Darke Reviews | Justice League (2017)

This is probably one of the most anticipated or dreaded reviews this year.

*sigh*

*heavy sigh*

Can I just re-watch Justice League (the animated series) and review that instead? I suppose not; since that would just repeatedly talk about how even it’s weakest attempt is greater than many TV shows and movies best attempts. Justice League Unlimited – I mean it had some weaker episodes, but even then most of their episodes are still better than most TV we get – and their greatest episodes just down right heart breaking and or epic. If you look at my reviews for the prior DCEU films, you will see I raved on Man of Steel at the time – I blame the initial hype; but I still believe we need a world where we can look up in the sky and see a Superman. We need that sort of hope these days, it is in short supply. Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice. Even the extended cut, which I have watched the add-ons from don’t help enough. I still will defend Suicide Squad, even if its editing is nothing short of a train wrecking into a train wreck with a cruise ship. Wonder Woman is near perfect (for the DCEU). Don’t you speak ill of her or it – I will fight you.

So where does that leave us? Justice League. Right right.

Is Justice League the final nail in the coffin for the DC Extended Universe?

I am going to structure the review from here on out a bit different than usual so bear with me while I try this out.

Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio (Justice League, Argo), Joss Whedon.

Whedon ends up getting a credit due to the reshoots, with him as a director. I will absolutely not allow anyone to bash Snyder for stepping away from the project when he did and for the reasons he did. I will absolutely bash Snyder for the work he did leading up to it. The script is a mess. The story is convoluted and ultimately as hollow as the rest with of course earth shattering stakes that will have no lasting impact, no risk, and no one you actually care about. The add on scenes for Themiscyra are just short of offal; which is to say it shouldn’t have been used, but if it had been done by a better cook it wouldn’t have been awful. It does bother to slow down and give a few character moments but they seem so out of place against the others that if they were part of the original script and shooting it makes the movie worse. If they weren’t it adds a redeeming quality, but they don’t fit tonally or even in how they were shot and coloured. Snyders vision still sucks and there were small overtures to move from that in how the story played out, but not enough to salvage this.

Actors: All of them I think. Breaking it down by main characters shall we?

Affleck is still a good Batman and Bruce Wayne and while they lift some scenes from Justice League the animated he works. He is also given some ridiculous dialogue to have to work through and some repeats that make him look like the worlds greatest idiot than detective but I don’t blame Affleck as much as the aforementioned script. I honestly hope he comes around on the stand alone film he can do it.

Gal Gadot is perfect. She also plays Wonder Woman really well. The problems with this Wonder Woman vs. the standalone come down to cinematography. Could you not put her in skin tight pants and stiletto heels? In one scene I thought it was Catwoman or her character from the 5th Fast and Furious movie not Wonder Woman. She is an (beyond) attractive woman, yes, but we don’t need almost every single intro and outro for her being a butt or legs shot. She has a face – focus the camera there ok? Thanks.

Henry Cavill. This isn’t a spoiler folks – he’s in the bloody trailers as Clark. *sigh* There’s going to be a day where you get to have fun. I saw part of it here. Part, and it’s enough for me to want to see you finally get to play Superman. Well done sir for trying to rise above the limitations and be charming.

Ezra Miller as the Flash. He isn’t Grant Gustin, which we covered why not in the BvS review. The idea that Gustin wouldn’t fit is odd with what they did give us for him. I *think* they were trying to get him to play someone who wasn’t neurotypical, on the spectrum somewhere, but I can’t be 100% sure. He is very ok as a young, just starting out Flash. They use him for the comedic beats well enough, but I am a harsher judge there. I didn’t hate his performance by a long shot, but it didn’t blow my skirt up. I don’t think they knew how to use him as a character well, which isn’t on Miller at all it just didn’t give him enough to work with beyond the comedic expression.

Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Yes ladies, he is very pretty. The character I saw was Jason Mamoa playing Aquaman, not Aquaman. He came across as a half drunk biker with aquatic capabilities. Even the one scene with Mera (Amber Heard) shows him more as a rogue than a ruler. I am pretty sure I know what they were going for by the very bad dialogue they gave Heard, but its so rushed its hard to tell. This was more similar to his performance in the really bad werewolf movie “Wolves” than it was an Aquaman. Is it him or is it the script and directing. I am not sure, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for a great Aquaman stand alone film based on this.

Ray Fisher as Cyborg is literally a deus ex machina. Again he tries but the script and directing here is like a black hole swallowing anything greater than itself; and I feel bad for Fisher. He is just fine, but the overly computer look for the costume just looks wrong. I want to shake Weta Digital who actually seems to be regressing and point them at Robocop, which came out almost 30 years ago and looked better as a half man half machine. You can do Cyborg with practical then enhance with digital. The all digital did not work. If there was practical at all it was lost, like Fishers performance in distractingly bad graphics.

Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf, well his voice. The voice is fine. Absolutely nothing else works here. The look is awful, the dialogue is worse by a hair. Just no. Honestly, as I think about it, they may have reused the skeleton from Incubus and El Diablo from Suicide Squad for the underlying animations for him – this is not a compliment. It looks recycled and honestly bad.

Technicals: Graphics – Weta Digital, Rodeo FX, Double Negative, Scanline VFX.  Music – Danny Elfman

The good – Danny Elfman. Mr. Elfman, I have found you haven’t grown in your work in some time, but here you did as well as anyone possibly could. But there’s one piece of magic you wove into this that lifted my spirits. Hearing the chords of the original Batman and Superman themes, even for a few bars was enough for this geek girl. Thank you.

The bad – The graphics. Just…no. No. No.

                                        My face during most of this movie.

I totally appreciate the amount of time, skill, and effort that go into animating a single frame. I totally appreciate that it is *not* an easy art form; but when it was the end of the day, when it was closing in on the end of the project did anyone look at the final product and go “can we have another week? Please?”. If I know my artist friends well enough – they did. They were told no, or were given unrealistic deadlines to complete the work. Perfect is the enemy of good enough but I would ask the executives at Warner Bros to please consult the following ven diagram. This is presented in the form of a chart to ensure you understand. Please refer to this on your future projects as I can tell it will help.

 

Here is a small list of what is wrong: Physics fails, even by superhero standards. Corn. Lighting during reshoots. Steppenwolf. Fight scenes that looked better before you lifted them from an Injustice video game.

Here is a sample list of what works: Aquaman standing as a massive wave hits him. Mera. Wonder Woman’s speed, though guys she isn’t the Flash.

Final technical and the worst sin: I condemn the costumer for the Amazons to walk through a shoulder high briar patch for all eternity in the costume they designed. You are the worst. The absolute worst.

(Left) Amazons as designed by a woman and someone with sense. (Right) Sense and the woman have left the building.

TL:DR?

No force in the vast heavens or all the realms could have saved this movie. The majority of it was shot and “in the can” as they say before Wonder Woman came out and DC and WB learned what works. The reshoots may have helped some on the final project and I think they did, but nothing could save the overall project. This movie was a ship that had caught sign of the Flying Dutchman and was doomed.

But….

It had some moments which were good. Not enough overall, but some.  It *was* good to see the Justice League fighting as a team. It was good to see more Diana Bruce chemistry.  There were a few more good parts as well and based on the reshoots and Wonder Woman – maybe…maybe the next one can be better.

Should you see it?

*sigh* I think you plan to anyway. Look a lot of people are enjoying it. If it’s your cup of tea I think you will get your moneys worth. If you have hated all the DCEU outings, except Wonder Woman – don’t. Just don’t. It can wait til disc or digital.

Will you buy it?

I am undecided. I am trying not to hate on it because its trendy.

Oh?

Look, the DCEU is one of the easiest cinematic punching bags there is. They’ve made it easy to hate for purists, movie goers, reviewers, and critics. Much if not most of it is deserved. But when I hear the young teenage boys and girls laughing and cheering like I did back in 1989 with Batman, which objectively is pretty bad 30 years later, how bad is this one exactly? We live in a society that is clinging to our childhoods and geek culture because its one of the few safety nets we have in a world that is largely devoid of hope or joy for far too many people. I am very OK with that (and part of it), but if we want to cling to those old fantasies, let’s consume our media as if we had as well.

This is why I still think the DCEU and Zack Snyder still have much to answer for, but finally, finally they are moving the right direction. It’s taken too long, too much money, and too much fan goodwill, but finally they are showing the faintest glimmers of getting it.

I am just afraid they (WB) will throw the baby out with the bathwater and not keep trying to get better and relax to what hasn’t worked yet.

This turned into a very long review, but ultimately it comes down to this:

If you think this looked like a good time from the trailers. Go see Justice League.

If you are expecting enough wreckage to sink a continent – give it a pass and let others enjoy it for what they can.

Also, this review is officially 2000 words, making it one of my longest.

 

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Darke Reviews | Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

This is one of the rare reviews in which I have read the book, but I think I was like twelve at the time. I also saw the 1974 movie with a cast of the time to rival this one: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, and Richard Widmark. Yes, I saw it on network tv as a little girl, pretty sure I also saw Ten Little Indians as well (or And There Were None if you are purist). I didn’t read much else of hers beyond the two, though I did get my share of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as well (preferred Nancy tbh). I remember seeing the trailer for this remake and asked myself “who asked for this?” and “Doesn’t everyone know this story?”. Apparently someone did ask, and as I found out tonight not everyone knows the story. Learn something new every day.

Is this a mystery with uncovering though?

The screenplay by Michael Green is of course based on Ms. Christie’s original story from 1934; which is generally considered a seminal work of mystery fiction. You don’t even have to be a fan of Agatha Christie to acknowledge that her stories are some of the most influential structures to the murder mystery genre we know today. Her work has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and re-imagined dozens of times over the last century. Her work is so important to this genre that the 1976 parody Murder by Death (a must see by the way – even if Peter Sellers caricature is problematic) includes send ups of two of her characters.  Green himself is a mystery to me, as one of the many writers on Green Lantern and Alien Covenant – he also has this, Logan, and Blade Runner 2049. Sure there’s hit and miss, but I feel like he’s shooting at a dart board blind folded for the hits to be so strong and the misses to be so abysmal. In this case he had a master to work with on the source material and an expert director, yet at the same time the dialogue was sharp, witty, and clean in such a way that it made several of the characters truly engaging beyond their role in the film. This is a mystery for me to solve, but when you have Agatha Christie to work from – it’s difficult to fail.

Ok the original writer helps, but then you add the director Kenneth Branagh. The man is a talented director and a true master of his craft. He too has hits and misses, but with few exceptions even his misses are better than much of what Hollywood puts out from it’s “best”.  He works at his “best” when dealing with period pieces and this is no exception. Every performance from the talented cast is absolute in its precision. The execution of beats, pacing, costume, colour, sound and blocking are exceptional – even if a few of them are a little derivative and on the nose for the shot. It still takes an expert to frame a shot that is derivative and make it work in a way that you don’t care. What impressed me most was the control of the camera with frequent Branagh collaborator Haris Zamarloukos – who was the director of photography. I absolutely adored the movement of the camera and how they made three cars of a train feel expansive and moved the camera around, through, and over them. There’s one tracking shot during the middle of the first act I didn’t even realize it WAS a tracking shot until it was half over because of how clean the camera moved through the scene. While I am sure there’s edits and I would need to watch the scene again to catch them, it looks like a single take at a massive scale that few save Speilberg can pull off.

From an acting stand point – what do you think happens when you put Daisy Ridley (Star Wars – Rey), Leslie Odom Jr. (CSI Miami), Penelope Cruz (Blow, Vanilla Sky), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, The Kings Speech, The Secret of NIMH’s Nicodemus), Michelle Pfieffer (Scarface, Batman Returns), Willem friggin Dafoe (Boondock Saints, Platoon), and the amazing Dame Judi Dench (Casinoe Royale, Shakespeare in Love) in a single film? Ok Branagh playing the part of Hercule Poirot is a bit of self insert fan fiction, but if you had a chance to play one of the worlds greatest detectives and COULD do it justice -wouldn’t you? I didn’t mention Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast),  who needs to move from comedy and get into drama. He is one of those actors who has the timing, presence, and gravitas to move between the styles of film and succeed remarkably well. The other standout is Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons, Jekyll & Hyde) as Bouc, director of the Orient Express. His intro is nothing short of entertaining and I think I could watch a movie about just him and Poirot and be happy.

The movie is near technically perfect as I mentioned before. Near though, not perfect. The green screen for Istanbul isn’t quite right and noticeable for someone like me. The computer rendered train on wide shots as she moves into the snow covered alps again just isn’t quite right. It’s gorgeous, but not right. It isn’t uncanny valley where I am unnerved by the perfection of it, so much as I think another rendering pass would have solved it on the light diffusion and textures of the train. That’s it though, those are my only complaints.  For purists I know the mustache is an issue, but since I am not one – it wasn’t one for me.

TL;DR?

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most expertly made films I have seen this year. I was entertained as a film goer and amazed as a film reviewer. It is near technically perfect with only a few nitpicks and probably a few others I could point out if I really wanted to dig. This movie has an uphill climb against the juggernaut that is Thor and the upcoming disappointment Justice League, which will still make more money than it deserves; yet it deserves recognition and an audience.

Sadly, I don’t think it will find it. Everything about it is solid, but it’s really banking on the actors names as much as anything to get people into the theatre and it still must compete with the raw popularity and “enjoyment” value of Thor Ragnarok. This is a murder mystery, its here to make you think. It’s a period piece; which is to let you embrace the costuming, acting, and other components that come with that. I truly hope people go out to see this movie and hope this review convinces people on the fence to see it.

Should you see it?

Yes. Full stop. Yes. It’s a really good movie with a good story and great production values.

Would you watch it again?

I knew the ending going in from seeing a previous version and I still saw it. I would absolutely see it again if someone wants to take me.

I deduce that you are are buying it then.

You would be correct in your logic.

Ragging on Justice League before it comes out – really isn’t that unfair?

Not in the least. DC and Warner Bros have only gotten one absolutely right, and one absolutely enjoyable (for me). This was scripted, filmed, and in the can before they could adjust based on lessons learned. It *looks* bad. Even the Joss Whedon reshoots can only do so much with the framework already there. Most people I’ve talked to are going to see Wonder Woman and drool over Aquaman. The rest is irrelevant. The movie could surprise me, but I doubt it.

I will probably tell you to see this instead.

Darke Reviews | Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

There are now officially seventeen movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They come in varying quality, public, and critical opinions. I have seen all of them at this point, including Doctor Strange when it came to Netflix. My issues with the movie stand. As it pertains to the rest of the series, I do find my opinions differ than many, many others, as I rather like Iron Man 2 and loathe Iron Man 3. I think the rationale for Doctor Strange as mentioned before is B.S. and even after watching it I found it even more so. I think Thor is solid, but slow, but solid and shows that Marvel was still finding its footing on the MCU. Thor 2 is completely and totally forgettable.

So where does Thor: Ragnarok rate?

It was quickly noted how much they (Marvel) was going for a Guardians of the Galaxy feel on this one. My criticisms of Thor being slow and Dark World being bleak AND slow were common; which lead to a complete and total 180 on film styles. I am going to refer to this going forward on all reviews as the Suicide Squad Effect (SSE). Why? Due to the initial grey and bleak promo for Suicide Squad, DC went back and re edited the movie, re-shot, and recoloured it to make it more vibrant and “fun”. It became even brighter and more colourful with each trailer that came with. With the unprecedented success of Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s style it was clear that Marvel decided to go in this new direction full bore with the third and ostensibly final in that particular franchise. This goes as far as bringing in director Taika Waititi best known for Flight of the Conchors and the new cult classic What We Do in the Shadows (he also plays Viago in that) – which I somehow haven’t done an official review of?

Going to a full on comedy director like this isn’t unheard of for Marvel but the brand of humor is an interesting choice, more on that in a minute since what he has to work with is based on script. A script by Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle, who have mostly done writing for Marvel cartoons and comics; though Yost was also behind last years bomb Max Steel. They both get points for creating X-23 though, but much of this work for non written media production is around cartoons, especially for younger children. Eric Pearson is our third writer, that’s right rule of 3 invocation has begun, who has only written some of the Marvel one shots, such as The Consultant, and Agent Carter. He was also an executive Story Editor on the Agent Carter series. What I take from this is that Disney and Marvel were running a gamble that newer writers with less experience on blockbuster movies might be a good idea. People who have written for their target demographic will be able to help sell a Thor movie, which has proven a challenge historically.

I’d like to say it worked.

It didn’t for me. There was just too much…of everything; yet at the same time some plot holes you could fly a Death Star through. The movie jumps across too many locations and shots so quickly very little of it has time to sink in and let it resonate. Some obvious green screen effects which differ from trailer shots don’t help. An early sequence extends what was previously a post credit stinger and just goes too long and has far too much near slapstick comedy to work for me. I am not saying the movie can’t be funny. I am saying you need to balance your moments and the movie doesn’t do that. The script doesn’t allow for it and Waititi’s direction during those moments save some of it, but make others worse. If you underplay your epic moments they cease being epic. Sure you can satirize them, but is that wise to use the humor as punctuation marks through the movie called Ragnarok? A movie where Thor loses his hammer? Is Prisoner? Is facing the Goddess of Death?

This isn’t to say it’s all humor all the time, but it never allows for any emotional resonance to take place that isn’t around the humor. There are some epic moments which are still well and truly epic, but surrounding clunky dialogue and odd beats can cheapen them. There are, again, some really great shots and moments but most of them are cheapened by a weird or off putting joke or bit of dialogue.

The acting though saves it. Chris Hemsworth has good comedic timing and does his best to let the more intense moments last a bit longer or be a bit bigger than the camera and script allow. He’s showing a Thor who actually has been through all the other movies and learned a thing or two which is nice. Tom Hiddleston is as always amazing, then there’s his performance as Loki. He…doesn’t work as well as he could. He works, but this isn’t the Loki we got to know through the other movies and I am not sure why. Hiddleston is as good as he can possibly can be with the shackles, but there’s only so much the man can do. Jeff Goldblum played Jeff Goldblum as you would expect and was fine. Idris Elba was fine as Heimdall. There are some amusing hidden cameo’s which are fine. Karl Urban is like the others and does what he can and is fine. Most of the actors are just fine.

I haven’t mentioned Cate Blanchett? No. I Haven’t because she is more than fine. She comes out in full force and not even this script can stop her. Her take on Hela (not Hel to be clear) is amazing and menacing. She does carry some weight even if the fight scenes with her don’t. She is bloody awesome, but you know what’s odd – there’s someone I like more, but only a little more. Tessa Thomspon (Westworld, Creed) is Valkyrie and we are here for it. She is an absolute scene stealer at all times. All times. She’s bad ass from her entry to the credits rolling and looks good while doing it. Her dialogue is only slightly less cringey than others but again she makes it work like Blanchett does. All points to the women in this movie.

You probably want to know about the action and fight scenes? Yes. They are good. They are shot pretty good too with a mix of wides and mids to let you see what the action even looks like. It really works for the movie. The Hulk vs Thor scene is worth it. The fight on the Rainbow bridge is excellent (see above for Valkyrie entrance on this). The action is really solid in the movie when it happens; but at 2 hours and 10 minutes the movie runs a bit longer than it needs to. There are other technicals I could harp on but they mostly go back to script, editing, and what can only be some significant material on the cutting room floor.

TL:DR?

Everyone and their mother will be talking about how fun Thor is. How awesome it is. How it is one of the better MCU movies.

I think it’s OK. I found myself annoyed at the overt comedy, distracting beats, and odd pacing. It is certainly not the worst of the MCU by a long shot. I know comedy and I don’t typically get along well so your mileage may vary on this one. The action is solid. The acting is the best it can be from the actors with the script they have. The effects are pretty solid as well as is the camera work. The movie just suffers on a genetic level with it’s tone because it leans too far to the comedy to carry any weight to the moments that should.

Should you see it?

Matinee. I mean I know a lot will pay full price, but I wouldn’t. I am not sure if 3-D will help on the visuals. I know that D-Box was kinda interesting for it.

Are you going to see it agai – wait D Box?

First – no. Not likely. Second – most theatres are going through and adding reclining seats to their houses in light of how well that is taking off and to compete with chains that have seating like that plus alcohol and such. They also have a “4 D” experience as well with chairs that recline and such, but also move and jostle and vibrate with the action. You saw this in limited scope in shows like T-2 3D at Universal Studios 20 years ago, it’s advanced enough to get into main chains and try out. It’s been interesting so far, but between this and Geostorm I don’t have a lot to judge on. If you do get motion sick – no.

Ok cool – will you buy it?

Probably if I am being honest. I think the movie is Ok. It was fun mostly. Valkyrie and Hela make it work. Some of the third act effects and fights are really nice.

You know we have to ask – whats the MCU order right now?

This comes with a caveat – Dr. Strange is at the bottom due to justifiable (in my opinion) boycott and is based solely on what I think of them as movies. Still not 100% on the middle of the list, but I am pretty sure on my top 5. The list has changed with time since some of the reviews have come out and I had time to think on them as well. I was once far kinder to movies than I am today. I am not sure if the movies are worse or I’ve come to expect more. Maybe both? Probably just me though.

A lot of the reviews linked. I would rewrite now, but they are what they are.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. Marvel’s The Avengers
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Iron Man
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Captain America: Civil War
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Thor: Ragnarok
  11. Thor
  12. The Incredible Hulk
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Ant-Man
  15. Thor: The Dark World
  16. Iron Man 3
  17. Doctor Strange