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.

Darke Reviews | Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

This marks the first true sequel in the series. There are little to no references between movies one and four. Yes, a character or two comes back, but the events of the films don’t. Not until Ghost Protocol returns Michelle Monaghan as Julia who Ethan must stay away from bringing continuity between movies three and four. Ghost Protocol is often considered the reboot of the franchise and marks the first time the movies get a subtitle. Before it was just Mission: Impossible, MI: 2, then MI:3. Rogue Nation picks up with the aftermath of the events of Ghost Protocol, but doesn’t really count as a sequel in that the binding story and events of that film do not carry over. Fallout breaks that in that the actual events of Rogue Nation are the catalyst and driving force behind the events of Fallout.  Too nerdy or convoluted? Yeah it kinda is, but after 6 movies over 22 years with little continuity between them beyond Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames? This is also the first time that the movies share a director and principle screenwriter.

Done with the movie trivia? Ok good. I have more, but I will hold it off.

The question of course is should you choose to accept Fallout?

As stated above, this is the return of Christopher McQuarrie to the directors chair, it also marks his return to the script; this time as a solo act. That’s right, Writer Director combo. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes good. Since McQuarrie and Cruise have a good working relationship for about a decade it makes sense that Cruise would want him back on the chair.  They worked the first time with Christopher as the writer and producer of 2008’s Valkyrie, then again in 2012 for the underrated Jack Reacher with CM in the directors chair. Then yet again in 2014 with CM scripting the criminally underviewed Edge of Tomorrow, and of course 2015’s Rogue Nation. McQuarrie also has a writing credit on last years The Mummy, but they can’t all be good. Based on my viewing of that particular abomination I think some of the high points might be his work.

Now that we have a feel for McQuarrie I can confidently say that his direction is solid as it gets. He isn’t what one would call a visionary director, he isn’t a Speilberg but they all shouldn’t be. He’s leaps and bounds above a dozen other directors this year and they should take notes from him. He has very interesting camera control and knows how to frame shots to their fullest advantage. In a movie with three women only one truly gets a “sexy” shot and its while she’s drawing a butterfly knife and is about to use it effectively. He draws out solid performances from his actors, no one is going home with an Oscar here but that isn’t what a Mission: Impossible movie is about. Ok, maybe Cavill should get one for giving us a thousand times more range with his character than we’ve seen of him as Superman. Also worth noting, the Mustache should be nominated for an award as well.

The downside here of course is in the last movie I called out some pacing issues and a bit of formulaic elements to the structure and the villains. The villains of the piece were passable, but there was a lot of tell not show vs. say …Phillip Seymour Hoffman in MI: 3; who just exuded menace. Michael Nyqvist in Ghost Protocol was also formidable, but we just don’t get that here. That isn’t to say the Villain is MCU bland, – yes I will continue to jab at the majority of MCU villains – just that we don’t feel their weight on screen the way we could. I don’t fault Sean Harris for that in his reprise of Solomon Lane, He’s “fine”. They actually give him more to do in this one and I don’t mind him, yet he is still lacking something.

The plot remains very spy vs spy vs spy; which if you aren’t fully engaged could leave you scratching your head at some of the twists, turns, crosses, and loop de loops the movie puts you through. How could someone not be engaged though? Well that’s that pacing problem again. The movie runs a full two hours and twenty minutes when the credits begin to roll and it absolutely feels it. Nearly every scene lasts about a minute longer than it needs, but they do give you the much required moments to breathe and let a beat go on long enough too. It’s just a bit too long sometimes.

The real crime is the action beats. They are fun until they are boring. Look, we get it. Tom Cruise likes to run on screen. Tom Cruise likes to ride motorcycles on screen. Nearly every action set piece the movie has goes too long without any real tension to them, and most of them are chase sequences involving, Cars, Motorcycles, or Helicopters. You could trim a solid 15 minutes of the movie from these action scenes and it wouldn’t be detrimental to the movie. It is that noticable, it can be forgivable depending on your tolerances and attention to the length of the scenes; but it is a real problem for the film.

The Bathroom fight though? Yes. yes please. The physicality of Cruise and his stunts? Absolutely.

There are also points in the positive that this movie has such amazing continuity within itself. While there are some logical failings if you squint, it does hold true to itself and gives some decent audience misdirects that I am assuming are intentional ones. There are details however that are given their due course and hold up to any scrutiny given.

TL:DR

If you’ve enjoyed the franchise so far, this is a must see. Tom Cruise is in good form and Rebecca Ferguson shines when she’s on screen. Ving and Simon are perfect and you can feel the camaraderie between the characters and I believe the cast at this point. Cavill could use some work, but he is leaps and bounds above most things we’ve gotten with him in he past few years. Also, please give an award to the ‘Stache. They had to CGI that sucker for Justice League.

I think that Fallout is a very solid, good movie. It hearkens back more to traditional spy thrillers than a Mission: Impossible movie; but still is able to keep its tongue planted in its cheek for the moments it needs to where you have no choice but to go “really?”

So should I see it?

I think so. It does have some serious and unignorable pacing issues, but overall its a good ride. I don’t think you’ll regret full price, but XD or DBox would be wasted on this one.

Would you see it again?

You taking me?

Buying it?

Absolutely. I realized my collection is missing some of the others, which I plan to fix soon, but this one will be on my shelf.

Anything else?

Of my two companions tonight, one pretty much didn’t like it. The other thought it was ok. Neither are big on the spy thrillers of yore so I can’t ignore that call out that I made above. It was a servicable action piece in an otherwise mediocre year for those.

So what’s next?

Next week no review. Travelling for work, but the week after….The Meg! Don’t forget to sign up if you want to see it with me.

Darke Reviews | The Equalizer 2 (2018)

First thing out  of the gate, there is absolutely no reason to see The Equalizer before seeing this. I had to go deep into the tomb to find that review, it’s one of my earlier ones. That aside, the first film is ultimately still very watchable and my feelings for Mr. Washington really haven’t changed in the four years since. The first movie introduces us to the character, his ticks, and his friends; yet you do not need it for this one. It trusts the audience from the cold open to follow along and be smart enough to figure out between the trailers and the opening that he is a former assassin turned maker of wrong things right – an Equalizer.  Shocking I know.

Did we really need the sequel though?

Richard Wenk, who in the years since the first provided us the screenplay for The Magnificent Seven and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, returns to his script duties. At this point, I have literally seen almost every movie he has ever written. I still love Vamp despite the hardcore 80’s cheese, I found 16 Blocks boring, the 2011 remake of the Mechanic was uninspired, The Expendables 2 was…a movie that can’t be argued. The Equalizer has been covered, as have the other two films mentioned. Suffice to say I can see his style now, understand his writing to a point, and know his quirks. He really is just an OK writer that Antoine Fuqua likes working with. Wenk has both pacing issues and a sense of being overwrought in every single script. He wants to be writing deep, cerebral, emotionally centered movies with men beyond their prime going for one last job, regardless of the job; but then he also likes damn near schlocky action against it. He is trying but he never quite rings the bell and the scripts fall apart with any real scrutiny. If you don’t think too hard here, it all works; there is a combination of intelligence to the story, but it then requires the dumbest of actions from some characters to survive. It doesn’t follow through on some components that you realize (again if you think) should have impact.

Wenk is saved though by Fuqua at the helm. In his first feature film since 2016 Fuqua remains true to form in providing us clean action beats along with knowing how to film the more emotional and tense beats provided by the script elevating them as much as they can be in the process. The problem I think here is that he was not as thoroughly invested as he was in other projects. The first movie was just shy of doubling it’s estimated $55 million production budget barely topping over $100 at the domestic box office. While this sequel feels like something Wenk, Fuqua, and Washington wanted to do, I keep thinking (dangerous here) that they also wanted to do something else. There’s an attention to detail strangely missing from multiple components of the movie and an emotional weight that is never fully realized.

Washington is actually better in this film than he was the first; giving a far more nuanced performance with the slower pace of the film and less action beats to break up those cerebral moments I mentioned before. He avoids many of his usual ticks in acting which certainly improve the movie; but it is still Denzel.  Game of Thrones Pedro Pascal is nearly unrecognizable without a facial hair and serves up a solid character for the movie. The rest of the cast is sufficient but not worth calling out.

On the technical side of things, the movie is paced slowly and methodically allowing the momentum of events to build along with the backdrop. I liked that the pacing was slower and the action beats less frequent here as it let us get to understand McCall as a character more. Act I is entirely set establishing his routine and world; while still advancing the plot because the world moves with or without you. I’ve criminalized movies for doing this poorly before, but even if Fuqua was asleep at the wheel it still is better than some directors fully coherent.

What I can’t forgive though is bad effects and a lack of attention to detail from someone like Fuqua. The digital effects in the third act of the film are nothing short of awful; while many of the practical ones stand out because of how bad the digital touch ups are. It is impossible to NOT notice. My partner tonight noticed and they don’t hyper analyze films like I do – so it’s kinda obvious. That makes this even more sinful as the movie has $7 million more to the budget than the first; yet feels as if it was made for half that. If Blumhouse productions look better, you are in trouble guys. Do better next time.

TL;DR

The Equalizer 2 was the sequel no one really was clamoring for, but is utterly harmless in its final execution. I may have beaten it up a bit in the top half of the review, but that is strictly because I expect better of the cast and crew of this movie. It was overall a fun little film, even got me emotional a few times; and wincing a few others. Running just over the two hour mark it just barely keeps you from checking your watch while sitting in the theatre. Had it been too much longer with it’s pace then it would have been more problematic.

This is a harmless, good ride of an action film. Take that for what you will.

Should I see it?

Well if you like the first one; sure. If you were curious or like Denzel, you will have a good time. As I said before you don’t need to see the first to watch and understand this, which is interesting. I do not think you need DBox, XD, or anything fancy. I wouldn’t go above matinee pricing unless you are a die hard Denzel or Fuqua fan.

Would you see it again?

In theatre’s its highly unlikely. It’s an Ok action film; but it lacks the fun of last weeks Skyscraper or the rawness of something like Sicario.

How about buying it?

I won’t mind owning it. It was passable. It wasn’t a “Meh”. I had reactions and did enjoy it. I just shouldn’t think too hard on it.

Any final thoughts on the movie?

It does hit a point where I think it is too smart for it’s own good. I just shy of accused the movie of being kind of basic before with aspirations to be more. During one of those reaching for the gold ring moments it could fail for, again, anyone who pauses a moment to think about it. It isn’t *bad* per se, but it might leave some heads scratching. The bad guys of the movie make some terrible decisions as well that in combination with the reach which leaves you asking questions that the answer is not kind to.

I’m torn on how much to penalize the movie for it though. I often write about how movies tell more than show or how they dumb down and explain everything to the audience. This doesn’t quite do that, but it also kind of goes the other way and doesn’t make sense as a result. So yay for not dumbing down, but boo for trying to be too clever.

Next week?

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE FALL OUT!!! Yes, I am an unapologetic fan of everything in the Mission Impossible franchise, except the second one. The last films have been amazing and I look forward to seeing how this literal sequel to the Rogue Nation goes.

Also, I will be posting an Event on the Facebook page for my local readers to come see The Meg with me on August 9th!

 

Darke Reviews | Skyscraper (2018)

So I kinda had to talk myself into seeing this one. I had a few of my readers on Facebook support my decision and thus we have a review. You need to understand though I missed part of a monsoon here in Arizona to do this; and if you know anything about me that usually wins out. Being in a storm is one of the few times most people see me actually relax and be at peace. The other time is the ocean. So against instinct and what looked to be a mediocre Die Hard rip off with Captain Charisma at the helm I saw Skyscraper tonight.

The first and most important question everyone is asking is:

Is this a Die Hard rip off; and by how much?

A lot; yet not. So what does it have in common? Well you have a man trying to get to his wife (and kids this time) in a building taken over by terrorists who have the apparent aim to get something only a ridiculously wealthy man has hidden in a secure room. There are action set pieces with him going through windows. There are exploding helicopters. There’s the media. There’s “one good cop”. All of this is in the trailers and it is all there but that is mostly where the similarities end between this and Die Hard.  Oh…there is one other similarity only geeks, movie nerds, and semi obsessive movie reviewers will notice. (I kinda hope I am the first one to point it out to be honest). This is coming out literally on the 30th anniversary of Die Hards release, July 12, 1988. So…points to the filmmakers and whoever made that decision. I tip my hat to you

What’s kind of interesting is that the current millennial and younger generation of movie goers by and large don’t know about a movie that predates Die Hard by 14 years and this one by 44. It also starred someone who was probably the most charismatic action star of his generation. It also has something in common with this one. At it was one of the highest grossing movies of 1974 as well; behind only Blazing Saddles $119 million, with its $116 million box office haul. This is equivalent to roughly $564 million in 2018. Of course some of you are already looking this up so I will stop teasing, but the movie is the three Oscar winning pictured called The Towering Inferno and starred Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. This movie is about a fire in the worlds tallest building that continues to go up and has people trapped; while someone tries to get in and save them from the fire.

So plot wise writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber; director of…We’re the Millers and Dodgeball?…..decided to try an action set piece and merged two amazing movies into one. Did he do it successfully? Mostly. Anyone watching this will see echoes of Die Hard in it. It’s impossible not to as it is one of the most recognizable, well crafted, and widely loved action films in the past thirty years. It is impossible to make a Person in Danger in a skyscraper movie without being compared to Die Hard since 1988. That being said, this is also the best Die Hard movie SINCE 1988.

The story is as you see it. The Rock is a former FBI agent, Will Sawyer, who is now working as part of his own private security firm. He is invited to review the security of the “tallest building in the world” and assess it so that the insurance company will underwrite it. During his review at an external location, the building is taken by a group with intent to obtain something held by its owner; and to add to their desired effect they set fire to the middle of the building trapping them, the owner, and The Rock’s family above the fire line. The Rock must now find a way to get  back into the building and rescue his family.

It’s basic, but it works. There are plenty of action set pieces, but much like the two films clearly influencing this one they rely more on the tension of the moment than the big hero moments we’ve gotten used to with action movies. This is very similar to its predecessors in that the physicality of its star and the action around him is one of vulnerability and drive rather than what we received in say Rampage or a Fast and the Furious movie. This feels closer to the under appreciated San Andreas in Mr. Johnsons performance and that’s a good thing. Also much like San Andreas, he continues to have his big action star character already have a family rather than be flirting with the damsel and get the girl. The family this time comes in the form of Neve Campbell, who is used very well here, as his Navy Doctor wife and the two children played rather well by McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell. They work, they felt right. That’s all I needed there. The director didn’t forget Ms Campbell is a survivor of the Scream franchise and not helpless.

The supporting cast holds their own with Atomic Blonde’s Roland Moller being our big bad and continuing to impress. I’d love to see him get more meaty roles in this vein, but while lacking in the raw Rickman charm, he does have a certain something to him that makes him engaging. Altered Carbon’s  Byron Mann (he was Kovac’s first sleeve you meet) is almost under used, but due to script, directing, and ability is able to avoid being a a stereotype. They let him be smart and cunning and still professional and follow the rules. Imagine that?! Hannah Quinlivan, plays a  member of the bad guy crew and is absolutely a heavy despite her normally sweet look.  I feel like I need to see her and Ruby Rose square off in a movie. Maybe it was the hair cut. Regardless, the cast was fine and so was the acting.

Yes, some of the plot points are absolutely Chekovs’ Guns and quite honestly. I don’t care. They worked. I saw the set up and recognized the pay off and was not displeased with it.

TL:DR?

Skyscraper was a far better time than I was expecting. It will never quite be the classic that Die Hard is. Sometimes you need to be first to the gate to do that. It was a solid little movie with good acting, good tension, and solid characters that made logical decisions. This was proof to me that you can make a “basic summer action film” and not have to make people turn their brains off. I suppose if I hyper analyze it I may come across a few fallacies in logic or plotholes, but it didn’t deserve that. It never once annoyed me with a character or decision made.

Dwayne Johnson retains his title, though maybe it should be Major Charisma. He is as always absolutely charming, but in this one he lets it come through in the interactions with the family rather than being an over the top action star.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yeah. It’s kinda good. It’s pop corn fare without a doubt, but I don’t regret the 95 minutes I spent with it.

Would you see it again?

Probably? I dunno. If someone asked, I would probably go with them and try to look for actual flaws, but more than likely would just be content to enjoy myself again.

Buying it?

The odds are in it’s favour.

Anything else to share?

This may be a bit spoilerish, so forgive me. I don’t think it is as the trailers show quite a bit of what I am talking about. The film has one other comparison with Die Hard and comes as a counter to the usual performances we see from an action star of this caliber. He gets hurt. It adds up. Sure there’s some level of hero immunity shown, but not like we’ve gotten used to. It’s very John McClane in this aspect and I was really happy to see that.

So…the leg?

Alright, so there’s an elephant in the room and you may want to stop here, but I can’t ignore it consider how I have been dragging someone for the past week.

I am not the right person to address this one and will take correction justifiably if required. Yes, Sawyer has a prosthetic leg below the knee. A phrase that was introduced to me on my FB wall  recently was “Not about me without me”. This is used by disability activists to express you can’t make a piece of media (movie, tv, etc) about us without including us. So knowing Dwayne Johnsons reputation for charity and consideration I did a bit of research and was able to find this little gem of an article: (source: http://989theanswer.com/news/entertainment/dwayne-johnson-honors-amputee-community-with-skyscraper )

“I was honored to play an amputee, and to make sure that I did right by them,” Johnson said on the red carpet for the film’s US premiere Tuesday night. “The research was very extensive. I spent a lot of time with amputees.”

One of those he consulted joined Johnson at the premiere: Jeff Glasbrenner, a Paralympian who became the first American amputee to successfully climb Mount Everest in 2016. Johnson called him “an amazing man.”

Of the film, he added: “There’s two sides to this. One is a big spectacle, big summer fun. The other side is making sure that we paid homage and respect to amputees around the world.”

The film’s writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber called it “incredibly important” to represent the amputee community.

“There hasn’t been an amputee as the lead of an action film, ever, as far as I know. And I thought it was high time and I hope we’re not the last. I think Dwayne worked really, really hard to represent that community and honor that community. And I think he did a fantastic job,” Thurber said.

I cannot say if this is right, if this is enough. I can say I believe they made every intent to do right. This isn’t erasure as it appears to be the first real attempt I’ve seen at a hero in a live action movie who is an amputee. Technically Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon beats this by a few years, so I clarified with live action. This however is again, up to the community to decide if it was done well. Not me; but I do have a responsibility to address it in the best way I can.

The other debacle..well that is my community and the dragging will continue.

 

Alright folks that concludes this review. Sorry for getting so heavy at the end there, but it was needed.

Next week should be Equalizer 2.

Darke Reviews | Ant-Man and The Wasp

I was not a fan of the first Ant-Man film when it came out almost 3 years ago to the day. Largely this comes from the epic battle between comedy and my sensibilities. Many co-workers and friends still ply me with things they think I believe will be funny. Few succeed. It’s a tragic tale of woe, but yet some do succeed. There’s a narrow margin where it can just work. Not everything will be The Cornetto Trilogy, early Mel Brooks, or Twilight. Sorry. I have just been informed Twilight was not intentionally funny. Also cheap shot its an easy target I plan to look at later critically. In the meanwhile we’re here for the update on what I thought about Ant-Man and Wasp.

Does it work better than Ant-Man did?

Well… short answer is yes. I know I am not waiting for the TL;DR, but I’ve been breaking the habit on that where appropriate. As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

That isn’t bad. Movies can be escapism as much as anything else in their art form. Ant-Man and The Wasp threads a difficult needle in storytelling where the movie has weight, but isn’t too heavy for audiences who need a brain break from a world that really could use some balance right now.

This isn’t to say there isn’t good plot here. Oh no. There is. Set two years and change after the events of Civil War (and two years and change after the movie release so there’s that) it picks up with Scott Lang under house arrest for his ‘crimes’ in Germany. He has completely reconnected with his daughter (played adorably by Abby Ryder Fortson) who despite her age really seems to get it with her Dad and loves him unequivocally. He and his ex and her new husband have found their middle ground and feel more like a functional family than anyone else shown in the MCU to date. He’s trying to put what he can of his life back together with his friends who are trying to start up a security system business when he gets a flash of the Quantum Realm; which gives him visions of a long since lost Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. This causes Hank and Hope to seek him out to help find their missing family member, while trying to stay a few steps ahead of black marketeers who want Hanks tech, a mysterious new villain appropriately named “Ghost” for her ability to walk through solid objects at will, and the FBI who want to arrest Hank and Hope and will throw Scott in Jail for 20 years if he’s caught outside his house.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this movie. It works. Despite violating my three writer rule by having five on the written by credit, it doesn’t feel like it was written by that many people. The stories, tone, and everything else carries through the movie nearly seamlessly. Peyton Reed back in the directors chair really does have a grasp now of what to do, how to frame, and how to get the right performances out of his actors. This doesn’t feel like the same director, yet it is. What also works is the aforementioned weight in the movie. Germany (Civil War) had consequences that carry over through the entirety of the movie. Consequences. In a comic book movie. I never thought I’d see it (in a way that logically makes sense) and it works. On top of that the primary villain Ghost (played expertly by Hannah John-Kamen (Ready Player One, Kill Joys) was masterful.  I never thought I would say this but Ant-Man and The Wasp gave us our first female POC villain in a modern comic movie. On top of that, its a GOOD Villain too. I won’t go into details because spoilers, but I really liked her character and its motivations. The movie also provided stakes if our heroes lost. Lots of them and truth be told I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with those stakes until the final credits rolled. That is very rare. Please give me some more

I could talk about the effects, but overall they are superior to the first film and its just a better movie. Also the effects team and director like Tardigrades, which is kinda awesome.  The fight sequences are really good. easy to follow and come in both large and small scales, but work within the movie so well.

I should probably talk about Evangeline Lilly here. She’s awesome. Thank you. She is bad ass. She has her own agency and goals. While the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, I think it passes the Mako Mori one.

TL:DR

This is a well paced, light, enjoyable superhero film. It has a lot going on so you don’t feel its two hour run time in the least. I had a good time and I think you will too. Also cheating here, but copying from above for more of the TL:DR

As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

Should I see it?

I think so. If you were remotely interested it is going to be a good time. If you weren’t you won’t miss much, but I gotta tell you the rest of July isn’t looking like a major movie going month for most folks.

Would you see it again?

Yeah. The D-Box seats I bought for my partner and I tonight really did add something, but standard or XD is good for this one.

Going to buy it?

The odds are in its favour.

So what about Avengers Infinity War and this one’s continuity?

They line up without flaw. Thats all I will say.

Alright, so what’s wrong with the rest of July?

I have zero interest in Hotel Transylvannia 3. I refuse to give Adam Sandler money. I don’t care if it has Vampires in it. I have a line I draw.

Skyscraper is still on my maybe pile.

Equalizer 2 I’ll see, but the first had a small audience and I don’t think this one will fare better. I haven’t seen a lot of marketing for it.

At the end of the month we get Mission Impossible: Fallout, which based on conversations I’ve had; I am the only one excited for.

 

Final Note: Special thanks to my movie going partner. It’s nice to chat with someone immediately after the movie.