Darke Reviews – Project Almanac (2015)

Excellent, another review for 2015. I was starting to get worried I’d make it to Valentines day without another interesting film in theatres around here to review. I also had the added benefit of seeing the film with a friend who appreciated all the facets of the film I did and reacted to many of the same parts as I did. It’s fascinating to enjoy a film with someone like that. The post film discussion as the credits rolled ensured that my views were both challenged and reinforced where required allowing for a better review for you to read or skip to the TL;DR of.

That said, some people may notice the produced by Michael Bay credit in the trailer. This is not a damning factor. Point in fact his influence seems largely absent, unlike TMNT. Post film we also discussed how a production credit by either talent (DelToro) or …whatever Bay is does not indicate the quality of the film. Many other facets must be considered such as budget, writing, acting, and direction. It also depends on how much the studio wishes to interfere with the director and project (see Hellboy or X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Here it appears influence was at the barest minimum from the likes of Bay, however production studio MTV was in full swing and influence with what appears to be a 10 minute music video for some bands and a concert event. Also production consideration from GoPro.

The director is Dean Israelite, who has this movie as his debut feature film. It is worth mentioning that Dean is the cousin of Jonathan Liebesman (director of TMNT); coincidence? I honestly don’t know, I lean towards a strong no. The question is how does he do? The short answer is not bad, but not good. It isn’t that he is a “meh” either, so much as that he has some interesting successes but some areas of the film that fall flat. The Chronicle-esque teen found footage shooting style is inconsistent and as with many found footage films lacks logic at a certain point. There are times no one would be filming what is being filmed and others where its just a bit too smooth and steady to be believable. That is an odd critique given my disdain for shaky camera work, but if you provide me a conceit you need to stick with it and there are times its just too clean to be real and it takes you from the film. A lot of this comes down to his choices and his determination so I must lay the blame with him. The same goes for the performances, which are a mixed bag through no fault of the performers themselves, so much as what they were given and how they were guided to deliver it.

As an example, our MIT applicant David (Jonny Weston) performs solidly throughout and only has a minor bit of de-evolution of his IQ as the plot progresses. His sister Christina (an uncredited Virginia Gardner) is forced to deliver some completely unrealistic lines to be the audience foil. Without verging into spoiler territory I am expected to believe a girl who would go back in time to see Star Wars Episode IV, has zero clue who Dr. Who is? That she, who has a brother who is a certifiable genius and a best friend who might be smarter has no idea what the word temporal means? We also have the ‘girlfriend’ with Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D’elia) who serves quite literally no purpose other than to be the girlfriend and to create a romance in the film. While their performances are solid enough, the characterizations of these two women are on the best of days weak and the worst utterly pointless. I almost have the feeling they were added to keep this from being Chronicle again with the focus on the male protagonists alone.

That being said, the writing has successes and flaws as well. First time screenwriters Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman may fail on writing females, but they at least succeed at science – somewhat. They are wise enough to not try to explain the temporal mechanics of the time machine and to use hand-wavium to go DARPA and leave it at that. The incessant movie pop culture references are distracting at a point; which I have found in my own writing to be a victim of, shows the signs of novice writers or the studio. Though I suspect a bit of both. They also have clearly watched other films along these same themes such as Primer, Looper, A Sound of Thunder, and Butterfly Effect. They succeed at handling time travel better than half of them and overall tell a better story than that same half. Though I would have preferred to hear a Philadelphia Experiment mention either as pop culture or history – take your pick. From a purely narrative perspective they didn’t do bad with a reasonable rise in escalation and even a nice slow start showing reasonable scientific progress, they just sort of failed on the character design a bit.

TL;DR?

As found footage films go, this isn’t the worst of them. As time travel movies go, it also isn’t the worst. It was actually fun and even a bit honest what teenagers would do with a time travel device which is a bit refreshing. It’s wise enough to not explain its science (which tends to fail) and dumb enough to ignore the science it was trying to show early on.

Ultimately this is a perfectly serviceable and mediocre film which has some fun to it. It’s not great, it isn’t bad, but at least it isn’t a meh.

  • If you were at all interested in it, I would say matinee it at the very most.
  • If you weren’t interested but at vaguely curious Redbox/Netflix it later on.
  • If found footage, MTV films, or time travel aren’t your thing I have no idea why you are reading this review; unless it’s to see if I try to eviscerate it in prose.

That said, I don’t feel I wasted my time or money on the movie and found it a bit fun. Maybe you will too.

Darke Reviews – Taken 3 (2015)

The first review of 2015. Let me say it begins only marginally better than last year. We begin with a movie that has left many people asking and I quote:

“Are you joking? Taken 3 is a real thing?” and “How?”

So now that the movie is out and people know I am not joking about it’s existence, was the movie in fact a joke?

Let’s start with a script from Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. The two have worked together before with Kamen giving us movies since 1981’s TAPS, 84’s Karate Kid. With Besson they have given us such gems as The Fifth Element, Taken, and The Transporter. What we can take from this there isn’t a thinly veiled reason to kick ass that they don’t like and want to recycle into the ground. I honestly, do love most of their work, actually almost all of it, there is a certain level of insanity to their stories where you know they were finishing off a magnum of wine each and went “what if we…“. We love them for it.

Well, mostly...

Well, mostly…

 

Ok so plot isn’t their strong suit in the past decade. A reason to watch people kick butt is (thank you Lucy). Which leaves me scratching my head on how they were so bloody dull and unimaginative here. There’s absolutely nothing we have not seen before in other better movies, usually by these two.

Perhaps we can blame the director Olivier Megaton, who hasn’t met a tripod or steady cam he has liked. There were moments in the first twenty minutes I wondered if his camera man suffered from some muscular disorder and was attempting to work through it. Even the work that was done with helicopters was so quick and cut that you have no choice but wonder if Josh Trank snuck into the editing room to cut the movie. There is nothing here from the director, nothing at all. Nothing original, nothing interesting, and nothing inspired. It is so paint by numbers that you could sleep through half of it and wake up and not be surprised at well – anything.

The only thing resembling saving this film is the actors. Not because they do anything remarkable, they just act. But you have to understand being able to act with this story, director, and film – AND- remain interesting takes quite a bit of work. Neeson does his usual and wears the role of Bryan Mills like an old suit, preferably one to be thrown out soon or given to good will.  Maggie Grace is surprisingly the bright spot in the film who covers a good range of emotions, but alas is not given as much to do as I want to see from her, especially after the second film. Forest Whitaker joins the cast as a police inspector chasing Mills through the film. The three of them are the strengths of the film and I will let that statement stand.

Again from a technical perspective the film just is flat. The camera work looks as if they filmed during an earthquake. The cuts are atrocious. The stunts are no where near as interesting as the first two films. Even some of the plot contrivances are pathetically ridiculous – more so than the others. Which is hard to beat.

TL;DR

I bagged on the movie pretty hard, but at least I wasn’t bored or particularly irritated. I was mostly just meh. I couldn’t come up with any real emotion in the film except when Grace was on screen hoping they would do more.

Honestly, and this is as close to a spoiler as I get – why did they call it Taken 3 when no one is taken? The trailer tells you the plot and doesn’t deviate.

Talking with two of the lovely people at the theatre after the movie, we agree just call the movie:

Liam Neeson or Liam Neeson Beats Up the World

It would have made more sense and probably done as well at the box office as this one did. If you are even remotely curious, no …still wait. Just don’t see this. The tagline is “It ends here”; and we hope so.

To borrow from the Nostalgia Critic, I watched it so you don’t have to.