Darke Reviews | Annihilation (2018)

We’ve discussed in other reviews, more than a few, my love for Sci Fi. So when I saw the visually arresting trailer for this film I knew I had to see it. It wasn’t a well maybe, it was a must. First you have Natalie Portman who is always engaging and lights up the screen regardless of role since I first saw her in Leon The Professional. I’ve previously said Oscar Isaac needs to be cast in everything. My statement stands. Then you see directed by Alex Garland, whose screenplay I adored for the 2012 Dredd, 28 Days Later deserves its praise, and of course one of my favourite films this decade Ex Machina. The real question is –

How could this movie possibly go wrong?

The film is based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer with screenplay by Alex Garland, who as mentioned before directs. The story surrounds a team of women scientists who explore an extraterrestrial field that no one else has returned from. Inside they confront bizarre and magnificent mutations of both flora and fauna – all in the search of a two very simple questions. What is happening, and why? The answers of course are hardly simple or we wouldn’t have any drama.

Garland is one of the true auteurs in modern film making, and while he doesn’t have Guillermo Del Toro’s distinctive stylings, or Wes Anderson’s quirk, he definitively has a style. He understands, with Cinematographer Rob Hardy, how to move the camera for the right effect. How to get compelling and still subdued performances from his actors. Working with production designer Mark Digby, who gave us a true MetroCity One in Dredd,  they created a unique world that was both ours and alien at the same time. This movie lives up to its visual hype and is driven forward by those visuals which only get more surreal like watching a series of Salvador Dali paintings come to life.

The actors of course are fine, they couldn’t be anything else really. Portman carries the film on her more than capable shoulders as our lead character Lena. Jennifer Jason Leigh is positively subdued as Dr. Ventress. Swedish actress Tuva Novotny makes a surprising mark as she moves through the film as Cass Sheppard. My favourite Valkyrie, Tessa Thompson, delivers her own unique performance showing a range we didn’t get to see in Thor but is no less fascinating to watch as our physicist Josie Radek. They are all fine. The cast is small. The director is good with small casts. He excels at them. I question some of the character names, as the novels characters didn’t have them, to see if they are other sci fi references, such as Asajj Ventress (Star Wars) and me..I mean Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), but that isn’t a fault at all.

What is though I think, is the message of the movie. Science fiction should make you think. Should make you wonder. Should start conversation. While this film does make me want to talk about it, I am not sure how I feel about it or what to say specifically about it beyond the technical components above. Sure it is one of the most visually compelling sci fi movies in awhile, even Arrival was washed out to be nearly black and white at times; which I picked on then. There is contrast here between the outside world and what’s inside and how colour, light, and life interplay with their surroundings, but visuals cannot be everything. I used the Dali reference above intentionally, as the movie felt like I was watching a series of magnificently crafted paintings for two hours, with an occasional drop of dialogue to remind me this isn’t an art gallery. The movie kind of suffers for this as it’s pacing moves seemingly at a crawl so that you can enjoy and appreciate all that you see. There is a lot to appreciate, with creature and set designs unlike anything I’ve seen and ideas introduced that we have never quite seen like this. Another flaw comes in the sound design in act three. You shouldn’t typically notice how sound is done in a movie like this, but there’s a choice in the final act that ejected me from the moment rather than draw me in.


Annihilation is a solid, technically well crafted film with every dollar spent on production design, sets, and creatures used to the best possible calibre; yet it somehow misses the mark for me.  I am not sure if I didn’t get the message they were trying to sell as this is science fiction – not horror, or they truly failed on delivery.  I really want to like this movie a lot more, but I feel that it trips over its own art and crashes through its delivery leaving me asking questions; but not the ones it wants me to.

Should I see it?

Well…maybe. I think there’s a lot here, but it is a very slow movie that doesn’t really nail the landing.

Would you see it again though?

Maybe at home with some friends this time to talk about it beyond the eye candy that is the design.

So you’re buying it?

The magic 8 ball says, most likely.

Anything else to share on this?

I think I am going to be in the minority on this one. I finished writing my review and broke one of my rules and started skimming other reviews online before publishing my own. I agree it is weird, surreal, again beautiful, but I am missing any exploration of humanity in this or our own world view. If anything I would say it’s a touch nihilistic if the message I did take from it is correct, but in no way did I find it scary even in it’s vast implications throughout.

So again I think I didn’t get what they were selling or others are reading more into this than I saw; which brings me back to the maybe go see it and me watching it again with friends for the discussion vs. a solo run.


Darke Reviews | Black Panther (2018)


Talking to my best friend before the movie I said this would either be the shortest review of the year or the longest. Lets see what it turns out to be. Now before we get into the meat of things, lets go through the usual intro. Over the past nearly 30 years I have watched almost every single comic book movie in theatres. Big deal right? So have a lot of other fan boys and fan girls; but none, not one has had so many people of colour present. Not a single one.

You cannot discuss this movie without discussing the cultural impact that has been building like a train going full steam down a mountain rail. Like a few other of my peers in the review industry I am not going to dig too deep into that – because it is not my place as a white woman to talk about how important this movie is to the people who are getting real representation on screen in such a massive way, unless I am specifically asked to do so. What I am going to say is that there was a young woman next to me, a student at ASU. When the movie ended her hands were flat to her cheeks, her jaw open with tears of joy in her eyes. She turned to me and told me how she has watched every Marvel movie since she was in high school. She watched them all again in preparation for this. She apologized for geeking out a few times, but I encouraged her to share what she was feeling.

“This is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen.” When we were all leaving, she turned to another movie goer and told them this was the best day of her life and she was going to see this three more times with her friends. My friend and I were discussing the movie in the parking lot of the theatre, something we haven’t done in awhile, and about ten minutes later she comes out and she’s so excited. She has so much joy and is sharing it with a friend on the phone. She waves to us with the biggest, brightest, and most honest smile I have seen in a long time.

This is important. This movie is important. Her story and how she feels seeing this is important.

If you want an actual review I will give it of course.

The movie was written by Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story) and Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station). Coogler also directs. The choice of Oakland for an opening scene doesn’t go over my head from the writer and director of AFI’s movie of the year for 2014 Fruitvale Station, a movie that the Grand Jury of sundance deemed winner of the Dramatic category for  “For its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency.” This wasn’t just a one off for him. He showed that on a small tight story he could deliver this impact, now with a big budget Marvel movie he does it again. He doesn’t bother with too much subtext and makes it text. I’m ok with that. If there’s any weakness to the script its some of the dialogue for Michael B. Jordan is a little too on the nose and a little too broadstroke, but in the hands of both Jordan and our director they make it work and still hit home in more ways that one. There’s a magnificent bridge between Act II and III that should not work as well as it does, but is beautiful.

I will simply say every actor is perfect. No one under delivers. No one feels weaker than they should. No one is stupid. No one should be cut. There’s not a wasted or phoned in performance. All of them need mention so here we go:

  • Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Michael B. Jordan – Erik Killmonger
  • Lupita Nyong’o – Nakia
  • Danai Gurira – Okoye
  • Daniel Kaluuya – W’Kabi
  • Letitia Wright – Shuri
  • Winston Duke – M’Baku
  • Angela freakin Bassett – Ramonda

All of them were amazing, however, Danai Gurira (All Eyez On Me, The Walking Dead) and Letitia Wright (Humans, and the upcoming Ready Player One) steal every single scene they are in without question. Bassett is regal as ever and reminding me how much the first X-men movie screwed up not casting her as Storm. Winston Duke is a physical presence in the movie that exuded both his own sense of nobility, power, and even humor. I would talk about our three principle actors, but again – there’s not much more to say other than how impressive they were.

At two hours and fourteen minutes, I cannot for the life of me think what they could cut without some measure of sacrifice. Not a plotline, beat, or moment felt out of place. The downside of this of course is the movie is packed to the gills and from time to time the scene cuts and changes were a bit abrupt. Some of the CG and compositing were a touch on the weak side for me, but at the same time no corners were cut here. The money was thrown at this movie, deservedly so, and every dollar is on screen. The colours, the vibrancy, the music, the sound are all beyond compare.


Wakanda Forever

This movie is up to its hype. It is beautiful, powerful, and meaningful. Everyone should see it. I am buying it. I will see it again without hesitation. You should see it on the big screen with a sound system that shakes you.

This is now in my top 5 Marvel movies, I am debating where still, but it deserves that place. If this doesn’t make my top 5 of 2018 I will be surprised.

Now stop reading and go watch it!


Darke Reviews | Winchester (2018)

Going to skip the usual teaser intro into the review I think. I was undecided on this movie prior, but Helen Mirren is always a good draw. Jason Clarke really hasn’t disappointed me. I have a mild fascination with the Winchester Mystery House and a strong desire to visit. I figured – why not? I want to see more movies in the theatre than last year, write more reviews (I still owe someone a Dungeons and Dragons AND Core review). Still want to write the review for The Shape of Water. Low budget horror is doing really well and I missed *the* film of the year from last (end of) February; Get Out.

Those last two words are what I did. Astute readers who follow me on Facebook may notice I am writing and posting this review faster than I could normally. The movie start time is 7pm. I am writing this review at 8:35 PM. There were 20 minutes (I checked) of trailers.

So in my desire to see more movies this year also comes a promise to myself. I won’t endure a bad movie any longer than I have to, I don’t get paid for this. My site isn’t monetized. Is that fair?

So why is it so bad? I have a list:

  • Jump scares. The movie has nothing but jump scares. I counted 9 in the first 40 minutes. Amounting to nothing.
  • Audio quality. You know how there’s a slight reverb or off pitch sound when you talk to someone through a speaker phone in an office? Every line of Helen Mirrens dialogue had a hint of it. It clearly wasn’t the theatre as no one else did, but her – yep. I can’t say if it was intentional or not. I hope not.
  • Pacing. It was booooring. There was no tension, barely a plot. When there wasn’t a set up for a jump scare there was psuedo intellectual dialogue passing itself off as acting or overhead shots of the house.
  • Camera Work. I should not be able to “see” the camera, I should be following the motion, not waiting for the move or the cut. Everything was set up and telegraphed to the point I could tell you most of what was coming and when. Shots that should be amazing or dramatic fell flat or were cut by a jump scare.
  • Acting. I think it was happening. You could almost see Helen Mirren rehearsing her lines for The Nutcracker and The Four Realms or Anna; maybe she was picturing where the hot tub this paycheck was going to would go in her house. I mean she is fine, but this is what it looks like when she phones it in.


The movie is nothing short of boring and this is a crime. It did nothing with the potential of focusing on a story of Sarah Winchester and her drive for the house, the spirits literal or figurative she was haunted by. The house itself, a documentary is far more interesting than this movie could ever be in its current incarnation. This is surprising with Michael and Peter Spierig at the helm as Daybreakers was amazing, Predestination was interesting, I heard Jigsaw did the franchise well; so this leaves me wondering what happened.

I feel like this is a studio trying to do what Jason Blum and Blumhouse productions have done with movies like Insidious and Sinister, even lifting some of the visual effects from a few years ago, but failing spectacularly.

Should I see it?

No. Just…no. Let it die and it’s spirit be trapped in the house.

Will you buy it?

I would sooner go to the house and have a tour given by a person who amputated their own tongue.

Is it that bad?

I am mostly just agitated at how much a wasted concept exists here. How bland and boring it is. Even The Commuter was more interesting than this.

Any upsides?

I suppose the upside is that the 3.5 million dollar budget paid some folks salaries and might drum up some tourism for the real house?

Ok so what’s next?

Thursday February 15th, Black Panther. One of the most anticipated movies of the year.

Thursday February 23rd Annihilation. One of the movies I am truly excited for because of the director and cast.

Praying for all the March releases, such as Death Wish (not hopeful), Red Sparrow (too irritated we are getting this instead of Black Widow), A Wrinkle in Time (all of the yes), Tomb Raider, Love Simon (it looks adorable), and Pacific Rim 2. Lots coming in March, most of it will set the stage for the rest of the year too.