Darke Reviews | The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Prior to moving to the southwest far too long ago for my comfort, I had not heard of this urban legend. To be perfectly honest, I first came across it with the Supernatural pilot episode where they faced the woman in white. My fiancée at the time, had heard of her and told me some of the stories and variations. Urban legends are always fascinating, an interesting aspect of modern mythology and folklore that tell you as much about a place as anything else. For where I grew up we had the statue of Black Aggie, who had many many dark and horrifying stories around what happens should you cross the statues path, including one notable story of someone dying of fright in her arms. Of course there’s Bloody Mary, who is one of the most widely known ones, that in turn inspired the film Candyman. What makes this movie special is that this isn’t American or even European folklore at play, this is a story of Mexican origin and damn if we don’t need some other legends making it to the screen.

But was she the right one?

First we should talk the story of La Llorona. There are variations to it and the reason why, but it is the horrifying tale of a mother out of jealousy or rage drowned both of her children. Then in her weeping grief, killed herself once she realized what she had done. She is most commonly in a white dress and veil, similar to (if not actually) a wedding dress. Her tormented spirit cries for her lost children and even now she looks for the children of others to replace her own; but alas…the cycle repeats. It’s a grim story even without the haunting aspect and automatically should put most people on edge. The movie itself doesn’t disappoint here as it opens with a dreamlike visual of our woman in white and her crime. This is important because when a movie like this opens with killing young kids, no one is safe. With most horror movies you can expect the final girl, or maybe the kids surviving, but by opening with the death of children this movie removes that security blanket and you are left with a pervasive sense of dread throughout. That is a plus in the movies favour.

The screenplay was written by Tobias Iaconis (Five Feet Apart) and Mikki Daughtry (Five Feet Apart). that tells the story of a social worker in 1973 Los Angeles who becomes immersed in the world of the spirit and must save her kids before it’s too late. This is not a complex story, but it doesn’t have to be. What it does have to be is tightly focused on a mother trying to save her children from an enemy that is not a living being. They have that, mostly. The challenge here is you know the threat is real and not in her head, that the mother and children also know the threat is real. The movie tries to insert some additional friction and makes a weak attempt at world building around it, but while it lands it doesn’t have any weight and could have been excised without a viewer even noting it was there. There is of course one (mild) moment of stupidity that I couldn’t forgive as it would have completely altered the already useless friction. One other elephant in the room I feel is important. Neither of the writers are LatinX. They do treat the material respectfully, to my perception, but I really feel if you are adapting a specific cultures folklore and mythology that is non-white you might want to have someone from that culture there.

Director Michael Chaves (The Maiden, Conjuring 3) was aware of this. In an interview with Daily Dead at ComicCon he spoke of the weight this movie would have.

Michael Chaves: Yeah, I think because it’s such a cultural touchstone, and beyond just being a cultural tradition, it’s also a family tradition. This is something that abuelas would tell their grandkids for hundreds of years. It was always, “You better be good or La Llorona is going to get you.” That was a huge weight, and we did a lot of research and there were a lot of discussions. I really feel like we made absolutely the best La Llorona movie that could be made. It’s scary as hell. (source: Heather Wixson interview of Michael Chaves and Patricia Velazques on DailyDead .com)

 

As a white woman, I can’t say if he succeeded. I can say that it appears he did.  I know that Hispanic culture was part of my life for 15 years thanks to my ex-fiancee and I learned a lot. Everything felt respectful and nothing at all felt stereotypical as I watched. The performances he drew from all of his cast, regardless of age worked very well.

Linda Cardellini (Scooby Doo, Green Book) has to carry the weight of the movie and does so as our mother of two Anna Tate-Garcia. Young Roman Christou as the eldest child Chris, and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen (Self/Less) as the youngest Samantha have their own load to carry and both do well enough. Raymond Cruz (The Closer, Major Crimes) is always a pleasure and fits right in as both heavy and some much needed comedy. Patricia Valasquez (The Mummy) is a delight even in her intense role as Patricia Alvarez the first victim of our spirit. Tony Amendola makes his appearance as well as Father Perez, which automatically connects the movie to the universe of Annabelle and the Conjuring.

On a technical perspective, this is a very dark movie. I mean that literally. It’s dark. Lighting is next to non-existant and used sparingly through the movie which while it is fantastic at setting the mood can do some damage to engagement when everything gets slightly more noticeable when the ghost is present – kinda the opposite of what you want. Props to the serious atmosphere though. The other downside, and this is unfathomable, is CG steam. Why? Why do we need CG steam coming off the coffee cup? Why do we need CG steam coming off a lantern? It didn’t look good guys. You can do better, especially when so many other of the effects are practical and effective as hell.

TL:DR?

While almost every beat is predictable as they come with all appropriate McGuffins and Chekhovs present and accounted for, I rather enjoyed the movie. Producer James Wan has a pretty solid reputation for putting out low budget movies that even contained within a near single location still manage to weave an interesting and engaging story. The Curse of La Llorona is no exception to the pattern. True the biggest innovation to the genre is faithfully bringing a longstanding tradition to a wider audience, sometimes all a movie needs to do is do all of it right. It doesn’t have to reinvent the industry or be the next big thing to be good. This is one of those. It knows what it is, what it can do and tries to do it’s best at that.

What really adds, as I mentioned in the deeper dive, is the fact everything and everyone is fair game. When you kill kids for your opener nothing is sacred and that tension is important to keep you wondering who lives and who dies. No…I’m not telling you who lives and dies either. That’s against the rules

Aww ok. But should I see it?

If you were interested or this is your genre. It’s an above average entry that works rather well and might be one of the stronger entries in the shared universe it is part of.

Would you see it again?

Not likely in theatres. I don’t think there’s an experience or detail I missed to bring me back to see it there.

But….

Yeah I am probably buying it.

Parting thoughts or parting shots?

Both. I give props to James Wan here. This is how you do a shared universe and do it well. Sure you can go the Marvel/Disney route and have these complex intertwining co-starring stories that are big and bombastic. I mean c’mon most of us are going to watch one next weekend. Wan went the other direction here and while you do have an intertwining story they do function well enough on their own as standalone films and prequels that could work without the other film. Just insert a character from another film and the connective tissue exists. That let’s you set up for the film coming later this year in the franchise, but doesn’t force the viewer to watch everything before.

Other studios trying to do their “Cinematic Universes” should maybe look at the scrapper that is The Conjuring Universe instead of the heavy weight that is Disney.

Just an idea.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Hellboy (2019)

I need Ian McShane to narrate my life. Sure people talk about having Morgan Freeman do it or Samuel L Jackson for the complete other take; but for me, it has to be Ian McShane. I never fully appreciated the gift that he was until seeing him in the remake of Death Race (2008). This is a man who is all out of anything to give. This is a man who I am almost certain walks on set, reads his script, and generally goes “screw it” and does what he will and they just film him – and it always turns out awesome. If you’ve seen the John Wick movies you know this to be true as well. I only bring this up now because this movie opens with narration by Mr. McShane and it sets a very firm tone for what the movie will give you.  It wastes very little time establishing any of this and if you don’t like the first minute of film you won’t like the following hundred and nineteen. As a film goer and critic I appreciate it when movies manage my expectations in such a way. Jordan Peele did this with much praise in US and now we have one of my favourite underrated directors doing it here in Hellboy’s 5th movie installment.

But does it work?

As mentioned this is the 5th installment of a Hellboy movie, with the original DelToro in 2004, the animated Sword of Storms in 2006, the animated Blood and Iron in 2007, and The Golden Army in 2008. The last three have the creator of Hellboy as one of the writers and all of them have Ron Perlman in the titular character role, and the other live actors in their respective supporting roles. This marks the first time that Mike Mignola is not involved in the writing (but he does get an Executive Producer credit). To say that the tone of this movie is irreverent would be an understatement of apocalyptic proportions. Andrew Cosby’s (creator of TV series Eureaka and Haunted) script is very much in the vein of of the previous ones, with Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) trying to stop a very potent supernatural baddie from ending human life letting the creatures of the night rule once again and for Hellboy himself to face his own dark potential. To be fair, as the Vampire Princess I am kind of rooting for the monsters – it’s a blood thing after all.

The movie does a decent job setting up who Hellboy is and what he believes in pretty quickly with a well done show don’t tell scene. We’re given the crash course rehash of his origin with some very clear comic book characterizations and other characters, like The Lobster, not previously seen in a Hellboy picture being lifted from page to screen. Cosby clearly does love the material and embraced every aspect of the over the top nature of it and brought it to the script; perhaps at the detriment of giving us any compelling characters beyond Hellboy, Broom, and Alice Monaghan. The movie suffers from an eternally brisk pace that doesn’t let you ever linger long enough to care much about anything which can leave you wanting if you don’t feel for the stakes.

That being said I am pleased to see Neil Marshall back in the directors chair again. His filmography is regular watching in my crypt from The Descent, to Dog Soldiers, to Doomsday, and Centurion. This didn’t feel like one of his movies though.  Sure Doomsday mashes up a zombie apocalypse movie, MadMax, and a medieval film all in one, but the overall look, feel, and tone here doesn’t feel like him entirely. It’s shot well and you can fully place everything being done and have a great sense of scale and geography during some of the fights and sweeping shots; which is definitely him, but its the closer moments that are somewhat off.

That might come down to the technicals. Normally Marshall is all but 100% practical in every shot; with few exceptions. He doesn’t shy from the gore when appropriate, nor does this movie; but the visuals they look well bad. When some of the blood effects and creature effects in movies a from over a decade ago look better than one made now, you have a problem. Many of the digital creations are more detractors for the movie than they are supporting, which is sad because there is practical work at play here. My gut tells me, and I bet I could research and prove, that this may have fallen victim to post production touch ups and overwork similar to the 2011 prequel of The Thing. There was intense and amazing practical work done, but someone at the studio came in and had the team redo all of the effects with digital over the practical. It is infamous in how bad it is at times. This looks about the same. Again this is sad because Hellboy looks great, some of the low key practical effects through the movie also look great – but the digital is not good.

People will want to know how is David Harbour (Stranger Things) vs Ron Perlman in the role of Hellboy. He’s good. I am biased, as many will be, that Perlman is better. I think some of it comes down to how well and how often Perlman gets to emote and how clear he sounds doing so. There’s a lack of clarity in the speech and lack of presence in that speech that overall hurt Harbours otherwise ideal casting. He looks good in the part, he emotes when he can, but I think the movie doesn’t really give him the chance to be as iconic as Perlman was.  The next match up of course is Ian McShane vs John Hurt as professor Broom. They aren’t even the same character and thus cannot be compared. I mean it is the same character but the take on it is so radically different you would not know it. McShane does as he does on American Gods, and chews all the scenery and we love him for it, but much like Harbour we aren’t given enough with him to make him more than Ian McShane, which is unfortunate. Daniel Dae Kim (LOST, Hawaii Five-O) is also done a disservice as Major Ben Daimio. He is able to elevate the part just enough to make it work, but only barely. Sasha Lane (Miseducation of Cameron Post) is the only one who manages to make a real impression playing Alice, but only barely.

TL;DR

The original Hellboy had a budget of $66 million (just over $91m adjusted) but it shows in the painstaking care of the practical. Lionsgate did this movie no favours in its $50 million budget. The intense practical of the 2004 Hellboy makes it a stand out film, while unfortunately the intense digital elements here cut this one off at the knees. This is a movie that has a very talented director, a capable cast, a script from someone who clearly knows his source material and the result is something of a muddy mess. Hellboy clearly deserved better than it got and unfortunately what looks to be some level of studio hands in the pot allowed a movie filled with sound and fury signifying nothing.

This feels more like something you would have expected from an early 2000’s Miramax movie instead of a late 2010’s Lionsgate one. This isn’t to say it’s awful. Quite contrary to that it actually is kind of fun at times in a throwback kind of way. I have to wonder if knowing their hands were tied the director, cast, and crew just embraced the travesty and rode with it like Slim Pickens. Everyone tries here. Everyone clearly looks like they are having a good time. The music director clearly was enjoying themselves and this certainly doesn’t feel like any other comic book movie you will see this year, largely due to the intense amount of digital and practical blood effects. This movie is an R Rated one and took full advantage of it.

Yes, but should we see it?

Yes, but preferably with alcohol or *lots* of popcorn. It is that sort of beer and pretzels movie that shouldn’t be but is and knows both of those things are true. I did enjoy myself, but I can’t tell you this is a good movie either.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatre, no.

Ok, what about buying it?

Yeah, I have no issue with that. I can order a pizza, open a bottle of bloo, er wine, sit down and just enjoy.

So it’s a …?

This is an entertaining, turn your brain off for two hours, have a drink and enjoy movie. I can’t be certain it was meant to be that way, but the net result is that.

I wouldn’t hold out hope for a sequel, but stranger things have happened. Also I still need Ian McShane to narrate my life.

 

Next week, I may or may not see the Curse of La Llorona – but face it we’re all waiting for End Game.

Darke Reviews | Pet Sematary (2019)

I saw a new meme yesterday going around. “What type of person are you based on the book you read in High School?” It had all the classics most of us had to read in the 80’s and 90’s. Me though? Didn’t really read them or pay much attention to them. I did however read Tommyknockers a few times and even had a greeting to one of my best friends (who will likely read this) during that time. We recently reconnected on FB and I used that to let him know it was me (I am a different than I was then). He’s also the one who gave me one of my fondest nicknames. So yeah in high school I wasn’t reading the required, I read Christine, Cujo, Tommyknockers, The Stand, and yes Pet Sematary. By that point I had already watched the 1989 movie a few times, mostly for Fred Gwynne’s last performance and my girl crush on Denise Crosby.

They say sometimes Dead is better. Should this have stayed buried?

Obviously based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this time the adaptation of the story for the screen is done by Matt Greenberg. Greenberg has had some adaptation work for King before either in his writing work on Children of the Corn III or the amazing 1408.  He also provided us one of the better sequels in the Halloween franchise, H20. Unfortunately he is also the one who did the screen story for Seventh Son. Don’t look it up or watch it. The script however came from the mind and idle hands of Jeff Buhler of the Midnight Meat Train and last years…interesting series Nightflyers; and the mildly disappointing The Prodigy. This is very much an adaptation of the King story where it is far more faithful in spirit, but still not the book – so don’t go looking for that. The basics are there, a doctor, his wife, daughter, and toddler son move from the big city to a small town in Maine (c’mon it’s King you expect it to be anywhere else?). Their new home is beautiful if you can stand the tanker trucks doing 60 on a road that clearly should be a 30, and this creepy little town graveyard for pets way back in the woods. When the family cat, Church, dies thanks to one of the aforementioned trucks their helpful old timey neighbor introduces the father to what lies beyond the barrier in the Pet Sematary. Burying Church in that stony soil begins an ever darkening and maddening chain of events.

As you can tell if you are familiar with the 89 movie or the book the meat is there, the potatoes are there. It digs deeper than the last attempt and shows that the writers cared to do so, but I am not 100% sold it went deep enough. There is not a real fault with the script or the dialogue of the movie. The mistakes of the past are gone, but there seem to be new ones; where it feels like a late 2000’s adaptation. Everything you want is there, but some aspect of it doesn’t quite resonate. I feel that some of it may go to the execution by duo directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch; but again it’s hard to pin it down. Their staging is fine, the blocking is fine, the actors performances are fine. One or two of the visuals is a bit rougher than I think they should be, but others just work.

Jason Clarke (Winchester, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) nails it as atheist doctor LouisCreed. I buy him as a man who is faced with the impossible and then an impossible choice. Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, The Killing) carries the trauma of Rachel Creed’s childhood, well enough; but I felt absolutely no chemistry between her and Clarke. This isn’t to say they aren’t trying, because they are – it just doesn’t quite work. John Lithgow can do no wrong and while he lacks more of the folksy quality in Gwynne’s earlier performance he still pulls off Judd well enough; even without a good ayup.  Jeté Laurence, at age 12, as the daughter Ellie, has her work cut out for her, but I felt she did better than many in her age group ever could have; and unlike Seimetz comes across having real chemistry with Clarke.

On the technical side of things to say the movie is short is an understatement, with a 101 minute running time including credits which run for about 8 of those minutes there is little fat on the movie. Then why does it at times feel like it’s moving so slow? Yes, there’s a point to pacing it for tension, which it builds, but they did this at the sacrifice of something. A little effect here. A poorly executed dream like sequence there. A ghostly image that exists because it had to, but not because of service to the story. Also shooting in the summer when you are supposed to be in Maine in the fall? The lack of appropriate colour shows.

TL;DR

Pet Sematary is a solid horror film; its perfectly serviceable. One of Kings better film adaptations to be sure, but I feel it is a reactionary product. When IT blew everyone (and more than a few records) away in September of 2017 it was only a matter of time before people began to look for the next King property to remake. Sure this one had been in talks since 2010, but it was green lit in December of 2017 right as IT was wrapping its $300 million domestic haul. A rushed schedule had filming in late June 2018 wrapping August 11th. This has all the hallmarks of a studio absolutely trying for a cash grab and investing just enough to make the movie look good while doing it. The problem with moves like this by studios, they *feel* like they are a cash grab when you watch it. You can see where every single corner has been cut and while you can’t put your finger on whats wrong with the picture you absolutely know that something is.

What made IT work was the investment of time and care, the $35 million didn’t hurt either. The $21 million budget on this one with the time given shows. Yes, the actors care. Yes, the production crew cares. That also shows, but those edges, those frays, and uneven cuts. That reek of something that feels like a studios hand or perhaps a not as good as they need to be writer making a choice does it all a disservice. While there are plenty of movies who run too long, this one is about five to ten minutes too short. If this comes out with a longer directors cut I might be happier with the final product.

So should I see it?

See Shazam first. It’s the superior movie this week, by leaps and bounds. That being said, while my critique is fairly harsh for the movie, I did enjoy it, but it was despite its flaws. This one is going to be VERY mixed and you’ll have to decide for yourself your tolerances.

So maybe, but unlikely.

Would you watch it again then?

Not in theatres, no.

Though buying it?

Yeah, I’ll buy it. Like I said, I did enjoy it. I just have to call a movie on what I think is wrong with it. Clarke, Lithgow, and Laurence are absolutely enjoyable. Seimetz tries, but it doesn’t work.

Do you think the content soured you?

This is one of King’s bleaker stories; which is saying something. The Stand at least had hope. You have kids and family pets dying and then coming back as something else, something different. You have a growing madness and desperation as you watch innocence die. That’s pretty bloody bleak. I knew that going in so that isn’t it. I don’t even mind the major change to the story for this adaptation, they made it work; but the movie lacks commitment or conviction.

I’m glad that this movie was remade. The 89 one is one of the rougher King adaptations, but I just wish a little more had been given to the movie.

Again I enjoyed myself, and the cover of the Ramones song Pet Sematary by Starcrawler. I just think we could have had more. Maybe the soil of my heart is too stony for this one.

 

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Shazam! (2019)

The exclamation mark is important if you want to get the right title when looking this one up. Now, I am just barely old enough to remember Shazam (1974) and Isis (1975) on reruns as a kid.

Shazam and Isis

 

I of course have some of the 90’s and early 2000’s comics with Billy Batson and the rest of the Marvel family, oh yes. Thats right. I mentioned on a post about the recent Captain Marvel movie that there was some beautiful irony in putting the Shazam! trailer in front of that movie. So a bit of comic history, Captain Marvel was created in 1939 by Fawcett Comics and then was sued by what would eventually become DC comics for copyright infringement on Superman. The case went back and forth for a few years with the two settling out of court in 1953. The character went out of print shortly after due to declining sales. After the silver age of comics DC licensed the characters from Fawcett in 1972, but at this point Marvel had already established Captain Marvel and a trademark on it that forced DC to go with the title of Shazam. The character didn’t unquestionably and fully take his name as Shazam until the 2000’s. So there you go, you now know something you didn’t before.

The real question is should you watch the movie?

Let’s face it DC is hit and miss. Mostly miss in my opinion. Man of Steel doesn’t hold up as it did on my initial review and hundreds of people are happy to tell you why. BvS….let’s not discuss that. Wonder Woman certifiable hit, but a touch weak on the villain front. Suicide Squad, I like. Others don’t. I can see the criticism though. Justice League…mostly a miss, but so much closer than they had been before. Don’t @ me snyder fanboys – his vision wasn’t good. Aquaman, the box office and I disagree on how good this was, so its a solid ok; but still firmly in Snyders shadow. Shazam! is the first movie that is 100% out of it and it shows.

The story was written by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Goosebumps) and Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo); who basically made their paychecks with kids films. This might have been the stroke of genius missing or maybe just what a movie with a kid as the star needed. The story is good here and undeniably solid. There is some rather good show don’t tell storytelling through out the movie that is a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre; and while there is exposition only at one point does it not work. The meat of the story is around Billy and his search for his family and every line of it works. Every interaction with the foster parents, the other foster kids works. It was beautiful and heartbreaking to watch some of the scenes and really to give us a GOOD Foster situation in film. All too often you hear about “the system” and it’s shown as a meat grinder for kids who work their way out of it, and this movie turns that on its head and I love it for that. Director David F. Sandberg clearly is not the first choice I’d have gone to for a kid based superhero movie after his first two feature films were the 2016 horror film Lights Out and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation; but again this somehow worked. He shot a movie that is both heartfelt, heart breaking, and funny all at the same time and never loses sight that this is a kid who is becoming a hero.

The kid in question, Asher Angel (Andi Mack) as Billy Batson. Besides looking too much like Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) twin brother he has to carry the film as much as anyone, which is hard for a 16 year old. He does it though bringing the edge needed for a kid who is running away from everything in search of something he may never find, then is granted all the powers anyone could hope for and having to make some real choices. Angel is able to handle all the nuance needed for his character and Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled) as the older version of him captures the rest of it well. Points to the script, the directing, Levi, and Angel here as I really felt that this wasn’t a grown man being childish but a child trying to be a grown man. Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak from IT) has a lot of work to do as well as Freddy Freeman, Billy’s foster brother. Thankfully he is just as capable of carrying the torch and bearing the weight as Angel is. The two of them felt right in their roles and Grazer had to work with both Levi and Angel and make it feel that he was talking to the same person and was able to do so. Mark Strong (Kingsman, Sherlock Holmes) was clearly having a good time on set as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Here we have a competent villain who is a match for our hero, has motive, and is understandable. Strong was perfect for the role and the enjoyment he clearly had shows through in every frame.  I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the other supporting cast who really helped bring the heart to the movie. Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews as the foster parents were perfect and honestly, I wish those characters were my parents. The other foster children played by Grace Fulton (Mary), Ian Chen (Eugene Choi), Faithe Herman (Darla), and Jovan Armand (Pedro) are also quite perfect though of them young Faithe steals the show every damn time.

The effects on display are also really good guys. Like impressively so, with the flight, the transformations, the fights, all of it looking some of the best I’ve seen in years. Some of that comes down to the editors not hypersaturating the movie. The colour balance here is just perfect and only a touch off photo real with the reds and whites always being slightly brighter. This doesn’t look for feel like any of the DC movies or Marvel movies and I want more of it. I need more of this. Even the score is solid, though not as emphasized as I would like – I felt it and it played me the way it was supposed to.

TL:DR?

Guys. This is good. This is really good. Like after the inspiration that Wonder Woman brings and the epicness of her film, this is easily my second favourite of the DC movies. This had the purity and heart that the original Donner superman captured but with modern film making techniques. If I want a good super hero movie that reminds me what it was like when the heroes cared about saving people and the movie showed it, when someone was just a GOOD person because it was the right thing to do – this movie is going to  be in that rotation. I am hoping and praying to whatever box office gods that listen that this can take and hold the box office for a few weeks and show DC that we want more of this.

Should i see it?

Yes. No question. Yes. On the Big screen.

Would you see it again?

I just might.

Buying it?

Absolutely. I am going to be happy to have this in the collection.

You sure this was a DC movie?

I know right? This was closer to Black Panther than it was a DC movie. Great story telling, compelling characters. While the movie has a few moments that make me personally uncomfortable (Bullies, Family issues) the fact that i made me feel those moments is a tip of the hat in its favor not a strike against. I’m always surprised when I write my reviews. I sometimes expect them to be positive and they turn out fairly negative, or I expect them to be positive but then when I write it and think about it the review is glowing. This is one of the ones I am happy to say is in the glowing category.

 

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Darke Reviews | Us (2019)

Jordan Peele was only vaguely on my radar a few years ago because my best friend had me watch a few clips of Key & Peele, but as you all know comedy and I have a tenuous relationship held by the barest tether. It didn’t really resonate with me, so I moved on with my life. Then two years ago Get Out is released around early February and it becomes THE movie of the year that is still talked about and analyzed by hundreds of YouTube content creators and film students – and rightfully so. I had long heard that Jordan was an extremely talented comedian, so when he comes out swinging with one of the best original horror movies in years I am not terribly surprised. My ex and I often talked about how some of the great comics could turn the best serious roles ever simply because they understand timing, pacing, and the layers of human emotion far better than most. The same applies to Mr. Peele.

With this being his second turn at bat in the horror genre is he still swinging as strong?

Taking on the writing, producing, and directors credit is a bold move in Hollywood even now. It fails more often than it succeeds, but Jordan Peele is talented and has a clear vision of what he wants to do.  From the opening frame he is determined to tell you what to expect, he wants to set the expectations for the movie and then begin to play on them as the story unfolds. In this he absolutely succeeds. There’s a base understanding of fear he works with in Us that many directors would be wise to follow suit with. There’s fear of the unknown and fear of the known but using them together – that thats a trick right there. The story of what is happening to this family as they face their doppelgangers is designed to make you uneasy and to make you worry for their fate and he does that well. Because of the fact you are dealing with doppelgangers, you really don’t know who will live and who will die as the story progresses. You are never fully allowed to believe anyone is safe and that is a failing that most horror movies have. You KNOW who is safe so you don’t feel the tension of whats going to happen. Here, you don’t know what might happen or what punches won’t be pulled.

That’s a good thing. It keeps you invested in the story. It has you rooting for the family and worried for them. Again something many horror movies forget to maintain.

Much of that aside from the direction of Jordan lays on the broad shoulders of Winston Duke (Black Panther‘s M’baku) and Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave). Nyong’o owns this movie and her role as a mother trying to survive. As with the rest of the cast she performs double duty as both the mother and the doppelganger and there is a lot of performance happening here. She continues to impress with every performance and any movie with her would be lucky to have her. She’s an absolute powerhouse who can fill the frame with every bit of energy even if she is being restrained. That kind of power is impressive, especially when you put her 5’5″ next to the 6’5″ Winston Duke. He has an amazing physicality that was on full display in Black Panther, yet here he feels like he has dad bod. For someone who has used and is used to his physical presence to pull it back and feel weaker, to feel smaller is a feat unto itself.  In Black Panther he showed he had charisma and charm and this movie proved that wasn’t a trick, and also lets him be a bit awkward at times and it works. His chemistry with Nyong’o is believable and they do feel like a family unit.

Holding your own against these two would be difficult for many, but credit must be given to both child actors. Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala in this summers Lion King) as the daughter and Evan Alex as the son. They have a lot to do as well, but each performance is different and strong enough that when they are in the frame with the others it works and their presence is known.

That partially comes from the technical direction with the framing of the shots. Peele and his cinematographer Mike Giolakis (It Follows) use the camera wisely. They avoid some of the camera tricks others would go for and instead just use lighting and blocking to set the stage and create the tension in the moment that you need. There are some retrospectively brilliant shots I am thinking of in the movie that I noticed, but wish I had noticed more. There are some scripting flaws that I can’t quite work through, but the brisk pacing of the movie doesn’t give you time.

TL;DR?

Us is worth seeing. While I don’t think that Peele knocked it out of the park like he did with Get Out, this is a solid line drive with a good double or triple out of it. Baseball references, who knew right? Get Out is sufficiently creepy from the onset and while I would love to say it maintained that through out I don’t know that it did. I can’t quite put my finger on what didn’t work as well for me, but I know that the direction is good, the acting is terrific, but there’s just something missing enough that I know I like it, but I don’t know how I feel about it.

It could be said, that I need to digest it more. That I need to talk about it more and what others got from it. That could very well be true. What we do have though is an original horror movie in a time when people are still vetching about nothing original. What we do have is an excellent writer and director in his sophmore effort in the horror genre doing better than 90% of others in that same field. I will warn, slightly spoilerish, if you want gore this isn’t your movie. It has it’s share of blood being spilled, but its done with an appropriately restrained hand.

Should I watch it though?

Absolutely. I like this movie a lot. I can’t say I love it, but I do like it. If you enjoy horror and tension this movie has both.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres? Maybe. I don’t know that it would or should get a second viewing at theatre prices.

But you would buy it?

Absolutely. I can see myself very easily curling up on the couch with a nice cup of cocoa or cider and watching this movie a few times.

Anything else to add?

Like I said above, I like this movie. It’s a very good movie. Its what I want more of in the genre. I am not conflicted on that at all. I just can’t quite pin how the movie made me feel – which is interesting in and of itself. That could be a success or a failure on the part of the movie, but for now we’ll just say its worth discussing.

 

Now, I won’t be seeing Dumbo next week. I really have no interest in it so will be taking the week off, but I may have a surprise this weekend. After that, well I hear Dead is Better

 

Darke Reviews | Captain Marvel (2019)

This, until Frozen 2 was officially announced, was one of my most anticipated movies this year if not the most anticipated movie this year. After my middling review of Avengers: Infinity War, I really have no emotional connection to the upcoming Endgame. It’ll happen. I will see it, but what really got my attention was the final shot from Fury and the stinger that came with it for this movie. Then they tell me it’s Brie Larson who I first saw as Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and I absolutely loved in Free Fire, and then again in Kong: Skull Island she was able to elevate a sub-par character. I am more pleased. The trailers drop, the smile grows. Larson goes on the offensive to the internet trolls – and how can I not be happy. Then my best friend points out how Marvel is doing the “HER” O thing in the trailer..and its a touch eye rolling since Marvel is second out of the gate on this front and there’s been a lot of talk about it but no action until 11 years into the Marvel universe. They talk, but their actions and other comments seem to say they don’t trust. Now they go for it and the internet trolls go after Marvel and this movie in full force – so bad that several sites turned off reviews from people until after the movie is out.

So is Captain Marvel the hero we needed in the Marvel universe?

Well Yes.

Yes she is. She is long overdue.

Did they do her justice though?

That’s the real question. The first answer to it, is not what I call good. Frequent readers of mine know I have a “Three Writer Rule”; which states that any movie with three or more writers usually has some issues. This one has five story by credits, three of which also get screenplay. Now I could go look up and try to decipher who did what and share that, but I don’t think that is needed. We can generally infer that the story by with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy, Detective Pikachu) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur) were the initial story writers, as the other three credits also get screenplay. Those credits going to Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider 2018), and the films directors Anna Boden (Sugar, Mississippi Grind) and her frequent collaborator Ryan Fleck (Sugar, Mississippi Grind). As I piece this together we have a Disney writer, a proven Marvel writer, and an up and coming writer from the writers room. We have two writer/directors who clearly work well together, but haven’t worked on anything this big before – and now this movie makes sense.

We have the story of Vers (Veers), a Kree Warrior with amnesia, engaged in an intergalactic war with a shapeshifting species known as The Skrulls. During a rescue operation Vers and her team are ambushed by the Skrulls and Veers is captured. During a Skrull interrogation flashes of lost memory return to Vers and during her escape she finds herself on Earth. Now she must stop the Skrulls from find a MacGuffin and clues to her own identity.

That’s more or less the premise here and its fairly solid comic book storytelling. The plot is amazingly straight forward and carries itself well. The connective tissue of the movie that carries you from beat to beat is some of the better pieces since Marvel Phase 1 and early Phase 2; where they let the two hour movie slow down enough for you to get a real feel for the characters and their interactions with those around them. The movie even solves amazingly well the Green Lantern Paradox, which is how do we show an Alien world and let people care. They did it. The problem really lies on the surface of the film. They brow beat you with the girl power in too obvious ways that actually do read as pandering. That isn’t to say that the movies through line of this woman who stands up against everything that tries to hold her back isn’t there – because damnit it is and I am here for it. What takes away from it is the inconsistencies and little jabs that don’t work and should have been edited out. What doesn’t work is that there are beats that could have been so much better had they leaned into the trope a bit more and run with it in their own way. Sure its easy for me to write about all the flaws in something that took months of work, but I feel like someone in the producers chair should have caught it.

Granted some of those flaws don’t come from the script, but the directing. I maintain they told Brie Larson to maintain an arms reach perimeter around herself where no one else was allowed within that range and she must *always* stand in a 3/4 pose. For Marvel to make this their big bet for us in the female audience I feel like they didn’t take us seriously on the directors chair. The actors did fine don’t get me wrong, but Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Jude Law, and Ben Mendelsohn can act their way through anything and make it better than had any right to be. I am not being entirely fair to the directors here, there are more than a few shots that really are just great and the acting, the blocking, everything is framed just right. The problem is there are also more than a few where a “hero” shot was called for, something from a comic panel and it was missing. Where a few seconds of timing or clarity in the shot could have made it all work.

It doesn’t help the movie that on the technical side most of the fights are a mess and lack real geography. They could have been cleaner, they could have been wider or brighter to showcase someone who is clearly a wonderful talent physically as well as in her acting. The absolute worst crime for this movie is Pinar Toprak’s score. It 100% lets the movie down and makes all the minor flaws I talked about that much more apparent. There is absolutely nothing to it, no theme, no anthem, no leitmotif to let the movie have any real rises and falls. I’d love to send her youtube content creator “Sideways” video on Eric Wolfgang Korngold and leitmotifs because I think it could help. Granted, this may not be her fault, she may have just done a demo score, or temp music, for the movie and a producer hand-waved and said it was good enough without giving it to another. The CG, with few exceptions though is top notch and getting better by the day and was down right engaging.

TL;DR

The movie despite my lambasting critique above is good. It is entertaining. It will absolutely be empowering for girls everywhere. I had a good time with the movie. I am just said I didn’t have a great time. I am sad I didn’t get as invested as I wanted to. Brie Larson did her best and thanks to her we have a *great* female hero on the big screen. The character is great, the actor playing her is amazing. The movie is elevated because of her and the other actors and while it speaks of great things for those performers it doesn’t say much for the rest of the movie; which just falls flat too many times

Captain Marvel is a very solid, entertaining film, one of the better Marvel films in recent years and I am glad I saw it and rightfully deserves all the money it should make. It gives me hope for the MCU going forward.

You were kinda harsh on it – should I watch it then?

I was harsh but thats kind of my job. I have maintain my integrity and call the flaws out that there are and this has many – but aside from the score most of them are minor.

The movie is worth seeing. It’s on the top side of good and again I had a good time.

Would you watch it again?

Yes. I’m going to see it again and maybe do an edit to this if one is warranted, but right now its still on my go see again.

Are you buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. No argument and no doubts.

But?

*sighs* Marvel didn’t give it their all here. The people on the production did, even script and directors. Marvel didn’t. They didn’t bring in the right directors or the right people to polish the screenplay.  They didn’t give us a No Man’s Land scene. They didn’t give us a score that makes us sit up and let us know the hero is about to do something epic.

The movie was good, proper, and entertaining but should have been great and honestly. ….DC did it better.

I hate saying that, but its true.

I really feel that Marvel gave this one lip service in production and tried to sell it in post and in marketing. That isn’t fair to the audience or the people who put in the work.

That isn’t fair to the girls who are (and should) be looking up to this movie and it’s character. They got good, they deserved GREAT.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Ah it feels like only yesterday sometimes when I was introduced to anime. Sometimes it feels like about a quarter of a century ago. Sadly the latter is more accurate. I’m not talking about things like Voltron, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z (aka Mazinger Z), or Robotech. I mean Vampire Hunter D, Nausica Valley of the Wind, Akira, Ninja Scroll, and yes, Battle Angel Alita. Anime at the time was unlike anything we had animation wise in the States with the primary sources being your toy commercials, I mean afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons, Disney, Bluth and Bakshi. Not only was the animation something new and amazing, but the storytelling was beyond the pale with complexity of character, depth of story, and a level of maturity we weren’t treated to in America. To be clear Anime wasn’t just cartoons – but boy did we use that as an excuse to watch them, it was adult storytelling with animation. This isn’t to say there wasn’t anime for kids, but many of the movie releases were certainly not and that doesn’t even touch the hentai material out there.

Since that time we have been treated to more and more anime and it’s influences coming into the west and changing the landscape of well everything. Sailor Moon? Dragonball? How about a little thing called Pokemon? Every now and then someone in the US tries to make a live action version; and we end up with Dragonball Evolution (2009) or the thoroughly and literally white-washed Ghost in the Shell (2017), or the Netflix remake of Death Note. Sometimes you get…wait I don’t think there is one. Make sure to comment over on Facebook if you think there is a WESTERN Live Action Adaptation that is good.

Where does that leave Alita?

Credit must first be given to Yukito Kishiro, writer of the original Manga series “Gunnm” that ran from 1990 to 1995. Laeta Kalogridis, James Cameron, and Robert Rodriguez adapted the Manga and 1993 anime for the screen with Rodriguez as the director. Cameron is well known for pushing technology to its limits and when it doesn’t exist inventing new technology so a movie like this feels right up his alley. What is interesting here is this is a movie he has held the rights to for almost a decade and even his show Dark Angel (2000-2002) was inspired by it. Rodriguez appeared on the scene in 1992 with his low budget El Mariachi and exploded into American audiences with Desperado in 1995. He is a visionary in the truest sense taking smaller budgets and doing amazing things as well as throwbacks to grindhouse cinema and other eras. Kalogridis was the creator of the amazing Altered Carbon series for Netflix, Shutter Island; but also Terminator Genisys and Alexander as well. This is a mix of talent that feels remarkably odd and shouldn’t work as well together as they did. There is a wild mix of artistic vision, cinematic style, and appreciation for the source material.

Producer James Cameron and Director Robert Rodriguez on the set of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Rico Torres.

The story, set in the 26th century, of a full bodied cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar), found in the scrap heap beneath the last of the floating cities Zalem by cybernetic genius Dr. Dyson Ido. She has no memory of who or what she is, but with her new body and a natural instinct for the fight, she works her way through Scrap Iron City with Ido and local boy Yugo against all comers and odds. Will she discover the truth and is it a truth she wants? What will the price be for that knowledge?

This is an amazingly solid lift from the source material. As I watch the original 1993 OVA writing this review I can’t help but be impressed with the number of scenes and lines of dialogue lifted frame for frame. It isn’t a perfect adaptation of course as they must pad out the run time, alter the story to fit, and make their own changes for audiences. Many characters though are 100% true to their original material even with this padding, others are significantly different.  Alita, for me, also avoids the “Born Sexy Yesterday” trope as this character truly is about and for her own agency so that is a win that shouldn’t be discounted. The problem comes in with the clashing styles of the material, modern filmmakers, and almost being too true to the story – which is a really odd flaw. Scenes that were included from the Anime and Manga feel jarring at times as they don’t mesh as well as they could with the film adaptation of the story. This can create an emotionally disjointed film with some odd rises and falls that leave you more uncertain than brought along on the ride. I am impressed how they avoid westernizing and well to be clear Americanizing the movie, but that does run the risk of alienating some audiences.

This isn’t to say the actors, with Rodriguez in the directors chair, don’t give it their all. Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner) owns the necessary complexity to play the titular character. She plays fragile, she plays innocent, she plays bad ass and makes it all work. True some of the dialogue (with corresponding music) doesn’t work but she tries and within the context of the story had it been placed elsewhere would have worked amazingly. I said it with Death Cure and I say it again Salazar is a talent to keep an eye on and deserves more roles.  Christoph Waltz, is somewhere between phoning it in and not knowing what kind of movie he is in. Waltz phoning it in is still better than many actors best days so it worked even when it shouldn’t.  I wish that Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly had been given more screen time as they own the camera when they are present.

Visually this movie is aces. I expect nothing less with Cameron in the producers chair but it cannot be understated how amazingly detailed the work in this movie is. Yes, the eyes are odd; but you need to appreciate that it is consistent throughout the movie and feels true to the alien, cybernetic nature that marks Alita as other. That doll like look is part of what makes her who she is and I kind of like it.  The Motorball scenes and other cyborg combat are just flat out amazing and remind me this is in fact live action anime.

I wish I could say it was all good here, but it’s not. The movie alternates between dragging and flitting from scene to scene just so they can cover some beats that really just dont need to be there. I think another pass on the script or another walk through the editing room could have done the movie a favor or two. I would need to watch it again, but the other lackluster thing was the music by Junkie XL. I can’t think of who else I would have gotten for the music, but it just was not inspiring.

TL:DR?

I like this movie. I am just sad I can’t say I love this movie. There is so much going for it from the visuals to the acting, that the editing and compressed story hurt due to how they were put together. As I was watching I felt like this should have been a new experiment for Cameron where he does a “theatrical mini series”; in which he releases multiple 75 minute chunks of a movie that deserves to be told and witnesses on the big screen. With such a packed slate of movies coming later this year, I am terribly afraid Alita Battle Angel will fall.

Should I see it?

Are you a fan of anime, this particular anime, manga in general? Yes. Go. Go now. If you were curious about the movie put down the money for the nice seats and enjoy a visual spectacle. If you were weirded out by the eyes and going what is this thing? Yeah…probably a safe skip.

Is 3-D needed?

No.

Would you see it again though?

Probably. Might even do it this weekend. Still need to see Happy Death Day 2U though, that comes first. Then Alita again.

Ok so buying it?

Yeah this is absolutely worthy of the collection. It has enough great moments and more than enough good moments and no real ‘bad’ moments to make me enjoy it on multiple viewings

That was a weird sentence.

Yes. Yes it was. This is not a bad movie, this is a good movie with great people behind it trying to be a very good movie. I don’t know what the secret ingredient here is precisely, I just know that it was absent and that is kinda sad. Unlike other movies (Glass) not anger inducing or frustrating, just …sad. I had a good time with Alita: Battle Angel, but I kept wanting and hoping for a bit more. I think with the people behind it that was reasonable.

Worth the money. Worth the rewatch for me. Who knows maybe I’ll enjoy it more the second time.

 

Special Edit Note: I didn’t mention this is the best western made live action Anime by leagues. It is. The bar is just so low it’s not fair to Alita to mention it.