed and shot well enough that I could follow it. Icelandic Director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband with Mark Wahlberg is his only US theatrical release) manages to eek out just above average performances from what is otherwise a cast of actors that are familiar to most. I think that Blake Masters screenplay (one writer!!) may be largely at fault, though I am unfamiliar with the source, the writing is overall cliche and uninspired.

The saving grace of course is when Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington are on screen together. While I am deeply concerned that Marky Mark is teaching Denzel how to be charming and charismatic, the two do have chemistry. The movie suffers when others are on screen or at times when the two are not together which happens too often. Together however, the pair is charming, engaging and downright funny. Mark brings his usual brand of earnest goofy humor that has served him well. Denzel is playing Denzel, sadly, while he is more charming than the wooden prop named Bruce Willis these days, it’s really feeling like the same character.

The side actors are numerous with Edward James Olmos (so say we all!), Bill Paxton, a surprise cameo by Fred Ward, James Marsden, and Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). Each delivers a performance of their own and for the most part seem to be there to chew up scenery; which is done in abundance. I am disappointed from a storytelling perspective that they saw fit to have Patton topless for two scenes, but so be it, the guys will like it.

TL;DR?

From a cinematic point of view, I compared the movie to cotton candy. It’s sweet, fun and ultimately hollow and forgettable once you are done. It just didn’t know what it wanted to be and didn’t go far enough in any direction to truly embrace it’s multiple facets.

It’s a matinee at best folks.

Not the worst thing this summer by far. I laughed more in this and was entertained more than in many of the other summer releases.

If you are a Denzel completist or just can’t get enough of the Funky Bunch give it a go; I don’t think you will be disappointed. The movie lives and breathes on the chemistry and charisma of the main actors. Get what I am saying?