Darke Reviews | Aladdin (2019)

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

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

So should we just put Aladdin back in the lamp?

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

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

Should I see it though?

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

Would you see it again?

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

But you’ll buy it and not in the theatre

You got it.

Any parting thoughts on this one?

I am not hopeful for the Lion King?

 

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

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

Did they prepare for war though?

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should I see it?

You’re invested already. So yes.

Would you see it again?

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

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No regrets on that front.

Are the dogs adorable?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Welcome to the Continental.

Darke Reviews | Pokémon – Detective Pikachu (2019)

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

Was this movie the very best?

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

We got Roger Rabbit.

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

Yeah probably. Not likely, but I would.

So would you buy it then?

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

Is it that good?

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

One last…

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

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

Darke Reviews | Avengers: Endgame (2019)

SPOILER FREE AS USUAL

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

Here’s how. TL;DR.

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

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

I unambiguously love this movie.

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

Ok, but does it have flaws?

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

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

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

So what did they do right – specifically?

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

Will you watch it again?

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

Biggest Screen. Best Sound system.

Worth it.

So you’re buying it too eh?

Duh.

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

Noticed that too huh?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Darke Reviews | The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

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

But was she the right one?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Aww ok. But should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

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

But….

Yeah I am probably buying it.

Parting thoughts or parting shots?

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

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

Just an idea.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Hellboy (2019)

I need Ian McShane to narrate my life. Sure people talk about having Morgan Freeman do it or Samuel L Jackson for the complete other take; but for me, it has to be Ian McShane. I never fully appreciated the gift that he was until seeing him in the remake of Death Race (2008). This is a man who is all out of anything to give. This is a man who I am almost certain walks on set, reads his script, and generally goes “screw it” and does what he will and they just film him – and it always turns out awesome. If you’ve seen the John Wick movies you know this to be true as well. I only bring this up now because this movie opens with narration by Mr. McShane and it sets a very firm tone for what the movie will give you.  It wastes very little time establishing any of this and if you don’t like the first minute of film you won’t like the following hundred and nineteen. As a film goer and critic I appreciate it when movies manage my expectations in such a way. Jordan Peele did this with much praise in US and now we have one of my favourite underrated directors doing it here in Hellboy’s 5th movie installment.

But does it work?

As mentioned this is the 5th installment of a Hellboy movie, with the original DelToro in 2004, the animated Sword of Storms in 2006, the animated Blood and Iron in 2007, and The Golden Army in 2008. The last three have the creator of Hellboy as one of the writers and all of them have Ron Perlman in the titular character role, and the other live actors in their respective supporting roles. This marks the first time that Mike Mignola is not involved in the writing (but he does get an Executive Producer credit). To say that the tone of this movie is irreverent would be an understatement of apocalyptic proportions. Andrew Cosby’s (creator of TV series Eureaka and Haunted) script is very much in the vein of of the previous ones, with Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) trying to stop a very potent supernatural baddie from ending human life letting the creatures of the night rule once again and for Hellboy himself to face his own dark potential. To be fair, as the Vampire Princess I am kind of rooting for the monsters – it’s a blood thing after all.

The movie does a decent job setting up who Hellboy is and what he believes in pretty quickly with a well done show don’t tell scene. We’re given the crash course rehash of his origin with some very clear comic book characterizations and other characters, like The Lobster, not previously seen in a Hellboy picture being lifted from page to screen. Cosby clearly does love the material and embraced every aspect of the over the top nature of it and brought it to the script; perhaps at the detriment of giving us any compelling characters beyond Hellboy, Broom, and Alice Monaghan. The movie suffers from an eternally brisk pace that doesn’t let you ever linger long enough to care much about anything which can leave you wanting if you don’t feel for the stakes.

That being said I am pleased to see Neil Marshall back in the directors chair again. His filmography is regular watching in my crypt from The Descent, to Dog Soldiers, to Doomsday, and Centurion. This didn’t feel like one of his movies though.  Sure Doomsday mashes up a zombie apocalypse movie, MadMax, and a medieval film all in one, but the overall look, feel, and tone here doesn’t feel like him entirely. It’s shot well and you can fully place everything being done and have a great sense of scale and geography during some of the fights and sweeping shots; which is definitely him, but its the closer moments that are somewhat off.

That might come down to the technicals. Normally Marshall is all but 100% practical in every shot; with few exceptions. He doesn’t shy from the gore when appropriate, nor does this movie; but the visuals they look well bad. When some of the blood effects and creature effects in movies a from over a decade ago look better than one made now, you have a problem. Many of the digital creations are more detractors for the movie than they are supporting, which is sad because there is practical work at play here. My gut tells me, and I bet I could research and prove, that this may have fallen victim to post production touch ups and overwork similar to the 2011 prequel of The Thing. There was intense and amazing practical work done, but someone at the studio came in and had the team redo all of the effects with digital over the practical. It is infamous in how bad it is at times. This looks about the same. Again this is sad because Hellboy looks great, some of the low key practical effects through the movie also look great – but the digital is not good.

People will want to know how is David Harbour (Stranger Things) vs Ron Perlman in the role of Hellboy. He’s good. I am biased, as many will be, that Perlman is better. I think some of it comes down to how well and how often Perlman gets to emote and how clear he sounds doing so. There’s a lack of clarity in the speech and lack of presence in that speech that overall hurt Harbours otherwise ideal casting. He looks good in the part, he emotes when he can, but I think the movie doesn’t really give him the chance to be as iconic as Perlman was.  The next match up of course is Ian McShane vs John Hurt as professor Broom. They aren’t even the same character and thus cannot be compared. I mean it is the same character but the take on it is so radically different you would not know it. McShane does as he does on American Gods, and chews all the scenery and we love him for it, but much like Harbour we aren’t given enough with him to make him more than Ian McShane, which is unfortunate. Daniel Dae Kim (LOST, Hawaii Five-O) is also done a disservice as Major Ben Daimio. He is able to elevate the part just enough to make it work, but only barely. Sasha Lane (Miseducation of Cameron Post) is the only one who manages to make a real impression playing Alice, but only barely.

TL;DR

The original Hellboy had a budget of $66 million (just over $91m adjusted) but it shows in the painstaking care of the practical. Lionsgate did this movie no favours in its $50 million budget. The intense practical of the 2004 Hellboy makes it a stand out film, while unfortunately the intense digital elements here cut this one off at the knees. This is a movie that has a very talented director, a capable cast, a script from someone who clearly knows his source material and the result is something of a muddy mess. Hellboy clearly deserved better than it got and unfortunately what looks to be some level of studio hands in the pot allowed a movie filled with sound and fury signifying nothing.

This feels more like something you would have expected from an early 2000’s Miramax movie instead of a late 2010’s Lionsgate one. This isn’t to say it’s awful. Quite contrary to that it actually is kind of fun at times in a throwback kind of way. I have to wonder if knowing their hands were tied the director, cast, and crew just embraced the travesty and rode with it like Slim Pickens. Everyone tries here. Everyone clearly looks like they are having a good time. The music director clearly was enjoying themselves and this certainly doesn’t feel like any other comic book movie you will see this year, largely due to the intense amount of digital and practical blood effects. This movie is an R Rated one and took full advantage of it.

Yes, but should we see it?

Yes, but preferably with alcohol or *lots* of popcorn. It is that sort of beer and pretzels movie that shouldn’t be but is and knows both of those things are true. I did enjoy myself, but I can’t tell you this is a good movie either.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatre, no.

Ok, what about buying it?

Yeah, I have no issue with that. I can order a pizza, open a bottle of bloo, er wine, sit down and just enjoy.

So it’s a …?

This is an entertaining, turn your brain off for two hours, have a drink and enjoy movie. I can’t be certain it was meant to be that way, but the net result is that.

I wouldn’t hold out hope for a sequel, but stranger things have happened. Also I still need Ian McShane to narrate my life.

 

Next week, I may or may not see the Curse of La Llorona – but face it we’re all waiting for End Game.

Darke Reviews | Pet Sematary (2019)

I saw a new meme yesterday going around. “What type of person are you based on the book you read in High School?” It had all the classics most of us had to read in the 80’s and 90’s. Me though? Didn’t really read them or pay much attention to them. I did however read Tommyknockers a few times and even had a greeting to one of my best friends (who will likely read this) during that time. We recently reconnected on FB and I used that to let him know it was me (I am a different than I was then). He’s also the one who gave me one of my fondest nicknames. So yeah in high school I wasn’t reading the required, I read Christine, Cujo, Tommyknockers, The Stand, and yes Pet Sematary. By that point I had already watched the 1989 movie a few times, mostly for Fred Gwynne’s last performance and my girl crush on Denise Crosby.

They say sometimes Dead is better. Should this have stayed buried?

Obviously based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this time the adaptation of the story for the screen is done by Matt Greenberg. Greenberg has had some adaptation work for King before either in his writing work on Children of the Corn III or the amazing 1408.  He also provided us one of the better sequels in the Halloween franchise, H20. Unfortunately he is also the one who did the screen story for Seventh Son. Don’t look it up or watch it. The script however came from the mind and idle hands of Jeff Buhler of the Midnight Meat Train and last years…interesting series Nightflyers; and the mildly disappointing The Prodigy. This is very much an adaptation of the King story where it is far more faithful in spirit, but still not the book – so don’t go looking for that. The basics are there, a doctor, his wife, daughter, and toddler son move from the big city to a small town in Maine (c’mon it’s King you expect it to be anywhere else?). Their new home is beautiful if you can stand the tanker trucks doing 60 on a road that clearly should be a 30, and this creepy little town graveyard for pets way back in the woods. When the family cat, Church, dies thanks to one of the aforementioned trucks their helpful old timey neighbor introduces the father to what lies beyond the barrier in the Pet Sematary. Burying Church in that stony soil begins an ever darkening and maddening chain of events.

As you can tell if you are familiar with the 89 movie or the book the meat is there, the potatoes are there. It digs deeper than the last attempt and shows that the writers cared to do so, but I am not 100% sold it went deep enough. There is not a real fault with the script or the dialogue of the movie. The mistakes of the past are gone, but there seem to be new ones; where it feels like a late 2000’s adaptation. Everything you want is there, but some aspect of it doesn’t quite resonate. I feel that some of it may go to the execution by duo directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch; but again it’s hard to pin it down. Their staging is fine, the blocking is fine, the actors performances are fine. One or two of the visuals is a bit rougher than I think they should be, but others just work.

Jason Clarke (Winchester, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) nails it as atheist doctor LouisCreed. I buy him as a man who is faced with the impossible and then an impossible choice. Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, The Killing) carries the trauma of Rachel Creed’s childhood, well enough; but I felt absolutely no chemistry between her and Clarke. This isn’t to say they aren’t trying, because they are – it just doesn’t quite work. John Lithgow can do no wrong and while he lacks more of the folksy quality in Gwynne’s earlier performance he still pulls off Judd well enough; even without a good ayup.  Jeté Laurence, at age 12, as the daughter Ellie, has her work cut out for her, but I felt she did better than many in her age group ever could have; and unlike Seimetz comes across having real chemistry with Clarke.

On the technical side of things to say the movie is short is an understatement, with a 101 minute running time including credits which run for about 8 of those minutes there is little fat on the movie. Then why does it at times feel like it’s moving so slow? Yes, there’s a point to pacing it for tension, which it builds, but they did this at the sacrifice of something. A little effect here. A poorly executed dream like sequence there. A ghostly image that exists because it had to, but not because of service to the story. Also shooting in the summer when you are supposed to be in Maine in the fall? The lack of appropriate colour shows.

TL;DR

Pet Sematary is a solid horror film; its perfectly serviceable. One of Kings better film adaptations to be sure, but I feel it is a reactionary product. When IT blew everyone (and more than a few records) away in September of 2017 it was only a matter of time before people began to look for the next King property to remake. Sure this one had been in talks since 2010, but it was green lit in December of 2017 right as IT was wrapping its $300 million domestic haul. A rushed schedule had filming in late June 2018 wrapping August 11th. This has all the hallmarks of a studio absolutely trying for a cash grab and investing just enough to make the movie look good while doing it. The problem with moves like this by studios, they *feel* like they are a cash grab when you watch it. You can see where every single corner has been cut and while you can’t put your finger on whats wrong with the picture you absolutely know that something is.

What made IT work was the investment of time and care, the $35 million didn’t hurt either. The $21 million budget on this one with the time given shows. Yes, the actors care. Yes, the production crew cares. That also shows, but those edges, those frays, and uneven cuts. That reek of something that feels like a studios hand or perhaps a not as good as they need to be writer making a choice does it all a disservice. While there are plenty of movies who run too long, this one is about five to ten minutes too short. If this comes out with a longer directors cut I might be happier with the final product.

So should I see it?

See Shazam first. It’s the superior movie this week, by leaps and bounds. That being said, while my critique is fairly harsh for the movie, I did enjoy it, but it was despite its flaws. This one is going to be VERY mixed and you’ll have to decide for yourself your tolerances.

So maybe, but unlikely.

Would you watch it again then?

Not in theatres, no.

Though buying it?

Yeah, I’ll buy it. Like I said, I did enjoy it. I just have to call a movie on what I think is wrong with it. Clarke, Lithgow, and Laurence are absolutely enjoyable. Seimetz tries, but it doesn’t work.

Do you think the content soured you?

This is one of King’s bleaker stories; which is saying something. The Stand at least had hope. You have kids and family pets dying and then coming back as something else, something different. You have a growing madness and desperation as you watch innocence die. That’s pretty bloody bleak. I knew that going in so that isn’t it. I don’t even mind the major change to the story for this adaptation, they made it work; but the movie lacks commitment or conviction.

I’m glad that this movie was remade. The 89 one is one of the rougher King adaptations, but I just wish a little more had been given to the movie.

Again I enjoyed myself, and the cover of the Ramones song Pet Sematary by Starcrawler. I just think we could have had more. Maybe the soil of my heart is too stony for this one.