Darke Reviews | Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

So everyone and their mother complained about how there was too much human action going on in Godzilla (2014). How they only teased the main event through the movie or how you only got to see it through a TV report or partial shots. Oddly a few people complained about how chonky the new take on Godzilla was. I can firmly tell you these people are wrong. I am here for the absolute unit that is Godzilla in 2014 and again in 2019.  The trailers promised us a lot more monster on monster action and introducing Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. They promised us cities getting laid to waste as these titans went about their business with humans stuck in the middle and looking pretty helpless.

Did they keep their promise?

We have three writers on the story here, so we invoke the Darke Three Writer rule for quality, or do we? Starting with Zach Shields, who worked on the beautifully twisted Krampus (2015), we then move to Max Borenstein who brought us Kong: Skull Island and the 2014 Godzilla, which marks him as the man behind the inter-connectivity. Finally we land with the man who has story, screenplay, and director credit Michael Doughtery. I’ve been a massive fan of Dougherty since 2009 with Trick R Treat and with his clear love of Mythos and myth I felt he was the perfect director when I heard he was attached. The three of them on story, with Daugherty and Shields on screenplay delivered on the promise of more monsters, but at the cost of any sense of logic or reality. The movie entirely embraces the ridiculous premise of the Kaiju and runs with it as far as you can run and still stay even remotely grounded. Is the science good? Not even close. Is the Technology believable? Hah.  Is the plot armor on despite the wanton destruction? Spoilers. Do I care? No.

We’re talking about a movie series in which there’s an ultra secret private company who has been studying these things for decades. Visited Skull Island in the 70s’, but no one heard anything about it. Then watched as Godzilla and the Muto’s broke Hawaii, Vegas, and San Francisco. Now we continue four years later with that same agency still being called to task by the government, who knew about them all along anyway. We find out more and more of them are waking up, some who will fight for us, others against. Who will stand as king?

The cast is of course serviceable. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception) doesn’t get anything as good as Let them Fight, but it works. Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Zero Dark Thirty) is our leading man who is a member of Monarch trying to save his family. Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, The Conjuring franchise) and Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) are said family. The three of them are the more or less emotional core of the movie that are to keep us grounded between the monster smack downs. It works and isn’t nearly as overwrought as it was in 2014 as in this case they are chasing the creatures rather than constantly happening to be in the wrong place and the wrong time. The rest of the cast is a whose who of character actors from Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), Bradley Whitford (Get Out), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), and Charles friggin Dance (Game of Thrones). I have a distinct feeling in some of the cases, even those not mentioned here, someone went “do you want to be in a Godzilla movie?” and the only correct answer was given.

Visually the movie was gorgeous. So many of the shots were something you could freeze frame, get printed, then put on a wall and be happy. Dougherty and cinematographer Lawrence Sher knew how to frame the camera for maximum effect. The trailer does it’s job by only hinting at the many many shots that are just awe inspiring when you consider the scale of them and the events that are unfolding because of them. The kaiju of this movie live up to the name of Titan as each and everyone is made to feel massive and terrifying in scale and scope. The creature design is top notch on all of them and you are given ample opportunity to appreciate each one of the designs. The music does it’s job, but that’s hardly a surprise with Bear McCreary on that and fans of the original Toho will notice more than a few musical cues that hearken back to the originals.

TL;DR?

I enjoyed myself with this movie. The Dark Princess of the night and myself just enjoyed gushing about all the things done so well here. Every logical extreme was taken here for the audiences pleasure. They knew the movie they wanted to make, they listened to their audience, and they made it. We are all the better for it and in days of emotional weight in our action movies or movies with such dance like precision this is a breath of fresh air that says to hell with the rules; we’re going big and we’re not going home. It absolutely knows what it is and doesn’t try to be more. Some of the dialogue is cheesy and I didn’t care.

Godzilla: King of Monsters is the movie that was promised and I am looking forward to Godzilla vs Kong.

Ok so I guess we should watch it?

Buy a beer. Buy some popcorn or pretzels. Sit back. Make sure you have a great sound system in the theatre.

Are you buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. You should to.

Ok, but I liked the 2014 and didn’t want more monsters?

I like the 2014 Godzilla. I really do. I get what they went for and appreciate it with holding the monster back. That said, the cat is out of the bag. We’ve had the big reveal, so now we get the rest of the story as it were. Yes, this is more action driven than person driven but it’s not without the person.

Which one is better?

Not answering that. Depends what you want out of the movie. Thats up to the person. I enjoy they both and unlike Ken Watanabe’s character, I see no reason to let them fight.

 

I loved the look and feel of Godzilla King of the Monsters. It pays off on its promises and build up. I have no regrets here and I don’t think you will either.

Darke Reviews | Brightburn (2019)

Apologies now, this review might be shorter than many. It’s late but I am committed to the members of the Vampire Princesses domain who enjoy her work. Now many folks didn’t know about this one, even horror movie fans so first let me give you a trailer.

 

So if the idea of tween Superman as a horror movie doesn’t intrigue you in the slightest, you can probably stop here. If it does there’s a review for you below. I’ve been curious about this one since that trailer above dropped and yes having James Gunn’s name attached as a producer on that added to it. We’re talking the guy who wrote the screenplay for the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw, The Belko Experiment, and Slither. Oh yeah some little movie called Guardians of the Galaxy. This has promise.

Did it keep its promise though?

The movie was written by Brian Gunn (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and Mark Gunn (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), which makes sense with the brother /cousin respectively on the producer staff. The thing is though I bet there’s an uncredited writer for James on this too, but well since it’s uncredited I can’t say it’s there officially. The two men, however, don’t exactly have a pedigree to say they can do horror. Pedigree is apparently not a always a requirement. The final product delivers everything on the tin as it were and doesn’t shy away from any of the topics involved. It’s fairly tight, fairly well holds to it’s own logic and consistency and even elevates some of the traditional comic tropes and puts them firmly in the horror genre.  The most obvious trope played with is the alliterative name of our protagonist, Brandon Breyer; but its not the last one. Director David Yarovesky gets his first theatrical release and its a solid one. His choice of shots is engaging, his overall framing is excellent, and while yes he uses many horror tropes he does them to great effect. It works especially well when unlike many horror movies where you have a disappearing shape, this one has cause to be able to do that. I think what works best between the script and direction is that this is how I could see the events playing out if they had happened as shown. At no point did I really go…that was an odd choice. It felt natural.

Elizabeth Banks, yes that one, goes hard into this one. I know I was impressed with her in Power Rangers as the villain, but here she just nails it as the adoptive mother to Brandon. She is the emotional core of the movie and while I was kind of numb (mostly tired) leaving the movie as I think to write this she kept me invested. She kept my interest as we watch Brandon evolve through the film. David Denman plays the adoptive father (oddly also from Power Rangers, but also The Office) and has to deliver a different performance than Banks and it works. Jackson Dunn has the other weight in the film as Brandon. Unfortunately, his performance is a bit one note. I believe this is intentional and as directed, but there’s a detachment in the acting that seemed almost the easy choice to go with. No fault of Dunn there, but it’s one of the weaker elements of an otherwise strong film. Granted the performance does have the right amount of creepy and endearing which is a hard balance with lesser actors or directors.

From a technical perspective there are a few shots which just take the bloody cake. One of them is in the second trailer (not linked) and it’s everything as promised. There are some gore effects I don’tr ecall seeing before and am pleased to have seen them now. At 90 minutes it’s tightly edited and tightly paced so there’s no room for opportunity there.

TL;DR

I told you this one was going to be short. There is not a lot to discuss that wouldn’t cross into spoiler territory. Brightburn kept its promise. It is everything it said it would be, nothing more and nothing less. I want to use this movie as an example of how to be properly subversive to the superhero genre, how to put the twist on it that is needed. It treats everything in the movie, and the audience itself, with respect and intelligence not explaining more than is needed and using show don’t tell to the right levels.

Should I see it?

Honestly, we’ve needed some really solid horror. We got it. If thats your jam, so is this movie.

Would you see it again?

Yeah actually. I would.

So you are buying it?

Absolutely.

Was it that good?

No. It’s just good. Sometimes that is enough. It was tonight. I enjoyed it. It delivered on its promise and really that’s all we need in a lot of cases.

 

Darke Reviews | Aladdin (2019)

One of the times where I need to put the year not just to cover when I released the review, but also to make sure it’s clear as to which version of the movie I am talking about – even within the same studio. To be fair 27 years is long enough between versions. Though as I write this it just struck me why we claim to be so tired of remakes, when remakes are as old as Hollywood itself. Access. We have more access than ever before to almost any movie ever made any time we want. This really began in my own childhood as VHS became widely accessible and cable began to sink its claws into the world giving us more channels airing more of our favourites. Then came (and went) laser disc, only to be eclipsed by DVD, then BluRay, now Digital. You love The 1992 Aladdin and likely have watched it more than a dozen times, and if you have kids shared it with them as well. It’s never faded from memory because we have it on demand by our own hands. Now to be fair, I am not demonizing the audience for liking what they like and wanting what they want. I am just being a bit introspective as to why we might be judging some of the studios as harshly as we do.

This isn’t to say they don’t also deserve it. They are part of the access issue and let’s face it with few exceptions Disney hasn’t exactly thrilled everyone with these live action remakes. I suppose with Lion King this year we should just call it a Digital Remake. The same might as well be said for this one too, though not to the same extent. For me Maleficent was one of the best of the live action remakes because they remixed the story and did something new with it rather than a shot for shot remake.

So should we just put Aladdin back in the lamp?

The script this time was penned by John August who is credited for work on about a solid third of Tim Burton’s work from Big Fish (yay) to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (special hell for you), to Dark Shadows (I will put you in that hell myself), and Frankenweenie’s 2012 remake. Guy Ritchie clearly did enough rewrites to get his name on the screenplay and of course he is in the directors chair. I am surprised after King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that Disney took a chance on him, but here we are and yes they did. More is the pity.

Let me be clear (I almost typed straight but I’ll never be that), I did enjoy parts of the movie and I don’t hate it. This will seem incongruous to the lambasting I am about to give it so I wanted to make sure you knew early. This film has no energy with one exception and that exception is not Will Smith. Somehow and I don’t know how precisely they took One Jump and Prince Ali and put on the display, put on the words, but it had no energy to it or passion to it. Even the opening Arabian Nights just doesn’t have the right sound to it as it desperately tries to emulate the original. Sure there are changes, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is they try to hit the rise and sound as large but they don’t. They fall just short of it every, single, time. Guy Ritchie made ONE JUMP BORING. HOW? How does a director known for such kineticism take a song born to be kinetic and make it flat. The musical numbers aren’t the only issue. Some scenes are truncated, but not to the movies benefit as it introduces new complexity that isn’t handled well. With one exception I will get to into in a moment the movie is simultaneously rushed and too long at the same time. More than a few of the changes made to story and events we all know aren’t just different, but are flat out weaker on their own and by comparison. It sort of is a mess in that regard.

What saves the movie is the actors. First things first, Will Smith is fine and reminded me of the Smith of old with his charisma and makes Genie his own. He doesn’t try to mimic Robin Williams, but they don’t stray far enough that you forget him. Mena Massoud is fine as Aladdin when the direction and script let him be. He was clearly hired for a smile that can light a room from across a country and that isn’t a bad thing. The boy does his best and starts to overcome everything against him, until they get him to sing. Then the flatness harms, but at least he and Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) have charisma together. He does all he can, but she just does it better. When it comes to the heavy lifting of the movie it’s all on Scott and she does it. She is the powerhouse, from song to performance to character arc.  Prior to this I had no idea she could sing and I am pretty impressed with what I got. Nasim Pedrad also adds some of the charm to the movie as Jasmine’s handmaiden and is definitely one of the brighter spots, in the film. I tried, I tried to buy Marwan Kenzari (Murder on the Orient Express, Ben-Hur) as Jafar, but he didn’t have the necessary venom. He was flat as many of the other performances and emotional depth of the movie beyond Scott. I don’t blame him, I blame Ritchie and August. Mostly Ritchie.

TL;DR?

The movie is fine. It’s passable. It’s just irritatingly mundane. As the Dark Princess who attended with me tonight said, they did everything safe. Everything. There is not a single choice made that wasn’t the safe one to make. Some of the changes and inserts made were ridiculously safe for 2019 and with but one exception did not add to the movie in any way. The CG ends up looking better than we got on the trailers, but that only harms the final product as there is a ridiculous amount of CG so the Genie ends up looking odd since he is coded to be more photo real.

Guy Ritchie was the wrong choice for this movie and while there were some more Bollywood style shots, costuming, lighting, and set design – next time give it to a director from Bollywood. It’s hard for me to forget the initial casting news from this one and it does colour my opinion of the final product. You may think that isn’t fair, but I have to ask would a different director have been able to get the right passion and made the right choices? I mean obviously a different director would have made different choices, but would a Bollywood director have given us the BETTER choices.

Aladdin 2019 will suffer by comparison to the original and that suffering is earned. It only improves one or two things, but again doesn’t stick the landing on those things.

Should I see it though?

Meh? I guess. Like I mentioned in the tomb diving part above, I am fairly displeased with so many of the decisions in the movie, BUT….I don’t hate it.  So take my review at face value and make your choice accordingly.

Would you see it again?

For some of the Naomi Scott scenes? Yes, but…

But you’ll buy it and not in the theatre

You got it.

Any parting thoughts on this one?

I am not hopeful for the Lion King?

 

Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Si vis pacem, para bellum. I actually have this on a whiteboard at my job. The Latin phrase translates basically to “If you want peace, prepare for war”; thus the title being Prepare for War. John Wick is one of those movies that kinda snuck in the backdoor back in 2014 with no one giving it much attention at the initial release. It came in second to Ouija by over $5 million, alright? It barely did better than a Brad Pitt movie (Fury) in it’s second week and Gone Girl in its 4th week and that had already made over $100 at that point. So yeah it’s safe to say John Wick was not exactly a popular film on it’s release weekend. It did however double its $20 million budget, but was pretty much gone in four weeks. It found life however in the after market and people realized what they were missing (but you know if more people read my reviews they would know to go see it!).   Two and a half years later John Wick: Chapter 2 doubled the domestic gross of it’s predecessor with $92 million; but also doubled the budget. $15 million more was thrown at the third chapter.

Did they prepare for war though?

The story was written by the original writer, Derek Kolstad, who literally just makes assassin projects, with his next two being a TV series for The Continental and Hitman. The screenplay then gets three additional writers, thus violating the writing rule of Darke. Marc Abrams (The Bernie Mac Show), Chris Collins (Sons of Anarchy, The Wire), and Shay Hatten in their first major writing project. I have to admit confusion here as one of the driving forces of a John Wick movie have been relatively simplistic plots that rely on a minimum of dialogue. This one is not that different in that regard. Kolstad was the sole story/screenplay credit on the last two so I cannot fathom what the others brought to the work.

The story is as simple as what’s on the tin and picks up where the last left off more or less. John having killed someone within the Continental has been declared Excommunicado by the surprisingly large network of assassins and support staff. He loses all rights to services and is now himself the hunted. What will he do? Where will he go?

That’s it. Even as we get a deeper look at the world of killers beneath the surface of our own, which is a lovely conceit still, there is a simplicity to it all. They do of course add layers and some complexity as we visit new locations and meet new personalities, but all of that is handled well by Stunt Performer turned director Chad Stahelski. As with the first two films having someone with his kind of experience in knowing what it takes to make a good shot for the camera (and guns) lets us really enjoy the kineticism of the fight sequences. Again this is no different, except now we have added animals to the stunts using horses and dogs – which anyone can tell you adds even more risk. You don’t want the animal getting hurt, the animal has to be trained, and you have to be careful the animal doesn’t hurt any of the performers when it’s all in camera like this. I am pleased to say the addition of the animals definitely added to the action.

We can talk about performances, but we are dealing with Keanu Reeves in the role that revitalized his career and the action movie industry. He gets to spend most of the time just being tired, broken, and still the Baba Yaga we know and love.  Ian McShane (please narrate my life) and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon of the Continental, with Laurence Fishburne also coming back to work with his friends from the Matrix.  Two of the new stand outs are of course Angelica Houston as The Director and Halle Berry reminding us she exists and has action chops. Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black, Billions) gives us to my knowledge our first Non-binary actor (pronouns are They/Them) with a major role in a major Hollywood production. They do exude a helluva presence on screen and I am interested to see them in more projects. A special call out to Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, The Raid 2) and Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2) for one of the more memorable fight sequences and showing just how scary Silat can be as a martial art. The show stealer, that isn’t four legged, is absolutely Mark Dacascos (The Chairman of Iron Chef America, Brotherhood of the Wolf), who just is a joy to watch and clearly was having the time of his life as our John Wick antithesis for the film.

TL;DR?

John Wick is back. They were prepared. 11/10 would go into battle with the dogs from this movie. The movie runs a bit long at 2 hours and 10 minutes and at times feels it, it still turns out a solid bit of entertainment. Yes, this is still a world turned to eleven and no you cannot possibly be expected to take it seriously. That isn’t the point here. The point is to enjoy 2 hours and 10 minutes of Keanu Reeves moving from action set piece to action set piece and wondering how they will continue to ratchet it up as the movie goes on. For that it succeeds dramatically. I am confused by the number of writers still, but I got what I wanted from the movie and could still see every action piece and every stunt.

My only glaring flaw is that the first one shone for the raw amount of practical. As the stunts ratchet, they did hit some of the CG and compositing a bit harder than I like and my eyes were easily able to pick out more than a few. Granted safety first, but if it’s going to have to be that digital, look for a different stunt.

Should I see it?

You’re invested already. So yes.

Would you see it again?

Officially the answer is yes, but the likelihood of it happening is low.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No regrets on that front.

Are the dogs adorable?

They are the bestest boys. Would pet. Would also likely lose a hand.

 

Wrapping up I had two new Dark Princesses tonight with me and I enjoyed the movie and it was very cathartic after a rough week. It’s that kind of movie and I am glad for it.

 

Next week: Brightburn and Aladdin. I am honestly not sure which I will see first.

 

WAIT! before you go – what’s a Dark Princess?

If you join me for the movies. You are a Dark Princess. Male or Female. Those are the rules. Those are the results of the vote on the AmusedintheDark Facebook page.

My original two Dark Princesses might get special titles, I haven’t decided yet.

 

Welcome to the Continental.

Darke Reviews | Pokémon – Detective Pikachu (2019)

So two or three weeks ago when I went to the movies, my cinema partners (I really need a tagline for you two), saw the trailer for this movie in front of something else we were watching and looked at me and said “We’re seeing that” almost in unison. I had been generally ambivalent towards it, with a bit of curiosity, but no real drive to go see it. I didn’t grow up with Pokemon, and even then I preferred Digimon at the time. I had no particular affinity for the series of games, the card game, the cartoon, and had never watched the movies prior. Ryan Reynolds is funny, but my history of comedy and such does not a guarantee of watching make. The interest of my friends (fiends?) at least pushed the scales out of balance and had me see this tonight. Did they use their powers for good or for ill?

Was this movie the very best?

What? I always go for the joke/pun question if I can. I’ve played Pokemon Go, I’ve heard the theme song. I said I didn’t grow up with it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about it. Though in a feat that defies logic a movie that not only violates my three writer rule, but punts it across the arena. The movie has a total of seven credited writers between story and screenplay, granted two are repeats and one is the director. We have a story by Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel), Benji Samit (The Tick, One Day at a Time), and Dan Hernadez (The Tick, One Day at a Time). That gives us the baseline for the story and honestly it has a really good through line being as straight forward as it is. This is predominately a kids movie with a lot of material for the millennials (and anyone) who love Pokemon. The story was then polished into screenplay form by Samit, Hernandez, Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World(s), and Kong: Skull Island), and director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs Aliens, Goosebumps). The combined pedigree of the movies writing and direction could have either been a hot mess or a 2019 version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

We got Roger Rabbit.

The story of a kid who turned his back on Pokemon and the generally accepted order of the world, then gets pulled back in after the death of his father. He is forced to work with his fathers partner a Pikachu that he alone can understand, where everyone else hears the adorable Pika Pika. He meets multiple colourful characters and Pokemon along the way as the unlikely duo uncover the mystery and discover a bigger plot in the course of their investigation.  Like I said basic, but it doesn’t have to be complex and what is complex is naturally so.

Ryan Reynolds we already know can carry a movie without you ever seeing his face thanks to Deadpool, but can he do it kid friendly? Of course he can; but he doesn’t have to carry the movie. Justice Smith does. This confirms that Justice was not served in Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. The kid (OK, he’s 24) has some serious range and has to deliver quite a bit of it albeit at a direct surface level for the movie, but he does so. Kathryn Newton who looks far younger than 21 years old, does her best Gracie Law impression as a hard boiled reporter determined to get her story. There are other actors to talk about, but they exist to serve the story and you just need to enjoy.

Now you might have noticed I referenced Big Trouble in Little China and Roger Rabbit so far. The movie shoots for a vibe between the two and nails it. It understands 100% that this concept is ridiculous and is determined to play it all with a straight face. It brings in all the noir tropes and uses them to its advantage with a lampshade big enough to cover a Snorlax. Visually the movie is incredible. We have never seen the CG and real integrate to this level and with this degree of clarity honestly since Roger Rabbit. In literally every shot there is significant CG elements but you forget that as you watch. They work within the context of the world and that’s all that matters. There are a few weaker elements, but they don’t take away from the overall narrative or enjoyment of the spectacle.

TL:DR?

The movie was super effective. I have favourite parts, I have parts I didn’t care for as much. There are a few scenes that dragged, but overall myself and my cinema partners tonight had a good time and enjoyed the movie. They both are far bigger fans than I and had the opportunity to be more harsh but they enjoyed it and me mostly blind did as well. I was proud I could name roughly half the Pokemon they showed, then I just listened as the two of them started talking about stuff from the Pokemon first movie. This must be what it sounds like to hear me go on about my cherished nostalgia.

That’s important though. The movie did evoke that in them and me who is only cursorily aware of the story was still entertained. This very much is a kids movie as I mentioned before, but there is a lot for all ages in here. Maybe one joke didn’t land for me, but that’s not a bad average. Again as I mentioned in the deeper dive the movie is visually gorgeous with so much computer generated but feeling like a real lived in world. Much props to the visual effects houses on this one.

Should I see it?

If you like Pokemon, played Pokemon, or just want something that isn’t as heavy as Endgame? Yes. Bigger brighter screens recommended. There’s a lot to take in.

Would you see it again?

Yeah probably. Not likely, but I would.

So would you buy it then?

Absolutely. I could see myself watching this a few more times in the comfort of my home.

Is it that good?

It has flaws sure, but the overall package is really solid. This isn’t a great movie, but it absolutely is good family entertainment that uses a licensed property in a good way.

One last…

Actually question for you readers! ….Should this be considered a Video Game movie? If so…..sound off below on Facebook or the comments here.

…also if so – you might have your best adaptation yet.

Darke Reviews | Avengers: Endgame (2019)

SPOILER FREE AS USUAL

Here it is. Eleven years and twenty-two movies, culminated tonight with myself, two very dear friends on either side of me with two hundred and fifty or so people in our theatre. The house went dark and the trailers rolled giving us nothing unexpected in that vein. Then it went black and you could hear everyone hold their collective breath wondering how it would start. Then it began. Three hours later it ended. My companions (makes me sound like a Time Lord when I say that) and I sat there and we discussed what we experienced. We then ran to the bathroom (ahead of the line *cackles*), then continued to discuss outside for a good half hour pausing only for when people were entering the theatre. Seriously don’t be the guy that doesn’t. We hugged, then headed home; both of them wondering how I would review this movie – and retain my spoiler free style.

Here’s how. TL;DR.

Again I write the most useless review in all of history as literally everyone will go see this that had any intention of it with or without my input. Now, my opinion on Infinity War is often discussed and rather unpopular. I didn’t like it. To me it was meh at best, and often the more I think about it the less I like it.

That is not the case here. This was the emotional roller coaster I was waiting for. As one of my companions said, this was Marvels equivalent of “I told you that story to tell you this one” and nailing it.

I unambiguously love this movie.

To paraphrase another one of my friends, “I have many feelings right now.” This is still the case.

Ok, but does it have flaws?

Of course it does. There’s some technical tracking shots I wasn’t particularly fond of, even if I understand why they went with them. There’s a handful of scenes that went too long or another too short. Yes, there is a scene that runs far too long and is not as funny as anyone involved should have thought it was. They could and should have done better than have that problematic beat. It does have a Return of the King kind of ending but how could it not? This is “END GAME” its the end. There’s a lot to wrap up.

The Russo Brothers said there are shots in the trailer intentionally for the trailer only. How bad was that?

It wasn’t. You’re safe. I do have issues with the concept of deliberately lying to people with a trailer. I question that integrity and would encourage Hollywood to not do that. There’s a lot you can do without lying to your audience and still get butts into seats. That goes especially for a film like this where they probably could have just put the title up and people would have been here to see it. See Batman 1989 for reference please.

So what did they do right – specifically?

Many of the shots, one in particular in Act III are beautiful. The character moments I was missing from Infinity War are here and in spades and it pleases me to no end. This was what I was waiting for and I received it with very little to complain about. Alan Silvestri continues to manipulate with the music, but that is kind of the point. The audience cheered when expected including me and my black little heart. They cried when expected too, also including me. Don’t even think for a moment that’s a spoiler. There’s a metric ton of appropriate emotional beats running through the current of this movie that will get you going.

Will you watch it again?

In theatres? Let’s be fair there was a brief debate about doing it again tonight if the next showing had an open seat.

Biggest Screen. Best Sound system.

Worth it.

So you’re buying it too eh?

Duh.

So you didn’t talk about the directors, writing, or acting?

Noticed that too huh?

Directed by Anthony and Joseph Russo. I’ve said all I need to on them. Maybe another time I will do a deep dive into what I see their cinematic vision as and their directing style.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. I’ve covered them too in the last review or another one. It’s hard to talk about things that are unchanging.

Acting? Every last cast member was in it to win it. Whatever it takes wasn’t just a tag line for the trailer, it was how the actors played their parts. I have absolutely no complaints, save the one mentioned in the flaws.

Avengers Endgame is the finale of an epic and how to do it right. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I think most people will as well.

Shazam! was great, but until next time True Believers,  Make Mine Marvel!

 

 

Darke Reviews | The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

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

But was she the right one?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Aww ok. But should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

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

But….

Yeah I am probably buying it.

Parting thoughts or parting shots?

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

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

Just an idea.