Darke Reviews | The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

I was asked “who even wanted a Tarzan movie? why did they bother?” earlier this week when I mentioned going to see it. I explained that there’s an entire generation who grew up still with Tarzan still in the regular popular consciousness. I had the comics, the Christopher Lambert movie (1984 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes), the cartoon series; and yes even copies of some of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. Of course I also was able to enjoy the Disney version back in 99. So there are quite a few my age, slightly younger, and older who would love to see a Tarzan movie done well. Something we really haven’t had since 1999. It’s an opportunity to introduce another generation to Tarzan….

But did they miss the mark?

Obviously based on the works of Sir Edgar Rice Burroughs, this telling was brought to the screen by Craig Brewer and Adam Conzad. Conzad’s only other credit is the lack luster Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit. Brewer for his part was the writer behind the Footloose remake (which I adore), Hustle & Flow, and Black Snake Moan. While the pair give us flashbacks to the origin story, it’s wisely not told in full as many comic book movies could learn from. This is instead a story of after. After Tarzan meets Jane, after he returned to London…and is called back to the jungles of Africa. I would like to say they did well here, but alas I can but say they did ok. The movie has trademark fingerprints of studio over production where much is sanitized and the film retains one of the more problematic aspects of Tarzan in this day and age of “The Great White Savior.” I don’t think you can reasonably tell the film without that last component and it is an artifact of it’s time – but they probably could have tried.  Beyond that, motives are vague, the plot is as thin as rice paper, and the characters are told with strokes broad enough to paint an aircraft carrier with a single stroke. Even if it has elements of rarely known historical accuracy in it…it yeah.

Yet at the same time, I was still engaged; which may be due to David Yates directing. Yates, who got the unenviable chair of director for Harry Pottery from Order of the Phoenix until the end. No easy task. I can easily lay the beats of the movie that work so well on him. He elevates with good shots, blocking, and overall direction of his actors; but even his talent has limits. What he is able to do is salvage many moments of mediocrity into something trying to push the bounds of it. Intelligent moves make some character far more interesting and compelling than the story itself. He can’t save it all, but what few audience members there were tonight (about 10) laughed at times and cheered at others. That is something.

I would like to give all the actors credit, but only some get it. Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, Battleship), is not one of them however. He is *very* pretty. I maintain his abs have abs. His performance however, lacks something …feral? I don’t feel the Lord of the Jungle. I don’t feel a Lord of a Manor…I just don’t feel. Script, actor, or directing? I can’t tell. Based on what I saw in 2012’s Battleship? Actor…sorry True Blood fans, his Eric is very pretty, but I got nothing here. Samuel L Jackson surprised me here, as I find even a phoned in performance from him actually pretty decent. He kinda grew on me, even if the character weren’t needed. Christoph Waltz, does his best but the script does him no favors. He tries to get callbacks to Hans Landa here, but just can’t surpass the character he was given but damnit if he didn’t try. Margot Robbie as Jane? I wanted to see a movie about her by the end (of act I…). This is the Jane we didn’t know we needed. If they had called this Tarzan and Jane and had them together kicking ass through this? It would be a different review. She is absolutely fearless and I love her. More Margot please. More of this Jane please.

At a technical level…I just sighed writing that. That should brace you. Nothing is real. I can tell. I check the filming locations and not one lists Africa. Why? Budget? You had $180 million! It’s an amazing and beautiful continent and you know if you can’t film in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Republic of the Congo…where it’s supposed to be; you could try Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea? Ok…so you went to Gabon and did filming without your cast. Audiences can tell.  We’re getting better at picking up composite shots and you may just have to try a bit harder. The green screen is evident in shots where you could have lit better or differently. It’s sad as there’s some shots which could have been more amazing. If anything though they got the animals right. The movement and some of the behaviors were spot on even if the effect wasn’t perfect. From an action standpoint I am concerned as well, as it’s clear Skarsgard is ripped and athletic…you can teach him to fight and let us see it. You can’t pull an argument that this is for kids and have some of the other things you do in this movie. Also…don’t put shots in trailers…then have the same shot with a different backdrop entirely in the movie – it adds to the fake.

TL;DR?

The movie is safe. It’s over produced Hollywood churn factory. It’s hollow and without any real weight, feeling, or emotion. The action is…ok and could have been better. It’s a movie of “almost” and “missed opportunities” . Sorry folks, I can’t give it better than that. What I can say is – it’s ok Popcorn fare.

I am not angry for having seen it. I don’t hate it. It doesn’t irritate as bad as Independence Day did. You’d think I did hate it from how I ripped it above, but…

I did find myself enjoying it if I didn’t think too hard or care too much. It has a plenty of moments of good, touching on things no other movie in this genre actually has. Moments that made me see what it could have been. I enjoyed it, but the moment I think about it I get slightly annoyed at “if you just did…”. The adventure was almost there; an adventure I wanted to go on and they made me want to go on.

Should you see it?

Matinee fodder easily. 3D not really. If you want a popcorn movie to relax into this weekend…you could do worse.

Would you watch it again?

Truth be told? Maybe if I had nothing better to do. It’s not that bad…it just could have been more.

Will Jess buy it?

Yeah probably. It has more than enough for a purchase into the collection.

What’s the next review?

Pending any surprises between then and now – Ghostbusters on July 14.  Star Trek Beyond July 21, Jason Bourne and Nerve the following week, then Suicide Squad. I am uncertain on Pete’s Dragon. Kubo and the Two Strings is absolute.

That’s the rest of my ‘official’ summer schedule. Who knows what else may crop up?

Darke Reviews | The Goonies (1985)

Hey you guys!

What? Like I could start this review any other way? If it’s good enough for you. It’s good enough for me. I do remember seeing this in the theatre and I still have my map, my  school folders with Goonies on it, the book is somewhere. Heck my desk at work has a Goonies Never Say Die coffee mug. So to say I love Goonies is a mild understatement. Between it and Monster Squad they may be two of the most important films of my childhood, certainly in the top 5. Certainly the most watched (due to accessibility) of my childhood. I even got this as a present one year from my ex because she knew how much I loved it.

 

30 years and a lot of mileage later, how do I feel about it?

It’s a miracle. It is a perfect storm of talent in the right time of their lives, and the perfect blend of behind the scenes. You have a story by Stephen Speilberg (I am not listing his credits…), with a screenplay by Chris Columbus (Gremlins and director of the first two Harry Potter films), and directed by Richard Donner, you know the guy who gave us Superman and Lethal Weapon? This is a beautifully paced children’s adventure film. This isn’t nostalgia going either. I really watched it this time, looking for what doesn’t work now. There are a few things, don’t get me wrong, but overall it is an amazing film that holds up 30 years later. There are absolutely no scenes that need to be cut to trim despite its 114 minute running time. Yeah, almost two hours and as a 9 year old I was butt in seat, mouth shut watching. It goes from beat to beat to beat with an experts hand. There’s even a scene missing that while it pains me that it’s gone, I think makes for a more dramatic moment.

 

I will never betray my goon dock friends

We will stick together until the whole world ends

Through Heaven and Hell and Nuclear War

Good Pals like us, will stick like tar.

In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies.

I am proudly declared one of the Goonies

 

During the Wishing Well scene Andy takes the Goonie oath…but adult me sees the dramatic moment of seeing the sweater come up unexpectedly as a better scene.

The actors sell it though and in a time when Hollywood actually used kids for these adventure films, we have a Sean Astin (14) as Mikey, Jeff Cohen (11) as Chunk,  Corey Feldman (14) as Mouth, Jonathan Ke Quan (14) as Data, Martha Plimpton (15) as Stef, Kerri Green (18) as Andy, and Josh Brolin (17) as Brand. Little known fact – this is Brolin’s first movie and Astin’s first big screen performance. The kids made the movie so identifiable to me then, and probably so many of you because they were *our* age, they were going on this adventure like we all imagined doing as kids. I * was * Sean Astin in my head, I was Mikey (and secretly Stef or Andy).I won’t count the number of times I always hoped to find an old treasure map in my attic. The adventure though wasn’t for thrills or curiosity, but for their families and each other. It’s what really separates it from a lot of other films and makes it mean more. You don’t really think about it, but I think it gets to you and you feel it. These kids are putting themselves in mortal danger out of love. That counts for something. You don’t roll your eyes and go why are they doing this? Why are they being so stupid? The kids themselves keep trying to give up early on and press on to do what they came there for. In the end they even give it all up for the lives of their friends.

The kids were cool, the bad guys were cool. What an opening to a film? In media res? The break out already in progress. Anne Ramsey is iconic in her role of Mama Fratelli (even with the horse sound dubbed during the one sequence), with Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi as the brothers. Just as much as the kids were family, so were they. Dysfunctional and criminal, but family. Ever noticed Jake’s face when Mama is about to put Chunks hand in the blender? Watch it again and it’s the face that should follow after his previous line.

Writing it down it seems more sappy, but the way the actors sell it works so well. You buy the chemistry between these guys. Scenes I noticed more now, Brand dragging Mikey into the house after Perkins comes by. Mikey is still hugging him and Brand shows his affection then continues the hug as he walk/drags Mikey inside. It’s a little thing, but it counts. All the lines Mikey mutters under his breath. I didn’t hear them all before, but I did now and they make it work. Mouth and the Wishing Well. I was the child of divorce already then and I identified with him so much. I wanted my wishes back. All of them. What Data’s father said to him I always wanted to hear someone in my family say to me. These things made a film identifiable then and now and let it hold up to kids then and now. As you can see this is an incredibly personal movie to me, and a definitive one, but even with all that going to the way side – it holds up. These are kids and they feel like kids going through this. They make mistakes, bad jokes, and feel like true friends on this adventure. I miss this genre, kids going on adventures, and wish we had more like it coming out. The nearest ones I can think of that is even close is something like Super 8 (which I apparently need to review) and  Ok…Harry Potter counts too.

Beyond the pacing, story, and editing. It’s a product of it’s time in the prop and set department. This is a compliment as so much of it was done practically. The Inferno was real folks. I miss seeing the squid. The traps were kinda awesome. Data’s gadgets looked like something he would build.

TL;DR?

I think I could go another thousand words talking about how awesome this movie is. If you ever had a sense of adventure, that spark to do something exciting you know this movie is for you. I honestly believe that this film holds up all these years later and while there are some flaws, it really is just a small miracle of the right people, the right time, and the right places. It was absolutely worth seeing on the big screen again and if you get a chance you should do the same.

Should you see it?

YES. Why haven’t you watched it yet? Too busy Truffle Shuffling?

Will you buy it?

I have 3 copies.

Last thoughts?

I honestly, deeply, and truly believe every kid should have this movie as part of their lives. If nothing else, but to spur the imagination. We need the adventure!

 

Darke Reviews | The Shallows (2016)

Yes, this week is another three-fer. I was mildly interested in this movie when the trailer came out. Blake Lively rarely disappoints even if the movie she is in does (*stares at Green Lantern*). I also, if you know me, have a thing about the water. I love it. It’s one of the few things that bring me peace in this world. So without anything else to do tonight, I decided to go to the movies again and check this out. You know you go to a theatre a lot when one of the ushers asks “What show tonight?” then asks for a review after…

So should you avoid the Shallows?

This review is going to pose a challenge. How do I write in depth about a very basic premise with a limited cast, limited shooting locations, and also avoid spoilers on something that is intended to drive tension? Well, lets try talking about the behind the scenes as usual. Written by Anthony Jaswinski, who is behind the  very under rated The Vanishing on 7th street and Kristy (which I am watching as I write) – in other words he is a horror writer. The director is Jaume Collet-Sera, who directed 2005’s House of Wax and 2009’s Orphan, both of which were actually not that bad. Sadly, he also directed the Liam Neeson plane ‘thriller’ Non-Stop, which was not very good.

The story here is a simple one. Girl goes to a secluded beach in Mexico. Girl gets attacked by Shark. Girl must survive and either beat the shark, make it to shore, or die in the process of either. That’s it. The trailer told the story and told it accurately. No surprises there, but what was a surprise is how well the movie built tension. I may have jumped a few times, and yes it relied on a jump scare or two but they were functional and I don’t begrudge the movie for it. I really found myself wondering what would happen next and how they would let it play out. This is a welcome surprise for a reviewer who spends a lot of time in the theatre or otherwise in front of a screen watching movies. Horror within the past decade has taught us that even the protagonist isn’t safe, so while many would discount it going “they won’t kill Blake”…I am not so sure anymore. I rather enjoy the uncertainty. It played on that and I was not disappointed as the movie built and ramped the tension.

From a technical aspect, I notice that the Horror genre is one of the few to try to integrate social media and technology into the narrative. While it is only in the first act, they do a pretty good job of integrating how she uses her phone to look at pictures and a video call with her sister.  Rather than turning the camera away from the actor they keep on her and use overlays to give a display of the screen. This keeps you in the moment with her and holds to a more cohesive narrative rather than cutting away to show whatever is on screen. It’s an introduction from moment one that they use throughout the film to help show the passage of time via her watch and well…the sky. Had they not showed the initial media in this way it would have been more jarring later on. Additionally they use music and make up to progress the story. Marco Beltrami, composer of way too many things, does a good job integrating the music to help build tension appropriately. The make-up department did a knock out job with their work. They had to do a shark bite that looked real-ish, but also to gradually show Lively suffering from sun exposure, dehydration, and side effects from the bite.

The shark is a bit…meh. That said, I have really yet to see a Shark that doesn’t look meh on film. I *love* Jaws (which apparently I need to review?), but Bruce doesn’t look that hot. He did when people didn’t know what sharks looked like, enough so that people did horrible things out of fear of sharks. Now, not so much. Of course he was all practical. Since then we have never really been graced with good sharks. We know more about them in how they hunt, attack, anatomy; hell we have another Shark week coming,  but we still can’t make a shark really look good on film. We know that sharks not only breach, but do so more often than we realized, yet when Hollywood does it…yeah. I am looking a a list of “Movies about sharks” on wiki right now and it’s generally overloaded by SyFy films and their dubious quality. The shark here isn’t *that* bad and it is one of the better ones, but I just feel that we’re still not trying as much as we could to make them look better.

TL;DR

The Shallows is actually one of the best shark attack/survival movies out there. I rather enjoyed the tension and spent a moment talking to the couple next to me after the movie who agreed this is up there in the genre. It doesn’t try to deviate too much from it’s simple premise and that is a strength of the movie. Blake Lively, who I didn’t talk about in the main body is good and has the chops to carry the movie and make it a bit more and work within the confines of the limited location and story. It has a tight running time and is wise to hold to it.

Should you watch it?

If you like the genre – yes. It is a solid ‘natural’ horror/survival film that does it’s job well and entertains.

Will Jess buy it?

Probably. The visuals are good. Sound is good. It’s worth it for that alone. It does have rewatch value.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Independence Day Resurgence (2016)

Independence Day is not a good film. The original one that is. It is spectacle at the beginning of an age of spectacle.

Wait wait wait…

It is not a good film, but damnnit if I don’t watch it every 4th of July. It’s a very fun film. It has moments we still love twenty years later. I remember going with my crew of friends, aka The Usual Suspects ( I was Verbal…let that sink in), in Reisterstown Maryland all those years ago. I remember spending the night at LeeAnn’s house after the show and talking for hours about it. I remember us cheering and laughing and otherwise enjoying the hell out of ourselves as we hadn’t seen anything that “big” yet. So to say I have some sentiment about the original movie is an understatement. Do I have nostalgia glasses?

Nope! Not this time.

Nope! Not this time.

It’s a big budget war of the worlds with characters that are told with broad strokes to help us get them and get their archetype and sell the story. It’s also just plain ol dumb fun and I like that.

20 years later, and sans Will Smith’s charisma do they make it fun?

The movie is directed by Roland Emmerich who hasn’t met a catastrophe (ID4, Godzilla, 2012, Day After Tomorrow) that he didn’t like. I mean if you have a niche go for it, but dude…really? Also be proud of me,  I could have added his film Stonewall as a catastrophe, not the event, the actual movie itself. See I can be a professional. This is what he does though, big budget and big spectacle with an intent to awe. The term you are searching for is bread and circus. If you understand this then you know what he is capable of as a director.

From a writers room point of view, this not only violates the rule of three, but gets near doubling it. For those new to my reviews, the Rule of Three is my observation that a movie with 3 or more writers tends to be a muddled mass of conflicting influences, half baked ideas, and partial recoveries from unbaked ideas.

  • Characters by Emmerich and frequent collaborator Dean Devlin.
  • Story by: Devlin, Emmerich, Nicolas Wright (White House Down) and James A Woods (actor in the movie itself)
  • Screenplay by: Devlin, Emmerich, Wright, Woods, and James Vanderbilt (Amazing Spider Man 1 and 2, The Losers, Basic).

With the assorted filmographies, people who think they are funny, and people who are known for…well someone has to take the blame for 10,000 BC. It explains a lot. See in the first movie, even some of the weaker characters as broad as the strokes are that paint them you have an emotion about. It may be hate, but damnit they let you hate them. Here, not so much. Sure they bring back characters from the first movie, aged appropriately, but that is the *only* reason you care about them. Only. Period. The first film felt like it had stakes with the characters where some died and lets face it the death toll was made to feel tangible. Here, the writing is cautious. The directing is cautious. You feel no sense of risk or harm to the characters or planet. No time is ever spent to let you have a moment to breathe with the characters and let the enormity of what should be happening sink in.

The actors do what they can. Goldblum, Vivica Fox,  and Bill Pullman are fine. Pullman tries to do more than the movie wants him to and it shows. William Fitchner as always makes everything just a bit better, but he is so relegated to…sigh. Yeah. Liam Hemsworth shows some charm and is far better than The Hunger Games or Paranoia let me believe he could do.  Jessie T Usher as Dylan Hiller and Maika Monroe (5th Wave, It Follows) as Patricia Whitmore do ok as the older versions of the children from the first film. I felt they were both logical extensions of the kids with the parents they had. Yet through it all….I didn’t care. I felt no tension. No one was given a real moment to deal with the situations. I can’t help but think back to Goldblums desperate breakdown, the death of the first Lady, even the small scene post LA destruction. All created character moments so when something happened you worried what would happen to them. They had characters you hated. Here – I really felt nothing because the movie didn’t allow me to feel anything. They tried to create characters to hate, but mostly succeeded at mild annoyance since nothing of importance happened. The one time they try a character moment it’s so bloody awkward it doesn’t sell. In short, the actors could do nothing here.

Technically? How did we step back in 20 years? It’s ok. I mean it’s not an Asylum or Blumhouse picture. It seemed so damned afraid of practical effects, and if the did exist, there was so much CGI it didn’t matter. The designs were lazy and…you know what.

TL;DR

I am tired of writing about this movie. I am tired of putting effort into telling you about it because it is clear to me the writers and directors didn’t care either. They were already trying to set up for Independence Day 3 so nothing here mattered. I have heard of actors phoning it in, but a director? Thats new.

Yes, there are scenes to enjoy. Yes, I laughed a few times. I do really enjoy the fact we used the alien tech! FINALLY a movie that does that. For the most part I didn’t care. The Circus was not enough. The spectacle didn’t cut it.

Should you see it?

Meh. It’s as hollow as a basketball. I was entertained as it has some fun moments, but I can’t give a recommendation here; unless you truly have nothing better to do or are morbidly curious. There will be a lot of folks who like this and good on em! I just…blargh.

Go see Finding Dory or something, I hear it is really good.

Will I buy it when it comes out?

Sure…if it has a directors cut with an extra 30 minutes for making me care about these characters.

 

At this point I am hoping Legend of Tarzan next week surprises me.

Darke Reviews | The Neon Demon (2016)

I have been looking forward to this for some time, since the first trailer was released. I have limited experience with Nicolas Winding Refn’s (NWR) work, with having watched Drive and only partially watching Valhalla Rising. I know there are many who find his movies and his directorial style to be a near master craft in filmmaking, but that isn’t what attracted me to the film – at least not the name alone. The visuals presented in the trailer were incredible with perfectly beating music and starring someone I rather enjoy in film.

I had a feeling I was going to watch a Modeling industry version of Showgirls…but is that what I got?

I mentioned before that NWR’s work is pretty universally lauded from a critical point of view. So the newer trailers tell me with dozens of outlets reporting how impressive it is. I consider even how Every Frame a Painting talked about one of his major films Drive. Check the link later, it is absolutely worth the watch. Because of this I was looking for his usage of the camera in the movie and found that he was doing many of these same techniques through the film now that I knew to look for them. While I usually talk technicals later, it’s important here as the director is defined by his technical skill. Image and sound are as one through the movie. Every beat of the music is as important as every frame of the film. Unlike many current directors NWR brings the medium of film to bear  with all it can bring.

He stages.
He blocks.
He lights.
He uses sound.
He uses the music.
He moves…or doesn’t move the camera.
He goes wide when others go in.
He goes in when others go wide.

I am not suggesting that we need more directors like him, not fully anyway. I think we need directors who really look at the craft work of the film. The movie is as much a work of art as it is an hour and fifty minutes of entertainment. I found many of the images presented me in the movie provocative and informing of a story not told. Light and Dark and how that is used run from opening credit to final. It was truly impressive as a piece of art. Now, this is not to say that art is going to be equally appreciated. There were a handful of scenes that were audibly or visually uncomfortable, if not disturbing to some, for what is inferred or otherwise portrayed. Others, I may not have fully appreciated for everything that happened there.

Let’s talk story. Refn is director, story credit, and screenplay credit. Refn had work on the screenplay with the hands of Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, who are largely unknown with little to no work behind them. In and of itself the story is a simple one. There is little meat to it from a complexity or arc point of view, some of the subtext is a little too on the nose and more just text. There are plenty of depths to the characters however, but most falls on the actors and director to bring those out. The dialogue, and again, story are relatively straight forward.

Acting wise? Holy hell. Elle Fanning (Super 8, Maleficent, Twixt) delivers and incredibly complex performance as the young ingénue Jesse. The film must be carried by the 18 year old actress and she does so beautifully.  There is a lot of maturity to her acting that many her age, and face it many older, do not deliver. This isn’t to say the rest of the actors don’t show up, because they all do. Jena Malone (Hunger Games, Sucker Punch) as Ruby must deliver an equally complex part and does so. She’s hard to tear your eyes away from on screen in any work she is in and that doesn’t change here. The other two main actors; Abbey Lee (Fury Road’s The Dag), as Sarah, and Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dark Shadows) as Gigi have to bring their A game for this movie and do so. At first glance the performance seems easy, but there’s nuance to it that is worth watching for. Supporting actors, such as Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, and Alessandro Nivola turn up and show up, but have little to do.

Now…let’s be clear here. The acting is superb. The story is ok. Cliff Martinez soundtrack is inspired. The technical aspects are really well done for those who look; but the movie does have flaws. Much as I found with Drive it plods at an uneven pace and lacks something in it’s execution. For a word – bite. I think I wanted, or expected, something to happen that didn’t. In retrospect I shouldn’t have considering the past body of work, but I did anyway. Additionally there is a problematic aspect to the film that I can only put in a spoiler box at the bottom. I know that this problematic aspect was intentional, or I believe it was; with that intent to create the discomfort and realize…well. Yeah. Still problematic.

TL:DR?

The Neon Demon is everything that was promised in the trailer if you are a fan of Refn’s work. If you are unfamiliar with his movies, I might suggest Drive, Only God Forgives, or Valhalla Rising to understand what you are getting into. The acting is amazing, the artistry in each frame is evident. I was thinking about two of my long distance friends the entire film wondering what they would think of it having modeled before and knowing they will appreciate the film. Rather hoping they comment on the Facebook side of things after they see it.

The pacing and overall arc of the plot however, I think we’re less than what I needed from the movie.

 

Should you see it?

If you like Refn. Yes. If you are someone in the modeling industry, I am really curious to your take. Artistic film lover – must see. Film student or future director? Yes. Otherwise, you can wait for the comfort of your home and enjoy just as much.

EDIT: Friday 7:55 AM – In thinking more on this – this movie is what I did need. BUT it benefits from discussion and thought. So if you do see it, prepare to discuss! It’s worth it.

Will I buy it?

Unsure. It’s a solid low maybe. Bargain bin blu-ray perhaps? Yes! There are visuals worth watching and dissecting. I think I need to see it again.

 

SPOILER SECTION

Rollover to Read

Ok, one of the major themes of the film is the predatory nature of LA, Hollywood, and overall competition between people in a small field. No issues there. The issue, that is problematic, the 18 year old Fanning is playing 16 year old Jesse. At 18 she’s not the issue, the character is and how she is sexualized by the camera, and some of the characters. There are going to be people out there who don’t care, or know, the actress is 18. They will enjoy all too much the idea of the 16 year old being put up as a sexual thing. This is not a matter of the empowerment of the character Jesse, or her own choices to be what she is, but how that is film and what is filmed.

I could be way off base and am open to education here, but it was uncomfortable. Intentionally so, I know. The point is to show the fact how sexualized models can be, regardless of age. The point is to show that “the Industry ” doesn’t care either. I get it. I don’t know that there is another way to illustrate that right now, but I feel strongly enough that I need to write it as a potential trigger warning.

Darke Reviews | Warcraft (2016)

Tired of me yet? 3 movies. 3 days. 3 reviews. The roller coaster that is my life has had my butt in a theatre all this week, even the guy checking me in at the movies tonight asked me, “hey weren’t you in that same theatre last night?” Thanks Ben. Now…we have a movie based on a video game. Probably one of the most popular video games ever made, though myself I have never played it. I know plenty of people who did, my game was City of Heroes, and I was a one game kinda gal. So much like with books, I have no experience, no background, no anything about the lore here to make me like it more or less based on changes made to achieve film. This is the extent to which I know Warcraft: Slaughter Your World.

Of course, we cannot forget that video games have a sordid history in being converted to film, with far more misses than hits as Hollywood really just doesn’t respect the material even if it is there. Don’t get me started on Uwe Boll, he might challenge me to a boxing match.

Does Warcraft break the mold or are audiences going to need heals after seeing it?

Based on the characters by Blizzard game designer Chris Metzen, Warcraft was adapted to the screen by screenwriters Charles Leavitt (In the Heart of the Sea, Seventh Son, K-PAX) and Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code). While I did not personally see Heart of the Sea, I heard pretty consistently it was a slog, I know that Seventh Son was so bad they pushed it out a full year from its initial release date and hoped no one would notice. Jones for his part does have the critically acclaimed Moon in 2009, Source Code was pretty bland. Why am I focusing on these failures so much? Because they hold one of the most, if not the most significant flaw of the film. I can feel it’s running time. What is worse it felt *longer* than it actually was, like extended cut Return of the King long.

Story wise, it’s ok. Having no familiarity with the terminology beyond Horde and Alliance didn’t really hamper me. I pretty much was able to figure out everything in time with the movie and they (wisely) did not over explain anything. Point in fact, they barely explain anything at all. This is a strength of the film, letting the story flow pretty naturally and hope the audience follows along with it. The downside of that is that it has a lot of ground to cover so the film ends up stuffed to the gills with material. Had it had exposition as well….? Yeeesh.  There are a few beats of the film that fall flat and a hole or two you could fly a Dragon through; conversely, there are moments that had everyone laugh, cheer, or go “oooh” with a wince. Which means they drew the audience in – this is good.

Continuing into our bag of holding, we have other mixed blessings. I was only able to stand a single human in the entire movie. One. The friggin mage. Ben Schnetzer (The Book Thief) plays Khadgar, and while a little flat I at least found I liked his character at least. Travis Fimmel (Ragnar from Vikings) as Anduin Lothar is just insufferable; which may be how he is written, but the man can act and he was all over the place which I lay on Jones head in directing. Dominic Cooper (Preacher, Dracula Untold) as King Llane Wrynn was mostly wasted, but gave a solid performance. Even Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Pandorum) didn’t quite deliver as I know he can in the role of the warlock Medivh.

The same, cannot be said of the Orcs. Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) absolutely sells it as Durotan leader of one of the Orc tribes. Daniel Wu (Europa Report) also nails the voice and mo cap work as the evil Gul’dan. Clancy Brown could have phoned in his performance of the warband leader Blackhand, but didn’t and we are all thankful. Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2 Guns)  starts off strong as Garona, but gets a little simpering into Act III which was bothersome for an otherwise awesome character, but overall she was a solid performance.

As with the game, since you could play either side they have to show both sides, with the Horde side being “evil” but not…bad? Due to that and who they focused on as characters I found myself preferring the Horde arc and characters a thousand times more than I did the Alliance side.

The one technical aspect I was worried about I needn’t have been. I forgot I was looking at Motion Capture CGI creations on more than one occasion through the film. It wasn’t flawless, but it was amazingly well done computer work to render what they did so consistently and be able to do so in wide daylight shots. The scenery, while being almost entirely CG was expansive and to the credit of the writers of both game and film, really sold me on a world that I could envision. They may have failed in other areas, but they did give me a living, breathing world that I could see, understand, and even would want to interact with. The fights are both watchable and in some cases brutal, but there was a distinct lack of hyperactive shaky cam.

TL; DR?

The movie is a solid…”It’s ok.”. There are so many nods and winks to game and lore fans, even I who knows little could see them. It runs long and flattens in the wrong spots sadly. It is absolutely not the worst video game film ever made. It would, and should, make it into anyone’s top 5 on production value alone. The money sunk into this shows and I am happier for it. It bored me at times, but when it wasn’t I was engaged.

I’d like to say I liked it more, but I didn’t. The fans around me did though. It *is* good, and above a meh. If I had been engaged by the characters on both sides more I think I would rate it higher. I do think it will make bank though.

Should you see it?

If you aren’t seeing Now You See Me 2? Sure. Matinee only 3-D optional.  If you are a fan of the game and lore: See it. 3-D. It was worth it in that aspect.

Will Jessica buy it?

Honestly? Yeah probably. It is something to throw on in the background while you are focusing on other things. You’ll look up and smile at a moment or pause to watch a fight.

Which side would you pick?

My brain says Horde, but my heart goes Night Elf.

What’s next?

I get next week off as only Central Intelligence and Finding Dory are coming out. Reviews return with The Neon Demon and Independence Day Resurgence. Followed quickly by Legend of Tarzan and Ghostbusters.

Darke Reviews | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

Busy week – review 2 for your reading pleasure. I had to go back and re-read the original review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 2014 and verify if I liked it as much as I thought I did back then and how I feel about it now. More or less – yep still holds up. The things that annoyed me then, annoy me now. Things I liked and smiled at then, I smile at now. I still haven’t been able to find the AMV from the 2003 reboot of the series that was so friggin epic, and still haven’t read the comics. I do remember most every episode of the original animated series and much like last time I will do my best to remove the Nostalgia Glasses.

Ok, more like 30 years ago. Yes...30.

Ok, more like 30 years ago. Yes…30.

How does this one go?

Acceptance. You must accept to continue this review. Accept that this is in fact made for kids first and foremost. We, who grew up with the Turtles may find elements that we appreciate. Nods and jokes, moments, and looks, but this is for kids.

Good, let’s move on.

Director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) replaces Jonathan Liebesman at the helm, which sadly is to the movies disservice. Watching the film I saw naught but a puppet to Platinum Dunes studios, which as a Producer gives them say, but the reality here is I feel this was ghost directed by Michael Bay himself. I remember seeing Earth to Echo and while it tried to be E.T. it mostly just came as Google marketing campaign with mediocre editing and camera work. It wasn’t *bad* but it wasn’t memorable enough for me to even do a solid review of it. This lacked…well anything. It really was mostly style with so little substance to it that I watched a few children in the audience get bored. It might be the inability to hold a shot for more than 6 seconds and literally no sense of framing or blocking. The camera work was 100% Bay though who cannot pass a rotating shot if his life depended on it.

From a script perspective the original writers from the last film, Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum return sans Evan Daugherty. They still completely get the four brothers and who they are, which is good. My complaint of too much Will Arnett and Megan Fox in the last movie was apparently addressed as their roles are lesser. Sadly Arnett still gets more screen time than he deserves and Fox not enough with the script as written. The plot is unsurprisingly simplistic (see Acceptance above) and is fairly run in the mill for it’s intended audience. Nothing good, nothing bad, it exists. They didn’t make a mistake and change Bebop and Rocksteady much at all, which was a good thing and while we will talk about Tyler Perry in a minute, Baxter Stockman was pretty surprisingly solid. Warning – do not think during this movie. It is not wise. If you think, you could drive a Technodrome through some of the holes. I think they also tried to do too much and could have better set up sequel bait. Two plots didn’t need to be in here.

Acting? Alan Ritchson (Raph), Noel Fisher  (Mikey), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), and Pete Ploszek (Leo) all return as the titular characters, with Ploszek actually getting to voice Leonardo this time. The change was unnoticable, and much like in Hellboy 2 letting Doug Jones do the voice of Abe, in retrospect is clearly an improvement. Fox doesn’t get to do much this time around – like at all. I kinda wish she did as the moments they give her with the boys actually work and make it feel like she is friends with them. Granted, I’d prefer to see her kick a lil more butt after two years with Ninja as friends, much like we got in a few of the animated series. Arnett…exists. I suppose my intolerance for his character matches my intolerance for the character of Vernon Fenwick. Too much of him for when he is on screen and even more Tyler Perry who is …*sigh*. Why so much focus on Stockman when you have Brian Tee as the Shredder? This was wasteful of a good actor vs …someone who I think was trying to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson and failing. I suppose when I look back (see Acceptance again) Perry acted as if he knew he was in a kids movie, no one else really did. This was disjoined.Stephen Amell does give something other than Oliver Queen in his performance as Casey Jones, which is no surprise to this girl.  All in all – it was what it was. I can’t say it was “oh damn did you see that scene and it’s delivery?” or even a “kids are going to love that scene because so and so nailed it…in a way for them.”  Except maybe for WWE star Sheamus as Rocksteady, and Gary Anthony Williams as Bebop. They just made me smile without rolling my eyes too much (some humor I don’t get, this is known).

The effects were about on par with the last one. No…actually they were better. Thanks to Bebop and Rocksteady. They *really* got these two right. The transformation was really well done and their overall animation and interaction with the world around them was just as well done. The Turtles looked good.  Krang was definitely a more modern take on him, pretty sure I saw this variant in an amv, but the core principles of him were there. The look of the head on the robot made me smile. Seeing the Technodrome made me smile. There was a lot in this department that did bring the nostalgia back. Sadly the camera work took me out of it since I could barely tell what was happening. I also get the sense as I picked on the director earlier some scenes were clearly directed differently. The Garbage Truck scene good. Others…not so much. I am also reminded of the 90’s movies where they were told the Turtles couldn’t actually use their weapons, which more or less showed up here too. There’s a few moments, but not nearly enough.

TL;DR?

This one wasn’t for me. I know this. There were moments and plenty of them that were, but overall this is definitely a kids film. There’s an 11 year old girl me who would eat this up. Hell even maybe 15 year old me would. It’s an ok film on the very low end of ok as an adult. As a kid? It’s above average but that’s about it. That’s it, the TMNT 2 review. It’s better than what we got in the 90s, but that is faint praise.

Should you see it?

Well since this review is about 5 days late, you probably already have or aren’t going to anyway. Short answer: Unless you are a die hard Turtle fan, nah. It’ll be fine on Netflix or HBO. If you’ve got kids who want to see it it won’t be *that* painful for you..

Will I buy it?

My magic 8 ball says undecided. Ask later. Probably not though. I’ve gotten pickier about what I put in the collection since I ran out of space.

Stay tuned, tomorrow comes Warcraft!