Darke Reviews | The Girl in the Spiders Web (2018)

The past few weeks have been hell on my movie going timelines with vacation and a brief plague; in addition to a number of double or triple releases of films I want to see. This was a last minute viewing for me with no real plan or I would have invited my regular movie going partner with me, who I do owe a movie and a dinner for missing our last showing. Now, I am a fan of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the original Swedish release (2009), not so much the American remake (2011) a few years later. Noomi Rapace defined the role of Lisbeth Salander, and the late Michael Nyqvist introduced me to investigative journalist Mikael Blomvist. While director Niels Arden Oplev may not be the auteur that David Fincher is, I found his (original) film more engaging. Rooney Mara was good, but she just didn’t hit what Rapace did for me in the role. Unfortunately, I have not gotten around to watching the two sequel films in the Millenium series, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the Girl Who Kicked the Hornets nest; but they are on my list. The movies require a certain frame of mind and preparation for solid investigation, mystery, and intensity that we don’t often get here in the states.

Tonight I was in that frame of mind and took a chance. 

The characters were created by late activist and Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson (1954-2004), with whom even the original Millenium trilogy (Tattoo/Fire/Nest) was published posthumously, then converted to movies shortly after. This movie is based on the book of the same name, written by David Lagercrantz, who has another sequel in print The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. That’s a complex origin, but worth noting for future trivia contests if you so wish. Spiders Web was given the screenplay treatment by Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent) with Steven Knight (Allied, Locke, Seventh Son); with on set touch ups by director Fede Alvarez.  As the director is the third writing credit here, my take is that he was doing rewrites on set with his cast. Alvarez worked on 2016’s Don’t Breathe and the acclaimed 2013 remake of Evil Dead.

The story here is a simple one as told in the trailer, Lisbeth Salander, righter of wrongs, is an avenging angel in Stockholm. She is a computer genius and particularly vindictive to those who victimize women – regardless of their social standing. Lisbeth is contacted to steal a scary software MacGuffin, is nearly killed, and must recover the MacGuffin before it’s too late with the help of some friends. She has an on again off again friendship with famous reporter Mikael Blomkvist, who returns in this movie as well. All of the events though tie to a past we have not seen fully explored for Ms Salander and it may come back to bite her in the end. Honestly, the story is Steal the Scary thing. Scary thing stolen from you. Steal it back that we’ve seen in so many spy thrillers and heist movies over the years. What makes this different is the personal touches and ties to the past and sense of self. Trying to identify who you are and remembering your past without letting it consume you.

The acting is fantastic. Claire Foy (The Crown, Unsane) gets the character. She has the rage, the insecurity, the fear, and the cunning of the titular character down. It’s difficult to make a character like Lisbeth sympathetic as she’s relatively anti social and unlikable, but if you have the chops and can pull of the complexity you can show the sensitivity and the need to reach out for human contact in a look, a touch, or even the slight tilt of the head and Foy has that. It isn’t a surprise she won awards for her work on The Crown, I’d personally like to see her nominated again here. Sverrir Gunnason takes over in the role of Mikael and he’s good, but he doesn’t have the edge to him I was feeling with Nyqvists performance. Lakeith Stanfield (Selma, Death Note) plays another party interested in our MacGuffin and brings a physicality to the movie that it might otherwise be missing, but the character doesn’t do him justice beyond that unfortunately. Sylvia Hoeks is our woman in red, and gives an as nuanced performance as she did as Luv in Blade Runner 2049 last year; which is difficult with the make up and prosthetics she has going on. Even with the minor roles and mediocre characters there’s a lot of subtext in the movie the various cast members have to deliver on and they do that effectively.

The on location (Stockholm) really adds the required atmosphere for the movie. The ice and snow (happy Elsa sigh) are as much characters in the movie at times and add a necessary element to the film. The camera work is both stable and kinetic in that you can see everything going on in every sequence, but there’s a motion to the camera for many of them that draws you into the chases and chess moves being laid out before you on screen.

TL;DR

I was excited watching this movie. It’s good. It’s entertaining from beginning to end. Ultimately it is also satisfying. More than once I found myself sitting up in the lounge seat and leaning forward or quietly cheering for whatever actually happened. In addition to this the movie provides multiple types of LGBT representation which is worth calling out.

I really enjoyed The Girl in the Spiders Web and I think you will too.

Should I see it then?

Yes. This one absolutely edges Widows out if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s just the more satisfying film.

Would you see it again?

No question in my mind. also at full price.

Buying it?

Yes. Also likely to get the other films, sight unseen.

Anything else to add?

I am going to try to see Suspiria this weekend at a local theatre if I can.

Darke Reviews | Widows (2018)

To borrow from the YouTube channel CinemaWins, Viola Davis is always a win. The first trailer for this movie grabbed me. Liam Neeson on a failed heist, the wives of his crew having to pull off his last job or be killed by the people he robbed from. Michelle Rodriguez (who I still haven’t forgiven for The Assignment) as a working mom, Viola, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, this movie had star power; oh and thats without even mentioning the amazing Daniel Kaluuya who has been on fire since Get Out last year. I also happen to love a good Heist film, especially well layered and nuanced ones.

Should Widows have given up the score?

The movie is based on a previous British TV movie from the early 80s, by Lynda LaPlante, who has mostly been doing TV writing since the 70s and is still active today. It was adapted for this story by mystery novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects), and the director himself Steve McQueen. This was a passion project for McQueen, who must have been influenced by the original tv movie, and he apparently has really wanted to do this project for awhile.  McQueens name became big in Hollywood with his Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave back in 2014 (and nomination for best director). Widows is his first major project since that Win and I can tell you that it wasn’t a fluke that he won. There is a well crafted, nuanced, performance guiding director at the helm here. He knows what he wants his camera to be doing and knew how to layer his story appropriately. He also has an absolute right to insert some material into the movie that I was not expecting, but is unfortunately very timely. If anything the flaw in the scripting left little time to truly explore the number of characters and plotlines, even with the films two hour plus running time. Ideas, threads, and other beats are introduced but never fully resolved, or are brought in in the 11th hour to such a degree that I feel like we have a good fifteen minutes or more of movie missing; and I wouldn’t mind seeing that footage.

Viola Davis, again is always a win, as Veronica Rawlings, wife to Liam Neeson’s Harry. She largely has to carry the movie and can do so with ease, shifting between fear, determination, and pain with all the grace and skill of an actress of her calibre ( 1 Academy Award, and 2 additional nominations). Michelle Rodriguez surprised me a bit, I had a feeling she could do it, but she subdued herself well for this one. The two standouts for me out of the cast beyond Ms. Davis and her screen presence were the two who stood up and made their presences known in equal measure. Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, The Cloverfield Paradox) has always played background or tertiary roles, in this one she steps it up, and due to her performance you can see a literal evolution of her character Alice before your eyes and it is one of the more compelling subplots. Our second supporting star is Cynthia Erivo who I praised in the under performing Bad Times at the El Royale. She has charisma, she had a singing voice, and here she shows she’s quite the physical actress as well. I really hope we get to see more of both of these women. The other names I mentioned during the intro are of course solid for the screen time they are given. Kaluuya is a stand out performance as he has brought us charm and politeness, balance and rage, and this time he brought menace. It worked. Duvall and Farrell of course are good, but I can’t speak to either of their Chicago accents, it’s not one I can mimic myself well enough to say they nailed it or not.

Beyond the cast there is a strong technical proficiency to the movie; with one particular long take from the hood of a car during a conversation telling two different stories that you can follow simultaneously and very effectively. Almost every shot in the movie shows an understanding of the camera, framing, colour and energy; matched with effective production design to highlight the stark contrasts displayed the movie just sails away and brings you with it. It does suffer from some scene cutting, dropped plots, and jerky pacing, but the sum of the parts overall out weigh this

TL;DR?

Widows is a very good film. There is a compelling cast, with an at its core simple story, that contains layers of storytelling involving corruption, debts, self-identity, and sense of self. Steve McQueen is a director to watch out for and he really knows how to control the camera and bring out the best in his cast. This is a movie that in another directors hands would have been a hot mess, but because of his passion for the project and his skill it turns out to be just shy of what I would call an excellent film

Should I see it?

If you are joining me on the boycott of Fantastic Beasts, this is your film this weekend. If you aren’t joining me on it, and enjoy a good heist this is a good heist film.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Full price even!

Are you buying it?

Absolutely

Any other thoughts?

This movie won’t make the money it deserves unless FB bombs. It is stuck in a bad position and with the next several weeks doesn’t have a great shot and showing its legs. It has just 2/3 of the screens FB s getting, and 400 less screens than Instant Family, Wahlbergs new one.  This feels like alternative programming, with not as much faith. I’d at least have fought for 3,300 screens instead of the 2,800 it’s getting.

Next week Creed 2 will probably peel off any audience this would get and Ralph Breaks the Internet will try to take down the Harry Potter franchise. After that Widows might hold on, but the December crunch begins and the winter Blockbusters will come to destroy all that have come before.

I think this is sad for Widows and it deserved a better slot.

Darke Reviews | Overlord (2018)

JJ Abrams name? Check. World War II? Check. Something that looks like Bernie Wrightson drew it in a fever dream? Check. A potential extended variation from Heavy Metal? Check. See also Fever Dream. Potential DOOM movie accurately made as told by the trailer? Check. Cool title based on the actual Operation Overlord (aka Battle of Normandy)? Check. An opening title sequence straight from a early Hollywood war movie? Check.

Is any of the speculation on this true?

The story of the movie Overlord was written by Billy Ray, who also worked on projects like Volcano, The Hunger Games, and Captain Phillips. The screenplay was done by Mr. Ray and Mark L. Smith, who worked on the 2015 remake of the French film Martyrs (reliable sources say the original is a hard watch), The Revenant,  and the Vacancy franchise. So we have someone who understands epic tales of heroism and someone who gets splatter horror. This seems like an ideal pairing. Second time Australian director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) takes the helm, with Abrams name as a Producer credit and not a lens flare to be seen.

From a storytelling aspect, they deliver on much of what the trailer for this movie promised. You have a crew going in ahead of the the D-Day invasion in June of 1944. The Nazi’s shoot down most of the squadron and the survivors band together to finish the mission – destroy a radio tower that will make it easy for the Nazi army to defend the beachhead. They work their way through hostile territory and find the French village with the tower, a potential ally, and something far worse. Now me personally, this does hearken back to stories of “Weird War II” and could easily have fit in the same universe as an Indiana Jones, Dead Snow, or Frankenstein’s Army. Weird, occult experiments that involve the profane in an attempt to build a 1,000 year empire. There’s all sorts of anecdotal stories of such things happening during World War II, and those with imaginations take them to wild extremes. This movie being one such extreme.

It looses some internal consistency as the movie develops though that felt a bit jarring to me, but that could be expectations I placed upon character more than writer intent. I’ll let that one go (mostly), as there’s other nice attention to detail that was worth noting such as regional accents with people speaking French. Jovan Adepo (Fences, The Leftovers, The Central Park Five) has some serious chops and carries the movie as our main protagonist Private Ed Boyce. The film is his characters crucible and he does well in both the quiet moments and the loud. The slow fear of waiting on the plane to the panic of being ripped out of it and so much more. Kurt Russel’s son Wyatt, plays our other main protagonist Corporal Ford. He doesn’t have his fathers charm or screen presence, but he tries and delivers what he needs for the movie. French actress Mathilde Ollivier, on the other hand does have some presence even if her character more or less is our standard strong female lead in what is otherwise as a sausage fest.  Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy) is almost unrecognizable as an SS officer and one of the chief protagonists of the film, and not surprisingly he makes it work.

The technicals on the movie are a mixed bag. We have CG Blood instead of squibs for some of our gunshots, but then squibs in others or better cg at least. Directors. Hollywood. You have not yet gotten CG blood to look nearly as good as a squib and stage blood. I promise you. Keep trying, but leave it for TV, we’ll let you know when you get there. The Gore when it gets there is solid, but I wanted more, bearing in mind I saw this when I was 6 and it was rated PG.

 

The gore is enough for an R, but really this is a soft R in my opinion. There’s beautiful attention to detail in the opening shots and really hits home what many of the stories of the early air raids and paradrops ended up like. They weren’t going for Band of Brothers here, so much is glossed over and left in the wings respectfully. I appreciated it being there though. There’s more things like both these stories through out where there’s beautiful details that most may overlook or beautiful shots, but then something that just doesn’t quite deliver the punch it could.

TL;DR?

It was fun. I was entertained. The actors were engaging. The movie is shot well. I just don’t think it delivered on what it promised enough. This could be a result of me having seen so many other movies, especially more nightmare fuel style that this just didn’t have an impact. I never really got the tension I wanted or the thrills.

The problem I think, is it doesn’t go extreme enough. The movie carries an R Rating, but with movies like Dead Snow and it’s Sequel already touching on this subject and Frakenstein’s Army taking it to the most Holy Hell what in <Dieties Name> was that? If Dead Snow is the Dawn of the Dead Remake, Frankenstein’s Army is Hellraiser, and this….rates as a well made, well executed, The Fog or …maybe Videodrome. This is to say it is a competently made movie with some solid practicals in places, some decent tension in others, oodles of atmosphere, but not nearly as much Gore or “WTF” as they writers think they achieved.

Great built up, just not quite sticking the landing I thought I would get.

Should I see it?

If this is your type of movie. Sure thing. In theatres. The opening sequence with theatre quality size screen and sound is totally worth it.

Would you see it again?

Honestly, if someone took me to see it, I have no problems with that.

Buying it?

Odds are in it’s favor.

Ok, but I am a HORROR FAN!

Horror fans should get a kick out of this as we don’t get movies like this in theatres often enough that are well made, well acted, engaging, and deliver at least on some of our horror needs.

Anything else?

There’s a hard R horror movie waiting here, maybe on the editing room floor, but Overlord just didn’t give me what I hoped it would.

Darke Reviews | Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Another late to the line review, due to my lovely vacation in the Seattle area. It snowed on me on Mt. Ranier. I was a happy vampire princess. Today is my first full day back and I spent the better part of 5 hours at the theatre watching movies to catch up on reviews and have even more to do tomorrow night with The Girl in the Spiders Web and Overlord releasing then. This is probably one of the most broadly appealing movies of the fall season with anticipation of it building since the first trailer dropped months ago. There was of course potential controversy as to whether or not they would deal with Mercury’s sexuality, something he kept hidden from most the better part of his life and career. Fans were ecstatic at the casting of fellow middle easterner Rami Malek in the role as the Persian lead singer. Every review I’ve come across the title of (haven’t read or watched anyones yet), has indicated this film is nothing short of amazing.

I am not going to argue with them.

For our credits we have writer Anthony McCarten (story by/screenplay by) who delivered Theory of Everything and Darkest Hour to us over the past few years; which makes him almost a specialist in the biopic field for the cinema. We also have screenplay credit going to Peter Morgan, also a biopic specialist with such films as Rush, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, and Frost/Nixon. These guys know their stuff and it shows in every bit of dialogue, every scene, and every bit of emotion delivered in the recommended direction given by their screenplay. They don’t shy away from controversy here or the darker elements of Mercury’s life. They make him neither hero nor villain, but a man who eventually became a legend and a Queer icon to this day.

*sigh* Ok, so I have to talk about Bryan Singer, who is our listed director here. We’ve known Singer can direct since The Usual Suspects and I have been a fan of almost every movie of his I have watched. In light of the #MeToo movement, I would be remiss to ignore his off screen antics and the accusations which go back to the early 90s. Let me make it clear, I believe the accusers. Fox must as well for they fired him from the picture back in December of last year and brought in Dexter Fletcher, an actor turned director to finish the film. The official story is Singer was erratic on set and had a fight with Malek, but Fletchers hiring was on the heels of the news breaking of the accusations about Singer coming to the public eye.  I’ll have more commentary below in the TL:DR section but suffice to say the movie was well directed.

Malek for his part as Mercury nailed it. In every capacity. He brought the charm, the body language, the wit, and the voice. He also brought the pain in the final act that cannot be ignored. Rami was a perfect casting. I first saw him in the Twilight series as an Egyptian Vampire, followed by Mr. Robot, and then his epic mo-cap performance in the video game Until Dawn. He is amazing actor that deserves more parts and hopefully he is on the Best Actor considerations lists as he rightfully earns it.  Recognition must go to the rest of “The Band” as Gwilym Lee has to take on the role of Brian May, Ben Hardy (Angel from X-Men Apocalypse), has to nail Roger Taylor, and Joseph Mazzello (Tim from Jurassic Park) has to cover John Deacon. For every bit that Malek has to carry the film as Mercury, these three men must make it feel like they are the rest of Queen and bring their own acting talents to full weight to keep up with Rami. They succeed in such a way that I forgot they were actors. When you consider how much weight the real May, Taylor, and Deacon had in the film with effort put to making sure that everything was to spec for the casting of Rami and that his performance did Freddie justice, you know they had their own thoughts on their counterparts.

The production design was top notch with a fantastic series of opening shots that bookend the film with the Live Aid performance in 1985. There is an almost surreal quality put to the film during that sequence that needs to be called out. There are other fantastic framing devices done throughout the film that would invoke my spoiler rule, but many of them just hit hard when they are done.

TL;DR

If you have been waiting for my review of this movie, you have it. That is to say go see it. It is well shot, well acted, and powerful. It doesn’t shy away from any aspect of Freddie Mercury’s life that I am aware of and is all the better for it.  The movie is amazing and left me in tears when the soft lyrics of “Who Wants to Live Forever” begin to play at one point in the movie.

Would you see it again?

Yes, with the best sound system possible. It deserves it.

Buying it?

Of course.

So…extra commentary?

Alright – if you don’t care about the behind the scenes of the movie industry, please stop here. If you want to know more about that sort of thing continue on

Singer is being put forth for a “For Your Consideration” by Fox for the Academy Award. This is a loaded gun, but I am not sure what it’s loaded with to be honest. Fox fired him from the picture, yet he has sole directing credit. Do they have a choice? Well maybe, maybe not. There might be contract information between Fox and Singer that makes this non negotiable. I know from previous films I’ve reviewed a director cannot be removed from credit unless a substantial (roughly 70% of the movie) is reshot/redone; which is how Lord and Miller were able to be removed from Solo, but Gareth Edwards remained on for Rogue One, even though Tony Gilroy came in later. So they have to keep him on the credit, which means Fletcher only did some minor work on the film. Singer didn’t remove himself or release them, which is an interesting move on his part as well.

The play by Fox here isn’t as black and white as one would think and I have a feeling there is more in the background we don’t know. So what happens if he wins? Oof.  That is an interesting question. Would the Academy even let it go up for a best director or best picture because of this and take the risks in light of #MeToo? Should or could it get a Best Picture or Best Director nod from the Academy? Objectively yes. Subjectively….no. I hate to say it but as this is a new release not something out for years, we cannot separate the art from the artist here and even as Hollywood continues to praise the likes of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, a line must be drawn. Here is a good place to do it.

While the movie is put forward for Best Director/Picture, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts should not move it forward in these categories. Writing sure. Acting, absolutely. Cinematography – without a doubt. Just…not the other two. If it wins Best Picture, Singer would have to walk to the stage as traditionally the director accepts this.

You can see why this is a problem?

I don’t know that I will do an editorial, but there will be a lot of judging eyes on the Academy in the weeks to come as this unfolds.

Darke Reviews | The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

I admit to curiosity upon the trailer for this one being dropped. Visually it did look derivative of the Alice in Wonderland movies, which unfortunately I am not a fan, but there was some sense of wonder instilled and a sense of magic to the trailer. I am a bit late to the game on this one and the other review going up today due to a vacation so really the final tally is set for this film, but

Did audiences and critics miss the mark on The Nutcracker?

This film probably gets one of the more accurate credits in the “Suggested by the short story”, versus based on, inspired by, etc, of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Screenplay and Screen Story credit goes to first timer Ashleigh Powell. She’s been working in Hollywood as a production assistant for years and submitting screenplays and scripts since at least 2012, but this is the first one to make it to the screen. I can’t really get a feel for her off this script, as it feels like a watered down version of Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and a touch of Hugo.  We have the story of a girl out of place in her home since the death of her mother, she does have a loving father, brother, and sister which is a breath of fresh air. She is clever and an inventor, showing off her understanding with a Rube Goldberg machine in the opening tracking shot. Of course this puts her even more out of place in classic Victorian London. She inexplicably finds her way into a fantasy world and must save it from dark forces who seek to rule it all. The plot is basic. Discover who you are and you can do anything. Make some friends along the way. Come back to the world at the end with some important life lessons.

If this sounds very much like Alice in Wonderland and it’s sequel you are 100% correct. If this looks at all like it and the other films mentioned, you are also 100% correct. I just don’t know why though. You have Joe Johnston at the helm who gave us Captain America: The First Avenger and The Rocketeer. He has such a sense for evocation in his films, yet there’s none of that here. Maybe the other director Lasse Hallstrom is behind that? Yet he is a multiple award nominee with such films like The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Either of these two should have been able to evoke emotion in the style of the film. Awe, Wonder should have been easy, not to mention a sense of triumph or joy, or even risk and threat. The movie contains none of that and I am profoundly surprised and disappointed, and have to look to the producers perhaps? Some of the producers here go back to movies such as The Thing (1982 version), or Saving Private Ryan, others are first timers.

I could talk about the acting here, but MacKenzie Foy tries, but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot to work with. The script, the direction, even the background production design seems to be fighting her; literally in one scene Helen Mirren is wasted as is Kierra Knightley. Morgan Freeman seems to have just walked on set, got dressed, put on an eye patch and collected his check. Speaking of the production design I think it was left overs from all the other movies I’ve mentioned combined as nothing is striking or evoking here.

TL:DR?

This movie is a hot mess. It has all the elements behind the scenes to make it work, but nothing in it quite does. There’s no strong sense of visual style, direction, or music in the movie. I mean music beyond the Nutcracker Suite of course. Something is wrong in the House of Mouse here; as nothing in this movie feels like what anyone in this movie is capable of. The script needed a few rewrites. The editing was…a thing that happened badly. I am not sure what went on in pre-production or post production here, but something did. Something not good.

The Nutcracker is a bloody mess from start to finish and I could tell you a half dozen ways to fix it but no one did. This feels like contractual obligation the movie and it just doesn’t care beyond that. There are tonal issues, where the movie screeches to a halt for an actual balet in it, and I wonder who this movie is for? At best I can say it was an obligation and it was for no one in particular.

So would you see it again?

No. No I wouldn’t.

What about buying it?

Probably not.

Anything about it good?

There are beautiful elements to the production design, but thats about it.

Are you being harsher because you saw a better movie first?

I weighed that and unfortunately that isn’t the case.

This one just isn’t that good.