Darke Reviews – Best and Worst of 2016

I haven’t tried one of these before, I see some people do top 10, top 5, top 7, or top 11. I see some only do Best, some do best and worst. Let’s face it the movie review game is flooded with people who have their own takes and spins – so might as well take my own right?

Now this list is strictly based on movies I have watched as part of a First Run experience in theatres. So things like Goonies don’t count, nor do direct to DVD purchases.

Best of 2016

This was a hard category, because quite honestly out of the 40+ movies I watched this year most were just good or “ok”, others were completely Meh. Only 10 made it into potential ranking for best movies of the year and that has been paired down to the following 6.

  1. Arrival
    When considering overall production value, mental engagement, visuals, the film making, script, and just concept. Arrival for me has to be the best movie of the year. It may not win in the rewatch category, but it just nails it and is one of the best sci-fi movies this decade (which we’re now 70% through). If this doesn’t get at least a nod for the Oscars I am going to be even further disappointed in the Academy.
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
    This almost nailed the number one slot. It so beautiful and heartfelt. To date this is Laika’s best film and is absolutely magical. Watching their behind the scenes production videos should make you even more in awe of what was finally released on screen. I have had the opportunity to share it with people who missed it in theatres that “don’t watch animation” and they loved it. Don’t pass this one up.
  3. Moana
    It’s better than Frozen. Full stop, no argument. It is nearly flawless. Frozen shows signs of its 11th hour edits, Moana does not. Granted Let it Go is still a superior, and intensely personal song, to anything in Moana; but I have to give credit to the Princess ‘I want song’ “How Far I’ll go”. While not as personal to me, it still resonated, as does the rest of the movie. The animation is some of the best Disney has ever done and shows how far they are going and how much more that they can do. It is an incredible tight production with a small cast and very focused and directed story. I am hoping Disney takes notes on this one and continues to give us more like Moana.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPAbx5kgCJo
  4. The Witch
    This one stuck with me. It stuck with me hard. I want to say there are not a lot of good witch movies, which is true, but thats doing a disservice to this to limit it so much. There are not a lot of good period horror movies. I suppose it makes some sense as you can’t shoot as cheaply when doing a period piece, but I would love to see other productions follow the footsteps of this one. It isn’t for everyone, but this is a list of what I loved this year and I truly loved the Witch for all it gave me. It made me feel. It made me think. It made me smile at the end. It’s a good film deserving a good watch.
  5. Deadpool
    Not for kids. Awesome movie that I spent laughing from credit to post credit. I am looking forward to the sequel to see if it they caught lightning in a
    bottle or is there a recipe they figured out to make a successful R Rated movie.
  6. Suicide Squad
    I know this is making a lot of peoples worst of the year lists. I’ve watched it in theatres twice, watched the extended edition for a third time. I have to acknowledge it does have flaws, but the DCEU really needs to pay more attention to David Ayer and less to Zack Snyder. He nailed these characters and there’s a lot of effort behind the scenes to really bring them to life. The actors themselves gave it their all and it shows too. With the recent announcement of Gotham City Sirens as a Harley Quinn spin off film with Ayer at the helm I am excited again for a DC movie. I just hope he lets her have more control over the costume this time.

Worst  of 2016

As I said before the ability to pair this list down to the worst of the worst was difficult with so many potential contenders this year. Some were badly made, others bad concepts, some just outright offensive, and two were so below mediocre I couldn’t even bring myself to write about them.

  1. Divergent: Allegiant / London Has Fallen
    It’s a tie!. You’ll notice there is no link to the reviews. These two movies left me with such amazing apathy at how bad they were by comparison to their predecessors I couldn’t even come up with the energy to write about it. To be fair Gods of Egypt almost made the 6th spot. I maintained my boycott and didn’t pay money to see it, but it was on HBO when I was on a work trip and I did watch. Not only did it deserve the boycott, but it was beyond horrific. I have seen better SyFy movie of the weeks.
  2. Mechanic: Resurrection
    This was just such mediocre garbage that tried to pass itself off as an action movie. I have seen student films that look better.
  3. Independence Day Resuregence
    Sometimes sequels are better. Sometimes they are worse. Sometimes they are not needed. Sometimes we just don’t care. No one wanted it. No one asked for it. Ok well not recently. A lot of us wanted to see more back in 1996. Bigger isn’t better. Scaling up isn’t always the way to go. I guarantee you no one wanted to see more of Brent Spiners butt.  If you watch this you will want your time back and ask yourself why it was made.
  4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
    *sigh*
  5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
    I am once again the contrarian. I am seeing this make some folks top 10 lists, and in one case the number one slot. I am asking myself if we watched the same movie.  It moved up the list over movies that were just badly made because it left me irritated. I have to assume that is not the feeling the filmmakers wanted to evoke.
  6. Inferno
    Yeah. So you are probably wondering how this and the number two slot beat out BvS? Because there are moments of brilliance in BvS. There are moments of good action. There are moments of good characters. Bat-fleck is good. Wonder Woman is flipping amazing. This movie though has no brilliance. It is a paycheck for some people and I have to say they did not earn it.  It is the worst made movie of the year because of the budget, the starpower, and former skill level of those involved in the production. They had all the components and clearly threw them in the trash before cooking with them.

Wait where’s Passengers?

It gets it’s own category!

Most Hated Movie of 2016

Passengers
My hate for this film only grows. It’s not just bad it’s patently offensive to anyone with decency – which is clearly not the director or writer. My biggest disappointment with it? It didn’t bomb harder.

 

That’s it everyone. That’s the year.

Agree/Disagree? Tell me your thoughts here or on Facebook!

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Darke Reviews | Assassins Creed (2016)

Nothing is True.
Everything is Permitted.

Forewarning. I have played through the Ezio Trilogy of the video game twice. Played through AC3 once which was a slog and lost interest during AC4 as I didn’t find the actual plot engaging. That’s right folks, this is a video game turned movie. We all know there are only a handful of exceptions to the rule that these will be horrible.

  • Silent Hill
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Warcraft (it wasn’t horrible!…just not great)
  • Resident Evil (again not horrible. even good)

You can argue Mortal Kombat, but I’ll fight you. It’s fun. It’s actually pretty good for the 90’s. The litany of crimes against video games largely began with Super Mario Bros., but really took off with Uwe Boll rampage through the German tax code and movie industry with beauties like Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, Bloodrayne, and more.

So does Assassin’s Creed break the curse or should it have stayed in the shadows?

Looking behind the curtain as usual, we have the invocation of the three writer rule. Michael Lesslie (Macbeth 2015), Adam Cooper (Exodus Gods and Kings, Allegiant), Bill Collage (Exodus Gods and Kings, Allegiant). Now Allegiant was so bad and droll I didn’t even have the energy to write a review for it. But did they do a bad job here? Actually…mostly no. They went with as an original story as they could tell. You see when adapting a story based game like Assassins Creed, or say Mass Effect, you have to be original. You won’t tell the story that got to the heart of a player that made it their game. You need to make it YOUR story, but in their universe. They succeeded here. It has all the right story elements to tell me this is AC, but their own story for it – mostly.

Where they fail though is continuing to use the Apple of Eden McGuffin. They could have made up their own artifact that Abstergo and the Templars wanted and the Assassins have to protect. Slight spoiler, but if you didn’t figure it out from the trailer – the Assassins are the good guys. The logic fails sadly extend to the characters who shift motivations inexplicably and without sufficient justification. The other, perhaps biggest failure is the contrast between past and present. People play the game to spend 80% of their time in the historical period, the other 20% is dealing with the framework and setup for how it all happens – the Templars & Assassins in the modern age still clawing for supremacy over each other and the lives of the planet. The movie reverses this with more time in the modern period than the past.

Sure in the past they give us beautiful fan service that the players of the games will like (or wince depending on what you thought of the section). You have your carriage chases, leaps of faith, rooftop runs, blades, darts, ropes, all of it. It made me happy to see so much of the game realized in a live action environment, but this excitement was dampened by poor filming and bringing me back to the “real world” in the middle of scenes.

Which leads into the next failure, the directing. Justin Kurzel. Director of the Snowtown Murders and Macbeth (2015 version) shows what I can only judge as having been done in an altered state. He apes styles of three or four other directors, that shouldn’t be combined together. This is where production behind the scenes things lie to us. Knowing that the Leap of Faith was done practically was amazing. The final execution could have been CGI and we may not have noticed due to the intense colour correction, computer enhancements, and outright computer built worlds and lighting. Oh the lighting was so horrific through this. There were a handful of inspired shots that meant little because they were ruined by either a bad cut or bad effect. I mean when 2004’s Nightwatch (really good by the way) has a better pan down on a mass combat than this does twelve years of technology later – we have a problem. The colour correction made me want to join the Brotherhood and off someone.

The acting is…flat. No one is in it. It’s not as bad as M. Night Shaylaman directing flat, but not too far off. That’s a horrible thing to do to Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Jeremy Iron’s doesn’t care anymore and quite frankly neither do we. He’s just fun to watch when he’s allowed to go full Ham on Rye. Sadly he does not here. What impresses me though is how diverse the cast is; while sadly the mains are Caucasian, the rest has some really good diversity and characters that are at least interesting if not under utilized. I really wanted more of Ariane Labed’s character Maria (the awesome female assassin from the trailer) as she was engaging and believable.

Another point in the movies favor is that in all the past life sequences they speak Spanish and Latin. They didn’t shortcut this and I have to give them props here. The costumes were good. The idea on how to visualize the Animus was kinda cool. The city running scenes were what I expected and looked appropriate.

 

TL;DR?

Assassins work in the shadows to protect the light. The movie wasn’t quite ready for the light. It’s not horrific and I was entertained for the better part of the viewing – but it also wasn’t that good either. The directing and camera work were largely poor and the CGI environments were under rendered. It’s surprising to find out this movie cost $125 million to make because I cannot tell you where the money went. Character motivations were all over the place without a good plot reason to support them. The nods to the video game are good and there’s some nice little easter eggs.

It isn’t a crime against the AC Games -it’s actually very true to them –  or movies in general, but it also isn’t worth a theatrical viewing either.

It’s not great, its barely good – but at least it wasn’t BAD.

Should you see it?

Netflix, streaming, rental…yeah if you like the games.

Going to buy it?

Probably…depends how I feel the day it comes out. May wait for discount bin.

So…double feature?

I watched this BEFORE Passengers, so I wouldn’t let my feelings for that garbage interfere with this. It did however make me want to play the game again this weekend.

Anything else?

It’s cute they think they will get a sequel.

Darke Reviews | Passengers (2016)

I like good sci-fi. I think my review of Arrival and The Martian show that. Hell I even like some bad Sci Fi (5th Wave) and Mediocre Sci Fi (Morgan , Transcendence) so long as I am entertained.  Though as 10 Cloverfield Lane found out – if you keep beating me over the head with a specific trope I will be unforgiving. I want to expect more. You as a viewing audience should expect more.

What’s the point I am getting to?

First a warning. I have to violate the No Spoiler Rule here. You can click here to skip to the TL;DR

Spoiler-Warning
spoilers

Still reading?

Ok.

I wish this movie had a face so I could punch it.

The entire contrivance of the movie after the system error that wakes *him* up is that he is the one that wakes her up. Why? Because she’s beautiful. Because he has cyber-stalked her sleeping beauty. Because he thinks she’s perfect and he loves the idea of her. So he wakes her up knowing this will be a death sentence for her as much as the one he is already subjected to. There’s no consent. No permission. No anything, but his man guilt. Him wrestling with the decision for 5 minutes of screen time is enough apparently.

Of course she finds out about the 2/3 mark of the movie, long after they’ve become a thing through their isolation and his charm. He doesn’t even tell her himself, but she finds out by accident. Oh sure he kept saying he was going to tell her, but he never did.

They do allow her to be rightfully angry. Justifiably so, as he has all but murdered her by waking her up nearly 90 years prior to the time she should have been. She goes to lengths to avoid him, but he uses the ship wide communicator to try to make an apology for it so she can’t even actually escape him. Then at least two other sources in the film tell her “…you just have to deal with it and him”; which she finally does and forgives him in a scene that had me clenching my jaw where she after being angry at him was willing to let everyone on the ship die so he could live.

I really hate this movie. I really hate that the producers allowed it.

ITS CREEPY. I don’t care anything else that happens, the premise from the time he woke her up is WRONG.

This is rape culture the movie. “It’s ok because he was alone. We have to think of HIS life. His sanity. Her life and her agency doesn’t matter next to his.”

The movie was written by Jon Spaihts, who also has an executive producer credit which explains why the producers allowed it. He has writing credits on the abysmal bomb The Darkest Hour, Prometheus, and Doctor Strange. He is the writer on the upcoming Mummy movie with Tom Cruise. Oscar nominated director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) was at the helm on this.  Gee, two guys write a space Sleeping Beauty movie where the Prince is a handsome ‘every man’ that of course she’d fall in love with despite you know stalking her and committing one of the universes slowest murders. They use consistent and constant plot contrivances and writing to make it so she does forgive him and they die happily ever after.

When your biggest plot point is similar to parts of Fatal Attraction, Captivity but you are going for actual romance – you failed. I suppose if you want to see Stockholm syndrome the movie this would suffice.

Ok, beyond my rage at that. There are other components to the movie that are a colossal mediocre. I mean if you want to see what life is like trapped in an ever refilling shopping mall you’ve got something to watch here. If you want to watch your typical just in the nick of time save the ship from disaster with no actual tension or risk because you know they won’t kill your lead actor as they spent the previous 80% of the movie man-splaining him for you. Also – the heroic save – doesn’t redeem the bad act. Sorry it doesn’t.

What really kills me is the opening was good. His waking up and handling it was good. How he tried to deal with things was good. Then the bridge between Act I and Act II comes along and poof. Rage. I mean would you REALLY root for Tom Hanks in Castaway if he had intentionally pulled someone from a peaceful happy life and potential just so he wouldn’t be alone? If you said yes – I am a little worried.

*sigh* I really could keep going. I really *SHOULD* keep going, but if you don’t have the idea by now I am not sure what else I could say.

Actors? Pratt and Lawrence are fine. This should surprise no one. She has three Oscar nominations and a win. She can act circles around people. Chris Pratt is charming as ever and we know he can bring intensity when he wants to thanks to Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World,  and Guardians of the Galaxy. They are FINE. She handles the bits of rage and avoidance as well as anyone can, probably better.

Effects? Solid. Nothing to write home about. Nothing particularly new. Definitely very clean and top of the line don’t get me wrong but there was nothing we haven’t seen before.

 

Spoiler-Warning

spoilers

Technically the spoilers are above this, but I am hiding them above the fold with the image…

TL;DR

Do not see this movie. I spent money on it so I could confirm the stories I had heard. They aren’t too far off the mark.

I spent money so I can ask you not to.

If you want to watch a better movie about people waking up from hibernation? Pandorum. It’s good sci-fi horror. That’s what this should have been. If you want a decent stalking movie – there’s always Fatal Attraction. I heard The Resident was pretty good too.

Seriously readers – don’t give this money. Don’t let Hollywood think this is alright. Let it bomb for the controversy it rightfully deserves.

I understand some folks will see this because they just love Pratt. I get it. He’s cute. He’s charming. Just spend the $20 (Ticket+Concessions) to buy Jurassic World or Magnificent Seven. If you like Jennifer Lawrence and want to see her vamping it up, there’s American Hustle.

Just don’t see this.

Please.

Thank you.

~The Management of Amused in the Dark

Darke Reviews | Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

If you remember my Force Awakens review I made it clear how good that one was. What I did not do was share my fan-girl credentials, which in this day and age may get me doxxed or called a fake geek girl. Suffice to say there was no one in my high school back in the early 90’s who could keep up with me on the Star Wars lore. I admit I am nowhere near the obsessive with it I was then, but Star Wars The Old Republic is kindling that flame again. I have felt the hype for this one since the first trailer when I heard Felicity Jones go “This is a Rebellion isn’t it? I rebel.”

So lets cut to it…does the movie live up to the hype?

Directed by Gareth Edwards, who I have raved on before with Monsters and Godzilla, does well with the small character moments and specific scenes. The reshoots, despite what others may say, however are painfully obvious. I can see where the studio and Tony Gilroy came in. I can see the asks, and honestly so can you. Just watch the trailers after seeing the movie. Edwards clearly had a vision for the movie and the studio disagreed, now he has said in a recent interview the “real” reason for the reshoots and what they solved for – but I am not entirely sold on that. While I am certain some pick up shots and additional reshoots may have been necessary; what we have as a final product shows the signs of having come undone at the seams and being restitched to use Riz Ahmeds analogy. The stitches are evident in many places and what I sadly cannot judge is  – were they fully needed.

The reason I say that is there are so many tonal changes in the film, the characters, and plot, – even the look sometimes that you can tell there is something wrong. Maybe it is me having seen so many movies, maybe it is just having my expectations too high. But the joint directing and production of this has created a series of irreconcilable flaws and issues with the film. There are times that they show rather than tell – which adds run time and an unnecessary scene that SHOULD be cut. Ironic as I have been vetching about bad editing all year.

Ok so directing and editing have flaws, but what of the script? The movie wraps with 4 total writers between story and screenplay. Tony Gilroy (Bourne 1, 2, 3, and 4) was brought into direct during reshoots and also has a screenplay credit which means he also got scripting edits in too. Knowing he is also behind the lackluster Bourne Legacy makes me wonder why he was selected to be brought in to help. Chris Weitz (Cinderella, Golden Compass) also has a screenplay credit and I sort of eviscerated him on Cinderella’s review too. This adds to my confusion and maybe if I had looked for this before going in I may have tempered my expectations. The story credit (so this is the original writers) goes to John Knoll who was a visual effects supervisor on A New Hope and Return of the Jedi amongst many other really good movies; yet this is the first writing gig. With him is Gary Whitta, who was  writer on the terrifically bad After Earth, but also 2 episodes of Star Wars Rebels.

At this point with these pedigrees – I am surprised the movie is as good as it is. I wish I could see the original script. I wish I could see the original cut. There’s so much good here and unexplored potential. So much that I can see the hints of something better than the final product. I mean the story has a foregone conclusion to it so nothing should come as a surprise, except the fate of our characters. Which we have to be introduced to and care about in the space of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Thankfully – we do.

This is where the movie shines. The actors. Damn if they don’t have charisma and chemistry. Ok sure their performances are bordering on manic at times, but that isn’t their fault. That’s direction and story. Felicity Jones (Inferno, Theory of Everything) is more than capable of carrying the film. She’s remarkable, strong, vulnerable and everything I wanted. Diego Luna (Vampires Los Muertos, Milk, Elysium) does rather well with the complexity of his own character and pairs well with Jones like a fine meal. Alan Tudyk is a gift and a treasure. That is all you need know. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are fantastic and add to the story even if you will have trouble remembering their characters names. Ben Mendelsohn, has an unenviable task of trying to be the films bad guy. He has the shoes of Vader, Palpatine, and Ren to fill. He does his best, but lacks the weight of even Ren. I almost wish him and Mads Mikkelsen had switched their roles as Mads has that kind of weight. This isn’t to say he doesn’t give his best effort because he does. It just lacked something – but perhaps that is also the reshoots?

Technicals – ok 94% of the movie is flawless visually. There are literally hundreds of scenes of practical meets digital effects that are only improved. Musically it’s very good. They did a truly remarkable job making me feel like this was before Episode IV. What about the other 6%? Two words Uncanny Valley. You did something. You did it very very well – but it’s not perfect. That lack of perfection is jarring to my eyes and those of the person watching it with me. Two more years of technology advancement and I wouldn’t even notice. I would know but not notice and that is saying something.

TL;DR?

The movie is good. The review above puts it through the meat grinder – because it could have been so much better. So. Much. Better. This is my expectations along with some very critical and painful editing choices. Not just the reshoots – which I have to admit may have improved the movie and I don’t know. That said; they may have also damaged it. I really can’t tell unless I could compare.

I know I am going to be in a minority on this one, but the movie is just a solid Good. It is deeply flawed and I don’t have to squint to see the flaws. This saddens and even angers me a bit. It should take more effort to tear this apart and it takes almost none. There’s good to defend, but it’s hard to overlook and defend the flaws.

The actors salvage this. Many of the visual effects shots are so gorgeous they fall easily into the category of best I’ve seen. That is why there’s anger. Because I can see where you did so bloody well. I just wish you had stuck the landing Disney.

Should you see it?

I still say yes – but temper your expectations.

What about 3-D?

Maybe. I can see where shots like the modified AT-AT’s walking out of the mist would be amazing in 3-D.

Will you buy it?

Yes.

Are you seeing it again?

Yes and I am hoping I am more forgiving to enjoy all of it a bit more.

Last words?

Sorry folks. I wish I could tell you this was as amazing as I thought Force Awakens was. It’s good, but it should and could have been better. It deserved to be better.