Late Reviews This Week

Hey folks, Jess here. wanted to drop in and let you know as much as I want to see Gone Girl this weekend I will be recovering from surgery. The review WILL come, just a few days later than most of you need.

Darke Reviews – The Equalizer (2014)

Let’s see. The A-Team, check. The Muppets, check. Addams Family, Munsters, 21 Jump Street, and the list goes on.  TV shows are being adapted almost as much as books and comic books. Some better than others from the ability to watch and enjoy them. Some better than others in the box office. Some are even mutilated in their big screen transitions. Hollywood continues to mine the past for future generations, this time going back to the mid 80s.

The original TV series, which ran from 1985 to 1989 starring british born actor Edward Woodward as the title character. It’s the story of a retired intelligence agent of scary abilities who goes into the private sector to help those who need it. So you can imagine my surprise when I see they’ve cast Denzel Washington in the same role. Considering my soon to be coming rant on Hollywood White Washing, I can’t be too annoyed at the casting. I think I am just annoyed it was Denzel.

Before we get any further, let me be clear. I am not a fan of his.  I do not deny that he makes good movies – I just don’t enjoy him in them. Inside Man and Man on Fire being two of my favorite films of his. Though in his years since leaving St. Elsewhere he has countless films that are both critically and box office acclaimed. I find his performances largely one dimensional. I see so many of the same behaviors, mannerisms, and ticks in each performance that I could do an entire cinema sins on his personal tropes. I find him flat but that allows the others and the stories he picks to shine.

This is one of those situations. The film has a two and a half hour run time and it doesn’t need it; but at the same time doesn’t hurt too badly for it. I do long for the time of shorter films that we once had that were still entertaining. This film is bloated with multiple character stories that have Washington’s character, Robert McCall as the eye of the proverbial hurricane.

The movie carries a cast of extras you will know from other work but barely get to see in this, which is a bit of a shame. Chloë Grace Moretz, as a  call girl has one of the more humanizing and less tropish stories. Bill Pulman (Go get em President Whitmore!) and Melissa Leo (Oblivion, Flight) are used to give us more insight into what McCall used to be. Leo’s last line in the film brought a smile to my face.  New comer Johnny Skourtis is used well as a fellow employee of Home Depo…er Home Mart with McCall who wants to do better and finds help from McCall in multiple ways. He, like Moretz, brings much needed heart to the film as McCall is rather bland, but intentionally so.

The films Heavy is given to Martin Csokas, who you may (or may not) recognize from one of his three other films this year, Noah, Amazing Spiderman 2 or Sin City a Dame to Kill For. Prior to this, you were able to enjoy him in Kingdom of Heaven and xXx. I think he watched Javier Bardem on repeat from Skyfall as inspiration to this role. He carries the elegance of Christoph Waltz’s Col. Landa with him as well. He considers himself a force of nature who is then confronted with another one. It plays better than I expected it to.

This might be due to the writer, Richard Wenk (yay single writer credit). He previously had provided us films, such as Vamp (which I clearly need to review this October), 16 Blocks, and The Expendables 2. This tells me he is responsible for the pacing issues as much as he is for understanding how to write decent tension with minimal gimmicks in the script.

Of course, the Director gets some blame and praise as well. Probably one of my favorite action directors ever Antoine Fuqua once again delivers what I need from him. This of course isn’t Fuqua’s first time with Denzel either; having worked with him 13 years ago on Training Day. Fuqua also has directed such films as King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus has Fallen. He has an eye for good , watchable action that is near unmatched. He is also one of a handful of successful directors who aren’t white. This is a very good thing. We need more like him. His sins, however, in this film are the pacing. There were too many stories. Too many moments that didn’t really add anything on the surface.

Now, between Washington, Fuqua, and Wenk they did something special in the film. They acknowledged mental illness without letting it be something apparent, spoken, or even really ‘acknowledged’ on screen. Yet, it was front and center almost the entire time. You can see by the trailers, and this is not spoiler territory folks, that McCall times things. This isn’t just professionalism or precision at work – it’s a disease. He is exhibiting through the film various stages of uncontrollable obsessive compulsive disorder. Some might say I am reading into it, but I don’t think so. It was too perfect each time it happened. I applaud them for doing it. They took a character like this and broke him in a very real, very tangible, and identifiable way. He isn’t just another Bourne, Bond, or Batman. He’s human and I like the movie for it.

From a technical standpoint. I LOVE being able to see fights. I hate shaky cam. The movie does not disappoint in this way. Yes, they use the slow walk trope a few times, but at least one of them is done to fantastic effect. Editing is good. Music is nice as a largely somber classical or jazz vibe with an electric guitar throne in from time to time putting an edge to it.

TL;DR?

The Equalizer is very watchable. It is also very noticeable how long it runs.

It feels its length which isn’t all that good and some of the story elements largely feel unnecessary. I wish they had focused just a bit more and cut some of the fat from the finished work. A good 30 minutes less would have done this movie proud.  The action beats are spread just a little too far apart, but when they do show up they deliver nicely.

I also feel like I’ve seen this character from Washington before, especially in Man on Fire. There’s little different about Creasy and McCall.

All in all – if you were in any way interested expect a slow burn, but you’ll be rewarded for it.

If you were curious Matinee it at best. Wait for Redbox or Netflix at worst.

If you weren’t curious before and are now, the same applies. Otherwise you can give this a pass.

If nothing else it was nice to see another film worth seeing in September.

 

 

PS, I won’t be reviewing Box Trolls also out this weekend. One of the perks of being totally freelance is I can review what interests me and that one doesn’t.

Darke Reviews – The Maze Runner (2014)

Oh Dystopia how we love thee. Young Adult books you provide us so many to choose from and continue to be a font of these stories for as far as the eyes can read. Now, when I was a little girl we had our own YA novels. I don’t remember these dystopic futures nearly as much then. Maybe I should have read more YA and less King or Barker? I do remember Z for Zachariah, which was a particular favorite of mine. I suppose my generation of 80s kids didn’t need dystopia since we were afraid of being nuked by the ‘Reds’. We actually thought Red Dawn was a possibility as kids. So where does our need for Dystopia vs. Utopia come from? Are we so jaded as a people in the west that we believe the only possible outcome is a total collapse of everything we know? That our generation has pooched things so badly that it will take rebels of a future generation to fix our screw ups and make the world (or what’s left of it a better place?).

I don’t know. I think this is a rant/discussion to come that I hope I can get some folks to weigh in on.

In the meanwhile, we have yet another entry into the YA dystopian future genre. As screenwriters and studios must option any book coming out this one was no exception showing the creative well in Hollywood is running dry whilst the writers continue to do what they do best in the book industry. The James Dashner novel was released in 2009 the book had some critical acclaim and seems to be loved by its fan base. Per the usual, I have not read it. This will be a review based on movie alone. It is worth mentioning the book series is just that a series; specifically a trilogy.

The movie starts down the wrong track immediately as it has the three writers rule in full effect. For those not familiar, the 3+ Writers Rule is something I have noticed where when you begin to add more than two writers to any film the quality of the film degrades. It doesn’t always hold true, but does more often than I should be comfortable with and enough that I noticed it as I wrote these reviews. The writers in question are T.S. Nowlin who has nothing before this and is credited with revisions to the Fantastic Four (2015) film.  Grant Pierce Myers, another first timer to screenwriting and Noah Oppenheim the producer of The Today show (its a news show folks), who also has no writing credits of his own. This is one of those times where I have to think the studio isn’t even trying.  Throwing not one, two , but three inexperienced screenwriters at a YA novel? You do not get another Hunger Games doing that. The two writers there, excluding Collins herself, had a decade in the industry first.

This mish mash of writing styles and just writing made its way to the screen.  This, in addition to a first time director Wes Ball explains why the movie is a general hot mess. It falls into the same trap as so many other YA attempts before it where it doesn’t know its own tone, intent, or characters. You want me to feel they are at risk? Make me care about them. You want me to feel anything? Care. Seriously, I wanted to scream at the screen a few times “FINISH A SENTENCE” or “JUST EXPLAIN WHAT YOU SAID.” These kind of tropes repeat so much in the film it began to get annoying.  I don’t need you to hand answers to *me* on a silver platter. I am a bright girl, I can figure them out. The lack of explanations given in this movie are just lazy. Things exist, but leave me questioning why no one else is questioning or explaining to our protagonist what is going on. It’s like being in the maze does more than wipe your memory but drops your ability to interact on any meaningful level.

They make a huge point of our main character Thomas being curious. Yet, he never seems to ask the questions he should be asking or if he does no one answers. I want to throttle people. Oh sure he has no issue defying rules (like every other YA protagonist), but he does so in such a way he is blindly charging without understanding. I appreciate his curiosity and risk taking. I’d like to think I’d do the same, but I really needed him to tie someone down to get answers before jumping in head first – when answers WERE available to some of the questions.

From an acting standpoint Dylan O’Brien (Stiles from MTVs Teen Wolf…one of the only reasons to watch that show) carries the movie. He does it well. No matter how annoyed I was with the other characters, the writing, or even parts of the story, he was enjoyable to watch. I liked him. I wish I could say the same about the others. The rest played out like Lord of the Flies in a concrete jungle rather than island. Heck, there’s even a pig head in one scene.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster seems to be playing a reincarnation of his Game of Thrones character Jojen Reed. He was sweet, but otherwise really seemed to be playing Jojen again. Will Poulter as Gally plays his stereotype to a T. I swear to all I pray to that at one point he was actually the same kid who played Buzz McAllister in Home Alone. Don’t believe me – check this: Gally vs Buzz. There must be something about that look.

From an FX standpoint, there’s just enough practical to make me miss some of the CG work. The creature designs are a nice new hybrid I don’t recall seeing anything like. The Maze itself is kind of interesting in its layers and levels and was overall enjoyable. Not bad here. The camera work is steady cam with no shaky cam that I recall and good colours as well.

TL:DR?

If you are a fan of the book, you will likely see this movie anyway. Enjoy.

If you are not a fan of the book, I give this movie a solid Meh.

I really didn’t care at the end. It thankfully keeps out any romantic elements, which garners some praise, but otherwise doesn’t really drive me to care who lives or dies. That is sort of a fail and ultimately along with a moment to moment cut style renders the movie only ‘Watchable’ but not “Why are you still reading this and not with your butt in a seat.”

Matinee if you must. Redbox/Netflix if you were curious.

As always, comments welcome. I do encourage people to share their own opinion of the film or notes from their book experience on films. My reviews will be spoiler free, but I make no such promises about comments.

Darke Reviews – A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Welcome to the first original review on the brand new site.  I checked all my logs and I have yet to do a review of a September release. This raises some questions about the worthiness of anything released in this month and if its worth seeing at all. True we are coming right off of the summer. People are done with vacations, school is back in session, and honestly of all the months in the year September is the least interesting. Sorry Virgo’s, you know its true. It is neither fall, nor still quite summer. September just is. So what does it say then that we have two releases this week that at least piqued my interest?

Let us begin the exploration of that question with A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Based on a book (what isn’t these days?) by Lawrence Block who based on his writing work for the silver and small screen has a love for the detective genre. This particular novel of his was adapted for the screen by Scott Frank. Frank has an interesting blend of screen play work prior to this with mob movies (Get Shorty), crime thrillers (Out of Sight), sci fi (Minority Report), capers (The Lookout), family films (Marley and Me) and even comic books (The Wolverine – the good one). I have absolutely no idea what to make of this man as he is all over the map.  If anything based on the works I have seen he does like writing stories that have actual character moments or an attempt at them anyway and seems to enjoy unusual social interactions.

This also marks Franks first theatrical directors credit, with only The Lookout in 2007 as his other feature film credit. I feel the need to say it now that Scott Frank may be best behind the page, not the camera.

Let me explain, still within my spoiler free realm (difficult for a mystery). The story first and foremost is a mystery with Liam Neeson as a retired cop playing PI. He is hired by the brother of someone in his AA circle to find the mans wife who was taken, ransom paid, and killed anyway. This is a full on classic private eye movie with the investigator in question working his way to the source of the crime and facing off with them.

I think I wish this film had been done in black and white. It may have added color, as counterintuitive as it is.  The movie has a solid R rating, but doesn’t show us anything and the hints of what it does show don’t carry any real weight. I wasn’t horrified. I wasn’t discomforted. They wanted to talk about something wrong and something broken but I don’t feel that they went far enough. Thats where black and white could have added atmosphere to the movie to give it more weight than the off and on rain did. They might have even been able to go further and hint at more horrific acts perpetrated by our bad guys. I am not asking for gore but better teases. Better innuendo that leaves my mind pondering just how bad it really was.

Granted, I could be desensitized after 30 years of watching movies that I can remember. But the lack of risk in the film combined with way too many shots of Liam Neeson just walking created more yawns than it did tension. It threw the pacing off as things happened and didn’t throughout the film with no perceived threat to the protagonist or even auxiliary characters. Another problem the film faced in the pacing department was the stories of those auxiliary characters eating up more screen time than I cared about. I suppose they could have been there to humanize Neeson’s character, but I’d have needed to care about any of them for that to work.

This isn’t to say their acting was bad. Neeson was surprisingly restrained in this film and despite what was billed (more on that in a sec) was not playing Brian Mills.  No one else other than Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (Earth to Echo) did anything of note worth mentioning acting wise. Astro was plucky, but just nearly annoyingly so. The other actors for their parts did well enough, but I don’t think the direction was there for them to elevate the performance into anything memorable. Even our killers felt flat.

Now, I want to talk about the trailer a second. You cannot show Liam Neeson on a portable/cellular phone threatening someone or being even remotely menacing without intentionally making people think the movie is another Taken riff. This was false advertising to get your butts into the seats. To see Neeson play Mills yet again. This is not the movie we are getting. This is a slow paced murder mystery. Congratulations studio you may have duped your audience successfully, but I do not think they will forget it. This means your other trailers begin to have less weight the more trickery you try.

This film has three total action beats. Thats it. So…

TL;DR?

A Walk Among the Tombstones really should have been called a Meander through the Tombstones Eventually. This is a slow burn mystery that lacks the impact or even originality of other films before it. I remember watching 8mm (I may do a review of that in October) and being somewhat intrigued/disturbed by a private investigators descent into a world far darker than he was prepared for.

This film doesn’t do that. It just doesn’t seem to want to care even though I think its trying to.

I can’t bring myself to care either.

If you were at all curious, you can probably wait til Redbox.

If you are a Neeson completist – do yourself a favor and see it in Matinee.

 

As always, please feel free to chime in below with your own thoughts should you see the film.

 

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Welcome to Amused in the Dark

Jess here

We wanted to welcome everyone to the launch of our own website and blog – Amused in the Dark.  We created this at the urging of several awesome co workers from the job that pays us; for this job that doesn’t (yet anyway). Please feel free to look around and pardon my dust as the site is still under some construction. I’ve been out of web design for a decade or so, please bear with me!

As always we welcome feedback on any review or post you find.

Also we are going to hold our first contest running until September 19, 2014 . This is a Signal Boost request to help us get out there.

  • There will be 5 winners
  • Each winner will receive 2 Tickets (up to a $25 value) via Fandango
  • Rules
    • Entries
      • Follow / Like Us: Here, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Tumblr for 1 Entry each
      • Share our page for 2 entries.
        • Spamming disqualifies you. I can’t encourage that.
    • On the Weekend of the 19th the Admins will tally all entries and draw 5 names at Random
    • Winners will be announced as a reply to this post on the 21st.
    • Tickets must be claimed before October 31, 2014
      • As tickets need to be purchased by the admins, unclaimed winnings just won’t be purchased.