Darke Reviews | Moana (2016)

So what does Queen Elsa, the Vampire Princess, the nocturnal frozen being that she is think of Moana? It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I do like Disney animation. I grew up at the tail end of the ‘dark ages’ of Disney animation when the Golden Age was touted as what we had and the Silver Age was…special. I still think The Black Cauldron is underrated, but then again what kid doesn’t like a Gaelic myth of bringing back an undead army? Ok so maybe just me.  That’s fair. You might be asking but Queen Elsa, how will you judge this fairly against your own film, Frozen? Well if you check the link there even as hyped as I am on my own song (Let it Go,…duh) I found the movie to be a mixed bag. Even before knowing how many 11th hour changes there were it was clear there were some choices made that didn’t make a seamless film.

What does that spell out for Moana? Does it have the same issues?

You’d think so as it not only violates my rule of three, it goes beyond double. Yep, 7 writers on the credits. Story by…and  I am going to bullet this since there are so many

  • Jordan Kandell –  No other credits, twin brother to Aaron
  • Aaron Kandell  – No other credits, twin (duh) both raised in Hawaii
  • Pamela Ribon – writer on Mind of Mencia
  • Don Hall – Emperors New Groove, Tarzan
  • Chris Williams – Mulan, Bolt
  • John Musker – Treasure Planet (highly underrated), The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Aladdin, Princess and the Frog, and oh hey the Black Cauldron
  • Ron Clements – same credits as Mr. Musker.

The final screenplay credit goes to Jared Bush, who has a “Creative Leadership Walt Disney Animation Studios” – which I am not sure what that means. Clements, Musker, Hall, and Williams have dual director and co-director credits for the movie. So 7 writers, 4 directors chairs – with a lot of overlap. This should be a mess.

It isn’t.

Now as near as I can tell, this is an original story inspired by native Hawaiian and Pacific Island mythology. Yes, not based on any particular myth, previously told story, but instead apparently original. This is awesome. What it also gives us is a cohesive narrative that doesn’t feel like something has to be shoe horned together to make it palatable to both adults and children. It gives us a story of bravery, heart, and finding yourself that we’ve seen many a time since the Disney Renaissance in 1989 (started by Musker & Clements); but it does it better somehow. There are more than a few times the movie tugged on heartstrings in either well written emotional ways or the big hero moments that bring the whole thing together.  This movie should be all over the place tonally, but it isn’t. It should be a wreck that looks like it’s been edited to the ends of the earth then back again but it isn’t. Somehow, this was the right combination of leadership, intent, and will made this movie work against it’s own odds.

Is it perfect in the writing and directing department? Maybe. I mean that. Maybe. No beats felt out of place, except maybe one.

All of the performances were on their A-Game; especially Auli’i Cravalho who voices and sings Moana. She has a set of lungs that rival people twice her age (she’s 16 today – no lie November 22, 2000). She poured her heart into this and as her first role I hope to see she has many more to come.  Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was also in top form as Maui, with all his natural charisma brought to bear with the power of his voice and good animation. He holds the serious and somber moments down like the professional he is, but also charms you with the comedic beats he is given. The other performances are solid, but suitably minor, such as Nicole Sherzinger, Jermaine Clement, Temuera Morrison, and Rachel House.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of Alan Tudyk every performer I can find a bio on is either of Maori, Samoan, Hawaiian, or other Oceanic/Polynesian descent. With as much time as I spend not seeing movies for inappropriate diversity or casting, I need to make note of this. This is special. This is right. This is good. We need more of this. Thank you Disney for getting it right this time. Please Hollywood follow in their footsteps and learn something here. Please.

Ok, so how is the animation? The best they’ve done. Period. Full stop. Look I have only been to Hawaii once and it was last April, but if they didn’t capture how alive it was, how beautiful it was; then I don’t know what I watched. The colours were so vibrant and magnificent. Then lets talk water. Perfection. Yes, it’s clearly meant to be animated, but I think if they wanted to, they could have made it real. The day was lovely, but the night shots were absolutely magnificent. There is so much awesome in the animation here I could go on, but instead…

Music!

I just bought the soundtrack. Need more? Ok. I can do that. The same attention to detail that was given to the story, the acting, the animation was given to the songs. All of them felt right. All of them were good, even the one that was a touch out of place with the others still felt thematically ok with the movie. Unlike Frozen, they remembered the entirety of the movie that it was a musical and let the songs carry along the bridges of scenes and acts and it served them well. The music maintains the themes, language, and style of the incredible people who the movie is about. Yes. Language. There are a few songs that they don’t sing in English and it doesn’t matter. That’s how effective the music is.

Full disclosure, Moana’s theme song also speaks to me – it’s not spoiler to share the lyrics (Song by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know, where I can not go
Though I long to be

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, if I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

One thing my friends know about me is you can’t get me away from the water if I am near it. There’s a reason I spend hours at Torrey Pines park just watching the waves. Does it beat out Let it Go? No, but it’s definitely in the top 3 of my “I want”/”Who I am” Disney songs.

TL;DR

Just see it already. I don’t need to say more. It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Music, Animation, Acting, its fantastic. This is one of Disneys best and it gives representation in a time where there is so little. Support this movie. It’s a great movie for adults, kids of all ages.

Yeah that’s it.

Go. Go now. It’s ok to see movies on Wednesday night. It’s ok to hide from the hordes on Black Friday and see this instead.

So should I see it?

*shakes you* did you not read? YES! Seriously. Go see it

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Without question. I mean I just bought the soundtrack

How about 3D?

I saw the film with two people who are unable to watch 3-D, but having watched it. Yes, I think the 3-D will enhance the experience. If you can’t afford 3-D, then standard will be fine.

Anything else?

Yes. The toddler Moana is the most adorable thing I have ever witnessed on screen with my own two eyes.

Advertisements

Darke Reviews | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

As you, my regular readers, know I never read the books for the movies I watch. Well almost never, sometimes after I may but that is extraordinarily rare. The same rule applies to even things like Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and yes Harry Potter. While the other 6th graders in middle school were reading The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, I was reading Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew. When they were reading The Hobbit, I was on The Stand and Clive Barkers Cabal. This says a lot of my preferences and possibly how my brain works. I earned my nickname in school (thank you Darrin ) for many a reason, reading material was a part of it. The point of this is that my only attachment to the Potter-verse is the films and some well written fan fic.

In the interests of full disclosure when this trailer dropped, I was unimpressed. Nothing about it made me want to see it. It was unfamiliar, but didn’t seem to provide me the sense of wonder and awe that many of the Potter movies did.

So…did it impress me?

Well, let’s tackle the writing shall we? J.K. Rowling herself has the sole credit. No one can say this is beyond the authors intent here.  She brings us what would amount to her own fan fic or head canon, expanding on a bit character mentioned in passing. It’s absolutely correct for her to do so. Any writer will tell you that some characters stick with you, they are a line in passing when you write them but they won’t let you go. I believe she said as much of Newt Scamander. She believed his story needed to be told. Now I can’t be certain if that story wasn’t asked of her by the studio and her publisher as well, but she wanted it too and here we are.

I think though, that she needed an editor on this script. Another one anyway. It’s kinda a mess. The tonal shifts are mind boggling, the story is both convoluted and so painfully simplistic and obvious simultaneously without being particularly good at either. Nothing came as a surprise and to me there, but for a few moments was missing the wonder and joy that Potter brought. A movie about fantastic creatures should truly make them fantastic. I should want my Falcor or Artax, but I am left wanting here. Wanting something not quite delivered on save a brief few seconds and barest moments of reveal. The rest is shot in such a way that you don’t get to really take it in and appreciate it, or are distracted by it rather than being allowed to focus.

That of course goes to the fault of director David Yates, this years mediocre to failing Tarzan and the last few Harry Potter films. After this film and Tarzan I think I was generous with him on that review. While he managed to direct the hell out of beats that were successful, he also – now  – is clearly responsible for the ones that weren’t. He is responsible for the washed out palette I vetched about in my last review as well. The moments of colour are too few and far between. That’s his call and I think it was a wrong one. Muted colours and muted emotions; yet he did manage to pull some things in the film off successfully. That may have to go to the actors though.

Eddie Redmayne remains a mystery to me. I can’t tell if I like him or not. I still need to see The Danish Girl, he was ok as Marius in Les Miserables, but then there is his performance in Jupiter Ascending. I just don’t know what to make of him. Knowing the other tones he can and has done, I would say he does rather well here however showing someone who cares more about his Beasts than anything else around him to a certain point. He is just likeable enough and when you see him interact with the creatures it shines; which is impressive since none of it was there. Katherine Waterston (Boardwalk Empire, Inherent Vice) acts her part well enough but has zero chemistry with Redmayne romantic or otherwise. Our future Flash, Ezra Miller, channels his inner Kylo Ren for this. He’s ok.

Two people however stand out. Alison Sudol (Between Us, Dig, Transparent) as Queenie Goldstein is just the perfect blend of manic pixie dream girl, charming, and sweet to make her a positively endearing and memorable character. This is especially evident as she plays against Dan Fogler (Fan Boys) as Jake Kowalski. While I was annoyed at his intro, I blame the entire movie for that as the set up to the plot was clumsy as a newborn deer, he turned out to be my favourite character in the film. Eddie’s performance as Newt may be the face, but Fogler is the heart. He was everything I needed and once I warmed up to him I was invested in HIS outcome. The movie itself? Not so much because I knew the beats before they happened. Just not his. So he was the only real investment I had in the movie and if I have to have some  – I am ok with it being him.

From a technical standpoint. It’s just as messy as the plot and story architecture.  The acts themselves are mediocre, but the bridges between them tend to shine. The same can be said of the effects which are somehow, yet again, less than a movie from five years ago. There was too much CG, too much colour wash, too much warping. Just too much and too fake to care. There were some good shots, but not enough. There were some beautiful pan and zooms, but not enough against the whole. It was both dull and overly produced at the same time.

TL;DR

The last sentence there really encapsulates the movie. Both dull and over produced. The movie is a mess but it has a heart. The dichotomy of this production is so fascinating I don’t know what else to say. It is deeply flawed and feels as rushed as a Formula 1 driver on the track, but there’s something to it. That said, if you were to compared this to another series, film and book, this is The Hobbit to the Potter films Lord of the Rings. It is both a prequel and has some particularly odd beats that might appeal to children…or something.

It is clear it’s the same universe, but the tone is so dramatically different. The movie itself can’t keep it’s own tonal consistency to the point I really did stop caring and just wanted to see how they’d tie the bow at the end.

Should you see it?

I have been weighing this answer the entirety of the 30 minute drive home.

The entirety of writing this review.

I am not sure if it is me or what, but the movie is clunky but still has heart. I would NOT pay full price, Matinee at best.

But I think people *should* probably see it…I guess?

Will you see it again?

cheap seats or if someone else buys my ticket – maybe. I’d rather save the money for Moana.

Will you buy it?

eh….the magic 8 ball says Not Certain. Ask again later.

About Moana….

I am on media blackout for it until next week. I will be seeing it. I will fight anyone who tries to stop me or spoil it. I want to see this. I want it to be good. Yes I may like it more than Frozen, but not more than Elsa and Let it Go.

Darke Reviews | Arrival (2016)

If you’ve been paying attention to me over the past few years I have been running this site, you will know I love Sci Fi and Science in general. I was raised on Sci Fi movies, with some of my favourites from childhood being things like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Aliens, The Blackhole, 2010, The Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine, Dune, The Abyss, Tron…ok so the list goes on. Alright the list does go on *deep breath* Flash Gordon, Altered States, Flight of the Navigator, My Science Project, Explorers, Lifeforce, Night of the Comet…ok ok I will stop now. That’s still but a fraction of what I grew up with and love. Some holds up better than others, others such as 2001 and Blade Runner I didn’t appreciate as a kid but do now.

When it comes to sciences, Chemistry, Archaeology, Linguistics, Physics, History, Astronomy, and Psychology are but a tip of an iceberg of things that fascinate me to no end. Put an article in front of me around some of these fields I will read it and do my best to understand it. Give me someone in these fields to talk to and I will probably pick their brain and ask questions, even if I only understand about a third of what they are saying. There was a time in my living room two linguists started speaking about various complexities of language and the breakdown of components of language and language groups. I comprehended a fraction, but still found it fascinating and had I chosen could have studied more to understand the rest. With this combination of fascination it should be no surprise that on Stargate and SG-1 my favourite character is Daniel Jackson. That I spent time making a character for a game who had a journal and was deciphering Goa’uld. That I love studying how Dothraki and High Valyrian work; which by the by enabled the creation wonderful relationship with someone, simply by speaking just a little Dothraki and sharing the geekness.

So whats the point and how does this apply to the movie?

Well let’s talk about that then. The film deals with the arrival (roll credits, ding), of an alien race and our protagonist is brought in to help decipher their language. So we have the marriage of Sci Fi and Linguistics. Ok so that’s technically repeating myself as it is SCIENCE Fiction, but for so long we have been moving away from the science part of science fiction relegating it’s existence to that of technobabble and gimmicks, without asking the important questions. Like The Martian, this movie goes back and puts the Science back with gleeful abandon and still manages to make it accessible to most any film goer who chooses to watch this.

This is not entirely an original work as it is based on the book Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. It was adapted for the screen by Eric Heisserer who also penned The Thing (2011), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and this years Lights Out.  As I’ve started recently, this tells me he either has been offered projects that have ties to classic 80s or he has a passion for it. Success rate of the film notwithstanding. He also seems to understand and appreciate dramatic tension, or strives to do so. With this, while still unfamiliar with the original material, I feel he succeeded as the dialogue choices and plot points either hit or tropes avoided brought me great joy. He also managed to make it accessible to people who don’t have a passion for science. While not as open as the Martian was, there’s a lot here that they do explain and it works. The rest of the time you can follow along and it works with little explanation.

That means a credit must go to director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). You see a script can tell you one thing, but your decision to show not tell makes all the difference. What makes this movie work is a combination of showing and telling, ironically a plot point of the film. In combination with the script he is able to weave a cohesive story that tells you what you need to know, asks questions to keep you engaged, and delivers an ending that was surprisingly well handled. The direction of his actors was good as was his blocking and choice of camera angles. There are a few scenes where very intentional tricks of the camera are used if you are watching. That is the best term to apply to the direction here. Intentional. This is well thought out and I believe there is very little deviation from the plan as the scenes unfold in practice vs on paper.

Of course you need your stars to deliver as well. Amy Adams (Enchanted, American Hustle) delivers a fantastic performance as our Linguist – turned Xenolinguist  – who must carry the film. She brings the appropriate levels of shock, scientific methods, and inquiry that I wanted to see in this. Jeremy Renner (Avengers, American Hustle) is a ‘hard scientist’, physicist I believe, who works for the government and is brought in with Adams to help uncover the purpose of the aliens. What I absolutely love is the chemistry and partnership between both actor and character as the film progresses with good delivery and solid execution on his own sciences while they unravel the mystery of the aliens.

But….

There are flaws, I really wish directors would stop adjusting the contrast and colour balance of their work. While it’s clear it’s an intentional choice, I don’t know that it was a necessary one. Retaining your normal palette here would have been sufficient and forced other techniques to come into play to show other components of the story. That’s it. That’s my big flaw. OK there are a few minor tropes they hit which were…able to be dealt with and quickly which made them bearable in an otherwise near perfect product of science fiction.

TL:DR?

As Passengers has not come out yet, Morgan was disappointing, I am the lone dissenting voice on 10 Cloverfield Lane; this is hands down the best Science Fiction movie of the year. I will easily put this up there with films such as Contact, The Martian, Ex Machina, and others of their ilk. It proves we haven’t lost how to do good Sci-Fi just that people may be afraid to. Without trying to sound too elitist, this is Sci Fi, the rest is space action or space fantasy. Let’s face it Star Wars is a space fantasy, we can all accept this and love it as much as we all do anyway.

The performances are good. The camera work is good. The script and direction are good. The movie had a very tight (by Hollywood standards) budget of $47 million and you can see the amount of control they had in making this and we all benefit for it. This is the kind of movie, like The Martian, that lets you and your friends have good intelligent conversation coming out of the movie about what you just watched.

My recommendation? Help them make their money back and then some.

Should you see it?

See immediate sentence above.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Yes. No doubt.

Any warnings?

It’s appropriately slow, but methodical. This has the pace of a good drama. It is NOT an action set piece.

Folks that’s it for this one. We have a really good movie here that was really enjoyable.

If you are a reader of my reviews and have a passion for Linguistics, see it and come back and tell me what you think of the science.

Darke Reviews | Doctor Strange (2016)

First off let me apologize, as this is not actually a review.

One of the principles of my day job is Integrity without Compromise. So I am left with a quandary –

See a movie that I actually want to see but I know has a problem in it that I have boycotted movies in the past for.

– or –

Not see one of the most anticipated movies of the year and be unable to tell my readers about it.

I am sorry everyone, but I have to stick to my guns on this one. Due to the White-washing of a historically Asian character known as the Ancient One I cannot see Dr. Strange. Yes, Tilda Swinton is an amazing actor. There has been nothing she has done that I haven’t enjoyed her performance. The fault only lays on her for taking the role.

The real problem comes down to Marvel Studios and the writers rationale for doing so. Money. There’s absolutely no morality to the decision, point in fact it’s the opposite of it. I get big business I really do, but that doesn’t mean I have to let them slide on it.

This is where geopolitics comes into play. For those that don’t know China considers Tibet part of China. Tibet does not consider themselves part of China. If they cast a Tibetan actor, they cannot screen the movie in China, the second largest audience for movies in the world.  They can’t make money in China if they cast someone who is actually Tibetan, but if you cast a Chinese actor for the Tibetan role it sends a different (and even worse) message.

So you are left with this decision that is like one of those button push “You get this, but this….”

  1. Cast a Tibetan as the role of the Ancient but now you can’t show your movie in China.
  2. Cast another ‘Asian’ as the role of the Acient but now you’ve invalidated an entire country it’s independence in a tacit manor which to the rest of the world looks as if you are endorsing China.
  3. Cast another ethnicity as the Ancient but be lambasted for not being true to the character.
  4. Cast a white actor in the role and be accused of white washing, but hey you get to release in China.

Marvel chose option 4.

I will not deny the complexity of this decision, it shouldn’t be denied and needs to be appreciated. They are a business and it wouldn’t be just this movie that could be at risk, as China could not allow other movies simply out of spite.

Are there other facets to how they did this to try to mitigate the white washing? Sure. They wrote the character as a title that could come from any culture; but at the same time they keep the original white-savior narrative of Dr. Strange. You know the story, the white guy learns from the wise old insert ethnic group and becomes the savior? The did try to mitigate it, but they didn’t go far enough or brave enough.

If you want to write that it’s not white washed try these tricks

1. He doesn’t go to Asia at all. Shamballah did not have to be terrestrial.
2. The Ancient isn’t white.

Why does it matter so much about a white actor in a role that could have gone to a person of colour?

Please please read this:

Jar Full of Major Characters

or this

Casting Minorities as White Characters is not a double standard. Here’s why

The short version is this:

“When there are so few raisins to start, any change made is really easy to spot, and makes a really significant difference.

This is why it is bad, even despicable, to take a character who was originally a character of color and make them white. But why it can be positive to take a character who was originally white and make them a character of color.

The white characters bowl is already so full that any change in number is almost meaningless (and is bound to be undone in mere minutes anyway, with the amount of new story creation going on), while the characters of color bowl changes hugely with each addition or subtraction, and any subtraction is a major loss. “

But, Jess, you’re white. Why does it matter to you?

Because I have a voice, social awareness and consciousness, and need to speak when I see something wrong.

Because it matters to him: George Takei

So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales … in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots,” writes Takei. “Marvel already addressed the Tibetan question by setting the action and the Ancient One in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the film. It wouldn’t have mattered to the Chinese government by that point whether the character was white or Asian, as it was already in another country. So this is a red herring, and it’s insulting that they expect us to buy their explanation. They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces. Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are.”

I do not under any circumstances get to tell him he is wrong or even attempt to invalidate his opinion.

TL;DR?

I am absolutely certain Dr. Strange is a good movie, maybe even great. I won’t know, I cannot give the movie money – nor can I allow someone to pay for a ticket for me.

If you wish to see it, I really hope you enjoy it. Even with movies I hate, if someone loves it I am happy for them. Legitimately so. My opinion and recommendation is just that, mine. I write to share it.

I wrote to share this. I would ask you not to see Dr. Strange, but if you do – enjoy it.

Boycotting a bad movie like Exodus or Gods of Egypt is easy.

Boycotting a good movie is hard.

 

PS.

Suicide Squad made over $700 Million dollars Domestic+World Wide without release in China, and that movie is problematic and divisive as hell amongst fans. I think you could have survived Marvel.