Darke Reviews | Gemini Man (2019)

I didn’t feel the need to rush out and see this one when it came out two weeks ago. For one thing it didn’t seem all that interesting a premise to me, or more to the point it wasn’t one that grabbed me. I’ve seen The Sixth Day after all. Will Smith while talented yes, has been almost as flat as Bruce Willis of late with an intent or direction to become this stoic thing, Aladdin being an exception. Ang Lee while amazingly gifted is often hit or miss with his visual style compared to that of traditional western directors. Granted all his Academy Awards and the various nominations for such awards; little films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life of Pi, and Brokeback Mountain. Still with that kind of pedigree it was not a very grabbing movie in premise or look. $138 million put into its production budget and only a $30 million haul domestically so far says I am not the only one who felt that way.

Were we wrong?

I kind of broke protocol for myself on this one and watched a handful of reviews of it and thought of some of the points of discussion around it. The biggest point of contention is the fact that the film is shot in 120 frames per second, or FPS. What does that mean exactly? Well the average movie you watch is filmed in 24 fps, so when you increase the frames per second this means more detail is coming in, more subtlety of motion, even the way light reacts to the objects in frame changes at higher frame rates. 120 FPS looks great for slow motion as when you crank it down to 24 FPS where film is normally watched everything is moving significantly slower and you still get all the details in the frame. All. Of. The Details.

Does everyone reading this remember The Hobbit movies? They were filmed at 48 FPS. Remember how weird it looked? How off the lighting and costuming looked at times? Even the shot blocking was weird from time to time. This is due to the higher frame rate picking up details. There’s apparently some shots that had to be fixed in post production significantly because you could see the marks from the blocking on the floors where the actors were to stand. Every single detail becomes that much more crisp in 48 FPS. So what does a movie shot in 120 FPS look like?

I wish I could tell you, most theatres don’t even have the equipment to show a film in that degree of quality. My own was showing it in 3-D and 60 FPS, so a 20% increase over the Hobbit in frame rate and it looked…interesting. Daylight sequences appeared as if they were shot on green screen, yet shots on the open water the water was so pristine, so crystal clear it looked more real than I have ever seen. Action scenes, however looked different. They often benefit from a bit of motion blur, a bit of over or under cranking the camera, which is changing the FPS it is being displayed at. Filming at 120 already and displaying in 60 doesn’t give you any room to hide any flaws; but with Ang Lee directing they aren’t there in those shots.

There is a surrealist yet near photo real quality the movie brings, but some of that comes from the usage of post production color correction to bring up all of the colour values brighter and sharper for the benefit of the overall look. Many of the reviewers I checked out talked about how the high frame rate made the movie look cheap. I have to disagree. It made everything look cleaner. There was something just off true, but not enough to distract me as I was focusing on taking in all of those details. There were some unfortunate details true. There was an unusual desire to take close up shots, but have the eye lines just left or right of center rather than focusing on the audience.

Beyond the FPS the movie had one other major feat. Young Will Smith vs 51 Year old Will Smith. I understand they invented new software for this and it showed. Granted the high frame rate as mentioned left it feeling off in it’s own way, but if you moved past that and focused on the details  of the digital work on the younger Will Smith it was damn near perfect. We aren’t talking the Moff Tarkin or Leia in Rogue One, the nightmare fuel Bridges from Tron, or even young Michael Douglas in Ant Man – this is just amazing. Not quite perfect, but full on deep fake levels of skill and quality that are uncanny.

I could talk about the plot by David Benioff (Game of Thrones) and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps, Shazam!), with Billy Ray (Overlord, The Hunger Games) getting an additional credit on the screenplay. It’s about as bare bones as it gets with nothing really gained or given beyond what was revealed in the trailer. Nothing special to the dialogue, nothing special to the overall plot. I can see how much Benioff had to do with it as there are some really bad editing choices and places where the story just seems to forget how normal conversation works.

The acting from Will Smith is fine. Just fine. Its solid and almost perfunctory from him. If anything I did more or less feel he was embodying the role of someone who was trying to retire from the life. Benedict Wong as his friend Baron doesn’t get nearly enough to do. The breakout performance for this movie is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Thing 2011). She is *not* the strong female lead in a movie. She’s just a good character played perfectly.

TL;DR?

If you did not see this – you did not miss much to be honest. Its a solid OK, but mostly saved by the high frame rate and visuals for me. I don’t think audiences are ready yet for this as a regular technique, but until its pushed until it’s tested and used over and over again it won’t get better. From a technical perspective this movie is setting a bar for de-aging techniques and having two characters in the same frame and interacting and it looking good. For cinema to go anywhere we need people to continue to push the boundaries. As much as I dislike Nolan his technical proficiency raises the bar for everyone else. Ang Lee here shows some of the potential of the medium and also what can happen with time and practice.

I just wish it had been on a better movie as the studios will once again take the wrong lesson. They will take away that high frame rates and digital technology aren’t worth the investment, but they would be wrong. They are worth it. You have the tech in place now. It only gets cheaper with usage and development. You will make this something that gets better and bring people in just as James Cameron did with Avatar and 3-D.

A technically proficient director with vision, clarity, a *very* basic budget and a budget will do wonders.

Just not with this one.

Should I see it?

I want to say yes, but only if you fit two categories. 1 you can see it in the high frame rate. 2 you are a cinemaphile who is going to eat that up like Saturday morning cereal.

Would you see it again?

Yeah, but again with someone else and those two criteria in play. Also my girl crush on Winstead.

Buying it?

Well, I have a 4K TV, so yes. It *should* look lovely on that without motion blur and just be a smaller version of the cinematic experience.

Anything else to add?

Why did it have to be this plot? It was so uninspired and Lee’s direction of Smith and or Smith’s performance were so…meh through the majority of the movie its hard not to be bored. You should not be bored during a big budget action movie.

 

Darke Reviews | The Addams Family (2019)

The family I wish I had when I was a little girl. Yes, I was always this way. I think I may have watched every episode of the series even in color, and the cartoon and of course the Scooby Doo appearance.  I’ve covered both Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) movies in the past (almost 5 years to the day) and have not changed my opinions of them since. But we aren’t here to discuss those films, instead we are here to discuss the 2019 animated film based on the original comics and series. Some interesting trivia for you – the Addams family didn’t even have proper names from their first appearance in 1938 until the TV show in 1964.

Should this movie have gone without name too?

It makes me nervous to say the movie activates my three writers rule, with Erica Rivinoja (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Trolls) and Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles) on story, and screenplay by Lieberman and Pamela Pettler (9, Corpse Bride). They hit the mark and they didn’t on the story. Like it was amazing to see them go back to the basics and get 1964 style of the characters; while embracing some of the single frame comic panels feel as well; however, they missed on some of the parts that people love about the family. It’s like hitting a 20 on a dart board instead of the bulls-eye though, you got a good score but were just off the best mark. The story trudges through familiar territory for a family comedy drama, with teenage rebellion, the weight of family expectations, and the decisions to protect our children or let them grow. It’s fine I suppose, but doesn’t feel quite the same as the family the adults bringing their kids to this remember from the 90s or what I remember from the syndication of the 60’s show. Again it isn’t bad, it’s just not right like an ill fitting skin, er shirt. What?

The performances more than cover up the gaps with a power cast that is 100% a dream casting. Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, Ex Machina) as Gomez, Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde, Mad Max Fury Road) dropping timbre like a lumberjack (say it out loud) for the always elegant Morticia. Personal favourite actress Chloë Grace Moretz (Let Me In) as fan favourite Wednesday, breakout star Finn Wolfhard (It, Stranger Things) as Pugsley, Nick Kroll ( Secret Life of Pets 2) as Fester, and Bette friggin Midler as Grandma. Woof. It’s perfect. They nail it. I love them all – even Fester. Thanks to the 90’s movies Wednesday gets about a solid third of the movie to herself, and thanks to the original series the writers remembered Pugsley exists so he can get a driving plot. We also get solid and fun performances from Allison Janney (I Tonya, The West Wing) and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) as Margaux and Parker Needler. I have absolutely no complaint in any of the voice acting or performances. Everything and everyone was 100% on point without a single missed delivery.

Now, let us discuss the directorial and animation choices by Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs Aliens, Shrek 2) and Greg Tiernan (God of War and like all of Thomas the Tank Engine). While I didn’t agree with all of the choices made in the story, they made their choices and stuck to it. There are themes in the movie that they lean so far into they could have fallen over if they weren’t careful – but they were. They blatantly telegraph their opinions on certain matters in a way that makes me giggle. Among the choices is their target – young kids. This movie runs quick at 86 minutes with credits and it feels it. The movie is actually a bit too brisk and there were missed opportunities for dialogue between family members that could and likely should have been in the movie that would have added a few minutes but only barely broken the hour and a half mark to put in. It could have made some of the failings of the movie less impactful and instead turned some of them into absolute hits.

Then there is the animation

Credit: Charles Addams

They went back to the comics. They embraced it. They didn’t flinch and I love them all for it. When I say embraced I mean as I was doing my research for this review I found some scenes from the movie that are absolutely inspired by some of the single pane comics. There are some other great fan service moments that run through the film that will please those who remember like me, and simply amuse those who are only seeing things for the first time.

TL;DR

I’d love to tell you that this movie is an absolute must. Stop reading and go. I couldn’t do that in good conscience. It’s absolutely cute, endearing, and simplistic but I saw that in Abominable a few weeks ago. It again *IS* cute, endearing, and charming but I think I wanted more. I don’t think I realized just how young the target audience was for this based on the trailers and the 90’s movies left a pretty significant bar that it shouldn’t have to hurdle, but by virtue of human psychology does.

The Addams Family is an all together ookey movie that was a great way to introduce a new generation of children to one of the greatest, sweetest, and most loving families to ever hit comics or TV. It certainly won’t be for everyone who loved the 90’s movies and that’s OK too. I don’t agree with every choice that was made here, but I admire that they made a choice and didn’t go middle of the road or safe on some of the elements and symbolism through the movie.

So should I see it?

Yep. Take the kids. Take the whole family.

Would you see it again?

I have no regerts. So yes. Yes I would.

So you’d be buying it then?

Without even a second thought.

Ok but are you being too kind to it because its your aesthetic?

Maybe, but what I can say is we had a half filled theatre on a Thursday evening, most of whom were kids between 4 and 10. When the Addams Family theme kicks in for the credits hearing a row of children snap, clap, and sing a long tells me everything I need to know about the movie and if it delivered.

There’s enough for the adults in the audience, but this one is for the kids and they ate it up. Even the kids who were a bit noisy in the movie were noisy WITH the movie and getting excited because of it, not despite it.

That’s saying something and it’s something worth listening to.

 

Also as a treat, here’s the 1964 opening.

 

Darke Reviews | The Joker (2019)

I did not see this movie. I will not see this movie. The point of this “review” is to provide information as to why you shouldn’t go to this movie. The choice as always is yours.

Lets cover the first thing I keep hearing.

“But the acting is/looks so good”

Even based on the trailer, I knew this to be true. Joaquin Phoenix is an amazingly talented and award winning actor who has absolutely won those awards for work like in Gladiator, Her, Walk the Line, and The Master. He is also an eccentric, if you remember that phase where he said he quit acting and grew a beard and went …odd for a bit, but all for the movie “I’m still Here” and was a very long game publicity stunt. His prowess was never in doubt. What I saw on screen in the trailer was also never in doubt. He looked to be playing a complex individual, with hints of being on the autistic spectrum, possibly depressive, and with other mental health issues likely present. The man is a very good actor and there was never any doubt he could do wonders with the role. It also would then seem that this becomes yet another Hollywood picture where an otherwise neurotypical or cis/straight actor plays a non neurotypical, or queer role and gets lauded for his depth and his performance. (Note: I am not saying the Joker is a queer character, only that Hollywood continually casts people in these roles and awards them for it and profits off of it but doesn’t do anything for those who live it or are damaged by the films)

Go screw yourself Hollywood.

Now, let me add to that with this. Multiple news agencies reported he walked out of an interview when asked about this controversial movie. Let’s just use People.com (https://people.com/movies/joaquin-phoenix-leaves-interview-after-being-asked-if-joker-will-inspire-violence-report/)

In an interview with U.K.’s The Telegraph, journalist Robbie Collin asked Phoenix if he was worried the movie might “perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.”

“Why? Why would you…? No, no,” Phoenix said before leaving the room, according to Collin.

The Telegraph reports Phoenix left the interview for an hour as he talked to a press agent with Warner Bros., the studio behind the Todd Phillips-directed film. The outlet reports the actor returned and explained he panicked because he did not consider the question.

Did not consider the question?

Did not consider the question?

Since the announcement of this movie this has been the narrative in the media. How can you not have considered the question when making a disturbing, ultra violent, just over realistic depiction of The Joker in a country where we have more mass shootings than we do holidays. This reeks of so much privilege there isn’t a check big enough for me to say Check your Privilege you entitled rich boy. The concept that this character who is an abusive, homicidal villain that people look up to is being made into a feature film of his own to show some sympathetic origin story? Yes, movies, games, and comics do not incite violence. People incite violence all on their own. Since the horrific shooting in Aurora during Dark Knight Rises there’s been additional stigma around the character, maybe not rightfully, but it is there.

This is a character who has been around for well over 70 years now and gone through many incarnations, but has been getting progressively darker, meaner, and more twisted as time goes on in comic form, and still people look up to him as something to aspire to. Horrible people true, but when I look at the modern landscape of the US I ask myself this:

“What were you trying to tell with this movie?”

Writer Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile) and writer/director Todd Phillips (The Hangover series, Starsky and Hutch, Old School), clearly had some ideas in mind. Sadly those ideas are not anything we need.

Look – if you want to watch a white American male who is failed by the system and has mental health issues go on a killing spree – watch the news. It’s only been a few weeks since the last one, sadly, there’s likely another coming soon to someplace bullets should never be. While telling this narrative in the movie – are you portraying him as an abject villain? Are you demonizing those with mental health issues as potential serial killers? Are you doing anything NEW? Todd Phillips may think he is the new Sidney Lumet shooting another Dog Day Afternoon or Sam Peckinpah with Straw Dogs, but he isn’t. Those movies have been done.

The Joker is an absolute villain, he should never be illustrated at something to be pitied. If you remove him from his comic origin or styles then he is a pure sociopath with little difference from John Wayne Gacy except that he exists in an a fictional yet all too real world and wears the clown makeup while committing these horrible acts. If you actually wanted to do something interesting, you show how the system failed and make that the narrative, but you can do that and not have it be the Joker.

Instead though we know the movie that Phillips wanted to make based on his recent interviews.

“That’s the surprising thing to me,” Phillips said. “I thought, isn’t that a good thing, to put real-world implications on violence? Isn’t it a good thing to take away the cartoon element about violence that we’ve become so immune to? I was a little surprised when it turns into that direction, that it’s irresponsible. Because, to me, it’s very responsible to make it feel real and make it have weight and implications.”

It is absolutely responsible to make violence feel real and have implications, yet you can do that with any of a thousand original characters. Why this one? Why take away the cartoon element that is what keeps him as something to be hated and never ever sympathized with. Again the Privilege here is staggering. You might be saying how can I claim it is still irresponsible and privilege…please allow me to give you this quote: (source Huffpost)

“Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture. There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore — I’ll tell you why, because all the fucking funny guys are like, ’Fuck this shit, because I don’t want to offend you. It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it, right? So you just go, ‘I’m out.’ I’m out, and you know what? With all my comedies — I think that what comedies in general all have in common — is they’re irreverent. So I go, ‘How do I do something irreverent, but fuck comedy? Oh I know, let’s take the comic book movie universe and turn it on its head with this.’ And so that’s really where that came from.”

The result was “The Joker,” a dark superhero film with little CGI and a plot that the magazine described as a “critique of Hollywood” that centers around “an alienated white guy whose failure to be funny drives him into a vengeful rage.”

 

I am almost surprised he didn’t just come out and say SJW’s are ruining comedy. He might as well have. If you can’t make people laugh by punching up or punching yourself, you have no business in comedy or trying to entertain. Don’t want to take my word for it? Let me give you George Carlin in 1990 on Larry King Live thats been making the rounds recently, and I found via Forbes.

“Comedy has traditionally picked on people in power, people who abuse their power,” he says. “Women and gays and immigrants, to my way of thinking, are underdogs.”

“I think [Clay’s] core audience is young white males who are threatened by these groups,” he continues. “I think a lot of these guys aren’t sure of their manhood, I think that’s often a problem when you’re going through adolescence… and the women who assert themselves and that are competent are a threat to these men, and so are immigrants in terms of jobs.”

Now, I agree with Carlin  – Phillips has every right to want to make this movie. The studio, the actors, everyone involved had a right to want to make it.

I have every right to not want to see it.

I have every right to call him and everyone associated on the BS and hypocrisy of it. I have the right and ability to say “No”. I am tired of seeing men like this put on a pedestal and treated as poor unfortunate souls after they’ve murdered dozens of people. I am tired of this narrative in the world and I have no desire to see this in film. This movie is completely tone deaf at best and viciously demonizing of people with mental health issues at the worst.  No one really asked for this movie. The majority of fans I know prefer a nebulous Joker. No one asked for an origin story. No one asked for a sympathetic origin story. Goddess above no one asked for a visceral disturbing take on the Joker – we have The Killing Joke if we want that.

This isn’t a movie that should be watched. It’s one that shouldn’t have been made, but we have it now and have to make a call for ourselves.

Is this the thing you want to be successful?

Is this the story you want in your life?

Or..

Is this the thing you tell Hollywood – No more. You tell the Incels and Red Pills, you are not misunderstood heroes. You are not anti heroes. You are the villain and you will be treated as such with the scorn and derision you deserve.

 

So I will not be seeing this movie. I would ask you not support it either. I won’t judge you if you do and I hope you find enjoyment if you do, but I know I won’t.

I will see you next week with The Addams Family.

 

Darke Reviews | Ad Astra (2019)

Three movies in three days. Felt I owed my readers something, along with my own curiosity about the movies in question. We know how I felt about the pure sweetness of Abominable, while Rambo Last Blood the less I say at this point the better. That leaves us with Ad Astra. The trailer looks promising with a mystery to be solved, a potential twist or three. It sets up for a Science Fiction or Science Action piece pretty well.

Is it any of those things?

The movie being written and Directed by James Gray (Lost City of Z), with a cowriting credit from Ethan Gross (Fringe), explains much of my issues. Almost every complaint I had with Lost City I have here. There’s no connective tissue in the movie. It thinks it is asking big questions, but it never does. It thinks that giving us a dissassociative Brad Pitt that its touching on the human nature and it doesn’t. It thinks that every idea even briefly introduced then abandoned is something interesting and they end up being more interesting than the whole.

The only interesting of note in the movie is the visuals. I am hard pressed to be impressed though after movies like Interstellar or Gravity. It is pretty, it may even be accurate, but none of that makes it interesting. This movie is not science fiction, this is not science action, nor even science fantasy. It’s a family drama with deep space as a backdrop and not even a good family drama at that.

I am skipping the usual TL;DR on this one because I am just so done with this movie and how pretentious it is.  “The answers we seek may be just out of our reach” that is the tagline. Nothing in this film delivers on it.

No you shouldn’t watch it. I will never watch it again or recommend it be purchased. I was either bored or irritated through this 100 million dollar film. That isn’t a good thing.

You can’t claim to ask the big questions and have absolutely no point to any of it.

Darke Reviews | Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

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

Awkward.

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

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

Fine. Here you go.

Should John Rambo have stayed in retirement?

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

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

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

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

TL;DR

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

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

Should I watch it though?

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

Would you watch it again?

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

So thats a no on buying it?

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

Ok, thats a bit intense.

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

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

Not here.

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

 

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

Darke Reviews | Abominable (2019)

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

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

Was Abominable abominable?

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Should I watch it?

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

Would you watch it again?

Without a doubt.

How about buying it?

Absolutely.

This is so not your genre…

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

Fair. Anything else to share on this one?

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

 

 

Darke Reviews | It: Chapter Two (2019)

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

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

Or…should IT have not come back?

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

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

What doesn’t detract is the acting.

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should I see it though?

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

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

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

Would you watch it again?

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

You’re going to buy it aren’t you?

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

Is it as scary as the first? 

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

Any parting thoughts?

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

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