Darke Reviews | Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

The romantic comedy genre is most certainly not my bag. Largely due to the comedic part of it relying on embarrassment, odd and inconvenient situations, lying, and/or lack of communication. Romance though? Love it. It’s almost heartbreaking how much I love it. Age of Adeline, Practical Magic, Ever After, While You Were Sleeping, Carmilla, Bram Stokers Dracula, Interview with the Vampire *sigh* such beautiful romances. So when one dear friend saw the initial trailer and wanted to see this, and my recent movie going partner also wanted to see this…and let’s be fair I wanted to see this we went tonight to a theatre whose Air Conditioning was broken and watched a movie. I was uncomfortable the entire time.

Were we crazy to stay? 

Yeah ok the question was a bit forced, bite me. As usual I have not read Kevin Kwans original book and likely never will; so per the norm there won’t be any comparison to the source material. I can say that the adaptation by first time movie writer Adele Lim and Now You See Me 2′s Peter Chiarelli did something I am not used to. They put the characters first.  You just don’t see that in big budget, western studio productions. The comedy and situational humor and fish out of water jokes always drive the plot around a pretty basic story with characters that are as thin as wet cotton candy. Almost none of that is present here. The people are allowed to be people first and foremost and thats what we get to know before the true ridiculousness of the wealth of the characters becomes the backdrop for the events. They feel like actual people living extraordinary lives; but are done so in a such a way that the absurdity of the wealth is nothing more than set dressing to the real interactions and conversations that happen.

Much of that credit has to go to director Jon M. Chu. Yes, this is the guy who started with Step Up 2: The Streets (best of the series imo), moved on to Justin Beiber videos, GI Joe Retaliation, and then the cinematic dumpster fire that was Jem and the Holograms. Now that I have seen this, I would truly have loved to see what he could do with Jem had someone cared to give it a script or a budget. In this film though he draws out fantastic performances from his actors and has some of the best framing I’ve seen in a movie like this. You really don’t get the level of detail and precision in the camera work with your average American film in this genre. It just doesn’t happen, yet here it did and the movie shines from opening to credits because of it.

Having a power house cast doesn’t hurt. No offense to the mains (at all), but Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Star Trek Discovery) is a powerhouse. Without a single doubt she is the best actor in the film and does so much with the slightest facial expression. Every movement is a telegraph, every look is a short story of what is going on in her characters head and everyone knows it. She doesn’t have to say a lot, but when she does say anything you can’t help but listen. All that said, credit must absolutely be given to Constance Wu, playing Rachel Chu, in her first wide release movie appearance. She is beautiful, she is charming, she is strong, and the movie lets her be all these things without ever demeaning her character once. She delivers a fantastically balanced performance that I can’t say is as nuanced as Yeoh’s but is more complex than you would expect from an actress in the lead role of a “Rom Com”. Our lead actor, Henry Golding, playing Nick Young, has his *first* movie appearance with this movie. Truth be told he is one of the weaker performances, but that’s also like saying his character is moderately wealthy. He is everything he needs to be and more. There is just so much earnestness to his character and the chemistry between Golding and Wu is a make or break driving force of the movie. I am happy to report, its definitely make.

The supporting cast on the film is immense, Oceans Eight actor Awkwafina plays Rachel’s best friend Peik Lin Goh, and every time I thought she would get annoying it was reigned in by the actress, the camera, or the moment and it worked. The rest of the cast are some of the most beautiful people I have had the pleasure to lay my eyes on during a movie and while their characters or performances may not be as impactful as the main trio they deserve to be named from Gemma Chan as Astrid who has the C plotline in the movie and while it shouldn’t work does so very very well. Chris Pang (Tomorrow when the War Began) plays Nick’s friend Colin, the groom to be that brought everyone to Singapore; while his fiancee Araminta is played by Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina, La La Land). They are both so immediately endearing and ‘real’ feeling you become invested in them and their relationship and everything around them – which is the rest of the movie.

On the technical front I’ve already praised the camera work and deservedly so, but the costuming! The Wedding dress and wedding for Colin and Araminta is hands down one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Period. Also while still overall a tightly shot film, they really let the modern Singapore shine in this movie. It is treated as well as any major city and while I know there are parts that aren’t so shiny it is magnificent to see a major city we just don’t get to see as a centerpiece for a film

TL:DR

I like this movie. A lot. I am short cutting the questions, yes I  would see it again and I do plan to buy it. It was a terribly sweet, positively endearing and earnest movie. It doesn’t in my mind deserve to be called a Romantic Comedy. It has funny moments in it sure, but it’s more akin to Pretty Woman in that respect where there is humor, but the romance and the relationships are the driving force.

This movie is pure. It is good.

Go see it

 

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Darke Reviews | The Meg (2018)

We bring ourselves here to talk about the August dump slot and how nearly every summer there’s one movie people are anticipating in this place that the studio has no faith in. From it’s first over the top trailer The Meg became that movie this year, with dozens of online reviewers and youtube channels eagerly anticipating a tongue in cheek monster movie. I remember first hearing of this movie back in 2005, when this concept art was released.

Image result for The Meg surfer

Now granted we saw this image in the recent Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s not an original concept idea to see a giant thing eating a puny human and well it is frakkin’ awesome to see. Disney actually was the first studio to option this for production back in the late 90’s – so thats a bullet dodged there. 90’s tech for this would have made an awful movie. In 2005 New Line Cinema took a stab at thee, but cancelled due to budget concerns before it got too far. In 2015 Eli Roth and Warner Bros decided to take a shot at the shark; and the movie was mostly filmed between October of 2016 and January of 2017. A Year and a half later – it’s finally on the screen.

This ladies, gentlemen, and other night stalkers is what we call Development Hell. 

The question is does the movie live up to a decade old piece of concept art or should it have stayed below the surface?

The movie is now directed by Jon Turteltaub, the guy who gave us 3 Ninja’s, National Treasure, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Clearly he is the right man to direct a giant monster movie with this pedigree. He of course needs a script to direct and that is brought by my Three Writer Rule. Sure it’s based on the novel by Steve Alten, but then this most current incarnation was given the screenplay treatment by Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris. This…this is an interesting mix of talent. Dean’s experience includes The Manchurian Candidate (2004 remake), Paycheck (2003 Ben Affleck film), and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). He hasn’t worked much on the movie script front since then. The Hoebers though, gave me the 2009 movie Whiteout, 2010’s action comedy great RED; and then something went wrong and they wrote Battleship and Red 2. Something went very wrong.

Somehow through this listing of B, C, and G (Battleship doesn’t earn an F) movies we get The Meg.

It works.

Surprising isn’t it? I mean you expect a kinda Good Bad movie when you see this one and hear its concept, but you instead just get a good movie. The first act is surprisingly tense and treats the audience with a degree of respect and intelligence and doesn’t over explain anything. The director and script use the power of the movie to both tell AND show without too much exposition dumping hitting you at once. They are relatively clever in most aspects and it holds up with real weight. The second act it doesn’t hold up as well and the third less so, but at that point you don’t care [as] much because they made the characters engaging and overall likable. Sure some of them could have been combined to give us less to juggle, but that is a minor issue as the ones we get are relatively engaging and intelligent. Sometimes they fall into stereotypes (looking at you Page Kennedy), but other stereotypes are somehow avoided in the main cast. It doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel Test or Mako Mori test, but gets pretty close on the latter. I am giving it a pass though due to the actors involved.

Statham is a known entity and gives us everything you expect from him. If anything his character of Jonah..sorry Jonas is a bit reserved for one of his typical action lead roles. Sure he does the things you expect, but its a touch more subdued than you’d expect over all. Also he’s the only one….the ONLY one who gets an objectifying shot in the movie. Bingbing Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Resident Evil Retribution) not only holds her own in the movie against Statham but steals some scenes from him in a way that made my black little heart beat a few times. Her character, Suyin, is strong in all the best ways and balanced well enough that she’s a real character.

Supporting our main stars we have Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super) is the movie Billionare Morris who funds the entire thing; but many will have trouble seeing beyond his turn as Dwight. Ruby Rose plays the tech geek Jaxx, sadly shes not used as much as I wish and I think, agreeing with one of the folks who saw this with me tonight, she could have had her character merged with Page Kennedy’s character DJ and we would have been fine. Ruby Rose was the stronger of the two though Kennedy gets the most lines and honestly his are some of the weakest in the film. Rounding out the supporting cast is Chinese actor Winston Chao (1911) and Cliff Curtis (Push, Sunshine). So for me Cliff Curtis is always a win (to borrow from a youtuber) and while I am not familiar with Chao in his time on screen you can tell he has an aura of someone who can normally command the camera. Ten year old (8 at the time of filming) Shuya Sophia Cal steals the show and hearts as Suyin’s daughter Meiying. She is just the right kind of precocious and absolutely not annoying in the least. American directors, please look to her performance for what children are capable of.

On the technical front, the movie is pretty solid. The Science in the Science Fiction is strong and the movie never violates it’s own rules – nor does it call attention to the other rules it may be violating based on science. As always with me if you give me your movies ground rules and stick them you get a pass on almost anything else. It doesn’t need many. It obeys the laws of physics, nature, and oceanography pretty damn well for the most part. The Digital effects that created the undersea “level” were quite beautiful and I do wish more of the movie was there. The star of course is the Shark and this ain’t no Bruce; but damn if it doesn’t look good.

TL;DR?

The Meg is not nearly as campy as I thought it would be. It’s tongue is not firmly stuck in it’s cheek. It is a much better movie than it had any right to be for these facts. I will compare it to Tremors, one of my favourite modern monster movies. This movie knows what it is and what it isn’t. It takes itself seriously without crossing a line that would make it be ridiculous for taking it too serious. The heart is there in many of the character interactions and it does contain some solid, well placed levity. This is the B monster movie elevated to a solid B+. I think some of the weaker moments are known to the production staff and they don’t really shy away from it, they just acknowledge it and move on.

I really liked the Meg and I think you will too.

Should I see it?

Yeah, you should. This was the first time I had multiple readers of this page join me in the movie and we all really kind of enjoyed ourselves. It’s the perfect popcorn science fiction action movie.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would

So you’ll be buying it then?

Without a doubt. There’s a lot of rewatch in this one.

But Vampire Princess, its a SHARK movie!

Yes it is, but this is one of the good ones. This isn’t a Deep Blue Sea (a guilty pleasure if I felt guilt on what I liked), Sharknado, Ghost Shark, Two Headed Shark Attack, Three Headed Shark Attack, or Shark Night 3D. It’s also not Jaws. This is to Jaws as Aliens was to Alien.

It has to have something wrong with it!

It does. Plenty in fact. I call out that the third act is pretty weak. It has some logical fails that annoy a bit. Some stereotypes are a bit on the nose to the point of being minorly offensive. It does have some tonal issues at times. Yet with all that it’s actually still a good movie. Better than it had a right to be.

 

Wrapping up next Wednesday should be the next review in a movie you wouldn’t expect from me: Crazy Rich Asians.

 

JAWS Reference Spoiler Corner Goes here. Roll over to read

 

The dog in the trailer is named Pippen – in Jaws – Pippet.

There are musical queues that are reminiscent of Jaws, not quite, but close

The Shark POV swimming through the seaweed before reaching swimmers

The kid begging mom to go play. She of course eventually relents.

I am pretty sure I heard a slightly off the key “roar” from Duel as a shark sank into the depths…

There might be more I’d have to watch Jaws again (oh no the horror)

 

END ROLL OVER

Darke Reviews | The Darkest Minds (2018)

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie, which I dubbed “X-Men with kids” since the first trailer.

As you may have noticed I am kind of big on the idea of Representation F*n matters; so the idea of a solid looking sci fi / action movie with a young POC girl in the lead; my choices were clear. Now granted, I could tell already this was based on a YA Novel series and it’s getting an August dump slot, the first one of the year so the studio didn’t have faith in it.

But should you?

Based upon the novel series by Arizona native Alexandra Bracken the movie covers the events of the first of the trilogy. Why are you asking if I read the book to yourself? Have you not read my reviews? That said, I am kind of hoping she might be a guest at a local con; I’d love to interview her on the adaptation process and her involvement from book to screen. Her book was adapted for the screen by Chris Hodge, who looks to have mostly been involved in television prior to this, and was the creator of Warward Pines, which seems to be a slightly toned down version of Hemlock Grove and a more supernatural version of Twin Peaks – so take that for what you will. Not being overly familiar with Brackens original work, I cannot speak to how well the adaptation takes it, but Hodge does seem to avoid more than a few of the YA to Movie Pitfalls, but not all of them.

The dialogue is not nearly as clunky as it can be in many adaptations of material like this, but some credit will go to the director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Nelson might be best known to most audiences for her work as director of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3; but prior to that she directed four episodes of the Spawn animated series (talk about dark). Her other background, which explains some aspects to the movie is as an artist, character designer, and story department. She worked on the criminally underrated 2003 Sinbad movie, and the amazing Dark City. This sort of experience lends itself to why the movie looks as good as it does in places, its strong dependence on overall subtle computer effects with a significant majority being done practically or with other visual tricks. She also showed talent in bringing well above average performances from most of her cast.

The absolute powerhouse of the film, figuratively and literally speaking is Amandla Sternberg as our protagonist Ruby. Most folks became familiar with her six yeas ago as Rue in The Hunger Games, and hopefully even wider soon as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give later this year. My partner and I tonight were talking at length about her and why she worked. Obviously script and direction help here as this has undercut other actresses with talent in movies like The 5th Wave, but here Sternberg shines. She is a complex character with real chemistry with her on screen friends and to borrow a line from another movie, She’s a Damsel. She’s in distress. She’s got it handled. Have a nice day. The character may be afraid and uncertain, but they never make her feel weak or simpering. This is a crucial balancing act in a YA or any material that is adapted and quite often fails.

Her main co-star Harris Dickinson (who will be Prince Phillip in Maleficent 2) also delivers. Quite often the male protag/romance interest in these films is completely bland from delivery and have the depth of a half empty kiddie pool. Dickinson as Liam lets the character actually emote and brings good chemistry with Sternberg. Skylan Brrooks as Charles is another solid character; while his opening can grate on some nerves once the movies pacing lets him he grows and you can really buy the friendship between the main three. I would love to say more about Miya Cech as the 11 year old Zu, but she doesn’t get to do more than be sweet and adorable and really a good counterbalance to the others strong persona’s. Unfortunately, no one else really stands out or otherwise borders on detrimental to the movie.

This leans into where the movie has some flaws, traps the director and writer may not have known how to find their way around. I realized watching this the problem with YA movies and am likely to do an entire editorial post on it later, but to sum up for this review – they run so heavy in the exposition, often with voice over that they forgot they are making a movie. When you read a book you need the characters inner monologue and long or detailed descriptions to let your mind paint the scene, the emotions, and to sell the interactions. With film you get to show don’t tell. The opening of the movie is painfully rushed so much so that the rest felt like it came to a screeching halt and part of that is due to the tons of exposition dump that occurred with little need for it. We’re told and shown when a show was enough. Due to this some of the characters would win my newly minted Snidely Whiplash award for hammy villains.

Image result for snidely whiplash

TL:DR?

While I don’t love this one nearly as much as Beautiful Creatures, The Darkest Minds is a very solid YA adaptation. It has good actors, a solid enough script, and good characters. The action beats work and the movie doesn’t pull punches where lesser material would. This surprised me a few times but I was very happy to see material remember the Adult part of Young Adult.

Amandla Sternberg is a gift and needs to be in more movies and I was very happy to support this one, even if it’s slated to be a box office bomb. Unfortunately this movie only made roughly $6 million of its $34 million budget domestically and just under $10 world wide. Unless there’s an international surge or my viewership sky rockets this looks to be one of the weakest openings and hauls of a YA movie.

So should I see it?

Well I would like to change this movies fate, so yes, I do recommend this one.

Would you see it again?

Honestly? The more I think about it yeah yeah I would.

Buying it then?

Without a doubt.

So how bad was that box office?

Well, it will likely do better than Vampire Academy  ($15m ww)so that’s a plus. It’s almost doubled Blood and Chocolate‘s $6 million world wide haul; but thats really faint praise on this one. It does deserve better than it got.

So…Rotten Tomatoes says..

Yeah, Critical 18%. Audience though with 800 ratings, gave it 82%. As a critic and reviewer I can see why Critics *wouldn’t* like it. It has flaws and flaws that I could be harder on if I chose to. I am chosing not to because it tried. The actors tried. The script tried. The director tried. It shows they tried and it wasn’t just another hollow YA cash grab.

But it has so many YA flaws that I shouldn’t ignore, but am choosing to because I believe a movie that tries is worth a dozen or more Pacific Rim Uprisings or Tomb Raiders or Death Wish remakes. We need more like this and less like those.

The Darkest Minds didn’t get a fair deal and that’s sad. If you have a free evening in the next two weeks go see it. I think you will see what I did in it.