Darke Reviews | Frozen (2013)

What? The Vampire Princess can’t like animation? Honestly, I have a weak spot for animated musicals. I was born in the dark ages of Disney animation where Black Cauldron was one of the highlights. I do remember watching Fox and the Hound, and all the classics. I stared in awe at the animations of The Little Mermaid and had a crush on Aladdin. I cried when Simba’s father died, I dreamed of running through the mountains of western Maryland as Pocahontas and even wanted to find Atlantis and stay there as Milo in Atlantis. I wanted to be taken away by a Beast and live in castle full of books as Belle – He could stay a beast too thank you very much. So obviously this girl had to see Frozen.

I understand there’s some people who are annoyed by the whiteness of it and the fact that many of the character models are rendered using the same skeletons as Tangled. It is true. I would say at least half of the models are re skinned versions of half the side characters of Tangled. Even the sideburns and hair color are there. The two main female characters are also somewhat similar but I am going to outright disregard the criticisms. Here’s why: most of the Disney princess art/characters are so bloody similar to begin with many of them have just subtle alterations anyway unless there are drastic art style changes (Pocahontas/Hercules).

So what?
Does it take away from the beauty? No.
Does it take away from the narrative? Not in the least.
What does it take away from? If anything perhaps a bit of originality.
It makes the toy makers lives easy as they only have to make a few changes and lets be honest folks, Disney is still a company and they want to make money and the movies are giant commercials for the toys for kids. I am ok with this. They don’t really pretend otherwise.

It only takes away if you let it and I won’t let it.

As far as the movie is concerned, lets get to the review a bit. Its a touch light as I am still trying to remain spoiler free.

Frozen is based on a story titled The Snow Queen, by the often adapted Hans Christian Anderson (Little Mermaid as an example), written in 1845. When I say adapted, I mean to say that it involves a Snow Queen, a Reindeer, take place in the far north of Andersons Scandinavia and has snow. This story focuses on two princesses Elsa and Anna. Elsa was cursed with the ability to freeze things with a touch and is forced into isolation from her little sister Anna. The whys and wherefores of the curse matter little. One fateful night, as they often are, Elsa’s secret is revealed and she runs from her castle and her family into the north. Her leaving triggers a massive freeze in the kingdom. Her sister Anna is determined to save her sister even if it means her own life. Along the way she is helped by Kristoff (an ice merchant), Olaf (a snowman) and Sven (a reindeer). Can she save Elsa, herself and her kingdom?

Well you need to watch to find out, duh.

Lets talk writing and direction for a minute since they are the same. Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee(…nothing before) direct with an additional writing credit from Shane Morris. They’ve taken a tact similar to what other recent Disney movies have done where they went very tongue in cheek with blatant nods to Disneys traditional ridiculousness. An example is Tangled where Flynn Ryder is the only one to be bothered by all the singing and the hyper intelligent animals. Frozen picks on the conceit of love at first sight and has more than one character call attention to how silly it can be. There isn’t a lot otherwise to the film beyond a solid story that at times got a little jumbled. Its solid, but not perfect. The fact that the musical numbers stop a little before the halfway point is a bit disappointing.

The voice actors are spot on with Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) as Anna carrying the brunt of the voice work. Idinza Menzel (Enchanted, Rent, Wicked) sings her heart out as Elsa. I was pleasantly surprised at Kristen holding her own in a duet with Idina. Both are always fun to listen to through the movie and bring the emotions they need to the performances they have. Jonathan Groff (Jesse from Glee) must have been brought along with Idina from her time on Glee and sadly isn’t used for all the musical potential he has. He does bring a certain charm to the movie and grounds the film where it needs to be. The rest of the cast isn’t really worth mentioning sadly, but the focus isn’t on them. It is, however, worth mentioning that I had expected to be annoyed by the Snowman and the Reindeer and was happily surprised that they didn’t annoy me and actually were quite endearing.

This is where I normally talk effects, shooting, etc. So instead lets talk animation. Yes, the character models themselves are from Tangled. Moving on. The actual “skins” are really quite beautiful with an ever increasing attention to detail on how fabric moves and how hair looks. There is a clear and conscious decision to separate the faces from realism while hyper attention to detail has been placed on the finer details and lighting. The snow is rendered like someone who has been in a blizzard and knows how it moves; while the ice. Wow. It is incredibly beautiful and perfect. Many people will miss how you can see reflections in the ice of all the objects that should be; all the while able to see through it at the proper places. There’s a scene where Elsa makes a dress (that I want) out of ice and walks through a door and you can see how the ice on the walls distorts the image from inside. Even the simple stomp of her foot and the explosion of ice seems to have a weight and gives the ice life like it does if you were to watch something freeze at high speed.

The musical numbers are a mixed bag for me. Some of them truly resonated and I’ve listened to one track twenty times already while writing this review. Others did not and thats all that keeps me from buying the CD right now. It is sad that the musical beats stop about halfway and they don’t use Groffs talents more, I have distinct feeling there are some serious edits to the film as there are a few seconds/scenes in the trailers that didn’t make it into the final film. Live action movies aren’t the only ones who run into that.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed it. It isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it was a solid film for its two hour running time and I feel right in recommending it for evening or matinees. It is most certainly kid friendly and still enjoyable for adults.

There is a warning of course to those who don’t like cold. If you have a thing about the cold, this is not a good movie for you.

If you are like me and think Ice and Snow are two of the most beautiful things to be surrounded by – I promise during Let It Go (Elsa’s solo) you will stare in awe as I did and fall in love with the beauty and wonder of it as she is.

…Now if you will excuse me I need to see who I can bribe to make Elsa and Anna’s dress for me….

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Darke Reviews | The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

This was probably the most anticipated movie of the fall. Yes, I know Thor 2 came out and Desolation of Smaug is coming, but based on overall buzz this movie was the one to watch and the one to beat. Thankfully, like I mentioned in a previous review theatres are giving “midnight” showings earlier and earlier. Tonight’s began at 8 in nearly every time zone. The usual new release rules apply, no spoilers and the book has not been read. There is an embargo in the comments on spoilers, so if you comment – NO SPOILING For those who need to see this. Granted, any comments I make about the first film are not subject to this.

Catching Fire picks up an indeterminate amount of time after Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark snubbed their nose at 74 years of tradition and survived The Hunger Games together. Things seemed to have settle down in an awkward norm for the Victors until the Tour of the Districts begins. Katniss and Peeta are once more thrust together in order to not only save their own lives but those they care about. President Snow already disturbed by their ability to inspire hope, with the assistance of his new Games Master Plutarch Heavensbee, decides that the 75th Hunger Games will be special. This Quarter Quell will star not innocent children but previous Victors from each district to end the threat of hope Katniss, Peeta and the other survivors can represent. Let the Hunger Games begin and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Yes, I know if you’ve read the story there’s more to it. “Spoilers” /end Riversong.

Let’s talk about the writing, unlike last time Suzanne Collins does not get a screenplay credit; merely the novelization. The writers Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and Michael Arndt (ToyStory 3, Little Miss Sunshine) clearly spent time studying the material and the nature of the characters. Their previous works show they have both an understanding of how to make a movie entertaining, gripping and really get into the head space of the mains. While I cannot speak to the adaptive nature of their work yet, I can say that this successfully continues the story. No line seems wasted and all the blocking and scenes work in rather stunning ways. Their script is not dumbed down and successfully builds the right tension in the right places. The storytelling kept me guessing in the right places and made me smile, clap and laugh with the audience in others. It also brought up tears in the right place which is just as important.

Some of that credit needs to go to the director on this project, Francis Lawrence. Probably best known for the critically acclaimed hit I Am Legend and the woefully underrated Constantine. In I Am Legend the director shows he grasps what it takes to take a charismatic actor and let them break down. Let them be strong, let them be vulnerable and show humanity in a world that wants to deny them that. He did apparently listen to the people who criticized the camera work of the first and did not make those mistakes. Actually, in this reviewers opinion he made no mistakes I can tell aside from a few weird pacing issues in the first half of the movie. It drags in a couple of places while rushed in others, but that may be due to the needs of the adaptation- hard to say. I do know that the shots were beautifully orchestrated and the performances of each cast member were perfectly nuanced to deliver the right emotions in the best way possible.

Granted you need talented actors for that and this movie has them. Between films Jennifer Lawrence went and got herself an Oscar for her work in Silver Linings Playbook. She clearly is one of the best new actresses in Hollywood and I am looking forward to watching her career grow. She leaves everything exposed and holds nothing back in this performance of Katniss. She redefines the bar for what it means to be the reluctant hero. She is still as bad ass as ever and never loses her humanity in the process or that vulnerability I loved in the first film. She is doing whatever it takes to survive and shows that she is both smart and attentive to the details. Her loyalty to her friends and family never truly gets diminished. All the while she uses her eyes and expressive face to the fullest and you know what she is feeling and thinking.

Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) is actually given a bit more meat to work with in his interactions with the heroine. Hutcherson makes you believe in Peeta and what he stands for, feels and even pity him at times. Its interesting to see a male character play the role traditionally ascribed to the female in other action pieces. I want to see more of this and other directors, producers and writers to look for Hutcherson to show them the way. All of the returning cast members turn out good performances with Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket actually showing some real character development and making you like someone you all but hated in the first.

The new cast fits in well with some familiar faces such as Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale) and Amanda Plummer (The Prophecy) making memorable appearances. Sam Claflin (Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is a relatively new actor but is actually nearly instantly endearing as Finnick Odair; a man with motives of his own and secrets to keep. Jena Malone (Contact, Sucker Punch) as Johanna Mason brings some much needed levity to the film and is one of the more interesting characters to watch for all her brutality in both action and word. This review would not be complete without discussing another Oscar Winner, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball, Pirate Radio) as Plutarch. There is an archetype in writing known as the magnificent bastard. Hoffmans Plutarch is such an archetype and even Donald Sutherland has trouble sharing the screen with him. Its a credit to the director and the actor that Hoffman doesn’t dominate more, because he easily could.

Much like the director and the camera work the team on Visual Effects learned as well. No single effect took me out and made me roll my eyes. Some things were clearly effects but really in the context of the Games that is almost acceptable.
Alright then TL;DR?

This movie is arguably one of my top 5 movies of the year, perhaps top 3. It handily beats everything from May of this year. It *is* better than Thor and really I have to tell everyone.

See.
This.
Movie.

See it soon and if possible see it often. It has a great story, great acting, and honestly deserves the support we as the audience can give it. This series of movies is what we need to have made with characters like Katniss becoming the norm rather than a rarity.

May the odds be ever in our favor.

Darke Reviews | The Hunger Games (2012)

I thought I would take a page from folks like CinemaSins and do a review on an earlier movie when its sequel or remake is coming out. With a viewing tomorrow at 8:30 of Catching Fire, I thought I would review the first of the films. There will be spoilers – the statute of limitations is long since gone by and while I have read the book I thought it was close enough to not need a comparison. I read the book after the movie, much like I plan to do with Catching Fire. Also I got some feedback on the fact I don’t talk as much about the actors and such because of my desire to avoid spoilers in my newer reviews. I want to try something a little different if I can ( and you notice). Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Let’s talk Story:

The movie takes place in a dystopian future in the land of Panem. Roughly 74 years ago a war ended between the Capitol and its 13 districts. One was wiped out entirely leaving the twelve, but in case that wasn’t enough the lovely individuals who run the government decided as a lesson we are going to make each of the 12 districts that are left sacrifice one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 every year. It’s a Thunderdome like battle, where only one child lives after slaughtering the others. If you win though, you get to live a life of luxury, so they say. To add to the fun Capitol broadcasts it across all of Panem for the districts to watch on a nearly mandatory basis – and the people of Capitol really think nothing is wrong with it. In the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be her districts “Tribute” to save the life of her sister. She and the son of a baker, Peeta Mellark, are shipped away to Capitol to prepare for all the glitz and glamour of the Hunger Games before an almost certain death. The build-up includes full make overs by stylist Cinna, training by a former victor from their district named Haymitch, and the joy of talk show appearances with host Ceasar Flickman. When it’s all said and done Katniss must enter the Games and do what she must to survive.

Suzanne Collins, the author of the books, is actually listed as a screenplay credit and it doesn’t hurt that the book was written to be easily translated into a screenplay from novel, which is more rare than you would think. The forethought in writing shows in the final product that makes it to screen. Writers Billy Ray and Gary Ross (who also directed) have some credits as well and if I had to guess they were responsible for some necessary adaptations and final on screen changes to dialogue and sets. I really want to talk about this as per the normal rules I have to watch a film prior to the review. People have been complimenting Enders Game on it’s realistic portrayal of children put in danger and in high tension situations pushed on them by the adults and how both deal with it. While the books for Enders did this a long time ago and the movie did it well, I have to say I think Hunger Games does it a bit better in film. Hold on, hold on.

Look at the execution of the characters, the performances of which I will get to soon enough. Katniss, a young girl forced to adulthood by a nigh catatonic mother, a deceased father and a sister to take care of. She has skills as a hunter, a survivalist and generally is a rebel but quiet about it. She volunteers to be part of a thing that she mocks and loathes to protect her sister. This is a death sentence, but its worth it to her for her family. She resigns herself to death and only plays the game of popularity begrudgingly. In a conversation with Peeta, who has also resigned himself, he is willing to die but doesn’t want to change who he is to survive the games. Katniss’s reply – “I can’t afford to think like that.” There is a tremendous amount of weight in that line and the actors delivery. You have a sixteen year old girl who knows she must and will do anything to survive no matter what it takes with the odds so very much not in her favor. Then as the Games progress she never loses the vulnerability of being human, despite competitors who barely are. The film allows us those quiet moments of pain (which some mock, but I enjoy), grief and loss as a beautiful counterpoint to the action, the romance (faked or not), and manipulations of those around her. The story is not gentle on the characters and it really does not pull punches either. Haymitch even remarks when someone threatens Kat with punishment – “They already have been. What else are they going to do them?” I think that in Enders some of those quiet elements were lost in the spectacle and the pacing where Hunger Games took the time needed to show the characters breaking and being reforged.

Those decisions likely game from director Gary Ross, probably best known for emotionally deep films such as Big, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. With Pleasantville especially he manages to draw some incredibly emotional performances from his cast and does so in black and white. It has both heart and humor. Hunger Games lacks a lot of humor aside from a snark here or there for your consideration, but has the heart. Matched with it is a profound visual style and orchestration of this dystopian future and a type of horror that comes with putting children in peril. Sadly some of his choices are not perfect and many complain about the shaky cam throughout the film. On my first five watching’s of the movie, I only noticed it back in District 12. This time I did notice that it was throughout the majority of the film with the intent to show the instability of Katniss’s emotions as she’s put through the events. It doesn’t work. It actually made me nauseous the first time I saw it. It’s probably the single most complained about element of the film and hopefully director Francis Lawrence learns from that in Catching Fire. I doubt it, but a girl can dream.
One other visual effect fails in such a spectacular way I must reference the “million dollar wolves” of The Day After Tomorrow. The director of that film laments in the commentary about the “wolves” that attack the protagonists at the end of the film whilst they run from the cold. The dogs at the end of this film are atrocious. That is being generous. I know what was in the book was even worse by description and Collins herself regrets it. This creation though surprises me that someone on a VFX team thought “these look good enough, if we make it night, no one will notice how bad they look.” The problem is you bothered to use the wire frames for the dogs as another establishing shot so we could see how bad the design is before you added the skins and texture mapping; which was botched. Quite literally every other effect I love. The Girl on fire sequence, the dress, the hover train, the dome, the fire in the woods are all good. Even the distortion of her perceptions after the Tracker Jackers was well done.

Now for the acting.

Nearly the entire movie rests on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She is the perfect young (21 at the time) actress to carry that burden. She had very few major acting roles prior. True X-Men First Class and her try at Mystique came out the year prior, so some geeks already knew her, but this movie made her a household name, an icon, and role model to quite a few girls out there, myself included. She does so much with her body language through the film to keep Katniss from being a two dimensional bad ass. She IS bad ass, but she’s made relatable by Lawrences performance. You can identify with her when she mourns Rue and can be just as amazed a few minutes prior when she reflexively and naturally fires a bow. She makes it look natural and effortless. The closest comparison I can think of is how Ryan Reynolds performed in Smokin’ Aces with a level of complexity to the character and ability to shift between Snark, Pain and someone who WILL Survive. She even makes the romance between Katniss and Peeta something that, if you didn’t have the books as a guide, you could believe to be true until the moment that she makes it uncertain. This is all the actresses’ ability to deliver and she succeeds.

Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terrabithia, Vampires Assistant) lets a male lead be more vulnerable than the female, which is nice. He doesn’t really have much of a personal driving arc in this one and instead plays second fiddle to Katniss and the wallflower who watches his desire from afar. If anything he succeeds at seeming genuine and charming rather than creepy in his adoration of the girl of his dreams (I’m looking at you Twilight). Liam Hemsworth, Chris’s younger brother is flat as Gale Hawthorne, pretty but not much too him. He could stand on screen and that’s enough. When he opens his mouth he’s really kind of a jock jerk if you really listen to the characters lines. Stanley Tucci is absolutely scenery chewing as Caesar Flickman the talk show host with the insane hair; that is not too insane for the people of Capitol. Singer Lenny Kravitz turns in a sublime performance as designer Cinna and brings some of the movies more heartfelt quiet moments with him. Everyone else is passable in their roles, even Donald Sutherland as Satanic Santa, er President Snow; save one.

Woody Harrelson, whom I normally don’t enjoy, plays one of the former victors of the games Haymitch Abernathy. He has the responsibility to teach Peeta and Katniss what it takes to survive, to be likeable so the viewing public may sponsor them and send them emergency gifts and pass on whatever else he may know to give them the best odds. Aside from Katniss, he actually shows a character with one of the most in depth and subtle character arcs in the movie. He starts as a drunkard, bitter, lost and alone; tired of watching children from his district die year after year when he alone lived. As Katniss grows into the symbol she is to become, he begins to grow as well. There are subtle things like him covering a drink cup to avoid additional alcohol that are in the background but still there. He really brought something to this character that I want to see more of in the movie tomorrow.

It’s worth mentioning quite a few folks complained about how this film seems a lot like the Japanese film Battle Royale. It has some elements in common this is true: Dystopian Future, Corrupt Amoral government, children in peril to teach a lesson. There are other aspects which bear similarity as well, but there’s a concept out there where writers at a similar time will write similar stories. I think that is what happened here. Some get more famous than others, but there are always those threads that can be looked at and compared to. While Battle Royale is a good film (sequel not so much) where the two films go and how they focus are two wildly different things and that is all on the writers themselves. I seriously doubt that Suzanne Collins watched BR and thought “Hey let me make a teen friendly, Americanized version of this.” What’s possible, and more likely, is in a conversation someone went “what if” and that someone may have known someone who talked about it based on someone who had seen it. The two films are different and should not be compared and Collins did not rip off BR no matter how much some folks would like to say so.

So at nearly 2100 words so far, and trust me I could keep going I think we’ve hit:

TL;DR

Hunger Games is in my mind an iconic film. It’s this generations Superman (Reeves version folks). Katniss is a character for now that we can let our children want to be. Loyal, loving, and strong. She and the movie are a fantastic modern fairy tale and one I cannot recommend enough.

I have to admit writing that seems odd, but when I really think about it and all I’ve written here I believe it. This is the modern mythology of the 2000s and the new Perseus is a girl named Katniss Everdeen.

Now, I sleep and prepare for tomorrow night and it’s review. Did you like this new more in depth and longer format?

Darke Reviews | Thor: The Dark World (2013)

 

Ah how I love Hollywood and its need to get even a few more dollars to make the opening weekend look even better. First it was Midnight showings, technically making them released on the official release day. Then the 11PM, 10pm and 9pm showings came; now we have 8pm. Soon a Friday release means noon thursday! Though in all fairness and sarcasm aside it’s nice for an amateur like myself to see a film “early” so I can give my dear readers a review before they take the opportunity themselves. It’s even better when I can see it with friends who do not keep my hours. Let’s get to the review shall we?

Honest Trailers really nailed Thor in their recent video. This movie exists so you know who the Point Break guy will be in Avengers. It had a difficult job ahead of it and quite honestly not the best director to do it. Kenneth Brannagh had to find a way to introduce Thor, Jane Foster, Loki, Odin, The Warriors 3, Sif, the realms of the universe, tie it to the current continuity of the Marvel verse and still not introduce the concept of magic. That’s a tall order for any director. It’s also interesting that both Marvel and DC have explicitly avoided the mystical characters to date in their successful films. Brannagh did alright, not great, but alright with the first film. It created an unexpected bonus where Loki was the most interesting thing about the film, a trend to be repeated apparently. I really think us girls love him because hes adorable and would be a project we can try to fix. That’s a discussion for another time.

The sequel picks up where The Avengers left off and while my spoiler free disclaimer remains for Thor 2, the Avengers is beyond the statute of limitations. Loki has been imprisoned back on Asgard. Thor has not returned to Jane since he left her in New Mexico. Jane for reasons we cannot tell fully is not working for, with or even near SHIELD. Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been battling across the Nine Realms trying to bring peace and order to them after the Bifrost was destroyed during the events of the first movie. Everyone seems happy to tell Thor he needs to stop pining for Jane and Jane herself is doing a poor job of trying to move on. She still has loyal and snarky wingman and intern Darcy helping to track anomalies with a slightly off kilter (justifiably) Erik Selvig. During an investigation Jane is reunited with Thor and an ancient enemy resurfaces in a ploy to destroy the known Universe. Pushed to his very limits Thor is forced to obtain the aid of the one person he knows he cannot trust, his brother.

There is the high level synopsis spoiler free. Marvel handed the reins (reigns?) of this film to Alan Taylor. Don’t know the name? Neither did I. He is mostly a TV director who did 6 episodes of Game of Thrones and 9 of the Sopranos. How they picked him? I do not know. What I do know is he didn’t do a bad job. The shots were good, the acting was good, the fighting was watchable, all in all good direction on a script that had me scratching my head a few times.

The movie does fall prey to the too many writers problem in which we have 5 different writing credits; not including the comic books three credits. The story is by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot) and Don Payne (Thor, Fantastic Four 2). Knowing this in retrospect I can see where certain script elements appeared and why other elements were the way they were. The story was then adapted to screenplay by three men. Stephen McFeely (Captain America, Pain & Gain), Christopher Markus (same), and Christopher Yost (a slew of animated Marvel shows). This to me explains why there were scenes where the entire theatre erupted in laughter ( for good reason). sadly it also explains between the five of them why there was a women in fridges moment and a certain air of ..a very unwanted love triangle. I know that the film is supposed to be about Thor, but the Warriors 3 and Sif were his companions more than any other and they are woefully and painfully under utilized here. Granted they get more to do here than in Thor, but its still not good. And Love Triangles! Gah. I was annoyed when I suspected it, then it was confirmed. They aren’t needed, they are rarely liked and even more rarely handled well.

Ok, lets talk the actors. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals every bloody scene he is in. No one can keep up with him even if they try. One particular shape-shifting scene brought the house down. He is the absolute best thing about the movie. Hemsworth is delicious to look at and really acts well beyond the looks. There are times I think he was sick when his accent gets so thick and his voice drops an octave or two. It’s clear he gets the arrogance that Thor is to have, but has also learned humility over the years. Portman plays the fish out of water and love interest remarkably well and in a way that isn’t annoying. I was hoping to see more proactiveness from her early on but they deliver well enough at the end.

Anthony Hopkins seems to be showing his age beyond the make up in this turn as Odin. Rene Russo is actually given something to do briefly and gets more than two lines which is nice to see as she’s the bloody Queen of Asgard. I reiterate that Jaimie Alexander isn’t utilized well enough through the film as Sif and some of the times she is I want to hit a writer. Zarchary Levi (Chuck) replaces Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time) as Fandral seamlessly and he even gets to buckle some swashes. Hogun and Volstag are barely used thus their actors have little screen time or epicness that could have been given. Kat Dennings returns from being a Broke Girl to playing Darcy the snarky. She’s almost overused.

Christopher ( Dr. Who) Eccleston plays the villain Malekith. I will be honest, through the trailers and much of the film I did not recognize him. The make up was superb and the post production work on his voice were really well done. He actually brings a suitable air of menace to the film that we didn’t have in the first much.

The technicals. Le sigh. During one sequence I half expected to hear a young Jake Lloyd go “Yippee” and some bad commentator talk about the Pod Racing. The sound mixing and effects were so completely unoriginal it took me out of what should have been a fun sequence. Visually Asgard looked slightly less CGI than before and overall was rather well done. The effects of the big bad however. Not so much. While they did for the most part have some of the best lighting for it that made it match the atmosphere and environment around it – it just wasn’t working. There were times it reminded me of Blade or Fantastic Four 2. Hmmm…

Also – Puppeh!!!

TL;DR?

Despite some of the harsh comments above, it really is an enjoyable two hours. It’s far from a perfect film and still less flawed than the original. I don’t regret the time or the price unlike another Marvel film this year. I can safely tell everyone go see the film; I doubt you will be as critical as I am. I think this one is a movie people of all ages can enjoy but I do recommend watching Thor and or The Avengers first.

No breakdowns on this one, just see it. Matinee or full price, I think you will get your monies worth.

Stay allllllllllllll the way through the credits. Two scenes in this one.

Darke Reviews | Enders Game (2013)

For those who know my opinion on the writer of this book, his stances and my own choices regarding this film: I have not changed nor violated them. I am, however, working to become a professional reviewer of film. While I can choose to watch or not watch any film I wish and will continue to do so should someone foolishly think they could pay me to watch a movie I do not support, I will need to review it. That day is a long way off, but in the meanwhile, we have a Sci-Fi movie released which had I *not* known about the original author would have likely seen. So I feel I owe it to my readers to cover this film.

All of this disclaimer aside let’s talk about Enders Game the movie.

The movie is based on a critically acclaimed and award winning book released in 1985. The author Orson Scott Card has written twenty two different stories along the arc of Ender and the world around him. The subsequent releases were not always told in chronological order and may not even involve the titular character directly. I cannot comment on the contents of the book, its arc or how much the film is different from the source; though I am told by my best friend it is a good book.

The story itself focuses on a young boy, approximate age 12 in the movie, named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield – Hugo) . He is a cadet in some form of military academy where every move is monitored. The monitors are Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis). After being put through an uncomfortably vicious and devious test by the monitors he is given the chance to attend an advanced school. The ultimate goal in this world is to use the youth and adaptability of children to create the next generation of military leaders in order to defeat an insect like enemy called The Formics who invaded us years ago and nearly destroyed us. Ender is put through even more challenges that grow increasingly difficult and separate him from his support structures. His sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin – Zombie Land), his classmate Petra (Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit), and any other friends he makes. The entire time creating enemies of other classmates. Eventually Ender graduates to command school and is put through even more simulations that pit his computer avatars against avatars of the enemy. Graff is determined to make Ender some form of messiah for the human race capable of ending the war with the Formics.

Ok thats the background and if you think its complex, the movie only does a marginally better job of executing on the principles. I lay that on a screenplay by the movies director Gavin Hood. This is the same director who gave us X-men origins: Wolverine in 2009. The rest of the review will wait for you to finish bashing your head on your desk from being forced to remember that abomination of celluloid. Hood is given the gift of good actors and solid source material that made it hard to screw up. He almost does at times and I am not sold on the ending in any way shape or form. There are some elements mid way through the film that even when fully explained make no bloody sense. There are also significant pacing issues that made me feel like I was in stop and go traffic on a California highway. Thats where actors come in.

The movie is absolutely dependent upon its children. Sixteen year old Asa Butterfield must carry this film on his shoulders. It lives and dies on his ability to cover the complexity of Ender. He shows the stress the character is placed under in one moment and then shifts to a calculating and tactical genius in the next. There are times he doesn’t work as well, where the character comes across just a bit too strong and others insufferably weak. It could be due to the age of the character, the way the character was written, bad directing or bad acting. I can’t say specifically, but it is a flaw. Sadly both his female costars (Breslin/Steinfeld), whom are both Oscar nominated for previous works, are given precious little screen time. They do well with what they have and again this may be directorial or story that keeps them out. I wish I could have seen more of both young women as they are quite talented and make the most of the time they are given.

As far as the adults. Hrm. I am torn. I want to say they did well. It’s Harrison Ford for crying out loud. Viola Davis and even Ben Kingsley. This performance almost lets me forgive BK for Iron Man 3 earlier this year. Almost. There’s just something about them in this movie that feels too much. Just a bit over the top and a bit shallow at the same time. The actors are fine, there’s just something intangibly wrong with it.

The technicals on this one are fine. The “Game” visuals are entertaining as is the 3D training battle ground.

TL;DR

I cannot in good conscience say to anyone see this movie as I want to deny Orson Scott Card any residuals. That being said, the movie was engaging until the last fifteen minutes and surprisingly entertaining. Those last few minutes are critical and completely destroy any goodwill the previous two hours brought.

Overall – the movie is an ok entry into the Sci-Fi genre this year. We’ve had better and we’ve had worse. It exists and some folks will truly enjoy it. Others don’t share my opinions on the author and do not have the same issues I do with seeing it.

For those folks, I respect your opinion and right to have them, I will say see it as a Matinee. I really do believe the end of this one hurts the overall narrative. (even if it was in the book, it was really ham handed).

Anyone else…

Curious – Cheap Seats (most of the money then goes to the house not the studio)
On the Fence? – Netflix
The rest of ya’ll – Give it an absolute pass.
Tomorrow night I review one of the most anticipated movies of the fall – Thor 2: The Dark World

Darke Reviews | V for Vendetta (2005)

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November

The gunpowder treason and plot
I Can think of no reason
That the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot…

8 years after the release of this film, it remains a hit amongst a select group of people but never truly reached the heights of fame it so richly deserved. I find that this vexes me some, and in fact for those who have not witnessed this one, I can only vow to convince you to do so.

I must advise of course that this film is based on a graphic novel by the acclaimed writer Alan Moore. A man who is so fed up with adaptations of his work that he refused to allow his name to be put on the film. The artist, David Lloyd had no such qualms. To be sure Hollywood can be seen as a villain in his eyes as their adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentleman left much to be desired and forced Sean Connery into retirement. He is also responsible for the original works of From Hell and Watchmen. As you can tell by the nature of the stories he tells he has opinions on government , law enforcement and the military.

It also needs to be mentioned that there were many comparisons to certain current American politicians when this film was released. Those, while perhaps accurate, were entirely coincidental in my opinion as the original work contained much the same vitriol towards government and was entirely focused on the Margaret Thatcher era in Moore’s native Britain. If any lines can be drawn between two different political terms a few thousand miles and decades apart then we are drawing them ourselves. I don’t necessarily believe this bad; as well written material such as a graphic novel and movie are art. Art should provoke. Art should inspire. If this particular work does provoke such conversation, right-wrong-or-indifferent, then it is a particularly successful piece.

The film is not a pure adaptation of the graphic novel however, and does contain some not insignificant changes. The changes lay at the hands of the Wachowski’s; formerly the Wachowski brothers now brother and sister (Andy and Lana). The Wachowski’s are best known for their other pro-thought films, the Matrix and Cloud Atlas. They are also lamented for other films such as Speed Racer (which may get a review later this month). Let’s be absolutely clear, V cannot as written be translated to any screen media with any ease. It needed adaptation. Having read the original a few times, and likely after this review, I can assure you the true message is there; if somewhat less vague and with less a veneer to it. What is left is surprisingly wildly successful on multiple levels. As stated it is enough to provoke; be it emotion, thought or discussion. It does blend humor with action and a horrifying dystopian future that we all see on the edge of the horizon in our nightmares and conspiracy theories.

The plot itself centers around a girl Evey Hammond, a lowly assistant at the state run television network. During a chance encounter she finds her life saved at the hands of a the vicissitudes of Fate entwine their lives closer and closer. V is forced to kidnap her to save her life once again while he conducts a one man war on the regime. V attempts to rouse the Vox Populi to be heard once more while being hunted by a Big Brother type government run by Chancellor Sutler. Along the way a simple detective by the name of Finch searches for a truth that no one wants him to find. A link between V, his victims and the regime. The movies climax is explosive in a way only celluloid can deliver.

There’s not much to say about the directing on this one. This isn’t to say that James McTeigue did badly. This was his first film directing on his own, which he followed with three largely unsuccessful films (The Raven, Invasion and Ninja Assassin). I look at his jobs prior where he was a second unit or assistant director. Sadly, his credits don’t get better. Street Fighter (OF COURSE!), Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and the Matrix films. I can neither blame nor laud him for the various successes of this film. I must instead place the value of success upon the actors.

One stands apart, but we will get to him in a moment. Natalie Portman (Leon, Black Swan, Thor) plays Evey. She is one aspect of our lens into the existence of V. She is the heroine of the film who undergoes a remarkable transformation through her experiences and in an amazing arc truly becomes something New. For those so attracted to her, I will mention her fetish costume in the film. That’s all you get. Stephen Rea is an amazingly underrated actor who is known for playing characters that can move a story forward but is never quite the center. His best film to date is Citizen X, about Russia’s first serial killer. His Finch seems to be the only person in the chain of command of the government who wants to know the truth. The truth about V, the truth about Evey, the Chancellor and even the truth about what kind of man he is. He wields the perpetual look of a man who knows the entire game is against him but keeps playing.

John Hurts Chancelor Adam Sutler is quite literally a Hitler-esque force of nature while he holds power. My terminology there is intentional. Stephen Fry steals whatever scene he is in as late night TV host Deitrich. He not only shows his comedic ability and sense of timing but the raw weight and gravity that he can bring to the fore when needed. Watch him and you will see a talent the United States barely knows and that is regrettable.

Though this review is tending to the unnaturally verbose time must be dedicated to the man known as Hugo Weaving; who plays V. If you don’t know him and call yourself a geek, turn in your geek card now. Just go turn it in. He is best known for his monotone delivery as Agent Smith in the Matrix, or Elrond in any of the Tolkein films, the voice of Megatron in the Bay Transformers, or Red Skull in Captain America. There are quite literally thousands upon thousands of actors out there. You will hear in certain interviews the difficulty of an actor displaying emotion through a thick make up or application. Challenges in showing their body language in concealing or dark clothing. To these actors, please ask Mr. Weaving for lessons. Through the entirety of the film he is wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, black wig and hat. His clothing is bulky over his frame making him look larger than he actually is. Throughout the film he shows the power of basics. His voice modulation is the best I have heard; and when matched with subtle but powerful movements of his head and shoulders he expresses more emotion in a single film than many actors do in their entire careers. He is in a single word – Incredible.

If you do nothing else after this review, watch the scenes with him and his amazing range and how you can tell what the emotion is without seeing a single actual facial feature.

So for those who found this verbiage voluble (OK, I’ll stop)

– TL;DR

I can only come short of begging people to take a chance on this film if you would not otherwise. Watch it to consider the original material being written in the 80’s. Watch it to consider the time it was made as a film and the political landscape then. Watch it NOW and consider the message it delivers and our own political landscapes. Watch it for the acting delivered by some amazing talents. Watch it for the beautiful cinematography and storytelling.

All I can say is watch it and let it provoke you to think, to act or to feel. I do not think you will be disappointed and as I said before if you can find parallels between 1982 when this was first written and 2005 or 2013 you bring them with you and there’s no shame in it!

V for Vendetta is a highly underrated film that needs to be watched and appreciated and I can only hope that it’s power can be seen in time.