Darke Reviews | American Satan (2017)

About 4 months ago I posted on my personal wall about this movie. I was interested from the word go seeing Andy Biersack in a movie. I am quite a fan of The Black Veil Brides in recent years and have played his song, (as Andy Black) “We Don’t Have to Dance” on repeat way too many times. Then on top of that you see Malcolm MacDowell in the movie, and Mark Boone Junior (who is almost always a pleasure) and I am even more curious. You tell me the plot is about a band who is potentially, and literally, selling its soul to the devil to become famous – how can I pass it up?

Oh, it doesn’t get a showing in Tucson on it’s release date of October 13. That’s problematic. Yet good news came to me Wednesday as they announced a release date here well…today. Granted one theatre. One show, but I will take it.

The question is do I regret it?

Let’s start as we always do with the writers. We have Matty Beckerman and Ash Avildsen. I had to dig beyond my usual IMDB searching to find much on them. Beckerman is an interesting one mostly having functioned in a producer role; which means funding projects and  in one of his prior lives arranging soundtracks for movies. He has no writing experience. This brings us to Ash Avildsen, who is the founder and CEO of  Sumerian Records , who have among their roster Asking Alexandria. If I had to guess looking at the former bands Beckerman and and Avildsen met while working with some of the same bands. He too has little writing experience that I can find or any real experience in the directors chair. Both of these facts explain more than a few things.

The story here isn’t much deeper than described above. A group of friends who met online meet in L.A. and try to make their dream come true. Before they have the chance to succeed or fail on their own a man makes them a deal that is hard to refuse. Of course they COULD refuse, but to quote Once Upon a Time – all magic comes at a price dearie. The rest of the movie focuses on lead singer Johnny Faust trying to decide who he wants to be in the dark side of the music industry you hear about, movies talk about, but no one ever has the fortitude to show.

This movie does. It gets so much credit with me for actually bothering to show up to a movie about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with those same three things. You always hear these things like a mantra from musicians, the media, and magazines, but you only hear the aftermath of wrecked rooms and wrecked lives. American Satan doesn’t shy away from any of it and to it’s further credit doesn’t glorify it either – which was a fine line to walk.

On the acting front Andy has a lot to carry as the front man for the band and the target of attention by the powers that be. Damn if he didn’t try. He put his heart into his performance and when he’s on stage, when he’s in the studio he absolutely nails it. The scenes with Olivia Culpo (Miss USA 2012, Miss Universe 2012), as Johnny’s girlfriend,  just don’t quite have the chemistry or dialogue to work as strong as they could. Like I can see them both working their butts off to make the dialogue, blocking, and scene work but it doesn’t quite land for me; and I have to wonder why they didn’t cast his actual wife Juliet Simms as his girlfriend. Conversely the scenes with Jesse Sullivan, who plays the band bassist Lily Mayflower, work. I don’t want to call it chemistry between them, but there is something there. She does capture the eye and the camera when on screen. It was good to see the Mayflower character be a confirmed bi sexual with only a little pandering – but she was never shamed so again credit. I think I want to see more of Sullivan in the future.

Ben Bruce who is the lead guitarist of Asking Alexandria acts his living heart out. He has not one, but two great emotional scenes I think other Hollywood productions should take a look at and get an idea of what such scenes look like. Booboo Stewart (X-Men Days of Future Past, Twilight, He Never Died) is good and has screen presence,  but the camera forgets him during the bridge between Act I and Act II.  John Bradley (Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones) as Ricky is delightful. Then the movies goes and gives us Bill Goldberg of WWE fame, Bill Duke (Predator, Commando, Payback) and Denise Richards (Wild Things, Starship Troopers) in small parts; which was surprising but adds something to the movie I will talk about later. Mark Boone Junior (30 Days of Night, Batman Begins, Sons of Anarchy) was fantastic as Elias, the executive of Akkadian Records. The one you need to hear about is Malcolm McDowell – there is no piece of celluloid that went undevoured. He chews scenery in in the role like he is a starving man and the movie is even more glorious for it. He’s an absolute delight as he helps drive the movie forward.

What matters most is every actor and every singer tries their best. You can absolutely tell they are putting heart and soul to make this work. The movie may not be their comfort zone but again effort counts and not one performance – not one was wasted. Every last one was enjoyable to watch.

That said, as the youtube channel Cinema Sins comments, no movie is without sin. This has them but the truckload. I appreciate this is a passion project between friends, coworkers, and family with fans who support it. I appreciate Avildsen and Beckerman haven’t officially dipped their toes in this space before. You boys really needed to let someone else take a pass at the script. You have a lot of great concepts but you never quite nail any of them to the wall. They are close don’t get me wrong, but the ideas introduced never quite form the way they could. The movie isn’t subtle in either dialogue or metaphor which could be intentional, but the editing chopped just a bit too much in all the wrong points which almost left the movie a bit of a mess. Ok it did leave it a bit of one. No almost.  The editing was nothing short of a train wreck as it cuts from disjointed scene to disjointed scene some running too long, others running too short; and others still with things left in frame that take away from the moment.

Even with the sometimes cringey dialogue, tonal shifts, the bad edits, bizarre camera work (like seriously black and white in one scene? Why?); I still find myself enjoy it. The music was nearly a list of some of my favourite current tracks or covers of my old ones. The production designer (Tracy Dishman) worked her butt off and gave us very visually interesting sets which almost kept me from realizing how many of them were reused. Even with the realization I don’t care! She did great work.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed it.

I am still smiling a bit as I listen to the soundtrack thinking on what I watched. I laughed, intentionally, more than a few times and lost myself in a few moments of the film and forgot about the world for a bit. It is however flawed on a structural level and I have crucified movies for less than this movies flaws. There are so many mediocre films with no heart, no passion, that give the appearance of trying that don’t even have a tenth of the effort this one put forth. In the main body above I keep talking about credit where its due. I will praise an indy movie on just the right side of bad when it tried its damnedest with everyone giving it their all and in the same breath condemn a studio production that I know someone cared about but clearly not the studio itself.

I keep thinking of Flatliners as an example. It has one of the major flaws this did. It introduced ideas but never really explores or realizes their full potential. Flatliners sucked. This does not. I can’t really put my finger on it beyond the fact I was engaged here. I saw a movie doing something others only tease about when it comes to the dark side of music (real or fanciful).

American Satan goes where few others are brave enough and for that succeeds despite its flaws. The actors do a great job letting me care even when the movie sometimes forgets about them. I can’t quite call it original since it is all but literally a rock and roll version of The Devils Advocate and well….Faust, but its original enough.

Should you see it?

If you like movies that are literally about sex, drugs, rock and roll? Yes. Do you like edgy indy movies? Yes. It has a great soundtrack and for the nth time during this review – IT TRIES! A movie done on the cheap that tries its hardest despite its limitations

Would you see it again?

I think so. I know I am buying it when it comes out for purchase.

So I like Andy Biersack too, how does he sound?

*sigh* Sadly, due to conflicting contracts we never actually get to hear his vocals. It’s a shame to cast such a talented voice and not get to hear him. Also this is not a musical. It is about music, but this isn’t like Rock of Ages.

Anything else?

I am perplexed at how much I find myself really enjoying this movie. It just kind of clicked with me and in a year of mediocre and meh beating me up one side and down the others. I will take a hundred American Satans.

 

My final words are a Thank You to the social media team of American Satan for getting the word out there and whoever got us a showing in Tucson. I am glad I saw this tonight.

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Darke Reviews | Happy Death Day (2017)

Review 2. It’s 1AM? Do you know where your writers are? Probably awake like me thinking of the thousand ideas that didn’t come to them when they were coherent enough to write them down during the day. True story. Ask a writer. They can confirm this. That isn’t why you are here though or likely the time you are reading this. You want to know if the idea of Groundhogs Day as a horror movie works. The trailer sets it up nicely and I am surprised by the amount of restraint they show.

So did it work or will watching this make you relive a nightmare over and over and over…and …

Scott Lobdell, yes the same guy who wrote Uncanny X-Men in the 90s  and created one of my favorite characters “Blink”, takes a stab (sorry I had to) at big screen film writing with Happy Death Day. We are not discussing 2005’s Man of the House or a potential sorority focus he may have in his work. We are, however discussing the fact he wrote a fairly straight forward slasher film with the Groundhogs day twist. It’s a slasher film with a hidden killer and a time loop story. I can’t say much more on it without spoilers. It’s pretty basic, but utterly functional in its application. Director Christopher Landon (writer on Blood and Chocolate, and director of Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones) has enough to work with and a few good set pieces to play with, even if they are basic in the college slasher film. The remote college campus, a hospital which always seem to have abandoned wings in them, and a sorority/frat house.

Again it’s all pretty basic, but as I mentioned to a coworker today – in the horror genre if you can make basic work that isn’t so bad. They play with some interesting conceits in the film which was a nice change of pace and try to keep it interesting. The primary failing and I have to warn is that there is not a lot of gore here as Blumhouse (production company) and Universal went for a PG-13 rating rather than a hard R. This is October guys. Go for the R. Nothing is going to disappoint a horror movie fan more, especially in the month of horror, than a weak film that doesn’t go for the throat when it can. You can get away with a PG-13 horror film but to do that you need more than this delivers in the story, scares, and thrills department. I am not sure if they shot for the R and it got edited to the PG-13 or what, but the lack of some key slasher genre elements really weakens the film. I know some are booking this a horror comedy – but the comedy doesn’t quite land for me. It does have fun with it’s premise and that at least counts for something.

It isn’t a total waste though as Jessica Rothe (La La Land), who plays our victim Tree (yes…that is her name) does carry the film to the best of her ability and I like her! This is necessary and it works and really keeps the movie out of the bad category. The problem of course is it isn’t a lot of weight to carry. She covers the gamut of emotions in her performance and it does work to watch her develop after each death. The film does not spend  too much time before getting to the first kill which was pleasing; just enough to establish and then get into the guts of things. I’d like to say any of the deaths were inventive within the trope they were playing with, but it’s all pretty straight forward.

TL;DR?

Happy Death Day is an OK film, but literally almost anyone could have succeeded with this concept. It isn’t a stupid film, nor does it really treat the characters or audience in a stupid way but it also doesn’t challenge us. The rating and lack of guts (figurative and actual) hampers the movie in ways I didn’t realize until I was writing this. I just kept feeling something was missing and now I realize what it was. Do I want to see Rothe die over and over again in gory ways? Eh not particularly, but if you want a real “Final Girl” you have to give us something to sink our teeth into and taste and this one just doesn’t do it.

Should you see it?

If you are a genre fan maybe, but at matinee only.

Are you going to buy it?

Ask me in 4 months when it comes out on BluRay and I’ll decide then, right now that is up in the air. Unrated then yes.

Was it bad or something?

No. I was in fact entertained, but in this field I want to also feel some tension but I felt absolutely none. So it fails as a horror movie even if it succeeded at being mildly entertaining.

Ok so what’s next for October?

Well, I was hoping to see American Satan this weekend, but Tucson has no screenings of it. I really like Andy Black and this just looks positively interesting – and I will take interesting.

Darke Reviews | The Foreigner (2017)

One of two reviews tonight, so apologies if they are both not as in depth as others tend to be. While I don’t sleep *much* even Undead Princesses need some rest prior to putting on her guise of a normal mostly functional human being to obtain income. I first came across the trailer for The Foreigner a month or so ago and was delighted to see Jackie Chan in a role as a heavy against Pierce Brosnan. There was just something in the trailer beyond what looked to be a fantastic performance from Chan that grabbed my attention and apparently others as well. If you aren’t familiar. Here you go:

Looks interesting right? Good action and of course you know Jackie does his own stunts when he can.

So should you see it?

Based on a book titled “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather, and converted to a screenplay by David Marconi. Now Marconi is best known for his story of Die Hard 4 (Live Free or Die Hard) and Enemy of the State; which puts him in solid political thriller territory as a writer. Considering how LFDH looks, I would say he wrote a story and the other producers  shoved John McClain down it’s throat rather than it originally being a Die Hard movie. After a quick check to the Wiki, turns out that was a correct theory. Huh. With that sort of pedigree he does seem appropriate to adapt this story.

I want to talk about Leather for a moment. When I write these reviews I do some *very cursory* research to tell you about who they are and other things they’ve done. Something in Leather’s IMDB profile caught my eye. A story/TV movie called the Bombmaker; which has this as the story: “A former IRA bombmaker is forced to resume her craft when her daughter is kidnapped.” Now what are the odds of a writer having two books about the IRA and bombs? Turns out Stephen is from Manchester and worked as a journalist during the time the IRA was active and roughly around the time they bombed Harrods in ’83. I suppose this would inspire me as well to have a perspective and want to write about it.

Write he did, the story of a former special forces soldier from South East asia (Vietnam in the book, China in the movie) whose daughter is killed in an explosion. He then travels to Ireland to seek revenge on the killers.

Straight forward plot, so to make it something we need a director. For this task we gain Martin Campbell, who brought us Casino Royale, Mask of Zorro and Golden Eye (Yay!); but also brought us Legend of Zorro and Green Lantern (ugh). Ignoring the latter half of that list, let’s look at Casino Royale. Ostensibly an intense spy thriller with twists, turns, and solid action. The camera work and acting were well done and the movie revitalized a franchise that had been on life support for a few years.  The question was of course, at this point, could a director like this direct Jackie Chan?

I am happy to report yes. Yes he can. While on a technical side, I wasn’t a fan of a few of the camera angles and shots overall it was well crafted and spent a lot of time making sure to show what could be shown and hide what needed to be. Face it dear readers, Jackie Chan is 63 and he is amazing but he is not going to pull Rumble in the Bronx stunts anymore. Especially when his trademark use anything style isn’t in the forefront of the movie, though don’t worry you do get some of it. What amazed me most though is his choices involving Jackie and the amount of pain that was expressed through acting and camera. It takes no time at all for me to nearly be in tears just from how Jackie performed the scene immediately after the bombing and how it was all shot to bring it together and deliver the required weight.  I liked what action there was and it felt plausible for each of the characters involved and their backgrounds and associated skills.

From a performance, I cannot gush enough on Mr. Chan. His performance is so consistent and weighty throughout. He feels and looks like an elder man who is broken by too much weight of loss on his shoulders. The way he shuffles with each step plays so well when matched against his action sequences. It all stays within the realm of character and capability and knowing the actor you know what is in camera is him; which makes it even better. Brosnan finally gets to use his birth accent. The Irish born, UK Raised actor really delivers here. While not as convincing or powerful as his films nemesis he is standout and believable in his role. Game of Thrones fans will be delighted to see Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) in a supporting role in the film. The only other actor that stands out is Rory Fleck Byrne. There is something about him rather than anything specific in his performance that made him quite riveting during his scenes. I promise you it has nothing to do with him being in Vampire Academy. I find nothing good coming out of that movie.

TL;DR?

The Foreigner is a good film. I liked it. I can recommend it, but with some warnings. It is not an action movie, it is more of a political thriller with action set pieces, like something Clancy would have given us in the 90s. I am not nearly familiar enough with the troubles between Ireland and England beyond some surface knowledge of the IRA, northern/southern Ireland, and that the IRA typically would warn people before setting off an explosion to minimize casualties.  This relationship between the countries features heavily in this story and almost as much screen time is devoted to it as there is the revenge story. This is a non spoiler warning that is worth mentioning as it sets proper expectations.

Should you see it?

If the trailer intrigued you and you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet? Yes. This is a well made movie with good action, a solid and understandable plot; which has characters you can understand the motivations of.

Will you buy it?

The odds are in this movies favor of it being added to the collection.

Anything else?

I hope I can move as well as Jackie Chan when I am his age. It was impressive to watch.

Editorials in the Darke | Sequel Bait

From my Facebook Wall:

So I was reading your review for the new Blade Runner (I just love to read your eloquent reviews!) And I was thinking… it seems to me, that it is far easier to make a whole new film then to attempt sequels. But what would you classify as the top ten sequels (any genre) in your opinion ??

This is kinda a loaded question, but one I want to take a stab at. Let me break it down into parts before getting to the meat of the question itself.

Far Easier to make a whole new film than attempt sequels

As a writer, and someone who is familiar with fan fic, it’s easier to work from a framework. Original ideas are hard only because as writers we tend to question ourselves far too often and think we are being too derivative of someone else’s body of work. This only gets harder as time goes on and more products are out there. Ex Machina could be seen as Blade Runner told with a cast of 3, but it isn’t quite that. Of course you also have reboots, in which you take the original narrative and try to modernize it or do something new with it. These have mostly poor reception with only a few actually even equaling the other work from a purely objective much less subjective standpoint. I could probably write a doctorate level thesis on that concept alone.

So then you come to the sequel itself, which has factors that can make it easier or harder when you take them into account:

  • Popularity of the property. This even has a further breakdown when you consider nostalgia.
  • Time between films
  • Budget
  • Success of the property
  • Property framework, or does the original work allow for organic sequels?

Frequently we find sequels being ordered with release dates before even a pen is put to paper to give a good script after a film does well in the box office. Usually this results in a train wreck as the creative process takes more time than is allowed, but the studio wants to get the money while people still care. Which leads into time between films. At 35 years Blade Runner is one of the longest times between actual sequels, but due to that it has built considerable credibility and nostalgia within the film community – yet it effectively bombed on its release. The popularity got it a sequel but also creates harsher judges of its quality on release. Some sequels are given less budget to work with all but damning them, while others are given exhorbitant budgets – which does not equal success as much of what made some things work was how the production had to get scrappy and do more with less, when given keys to the kingdom creativity can actually die.

Many films don’t leave room for sequels but we get them anyway. Carrie, Fright Night, even Star Wars could be considered a movie that had little room at the time for a sequel but here we are 40 years later. Others implicitly set up sequels which will never get made for good or for ill, Push, Jumper, and a lot of Young Adult films tend to fall into this category. Many reviewers (including me) and those in the critique business (Cinema Sins, Honest Trailers, Nostalgia Critic) even make jokes about how its cute they think they will get a sequel.

I could really go into this more, but for now let’s talk my top 10 sequels.

Rules:

  1. These are sequels I have seen both the original film and the sequel. If I haven’t seen it – it will not make the list, so you won’t see the critically acclaimed Godfather II on here.
  2. In many cases I am not stating explicitly that the sequel is better than the original, only that it is really good.
  3. I am including films that are part of series, but will only rate the second film against the first – so yes, you are going to see Empire Strikes Back on this list, but you won’t see Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Back to the Future 3, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or Fury Road
  4. If I am reminded of a film later, I may re order this list.

Ok so here we go. These are in no particular order, currently.

    1. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980) / Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

      Star Wars is an iconic piece of movie history. It defined the lives of tens of thousands of children and rewrote the rules of what summers and blockbusters were. It is, however, flawed. This doesn’t lessen it’s impact, but does give room for its sequel to be better. While it is clear Empire was written to be a continuation where Star Wars was not, despite protests to the contrary, it still holds as it’s own film. It successfully reintroduces the characters with no loss of personality, growth in character, and then expands the universe. The Empire becomes seen as the massive fist that it is vs. a single monstrosity. The sets, threats, and beats all just work better than they do in the first. Much of this can come from Kasdan’s writing, but also having the power of an established universe. You don’t need to explain as much, but have the luxury of using your footing to get more stable.

      Then of course there’s the ending. It would be easy to say no movie made now would have the audacity to end the way Empire does. While you still have some hope it *must* be acknowledged the heroes are playing from the back foot now and their positions are in jeopardy. This is really what gives it such staying power is that the heroes are not always triumphant. If you consistently win without sacrifice then the wins have no value. People, audiences, love to root for the underdog and if the hero is on top you just have a perfunctory win instead of a fight to come out on top in the next film. Empire delivers this and will always be remembered fondly for it.

    2. Color of Money (1986)/ The Hustler (1961)

      This will seem an odd one coming from me and it isn’t really a well known sequel. The original film has both amazing performances from Jackie Gleeson and Paul Newman. What the sequel does so smart is they introduce you to a very young Tom Cruise who seeks out a now aging Newman to show him how to shark. The music, the acting, the personalities all work and shows a logical dramatic evolution of the Newman character. It is actually rare to make a sequel like this where your original young star now plays the elder mentor. Its on this list as I think the formula here has opportunity for usage. It could and should have been used on the recent Flatliners film as Sutherland was in fact playing his prior character and would have been perfect to continue the story and mentor the new scientists on the risks.

    3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) / Blade Runner (1982)

      Just see my recent review and know that these films are amazing pieces of work and the sequel is the best possible sequel you can make from a movie that didn’t have implicit architecture to do so. Already news agencies are talking about how 2049 bombed. As a financial investment it certainly did, but this doesn’t keep it from being amazing film making.I was tempted to throw everyone by putting Kurt Russel’s Soldier on here as the sequel to Blade Runner, but as its merely a spiritual successor/side-quel set in the same Universe I couldn’t. But you should see it and I still consider it an amazing film for what it is.

    4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)/ Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

      The first movie of the remakes here has one of the greatest film surprises in it of all time with a single word uttered. The second capitalizes on the world and the conclusion and takes us a time into the future. The visuals become stronger as does the storytelling. It is great science fiction in that it makes us look at our own humanity and our interactions with each other through the lens of how Ape culture is being built, interacts with itself and the natural divisions that occur – THEN goes and adds humans into the mix to show when opposing cultures meet. Many deride movies like this for showing the evil of “man”, but ask the un-contacted tribe in the Amazon what they think of modern man. Wait, you can’t they were just wiped out by a gold mining company.We do have better angels, but movies like this remind us of what we do all too frequently overtly and unconsciously amongst our own society. This is why it makes my list as the movies put these issues in focus and do it well consecutively.

    5. Aliens (1986) / Alien (1979)

      Alien is one of the definitive horror films of all time. So how do you make a sequel in the genre? Trick question – you don’t. You instead turn it into a pulse pounding yet character driven action movie. Aliens does something that most horror and action films fail to do – let you get to know the characters just enough so that when they die you knew who they were and a basic personality. To borrow from Oceans 11 “He has to like you and forget you.” Modern films in these genres give us the same amount or more of disposable characters, letting you know they will die, but don’t bother to make you care so the stakes never rise. Think about Vasquez, tough as nails, reaching for her partner Drake. Sgt. Apone, Frost, Weirzbowski, Ferro. Most fans of the franchise know each of those names, but they were nothing more than tally marks against the things have gotten bad. Hudson, Vasquez, even Gorman are left with you so that when they die, you see just when it couldn’t get worse it does. Hicks is taken out for the last fifteen minutes of movie, but for a moment you worry he won’t make it because of how all the others were structured. Even Bishop is set up to let you worry and you do. Not bad for a machine. This is why Aliens is a fantastic sequel. It defies convention and sets up structure in a way that others should, but don’t learn from, on how to do horror/action/and or sci fi.

    6. Superman II (1981) / Superman (1978)

      Richard Donner cheated here. Both films were made in 1977 with Donner having filmed an estimated 75% of it prior to being removed from the project by the studio. Richard Lester replaced Donner, but to get the credit had to shoot 51% of the material – which meant much in the way of reshoots. While I do feel the Donner cut is superior and the troubled production does create some very interesting continuity errors in the movies, Superman II is quite likely the most remembered of the two movies. This comes down to Terrence Stamp as Zod and Reeves Superman being so much larger than life. It brings the otherworldly nature of Superman into the focus vs. the weird real estate story of the first. If I asked you to quote a line from either of these films easily 90% of people would say “Kneel before Zod” – and that right there is why it makes the list. The *fond* memories of it and how well it holds up 40 years later.

    7. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) / Star Trek: Generations (1994) AND Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982) / Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

      Ok this one is kinda a cheat as its the same franchise, but different generations. MP allowed for Khan where they reached into the series and pulled one of the iconic villains and resurrected him into one of the most iconic sequels of all time. The battle of wills and the sacrifice of friends to see it through. Sure the sacrifice was short circuited by another film, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of watching Spock die before your eyes.

      First Contact does similar and brings the analogy closer to Moby Dick (as the movie points out), but does so very well. It’s also the first time TNG really goes “Dark”; meanwhile telling two very different stories successfully. Both of these movies tend to top people’s Star Trek film lists and for good reason.

    8. The Dark Knight (2008)/ Batman Begins (2005)

      Batman Begins is the better comic book movie that remains true to its origins and is an overall better Batman film. The Dark Knight deviates keeping only trappings of comic book worlds but tells instead a gritty crime drama with a villain who is on par cinematicaly with Hannibal Lechter. It is better made as a film, where you could watch it and a movie like Heat in a film study of crime films and while there might be a few eyebrows raised the argument is easy to make.The loss of the more comic book aspects and too much of it shot during daylight do take away from the Batman nature of it, but with its billion dollar gross, near universal fan and critical praise The Dark Knight does need to be acknowledged as one of the great sequels of all time.

    9. Terminator 2 Judgement Day (1991) / Terminator (1984)

      What is it with Cameron making superior sequels -ignoring Pirhana II the spawning. In this case he expands on his own universe and gives one of the most financially successful sequels of all time. Terminator 2 largely holds up in every category from then til now even with its early generation CGI effects. There are some that don’t let’s be fair, but it works on a lot of levels in the FX department even now. Much was practical and then we have excellent character development like we saw with Empire Strikes back on how characters changed over time. Terminator gave us a world, a look and a feel. Terminator 2 capitalized on it. The sadness is that none of the sequels gave us John Connor like we were promised from T2’s battlefield shot or even a world as promised by Kyle Reese in the first.

    10. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) / Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

      I have a love for The First Avenger. Of the two movies it is the one I am more likely to watch just because it is a touch more on the feel good components (all things considered) and less on more modern horror shows. It makes me feel in the right ways. That being said, Winter Soldier is without a doubt the best sequel in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers had issues mocking it because much like Dark Knight it is solid film making. What it does better is keep within the strongest parts of its comic book trappings.

That’s my list. While I have a feeling I missed something and didn’t fully explain everything (I’m already at 2500 words) I believe these are the right choices. There were a few who didn’t make the cut. I may get inspired to talk about remakes/reboots in a future post to this. Special thanks to Jessica L. for inspiring this post.

Comment here on AmusedintheDark on Facebook on what you think should be on this list or if you agree or disagree.

Runners Up:

  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) / Pitch Black (2000)
  • The Wolverine (2013) / X Men Origins Wolverine (2009)
  • Hellboy 2 The Golden Army (2008) / Hellboy (2004)

Darke Reviews | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I would like to ask you some questions.

First there are some disclosures. I have not read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, nor really any of his other works. I suppose this doesn’t surprise my regular readers as me reading books with movie ties is a rare bird indeed. Another important disclosure, I had never watched the 1982 Blade Runner until within the past two years. Sure I had seen parts, but never all the way through. I am not sure how I missed it (aside from being 6 when it came out) until recently, but it happened. I think Blade Runner is a seminal work of science fiction which has inspired an easy fifty percent of film in that genre since then. I think it is a master craft of film making in its art direction, style, acting, and story. I also think it is heavily flawed in it’s pacing and let us not discuss the consent issues. It is easily the pinnacle of Ridley Scott’s directing career, and while films like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven are also going to be long remembered – none of his later works will have such a cultural impact as the Blade Runner (or Alien, which needs to be acknowledged as well).

First question: Should Blade Runner have been retired?

It’s hard to make a sequel 35 years later. Very few have succeeded with such a large gap between films and even fewer have this long of a gap, but there is a lot that can help make it less painful. Start with bringing back an original writer from the first film, in this case Hampton Fancher, who has literally done next to nothing else in the writing realm, so I can’t speak to his style beyond what we know. We do know he has both story and screenplay credits. Beyond that we add Michael Green to our recipe. Green is a mixed bag having given us the Green Lantern movie we do not speak of in polite company, but also Logan, but also again the claptrap that was Alien: Covenant. He leaves me scratching my head to his impact on what is otherwise a nearly flawless execution of story; a story I won’t discuss beyond what you see in the trailer as spoilers duh. It feels like a natural continuation of the world of 2019, city speak, blade runners, and off world colonies. A world of billboards as tall as buildings, neon, concrete, and rain. I see the thirty years of evolution in a world that is dying yet fighting and clawing for its last breath through humanity and machine. Because of this execution, because of how the story played – it evoked emotion and thought.

Things movies forget to do in genre films often enough. Movies like mother! provoke. Movies like High Rise provoke, but they often can leave you feeling confused on how to feel about what you saw. You know it was art, but you can’t quite pin it. The same goes here, but with a defter hand. You know this is art when you watch it, but you can more eloquently describe how it made you feel or think without questioning the artistry in the process or asking “was that necessary?”.

Much of that credit needs to go to Denis Villeneuve (Happy birthday 50!); who gave us one of the best science fiction movies of this decade in Arrival. He is the only man I would want to direct this film, even as I watch it I know the hand on the wheel has precision and intention without being full of himself (*stares at Nolan*). The word that comes to mind to me at times watching how beats play out, how the camera works, how angles, and colour are used is sublime. Villeneuve is a director you need to watch for. He needs to continue making science fiction, I am positively begging him as he is able to blend technical precision, emotion, and thought into film – all the while using cinema for all it can bring to you. His staging is incredibly intentional and I noticed more than once certain patterns and trends in aspects of the film making. In my opinion, there is absolute reason why he choose to have it snow off and on during the running time. Don’t go looking for anything, it is nothing major – just an impression.

Let’s talk acting. I have heard people say this is Harrison Fords best performance. I am not sure if I agree, but it is certainly in his top 5. He does bring all his years of experience to bear and it is an absolutely solid performance, but I have to say he’s upstaged. Ryan Gosling, who I knew was solid after seeing Drive, gives what in my opinion is an Academy Award winning performance. There are people who may say after films like Drive or Only God Forgives this role isn’t a stretch and I would disagree with them. There is a lot of nuance to his role as our Blade Runner but also chemistry with one of his co-stars Ana De Armas. Anna plays Joi; and while I have not seen anything else in her body of work, I hope to see much more. She is engaging in her role and the interactions with Gosling are part of what made me feel so I must give credit where it comes due. Another new comer to western cinema is Sylvia Hoeks who reminds me of someone I can’t quite place. Her character Luv is as complex as any other and uses her time on screen to maximum effect. Other actors worth mentioning in their roles are Robin Wright (Wonder Woman), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), MacKenzie Davis (The Martian and an admitted girl crush), and Carla Juri (Brimstone).

Don’t even get me started on the effects. Villeneuve made the brilliant decision to go as practical as he possibly could. If someone told me he made real holograms for some of the shots I wouldn’t be surprised. Minatures, Bigatures, full sized props and set pieces absolutely litter this film like confetti on New Years Eve. It’s magnificent and grand. The computer effects that do exist are generally seamless and hold tight against the practical. There’s even a few shots I had never quite scene before and amazed me to see now. While some of those may have been done, I don’t think they’ve ever been done that well.

So by now I have heaped the praise. I would love to tell you it is flawless in all facets of execution. It is not. There remain pacing issues, which left me near the two hour mark thinking I had been watching for easily two and a half. Not nearly as prevalent (and with 100% improvement in consent issues) as the first was, it still didn’t quite hold every single shot. There are scenes and beats which could have been trimmed and no loss would have occurred. As my dearest best friend pointed out, if you are thinking about the run time while watching it – they got something wrong. Additionally, there are a handful of nitpicks I could make but it would be pedantic to do so. I have heard the word pretentious thrown around in regards to this and while in large part they are wrong, I did find Leto’s performance little more than that descriptor. The movie struggles to try to be as important or have plays like the first but doesn’t quite reach the shoulder of Orion.

TL;DR?

Blade Runner 2049 is well deserving of the praise it is getting. It is a well crafted, technically masterful, beautifully acted and directed film. It is just shy of me using the word Great when applied to it. I don’t know if it will ever, or could ever , be seen in the same light as the original.  I don’t know that this long after and with the nostalgia for the first and its myriad versions it would have a chance anyway; but then again who does expect it? The movie succeeds in a way that so few do especially in this genre in that it made me have rich emotions watching it. It made me think about what it was trying to do and what it was showing me. I left me thinking about it beyond this review on the drive home.

I have another listing for the spectacular films of 2017 amidst the slurry of releases this year and I will be surprised if anything coming out the rest of the year will reach the heights the films thus far have. Of course other films, such as Thor and Justice League will make lots of money, but will they be this GOOD. Will they make me feel a range of emotions or just turn off the brain for a bit. Even The Last Jedi, which is the only remaining film I am eagerly anticipating in 2017 will no doubt be good, but not this close to Great filmmaking. Great Sci Fi.

Next Question: Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the original, sci fi, curious, or otherwise want to have the potential for rich discussion with me or others around it – yes. Yes you should. This weekend. If you don’t like the original or thinking sci fi (thats ok too ya know) you may want to give it a pass or at least matinee.

Seeing it again?

Maybe. Probably.

XD or 3D?

The XD or other equivalent sound systems and screens do improve the movie from a standard definition and basic Dolby stereo. The 3D might be ok, but it was just fine without.

I take it then you are buying it?

No question in my mind.

So it made you feel?

Yeah and I am really happy about that, even if all the emotions involved weren’t joy themselves.

Last Question – you’re walking through a desert. Kidding. Whats next?

Next week I hope to see The Foreigner and Happy Death Day.

Why did you choose that poster for your image?

Because I am tired of teal and orange….long story. Might post on it.

Darke Reviews | Flatliners (2017)

It’s generally not a good sign for a movie when I don’t have any Thursday night screenings available, so alas the review comes tonight a few hours after the last show. Obviously I have seen the original a couple of times when it first came out and on VHS. It was beautifully atmospheric and though it came out in 1990 it still was riding that wave of 80’s that will mark it forever. I can’t say I have any particular fondness for it one way or another, I thought it was good and had a lot of stars of the day headlining it. Obviously I was curious when this one started dropping trailers a few weeks ago. I thought they were interesting and there’s always a glimmer of hope for a remake. So I threw on one of my favourite shirts, not realizing the irony and headed off to the theatre.

Oh the irony

You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime

So should they have resuscitated this film or left it for dead?

The story credit here goes to Peter Filardi, original writer of the 1990 film as well as The Craft. Which largely means this was brought to you by the writer of Source Code, which was interesting in concept if not execution, Ben Ripley has the screenplay credit. I cannot say if Filardi had any work on this one or not, but the core story he wrote remains intact with names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. In the 80’s and 90’s we didn’t expect a lot of our sci fi or horror films, not really. As an audience we’ve come to expect more because we have literally seen it all before. Which makes Ripley’s choices on script so problematic for me.

Flatliners has at least a half dozen different ideas, concepts, and notes of interest. Every last one of them is dropped in favor of keeping the beats of the original. With almost 30 years of separation between films and some seriously interesting plot threads introduced the movie fails to embrace those more interesting ideas and instead treads the already worn path to mediocrity. With so many advances in science and medical technology since then and the story premise presented by the characters it could have been explored. The reactions and results could have been explored. A characters existence in the story could have been explored. New consequences, new risks could and should have been taken. The movie took one, but it was the safest to take.

With remakes, and some sequels, writers can be condemned for violating the source material. Deviating too far from it. Conversely they can be criticized for not doing something new or original. What gets missed is the middle ground. You can be faithful to the original story, original concept, and original ideas; but also tell something new and explore new ideas separated by the times in production. From 1951 to 1982 – 30 years right? Compare The Thing/The Thing from Another World. The concepts are the same. There’s beats that are the same but these are vastly different films and both are applauded for what they did. The same could be said for The Fly (28 years), Dracula (1930s, 70s, 90s), Nosferatu (50 years). Outside of this genre, we have 3:10 to Yuma, Thomas Crown Affair, The Seven Samurai to Magnificent Seven, Oceans Eleven, True Grit. These films are all proof that you can tell the near exact same story and improve on it or at least make it different enough to be fresh without losing the heart of the material itself.

Flatliners, like most remakes in this decade, plays it safe. It stays in the lines and takes very few risks. As I said, it does take one or two, but they aren’t entirely successful. One I feel was a studio add to “amp the tension” but just looks ridiculous because I know they don’t have the fortitude to see it through.

This leaves me disappointed as a whole. Neils Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) is capable of more. The shots are pretty. The acting is sufficient, but there’s nothing new or unpredictable in those shots. Just adding to how safe and milquetoast the movie ends up being. Again I think he may have had some hamstringing from the studio on this, as well as being saddled with a PG-13 rating. Who do they think is going to see this? Go for the R and commit.

The acting is fine, by the by. Ellen Page is always a joy, even with a joyless character like Courtney. She has enough charisma to make the character likable as she convinces others to join her crusade. Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev have wonderful chemistry and are probably two of the most heartfelt performances in the movie. James Norton, largely known for his work across the pond and the voice of Dragon Age Inquistions Cole, turns a character that I should have hated and gives him something to work with. Kiersey Clemons rounds out our medical students with poor judgement. She has a decent body of TV work and will be the Iris West to Barry Allen in the upcoming DCEU films. She, like the others was cast well and holds her own. There’s absolutely no fault on acting here.

The fault lies with script and production. We’ve talked about how safe the script is. The remainder of the production isn’t nearly as risky, probably to keep that rating.

TL;DR?

Flatliners should have had a DNR signed if this was going to be the result. This is a bland, mediocre film that does nothing particularly new or interesting with the original story to warrant it’s existence. It tries to introduce stuff, but drops it a hot ten minutes later. I think at some stage of the production someone suffered partial amnesia to forget so many things; especially in a film about being haunted by the past.

Which I guess comes to the final statement on the movie. When you consider the subject is guilt over past sins, the weight of them on you and how they can kill you – I think that’s what happened here. No one involved had either the power or ability to say no. No one had the power to go could we do better. So they didn’t try and because of that – this movie will die.

Should you see it?

No. Its not badly shot or badly acted. It’s just irritatingly droll.

Huh?

I wanted more from this movie only because it kept showing me it was capable of it. It kept showing me things that were far more interesting than the final result and those things were never actually explored.

Ok so you aren’t seeing it again. How about buy?

Newp. There’s nothing here for me to both trying to remember.

So you hate it?

Not really. Just disappointed by the wasted potential.

So what’s next?

Image result for origami unicorn blade runner

Darke Reviews | Kingsman : The Golden Circle (2017)

I have not seen the movie. I no longer plan to see the movie.

Everyone close to me knows I avoid all other reviews, review sites, production blogs, insider blogs, etc. prior to a movies release. I base everything on my reviews from the trailer to screen only. I do not want to taint my review by production nightmares or amazing productions and horrible final products. I base them on what you promise me via trailer and what I receive when I put down my $11. So when the person closest to me in the world goes: “Hey this article ( https://www.themarysue.com/taron-egerton-kingsman2-scene/ )  has spoilers. I won’t be seeing this or any Matthew Vaughn movies”, an hour or two before I go see the movie; it causes me to take note.

So I read the article. I am both happy and sad I did. I can tell from other reviews I have watched between now and this writing that the overall product is a solid Ok to Good, but at least three have brought up a scene in question without getting into the details found in the article from TheMarySue. I was deeply conflicted for a bit.

The scene/issue: In attempt to plant a bug to track someone Eggsy has to seduce a woman and insert the object into her via her vagina. The shot is done as a point of view following his hand.  The actor who played Eggsy was actually uncomfortable performing the scene (and did not in the end).

Can I tolerate overt, unnecessary sexism in a film that uses it as a punchline for all of 30 seconds?

I mean I have watched plenty of things that are gratuitously sexist. Piranha 3D and 3DD come to mind right out of the gate. I have watched my share of movies with consenting (and even not consenting) adults having sex in them or women in lingerie having sex (Atomic Blonde , The Hunger ). So why does this bother me more than those?

If you are still with me reading this, lets start with Piranha. The sexism there probably kept more than a few women out of the theatres, including me. I have watched them since and realized that while yes it is still sexist that sexism is also the joke and the victim of the joke as well. It is so ridiculously over the top and consistent about it. It is just on the right side of lampoon. There are more than a few people who will enjoy the overt perversion of the film, but they are as much part of the joke as well. The title of the second one even plays into that, even as it earned derision from many. In the case of the Piranha movies they go in with the knowledge, intent, and desire to be comedy horror and the overt sexism is a literal constant part of both narratives. That constant is what makes it different.

Alright so what about films like Atomic Blonde and The Hunger. *sigh* Admittedly this one is a touch harder with these two mentions. Let’s address the Hunger. As a lesbian vampire film you can tell it was filmed by a guy. That said the act itself is treated well, and the seduction and succumbing to it is a functional and necessary part of the narrative with the associated consequences as part of it. Atomic Blonde is slightly different in that regard, but only slightly. It treats the bisexuality of the characters and the act slightly better; while still generally being filmed for the male gaze. Both sequences have a high degree of intimacy and passion that ultimately serve the characters and narrative rather than detract from it. They are naturalistic within the story and it would change the film and characters in a significant way if they were absent.

So why is this different? Because it is unnecessary. Like the Princess Tilde scene from Kingsman – what did it actually serve? Did you *need* to see the scene? Would it have worked had Eggsy closed the door with her smiling on the bed and Merlin looking over and going “Oh my”? Yeah. It would. The problem here with a POV shot of the hand sliding down her stomach and into her panties and then her? It adds to a pattern.

Vaughn is outright juvenile and sexist. He is a shock jock (DJ) like old Howard Stern. He does it because he can and wants to be bold and edgy. He’s a 15 year old with $90 million dollar budgets. Let me clarify.

The Tilde scene was on it’s own? It caused a minor murmur. Some folks didn’t like it, but that was it. Didn’t really hit the radar in reviews or news. Now add this scene with Poppy Delevinge’s character Clara. Most reviews I am coming across are bringing it up with a “why was this needed?” – more on that in a sec. Two isn’t a pattern yet. There’s more. Let’s look at Hit Girl in Kick Ass. I like the movie, love the character, but he has her drop the “C” word just to shock people. Then there’s the teen sex scene, true the actors were 20 and 23 at the time but they were playing high school kids. I am not against teens having sex, not even remotely, I am wondering why it needed to be filmed? There’s the treatment of Roxy in the first film – you know the one who actually became a Kingsman? True the narrative is about Eggsy and Harry, but you lessen the one of two named significant female besides his mother; who is not treated particularly well either, by leaving her off screen for much of the action?

My final point on the why was this needed for the Clara scene? If a script writer gives this scene to you as a director and producer you have the absolute right to change the scene and change how its filmed. You can keep it from being exploitative if you feel you need to include it. This fails here as Vaughn is writer, director, and producer. He wrote the McGuffin for the intent to write this scene and shock. He picked how it would be filmed. It literally only exists in this format to allow him to film it as such. The McGuffin could have worked any number of ways that didn’t require *this*. Yet here we are.

Where does that leave us?

I cannot in good conscience see this movie. I cannot in good conscience recommend it.

If this scene as described doesn’t bother you and you can enjoy the rest of the movie without this being a detractor – props to you. I am not going to judge people who don’t have an issue with it. I hope those that see this truly enjoy it and this doesn’t take away from it.

It would for me enough to taint the rest of the experience. Enough to taint how I think of his other movies, which I enjoy as well.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand for white washing and I have to here for this absolutely unnecessary sexist filming.

Is there anything else you are drawing a line in the sand for in the near future?

Trigger warning for pedophilia on this topic so I am using my spoiler roll over text to discuss. If you wish to see just highlight from here:

Yes. Jeepers Creepers 3. When the first two came out the internet wasn’t nearly as powerful as it is now. Information about people and their misdeeds not nearly as prevalent. I had no idea the director Victor Salva was a convicted pedophile. Not only committing the crime but filming it as well. I cannot support his works now that I know. Do I still enjoy JC/JC2? Yes – for what they are. You can enjoy something still after you find problematic issues with those who made it. It does not mean, however, you have to continue supporting them once you know.

This includes Polanski. I had no idea of his background at first. I know the victim wants the story to die so she can keep moving on. This is does not equate to absolution. Do I like the Ninth Gate? Sure. Can I continue to support him? No. Which means not adding some of his older works to my collection such as the Fearless Vampire Killers to avoid giving him any form of residuals. 

As a reviewer, topics like these do cause conflict. I have an objective role to perform in the watching of film and media and writing about it. I also have my subjective beliefs and values. I have to be true to myself and not support things I find problematic.

I hope you all understand and can join me for the next review.