Darke Reviews – Brick Mansions (2014)

I get to do an Old vs New on this movie! I haven’t done one of these in a few months and its about due. I could tell from the trailers on this one that it was nearly a shot for shot remake of 2004 french film District 13. Now when I say shot for shot, I mean quite literally I recognized plot, scenes, lines of dialogue and entire shots from the original. All to the point where I didn’t expect to see anything new in the film.

Was I wrong?

Well, yes. To a point. Camille Delamarre, the director, took Luc Besson’s (5th Element, La Femme Nikita, Leon The Professional) and Bibi Naceri’s original script from D13 and decided to americanize it. If the world is a good place Delamarre will never direct another movie. I know the world is not a good place. This movie proves it. Every-Single-Good decision from D13 is undone. The parts that they keep from the original are barely tolerable and the parts they deviate from are so abysmally bad I would consider watching Die Hard 5 or World War Z again.

I said consider. I didn’t say I would do it.

Lets talk story, the world is a godawful place. So bad they cordoned off a section of a major city and left it to rot, burn, and eventually die. The original is of course in Paris. The new one is set in Detroit. It felt like what Robocopy should have been.  Inside this district gangs rule their respective blocks or buildings. One is kept (relatively) clean by its leader Lino (BM)/Lieto(D13) who is trying to keep his part of the city free from drugs and safe for his people. This of course puts him at odds with Tremaine(BM)/Taha(D13). Things of course fail to go his way and he ends up in a worse spot than he was in. Meanwhile outside the district supercop Damien (in both) is given a mission of the utmost secrecy and importance that will determine the fate of both the district and the city at large. Lino/Lieto is in it for love and trying to save Lola (girlfriend in BM/sister in D13) and Damien is in it because he believes in the system. Together they might both get what they want.

That core story remains the same between the two. As there are no writing credits beyond the original screenplay all blame for change must ride with the director. Unless of course there is a writer out there who knows how bad this adaptation was and took their name off of it. Not even an Alan Smithee credit to be found. Sad that. With a Smithee I could understand why everyone had their IQs drop. I could understand why there was a completely and totally unnecessary girl fight. I could understand why the script was bordering on offensive on so many levels. I could understand why it was so pathetically derivative that it had to explain the subplot in the first five minutes with Snidely Whiplash cackling on screen. Ok Whiplash didn’t quite make it , but might as well. They literally made everything in the movie DUMBER and even potentially more stereotypical and offensive to make it for us.

Yay American cinema. Someone shoot me.

Is it all bad? No.

David Belle, who was in the original (and its sequel) reprises his role as Lieto in Lino. For those not familiar with Belle he FOUNDED Parkour. Founded. Every bit of a free running you see in movies now you can thank him. He is one of the most amazing men I have ever had the pleasure to witness on film. His physicality and agility are the stuff of legends. In D13 we are able to truly embrace and enjoy it with long shots of his free running through the district – over, around, up and down every surface he can touch. In Brick Mansions, we are…treated…to quick cuts, snap shots and a hint of shaky cam that prevents us from truly enjoying his ability to move.  He is still amazing, but you can’t enjoy it. Of course his counterpart in this is is also important.

District 13 gives us the hyper athletic Cyril Raffaelli as Damien. If you saw the Jet Li movie Kiss of the Dragon you saw this man fight Li and it was impressive. Not only can he fight, he is capable of acting and even a small bit of comedic timing. The physicality though is what lets you believe he can keep up with someone like Belle when they are on screen together. Paul Walker, not so much. He is very much the modern american action star. Brute force, some speed, no grace. It’s near impossible to compare the two men as Raffaelli just shines in such a physically demanding role. Walker is his usual self , which is slightly charming but as much real personality as Keanu Reeves. Though Reeves is mocked more for the same type of performance. Yes, I am sorry Walker is gone, but he doesn’t have a lot of range.

The bad guy, Taha, played by writer Bibi Naceri in D13 comes across pretty solid through and through in D13. He’s the king of a kingdom of ashes. Little else. His power is in his men and his ruthlessness. RZA (man with the Iron Fists) is your type-A1 standard urban lord with Tremaine. He has faux class, power through his men and a perceived intelligence higher than he should have. Tremaine as the bad guy serves the story as well as to be expected for the type of villain he is. In traditional fashion for us they make him as important as the heroes of the story and necessitate him through the end.

From a technical standpoint, nothing succeeds in Brick Mansions. Nothing. The unnecessary girl fight with two girls effectively in fetishwear fighting with fetish weapons. Just what we need. Shaky cam, quick cuts. Because more of that is good. Two leads who aren’t even in the same hemisphere physically? Brilliant choice.

Alright, TL;DR?

DO NOT SEE THIS GARBAGE. Save your $9 bucks. Get Netflix account for a month and watch the original. The subtitles don’t hurt, I promise. Seriously, DO NOT SEE THIS.

I can’t stress it enough. I was offended at many of the things they did from a film standpoint. Someone got hit in the head and you could HEAR THE LOONEY TOONS TWEETY BIRD SOUND! WHO DOES THAT?!

Yes I am raging because this film was a waste of celluloid that they released just to capitalize on walkers death. I can’t even recommend this one for MsT3K style commentary and viewing. It’s too dumb. It thinks WE are too dumb. I don’t have a high opinion of humanity, but I think mine is higher than this.

Gah, just don’t see Brick Mansions. Don’t let your friends see it. Let it burn in the pits of Tartarus.

Darke Reviews – The Quiet Ones (2014)

I told you guys I would be watching more horror movies, a genre I have long since avoided. Mostly because the films haven’t interested me. Partially because of nostalgia for my golden age of Horror. So marking the second theatrical review for me of this genre is the Possession Horror – The Quiet Ones.

As it seems to be, from what I can tell in the trailers, films like this are set as a period piece. They are also nearly always (it seems) based on “actual events”. Commence eye rolling. The original screenplay was by Tom deVille, who has only a few TV episodes and a short to his credit prior. Then, there are three writers credits over his. Craig Rosenberg (After the Sunset), Oren Moverman (The Messenger, I’m Not There), and John Pogue (US Marshalls, Rollerball (2002), Ghost Ship). Three writers credits and once again the rule holds true. You can see all the different hands in the film and that at no point they agreed on how the story should go. Is it science? Is it supernatural? What are the rules? Are there rules?

Pogue, was also the director and that may also be the problem. Ok, its not a problem in that he is able to receive elevated performances from all of his actors. Actors who mostly aren’t known, but even Jared Harris shows an interesting range of emotions and mental states as the film progresses. Some credit must go to the director. Blame for the movies pacing also goes to the director. One should not be watching a movie and look to their viewing partner and go “what time is it?”. I was trying to figure out how long I was watching it and how much longer it would go. But Jess, it’s a slow burn film. Slow burn implies things happen. It implies that the film is building tension. It implies that at the end of it there will be a climax worth having a reaction to. A reaction that isn’t “what the heck were you thinking?” This had none of that, its simply flat.

That isn’t to say I don’t care about the characters. Sam Claflin (Finnick from Hunger Games) and Olivia Cook (Bates Motel) are actually the best thing this movie has going for it. At times I thought Claflin was Nicholas Hoult with his wide eyed expressions, but I cared what happened to him. I cared about his emotional state and actually respected the haracter he was playing, because of his performance. Cook, looking fantastic with black hair, reminded me of Eva Green in how she moves her mouth and the slight facial tics she affected through the film. Her range is actually quite something. I would look forward to seeing other work for her so she can progress as an actress. The ability to flip your emotions, and be believable, like a lightswitch should not be discounted.

That being said, even good acting cannot save a movie that fails at the most primal aspect of a horror movie. Tension. I felt none. The final act of the movie came closest and was most intriguing. I have a little bias to it, but thats another story. I just wish they had taken another route. Yes, it was loosely based on an actual experiment from Toronto in the ealy 1970s. Paranormal experimentation in the 70’s is about as trustworthy as a politician trying to win an election. On top of that the “based on” conceit is all but utter garbage unless there’s actual evidence from the event. That means they could have gone even further with this and didn’t.

TL;DR

If you are a horror junkie, go ahead and see Quiet Ones. Otherwise I found this a good place to take a nap for an hour and fourty minutes.

That may be my shortest TL;DR ever. Anyway, next week we begin the summer blockbuster season (and pretty much more reviews from me than I can shake a stick at) with Spider Man 2.
Complete aside – if I were to hold a contest for a pair of movie tickets, would you fine folks be interested?

Darke Reviews – Transcendence

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” – Albert Einstein

Since the movie saw fit to quote Einstein as it’s push for research into artificial intelligence, I thought I would open with a quote that the movie didn’t mention  (surprisingly). Last week when I reviewed Oculus I spoke of the things we fear as a (western) culture and how that drives our trends in horror movies. Sci-fi also delivers some of those fears as well, but rather than trying to terrify us on an emotional level; it goes for the scare on a mental level and ultimately tries to make you think.

In the past year we have seen a rash of Sci Fi movies asking us what makes a man (Oblivion), what defines a soul (Robocop, I Frankenstein), should we fear technology (Paranoia – yes it sucked, but it asked). Those are but a few. So my opening quote is our fear. Are we too connected? Too dependent on machinery? How far is too far for science? The thought of Dolly and it’s implications terrifies many. Don’t get me started on Bern and the Collider. We have decades of movies now telling us that Artificial Intelligence is the end of man kind. Decades of being told to be afraid of advancement in this field. 2001, Terminator, War Games,  the Matrix, and more recently Battlestar Galactica all show us the terror of our machine overlords and what “will come to pass”.
This is where Transcendence comes into play.

It had the opportunity to come in and shake things up. To tell us to not be afraid of the machine. To not be afraid of science and technology. First time screenwriter Jack Paglen and director Wally Pfister are just as afraid as the movies want us to be. I lay the blame on Christopher Nolan. He is an executive producer on the film and Pfister has been his Director of photography forever and a day. So I think Pfister was acting as a mouthpiece for Nolan here. CNS raises its head to the surface but never quite breaks through. It verges on the pretentious and preachy and filled with its own self importance of the message it wants to deliver. It just sort of falls flat on that message.

I want to like this movie more than I do. I truly do. The fact that it came in with a preconceived notion that technology was bad and our humanity, our soul, and our consciousness were divine bothers me on a deep level. This film had such great opportunities to ask questions – which it kept trying to – and really explore the answers. Instead we get a sort of jumbled mess of shots of people walking, people looking pensive, and effects that were verging on dated a few years ago. Thats what really makes me angry though. It ASKED some of the questions it was trying to get to. It was just asked from a bias that made it difficult to answer. It asked the questions in such a way that it may as well have asked “so when did you stop beating your wife?” Yeah that is a little extreme. I am angry though. There was such potential here and they threw it back in our face. A movie like this should make us think. It should have us give a hard look at everything. I did while the credits rolled, but its my nature.

Why so worked up about it though? There’s plenty of bad movies out there that try to be more than they are.

You are right, there are. None of those have the raw potential to be more. The script isn’t horrific overall. Its shallow and afraid, but not horrific. The movie succeeds where so many fail because it has actors you want to watch. It has actors you give a damn about. Thats why I am angry, because it had potential. The movie gives me back the Johnny Depp I love from the Ninth Gate, the Tourist, and Finding Neverland. It serves to remind me that he is a tremendous talent capable of nuanced performance through voice alone and not just Disney and Tim BUrtons pet goofball. Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, Vicky Christina Barcelona) also runs the gambit of emotions in her performance. I was pleased, even if she did come across as a “we couldn’t get Scarlet Johansson” at times. Its unfair, but for the first few trailer passes I thought it was Scarlet. Her acting, however, really does let her hold her own on the screen with a cast of actors you will recognize.

Paul Bettany (Knights Tale, Iron Man), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), Morgan Freeman (will do anything for a paycheck), Kate Mara (House of Cards),  Clifton Collins Jr. (Boondock Saints 2), Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds), Xander Berkeley, Lukas Haas, Cole Hauser, and others fill this cast with talent. Freeman is wasted as he often is these days and generally uninspired – also as he is these days. Nearly all the actors do their very best to deliver when they can. The standout is Bettany. He and Hall carry the film and deliver the necessary emotional punches that it needs when it needs it. Bettany successfully upstages (in the best way possible) Freeman at every turn and easily is a beautiful presence on screen with Depp and Hall. I really hope to see more between Depp and Bettany as they both can play each others dramatic and comedic talents to the fullest in anything they do, as well as hitting action beats.

Alright, no technicals this time. I kind of got my dig in there earlier. The effects are satisfactory, not mindblowing. They are a step up from the last time we saw something like this in The Lawnmower Man.

TL;DR?

I really want to recommend this, but I can’t. It is not for all audiences and only a few people I know would enjoy the conversations that come from it. Mage the Ascension players might see this as a Virtual Adept gone Maraud. Some folks might enjoy the conversation they develop on their own after.

Does our technology out strip our humanity? Is there something to fear? I will be honest folks, I wouldn’t mind having that conversation with people, but the movie isn’t needed for that. perhaps some day we will get a movie that doesn’t tell us to be afraid of AI.

Next week – I will be talking about Imports vs. Domestic with Brick Mansions.

Darke Reviews – Oculus (2014)

Ok, I admit I am a bit out of touch with the modern horror genre. I said as much when I did a review of The Conjuring. So what does a girl do who has had nightmares the last 5 days in a row? She goes and sees a horror movie to take her mind off of it. Why have I not watched horror? She who kept bullies away in 9th grade by writing the 250 horror movies she had already seen on her book cover?

I believe in a Golden Age of horror. One that didn’t exist. I grew up with Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween. I grew up with Serpent and the Rainbow, Childs Play, THe Fog, Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside. People of my generation, by and large, have a terribly great nostalgia for these films and those like them. No one thinks about their sequels and all of the other horrible movies that came out at the same time. Every generation has them. The greats. Every generation has nostalgia for them and does their best to ignore the rest of the garbage. This has gone on since the 1930s. I could name a dozen greats in every decade and easily three times as many that were less so.

My point? It is not fair to judge the current style of horror films based on what came in decades prior. Judge them on their own merit. Judge them on their execution. Judge them on their originality. Do not, however, judge them against the films you grew up with. So where does that leave Oculus? In an interesting place. My rule of writing movie reviews without spoilers and trying to write a review on a horror/suspense film. Not particularly easy.

Written by Mike Flanagan, who also directed, and Jeff Howard, who have done nothing you’ve seen before. The movie is officially based on a short film of the same name by Flanagan and Jeff Seidman. Originality? Eh. Yes and No. I have a book in my library from 1954 that has a short story about a crack in a mirror and seeing your own death in it. Stephen King wrote the Reapers Image which was written in 1966 about a man who sees a dark spot in the mirror and vanishes from a tour as if he was never there. These bear the closest resemblance to the story we have. Of course, when it comes to horror we have a terrible fascination with mirrors. How many of you have played Bloody Mary? Much less watched a movie about it. Candyman? One of the best mirror horrors out there. Possibly nostalgia, but I will live with that.

The story this time, focuses on two siblings that experienced a traumatic event early in their life and now eleven years later decide to face it again. The movie actually rather deftly handles the paranormal sciences of ghost hunting with a combination of home invasion and psychosis. Home invasion is that which scares us as a society the most right now. Combine that with the paranormal and it manifests that fear perfectly. Something you can’t really fight, something you can’t see. Something that makes you feel defenseless. Thats what we have decided this generation is terrifying. Combine that fear with the media talking about “normal people” who go crazy and harm those they ostensibly love and the movie hits two things at once. A little bit Shining and a little bit Candyman.

To be successful though the movie needs good actors. People who can emote better than average and understand their own fears and know how to bring it to the screen. Oculus has that in spades. First you have Rory Cochrane (Speedle from CSI Miami) as the father shown mostly in flashbacks. The Jack Nicholson role. Then you have Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from BSG), as the loving mother of two with her own internal and external demons. Brenton Thwaites (to be seen later this year as Prince Phillip in Maleficent) as the son, Tim,  in the current time frame. Karen Gillan (Dr. Who and Guardians of the Galaxy) rounds out the main cast as the sister Kaylie all grown up. You also have two young actors, Annalise Basso and Garret Ryan, as young Kaylie and Tim.

The four actors playing the children really carry the film, both in flashback and current timelines. Special credit goes to Gillan and Basso though who deliver in spades. I really believe they are the same person. Gillan really carries the scars of the past that Basso let affect her version of Kaylie. I want to see more of what Basso can do and already know Gillan has a long career ahead of her (or hope she does). What really got me was how the characters of Tim and Kaylie dealt with the events that happened years before. One with technology and parascience; the other with psychology and pseudoscience. Obsession and denial are as powerful as the Mirror in this. It’s actually really well done and intriguing to watch play out.

The technicals are also what helps. This comes down to a movie that paces itself well. It runs an hour and 45 and doesn’t deserve a minute more or less. It succeeds at doing what a horror movie should, building tension. It also, in the trailer famous lightbulb sequence reminds me I still have a gag reflex. That’s sound editing and make up folks. Done well. Lighting and camera work do their part as well building a terrific atmosphere through the film that uses light as much as it does shadow. A horror movie using stark whites? Yep! It stands apart, from all other horror movies I’ve casually observed recently, for that and its use of vibrant color when it does use them.

But…does it ultimately succeed?

TL;DR it is to answer that.

Perhaps I was expecting more. Something else?  I do recommend it for horror lovers. I recommend it for those who enjoy parasciences as well for how the movie executes it. Yet, I can only recommend this one as a matinee. For all the good it does, it never quite stuck the landing perfectly for me.

It did however, give me an opportunity to see what is best in the modern horror genre and I will likely be covering more of them as the year continues.

Next week – Transcendence, with Johnny Depp.

Darke Reviews – Jinn (2014)

Something is in the water. Two movies this year dealing with ancient pre-flood mythologies. One with the Christian lore and the other dips into Islamic lore. Much as I had spoken about Noah and the concepts and elements of the story it elected to bring; my familiarity with the Jinn (or Djinn) is passing in nature. Creatures of smokeless fire. These creatures are not what you see in Aladdin, nor even Wishmaster. They are far more than that if you examine the lore even with a cursory pass. They are literal forces of nature and creation. So how does one make a movie about them and give them their due?

I am not sure this was the way, but considering it’s limited release I was lucky to see it. Shown in only 201 theatres nation wide, El Con Mall here in Tucson happens to be one of them. I suppose making $149,000 in three days isn’t bad with that kind of showing right? It averages to roughly 15 to 20 people per show per theatre. Ok, so not that good.

Written and directed by Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, this may be his first and last movie with a budget. As an unpublished writer, I know how hard it is to edit oneself. You get ideas and you want to get them all out. I know how you can get caught up in the mythology and concepts you have and want to give them all to your audience. Ahmad does not suffer from CNS (see the Noah review for what that means). I think he is just eager, I think he is passionate, and I think he needs a friend pulling him back from time to time.

The story touches on an Islamic legend of creation where three beings were made. Man of Clay, Angels of Light, and a third of Fire. Two had free will. One rose to dominance and the other resented it. In the modern age a man, Shawn Walker (Dominic Rains of General Hospital and a few movie walk ons) is a car designer who is living a relatively happy life with his wife, Jasmine (Serinda Swan of Breakout Kings and a few other small roles in TV and movies). As it must be in these movies that life is turned upside down by the arrival of a Jinn. The Jinn in their way want to kill this man who has a destiny to help defeat them once and for all, want him dead. Along the way he is given guidance and assistance from three strangers, Gabriel (Ray Park, yes, that Ray Park), Father Westhoff (William Atherton – Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Die Hard), and Ali (Faran Tahir – Iron Man, Star Trek). The three men try to prepare the woefully unprepared Shawn to save his wife, his life, his soul, and perhaps the future.

I want to get to the technicals quickly here as they are perhaps the weakest point. I appreciate having to work on a budget as a new director without a major studio backing you. The special effects land somewhere above your average SyFy movie of the week, which makes it better than Hercules, and roughly around where you would expect to find the next Dimension Films direct to DVD horror movie. It’s roughly what I found in Prophecy 3,4,5, and 6; or the sequels to Dracula 2000. Honestly, that isn’t bad. It is however where it gets a bit weak as the smoke effects really seem to take away from the scenes as do the random floodlights in the darkness. Ahmad wanted to use mythology to deal with these things born of smokeless fire yet they sure have a lot of smoke and it isn’t good. The movie makes up for it in one major area. Make up.

For that we thank the illustrious presence of Robert Kurtzman (Dusk till Dawn). Kurtzman is the “K” in KNB Effects. If you want it practical and you want it from some of the best alive in the industry go to KNB. Watch The Walking Dead if you don’t believe me. Thats their work. His design for the Djinn was inspired to say the least. Neither male, nor female, nor wholly human; the design was hard to take my eyes from. Some may call it simplistic. Perhaps so; but there was a beautiful elegance to it, that should be respected. Even the “non-fire” design was interesting to look at, if not a bit common in this day of emaciated creature horror.

The last technical I want to talk about is camera work. At least 10 minutes of the movie feel like they are a commercial for the 2014 Pontiac Firebird. At least Need for Speed was honest about it. The movie is a mix of annoying me with some of the camera work and making some inspired decisions. I have to give credit overall though as I know that budget only allows so much and you have to make do with all you can.

The acting isn’t half bad either. Well above SyFy and most Dimension films schlock. No one is going to come away with an award for this one, but at the same time they tried. At least they felt like they were trying. It is always pleasant to see Mr. Atherton on screen and for once as a heroic figure than a jerk. Ray Park without make up and getting to be himself a bit is also a good change of pace. Serinda Swan isn’t given much to do other than look pretty. I consider that a mark against the film as she could have had interesting story potential. Dominic Rains also does what he can here, trying to bring some emotion into the performance and mostly succeeds. Tahir, much like Atherton, commands a certain presence in the film and I truly wish I could have seen both of them more than I did. He is an underrated actor in hollywood and if we are truly lucky someone will come to their senses and use him well in movies to come.

The script and pacing of the story want it to be bigger than it can be. A flaw to be certain. It creates certain jumps of logic, ability, and character development that were jarring to me and hardly felt natural. I don’t know quite right now how I would fix those issues, but they COULD be fixed.

TL;DR?

As I mentioned before the use of the ancient lore as a basis for the film was a breath of fresh air in a world of comic book movies, remakes and re imagining. This film should be celebrated for that. But should you see it?

Well, no.

Unless you are a fan of the indy film that wants to be a studio film. Unless you want to support a specific actor, concept, or the director himself. Unless you are curious and have it showing in a theatre near you, I can’t say see it. As much as it should be celebrated and the director given a chance the overall movie is kinda just ok. It holds some potential, it has some good actors in it who need to be used more, but it just barely rises above your average Dimension or Dark Castle film. It’s best asset is that they tried!

Most of you haven’t and won’t come across it. You aren’t missing a diamond in the rough if you do miss it. Maybe though, maybe someone will give Ahmad a shot with something else. Something larger. That, I can hope for and so should you.

Darke Reviews – Captain America:The Winter Soldier

Darke Reviews – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I promised Beth and Stef I would start off with the TL;DR on this one.

Holy Amazeballs. Yes. Go See this film. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect (but maybe spend) $200. Go see Cap. It is one of the best films to date in the Marvel cinematic universe and the best film to date this year. To be absolutely clear it is not a perfect film. There are flaws I will go into below, but it did everything I needed it to. It made me smile, made me sit on the edge of my seat, made me giddy with anticipation of something strange, made me laugh and even made me cry.

Go see it. Full price. No 3D, it isn’t needed by a long shot.

Full review time? I suppose so. Lets see if I can set a speed record on this writing.  These normally take me about 45 minutes to an hour to write because I want to choose everything I say carefully and keep the review SPOILER FREE!

Directed this time by Anthony and Joe Russo. If you’ve never heard of them that’s ok. Their biggest credit is the TV comedy Community. Seriously. These guys were given Captain America. I have absolutely no idea what Kevin Fiege and the other Marvel producers saw in them, but it worked. They got exactly what they needed from their actors and every shot. The down side is that the movie was filled with some magnificently beautiful fight sequences that I would have loved to watch. Really, I am tired of quick cuts and camera motion. What I could see of the fights was pretty amazing and painful. The movie also has some pacing issues which fall on the directors feet, as it runs a long two hours and thirty minutes and at times feels it.

The time of course is needed for the complexity of the plot. Ed Brubaker is credited with the concept and story, that was converted to screen play by Chronicles of Narnia writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  The three of them created a Bond worthy plot within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Bible. NOTHING in these films is done without forethought or planning. When I consider that, it tells me that parts of the plot that seemingly came out of left field were planned. It tells me they knew what they were doing and the filler was done exceedingly well. The movie runs long and a few scenes could have been cut I suppose, but I really enjoy that the writers bothered to put quiet moments. Emotional moments for the characters to let their relationships build and let you get to really know who they are in the dark. They intelligently don’t over explain when lesser writers would have spelled some things out. I applaud them for that.

Of course the writing and direction need actors. Thankfully the movie has them and for once they aren’t chewing scenery. Even Redford as Alexander Pierce comes across with a subdued yet powerful presence. Samuel L Jackson stopped being Samuel L Jackson and was Nick Fury. The limelight, however, belongs to Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie. I’ve talked about the need for chemistry in a film before. You know when actors are not a hundred percent comfortable with each other, their roles, or  some element of the film. Here they all make it look effortless. The quiet moments have a serene and subtle quality that they need. The moments of bonding feel natural and not forced. The moments they need to be strong and dominating the screen as larger than life beings come across just as well with these actors. Each one of them has their moment in the sun and they cast a tremendous shadow when they get it.  I was really pleased with the balance of their characters through the movie in a way that surprised me.

I didn’t mention the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t get to do a lot other than kick ass. I am not saying his performance wasn’t good, but it didn’t hold the nuance the others brought.

From a technicals standpoint, the 3D is largely wasted on the fact you can’t appreciate the motion of Falcon flying due to quick cuts and massive camera movements. I swear the cameraman may have been having a grand mal seizure. This is by far the biggest flaw of the film. Everything else is on par with all we’ve been given before. This is something Marvel needs to be careful of  as the effects need to continue to advance with the years or things will look dated. The movie doesn’t suffer from that yet, but it wont be long before it could.

Overall the movie is, as I mentioned before, arguably one of the best Marvel films to date. It is up there with Avengers. It feels like a comic book movie that Captain America SHOULD be in. It feels like they should be doing this and the plots complexity fit perfectly. There’s enough references to the other Avengers in the film to make fans smile and unlike refuse like Iron Man 3 or a flawed Thor Dark World, happens quick enough and in such a way that calling in back up doesn’t feel viable.  So thats another applause there. It was enough to have who they did, doing what they did.

Of course, stay for the post credits scenes. Yes, plural. The first is more powerful, but the second has meaning.

That’s it folks. Speed record set (30 minutes). Go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Cap movie we needed and deserved.

Darke Reviews – Noah (2014)

I was raised Roman Catholic, within the United States, so it goes without saying I am familiar with the story of Noah. Much like a friend of mine in Ennis, I am also a student of religion. While not as studious as I was once in my early years I am passingly familiar with more of the archaic texts and myths surrounding that particular religion. Even my middle name is based on one of these stories. So I went into Noah with a little more appreciation for what they *could* do with it. I suppose with that, I should not have been surprised with what they did do.

The movie was written by it’s director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Black Swan, The Wrestler) and Ari Handel (The Fountain and producer on DA’s other films). This writer / director combo leads to what I am going to start calling “Cinematic Nolan Syndrome” or CNS in some. Sadly it manifests here. It presents itself as a plodding story full of self indulgence and a man behind the scenes jumping up and down, waving his arms. While jumping around like a hyperkinetic bonobo, the man is also yelling look at me!, I am an artiste! Am I not avant-garde? am I not edgy! I have an eye that no others do. I can do things with film no others do!

CNS seems to be present here. The script is painfully self righteous in its condemnation of industry and the nature of man. The religious overtones are quickly lost to the depredations of the writing and a need to show even on some level that faith itself is bad. The movie only cursorily gives the option of hope and mercy as if trying to make you wish for it and go “ok only because you asked we’ve added it…”. It felt actually a bit condescending when the beats finally reared their much needed head.

Yet, I don’t actually hate the film. There have been far worse this year and more to come I am sure. So what saved it?

First, lets talk technicals. As much as I mocked him earlier for his artistry, Aronofsky *is* actually talented. He does have an eye for visuals, utilizing both subtle color choices and nuanced background imagery and iconography. I found it entrancing that, within the conciet of this film, one could see heaven even in the day. The use of sharp, vibrant orange hues with raw black silhouettes, shows a director who understands that shape is an art all to itself. It relies on the actors to use their own bodies as a brush to tell you something without expression you can see. It works surprisingly well with a talented hand in this model. It even adds a bit of condemnation to other directors who feel the need to show too much, that audiences will not “get it”. Trust me, we aren’t all that dumb.

The CGI work, however, leaves a little to be desired. It is not Pompeii or Hercules horrible, but it’s pretty close. There is an entire sequence of characters that while fascinating were on some level wrong. There’s just something clearly off in the renders that keeps much of the graphics from doing what they need and they temporarily eject you from the film when they do appear.

The actors. Yet another mixed bag. The movie has an amazing cast of talent both young and old. Statesmen of acting, such as Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Ray winstone, and even Jennifer Connelly stands an equal amongst these men. The next generation shows itself in Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, and Emma Watson. Let me start off with the simple fact Crowe is not a reason to see this film. Even Winstone and Hopkins, while present and elevating an otherwise mediocre script are spending considerable effort to do so. Crowe himself is …himself. He’s a walking train wreck of blandness even when he is trying to emote.

The real stars here are Connelly and Watson. The *only* time I gave a damn was when they were speaking. When they were acting. They delivered and consistently upstaged everyone with a passionate rawness we need more of. Their tears, when they appeared, were not cute or quaint. They were not hollywood tears. They were the tears of people. They were messy, they were all over the place and they were filled with emotion. Their faces were those of yourself, your wife, your daughter when they cried in pain, in joy and in terror. Their rage was something to behold, even as impotent as it was. Please hollywood, let these two women get more work. There is such potential here for real actors that are still capable of depth and not going through the motions

On another technical front, the movie suffers from horrific pacing issues. It feels it’s length and just when you think it should be done, it continues. Seriously guys? Do you think you are Return of the King. One movie a decade with 20 minute endings is enough.

TL;DR?

Noah is a mixed bag. It should be better. It could be better. There’s mythology used that most are unfamiliar with, but never explored. There’s acting, but so much effort is spent working with something mediocre the greats are too tired to give more. It’s graphically pretty and elegant yet clumsy and off putting.

The film is a movie at war with its own nature. It’s a beautiful dichotomy in what it is trying to tell you about human nature and it’s own execution.

Where does that finally land it?

Meh. It’s simply ok and I really cannot bring myself to say see it at all. If you must then catch it as a matinee. It’s a two and a half hour slog made only redeemable by Watson and Connelly.
Later this week , one of my most anticipated films of the year. Captain America: Winter Soldier.