Darke Reviews | A Simple Favor (2018)

I happened upon this trailer only a few weeks ago and I was immediately curious about what the unfolding of the story would look like. Kendrick is always solid in anything she does, usually giving a stand out performance above and beyond her co stars; while Lively won me over in Age of Adeline and The Shalllows. I know Kendrick and Lively have been doing the rounds and marketing the film, but I’ve missed all of it; somewhat intentionally so I could enjoy the movie for what it wanted to do and bring me along on the journey of uncovering the mystery of what the simple favor might be and its results.

Was it worth the anticipation?

First we need to understand it was based on a book by Darcey Bell that I shall never likely read. It was adapted for the screen by Jessica Sharzer, who was a writer on a handful of episodes of American Horror Story and the 2016 movie Nerve that had some interesting ideas going for it. While I will never know what the material covered, I can say with confidence that Sharzer did an excellent job writing a screenplay for a suspense mystery that has an air of comedy to it that shouldn’t be possible with the directions it takes, but rides the line so deftly I cannot fault it. I often critique movies on tonal issues and had this one not been so intentional in its scripting it would have received the same such complaint. The script here is tight, and no I am not getting into the story beyond the trailer – Spoilers duh, but I don’t think there’s a single scene worth putting on the cutting room floor or a moment of dialogue I really found cringeworthy.

Surprisingly, some of the credit here goes to 2016 Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. Interesting and unrelated note, it is now getting the subheading of “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call”.  This makes Feigs first movie without Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters) since  2011, also while being his 4th film since then too. *sigh* He is not what I would call and inspired director, as the movie is largely shot as you would a rom-com or his usual fair within the cinema with static camera shots and a film almost entirely filmed from a medium shot, or close ups in a standard 180 back and forth. There were some hints of growth with a POV tracking shot or a slight sideways camera move, but not enough to call the movie thrilling in that aspect. What he can do, and proved in the only other film of his I’ve seen, is still get layered and nuanced performances from his cast. He brought the humor to the edge of too much a few times, but reeled it in at the last second all the while still giving us something to figure out and displaying the changes in our characters as the movie and mystery unfolds.

Kendrick and Lively are perfect together. Their scenes are endearing as you watch these polar opposite characters engage with each other and the evolution of Kendricks character Stephanie through the film. Watching that was truly a joy and so much beyond script and direction comes down to the levels that Anna Kendrick can bring to the screen. Also worth mentioning this is not a Blake Lively performance I have ever seen before and it is absolutely knocked out of the park. No one else in the film comes close, though Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) does his best. He is given more to do here than he was in that film, and the range is there. I would love to see him with a stronger director and different style of film to really understand what he can do. Granted I might be biased as his accent is to die for.

The movie does have its flaws though. As I said the camera work is uninspired and quite honestly, there’s a few things I would have loved to see them have the boldness to do. The pacing is brisk, but the editing is solid. One of the other highlights of the film in the technical aspect is the costuming, when you go see this pay attention to both our main female leads and watch what they wear as there’s very intentional craftsmanship in their costuming and make up through the film.

TL;DR?

This movie is the quiet dark horse of the weekend. It doesn’t cross the line The Predator did by going full comedy-action (in that priority order) and isn’t a historical mob drama, but I think it is quite likely one of the best releases we are going to get this September. This is not a mediocre film by any stretch, its both enjoyable and engaging; while still drawing you into the mystery and the lives of the charactrers. It has intent and effort that should be rewarded.

Should I see it?

Yes. No questions. Yes.

Would you see it again?

Absolutely.

Buying it then? 

No doubts.

You haven’t been this excited in a month; whats up?

The movie does a lot of things that speak to my interests across the board. It tells a story that just grabs me and takes me to the dark places I want to see characters go; even if it keeps on the guard rails. That’s the big flaw, it still is safe; beyond that it had me. I liked it.

Also special thanks to the unofficial girls night that lead to this and the friend who organized it and the other who joined us for the first time. I look forward to future engagements.

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Darke Reviews | The Predator (2018)

The original Predator was one of the first R rated movies I have recollection of seeing end to end as a little girl, without sneaking it in after bedtime. I think A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first one I snuck in. This may explain many many things about me as an adult in retrospect. The 1987 Predator is a near perfect snapshot of the 80’s action film, right at the peak of all that was good in that time. It’s sequel in 1990 was solid and deeply added to the mythos of the Predators and added new weapons to their arsenal; and I still want a Combi Stick. I read most of the early novels which explored the Yautja (their species name) which introduced us to Aliens vs Predator back in 1994 and the awesome Machiko Noguchi. When in 2004 I heard we were getting an AvP movie I got excited. I watched it. I was less excited, but still enjoy it more than most. We don’t discuss Alien vs Predator Requiem (2007)

 

Not really, but if you've seen it, you are probably laughing right now.

Actual Screen shot from Requiem.

Then in 2010 after the dismal performance of Requiem, we were given the gift of Predators. They brilliantly took the story away from Earth and gave us the first Predator movie since 1990 to really feel at its core like the first one.  It actually deserves its own review. That being said people couldn’t tell if it was a reboot, remake, or sequel and after being burned multiple times this century gave it a pass; it is a sequel by the way. Eight years later Shane Black and 20th Century Fox return to the franchise.

Should they have hunted other game?

So the most common piece of trivia around this movie is that Shane Black, the director, was in the original Predator as Hawkins. For those that don’t remember he’s the first one of Dutch’s unit to die while he is guarding Anna. More people know him from his other directorial work in Iron Man 3, or as the writer of Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad, The Last Action here, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. The man has a weird obsession with movies set at Christmas. So as he is talented with the pen as well as the directors chair, he was one of the writers on this film, along with Fred Dekker who also wrote for Monster Squad. Dekker is additionally known for the cult classic Night of the Creeps and the cinematic garbage fire that is Robocop 3.

These two are a hot mess, as is the script and feel of the movie. Yes, you will spend quite a bit of time laughing at the jokes and gags that pepper this movie like buckshot. That isn’t Predator though. It’s not a buddy cop movie and shouldn’t be. As a Director and writer he absolutely can do with the material what he wishes, but you also have to expect the backlash from both critics and fans of the franchise when you go off the reservation this much. It is a continuation of the franchise acknowledging the events of Predator in 1987 and Predator 2 (which canonically occurred in 1997); and alluding to other “visits”; but it doesn’t feel like any of the other movies except sadly Requiem. It lacks the genie in the bottle aspect of the first movie, the pressure cooker feel and expansion of the lore that the second brought, the finesse and style of AVP, but has the same shooting feel as Requiem – but hey you can actually see everything this time. It doesn’t have a feel of it’s own beyond buddy cop style action movie, this time with Halloween as a backdrop. Character motivations are thin at best and the direction of two of them leaves me scratching my head more than a few times as they seem to shift in tone as much as the movie does.

That being said, the action is kinetic. A scene in a high school stadium has some great fluidity of motion and build up that you don’t really get to see these days. You can follow the combat pretty clearly even with one thing being invisible and it being night; with one clear exception in the film you know where everyone is at any given point in relation to the surroundings. That exception is both immediately noticeable then…not. The creature effects are…well when they are practical they look fantastic. Do not ask me how often they are practical, the answer will do nothing but disappoint.

What really saves the movie is the actors. Boyd Holbrook (Logan) is our main protagonist and he really has the charm to make it work. He exudes the charisma needed to let you believe he can take the group he is with and get them to follow. Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight,  12 Strong) doesn’t quite have the same caliber of personality but pairs well with Holbrook as his character Nebraska. He feels like a believable character in an unbelievable situation. Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther, Marshall) plays Traeger and the faults I have here are not Brown’s, he’s solid the character and direction are…a choice. The same can be said of Olivia Munn (X-Men Apocalypse, Attack of the Show!); and while I like her performance and the character she’s playing there are some inconsistencies I have some issues reconciling.

TL;DR?

First let me be clear, I had fun at the movie tonight. That doesn’t keep it from being a hot mess. It feels like every idea they had for the movie got filmed. Some were edited out to varying degrees of success while others should have been edited out entirely. Everything is just above serviceable, but none of it feels like an actual Predator movie. All the toys are there, and Henry Jackman sure as hell used the music from the original, but this doesn’t make it good. Nor does toying with some of the original lines in act one. Ha ha, we get it, its a reference to the original movie. You see  you see! *eye roll* There’s ways to do callbacks, but this was not it.

The movie is an old wooden roller coaster from your childhood that’s just a bit smaller than you remember and not quite as thrilling as you want it to be. It looks similar, has a few new coats of paint, but the feeling just ain’t there anymore. The magic is gone.

Should I see it?

At a theatre with beer and popcorn. If your still watch the NFL and your team is losing this would be a good substitute. It is less painful than that and overall still better than Requiem.

Would you see it again?

In theatres? Unlikely.

But, you’ll buy it?

Time will tell. My magic 8 ball says likely, but not 100% sure yet. I think there’s rewatch value for the fun, but I may be more inclined to put in the first two instead.

Ok, it has an R rating – hows the gore.

I can’t decide if this is a spoiler or not, but um…the R rating is for language.

So there’s some controversy on this film – do you want to address that?

Yes and no. Most people who read reviews just want the review not the drama behind the camera. So if that’s you stop now. Like, Comment, or Share please! I am almost to 200 subs on Facebook.

If you want to know more keep reading.

The situation: Shane Black brought a friend of his on set and cast him in a role in which he would be a stalkery jogger going after Munn’s character during her introduction. This friend is a registered sex offender for assaulting a minor female. Black did not tell his actress the literal predator was playing a little too on the nose during his scenes. When Munn found out about it, she went to Fox and asked them to cut the scene – and they did without hesitation; as in within 48 hours of it coming to light. This lead to stories of Munn being isolated at the Toronto premier, as the cast that was there gave standing ovation to Black. This feeling of isolation was corrected by the time of the later LA premier. The entire cast of major players all have been in support of her and their comments (available here on THR) make it clear they do support her and her decision to come forward and Fox’s to cut the scene. In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, which are both long over due Fox responded the only way they could. The cast are responding the only reasonable way they can to maintain continued employment in that environment and yet in many cases it does truly feel sincere; which doesn’t surprise me too much considering the nature of the actors involved.

The problem I feel that needs to be addressed is Shane Black himself. While he has come out and supports the Fox decision (of course he does), bowed out of interviews at the Toronto International Film festival as this would be the only real story he would be asked, and has since apologized publicly and stated he didn’t know the severity of the crime of his friend; he’s not off the hook. He and Munn are both seemingly committed to hashing this out privately and that needs to happen too, but there is a conversation to be had in what gave him the right?

What gave him the right to cast someone he knew was a sex offender in a role that that was literally an individual harassing a woman and NOT tell his actress? When Olivia Munn found out (I haven’t figured out the when/where) but when she found out – he should have acted immediately. It should not have been her to ask Fox – it should have been him. He should have had the first public statement out of the gate (crafted by Fox of course) addressing it and neutering the entire issue there.

Instead, yet again, a woman must be the one to raise her voice, put her career at risk, put the release of her movie at risk because he – and the rest who knew – were complicit in not doing anything. James Gunn was fired for comments from a decade ago, that he long since apologized for and taken action to be better about – yet here’s Shane Black and…nothing.

It was very difficult to watch the movie and not think of this and had the scene not been cut – I wouldn’t have watched it at all. Shane Black needs to do a lot more penance than making up and apologizing to Munn, I don’t know what it should be, but I truly don’t think he’s learned from this. I read his statement a few times, but it just rings hollow. He takes the responsibility for the poor decision, but in the same breath says ‘we cut the scene’. No – you were told to cut it. There is a difference Mr. Black.

The conversation has been started yet again on this and I am hoping other directors learn from it and that Shane Black truly truly comes to understand and addresses his failing here.

 

Darke Reviews | Peppermint (2018)

Back from vacation, recovered from said vacation (mostly) and already a movie to review. Fair warning, I probably won’t see The Nun. I haven’t been too thrilled by the Conjuring franchise in terms of horror itself so instead this week I am watching Peppermint. I need to make a callback to a film a mere six months ago, Death Wish,  on what the purpose of this movie is as I get into the review here. Back in that review I discussed the purpose certain genre’s give us and that the most common reason to see an action movie is Wish Fulfillment. We, as the audience, want to be the bad ass who protects our family, our friends, our town, to be the beautiful one, the one with the chiseled abs, or deity like physique. Go to any high school party (ok when I was a kid anyway), college dorm, or bar fifteen minutes before last call and a half dozen beers already put away and you’ll find that group of friends having this conversation. This also applies to most gaming groups at one point or another.

“So like what would you do if <X Scenario happened>”

“Oh man I’d…..”

And the conversation usually goes to how they would kick butt, not be afraid, etc. Hell I’ve had this conversation, I usually like to preface it with “I’d like to think I would…” as I have no bloody clue what would happen in the moment. Few of us do (thats a good thing). That’s why we have our fiction in TV and movies where the characters with the power of the script behind them get to do the thing we wish we would do in that moment. This is very important to be aware of and I need to address it here, as I derided Death Wish for it, but I intend to take a different tack here.

Why is Peppermint different than Death Wish?

The movie follows the same basic premise. Bad things happen to our protagonists family. They train to become a bad ass. They kill bad guys as a result. This is the Punisher and a hundred other vigilante movies concepts. This is every revenge movie we’ve watched from I Spit on Your Grave to Even Lambs Have Teeth.  Chad St John, the writer who gave us the Punisher short Dirty Laundry and the droll London has Fallen utilizes all of those techniques, but he’s learned since his last film. The Director knows this genre well as Pierre Morel also directed District B 13 (fantastic film) and Taken. So again why is it different than Death Wish if its the same thing?

Well for one the movie doesn’t really attempt to glorify the actions of our protag, Riley North, played as effectively as you can by Jennifer (Alias, Love Simon, Elektra) Garner. She is a wanted criminal from the word go here and there’s no ambiguity from the cops or FBI in that they want to bring her in, know who she is, and is trying to do so. The movie touches on social media as a backdrop, where in DW it was very much the side plot in how Social was responding to him and a ham fisted attempt to create debate. Here the movie threads that needle a hundred times better simply by leaving it in the background. Anyone who has been watching Social Media recently with any sense of awareness would know that yes, there is a population that would be cheering her on. She’s killing bad guys right? The movie doesn’t mince words though and lets the main drivers objectively say she’s still a murderer.

Secondly. it’s quite simply made better. I’ve discussed how movies sometimes start “In Media Res” – with the plot already going. Catch up or don’t. This does that. Quite often in film review or discussions we may jokingly say if they got rid of the boring parts, they would have a good movie. This actually does that. It’s trimmed to the bare essentials. There’s very little fat on the movie at all. It alternates between action beats and investigation well enough that it keeps a brisk but easy to follow pace.

That said, the editing while strong in this area also hurts in others. There’s a few camera tricks that we’ve seen from Morel before that just don’t work here nearly as well. The action is clean, but also very procedural and not as kinetic as say Atomic Blonde or John Wick. I am both praising and damning it for the same thing, as it was edited tight, but maybe too tight. There is no emotional weight or connection in the film rather we are delivered a series of small action beats with thin connective tissue that is there, is doing it’s job but is too thin to support any weight of emotion, development, or arc.

TL;DR?

Peppermint is solid popcorn fare. It’s entertaining, and the audience I was with reacted to the the action with engagement which enhanced my particular experience. There were the winces, the oohs, and aahs. This won’t win any awards to be sure, but Morel, St. John, and Garner deliver well enough I was pleased with what I saw.

It is well made enough to differentiate itself from Death Wish and just ends up being a standard revenge action film that doesn’t go for a message or drive some deeper meaning down your throat. It simply says I am here to deliver a Revenge movie and let you watch bad guys who did bad things die.

I can’t fault a movie for not trying to be more than it is. Point in fact, I often do fault movies for trying to be more. Peppermint knows what it is and stays in it’s lane.

Should I see it?

Matinee, sure. It’s also viable when you get it on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, who ever gets it. I mean a Theatre is nice for this one, but not a necessity.

Will you see it again?

If someone wants to take this girl on a date? Yes. – what I consider this date movie material. I am weird alright.

Yeah…ok. So buying it?

Yeah pretty much.

The other actors in the movie though?

They exist. Look no one was winning any awards here. They all at least put in an effort and avoid phoning it in. There’s charm.

Also – I need to call this out. The line from the trailer where the title supposedly comes from is never in the movie.

..Date movie?

To be fair, I also would consider It or Happy Death Day good date movies.

Right, so next week?

The Predator is on deck, but I’ll have to call out some recent news regarding Shane Black when I do.

Darke Reviews | Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

The romantic comedy genre is most certainly not my bag. Largely due to the comedic part of it relying on embarrassment, odd and inconvenient situations, lying, and/or lack of communication. Romance though? Love it. It’s almost heartbreaking how much I love it. Age of Adeline, Practical Magic, Ever After, While You Were Sleeping, Carmilla, Bram Stokers Dracula, Interview with the Vampire *sigh* such beautiful romances. So when one dear friend saw the initial trailer and wanted to see this, and my recent movie going partner also wanted to see this…and let’s be fair I wanted to see this we went tonight to a theatre whose Air Conditioning was broken and watched a movie. I was uncomfortable the entire time.

Were we crazy to stay? 

Yeah ok the question was a bit forced, bite me. As usual I have not read Kevin Kwans original book and likely never will; so per the norm there won’t be any comparison to the source material. I can say that the adaptation by first time movie writer Adele Lim and Now You See Me 2′s Peter Chiarelli did something I am not used to. They put the characters first.  You just don’t see that in big budget, western studio productions. The comedy and situational humor and fish out of water jokes always drive the plot around a pretty basic story with characters that are as thin as wet cotton candy. Almost none of that is present here. The people are allowed to be people first and foremost and thats what we get to know before the true ridiculousness of the wealth of the characters becomes the backdrop for the events. They feel like actual people living extraordinary lives; but are done so in a such a way that the absurdity of the wealth is nothing more than set dressing to the real interactions and conversations that happen.

Much of that credit has to go to director Jon M. Chu. Yes, this is the guy who started with Step Up 2: The Streets (best of the series imo), moved on to Justin Beiber videos, GI Joe Retaliation, and then the cinematic dumpster fire that was Jem and the Holograms. Now that I have seen this, I would truly have loved to see what he could do with Jem had someone cared to give it a script or a budget. In this film though he draws out fantastic performances from his actors and has some of the best framing I’ve seen in a movie like this. You really don’t get the level of detail and precision in the camera work with your average American film in this genre. It just doesn’t happen, yet here it did and the movie shines from opening to credits because of it.

Having a power house cast doesn’t hurt. No offense to the mains (at all), but Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Star Trek Discovery) is a powerhouse. Without a single doubt she is the best actor in the film and does so much with the slightest facial expression. Every movement is a telegraph, every look is a short story of what is going on in her characters head and everyone knows it. She doesn’t have to say a lot, but when she does say anything you can’t help but listen. All that said, credit must absolutely be given to Constance Wu, playing Rachel Chu, in her first wide release movie appearance. She is beautiful, she is charming, she is strong, and the movie lets her be all these things without ever demeaning her character once. She delivers a fantastically balanced performance that I can’t say is as nuanced as Yeoh’s but is more complex than you would expect from an actress in the lead role of a “Rom Com”. Our lead actor, Henry Golding, playing Nick Young, has his *first* movie appearance with this movie. Truth be told he is one of the weaker performances, but that’s also like saying his character is moderately wealthy. He is everything he needs to be and more. There is just so much earnestness to his character and the chemistry between Golding and Wu is a make or break driving force of the movie. I am happy to report, its definitely make.

The supporting cast on the film is immense, Oceans Eight actor Awkwafina plays Rachel’s best friend Peik Lin Goh, and every time I thought she would get annoying it was reigned in by the actress, the camera, or the moment and it worked. The rest of the cast are some of the most beautiful people I have had the pleasure to lay my eyes on during a movie and while their characters or performances may not be as impactful as the main trio they deserve to be named from Gemma Chan as Astrid who has the C plotline in the movie and while it shouldn’t work does so very very well. Chris Pang (Tomorrow when the War Began) plays Nick’s friend Colin, the groom to be that brought everyone to Singapore; while his fiancee Araminta is played by Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina, La La Land). They are both so immediately endearing and ‘real’ feeling you become invested in them and their relationship and everything around them – which is the rest of the movie.

On the technical front I’ve already praised the camera work and deservedly so, but the costuming! The Wedding dress and wedding for Colin and Araminta is hands down one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Period. Also while still overall a tightly shot film, they really let the modern Singapore shine in this movie. It is treated as well as any major city and while I know there are parts that aren’t so shiny it is magnificent to see a major city we just don’t get to see as a centerpiece for a film

TL:DR

I like this movie. A lot. I am short cutting the questions, yes I  would see it again and I do plan to buy it. It was a terribly sweet, positively endearing and earnest movie. It doesn’t in my mind deserve to be called a Romantic Comedy. It has funny moments in it sure, but it’s more akin to Pretty Woman in that respect where there is humor, but the romance and the relationships are the driving force.

This movie is pure. It is good.

Go see it

 

Darke Reviews | The Meg (2018)

We bring ourselves here to talk about the August dump slot and how nearly every summer there’s one movie people are anticipating in this place that the studio has no faith in. From it’s first over the top trailer The Meg became that movie this year, with dozens of online reviewers and youtube channels eagerly anticipating a tongue in cheek monster movie. I remember first hearing of this movie back in 2005, when this concept art was released.

Image result for The Meg surfer

Now granted we saw this image in the recent Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s not an original concept idea to see a giant thing eating a puny human and well it is frakkin’ awesome to see. Disney actually was the first studio to option this for production back in the late 90’s – so thats a bullet dodged there. 90’s tech for this would have made an awful movie. In 2005 New Line Cinema took a stab at thee, but cancelled due to budget concerns before it got too far. In 2015 Eli Roth and Warner Bros decided to take a shot at the shark; and the movie was mostly filmed between October of 2016 and January of 2017. A Year and a half later – it’s finally on the screen.

This ladies, gentlemen, and other night stalkers is what we call Development Hell. 

The question is does the movie live up to a decade old piece of concept art or should it have stayed below the surface?

The movie is now directed by Jon Turteltaub, the guy who gave us 3 Ninja’s, National Treasure, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Clearly he is the right man to direct a giant monster movie with this pedigree. He of course needs a script to direct and that is brought by my Three Writer Rule. Sure it’s based on the novel by Steve Alten, but then this most current incarnation was given the screenplay treatment by Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris. This…this is an interesting mix of talent. Dean’s experience includes The Manchurian Candidate (2004 remake), Paycheck (2003 Ben Affleck film), and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). He hasn’t worked much on the movie script front since then. The Hoebers though, gave me the 2009 movie Whiteout, 2010’s action comedy great RED; and then something went wrong and they wrote Battleship and Red 2. Something went very wrong.

Somehow through this listing of B, C, and G (Battleship doesn’t earn an F) movies we get The Meg.

It works.

Surprising isn’t it? I mean you expect a kinda Good Bad movie when you see this one and hear its concept, but you instead just get a good movie. The first act is surprisingly tense and treats the audience with a degree of respect and intelligence and doesn’t over explain anything. The director and script use the power of the movie to both tell AND show without too much exposition dumping hitting you at once. They are relatively clever in most aspects and it holds up with real weight. The second act it doesn’t hold up as well and the third less so, but at that point you don’t care [as] much because they made the characters engaging and overall likable. Sure some of them could have been combined to give us less to juggle, but that is a minor issue as the ones we get are relatively engaging and intelligent. Sometimes they fall into stereotypes (looking at you Page Kennedy), but other stereotypes are somehow avoided in the main cast. It doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel Test or Mako Mori test, but gets pretty close on the latter. I am giving it a pass though due to the actors involved.

Statham is a known entity and gives us everything you expect from him. If anything his character of Jonah..sorry Jonas is a bit reserved for one of his typical action lead roles. Sure he does the things you expect, but its a touch more subdued than you’d expect over all. Also he’s the only one….the ONLY one who gets an objectifying shot in the movie. Bingbing Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Resident Evil Retribution) not only holds her own in the movie against Statham but steals some scenes from him in a way that made my black little heart beat a few times. Her character, Suyin, is strong in all the best ways and balanced well enough that she’s a real character.

Supporting our main stars we have Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super) is the movie Billionare Morris who funds the entire thing; but many will have trouble seeing beyond his turn as Dwight. Ruby Rose plays the tech geek Jaxx, sadly shes not used as much as I wish and I think, agreeing with one of the folks who saw this with me tonight, she could have had her character merged with Page Kennedy’s character DJ and we would have been fine. Ruby Rose was the stronger of the two though Kennedy gets the most lines and honestly his are some of the weakest in the film. Rounding out the supporting cast is Chinese actor Winston Chao (1911) and Cliff Curtis (Push, Sunshine). So for me Cliff Curtis is always a win (to borrow from a youtuber) and while I am not familiar with Chao in his time on screen you can tell he has an aura of someone who can normally command the camera. Ten year old (8 at the time of filming) Shuya Sophia Cal steals the show and hearts as Suyin’s daughter Meiying. She is just the right kind of precocious and absolutely not annoying in the least. American directors, please look to her performance for what children are capable of.

On the technical front, the movie is pretty solid. The Science in the Science Fiction is strong and the movie never violates it’s own rules – nor does it call attention to the other rules it may be violating based on science. As always with me if you give me your movies ground rules and stick them you get a pass on almost anything else. It doesn’t need many. It obeys the laws of physics, nature, and oceanography pretty damn well for the most part. The Digital effects that created the undersea “level” were quite beautiful and I do wish more of the movie was there. The star of course is the Shark and this ain’t no Bruce; but damn if it doesn’t look good.

TL;DR?

The Meg is not nearly as campy as I thought it would be. It’s tongue is not firmly stuck in it’s cheek. It is a much better movie than it had any right to be for these facts. I will compare it to Tremors, one of my favourite modern monster movies. This movie knows what it is and what it isn’t. It takes itself seriously without crossing a line that would make it be ridiculous for taking it too serious. The heart is there in many of the character interactions and it does contain some solid, well placed levity. This is the B monster movie elevated to a solid B+. I think some of the weaker moments are known to the production staff and they don’t really shy away from it, they just acknowledge it and move on.

I really liked the Meg and I think you will too.

Should I see it?

Yeah, you should. This was the first time I had multiple readers of this page join me in the movie and we all really kind of enjoyed ourselves. It’s the perfect popcorn science fiction action movie.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would

So you’ll be buying it then?

Without a doubt. There’s a lot of rewatch in this one.

But Vampire Princess, its a SHARK movie!

Yes it is, but this is one of the good ones. This isn’t a Deep Blue Sea (a guilty pleasure if I felt guilt on what I liked), Sharknado, Ghost Shark, Two Headed Shark Attack, Three Headed Shark Attack, or Shark Night 3D. It’s also not Jaws. This is to Jaws as Aliens was to Alien.

It has to have something wrong with it!

It does. Plenty in fact. I call out that the third act is pretty weak. It has some logical fails that annoy a bit. Some stereotypes are a bit on the nose to the point of being minorly offensive. It does have some tonal issues at times. Yet with all that it’s actually still a good movie. Better than it had a right to be.

 

Wrapping up next Wednesday should be the next review in a movie you wouldn’t expect from me: Crazy Rich Asians.

 

JAWS Reference Spoiler Corner Goes here. Roll over to read

 

The dog in the trailer is named Pippen – in Jaws – Pippet.

There are musical queues that are reminiscent of Jaws, not quite, but close

The Shark POV swimming through the seaweed before reaching swimmers

The kid begging mom to go play. She of course eventually relents.

I am pretty sure I heard a slightly off the key “roar” from Duel as a shark sank into the depths…

There might be more I’d have to watch Jaws again (oh no the horror)

 

END ROLL OVER

Darke Reviews | The Darkest Minds (2018)

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie, which I dubbed “X-Men with kids” since the first trailer.

As you may have noticed I am kind of big on the idea of Representation F*n matters; so the idea of a solid looking sci fi / action movie with a young POC girl in the lead; my choices were clear. Now granted, I could tell already this was based on a YA Novel series and it’s getting an August dump slot, the first one of the year so the studio didn’t have faith in it.

But should you?

Based upon the novel series by Arizona native Alexandra Bracken the movie covers the events of the first of the trilogy. Why are you asking if I read the book to yourself? Have you not read my reviews? That said, I am kind of hoping she might be a guest at a local con; I’d love to interview her on the adaptation process and her involvement from book to screen. Her book was adapted for the screen by Chris Hodge, who looks to have mostly been involved in television prior to this, and was the creator of Warward Pines, which seems to be a slightly toned down version of Hemlock Grove and a more supernatural version of Twin Peaks – so take that for what you will. Not being overly familiar with Brackens original work, I cannot speak to how well the adaptation takes it, but Hodge does seem to avoid more than a few of the YA to Movie Pitfalls, but not all of them.

The dialogue is not nearly as clunky as it can be in many adaptations of material like this, but some credit will go to the director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Nelson might be best known to most audiences for her work as director of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3; but prior to that she directed four episodes of the Spawn animated series (talk about dark). Her other background, which explains some aspects to the movie is as an artist, character designer, and story department. She worked on the criminally underrated 2003 Sinbad movie, and the amazing Dark City. This sort of experience lends itself to why the movie looks as good as it does in places, its strong dependence on overall subtle computer effects with a significant majority being done practically or with other visual tricks. She also showed talent in bringing well above average performances from most of her cast.

The absolute powerhouse of the film, figuratively and literally speaking is Amandla Sternberg as our protagonist Ruby. Most folks became familiar with her six yeas ago as Rue in The Hunger Games, and hopefully even wider soon as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give later this year. My partner and I tonight were talking at length about her and why she worked. Obviously script and direction help here as this has undercut other actresses with talent in movies like The 5th Wave, but here Sternberg shines. She is a complex character with real chemistry with her on screen friends and to borrow a line from another movie, She’s a Damsel. She’s in distress. She’s got it handled. Have a nice day. The character may be afraid and uncertain, but they never make her feel weak or simpering. This is a crucial balancing act in a YA or any material that is adapted and quite often fails.

Her main co-star Harris Dickinson (who will be Prince Phillip in Maleficent 2) also delivers. Quite often the male protag/romance interest in these films is completely bland from delivery and have the depth of a half empty kiddie pool. Dickinson as Liam lets the character actually emote and brings good chemistry with Sternberg. Skylan Brrooks as Charles is another solid character; while his opening can grate on some nerves once the movies pacing lets him he grows and you can really buy the friendship between the main three. I would love to say more about Miya Cech as the 11 year old Zu, but she doesn’t get to do more than be sweet and adorable and really a good counterbalance to the others strong persona’s. Unfortunately, no one else really stands out or otherwise borders on detrimental to the movie.

This leans into where the movie has some flaws, traps the director and writer may not have known how to find their way around. I realized watching this the problem with YA movies and am likely to do an entire editorial post on it later, but to sum up for this review – they run so heavy in the exposition, often with voice over that they forgot they are making a movie. When you read a book you need the characters inner monologue and long or detailed descriptions to let your mind paint the scene, the emotions, and to sell the interactions. With film you get to show don’t tell. The opening of the movie is painfully rushed so much so that the rest felt like it came to a screeching halt and part of that is due to the tons of exposition dump that occurred with little need for it. We’re told and shown when a show was enough. Due to this some of the characters would win my newly minted Snidely Whiplash award for hammy villains.

Image result for snidely whiplash

TL:DR?

While I don’t love this one nearly as much as Beautiful Creatures, The Darkest Minds is a very solid YA adaptation. It has good actors, a solid enough script, and good characters. The action beats work and the movie doesn’t pull punches where lesser material would. This surprised me a few times but I was very happy to see material remember the Adult part of Young Adult.

Amandla Sternberg is a gift and needs to be in more movies and I was very happy to support this one, even if it’s slated to be a box office bomb. Unfortunately this movie only made roughly $6 million of its $34 million budget domestically and just under $10 world wide. Unless there’s an international surge or my viewership sky rockets this looks to be one of the weakest openings and hauls of a YA movie.

So should I see it?

Well I would like to change this movies fate, so yes, I do recommend this one.

Would you see it again?

Honestly? The more I think about it yeah yeah I would.

Buying it then?

Without a doubt.

So how bad was that box office?

Well, it will likely do better than Vampire Academy  ($15m ww)so that’s a plus. It’s almost doubled Blood and Chocolate‘s $6 million world wide haul; but thats really faint praise on this one. It does deserve better than it got.

So…Rotten Tomatoes says..

Yeah, Critical 18%. Audience though with 800 ratings, gave it 82%. As a critic and reviewer I can see why Critics *wouldn’t* like it. It has flaws and flaws that I could be harder on if I chose to. I am chosing not to because it tried. The actors tried. The script tried. The director tried. It shows they tried and it wasn’t just another hollow YA cash grab.

But it has so many YA flaws that I shouldn’t ignore, but am choosing to because I believe a movie that tries is worth a dozen or more Pacific Rim Uprisings or Tomb Raiders or Death Wish remakes. We need more like this and less like those.

The Darkest Minds didn’t get a fair deal and that’s sad. If you have a free evening in the next two weeks go see it. I think you will see what I did in it.

Darke Reviews | Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TL:DR

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

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

So should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

You taking me?

Buying it?

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

Anything else?

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

So what’s next?

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