Darke Reviews | Aquaman (2018)

In what seems to be one of the strangest holiday seasons yet, there is yet another early access showing; this time in conjunction with Amazon Prime membership. So far in what is one of the most packed Decembers I can recall where we have Bumblebee, Mortal Engines, Aquaman, Spider-Man, and Mary Poppins all coming within two weeks of each other; all of them have had early showings except Poppins. I think this is combination confidence and ego on the party of Disney knowing the name alone will carry a lot of weight. Steven Spielberg of all people went “I’m out” and moved Alita: Battle Angel to an uncontested Valentines day slot. The others all are all competing for early release positive buzz and need it desperately in the cases of Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Spider-Man as the brand they are representing (DCEU, Transformers, and Spider-Man) don’t have the best track records in the cinema. Spider-Man proved not only to be worthy, but the best animated movie of the year and possibly one of the best Spider-Man movies ever put to screen.

Is Aquaman worthy?

The movie violates my Three Writer Rule out of the gate, with Will Beall (Gangster Squad, Training Day TV series), director James Wan (the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious series) , and Geoff John’s (DC’s version of Kevin Fiege ie the head of the “movie studio”) having story credit; then Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Red Riding Hood, Wrath of the Titans) on screenplay. By their powers combined they have created a hot mess. To be fair to them, the work of Snyder before and the Justice League movie didn’t give them as much room as a team coming in fresh and thats where some of the narrative choices come from and were not handled deftly. From a purely cinematic universe standpoint the average movie goer won’t know half of whats going on or missing so I can’t and won’t call them to task. Comparing to the comic is like comparing to a book. Changes need to be made, so be it. What I can call them to task for is trying to do too much and not doing all of it well as a result; with plot threads left dangling, characters who feel like they were supposed to be more important and vanish; and most critically a lack of consequence along the way that really shouldn’t be ignored as the meta narrative of the movie put such an intense focus on rules and ancient laws.

The story itself, isn’t so much an issue. Arthur Curry’s, aka Aquaman, mother was the Queen of Atlantis, made a child with a Lighthouse keeper. Then had to return home or they die. She has a son with the King. This son, Orm, later in life wants to wage war on the surface for indistinct reasons and conspires to do so. Meanwhile Mera, someone loyal to the Queen seeks out Arthur in an attempt to have him usurp the throne and prevent all out war between the surface and Atlantis. A McGuffin must be found to give Arthur legitimacy as he is a half breed and the clock is ticking as Orm advances his plan to become the Ocean Master.

The plot itself isn’t the issue. It really isn’t. It’s the beats and how they were architected, its those hanging moments and characters that vanish and other points that just take away from the whole. Logical fallacies within the world that continually don’t add up. I am not talking the suspension of disbelief that you have to take a heaping dose of for the movie to work, I am talking violating that suspension. The movie does it time and time again; and I am not sure why. Wan is a competent director and writer and has shown to be better than this. I wonder if this is a curse of bigger budget with talented directors ruins them somewhat. There are some truly inspired shots and action sequences in this movie. I’ve been beating up on it thus far and it’s not all bad. There are some really good moments, but not enough of them. There’s some great camera work, but not enough of it.

From an acting perspective, sorry folks, I know Momoa is pretty to look at. He is eye candy for those who enjoy that aesthetic and I appreciate that is the reason many people will go see it. I know he wants to maintain and showcase the ties to the Maori and he does so through the movie more than once; and the Haka at the premier was beautiful. He doesn’t have the charisma to pull this off, or someone told him not to use it. He *should* work as Aquaman, but doesn’t. He comes across as a “Biker Bro” who has powers. He would have been a great Lobo with this performance, but I don’t buy him ever becoming the King of the Sea with it. Amber Heard (Drive Angry, The Danish Girl)  is far more compelling as Mera and is the Mera I know from the material I’ve come across who doesn’t take anything from anyone. Between the two of them there was absolutely no chemistry and I can’t be certain if it was her recent life events in dealing with toxic masculinity and abuse or just it not being there at all. Willem Dafoe phones it in, but its still better than most of the cast. Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Watchmen) is engaging as King Orm and tries, with the script doing him no favours.  Nicole Kidman was allowed to be bad ass as Queen Atlanna, but also seemed vaguely exasperated or confused that she was there.  Also what a waste of a Julie Andrews voice. Black Manta was treated well overall and handled about as well as one can expect.

The production design. This is as about a mixed bag as the rest of the movie is. Bill Brzeski had the unenviable task of creating Atlantis and the other kingdoms of the seven seas. Overall it was beautiful, but at times it was muddled by the motion and camera choices. More wide shots were needed, like the scene in the trailer with the flare and the boat. More awe was needed to show the power, expanse, and majesty of Atlantis – and sadly it wasn’t all there. Costuming, a category I don’t often bring up, fell to Kym Barrett, who was nominated for over a dozen awards for her work on Cloud Atlas. She also worked on the Matrix and Speed Racer. She did create original designs or was able to successfully translate comic designs to film in almost every case. Mera’s costume during one scene was literally the most inspired I’ve seen for an aquatic movie. Mera’s costume the rest of the movie left me confused. The clothing was theoretically designed to be form fitting, but quite regularly there were gaps between clothing and skin that were really glaring to me; almost as glaring as the High Heels.

The woman who lives underwater is wearing high heels.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Don’t even get me started on the red wig they had her in. In a rare moment, let me say Justice League treated her better than the movie she was the main player in. Don’t believe me? Look. Also please note the superior costume for Justice League – which takes place before this movie.

Justice League Promo

Justice League

Aquaman. Look at that Natural Red

I want to  rant about the music being odd and switching between the current trend of 80’s Synthwave, standard scoring, and weird Pop songs in the movie I haven’t seen outside of a YA movie or Evanescence in Daredevil back in the day; but this review is already getting too long.

TL;DR

Surprisingly, despite its laundry list of flaws the movie still manages to be somewhat entertaining. It isn’t as patently offensive as Man of Steel has become to me, or BVS, its production values exceed that of Justice League; even if the story beats and acting are rougher. It isn’t as good as Suicide Squad (to me) and definitely not in the league with Wonder Woman. There is a movie here begging to be made to be made well, another pass on the script, another wave of clean edits, a second look at the costuming and music all could have elevated this uncontested into the #2 slot of the DCEU.

Instead we get something just above mediocre through raw effort on everyone’s part that is not more than the sum of its parts, but isn’t falling apart either. A series of baffling decisions both in and out of narrative leave me wondering about the motivations of the characters and why I should care at all. Just a few lines of dialogue here or there really could have solved more than a few of this movies problems so it’s other issues wouldn’t have been as glaring.

Should I see it?

I can tell you no. Most people are going to ignore me and go “But Momoa is pretty.” So I won’t even bother. When this comes out next week it will be competing with a Mary Poppins sequel and Transformers movie, both of which will be reviewed when I see them before this ones release.

Currently the verdict is:  If you were going to see it regardless of this review I hope you enjoy it. I truly truly do. There’s more than a few moments to enjoy and I did have a good time, but I might have had that same good time watching it home later.

So not seeing it again then?

No. I’ll be seeing Spider-Man and Anna and the Apocalypse at a minimum before seeing this again.

Buying it?

*deep sigh* Maybe. Probably. Again its deeply flawed, I have trouble giving it a firm recommendation, but it’s not dumpster fire. Wow….my bar for the DCEU is low.

Anything else to add?

It’s a solid filmmaking effort, and I can see that effort was put in. They tried. Tried and failed on a lot of points, but they tried and I have to give them credit for that. No one in the crew phoned it in and the director did all he could saddled with five prior films of baggage that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The mistakes in the film shine like spotlights to me but may not to most audiences so there’s that in the movies favour.

Aquaman was the most joked about member of the Justice League for decades. His movie could have been far worse so I will take it for what it is.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Anna and the Apocalypse

From the moment I saw this trailer I wanted to see this movie. I am a theatre geek to begin with, so musicals are always a soft spot. I am THE Horror fan at my job, but one of my employees is a close second, as such Zombies get my attention. I am a sentimentalist and thus a good charming Christmas movie with a twist is always touching. What happens when you mix the three into a single movie? You get Anna and the Apocalypse. What appears to be the perfect blend of the comedy I like, a solid musical in the vein of High School musical, and zombies.  This absolutely should not work.

 

 

But did it?

The movie is a product of Scotland, a country that every day I am considering trying to import myself into, which also gave us the fantastic film Let Us Prey. The writers are also products of Scotland, with Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald in their first big release in their own country, much less globally. Director John McPhail is getting his first shot at wide screen title as well. The story is as simple as the trailer provides you, where a zombie apocalypse hits a sleepy coastal town in Scotland around Christmas. Anna and her friends have to make it to their school from across town amidst the chaos and undead to find their friends and family and hope for an evac from the local military.  That’s it. The plot couldn’t be more simple, but there is an elegance in the simplicity as the writers were able to focus and spend time on the characters as they deal with the undead, their own lives, and the burdens of growing up. Along the way there is full on musical numbers that are absolutely catchy and I haven’t stopped listening since I left the theatre.

On the topic of the musical beats, at first I thought they were non diagetic, which means that they aren’t “actually” happening in camera and are more traditional to a musical; but there are a few beats that make me question that to the point the movie may actually be having these absolutely absurd sequences happening real time. I honestly like that in this case. It takes the movie with a wink and a nod and brings you along with the fun. Some of the sequences and songs reminded me a bit of something I would see in Rocky Horror Picture Show, while others went full Disney, and even others went full Edgar Wright. Again I am ok with it, because while I can see these influences (due to seeing so many movies) they make it work and also make it their own. The film makes a few obvious references to Shaun of the Dead and this is worthy as you could almost consider this a spiritual successor to that film; and it is also clear to me that McPhail took more than a few influences from Edgar Wrights style of directing. This is something to be encouraged as we need more Wrights in the world and what he brings to the table with his cuts, editing, and camera work.

I in a rare instance get to talk about the singing and performance of our actors. Starting with our titular character Anna, played by Ella Hunt. She’s the perfect lead for this as she is both warm and engaging and her vocals are right in the range that I find pleasing. She gives a truly “human” performance as her character goes through the story and then is screen capturing when she gets her solo songs. Sarah Swire, who plays Steph, and gives the movie some positive Queer representation, has some great moments, but her vocals are just absolutely powerful and as good as Hunt is, Swire’s range and power is incredible. The other main players, Malcolm Cumming, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, and Marli Sui all do good jobs, but none of them quite stand out the way Hunt and Swire do. Wiggins, as his character Nick, gets a pretty good “hero” solo in the movie but the character is unlikable so it’s hard to enjoy as much as would be potential if he wasn’t such as knob. The surprising performance comes from Paul Kaye, as Headmaster Savage.  Game of Thrones fans will know him as Thoros of Myr; I thought he was doing his best impression of Bill Nighy to the point I couldn’t recognize him. He even had Nighy’s mannerisms and vocal ticks down in a few scenes so I can’t say if it was intentional or I just need to watch more of Kaye’s work. His songs give me the most feeling of something from Rocky Horror, not in theme but range, tone and style.

For my Gore hounds, I think you will be satisfied with this movie as the effects are good and beautifully practical. I think they could have gone further, true, but they struck a balance with the rest of the tone of the story. My theatre geeks will probably enjoy the overall production and beats and even the stage like performances for songs like Human Voice and Hollywood Ending. The Disney like “I want” song, “Break Away” has a great hook and a damn near addictive property with Hunt, Swire, and Cumming’s leading vocals. The camera work beyond the musical numbers is absolutely solid and shows more command than I’ve seen out of a dozen Hollywood films this year with some great intentional shots and use of motion.

 

TL;DR?

The hype for this one is real folks. I had a blast watching this as did the audience that was there, small as it was. Beyond the funny beats being my kind of funny, the music being well above the average we’ve gotten used to; the movie has one major thing going for it. It’s charming as hell. It isn’t full comedy guys, there’s a real story to it that plays out and you feel with the characters as it unfolds. There is absolute heart here and it shows in the love and care from writing, directing, cast, and crew.

Anna and the Apocalypse, will be in my permanent rotation going forward for my Holiday movie watching.

Should I watch it?

If you can. The movie has gotten a limited release here in the US, but if you have a showing in your area take the opportunity. For my less Horror inclined, I don’t think the movie offers much in the way of the scares or the spooks and I think it is really accessible for wider audiences if you can handle the more gory beats.

It isn’t perfect. There’s a few things I am not a fan of, but they don’t detract enough from the overall for me to degrade my recommendation.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres. At full price. No regrets

Buying it?

How else am I going to put it in my rotation? I’m even getting the soundtrack.

Are you going a bit overboard here?

Ok I’ve had a shite week. Like full on rubbish. This movie put me in a happy place with how genuine it felt and refreshing it was. It’s not mainstream by any stretch, but I don’t think it should be. It’s right where it belongs and the only thing it deserves is reciprocation of the love that the Cast and Crew clearly put into it.

Now excuse me while I see if I can put an Anna cosplay together.

What a time to be alive.

 

Darke Reviews | Mortal Engines (2018)

I have to admit the trailer for this one got me interested. While Steampunk and Dieselpunk are not my preferred Gothic aesthetic, I always appreciate my brothers and sisters in the alternative clothing. Drawing from bygone era’s with a significant fictional embellishment shows a certain passion and commitment that has to be appreciated, even if the mainstream looks down on it or tries to market it and co opt it. The movies trailer hinted at this with gigantic moving cities beyond anything rationally (or physically) being able to be engineered. Without a single image, if I told you that there was a city of a hundred thousand people moving about on tank treads so large that a person could stand between each spoke of the tread and it moves around a post apocalyptic/nature reborn landscape capturing other cities for resources – you have a visual in mind. Immense. Grand in scale and scope and absolutely fantastical. Then I am going to tell you the movie is writen and produced by Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh who gave us the impossible to film Lord of the Rings.

How can this not be amazing to watch?

First, you must understand that this is not an original work, but instead based on a 2001 childrens book by Philip Reeve. Based on the length of the book and the overall content this falls into another YA adaptation in another Hollywood attempt to find their new Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight franchises. That doesn’t stop it from being a passion project for the three writers either, but it must be acknowledged that the studio wouldn’t greenlight something this ambitious unless they think it can sell.  The story is barely more complex than I covered in my preamble to the review, with the character beats missing. The world has been ravaged by a hyper-technology war some hundred years from our now, and a thousand years before the movie starts. We have a young girl (of course), Hester, who is trying to assassinate a high ranking member of the city of London, Valentine, who killed her mother. A young man (of course), Tom, intervenes and they both end up outside the city.  Hester spends her time trying to return to the city to finish her vendetta, Tom tries to return home, meanwhile our mustache twirling Valentine has a much darker plan with lost technology in his bid for power and resources.

As plots go, it’s basic at its core; which is fine when you have YA material. This is not an insult to YA material, which is specifically designed to be basic and accessible and is a good thing. When translating it to a movie, it can also be a good thing, if done well. I cannot say that this was done well. The plot isn’t really the problem, but the script is. There are no less than a dozen characters we’re expected to emotionally attach to at one point or another and the movie gives most of them at best four or five lines; whilst our main characters are rather dull or unlikable. Even worse, our heroine for the movie is ridiculously inconsistent with her logic and actions to the point I was rolling my eyes half way through the movie. I don’t really expect a lot, but consistency would be nice. You literally have a beat at one point in the movie where she looks at Tom and goes “I would have left you.” Not even five minutes later, she risks her life and anothers more than once to save him. Now I could take it as her trying to be strong and aloof and saying one thing, but believing another; but the movie never gave me reason to believe that she would have saved him. Beyond that there’s script beats where I was able to look to my companion tonight and go “Cue scene…” and it would happen. After the movie she went “even I knew it was coming”. This is being stated by someone who until recently didn’t get to see a lot of movies on the regular. The beats are that telegraphed. Then of course there are the braindead moments and even other higher moments of logic fails that I can’t get into for spoiler reasons but someone, somewhere should have went – this is a stupid decision for the character to make/say/do.

From the actors, they do what they can with the material. Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar plays our heroine and she tries. She really really tries, but it just doesn’t work; but I don’t know that I can blame her. Robert Sheehan, (Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Geostorm) is our Tom and again does his best, but there’s nothing in the direction or script to help him. Hugo Weaving is Valentine and I am not sure if he was aware he was on camera or thought he was in rehearsals still because it just was not good for him; he might have been dead at the time and that would explain a lot. (Note: Hugo Weaving is not dead…this is a joke). Jihae, who I’ve never heard of before, is one of our secondary characters and is far more interesting than any of the mains and I’d like a movie about her please. Leila George (Mother May I Sleep with Danger)  is another secondary character, Valentine’s daughter Katherine, who the script and editing did no favours to.

This brings us to our director, Christian Rivers. Rivers worked on the art department as a storyboard artist for all of Jackson’s previous films all the way back to the Frighteners in 96 and Dead Alive in 92; though never credited as such. That concerned me a bit so I had to go find an interview to prove he was real and not a Jackson alias. I admit I am still not sure. He isn’t that good. Sorry but all the performances are barely delivered and that falls on him. The blocking, staging, camera angle choices, weird whip pans, all of it just don’t work. Even JunkieXL on music seemed to be phoning it in with his left overs from Justice League and Catwoman. I know I ripped on Robin Hood a bit a few weeks ago for stealing scenes from other movies shamelessly, but they did it and turned those scenes to an 11. This lifts from some of the Star Wars movies and doesn’t even do anything interesting with it.  The editing is…painful. I think there are 15 to 20 minutes on the cutting room floor and you can feel it.

TL;DR

This movie is bad. It is visually interesting, but very very bad. At an annoying level of bad. You may hear of things called Script Doctors who come in and polish scripts. This movie needed a team of trauma surgeons. Someone should have taken a second or third look, but wait the producers were Jackson, Walsh and Boyens so they had the creative control too. Ugh. Ok…so time to bust out a meme.

Peter Jackson

You gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy and it was magical. Truly changing the face of the fantasy film genre forever. Changing how Hollywood should look at making movies and the importance of well crafted practical effects and the effort put in to make something more than just a movie, but feel like a real lived in world. You reminded us of King Kong, and we forgave you the dinosaur stampede, but let us remember that Beauty Killed the beast and it too was breathtaking. Then, then came the dark times. The Hobbit trilogy where you became obsessed with technology and forgot the practical. You have become what you once fought against. This movie cements your fate, stop now while you still can.

This movie will not satisfy movie goers or fans of the book. It’s a mess.

Should I watch it though?

Go see Spider-Man.  Seriously, My friend was entertained because it was visually interesting and I can’t argue that, but the more I discussed it with her, the more annoyed with the movie she became. It’s that kind of movie.

Would you watch it again?

Go see Spider-Man.

Buying it?

Nope. Seriously folks. I said this movie was going to get destroyed by Spider-Man and I felt bad for Peter Jackson…I don’t now. This movie deserves its demise. I do feel bad for the actors and hope their careers aren’t hurt by this.

Anything else to add?

So I didn’t cover this in the review, because it is not objectively about the movie as given. I also don’t typically touch on the adaptation from the book to screen as I haven’t often read the book to compare; but while researching this review I found an interview that honestly makes me even angrier at Jackson than I was after seeing the movie.

In the book Hester is described as having a prominent, grotesque scar across her face that had also taken an eye and severely damaged her nose; to quote:

“Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump, and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as grey and chill as a winter sea.”

This is what we got:

 

Now, as someone who loves Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister, I know he is not as described in the book facially. This is problematic. I acknowledge this. He also turns out a good performance and still provides representation for a marginalized group.

This change however, less forgivable as this is why it was made from Director Christian Rivers and producer Peter Jackson:

It’s fine in the book for Hester to be described to be ugly, hideous, and have lost a nose ‘cause, even that, you reimagine it in your own mind as, ‘Okay, yeah, she’s ugly, but she’s not really ugly,’” Rivers explained. “Tom falls in love with her… and film is a visual medium. With a book you can take what you want and reimagine it in your head and put together your own picture. But when you put it on film, you are literalizing it. You are making it a literal thing, so it was just finding a balance where we need to believe that Tom and Hester fall in love. And her scar does need to be disfiguring enough that she thinks she’s ugly — it can’t just be a little scratch — and I think we’ve struck a good balance of it.

First off, and I mean this with all professional kindness – Go jump face first into a chipper shredder. Take your ableist BS with you. You are literally saying we couldn’t leave her disfigured as written because then the audience couldn’t buy someone falling in love with her. Have you ever read a book? I mean it seriously. When an author gives you a description, especially one as clear and visceral as Hester’s, you DONT reimagine it to make it more palatable unless you are trash. You imagine what was written and if not clear may think the right eye or the left, but the aesthetic of it remains as a horrifying accident induced scar. Something millions of people have and in this interview you worthless garbage you said they aren’t worthy of love.

Christian Rivers. Go to hell. I’ll give you a map.

 

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Greetings True Believers. So a theatre chain did a screening of the new animated Spider-Man movie tonight, needless to say I had my butt in a seat for it. While the trailer left me wondering a bit on the animation style as it wasn’t anything I had quite seen before I knew this movie would be important as it was the first time we got to see Miles Morales on screen. Now those who are not familiar with comics, and truth be told I’ve been out of them for awhile, may not know that in 2011 a new Spider was introduced; and this one happened to be a young Afro-Latino boy.   Needless to say in an age where in post after post I have to say #RepresentationMatters this movie is important. Until this year we have not yet had a person of colour lead a major comic book movie in this Renaissance of the comic movie. Yes, Black Panther was this year – how wild is that? Now obviously we can all name T’challa, Falcon, and even Nick Fury as black Heroes on screen. Now name the number of Latinx ones you’ve seen on screen.

Miles Morales is important.

This movie is important.

But is it good?

Let me cut to the chase and avoid the TL;DR cut – Yes. Yes it is.

First, let’s talk writing, this was written by Phil Lord of the Lego Movie fame (and kicked off of Solo: a Star Wars story fame) with his writing partner Christopher Miller as a producer. The story is an origin story, but damn if it isn’t solid. Not only do we get the origin for Miles to become Spider-Man, they introduce five other Spider’s from alternate universes. So the movie is able to juggle a total of six Spider’s and still keep Miles as our central character, with character conflict, growth, and identity being underlying themes through the movie and it works. Miles remains center stage, but you still get enough time with the other major characters through the story to get it. The movie also retains a beautiful sense of humor through out and is as far from Grimdark and Depressing as you can get.

It’s rare I get to talk about three directors for one movie, but here we go with Rodney Rothman (a Lord & Miller partner and writer on their projects), and two artists. The first is Bob Perischetti, who worked on Mulan, Tarzan, Shrek 2, and Monsters vs Aliens; as well as the acclaimed The Little Prince.  Peter Ramsey is an artist turned director, who worked as a storyboard and illustrator for Bram Stokers Dracula, Tank Girl, and was the director on the painfully underrated Rise of the Guardians.  These men know how to get great voice acting that has the subtle intonations that elevate the performance and also bring a strong visual style to the art team who had their work cut out for them combining cell shaded animation, traditional four colour dot art, CG characters, traditionally animated characters, and more into a single picture.

This movie is absolutely gorgeous. Colour theorists will have a field day with this one and they should with every colour being intentional and also amazingly vibrant. Even in the “dark” scenes in the movie, the contrast of colours against the true blacks just pop off the screen to the point I almost wondered how this would look with 3-D glasses. There is such amazing kineticism to the film as well where your eyes are always watching something and when the fights, chases, and other major beats happen there is a fluidity of motion you just cannot do in live action film making and the movie takes full advantage of it. It is raw, it is dynamic, and the camera always follows the action and keeps pulling you into those action beats so well. The animation also knows when to be still as well. The right moments are held like freeze frames with only minimal motion, but maximum emotion. Even the character designs, while so bloody disparate work when they really shouldn’t.

Credit must be given to Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down) is our Miles Morales, and for a 23 year old knocks it out of the park playing a very young teenager. Because of the complexity of the voice acting Moore brings we have a truly three dimensional portrayal of this character with a fantastic message for our viewers. Jake Johnson (the computer geek guy from Jurassic World) is our Peter Parker and while I wasn’t sure on him at the opening he also brought layers to what otherwise would have been a lesser character. The same can be said for Hailee Steinfield (Ender’s Game, True Grit, and the upcoming Bumblebee) as Spider-Woman/Gwen or Ghost Spider. This movie did her right too and I can think of hundreds and thousands of girls who will see a female hero who isn’t treated sexually in any way shape or form and is absolutely someone who kicks butt, has her own arc, and just is well done. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, This is Us) and Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight) have some emotional burden to carry too and do it admirably.

Even the music in this movie just rocks from beginning to end and …and ..

TL;DR

This movie I could go on and on about. I can tell you the hype for it is real. The positive reviews may not go far enough. I saw yesterday that this movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature and I have no argument that it should win. You haven’t seen a movie animated like this before, and maybe won’t again, but it’s original. It’s vibrant. The characters are good. The story is good. The movie works on every possible level and holds it’s own against some of the best Marvel and Disney have put out.

Not only is it good, but it also reminds us how much Representation DOES Matter and gives us the heroes we really do need right now, and a message we need as well.

So I am taking it I should…

Yes. Yes you should. In theatres. IMAX if you can for the full immersion of colour.

Would you see it aga….

Yes. Next?

Buying it?

This movie is why 4K TV’s exist.

Ok Vampire lady calm down aren’t you a bit too hyped?

Maybe. My best friend and I were talking about this movie the entire ride home and just how GOOD it is. Like capital “G”. It has a positive message for the kiddos, tons of nostalgia for those old enough, is beautiful, and honestly pure. I almost feel bad for Peter Jackson next week when this comes out as Mortal Engines is going to get destroyed by this.

I really do like this movie and I hope you see it and like it too.

 

Darke Reviews | Wreck it Ralph 2 – Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ok so that took longer than I was expecting to decide what to title this. Apparently most of the sources are going by the short title now “Ralph Breaks the Internet” so that’s a thing that happened. Last year I forgot that with the Wednesday pre thanksgiving release, the movie gets its preview night showings on the Tuesday as Wednesday is the full release. Around 6:30 tonight I remembered. So you get your review as usual the day of the release since most of you are reading this in the morning. As the year winds down we always have the big Disney release on this weekend and this year is no different and for the first time in forever its a sequel; something Disney does not do well historically on their own, Pixar being it’s own beast in that vein. Of course I am nervous about my sequel Frozen 2 and what that might look like, but we aren’t here to read about that.

Did they Wreck it or Fix it?

Not that 2012’s Wreck it Ralph needed to be fixed really and it doesn’t surprise too much that it would get a sequel as it made almost half a billion dollars domestically. The story was sweet, the threat was impressive, and the characters weren’t quite like anything we had been given before; which was a breath of fresh air into the Disney sails. Six years later, and five writers (eep) we have our sequel. The story credits here go to Josie Trinidad (head of story, and a Disney story artist on Tangled, Princess and the Frog and Wreck it Ralph), Pamela Ribon (story by on Moana), Jim Reardon (story by on Wreck it Ralph, Zootopia, and WALL-E),  Phil Johnston (Zootopia, and Wreck it Ralph), AND Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck it Ralph). Whew, five writers is usually a bad sign, but not unusual on a major Disney production as there is often a writers room involved. The screenplay was then polished by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon, and directed by Johnston and Moore. So everyone is deeply involved in the production along the way here.

The story is as we see in the trailers, Vanellope von Schweetz game Sugar Rush has a bit of a physical break. Only one place on the Internet has the part needed to fix her game, and it is more pricey than the Arcade owner is willing to spend – which means he may shut down the game forever. In order to get the new part Ralph and Vanellope go to the Internet and attempt to save Sugar Rush and Vanellope’s game. Along the way adventure and hijinks ensue where our characters travel to familiar internet hotspots and meet or run into characters we all know and love.

The story here is basic and sweet guys, do you expect much more? It has all of the very predictable, and to me somewhat annoying, ups and downs of any given Buddy movie ever made. That isn’t a bad thing at all. Sometimes basic is good and here it works. The message within the movie is something the real target audience could use and again this is not a bad thing and honestly its so direct that the message might sink in. So many kids movies try to be subtle in the message or shove in some motivational language or ham fisting their message as a line of dialogue at the end. This one actually uses it as a through line and I appreciate it for that.

John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman carry the movie as one would imagine as our main two protagonists and it really isn’t much effort on their part, but the emotion is there in the performances. Gal Gadot and Taraji P Henson are show stealers as their characters Shank and Yesss. The rest of the voice cast is filled with names you will know and yes, the Disney Princesses are all voiced by their still existing voice actresses when and where possible. A personal favourite voice actress, Jennifer Hale, voices Cinderella of the broken shoe. No she’s nothing “special” within the context of the movie, I just like the actress.

The animation is everything you’d expect from the House of Mouse, no better and no worse. It’s clean. It’s bright. It’s crisp. It’s animated in both the literal and figurative sense. There’s so much motion going on in the film at almost all times there’s something to be said for the work put in there. The Disney Princess scene from the trailer is everything promised and more, even for being as short as it is.

TL;DR?

Look it’s Disney. It’s good. It’s a kids movie coming out on Thanskgiving. It won’t change the world. I can’t say it’s great. It absolutely is the movie you are expecting it to be with nothing more and nothing less given or shown. The scene everyone wants to see from the trailer is absolutely worth the price of admission and the racing scenes promised are pretty awesome to watch when you consider the amount of animation effort that goes into them.

My friends and I had a good time tonight. So take your best friend, your family, whomever and go see it. I bet you wanted to anyway!

Should I see it?

If you wanted to? Absolutely. You will get your moneys worth. If you weren’t all that interested, this movie won’t be change your mind that much one way or the other.

Would you see it again?

Maybe on a matinee. I’d pay full price the first time, but second Matinee is fine

Buying it?

It has Elsa in it. Of course I am buying it. Also its solid enough to be in the collection and has some pretty good rewatch value.

Anything else on it?

It has Elsa in it.

I have a mighty need for her “casual” outfit from this movie.

 

Ultimately folks, the movie is as sweet as it is harmless. It has a good message and is the family film that people have been waiting awhile for this fall. Go see it and enjoy.

Darke Reviews | Robin Hood (2018)

So last year in May we got the King Arthur: Legend of the Sword movie; which was rightfully trounced for being a near unwatchable mess of a film. I mean that literally as in the editing and camera work and the cutting made it nearly unwatchable. It was the start and end of what was supposed to be a “universe” of King Arthur movies. We also received The Mummy last year, another attempt to start a universe with an old property that the studio had rights to. It was buried very quickly as it should have been for well mostly being an unlikable mess. When the first trailer for yet another Robin Hood movie dropped my eyes rolled hard. The last time we had a good Robin Hood movie was roughly 1991 with Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, but lets face it the last Robin Hood movie that most everyone universally loves was in 1973 with the Disney animated classic. Ooh de lally!

 

So does this remake miss the bulls eye?

The story here opens with “This isn’t the history you know” and I am thankful for it as it sets me in the right tone for the rest of the movie. The story is an…original…take on the Robin Hood legend, written by Ben Chandler, who has absolutely no credits I can find. Chandler, and another newcomer David James Kelly, took the story and made a screenplay. Now a more doubting person may think these could be pseudonyms for other people, a version of an Alan Smithee perhaps; or perhaps they are real people. Regardless the script doesn’t have a movie it didn’t like. The best way I can set expectations properly is this is what happens if you put A Knights Tale and the Mask of Zorro (that’s the good one), put them in a Martini shaker and poured out the mixture with a dose of social commentary over a chilled glass with scenes and dialogue from a half dozen other movies. To do all of this successfully in and of itself is a work of art and original – and I love them for it.

Now the director, Otto Bathurst, does exist as I watched an interview with him about the production of this movie. He has won some BAFTA’s in the past for a show called Criminal Justice, he did an episode of Black Mirror, and the pilot episodes of Peaky Blinders; and Translation – he is very British. In making this picture I feel that he just out Guy Ritchie’d Guy Ritchie. This is the most Guy Ritchie movie I’ve seen in years, and I saw King Arthur. Elements that were attempted and failed horribly in that movie are done here and with near ecstatic success. The shots look good, even if there’s some dodgy CG on some of them, there’s also enough practical that the movie is elevated for it. Lars Andersen was brought in to consult to give Taron Egerton the real skills needed to fire a bow and at those speeds with accuracy.

The acting is fine. Taron Egerton is as charming as ever in the title role. He was born for roles like this and Kingsman and he is the action star we need. Jamie Foxx is well Jamie Foxx and looks to be having a good time himself as he delivers probably the most serious role in the movie. That isn’t to say the movie is a comedy or anyone else isn’t taking their roles seriously, but that everyone is so much larger than life, including Foxx, but he delivers the most grounded dialogue of them all. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Ready Player One) knows exactly who he is emulating in his performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham and doesn’t even try to hide it and again I love him for it. The other standout who has to help carry the film is Irish actress, Eve Hewson (Blood Ties, Bridge of Spies) as Marian. In what is becoming common place (yay) she is a character with her own agency and plans and choices to make and Hewson does it all with flawless eyeliner.

Yes, eyeliner. This movie makes no real attempts to hide its costuming influences or to even be remotely historically accurate. The costumes are as bold as the personalities within them. There are leather jackets everywhere. At least one scene with stiletto heels and I am going to tell you it doesn’t matter. The movie made no attempt to try and I am ok with it. Again here is knows what it is and what it is trying to do and be and decided that if it couldn’t be 100% historically accurate it would go to 11 on not. The action scenes are easy to follow and look good on the camera, even if again the CG is a bit dodgy at times. The camera work is also quite intentionally giving close ups, inverted shots, and distorted fish eyes when needed, if you want to poke it may have been a bit on the nose there, but the movie once again is unapologetic for what it does.

TL;DR?

I love this movie so much. It is absolutely popcorn fare and wants you to know that it is too. The earlier reference of A Knights Tale and Mask of Zorro is accurate and really sets the tone for the entire film. Everyone knows the movie they are making and while taking it seriously and putting the effort in also remember to take every aspect of their performances up just that extra notch and we all benefit from it. Robin Hood doesn’t bother putting some of its elements as Subtext, it goes for it and is unapologetic in doing so. It is anachronistic as hell at times, knows it, but doesn’t stop to wink at the audience doing so. It merely asks that you get on the ride and enjoy.

I gotta tell you I did and so did both my companions tonight. I don’t think we’ve giggled like that coming out of a movie in a long time and truly enjoyed it for what it was. Quite honestly this is one of the best Robin Hood movies ever. It knows it’s a legend. It knows it is mythology. It’s a comic book movie without ever being based on a comic book and this movie succeeds where all the others failed and deserves your money and consideration for a sequel.

So should I see it?

Yes. Take your friends. Go to a theatre with a liquor license, get some popcorn and enjoy! Hell it’s even family friendly and pretty PG by 80’s standards.

Would you see it again?

When do you wanna go? That’s a yes by the way.

Will you buy it?

No doubt in my mind.

Anything else on this one?

I thought tonight was just a standard early screener trying to get some money before Wreck it Ralph wrecks the box office the next six days. Nope, we got a free large popcorn and swag in the form of a really nice tumbler glass with the Robin Hood silhouette on it.

Look guys, this movie isn’t a Good Bad movie. This is a Good Good movie that went for the ridiculous and succeeded. Critics will likely rip it a new one, but I think they are missing the mark. Go in with the frame of mind hopefully this review put you in for it and have a good time.

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.