Darke Reviews | Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

I am a fan of the Rambo franchise overall. I think First Blood was overlooked for a very long time as just an early 80’s action film and while it checks a lot of those boxes there is a surprising depth to it. In the past decade with the rise of the Blog and Vlog more and more film critics and film fans have gone back to some of those films and have commented and opined at length about the gravitas that the film holds within it. That isn’t even getting into the once “secret” ending that the movie had which ended in the death of John Rambo. The studio couldn’t have that of course and the ending was altered to what we know today. Then in 1985 we get Rambo First Blood Part II, where in an attempt to capitalize on the character, the Missing in Action franchise and the rise of the action superstar John Rambo goes back to Vietnam to save lost soldiers. This one *is* 80’s action schlock, but not nearly as much as Rambo III in 1988 where he goes to fight our cold war enemies the evil evil Russians with the aid of the *checks notes* Mujahideen Afghani Rebels who would later have a faction become the Taliban.

Awkward.

The franchise remained dormant for 20 years until 2008 with the release of Rambo (or John Rambo in other locales), where we find John having remained in Southeast Asia arguably more home to him than anywhere else in his life at this point. This movie deserves a review of it’s own I may get to at another point, but it is a bit bleak and opens with some intense not for everyone *real* footage of actions being taken in the genocides in Burma/Myanmar. This film, despite its outright darkness, goes back to the roots of Rambo of a man haunted by his past and trying to avoid it even if it keeps pulling him back in. The action is intense, the psychology of the character is explored, and the violence is almost in it’s own genre and rarely seen outside of Horror films.

At this point I have spent 360 words discussing the entire franchise until 2019. Why haven’t I posed my question yet? Why haven’t I talked about the film yet?

Fine. Here you go.

Should John Rambo have stayed in retirement?

This is a movie that has been in development since 2009 with the success of the fourth Rambo film. I have to tell you the wiki on this one took me on an unexpected rollercoaster, including one plot that looks like they forgot how Predator came to be. The Mexican Cartel story has been and out of the plot since that time, with Stallone himself in and out of making the movie since then as well. He even went back to the well as it were with the creator David Morrell to try to bring it back to an emotionally powerful story to capstone the series. The other producers disagreed and we got ..this. Now Morrell has his own opinions on this movie which I haven’t read but will share here for you. All sources indicate it is not flattering.

They aren’t wrong. The story by Stallone himself, as well as Dan Gordon (Wyatt Earp, Passenger 57) and screenplay by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick (Absentia), is a dark thing devoid of any real humanity. It is racist, xenophobic, and dated. It is little more than Taken with John Rambo instead of Liam Neeson with a touch of Saw levels of gore for…flavor? Seriously this movie plays on the worst stereotypes of living on the border and what Mexico is like in a way I haven’t seen in some time – and for good reason. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – girl goes across the border, is kidnapped, drugged, forced into prostitution, big strong white man comes and saves her from the evil brown people? There is nothing redeemable about this movies story. There is nothing of merit to it. Sure it tries to insert a bit of flashbacks at the beginning and some voice over here and there – but it feels tacked on by Stallone more than being designed for the movie itself.

Now the last one is a modern visceral action film right? This one…that energy and kinetcism are gone. Sure 73 year old Stallone can’t be expected to do things he did fourty years ago. Even if you want to say it tries to parallel the type of action from First Blood you’d be wrong because in that there is still a sense of motion and tension in the hunt. There’s nothing here. Nothing. Not even good CG. Oh oh the CG work  is awful. Now I get you can’t dig a quarter mile of tunnels beneath some property, then detonate them …oh wait, you can. Its why some action movies look better than others. This …this did not. Also the movie was so cheap they had to CG the laser pointers on some of the rifles,….but they don’t line up. Like with the gun. Yes. its that bad.

Adrian Grunbergs directing here is nothing short of hamfisted. Granted this is his first major film since Get the Gringo in 2012 as director, but having worked on films like Traffic, Collateral Damage, Man On Fire, and Narcos you’d think he’d have a better idea. Wait…what were those films again. Mexican Cartel. Mexican Cartel. Mexican Cartel. Mexican Cartel. I had this realization as I was typing the movies, so I share it with you now. This is clearly the man Hollywood goes to for pick up shots on Cartel movies and thought we can give him a full movie. They were wrong.

TL;DR

This is a hateful, spiteful movie. There is no joy in it. There is no philosophy to it. There’s no depth to it. It’s just a two hour train of plodding misery, suffering, and racism without a single redeeming quality. This is the movie certain parties would trot out and go “see this is why we need a wall.” I want to actively hate this movie, but that would take more energy than it’s worth.

This review has already gone on longer than this movie is worth.

Should I watch it though?

No. It shouldn’t have been made or released with this story.

Would you watch it again?

Win a significant sized lottery. Give me half tax free. I will consider it.

So thats a no on buying it?

If arson wasn’t a crime I’d destroy the prints before it made it to home and digital release.

Ok, thats a bit intense.

So was this movie and without point. Who was it for? Which audience? Who was asking for this in the public? When First Blood came out in 82 the war in Vietnam hadn’t even been over a decade. By the time the last of that set came out, the Cold War wasn’t over. What was happening in Burma was nightmarish to say the least, but the country is it’s own now and the character had a solid ending. All of the psychology and depth to him, the soul searching and trauma? Who is that for now?

This movie was made for one reason to line someone’s pocket books. Not for any sense of creativity or good story to entertain. Sure big studio movies are always made to line someone’s pocket, but usually there’s something entertaining intended.

Not here.

When I get to the best and worst, this one is inching close to the top of that list.

 

I am hoping after the PRIDE parade tomorrow Ad Astra is worth something.

Darke Reviews | Abominable (2019)

Sorry folks, I know its been a few weeks. There was nothing out one week and then on the week where I get two releases I was on vacation. I promise you there’s no video evidence of anything that happened on the vacation. A vampire has to keep her secrets after all. Now I haven’t had a chance yet to get to see Ad Astra, Rambo, or Hustlers, but may this weekend. We’ll see. So instead of any of the movies you’d likely expect from me I am giving you an animated movie for kids. I can’t ignore the fact the trailer has a violin added to Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your own Way. The trailer house reached out to AlloyTracks for it and it, plus the animation and the heart the movie seemed to promise sold me.

So with that in mind – what did your Vampire Princess and her Dark Court think of this one?

Was Abominable abominable?

The movie was written by Jill Culton who was an original writer on Monsters Inc back in 2001, and having worked in the animation department for Disney Pixar it’s clear she has turned on the house of Mouse as this is a Dreamworks production. Not only did Jill write this, but she directed as well with Co-director Todd Wilderman who worked on the sequel to Culton’s other movie Open Season back in 2008. Culton makes a choice to keep the story basic here and honestly I think it’s a good choice. You will get everything the trailer promises (except Fleetwood Mac) in the story and a level of sincerity that really only comes with this level of simplicity to the story. The script and its progress is truly sweet and well pure. My Dark Court and I debated another movie (Hustlers) after this, but we were just so engrossed in the emotion the movie brought that we didn’t want to ruin it. It’s THAT kind of film. One key thing I noticed is the co-production of the movie by Pearl Studio making this another Chinese-American co-financed movie in an ever growing market where China is almost as important as the US in box office dollars.

From a casting and character perspective it’s *very* important within the US audiences that the central characters are all Chinese. I have said it before and will continue to say it until someone drives a wooden stake through my heart, #RepresentationMatters. With Chloe Bennet (aka Chloe Wang) of Agents of Shield lending her voice to the main character Yi, Albert Tsai (Dr. Ken) as Peng, and Tenzing Norgay Trainor voicing Jin all of the main roles are by Asian American actors. Again this is important not just that the character is represented by the actors are also getting the work as well; which can be problematic in Hollywood unless you only want certain roles. There’s a reason Chloe Bennet goes by that name instead of Wang. Back on point though, all three deliver here giving excellent and nuanced voice work that the animation compliments.

On the topic of animation its beautiful. It doesn’t really break new ground, but it doesn’t have to. Each movie coming out doesn’t have to be bigger and better than the last piece of animation; what matters is how you use what was done before. They use it well from the movement and texture of Everest’s fur, to the light effects of the magic as it moves through the fur and air. Even little things like subtle camera motions you see in major live action productions are used to deliver additional impact to the work.

TL:DR?

Yeah TL;DR already. The movie is simple so there’s not a lot to dissect here. That’s ok. This is as I mentioned before everything that was promised in the trailer. Its a heartwarming, sweet, basic kids adventure movie. It avoids 99% of the problems with kids studio productions with only two low brow jokes, the rest is focused on the overall characters and delivery of the premise. This is the fun adventure film that I wanted and needed and honestly is a good palette cleanser after *too serious* movies all summer. Yes Lion King counts as Too Serious, its friggin Hamlet.

Every now and again you need something just pure and this movie delivers on that front.

Should I watch it?

Yeah, its what I wanted it to be. If this is something you wanna take your kids to or just go on your own as an adult (or whatever I classify as) then yeah yeah you should.

Would you watch it again?

Without a doubt.

How about buying it?

Absolutely.

This is so not your genre…

True, but in the next two months I will be seeing two other animated movies at a minimum with Addams Family and Frozen 2 so …oh well?

Fair. Anything else to share on this one?

So Tenzing Norgay Trainor is an important and cool casting for another reason. His grandfather (Tenzing Norgay Sherpa) was one of the first two men to summit the real Mount Everest in 1953. Sir Edmund Hillary was there too. And now for another more you know. Sherpa isn’t just a job or surname, its the name of of the people themselves. It’s an Nepalese ethnicity. They are also kinda superhuman as they are adapted to the high altitude climate. So I am not sure if the casting director knew he was related or not, but if they didn’t awesome coincidence. If they did, even more awesome for him (and his grandfather)

 

 

Darke Reviews | It: Chapter Two (2019)

It’s no secret how much I loved IT 2017 as that review attests. I didn’t go back and read the book to see what was different and a thousand people did their videos on what was different between that movie, the mini series, and the book. Even now as I write this I know there are a thousand people writing their scripts for the differences between the book and the movie. As I mentioned in the original review, I don’t care. This review won’t compare the original series or the book as all three are different styles of creation which would be unfair to compare against one another. King can spend a hundred words or more for a single description, both series and movie can do it with a single frame, held for two seconds. King has the luxury to explore the depths of psyche and depravity in a way that no Made for Network TV could conceive of, especially in the wake of the 80s and early 90s. Even now such material would be found on streaming content, cable, or premium cable to really go there. So thus book and mini series cannot truly and fairly be considered rivals, just as the mini series is a product of its time and capabilities this movie is a product of its and needs to be judged appropriately.

Does it continue the story of IT Chapter 1? Are questions answered? Are the required plot beats hit from the original material to progress the story? Is it scary? Is it visually interesting? Do the actors feel like they are the grown up versions of the children they had been? Does the ending feel like a good conclusion?

Or…should IT have not come back?

Certain credits remain in place, which might seem obvious considering the $700 million global haul it took on a $35 million budget, but Hollywood does stupid things all the time. Look at Dark Phoenix bringing back the writer of the most maligned X-men movie to write…the same movie. Gary Dauberman comes back as the writer to finish out the story, with a brief stint putting out the Nun, Swamp Thing for DC, and Annabelle comes Home in the meanwhile. Thanks to maintaining that same writer, the movie has a consistency with the 2017 release that keeps the flow going, and with it being an adaptation much of the material is there. Dauberman has perhaps one of the more unenviable tasks in this production as he has to adapt the unadaptable with some significant deep lore from the book that the series couldn’t touch and he has to decide what if anything to keep from that lore. I don’t disagree with most of his decisions. Point in fact some decisions made are so well done they almost make me overlook some of the flaws in that script (possibly editing, hard to tell). Which does mean there are flaws. The movie needs a few trigger warnings and while…thematically accurate I am not sure it was needed or could have been altered to not be as rough. I will discuss more on that in the TL;DR section. Some of the jokes could have been toned back or removed and left only for the villains to tell; mostly weight based ones for the record. I’m also not 100% on a beat from the end, but I will let it ride for now. Overall the screenplay does everything it needs to and shines where it must.

Which brings us to director Andy Muschietti, who has done nothing between the movies which is probably a good thing for the man directing this. He makes plenty of brilliant choices here and absolutely nails drawing the performances from the cast; but the flaws that might be in Daubermans script or in the editing must land on him. You can’t make certain references to objects, places, or phrases if you never set them up successfully. The movies near three hour running time does as well. There are at least two full scenes which could be struck from the movie and it wouldn’t have an effect on the overall plot for all that they did. While they may be canonical and something folks would like, it added nothing with some of the changes made to accommodate them. The trick to superior editing is removing a scene and if it doesn’t change the flow or narrative in any significant or character driven/growth way then it could be cut. It may seem I am being harsh on him, but I am really pleased with the overall product, but the parts that detract fall on him.

What doesn’t detract is the acting.

McAvoy and Chastain are well known and more than capable of playing the adult versions of Bill and Bev and they nail it. Bev is missing something I think, but that might be screenplay or editing failing not Chastain. This also marks their third appearance together in a movie as near as I can tell. Jay Ryan is hard to tear your eyes away from as the adult Ben Hanscom, meanwhile James Ransone (Sinister) brings it as an adult Eddie Kaspbrak. Andy Bean (Swamp Thing) nails the adult performance of Stanley Uris ridiculously well, you feel like you are really looking as if he grew up and looked the same just taller. Isiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters) gets the Mike Hanlon as an adult and brings all the desperation and depth he needs to bring everyone back to Derry after 27 years. All of them are good, if not great, they brought their A games and no one phoned it in in the slightest, but we need to talk about Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad). His Richie, his performance is absolutely next level. Some might say he wasn’t particularly funny and I would say they missed the point because those jokes were meant to fall flat. This mans acting is just through the roof and continues to bring the film back together in a way that makes the stakes seem so real for these adults. The same comes for the kids who are back to reprise their own roles for different angles on scenes we know and scenes we never saw, Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), Sophia Lillis (Bev), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), and Finn Wolfhard (Ritchie) get the most shining moments with Wolfhard getting an absolutely powerful scene that will surely be overlooked by most.

This is where Muschietti shines everyone. These performances require actors who are above the par, but it also requires a director who knows all of his stuff to get the performances I saw. Now I didn’t mention Skarsgard in th acting section relegating him to the technicals, but this isn’t his story this is theirs. He’s there. He does his thing. He is legitimately scary at times, but Chapter Two is all about the kids, the adults, trauma, and coming home again. While most of the work around Pennywise this time is good, some of the forms and threats just don’t look as clean as they could and another pass, another rendering effort could have taken them a step in the right direction towards ideal completeness. Of course, that doesn’t stop this movie from having raw nightmare fuel left, right, and center that was generated in a computer. There’s enough to keep some folks up at night that doesn’t involve clowns trust me.

TL;DR?

It: Chapter Two does everything it set out to do. It completes and concludes the story of The Losers Club and Pennywise the dancing clown. There are laughs to be had, there are jumps, and there are tears. There is real and imagined horror through this movie from the opening scene to the bruises on adult Bev’s arm that never go away during the length of the film. Growing up in a small town not too dissimilar from Derry, I can see coming back to town and walking through it to see what changed and what hasn’t and sometimes that’s terrifying in its own right.  Facing your past can be its own fear and making your own future as well. The movie is able to successfully hit all of these beats, plus never ceases to have a level of tension and did I just see that moments through it.

Knowing that Dauberman and Muschietti deviated from both the book and the original mini-series adds its own level of tension. If you know either of those incarnations you know things that will happen, but as proven they are willing to change things. So when the title credits begin with a WB logo surrounded by the deadlights, you can’t be sure *how* they will interpret scenes. What will their take on the Chinese Restaurant look like? The library? The final form? Who lives, who dies? It’s all up in the air and that is a magic all its own.

Should I see it though?

Yes. Absolutely Yes. Why aren’t you watching it yet? Go home. Watch it.

That said…I need to dip into spoiler(ish) territory out of respect for all of my readers needs for some potentially unexpected triggers.

  • Trigger Warning: Abuse of LGBT persons in the opening scene. Its a bit hard to watch, even harder thinking some people might be cheering it on.
  • Trigger Warning: Suicide. It is done as well as you can do that scene, but much as I didn’t know about the one in A Star Is Born, I must give my readers the warning if they have never seen the mini series or read the book.

Would you watch it again?

Even with the three hour running time? Yes. Yes I would. Lets go. Big screen. Big sound system.

You’re going to buy it aren’t you?

I am curious to what the box set will look like on my shelf. Yes.

Is it as scary as the first? 

Hmm I don’t think so. Sorry to say, part of the fear of the first is the initial shock value of what they did and the kids in peril. This focus on the adults and us knowing Pennywise, does take away some of the terror. That’s more or less like Alien vs Aliens. You will never be as afraid of the Xenomorph as you were in the original, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own level of terror.

Any parting thoughts?

It does run a bit long and hits a Return of the King type ending sequence, but beyond all of that this will be and should be a very well received film in my opinion. I do think that Mike isn’t treated particularly well by the script or the film and there’s some opportunity there; some of the CG could be cleaned up – but again this is about as good as you can do with the amount of material needing to be adapted.

Also three of the cast (McAvoy, Chastain, and Hader) were in Disappearance of Elanor Rigby together…the hell?

Darke Reviews | Ready or Not (2019)

Hey everyone, it’s been a few weeks since there’s been a review. I’ve had a lot of real space issues recently, from the AC going out in my house in Arizona on the night I saw Hobbs and Shaw, to the death of a family member the night I saw Scary Stories to tell in the Dark. Short reviews on both of them right now. Hobbs and Shaw was ridiculous in concept, execution, acting and was everything the trailer said it would be. If you saw the trailer and went ‘thats my kinda movie’ then you should have seen it by now. For Scary Stories, it too delivered what it promised, a teenager (no younger) appropriate horror film directed by the man who did Autopsy of Jane Doe and produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Again if this wasn’t enough to get you there it may not be for you, but I enjoyed it for what it is. That of course brings us to Ready or Not.

 

NOTE: This is the R Rated trailer, its NSFW.

 

Ready or Not? Should you come?

This is a Fox Searchlight picture, which is 20th Century Foxes indy arm of production, but also the one that gave us most of their award winners such as The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Black Swan, 12 Years a Slave, and Birdman. This is not those movies. This is one where a director and writer with an idea went “can you fund us please?” and someone in this arm went “yeah ok sure”. Writers Ryan Murphy and Guy Busick (Urge  – not the Purge), put their past experiences together and delivered the story of a young woman marrying into a ultra rich family with strange rituals and a penchant for taking a game a bit too far. This is a movie that if it did not take inspiration from the great You’re Next I would be surprised, but easily will sit on the shelf next to it. Giving us an ultra rich family, psychopathic tendencies, and a final girl who is all too human. In the production notes for the movie I found this bit pleasing

Screenwriter R. Christopher Murphy muses that “with Grace we are turning on its head the horror genre trope of the ‘final girl;’ where in many horror films, you have a cast of innocents stalked by one psycho and one final girl remaining to challenge the killer. But in READY OR NOT Grace is the only intended victim, one whom several people are hunting.”

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Southbound, Devil’s Due) and Tyler Gillett (Southbound, Devil’s Due) despite being relatively new to the game show some good decision making behind the camera. They effectively take some very very horrible people and bring out the charm in them so that while yes, you want them to die its not because you just want them off camera. Many slasher films of the late 80s to today have forgotten that where yes, you look forward to horribly people dying, but usually its just to get them to shut up. Here the near buffoonery of the performances keeps the wretchedness of the people from being completely overwhelming to the point of distraction. The humor that punctuates the movie is entirely within character and keeps the tone light enough to breathe between some of the more intense scenes. The directors also brilliantly remember that unlike many horror and action movies injuries matter and simply putting a bandage on it does not stop the pain.

Granted they may give the direction, but the actors need to sell it. Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Mayhem), niece to the incredible Hugo Weaving, is a heavy weight in the film and can deliver. Every reaction felt naturalistic and held its continuity to the story, the experience and her character Grace. You might be saying “Yeah that’s acting”. To that I point you at the last abomination they called a Die Hard movie and compare it to the original. What is expected of Weaving here is not exactly a small feat to pull off for 96 minutes but she does it.  Not only that she had a voice and made sure the directors were true to the character.

Co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin remarks, “Sam made it important to herself, and to all of us, that the movie not get repetitive and that there be an arc for Grace. We were so grateful for her attention to detail from moment to moment.”

Adam Brody (The OC, Shazam!), as the brother in law Daniel takes what otherwise what would be a one note character and gives it a few layers; mostly through alcohol and dry wit, that keeps you watching him when he’s on the screen. The rest of the cast, which is the rest of the family is absolutely fine. Every last one of them has a distinct personality; but is more than their personality trait – another lost lesson in film-making within the genre. I have to believe Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna Earp) made her character Emilie’s weapon of choice the pistol for pure humor value, or the directors did and she ran with it.

From a technical perspective, there’s some nice use of camera techniques that help tell you what is going on as much as whats within the frame; though some of the musical cues are a bit too on the nose for my tastes. This may be been a de-constructive attempt by filmmakers, but it didn’t quite stick as well as everything else did. There’s a lovely mix of practical and CG gore through the movie, but the practical as expected reigns supreme. With the previously mentioned 96 minute running time, including credits, the movie moves are a brisk but not a wasted pace that keeps advancing the plot without the need for anyone to have their IQ drop to do so.

TL;DR?

I enjoyed this movie. Like a lot. I am hard pressed to tell you its a horror movie, but I am jaded in that space. There’s gore, there’s the hunting of a person, but this is more like the cool aunt to the action movie genre. Slightly less action, but willing to go the extra on the violence, the language, but not sacrificing story to do so. I mean sure there’s other horror elements to the movie, but to me horror is something intended to scare – and this just doesn’t have it. It has a good plot, decent tension, great acting and solid directing.

I mentioned You’re Next earlier and it would fit well there, or perhaps with something like No One Lives or Even Lambs Have Teeth. Not quite scary enough for me to call Horror nor actiony enough to fit in that genre, its solidly between the two and it belongs there as the directors and writers knew what they wanted, released a trailer promising that thing, and finally delivered on it and even had a bit of restraint in doing so.

Should I see it though?

Like I said, I enjoyed this. My Dark Court enjoyed it and neither of them are into the genre – so that’s saying something. If the trailer looked remotely entertaining to you throw the dice and play the game

Would you see it again?

Yeah. You buying?

Uh…no, but will you buy it?

Oh totally. This will get played a few times a year when I am in the mood for a solid Final Girl type movie.

Parting thoughts on this one?

Go to a theatre with an alcohol license, while you don’t need it to have a good time – it somehow fits. Or maybe a nice glass of Chianti.

Was that a spoiler?

No; but if I hate myself enough I will watch Angel has Fallen later this week and write a review on that. Though if it’s as bad as London has Fallen it probably won’t be worth a review.

You didn’t write a review for London has Fallen because it was so dull.

You understand my point then.

For now, I leave you with the fact that THIS despite it’s midweek release in August is one of the more fun movies I’ve had this year and definitely one of the more entertaining in the genre, and a note from Costume Designer Avery Plewes

When making a genre movie, “Don’t send things to dry cleaners. It never goes over well; they will get freaked out, no matter how well you know them.”

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | The Lion King (2019)

How precisely are we going to discuss the Lion King going forward? You can’t really call this the live action one. It’s not the hottest take I know I know. I could poke fun if you say the 94 one is the original and pull out the receipts about Kimba the White Lion. That wouldn’t be entirely fair, no one consciously ripped off of a thirty year old animated TV series when they made the Lion King, but it’s disingenuous to say that the animators, writers, or even actors weren’t taking some childhood inspiration from it. Writers today might incidentally crib from Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Carpenter, some random episode of Silverhawks, He-Man, or Thundercats. The things we watch as children carry on and inspire creatives today. I couldn’t escape some of the dialogue from The Last Unicorn if I tried and I wouldn’t want to. Wanna bet me that “That’s what heroes are for” is going to make it into one of my stories or more than one? All of that said we have a Lion King twenty five years later.

Should it have stayed in the shadows?

Let’s sit down and chat about the writing. We have of course the “characters” credit you may see. This is just giving credit to the original writers, Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. The story credit on 2019 goes to Brenda Chapman, who was one of 27 (!!!!) writers credited on the original, but ultimately she also gets the Story Supervisor thus making it hers for this one, while the three previous names were the “screenplay” credits. Wow that’s convoluted. There is however a new credit for Jeff Nathanson (Speed 2, Rush Hour 2, Pirates 4); who apparently is a script doctor that gets a lot of uncredited work on movies like Twister and the original Rush Hour. If this man is a script doctor please take away his license to practice. Mister Nathanson, you literally took the script from the original word for word and ….did nothing with it. Wait, you did. You changed the dialogue on a handful of scenes that are iconic and changed them for the…lesser. You did nothing. Nothing else.

Jon Favreau the director who brought us Iron Man and the Jungle Book, but also Cowboys & Aliens does not escape my ire. Much like Nathanson you did…nothing. You were a glorified parking lot attendant telling people to go to the place they already knew to go. Your storyboard was the original movie and you didn’t deviate from it. Except, when you did. In those decisions you took a tight 88 minute movie and made it 118 minutes with nothing new to show for it of any measure. Except I don’t think you got a say in it, hence the traffic attendant with some producer at Disney saying “Do this exactly as we tell you and we will fund your next movie”. As the director, you are responsible for the look of the shots and the performances of your actors, but add a musical and now you are responsible for how those songs play out. To borrow from a greater movie, when you are called before your maker and asked why you did something, “I Was told thusly” is not sufficient. Mr Favreau, Jon…Jon you ruined one of the great Disney villain songs. (Side note comment on the post here on FB if you want me top 10 disney villain list). How do you ruin one of the easiest songs? I mean Aladdin didn’t include theirs, but you actually…ruined yours. Then your ballad,…I want you to look at the lyrics, Now look at your shots. Look at the lyrics again. Write on the chalkboard 1,000 times why you were wrong.

Actors! On stage. Ok…you did fine. No, that’s it. You were fine. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, 12 Years a Slave), you nailed Scar. While you lacked Iron’s ham, you had your own gravitas and made it work. Clearly the best in the lot. Mr Jones, good to have you back sir. Why did they auto tune you though? You still have it. Yes, you sound different, but you are still epic. Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Star Trek: First Contact) you exude class as Sarabi. Who else who else, oh yes, Florence Kasumba. You made the Hyena matriarch Shenzi flipping intimidating and even a bit scary at times. Well done. Like seriously well done. The rest of the performances are just average, yes including Beyonce. It’s just meh.

There is also a lot of critique on the expressionless animations going around since the trailers dropped. I have news for you, its intentional. I understand what the animators were going for. This is Disney showing off just how good they are at generating photo realistic animals and terrain. That is almost literally all this movie is. They went for a naturalistic animal expression, motions, and body language. Even animalistic ticks as they are even just standing around are present. Due to that the more human facial expressions we are used to from animation never make it across. 90% of the time the animations are amazing and beautiful, if emotionless, but its the other 10% that concern me. How, how in an entirely computer generated movie do you create shots that look like they are on green screen or against a matte painting? Follow up question – why would you?

TL;DR?

There are going to be a lot of people who like this movie. There were people in my showing who clapped for it. Myself and my Dark Court were not among them. With the Court it rated a meh at best, and to be fair that is all it is at best. I can forgive a bad movie that is a meh because it tried. I can forgive an original movie or even the odd remake that is a meh because they tried something original and appreciate it for what it does. Disney doesn’t get that slack.

Disney is a studio who has made $2.1 billion this year in the America alone. That’s with a B and only on 9 movies. The next closest studio is at $894 million with 23 movies released. Disney also has Maleficent 2, Frozen 2, and Star Wars coming this year. You don’t get a pass on Meh anymore, especially with tentpole productions. I actively dislike this movie.

Wow, ok should I see it?

No. Look just put the animated in. Share it with your kids and be happy.

Would you see it again?

No. I will see Aladdin again over this.

I am guessing…

I won’t buy it. You are correct.

Parting thoughts then?

I wasn’t hopeful for this movie to begin with. It met my expectations. I go back to what I said in the Aladdin review, Disney is at its best on these when it deviates from the original in new and inventive ways. The writing is bad enough I want to shake the writer and remind them of the Rule of three. I want to flog the editors for some of the weirdest pacing and cutting decisions that take away from many scenes which should have had emotional weight to them but just looked confused or rushed.

Also – how, how in Turings name did you make a stampede with no energy? A fight between lions and hyenas that just was…ok? That is unacceptable when you have no limitations on its capabilities.

I cannot recommend the Lion King to anyone – but alas I know it will make a few hundred million.

If nothing else we have a potentially good Mulan movie next spring?

 

Darke Reviews | Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

I really can’t write this review without some Endgame spoilers as everything is driven by the events of that movie. Granted the trailers alone give it away so I am not too worried, but be warned. This movie marks the official end of Marvel Phase 3, not Endgame. What does that even mean? Well Marvel has been approaching their own movies in phases, with Phase 1 culminating in avengers, Phase 2 oddly ended with Ant-Man rather than Ultron, which I suppose makes this being the end of 3 not the strangest thing. This is not so much a denouement to Phase 3 as it is an epilogue that bookends the series and answers a question everyone was sort of asking after Endgame; what next? What is the actual impact of The Snap and its return is? What does losing Iron Man and the Avengers look like? What does the impact on every day people look like after a galactic threat? A  good bookend would answer those questions.

Is Spider-Man Far from Home or the mark?

So the story does answer some of those questions really well and others not so much.  The opening is more or less an exposition dump from the school vlog/news given to us by Betty Brant; which explains to the audience “Previously on Spider-Man”. Is it a bit convenient that *all* of Peter’s closest friends, frenemies, and Aunt May were affected? Yes. Let me ask you another one though in response. Is it also very comic bookish? Also yes. The point of a good Spider-man story is not so much the epic show downs, but instead the relationships he has and strains with those around him as he tries to lead a double life. Made worse by being a minor instead of an adult as he technically has even less autonomy and the excuses are well…bad every time he needs to vanish. Far from Home has all of this in spades, perhaps too much though. The movie also relies on an inordinate amount of awkwardness and embarrassment type humor to drive the story. I absolutely detest that. Many will find it acceptable and part and parcel with a teenager based movie. As someone who was bullied through school I never find it humorous and just instead feel it uncomfortable and hard to watch again and again. Even a third act close for much of the movies humor around this topic just reinforces it.

I suppose with the writers from American Dad, Drawn Together, and Crank Yankers being given more reign this time than they were with Homecoming it makes sense. This isn’t to say the screenplay by Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna is a bad one. It’s actually a very solid story beyond those beats. Peter desperately trying to have a normal life is even for a summer and trying to find his place in the world after the death of his surrogate father Tony Stark. While the line from the trailer is important “he’s been to space” is used as a joke to move Peter forward, consider the pressure of that. Everything he has seen and done in such a short time and then to lose his touchstone and guidance immediately upon his own return from death. Can he find a brief, but fleeting sense of normalcy in all of this even with perhaps finding a bit of romance with MJ amidst the field trip to Europe.

The direction of Jon Watts is consistent with Homecoming and he understands how to hold on the more emotional moments of the film and let some of the conversations happen “naturally”. You always have a good sense of the geometry of the fight sequences which are both visually interesting and engaging. Granted Holland is still just knocking it out of the park with the complexity of Peter as a character, but unlike the scene from the trailer ,which has been cut from the movie, we don’t get the humor of Spider-Man himself. I could have used some of that instead of the other stuff mentioned before. The movie though didn’t really have a good place for it either, so while I miss it I can’t see a place to have put it in when fighting Elemental creatures. Zendaya is captivating as this universes MJ and brings more complexity and nuance to the character than we’ve ever seen before and the movie benefits from it.  The one worth talking about beyond our two is Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck/Mysterio. He nails it. This is a perfect way to do a classic character with a schtick that should only work in comics and animation and make him live. They even made it so that his smoke filled helmet works. He’s a clever character and done well.

TL;DR?

Far From Home isn’t far from the mark. It is a solid two hour romp that is a really good Spider-Man story. It’s a smaller one after a glut of world wide and galactic threats. It focuses on the characters and their interactions and Peter himself, having accepted he must be Spider-Man but not fully understanding what that means yet. The movie has some really solid emotional beats and follows the rise and fall really well and gives us a conclusion to both Spider-Man Far From Home and Phase 3 that we can live with.

Should you see it?

This might be one of the last good high budget movies of the summer. It’s worthy of the 4th of July slot and overall is a really solid movie that doesn’t verge into great for me, but is very good overall.

Would you see it again?

Odds are pretty good that I will. I have Dark Princesses and Dark Court members who want to see it and I am ok with it.

Buying it?

Absolutely.

Is this Marvel or Sony?

This is very much a Sony movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Any good easter eggs?

Well the trailer introduces the concept of the multi-verse and an in movie explanation with that aligns with comic canon that this is Earth 616; which is the main comics line. There’s a handful of others that are more and less subtle that made me smile.

Parting thoughts?

I could have done without the excessive humor around embarrassment and uncomfortableness. The romantic beats work, but more than that, this is a Spider-Man movie. This reminds me of the comics I read as a little girl and I am pleased with the final result.

Darke Reviews | Child’s Play (2019)

I’ve never quite been what one would call a fan of the Child’s Play series. I’ve watched most of them at one point or another and while not a fan appreciate how bat-guano-crazy they get; even with the first movie. I mean come on, this is a movie about a doll possessed by the soul of a psychopath who begins to kill people. A doll. This isn’t like Annabelle or any of the modern haunted dolls, this is literally the DOLL killing people. The Puppetmaster series at least acknowledged its camp in its own unique Full Moon way. To be fair, as Child’s Play went on the series got weirder and weirder, and did acknowledge just how strange it is as a series in its own way. As with any remake of a franchise that has some serious fans there was doubt on a new movie being made.

Should Chucky go back in the box?

The first thing to address is, is this a sequel, a remake, or a reboot? Based on everything I have to work with this is absolutely a remake with no acknowledgement to the original movies in anyway shape or form. It has all of the hallmarks of a remake as well, with callbacks to the original but most of them being ham-fisted; right down to getting the name Chucky. The screenplay that drove this is from Tyler Burton Smith, who as near as I can tell is not related to one of the producers the often lamented Seth Grahame Smith. Seth is known for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter; but also the writer for Tim Burtons abomination of a Dark Shadows movie. Knowing Seth is a producer and Tyler Burton Smith has video game writing credits before this gives me some insight to aspects of the movie; which is suffice to say emotionally flat. I acknowledge I might be in a bad mood, because I was offended by one of the trailers before it but the movie goes out of its way to make every human the worst possible versions of themselves.

Like I get it, as slasher movies (De-?)evolved we began to look forward to obnoxious people being killed and our killer being more of a protagonist than even our final girls. This took it to a new level that was just off-putting rather than perversely gleeful. Only two characters in the movie are remotely likable and they are tertiary characters at best. That is not good. Part of a horror movie is to feel tension that a character you like is going to be harmed. Here? Not only do you feel no tension, you are just waiting for them to die because they are just bleh; but thats not enough they have to upscale it before hand. It’s completely unnecessary and takes away from any impact the movie could have had as you know a horror movie. If the people are likable, then when the doll begins doing what it does…you worry. You wonder whats going to happen next and then have favourites you don’t want dead. Here…who cares? Not me. Certainly not the script.

I think the director tried to care, but I am not sure he was cut out for what he had to do here to make this work. Lars Klevberg’s only other work was the film Polaroid which was supposed to be released in 2017. Remember that one? Here you go:

I had completely forgotten about this movie until writing this review. I went to check did it come and go with a whimper, but found out it never even showed up. It was pushed back twice on the release schedule then never released here in the US. It *finally* got a German release in 2019, but thats about it. Looking at the two pictures I see a man who tries to go for cold barren landscapes, he wants to use his lighting to create mood using stark single colours to light a scene. He prefers relatively tight shots on his cast, but rarely a full close up. He tries to play with the camera, but forgets that the camera is a point of view itself and if you decide to track it as if it was first person you need to make the motion make sense. In other words he is trying, but needs to refine a bit before he gets there.

Aubrey Plaza gets to run solo in this one as the main star of the movie and the mother of the child who acquires the doll. She tries and having seen the full force of her personality in Legion, Safety Not Guaranteed, and a ton of clips from Parks and Rec, she’s entirely wasted here. Her delivery is flat and I can only blame the direction, she tries but doesn’t have the inertia to or will to overcome that which holds her back. Gabriel Bateman, who plays the new Andy is fine I guess. If anything his performance feels the most natural and sounds like a kid reacting to what he has to. There’s an odd choice by the movie to make him hearing impaired, but it adds absolutely nothing to the movie to do so. I have a feeling there’s a draft of the script where it comes into play more but someone said this looks too much like A Quiet Place and cut it from the movie but not the hearing aid entirely. Mark Hamill is fine as the voice of Chucky, but the script gives him nothing to work with compared Brad Dourifs take in 88. This isn’t a slight on Hamill, we know what he can do with voice acting, but the script gave him nothing. Nothing to do with it.

The only thing remotely interesting in the movie is how they use the fact the Buddi doll is like a generation nine Alexa and connect to your home, phone, tv, and even roomba. Again the idea is interesting, but they don’t take it nearly far enough. The movie is a very brisk 90 minutes – with credits, so time could have been spent to do something curious, something new with it, or something to add to the horror, but it doesn’t. Even the gore, which I am sure other reviews may talk about was more mild than it was intense. I won’t even go into some of the more interesting logistical issues.

TL:DR;

This is the kind of remake that people warn you about. It tries to be new, but tries to keep ties to the original. It tries to be edgy and reinvent the franchise, but misses the point. The script is not great, the direction mediocre, the acting mediocre, and generally comes across as a flat movie trying to find relevance. When 2013’s Curse of Chucky and then in 2017 had Cult of Chucky come out and was a strong entry in an almost 30 year old franchise, this feature comes across even more unnecessary and painfully derivative from Don Mancini’s work on the other seven films. This strikes even more of a vibe as Curse and Cult are reasonably scary for the franchise.

Should I see it then?

No. Just no.

Would you watch it again?

Only if I was stuck in the body of a possessed doll and had no method of locomotion….

So not buying it then eh?

Not even a little thought on that.

Is it that bad?

The doll looks bad. The movie is bad. I kept hoping Charles Lee Ray would end it for me. Just watch Curse and Cult of Chucky and hope for the best that Don Mancini gets to do something with the franchise again.