Darke Reviews | A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Of course I haven’t read Madelien L’Engles book. Have we met? Yes, I know it came out in 1962 and was popular in middle schools and high schools everywhere. I was reading other things like Stephen King, Clive Barker, and everything I could get on vampires at the time. Regardless of that fact, along with Black Panther this was one of my more anticipated movies of the year. Why? Because 

Image result for Representation Matters

^ This ^

Beyond that, even though it bears repeating every time it comes up until it sinks in with those in the back, the film itself also looked like a modern fairy tale mixed with science – two things I adore. I suppose the question then is

How was the movie?

Let’s mix it up a bit shall we? Let’s talk about Storm Reid. She’s 14. She has to carry a movie that cost over $100 million to make. She has to avoid being a blank slate, avoid the pitfalls of the “she’s just a child actor”, sell being an actual human being with facets. Someone with anger, love, fear, doubt, uncertainty about herself and her worth, and her image. She also has to be likable while being all of this. She has to have chemistry with her cast, especially Chris Pine as the movie hinges ultimately on them being able to sell the relationship of father daughter and what they would do for each other.

I’d like to say, no I will say: She succeeds.

This movie would collapse around its (many) flaws if it weren’t for this child. The earnestness of her performance and it’s actual complexity allowed me and my film partner tonight to get lost in the film and feel. We both identified with this character (probably a bit too much) not because of her being an “everywoman/everyman” a tabula rasa to imprint on and see ourselves in. We saw ourselves in her because of her flaws. her quirks of personality, and her world view. Reid makes the character a compelling one when I’ve seen the majority of adults fail at such tasks.

She isn’t alone, 9 Year Old Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace and 15 Year old Levi Miller’s Calvin play with the same heart and conviction on dialogue that really doesn’t work; yet somehow they made it work. Chris Pine reminds us he is a very talented actor and the scenes he gets with Reid are sold with every fiber of his being. Mindy Kaling steals the frame every time as Mrs. Who and outshines even Ophrah (Mrs. Which) and Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit). Even with limited screen time Zach Galifianakis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make their scenes work.

All of this tells me the casting department deserves a raise. Each of the actors puts their hearts on their sleeves for this and goes for it – which makes this movie have the heart it does. Which left me in tears in more than one scene. Sadly, the script by Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) is a bit rough at times. Lesser actors under a lesser director would have struggled with this. What I don’t know if the dialogue was there and edited out or just not there. The movie suffers as many do in their adaptations. Again, I’ve never read the book but I can tell you watching the movie that it was based on a book and that there’s a lot of material left on the cutting room floor or in the writers room.

There are technical flaws beyond the writing that need to be addressed as well. The movie runs screaming at a break neck pace for the first hour, barely giving time for the characters to breathe, to let scenes soak in, or even explain anything of whats going on. I firmly believe in show don’t tell, especially in film, but you have to actually….show. This might be intentional as I think of a scene on the Act II to Act III bridge, but I can’t be certain. There’s very weird edits, there’s scenes very clearly missing (including very obvious ones from the trailer), and again the dialogue at times is beyond hokey into the pokey.

I appreciate when you are in the realm of fantasy that not everything has to look “real”, that the cartoonish can work and I will forgive the movie some of this because there was such a distinction sold in the movie of what is earthbound and what isn’t. The movie pushed it’s luck here a few times, but always won me back. What ejected me more often than not was the music, not score, that was inserted into the film. The songs themselves are fine, but they just did not work in the moments they were using them or were just so jarring it broke me from what I should be feeling to wonder why they used lyrical songs rather than a fantastic score by Ramin Djawadi. There are some questions I have about the camera work that most folks won’t notice but film reviewers might. It’s called a Mid shot guys. You can do it. I promise. Not everything needs to be a 180 close.

So yes, this is a heavily flawed movie I have the power to dissect like a 10th grade biology student, but I don’t want to. Ava Duvernay (Selma) directed this with such conviction, brought out tremendous performances, and hits on more than a few points of modern culture for young people of colour in such a way that it rings true. Few other directors could have pulled off a few of these beats with such tact and even subtlety as they work well into the narrative of the movie.

TL;DR

This movie could be used as the literal definition of a good, family film. It doesn’t quite hit “great”, but they tried. They put everything into this and tried and it shows. Because of that a movie I could rip apart, and from what I hear others are, doesn’t deserve that

It does deserve our dollars though. Representation of a young child of colour being in front of the camera, and a long standing woman of colour in the industry behind it (not to mention Oprah Winfrey too). This movie like Get Out (congratulations Jordan Peele on your Oscar), and Black Panther is so important that it deserves our money, and yes, forgiveness for its flaws.

If that isn’t a reason to see it. I get it. Here’s another. I meant what I said about this being a good family film. It has so much heart, it has a good message that doesn’t come across as saccharine or insincere. It is enjoyable. It is a bit of light in the darkness we have in the world right now.

That’s also good enough for me.

Should I see it?

Yes. Big screen needed for some of the great visuals the movie has. IMAX if you can, 3-D optional. D-Box could be fun too.

Will you see it again?

Being honest? Not in theatre no, but thats due to other things I plan to do not from lack of enthusiasm for this.

Will you buy it?

Yes. I might even try to get it a 4K TV for it too. At least BluRay though.

Why so forgiving on this?

Because it made me feel. It sold the message it was trying to. I was with Reid’s character. I was her and there are a lot of films that just don’t earn the emotion the way this one did. I haven’t actually watched/read the other reviews that are saying this isn’t that good or is disappointing beyond their headlines.

I went in hoping for something good and pure, and looking for a sense of wonder and joy. I found it. I hope you can too.

What happened to the Death Wish review?

Life. Bad news Thursday as I mentioned on FB when I was writing it. Then worse news over the weekend. I will publish it this weekend. Promise, it doesn’t deserve it though.

What’s coming next?

I might go see Thoroughbreds this week during the work week. I loved Anton Yelchin, so getting to see him one last time might be worth it. I hope. Also next week is Tomb Raider.

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Darke Reviews | Annihilation (2018)

We’ve discussed in other reviews, more than a few, my love for Sci Fi. So when I saw the visually arresting trailer for this film I knew I had to see it. It wasn’t a well maybe, it was a must. First you have Natalie Portman who is always engaging and lights up the screen regardless of role since I first saw her in Leon The Professional. I’ve previously said Oscar Isaac needs to be cast in everything. My statement stands. Then you see directed by Alex Garland, whose screenplay I adored for the 2012 Dredd, 28 Days Later deserves its praise, and of course one of my favourite films this decade Ex Machina. The real question is –

How could this movie possibly go wrong?

The film is based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer with screenplay by Alex Garland, who as mentioned before directs. The story surrounds a team of women scientists who explore an extraterrestrial field that no one else has returned from. Inside they confront bizarre and magnificent mutations of both flora and fauna – all in the search of a two very simple questions. What is happening, and why? The answers of course are hardly simple or we wouldn’t have any drama.

Garland is one of the true auteurs in modern film making, and while he doesn’t have Guillermo Del Toro’s distinctive stylings, or Wes Anderson’s quirk, he definitively has a style. He understands, with Cinematographer Rob Hardy, how to move the camera for the right effect. How to get compelling and still subdued performances from his actors. Working with production designer Mark Digby, who gave us a true MetroCity One in Dredd,  they created a unique world that was both ours and alien at the same time. This movie lives up to its visual hype and is driven forward by those visuals which only get more surreal like watching a series of Salvador Dali paintings come to life.

The actors of course are fine, they couldn’t be anything else really. Portman carries the film on her more than capable shoulders as our lead character Lena. Jennifer Jason Leigh is positively subdued as Dr. Ventress. Swedish actress Tuva Novotny makes a surprising mark as she moves through the film as Cass Sheppard. My favourite Valkyrie, Tessa Thompson, delivers her own unique performance showing a range we didn’t get to see in Thor but is no less fascinating to watch as our physicist Josie Radek. They are all fine. The cast is small. The director is good with small casts. He excels at them. I question some of the character names, as the novels characters didn’t have them, to see if they are other sci fi references, such as Asajj Ventress (Star Wars) and me..I mean Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), but that isn’t a fault at all.

What is though I think, is the message of the movie. Science fiction should make you think. Should make you wonder. Should start conversation. While this film does make me want to talk about it, I am not sure how I feel about it or what to say specifically about it beyond the technical components above. Sure it is one of the most visually compelling sci fi movies in awhile, even Arrival was washed out to be nearly black and white at times; which I picked on then. There is contrast here between the outside world and what’s inside and how colour, light, and life interplay with their surroundings, but visuals cannot be everything. I used the Dali reference above intentionally, as the movie felt like I was watching a series of magnificently crafted paintings for two hours, with an occasional drop of dialogue to remind me this isn’t an art gallery. The movie kind of suffers for this as it’s pacing moves seemingly at a crawl so that you can enjoy and appreciate all that you see. There is a lot to appreciate, with creature and set designs unlike anything I’ve seen and ideas introduced that we have never quite seen like this. Another flaw comes in the sound design in act three. You shouldn’t typically notice how sound is done in a movie like this, but there’s a choice in the final act that ejected me from the moment rather than draw me in.

TL;DR?

Annihilation is a solid, technically well crafted film with every dollar spent on production design, sets, and creatures used to the best possible calibre; yet it somehow misses the mark for me.  I am not sure if I didn’t get the message they were trying to sell as this is science fiction – not horror, or they truly failed on delivery.  I really want to like this movie a lot more, but I feel that it trips over its own art and crashes through its delivery leaving me asking questions; but not the ones it wants me to.

Should I see it?

Well…maybe. I think there’s a lot here, but it is a very slow movie that doesn’t really nail the landing.

Would you see it again though?

Maybe at home with some friends this time to talk about it beyond the eye candy that is the design.

So you’re buying it?

The magic 8 ball says, most likely.

Anything else to share on this?

I think I am going to be in the minority on this one. I finished writing my review and broke one of my rules and started skimming other reviews online before publishing my own. I agree it is weird, surreal, again beautiful, but I am missing any exploration of humanity in this or our own world view. If anything I would say it’s a touch nihilistic if the message I did take from it is correct, but in no way did I find it scary even in it’s vast implications throughout.

So again I think I didn’t get what they were selling or others are reading more into this than I saw; which brings me back to the maybe go see it and me watching it again with friends for the discussion vs. a solo run.

Darke Reviews | Black Panther (2018)

SPOILER FREE AS ALWAYS

Talking to my best friend before the movie I said this would either be the shortest review of the year or the longest. Lets see what it turns out to be. Now before we get into the meat of things, lets go through the usual intro. Over the past nearly 30 years I have watched almost every single comic book movie in theatres. Big deal right? So have a lot of other fan boys and fan girls; but none, not one has had so many people of colour present. Not a single one.

You cannot discuss this movie without discussing the cultural impact that has been building like a train going full steam down a mountain rail. Like a few other of my peers in the review industry I am not going to dig too deep into that – because it is not my place as a white woman to talk about how important this movie is to the people who are getting real representation on screen in such a massive way, unless I am specifically asked to do so. What I am going to say is that there was a young woman next to me, a student at ASU. When the movie ended her hands were flat to her cheeks, her jaw open with tears of joy in her eyes. She turned to me and told me how she has watched every Marvel movie since she was in high school. She watched them all again in preparation for this. She apologized for geeking out a few times, but I encouraged her to share what she was feeling.

“This is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen.” When we were all leaving, she turned to another movie goer and told them this was the best day of her life and she was going to see this three more times with her friends. My friend and I were discussing the movie in the parking lot of the theatre, something we haven’t done in awhile, and about ten minutes later she comes out and she’s so excited. She has so much joy and is sharing it with a friend on the phone. She waves to us with the biggest, brightest, and most honest smile I have seen in a long time.

This is important. This movie is important. Her story and how she feels seeing this is important.

If you want an actual review I will give it of course.

The movie was written by Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story) and Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station). Coogler also directs. The choice of Oakland for an opening scene doesn’t go over my head from the writer and director of AFI’s movie of the year for 2014 Fruitvale Station, a movie that the Grand Jury of sundance deemed winner of the Dramatic category for  “For its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency.” This wasn’t just a one off for him. He showed that on a small tight story he could deliver this impact, now with a big budget Marvel movie he does it again. He doesn’t bother with too much subtext and makes it text. I’m ok with that. If there’s any weakness to the script its some of the dialogue for Michael B. Jordan is a little too on the nose and a little too broadstroke, but in the hands of both Jordan and our director they make it work and still hit home in more ways that one. There’s a magnificent bridge between Act II and III that should not work as well as it does, but is beautiful.

I will simply say every actor is perfect. No one under delivers. No one feels weaker than they should. No one is stupid. No one should be cut. There’s not a wasted or phoned in performance. All of them need mention so here we go:

  • Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Michael B. Jordan – Erik Killmonger
  • Lupita Nyong’o – Nakia
  • Danai Gurira – Okoye
  • Daniel Kaluuya – W’Kabi
  • Letitia Wright – Shuri
  • Winston Duke – M’Baku
  • Angela freakin Bassett – Ramonda

All of them were amazing, however, Danai Gurira (All Eyez On Me, The Walking Dead) and Letitia Wright (Humans, and the upcoming Ready Player One) steal every single scene they are in without question. Bassett is regal as ever and reminding me how much the first X-men movie screwed up not casting her as Storm. Winston Duke is a physical presence in the movie that exuded both his own sense of nobility, power, and even humor. I would talk about our three principle actors, but again – there’s not much more to say other than how impressive they were.

At two hours and fourteen minutes, I cannot for the life of me think what they could cut without some measure of sacrifice. Not a plotline, beat, or moment felt out of place. The downside of this of course is the movie is packed to the gills and from time to time the scene cuts and changes were a bit abrupt. Some of the CG and compositing were a touch on the weak side for me, but at the same time no corners were cut here. The money was thrown at this movie, deservedly so, and every dollar is on screen. The colours, the vibrancy, the music, the sound are all beyond compare.

TL;DR

Wakanda Forever

This movie is up to its hype. It is beautiful, powerful, and meaningful. Everyone should see it. I am buying it. I will see it again without hesitation. You should see it on the big screen with a sound system that shakes you.

This is now in my top 5 Marvel movies, I am debating where still, but it deserves that place. If this doesn’t make my top 5 of 2018 I will be surprised.

Now stop reading and go watch it!

 

Darke Reviews | Winchester (2018)

Going to skip the usual teaser intro into the review I think. I was undecided on this movie prior, but Helen Mirren is always a good draw. Jason Clarke really hasn’t disappointed me. I have a mild fascination with the Winchester Mystery House and a strong desire to visit. I figured – why not? I want to see more movies in the theatre than last year, write more reviews (I still owe someone a Dungeons and Dragons AND Core review). Still want to write the review for The Shape of Water. Low budget horror is doing really well and I missed *the* film of the year from last (end of) February; Get Out.

Those last two words are what I did. Astute readers who follow me on Facebook may notice I am writing and posting this review faster than I could normally. The movie start time is 7pm. I am writing this review at 8:35 PM. There were 20 minutes (I checked) of trailers.

So in my desire to see more movies this year also comes a promise to myself. I won’t endure a bad movie any longer than I have to, I don’t get paid for this. My site isn’t monetized. Is that fair?

So why is it so bad? I have a list:

  • Jump scares. The movie has nothing but jump scares. I counted 9 in the first 40 minutes. Amounting to nothing.
  • Audio quality. You know how there’s a slight reverb or off pitch sound when you talk to someone through a speaker phone in an office? Every line of Helen Mirrens dialogue had a hint of it. It clearly wasn’t the theatre as no one else did, but her – yep. I can’t say if it was intentional or not. I hope not.
  • Pacing. It was booooring. There was no tension, barely a plot. When there wasn’t a set up for a jump scare there was psuedo intellectual dialogue passing itself off as acting or overhead shots of the house.
  • Camera Work. I should not be able to “see” the camera, I should be following the motion, not waiting for the move or the cut. Everything was set up and telegraphed to the point I could tell you most of what was coming and when. Shots that should be amazing or dramatic fell flat or were cut by a jump scare.
  • Acting. I think it was happening. You could almost see Helen Mirren rehearsing her lines for The Nutcracker and The Four Realms or Anna; maybe she was picturing where the hot tub this paycheck was going to would go in her house. I mean she is fine, but this is what it looks like when she phones it in.

TL;DR?

The movie is nothing short of boring and this is a crime. It did nothing with the potential of focusing on a story of Sarah Winchester and her drive for the house, the spirits literal or figurative she was haunted by. The house itself, a documentary is far more interesting than this movie could ever be in its current incarnation. This is surprising with Michael and Peter Spierig at the helm as Daybreakers was amazing, Predestination was interesting, I heard Jigsaw did the franchise well; so this leaves me wondering what happened.

I feel like this is a studio trying to do what Jason Blum and Blumhouse productions have done with movies like Insidious and Sinister, even lifting some of the visual effects from a few years ago, but failing spectacularly.

Should I see it?

No. Just…no. Let it die and it’s spirit be trapped in the house.

Will you buy it?

I would sooner go to the house and have a tour given by a person who amputated their own tongue.

Is it that bad?

I am mostly just agitated at how much a wasted concept exists here. How bland and boring it is. Even The Commuter was more interesting than this.

Any upsides?

I suppose the upside is that the 3.5 million dollar budget paid some folks salaries and might drum up some tourism for the real house?

Ok so what’s next?

Thursday February 15th, Black Panther. One of the most anticipated movies of the year.

Thursday February 23rd Annihilation. One of the movies I am truly excited for because of the director and cast.

Praying for all the March releases, such as Death Wish (not hopeful), Red Sparrow (too irritated we are getting this instead of Black Widow), A Wrinkle in Time (all of the yes), Tomb Raider, Love Simon (it looks adorable), and Pacific Rim 2. Lots coming in March, most of it will set the stage for the rest of the year too.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Last movie of January, with a potentially strong February coming with Winchester, Black Panther, and Annihilation coming. This of course marks the third movie in the Maze Runner series and to hear about it (read about it?) is why you are here right now. Shall we recap the first two?

Maze Runner surprisingly solid and a concept we haven’t quite seen before with good production values and actors who are at least giving it their all.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials were more of the same but plodded along with a pace that can only be described as glacial and with three fake out endings that just made me want to scream.

So is does the Death Cure just leave you wanting to die?

It’s been two and a half years since the last movie, there was of course the hiatus forced when Dylan O’Brien severely broke his leg making this to the point I hadn’t heard it had been finished until the trailer dropped. I was a bit unkind to the writer the last time T.S. Nowlin, but after watching this…no I still feel it was somewhat justified.  We don’t introduce any new characters I am expected to care about here, so I don’t know if he has learned his lessons in that regard from the last one. I do know that he either has come to understand or was able to show he does get it when it comes to making certain moments count – most of the time. He also understands all magic comes with a price dearie. More on that in the roll over spoiler corner at the bottom. It will be marked and you can avoid it easily don’t worry.  Nowlin didn’t have to do much here as the groundwork was laid, he just needed to finish the job and that he did.  The plot is coherent with a few reveals handled about as decently as possible without being overwrought, you can follow the train from point A to Z and it logics out. This does not remove my newfound concerns of him being on the screenplay for Pacific Rim Uprising (March 2018) or Godzilla vs Kong (2020)

Director Wes Ball got a lot of flak in the last review and it is also is still mostly justified. He has a style and visual aesthetic. I was glancing at some of the images from his 2011 short film Ruin and see much in the way of similarity. I complained last time of how they got Last of Us in my Maze Runner. This time he gets Fallout in my Maze Runner, more on that in the technicals. While he does understand what to do with the characters this time he hasn’t quite mastered the pacing piece. The movie runs just shy of two and a half hours and it feels it. His eye for visuals is gorgeous which distracts. The opening sequence is positively kinetic and is reminiscent of some early Fast and Furious movies in the best way possible. There’s a director in here folks, but I think he still needs to sit down and get a better feel for how to pace a movie as while I wasn’t checking my watch it was getting close.

The actors are of course the best part, and yes Ball gets credit for that. Dylan O’Brien can do no wrong in my eyes thus far. Little sad to see nothing coming on his IMDB page, but please Hollywood use him. He can emote, he can act, and he can do the action and make it believable. Ki Hong Lee returns as Minho and is a joy to see, even if he gets little to do. Kaya Scodelario has escaped the Pirates franchise to finish this one out and sadly reads a little flat. I can see her trying to do more, but whatever chemistry her and O’Brien had previously seems gone and it leaves her performance a bit weaker as a result. Thankfully we have Rosa Salazar who has all the chemistry this time. They give her far more to do and I am filled with joy for it. They need to cast her in everything. I am truly excited for Alita: Battle Angel as she delivered a solid performance this time and showed me she has the action, the emotion, and an ability to stand out. Personal choice: Please make a Disney’s Gargoyles movie and cast her as Detective Maza. Thanks. There is one other stand out, Thomas Brodie Sangster, our own Jojen Reed as Newt. He gives the best performance I have seen from him to date and absolutely nails each delivery through the movie.

On the technical front, last time I mentioned in my spoiler corner how the infected of the Flare Virus looked a lot like the creatures from Last Of Us. That hasn’t changed much, but we have also added Ghouls from Fallout 4. The make up is an amazing piece of work, but it absolutely will remind anyone who has played the FO franchise recently of Hancock. Bearing in mind this is an observation not a complaint. The visuals in the movie are rather incredible and when you consider the budget was only $62 million they made every dollar count. I have seen hundred and hundred and fifty million dollar movies look far worse than this did. There is an amazing amount of practical work that holds up remarkably well and the CG work that exists is blended near flawlessly. The pacing is still problematic, but I also can’t think right now how I’d edit it differently. I can maybe shave 10 minutes tops without losing something. It’s clear the directors visual style I mentioned earlier affected the production design and maybe he would be good with something like a Fallout or Last of Us movie. It seems thats what he wants to make.

TL;DR?

I was surprised to find out how much I enjoyed the movie. The opening grabbed my attention, the beats played well and the actors on their third film together have gelled in such a way the non verbal communication sells well. There’s some tonal issues in the movie, but they are all within the genre so it isn’t as bad as other movies that run into those tone issues. The biggest problem Death Cure has is it’s length and ok the biggest problem is no one will see it.

The Scorch Trials brought in $81 million domestic, a 20% drop from Maze Runner. With this January dump slot and weak opening to this years movies only die hard Maze Runner fans will go out for this. I think this might be expected considering its release date, but don’t go expecting this to turn around movie goers. You *do* need to see all three to get the experience and not enough saw the second to sell the third to the larger audiences. This is a bit sad because it is a good movie. There’s love and care here and most of the actors continue to give it their all. It was enjoyable and I have no regrets about spending the extra money on the D-Box (moving) seats.

Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the series so far, absolutely. Give it a go and enjoy the ride. They throw everything at the fence with abandon and it sticks and is worth it when they do. Even the lampshades look nice.

If you aren’t engaged in the series, try the first one. If it doesn’t hold you then you won’t get the same experience from the finale.

Will you buy it?

Honestly? Yes. Good visuals. Good acting. Solid entertainment. Salazar, Sangster, and O’Brien knocking it out of the park – no regrets.

Is this the end of the YA series conversions?

Harry Potter started it. Twilight let it explode. Hunger Games rang the dinner bell and everyone came running. Most of them tripped over their own feet. There aren’t nearly as many YA conversions these days because studios wanted to put minimal effort into them and paid the price. They think the audiences are stupid or aren’t worth it. Neither of these things are true and the cinema is paying for it.

If Death Cure is how YA franchises go out I won’t be sad. This was probably the best conclusion to one of these yet.

I am kind of happy that this is how the month goes out, it gives me a bit of hope for the year to come.

 

Um spoiler corner?

I changed my mind. It’ll get a spoiler editorial later. I think this one needs some thought.

Darke Reviews | Proud Mary (2018)

2nd review in a week. This is good. Not getting a Thursday night showing – not so good. It’s about as indicative as anything else when it comes to the industry. There are always signs they have no faith in a movie. Review Embargo’s until release day, no screenings for the press at all, and lesser known and of lesser impact to the box office take no Thursday night shows. It wasn’t too long ago the only early shows were the 12:01AM – which was technically Friday right? Eventually we got more 11’s, then 10’s, now 7 is the average. Special screenings may even get a 6, like I had with Last Jedi and will likely have with Black Panther next month. All of that said, the lack of a Thursday release even in January is never a good show of faith from the studio or the theatres.

The question you are here to find out is just how proud should Mary be?

The movie does invoke my Rule of Three when it comes to writers, with Christian Swegal in his first theatrical film, John Stuart Newman trying to move from daytime TV (Days of Our Lives) to movies, and Steven Antin (writer of Burlesque and actor of Troy from the Goonies). As I look at this creative team I come to understand some of the flaws in the movie, but first the story. This leans close to spoiler territory but I also need to do so to set expectations because the trailers for this one lied like a cheap rug. Mary is a hitter/heavy for a Boston crime family who takes in a kid she inadvertently orphaned during a job. In protecting the child lines are crossed and forced to be redrawn, but this comes with a body count and soul searching. Can she save the boy and maybe herself in the process?

Now, I said the writing teams credits explain much of the flaws. First and foremost, there is a fundamental flaw in the pacing which left me bored for much of the movie as this is not, and should not be classified as an action movie. This is a Mob movie. This is a Boondock Saints, but with a female lead. The action happens, but it is not the foremost element of the movie, the relationship drama is. At least one character apparently exists only to deliver every single trope line you have ever heard. To his credit he does and it works better than it has a right to, but his dialogue is so bad. The ideas they want to explore are all there and they clearly cared about the project, but couldn’t pull it all together into a cohesive clean story.

Bringing us to the last major flaw of the movie, the director himself Babak Najafi; the man who had the same chair for London has Fallen. You may ask where’s the link to the prior review, but I cannot provide it. The movie was so bland that I couldn’t even be arsed to write about it.  I haven’t seen his earlier work from Iran, so maybe with a smaller budget or other material he’s solid – here he is not. The pacing issues, beyond the script and some clunky scenes and dialogue, also are his fault as well. There was too much shot repetition, the action scenes were dull. Yes. Dull. They are cleanly shot and there’s no shaky cam, but they also don’t to have real weight or depth to them.  On top of that, there are some choices made for some of the actors that diminish the characters; which is unfortunate because of of the actors knocked it out.

Taraji P Henderson (Hidden Figures,  Empire) absolutely holds the movie together as it’s title character. She delivers every scene with a passion that was lacking in any performance from the earlier review this week. She plays with the complexity of the character well even if the direction during a handful of scenes detract from what is otherwise a stellar character.  Her chemistry with Jahi Di’Allo Winston is incredible. Winston, who plays the child Danny, has only a few TV credits to his name but would be wasted there. He elevates a simple childs role far and above what many his age (14) could do. We’ve seen this type of character before become an anchor or an albatross around the neck of a film. They are played as cute, annoying, or obstinate to the point of stupidity. Winston and Henderson navigate the waters well, and here’s one of the things both director and script got right. Every scene with these two is near perfect. There are of course other names I could mention, including Danny Glover or Billy Brown, but the real stars are the two I’ve mentioned.

The technicals here are a bit short, as the camera work is pretty solid overall with some good choices on when to do a close or a tracking shot. The music doesn’t overpower and supports the story – always good. The action as I mentioned is not as good as it could be, but isn’t horrible for what it tried. The pacing though is awful which left me waiting for it to end as it went through its four act structure.

TL;DR?

Proud Mary is a beautiful mess of good intentions and well wishing that gets an A for effort, but a C on its final tally. I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did; granted being given a different movie than the trailers lead me to believe didn’t help. What helps the movie is how much everyone is trying. There’s real desire here to let the character beats breathe, let the camera help tell the story without any overt exposition. Unlike Commuter, which came across as a lazy pay check grab for everyone involved Proud Mary feels far more of someones passion project that didn’t quite end up the way they wanted. There are not nearly enough movies like this lead by non-white actors, much less actresses and I was hoping this one could change the tide.

Sadly it doesn’t look like it will. The studio has no faith nor does it’s marketing department. The final project tried so hard and didn’t stick the landing.

Should you watch it?

If you need a movie to watch this weekend – sure. Though depending on your local ticket prices you may want to wait to stream or rent it in a few months. I want to give this movie money, but it just isn’t quite good enough for an absolutely go see

Will you buy it?

Yeah actually. Like I said I do want to support it and projects like it, so Hollywood keeps trying to get better with them.

Why are you giving this one a pass?

Because I can see the effort. Every actor clearly was trying and no one phoned it in. That gets you miles of credit with me. Also because there are enough scenes I like that it warrants a “Well could have been better”  out of me versus a “That was awful”. Also original movie in a time when we still complain about everything being based on or a remake of something else – lots of credit.

Ok, so next week?

I am debating if I am taking next week off from new releases. Gerard Butlers next spin around the proverbial toilet (Den of Thieves) comes out next week and I am not sure if it warrants my time much less anyone elses.

I will however see Maze Runner: The Death Cure on the 25th or 26th. I don’t expect it to be good, but at two movies in I am committed to see it through. Also I like Dylan O’Brien.

 

Thanks again for reading, but overall Proud Mary will be a pass for the majority of folks. It’s close to really good, but didn’t quite get there.

Darke Reviews | The Commuter (2018)

First review of 2018! Happy New Year folks and welcome back to AmusedintheDark.  Don’t worry we still keep things spoiler free around here. I know towards the end of the year I picked up a few new followers (still haven’t broken 200 on Facebook yet) and a few regular readers. Some of you have been with me since the beginning – to which you have my thanks for every Like, Share, Retweet, and Reblog. I managed to get a public screening pass for this today, sadly I am not online press – yet, but that is why you are getting this review a little ahead of the Thursday night release.

I’m breaking from my normal format on this one for a bit of discourse, a conversation if you wish to have one over on the Facebook page. It’s relevant to the final review so please bear with me and I promise you there’s still a TL:DR waiting for you at the end.

I mentioned to a few people that I was seeing The Commuter today and a few were like “this looks really good“, and I was confused. From the moment I saw this trailer I was at the most non-plussed by it, so how is it people have such a different reaction. I mean sure everyone has different opinions on things – that’s obvious. But peel the layers back and I realized, I’ve seen too many movies.  It’s the Reviewers Paradox (I should trademark that).

You see there are people who go to see movies and don’t care, which is absolutely fine. Don’t let anyone tell you different. There are people who want to see movies that make them think or feel something; to get that personal reaction of it whether or not it’s horror, comedy, romance, drama, or a philosophical film bridging one or more genres. Also perfectly fine. These are not mutually exclusive either. You can mix and match to your hearts content and I encourage you to do so if that’s what you want from movies!

Then you have reviewers or critics which I kind of consider similar but different enough for distinction. I’ll cover that in another post. We go to a movie for the reasons above, but also to constructively provide our thoughts to others on it’s merits and flaws. To provide a recommendation based on the experience of having watched a given movie and hundreds, if not thousands more. We observe the technical components such as editing, plot, story, camera work as much as the acting, and post production sound and effects. We store all of this and continually learn. If you look at many of my early reviews they are far less technical, but also neither more or less forgiving than I am now. Only now I can articulate better what is good or bad about a film. Which is part of the problem….

Reviewers and Critics – we see A LOT of movies. On average I watch 38 theatrical films a year as new releases and double that via mediums like Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, Vudu, etc. that don’t make the theatrical cut. We observe patterns in releases, such as January and August being dump slots for movies that no one cares about. December being the drop site for Academy Award contenders. March, May, June, November being your tent-pole pictures studios hold their breath hoping to beat the others soundly with.

The phrase “we’ve seen it all before” comes to mind. This is why you will often see score sites, such as RT sometimes be so drastically different than the theatre goer. We honestly do, sometimes, see it differently because we’re comparing it to everything else we’ve seen before. We can see the parallels and repetitions. It isn’t always bad either. Movies can repeat themes, repeat core ideas, hell repeat entire plots and still be good. It just means we notice when they do and have to decide for ourselves

Can this trope/thing/mcguffin be forgiven? Does it add to the movie? Hurt it? Have no impact whatsoever and pass the pop corn please? 

This is the Reviewers Paradox. We are expected to provide constructive opinions on movies, but the movies themselves are by nature so repetitive in their components we can be seen as too harsh.

You will see in many of my reviews if you look back me use phrases like “I was entertained” – even on movies which are kinda bad. You’ll also see a lack of Oscar contenders on my list quite frequently as well. There are amazing films being made that are just plain “Great” that I will never see because the subject doesn’t interest me. Because sometimes I want to keep from getting too jaded from seeing proficient films that I end up judging other movies too harshly, where they aren’t as proficient in whatever arbitrary category you look at but provide some form of entertainment to its audience. I am never likely to watch Dunkirk, or The Post, or even things I am told are amazing like The Phantom Thread.  They didn’t get my interest and I may find myself not being fair to them or becoming less fair to movies that don’t have Oscar Bait written on the projection reels.

I reposted an article the other day talking about how Hollywood blames certain review sites and people like me for why people aren’t going to the movies. While the most common response to this is “Try making better movies” – I can’t help but ponder is there a kernel of truth. Look at what I’ve written so far about the difference between an average movie goer and a reviewer or a critic. I think about how many movies I put in the “Meh” to “Bad” category last year when I was writing my Best and Worst of 2017.

I even considered maybe I should stop reviewing because I am getting too jaded.

Then I saw The Commuter.

I heard people on the exit interviews saying “I was on the edge of my seat”, “It was good.” I thought about my own review for it, my own thoughts and how they lined up. The question stood out even more. We’re just over a thousand words on this review and I haven’t even discussed the movie yet; but I think this topic was worth it. Putting these words to screen from the horror show that is my head can help me articulate why some folks like a thing and others don’t. It can help you as my reader understand why you enjoyed a thing when me, or some other reviewer or critic didn’t.

I promise you, if you read a review of mine and see a movie, and disagree with me – let’s discuss it! Please! I absolutely have not and will never begrudge someone enjoying a film I didn’t or hating one I love. In fact, quite often, I’d love to talk about it with you. Not to change your mind but maybe to change mine. There’s a really good chance you saw something I didn’t, or appreciated something I couldn’t. This always intrigues me. 

TL;DR Part I

Which brings us to The Commuter itself and the question is this a train you should miss?

Director Jaume Collet-Serra returns to the screen with clearly his favourite actor Liam Neeson. Serra has previously directed him in Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run all Night. He was also the director on the fantastic horror film The Shallows. The writers on the film are Ryan Engle (Non-Stop and Rampage – to be seen later this year), Philip deBlasi, and Byron Willinger in their first official scripts; which does invoke my Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three continues its validation. The premise of the movie at its bones is “The Box”. Press a button, getting a life changing amount of money but someone you don’t know dies. Now they’ve added layers to it, such as an isolated location but we’ve seen these layers before in movies that didn’t make it work then, such as well….Non-Stop. You’ve seen similar “do x or y will happen to your family” before and mysteries on a train, on a plane, on a bus. It CAN work, look at Speed, Locke, or even Snakes on a Plane as examples. They all have very similar components but were just done better.

Sometimes they add humor, sometimes they add good action, sometimes they add tension. This movie tried to do the tension and action but failed miserably. Tension works best when you increase it and release it as the movie goes on. But never release it all the way. This failed to release the tension and continued it’s attempts to build it. Attempts is an important word because if you fail to increase tension by slowing the pace down or adding little twists and red herrings, but never giving an out – you end up with the opposite reaction; which is boredom. The Commuter is only 1 hour and 44 minutes when your average blockbuster is 2 hours plus these days and you don’t notice. This felt considerably longer than it’s running time and just when you thought it might be wrapping they keep going. It was like all the worst parts of the Return of the King ending.

This isn’t to say it’s all bad. I did, from a technical perspective, find the opening of the movie a creative way to show the day in and day out of a mans life and the repetition we all go through on our morning routines. It was needed for establishment and it was done well. It’s also at least an ‘original’ film, not based on a book movie or anything so that’s something. Next to nothing else worked for me though. The actors were wasted, the pacing was awful, and nothing came as a surprise.

No surprises mean you fail as a mystery. Even movies where you know the ending can still surprise you or engage you if done well. Look at Murder on the Orient Express. You KNOW the ending, but you sit through and wonder how it’s going to unfold.

With this movie? Not so much.

TL;DR Part II

The Commuter derailed. It fails on basic principles of being an action movie, a thriller, or a mystery. It doesn’t succeed at one when it tries to be all three. I maintain Liam Neeson, and most of the other actors, took this for the paycheck. Neeson himself has become a parody of his own roles to the point where people are going to want to see this to see him be “bad ass” since Taken reinvented him back in 2008 from a dramatic actor to the action star.  I would actually pay to see him take a full on parody role of himself in a feature film.

I really feel for everyone who made this or put money into it. No one goes out to make a bad movie, unless you are The Asylum. You make a movie because you love making movies. I feel bad when the final product is derivative and dull. Being a creator isn’t easy. I hope they find a new project that’s better because while Bryan Mills may have had a special set of skills, this movie sure doesn’t.

Should you see it?

Nope. I am hoping when I see Proud Mary later this week I can recommend that instead.

Were you really thinking of quitting reviews?

Yeah right up until I wrote this. I realized if nothing else Reviewers can hold Hollywood somewhat accountable. If “we” are to blame for the down turn in box office – maybe rather than being antagonistic towards its audiences and the reviewers Hollywood might start talking to us? It’s a vain hope, but hey a girl can dream.

So you’re not?

Nope. Still going strong. Still trying to see what I can do to stir up more viewers/readers, but I have ideas.

What’s Proud Mary?

Atomic Blonde/John Wick but with Taraji P Henderson and it looks awesome.

Thanks for bearing with me on this really long review and editorial folks. Hope you stick around and as always if you want to support me remember to like, share, retweet, and reblog!

Happy New Year.