Darke Reviews – Hercules (2014)

Two Hercules movies in one year. I have said since January this one with the Rock could not suck nearly as bad as the first one. If you missed my review for that (I haven’t figured out how to link to FB yet…) its in the review history here on Everything Except Shoes. It sucked. It sucked so bad. It may be one of the worst movies of the year. Not the worst, that may be Transformers 4 or Brick Mansions, but its up there (down there). Enough on the past. A wise monkey told me the past can hurt. Let’s move on.

The Rock, lets face it was born to play Hercules. Did he do it?

I promised in the Lucy review that there was a similarity that was diametrically opposed. The trailers are it. The trailers for Hercules ultimately were a failure and a blessing for the movie. It succeeded so successfully in hiding what the movie really is about. What story it tells that I had all the wrong expectations going in. This is both good and bad. It is very very good that they didn’t give anything away. So nice job guys. It’s bad in that it set up the wrong story in peoples minds. You will go in expecting one thing and will come out with another. That’s not usually a good thing as those expectations can be damaging if you really wanted one thing but got another that didn’t interest you. The movie, for me, works in that I went in expecting little but got more.

From a story standpoint, if you take The Losers, A Knights Tale, and King Arthur and put them in a blender. The resulting puree is this film. That should create some interesting visuals for those familiar with those films. It verges on my no spoiler territory a bit, but I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out what that combination brings.

I think the director could have been anyone. Probably should have been too, but I have a sort of hate for Brett Ratner and his homophobia. Most sane people do, but that’s tied to his horrific films. If you remember X3? I am sorry. If you don’t remember it – count your blessings. He was the director called in and who made many of the decisions that nearly buried the X-Men franchise. He also gave us all the Rush Hour movies even as they grew less funny.

I’d love nothing more than to say he bombed here. Sadly I can’t. He didn’t. The action is decent. The camera shots are good. The overall production is good. Some of the FX were deplorable, but you can’t have it all. Well you can, just not with this movie.

The movie is absolutely carried by its cast. Dwayne Johnson WAS in fact born to play Hercules. He gives Will Smith a run for his money as the most charismatic man on the planet. He might even beat him after the insomnia solving After Earth. What surprised me is how much the supporting cast meets him on the battlefield of charm and entertainment. They elevate the film to the next level in a way Johnson hasn’t had his last few movies. Ian McShane (Kings, Deadwood, Death Race) is in full form and allows his eye brows as his own supporting actors. He is just fun in the yoda like role he has. The surprise humor is from Knights Tale and Dark City star Rufus Sewell. He must be following the Ian MCShane handbook, but just keeps bringing a bloody smile to my face.

I’d also like to commend Ingrid Bolso Berdal as Atalanta. She’s kinda awesome in the action sequences and is worth watching. I Hope she gets a good career in action movies going forward. She sold it and has some potential.

Now…story. It’s interesting, but so cliche’d its painful. CinemaSins will have a field day once he gets his hands on it. At one point the person I saw it with started singing “I’ll make a man out of you”, which was followed by me saying “Rohim, Ride!”. We even get a Han Solo moment at the bridge between Act II and III. It’s just wow in that moment.

Alright, TL;DR?

Hercules is a fun little romp. Its more entertaining than it has any real right to be and I am not 100% certain it’s not a fluke that it is. It’s formulaic as all Hades, but I am strangely comfortable with it. It doesn’t do too much new with its plot, but does some new things.

If you want to largely turn your brain off for an hour and a half and have time to kill go see this.

Kids? Eh 10 and up and you should be good.

This movie surprised me folks. It was just kinda fun.

Next week – I will see Guardians of the Galaxy.

Darke Reviews – Lucy

Two films, two reviews, one night. Sleep is for the weak. Both reviews will have diametrically opposed commentary on one topic. Yet there are similarities in them as well. Let me get to a bit of color commentary on Lucy, I want to be able to get both reviews out before it gets too terribly late, even if most of you won’t read this for another 5 hours now.

Trailers. I promise one day I will get so mad at the trailers for movies I will do a Rant in the Darke. Today is not that day, but it’s oh so tempting. I would say easily 80% of the most intense scenes of Lucy are shown in the trailer. POssibly as low as 60 but thats pushing it. This annoys me. The movie offers no surprises in that regard. Hollywood fail folks. Trailers are designed to entice. Get you going “Oh I think I want to see what this is all about”, perhaps “That looks interesting, what happens in it.” It shouldn’t be after seeing the film going “I saw this why? The trailer showed so much.”

The trailer, however, did not show everything. For that I am partially thankful. I wish they had been more careful, but the question is what didn’t they show?

Luc Besson, you beautiful, sick fiend. Will you ever be satisfied? You directorial style is eternally refreshing and paced well for audiences across the globe. You waste no time in the movies 1:28 running time. The movie is absolutely as lean as it can be. Even with your oddly bizarre inserts during scenes which were jarring at first, but acceptable with the story you’re telling. When you introduced the world in 1990 to La Femme Nikita, then in 94 to Leon The Professional, and in 97 to the 5th Element you continued to push boundaries of action, women, and science fiction. Those are but some of the highlights of your directing career. They also inform your audience that not everything you see is what you get.

You also of course are a writer, with a tendency to be the sole writer upon a film. Thank you. You gave us Nikita, Leelu, and Leon. You brought Jet Li to Paris for Kiss of the Dragon and gave us Jason Statham’s driver in The Transporter. You gave us an introduction to David Belle in District B13. You gave us a man who has a special set of skills. Skills he’s honed over a long career and he does things when people are Taken. So many icons of modern action are at your hands.

The way you treat women is a fascinating study as well. They tend to be victim and powerful. They tend to, in your own habits of writing, start from the bottom and become something more. Something better. You do that with a belief in humanity that it can be more. That it can be good, even with the cynicism and pessimism of the worlds you create. For that, I thank you. You aren’t perfect and your initial treatment is…a bit uncomfortable at times, but your empowerment is to be commended.

Did you nail it again with Lucy?

Well. Yes, yes you did. The movie runs sickeningly lean. Too lean I think. There are scenes that could have used more meat to them. More depth, but I don’t think it what was what you were intending. The pacing is amazingly quick and yet easy to follow at the same time. Your casting is certainly not white washed and again I blame your brilliant european sensibilities for that. It wasn’t as xenophobic as I thought. It just was.

I think thats the secret to Lucy. It is. If you will pardon a bit of sacrilege, I am that I am. Not far off the mark. Everyone is who they are without apology or explanation. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are good. Scientists are scientists (that actually seem to want to do science). Lucy is Lucy.

What about that cast though is there anything to it? Well Scarlett Johansson actually carries the film. Her reaction to the events and how she passes through the world helps a lot. Is it a bit emotionless? Yes. Thats to her credit. If you watch her other films, even Widow has emotion as she does her thing. There’s something minimalist here that needs to be appreciated. Especially within the context of the story. The rest of the cast is good in what they do, but really the weight falls on Johansson and she doesn’t let it hold her down.

She did what I hoped and became a strong female character that carried a film on her own.

The movie does one other successful thing. If you remember my Transcendence review, it annoyed me to the point of rage on how it treated the advancement of the mind. This one? Not only embraces the possibility of that kind of enhancement. It takes that possibility on a date, gets drunk with it, and lets itself be taken advantage of by the possibilities it offers. I think they are in a deeply committed relationship now; or just committed. Hard to say.

TL;DR?

If you were interested in Lucy at all? SEE it. Please.
If you weren’t but now are curious – sound off below AFTER you see it with your thoughts for a chance to win tickets to another film.
If you like the game Mage the Ascension – SEE IT. You’ll be saying “‘fraking ‘genitors” the entire time.

If you don’t dig good sci fi or sci fi in general. Give it a pass.
If you don’t like or can’t accept quasi science in your sci fi – pass.
If your kids want to see it…I am …uncertain. Maybe 13+.

Lucy, much like Snowpiercer is the kind of movie we need. Yes, it needs more meat to its story, but it took risks. Good ones. They paid off for me.

I really enjoyed this and the thoughts the movie left me with. It had a message and a good one at that. Whats the message?

See it and find out. You tell me! I know what I got from it.

Darke Reviews – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

First let me apologize for not getting that Earth to Echo review out. I will make an attempt this evening, but first I want to talk to you about a sequel. Sequels notoriously have a curse for being less awesome than their predecessor. There are a handful in all of time that break that. Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II being two of the most prominent. August 5, 2011 saw the reboot of a franchise that was abused to the point it still causes flashbacks. Burtons version is at best an abomination and at worst a cinematic enema on the audience and good movie making.

But…enough of that 2011 we got Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was a fantastic film very few people saw. It only opened to $54 million and went down hill from there. This was a crime. It had all the makings of a fantastic work. Good acting. Good editing. Good graphics. Good story. While not a flawless film, it is an amazing one that sadly only made $176 million domestically. It was enough though, enough for a sequel three years later. A sequel released this week.

Does it measure up?

So the movie picks up about a decade after the first ends, and this is me tap dancing to avoid spoilers. The Apes have their culture and humanity has its own. They live in ignorance of each other and sadly that ignorance is about to be shattered.

Lets talk acting first. Just give Andy Serkis an Oscar. Now. Don’t wait til January and don’t snub him again. If anyone and I mean anyone says you cannot act sufficiently through Mo-Cap or make up do me a favor and smack them in the face with a good open hand slap. Serkis is a genius. Nothing in his performance as Ceasar is lost or wasted. Every body language pose, posture, and shift is there for us. His  face is a map to raw emotion. What words there that exist are used so sparingly forcing the man to do so much more through sign and expression. You always know what he is feeling, what he is thinking with barely a syllable uttered. This is acting. This is what others need to aspire to when they do motion capture. Peter Jackson has just had someone set the bar higher.

Nearly everyone else is passable against the magnificence that is Ceasar. Jason Clarke, a man usually relegated to secondary or tertiary roles in film and TV brings an A game many doubted he had. This isn’t the man from White House Down, Zero Dark Thirty or the Great Gatsby. This is a potential headliner still in need of some refinement but one who holds his own remarkably well. Its a hard task to carry the weight of the human centerpiece on your shoulders in this movie and he seems up to it. He even proves a great counterpoint to Gary flippin Oldman.

Sadly he is the only human who has a really well defined personality or chance to show it. Everyone else is a stereotype of some kind or somehow useless. I didn’t even know Keri Russells character name. Oldman too is a stereotype, but one you can empathize with. He takes a note from his own playbook and brings it back to the subtle for the most part. Ok subtle for Oldman. This is a very Gordon like performance for him. When the cracks show in the veneer of control is when you see what he is and it works.

The Apes on the other hand are the stars. Everything Transformers gets wrong in this space, THIS movie gets right. None of the actors are particularly well known and are never actually seen. Each performance as an Ape is nuanced. Everything that Serkis delivers is brought to the game by the other actors. He set a bar and they reached for it and were largely successful in doing so. Its magic.

It’s the uncanny valley.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is -generally – the point in which human likeness in something unreal becomes so close to real we grow uncomfortable. This movie tips the balance. The graphics work is so near perfect in every detail its hard to believe we are not looking at actors in make up at times. Reality and computers have come closer than ever and are nearly…nearly flawless in execution within this film. Nothing to date comes close to how real the Apes appear.

Add to that particularly inspired design choices. Brilliant even. The use of sign language over voice speech by the apes was the act of an ingenious mind. Animal behaviorists will have a field day on the accuracy of the movements and actions of the ape society. Research was done. Effort was put into place. It paid off. These are details many would not realize are there, but I’ve lived with a vet tech for a decade and a half now. We’ve discussed these things, studied them for games, and have a basic above average understanding. Trust me when I say it is well done in this space.

TL;DR?

Ok so. I referenced the Godfather II and Empire Strikes back earlier. Yes this movie is in the same calibre as them. It IS that good. The only true suffering is in the pacing. The bridge between act II and III is just too long and drawn out. Aside from that it is an excellent film we SHOULD be going to see.

Just like Snowpiercer the week before, these are the movies we need to be giving our money to. These are the movies we need made.

Yes, you should see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

But Jess should we see it in 3D? – ok no. 3D adds nothing but ticket price.

Go see it in 2D and enjoy it for all its worth. Tell hollywood with your wallet where we need to have movies made. Good stories, acting, plots, and effects are rolled into one.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while an homage to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, shines in its specialness and could – if we are lucky – be the dawn of a new era of movies.

ElsaCosplayPhxCC

The Experiences of a Transgender Cosplayer

My name is Jessica Darke. Five weeks ago was Phoenix Comicon and in my 6th year going, I decided to Cosplay every day of the con. This is my first time doing serious cosplay at a con. This is also my first Cosplay since I began my Male to Female (MtF) transition. On my best days I barely pass as a natural or cisgender female. So with those facts in mind, I want to take a moment to talk to the other trans individuals out there who might be considering such an event.

This is also a guide for those who encounter trans individuals who are in cosplay.

1. What You Wear
Let me start off with this. There is no right or wrong way to do Cosplay. Want to be Batman or Batwoman and wear a spandex suit with a painted symbol? Do it. Want to spend weeks sewing your first dress and go as Elsa? Do it! Want to wear a bikini and go as a sexy Dead Pool? Do it!

While this statement is not specifically for trans folks, it is an important one. Be proud of yourself, your fandom, and be confident in who you are. If you love some obscure character from an anime only ten people have seen but really want to do play as them for a Con? Don’t be afraid.
When I did Cosplay before I started my transition, I only did it twice, dipping my toes into interesting and unfamiliar water. Each time I was afraid of being judged for being in costume; that my costume wouldn’t be good enough for the legions of folks out there with more time, money, talent, and effort than I had to put in to mine.

As a transwoman I am always in fear of how other people will react. How I will be treated. Now, I am going to a convention with over 70,000 people dressed as a character who is not the gender I was born as, and in two cases where I swapped the gender of the character to be the gender I am. All my day to day fears were compounded by an order of magnitude.
What I can tell you is, be comfortable in yourself and be comfortable in your costume but if you love it. Do it. Once I got amongst the throngs of people I had a blast! The fear vanished (mostly, but more on that later) and it was a great time.

It’s worth repeating, be comfortable in all ways you can. It will see you through.

2. Gender Swap Yes or No?
So as someone born a male and expressing female, I have some interesting decisions to make. When I pick my characters to play, what if they are opposite of my preferred gender? For example, I can play a male Jack Frost or Malcolm Reynolds any day of the week and pass. I could then play Elsa as a male and do a gender swapped version of her. Alternatively, I can go as Jackie Frost and Mallory Reynolds and express my favorite characters as my gender vs. theirs.

I won’t lie, each decision comes with its own pitfalls. When I was Elsa, I was “accused” of being gender swapped at least five times. This made me uncomfortable to say the least. I made the character mine regardless. The number of small children who looked up to me and said “Elsa!” all wide eyed made it worth it. The parents that didn’t scurry them away and didn’t even react make it worth it.

Don’t let it psyche you out. It’s Cosplay. You are who you want to be. No one can take it away from you. If you choose to gender swap, it’s because you want to. You cannot let some one else not getting it affect you. This is harder than it sounds. Much like I said before about wearing the costume, be comfortable. I was Mallory Reynolds. I was Jackie Frost. Most people got it, as always some don’t. This is no different than some one not knowing who the character is.

Don’t let it get to you. Many cosplayers go through it, regardless of gender.

3. Bathrooms
While I can’t speak for everyone, I can say for myself bathrooms hold a special sense of dread. We often hear about the conflict of “If I go into one bathroom I will get beaten. If I go into the other, I will get ridiculed.”. That’s a very good argument and one I have made before too. Its perfectly valid and honestly, it hasn’t happened to me yet, but that’s because I almost always refuse to go to the bathroom in a public place if I can help it at all.

The other fear is being thrown out. I think I would rather take the ridicule or the beating (at least there I can fight back), than be thrown out. I am talking full on having restaurant staff escort you from the premises, or even the police. The public shame that would come from that is near debilitating to think about. Again it hasn’t happened yet, but when I do use the ladies room in a public place, such as the movie theatre, I don’t make eye contact and move quickly; praying the entire time no one says anything.

Oh I still have heard the whispers, I’ve seen the stares.

So what about a convention? Cosplay isn’t always easy to get out of and honestly, if you are walking the floor or from panel to panel for hours you are going to have to go at some point. DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. I am stupid in this case. I all but refuse to drink (mostly because it’s difficult in some of the looks I’ve done) and start to suffer from borderline dehydration issues. This is a *very* dangerous practice. It’s one I deal with day to day as well, but a convention this is amplified by the amount of moving you do. In many Cosplay outfits there are weight and “material breathing issues” as well. These will cause you to sweat more and dehydrate faster. If you are on HRT like me, this is amplified as well.

However, this year I had to use the facilities to adjust my costume a few times. Unlike other venues it was head up, walk with confidence and do what I need to do. There was a moment where this totally awesome author I ran into, who leans to the masculine in her look (but is not trans) had a moment where we both were wondering if we were each in the wrong place. Then we got over our own internal BS and went about our business.

It turns out the convention has rules about such things and I would have been protected. Most conventions actually do. You don’t have to worry. I didn’t know that. What I do know is, I was born a male but I am a woman in my own eyes, mind, heart, and what passes for my soul. I will go where I belong. We still carry our own fears, insecurities, and judgments. I can’t tell you its easy to get over them, but we have to try.

And please, don’t do what I did. Drink fluids!

4. Other People
This is one of the hardest ones to deal with. You brace for impact whenever you walk out the door. I can’t speak to your neighborhoods, homes, or cities; but I can speak to your conventions. As a trans cosplayer I found myself surprisingly at home. Everyone else is expressing their passions and their enjoyment in something – just like you!

Sure, I had ONE person who was rude and kept yelling “No” when he saw me. I have personally taken it to be, regardless of the truth, that I had more courage than he did and his own little world refused to accept that.

One person in 70,000. Not bad odds. Every single other person I actually dealt with was kind. I had more compliments on my Elsa than I ever
anticipated. Every little girl who whispered to their mother “Look its Elsa” and asked for a photo was a joy.

Then there are other LGBTQ people. Aside from children, these people ended up being my biggest photo ops and my biggest fans. I got more “Way to Go’s”, “You look awesome”, and “Great job” than I ever conceived of being possible. I ran into one other Trans cosplayer. She was also part of a local group of cosplayers. The fact that she was there and doing her thing strengthened my own resolve.

As an added bonus, you may give someone else the inspiration and spark the fire of inner resolve to cosplay themselves. You can potentially help someone get over their fear through getting over your own. How is that for awesome?

Yes, you are going to run into the very rare jerk at one of these conventions, but by far and large you will run into exceedingly awesome and supportive people. At a convention other people are a support structure unlike many of us get rather than something to fear.

5. You!
The support structure I have is comprised of coworkers and friends online, most of whom I have never met in person. Whenever I have moments of doubt, I am regularly told I am beautiful, strong, and more courageous than anyone they know. I admit, I don’t often believe them, but its good to hear.

So let me tell you something. Something you need to hear.

If you want to be a trans cosplayer – It DOES take courage. It DOES take strength.

You’ve got it in you. You’ve already made one of the hardest decisions anyone can make. You decided to be who you are in being trans. This isn’t about trans being a choice, but instead making the choice to admit it and own it. THAT is the choice in being a Trans person. You are who you are inside (and maybe outside). If you have the courage to say I am a female. I am a male. I am neither. That takes power. That takes real strength of will. You’ve already done it. You’ve already done the hard part.

The cosplay is easy by comparison.

Darke Reviews – Snowpiercer (2014)

What you haven’t heard of this one? S’okay most folks haven’t. It has been travelling the indie circuit for awhile without a true mainstream release. This is due, in large part to the conflict between the writer director and one of the production companies. When I start going through the cast though, you will probably be scratching your head wondering why this didn’t get a main release. Part of the argument was that the director did not want to shave time from the movie.

Was he right?

Let’s talk about him. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong is the man behind the camera. He has done nothing that most folks stateside have seen, with the exception of The Host (no not that one, the other one). You’ve probably seen it on Netflix if your queue looks like mine. I cannot talk about his body of work or influences as regrettably I haven’t explored south korean cinema as much as I perhaps should. What I do have to say is that he was a brave man to go toe to toe with  low budget schlock powerhouses The Weinstein’s at what was once Miramax. He would not compromise and for that alone he deserves praise. His direction as well in the film were above par.

Did the script support him?

I certainly hope so as he is one of the writers. This is one of those films that breaks the normal rules of writers. You have three writing credits for source material, one for screen story and two for screen play. That’s right, this one is based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige first published back in 1982. so fair credit to Jacques Lob,  Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette for providing inspiration. Joon-ho Bong gets both the screen story credit and a screenplay credit. The screen play is shared with Kelly Masterson, a playwright who apparently (per IMDB) was in seminary before going into theatre. In short no one in the writing is someone you’ve heard of.

In long (er); I hope we do hear more. The plot revolves around a classist society living on a train after the end of life as we know it. In a, not so subtle, jab at global warming our solution was “Ice-9” more or less. The world froze. People hid on this miracle train and the entirety of humanity is stuck on this mobile platform. Some folks just aren’t happy with their lot in life and want more than they have. He who controls the spice…er engine controls the world.

The cast is what pulls this together though. Chris (Captain America) Evans plays Curtis, our charismatic leader and main character. Much of the film, rightly, is focused on him with appearances by Tilda (Only Lovers Left Alive, Narnia) Swinton, John (188 acting credits) Hurt, Jamie (Turn, Jumper) Bell, Octavia (The Help) Spencer, and others. Evans, to be blunt, is incredible. There’s no Captain America here. There’s no Johnny Storm. There is a very troubled man who has a drive that only gets stronger the longer the movie goes on. Every expression, decision, and action he takes is made compelling by his performance. Everyone else is good, but he is incredible.

Two additional actors, Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both formerly of The Host (2006 version) also should be mentioned. Neither are known state side except by a certain group of cinephiles. I’ve actually seen Kang-Ho Song in a vampire movie called Thirst. He’s good and I want to see more of him.

From a technical standpoint the movie doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting. A few model shots of the train enhanced by CGI cover the bulk of the digital work. Make up and costuming are solid as well.

There will be those that compare this to other films in the dystopian future genre. That is inescapable. What this has different than them? Balls. Pure Balls. It is a brave film that had it truly been made stateside would not have gone in directions this went. So, back to the original question, was he right?

TL;DR

Yes, yes he was. The movie has very little fat on it and there is not much of its two hour running time that could be sacrificed. It would have lessened the film to do so.

Should you rush out to see this one? well…yes and no.

Someone I hope to call a  friend one day, Doug Walker, recently gave his own video review of the movie from last week that should not be named. He talks about how safe it is. How  gullible we are for giving it $100m. ( NSFW – thatguywiththeglasses.com/vide… ). He’s right. Movies like that get attention, ticket sales, and hollywood attention.

Movies like Snowpiercer? They deserve it. They take risks. They give us something we haven’t quite seen before. We need more of this and less of that.

So should you go see it? Yes, yes if you want to support films that deserve your money and deserve recognition.

Should you see it? No. The film is technically an action film and a violent one at that; but it has enough of a cerebral element and tonal quality to it that it is not right for all audiences.

I do recommend this movie. I liked it, but it’s not for everyone.