Editorials in the Darke | Sequel Bait

From my Facebook Wall:

So I was reading your review for the new Blade Runner (I just love to read your eloquent reviews!) And I was thinking… it seems to me, that it is far easier to make a whole new film then to attempt sequels. But what would you classify as the top ten sequels (any genre) in your opinion ??

This is kinda a loaded question, but one I want to take a stab at. Let me break it down into parts before getting to the meat of the question itself.

Far Easier to make a whole new film than attempt sequels

As a writer, and someone who is familiar with fan fic, it’s easier to work from a framework. Original ideas are hard only because as writers we tend to question ourselves far too often and think we are being too derivative of someone else’s body of work. This only gets harder as time goes on and more products are out there. Ex Machina could be seen as Blade Runner told with a cast of 3, but it isn’t quite that. Of course you also have reboots, in which you take the original narrative and try to modernize it or do something new with it. These have mostly poor reception with only a few actually even equaling the other work from a purely objective much less subjective standpoint. I could probably write a doctorate level thesis on that concept alone.

So then you come to the sequel itself, which has factors that can make it easier or harder when you take them into account:

  • Popularity of the property. This even has a further breakdown when you consider nostalgia.
  • Time between films
  • Budget
  • Success of the property
  • Property framework, or does the original work allow for organic sequels?

Frequently we find sequels being ordered with release dates before even a pen is put to paper to give a good script after a film does well in the box office. Usually this results in a train wreck as the creative process takes more time than is allowed, but the studio wants to get the money while people still care. Which leads into time between films. At 35 years Blade Runner is one of the longest times between actual sequels, but due to that it has built considerable credibility and nostalgia within the film community – yet it effectively bombed on its release. The popularity got it a sequel but also creates harsher judges of its quality on release. Some sequels are given less budget to work with all but damning them, while others are given exhorbitant budgets – which does not equal success as much of what made some things work was how the production had to get scrappy and do more with less, when given keys to the kingdom creativity can actually die.

Many films don’t leave room for sequels but we get them anyway. Carrie, Fright Night, even Star Wars could be considered a movie that had little room at the time for a sequel but here we are 40 years later. Others implicitly set up sequels which will never get made for good or for ill, Push, Jumper, and a lot of Young Adult films tend to fall into this category. Many reviewers (including me) and those in the critique business (Cinema Sins, Honest Trailers, Nostalgia Critic) even make jokes about how its cute they think they will get a sequel.

I could really go into this more, but for now let’s talk my top 10 sequels.

Rules:

  1. These are sequels I have seen both the original film and the sequel. If I haven’t seen it – it will not make the list, so you won’t see the critically acclaimed Godfather II on here.
  2. In many cases I am not stating explicitly that the sequel is better than the original, only that it is really good.
  3. I am including films that are part of series, but will only rate the second film against the first – so yes, you are going to see Empire Strikes Back on this list, but you won’t see Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Back to the Future 3, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or Fury Road
  4. If I am reminded of a film later, I may re order this list.

Ok so here we go. These are in no particular order, currently.

    1. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980) / Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

      Star Wars is an iconic piece of movie history. It defined the lives of tens of thousands of children and rewrote the rules of what summers and blockbusters were. It is, however, flawed. This doesn’t lessen it’s impact, but does give room for its sequel to be better. While it is clear Empire was written to be a continuation where Star Wars was not, despite protests to the contrary, it still holds as it’s own film. It successfully reintroduces the characters with no loss of personality, growth in character, and then expands the universe. The Empire becomes seen as the massive fist that it is vs. a single monstrosity. The sets, threats, and beats all just work better than they do in the first. Much of this can come from Kasdan’s writing, but also having the power of an established universe. You don’t need to explain as much, but have the luxury of using your footing to get more stable.

      Then of course there’s the ending. It would be easy to say no movie made now would have the audacity to end the way Empire does. While you still have some hope it *must* be acknowledged the heroes are playing from the back foot now and their positions are in jeopardy. This is really what gives it such staying power is that the heroes are not always triumphant. If you consistently win without sacrifice then the wins have no value. People, audiences, love to root for the underdog and if the hero is on top you just have a perfunctory win instead of a fight to come out on top in the next film. Empire delivers this and will always be remembered fondly for it.

    2. Color of Money (1986)/ The Hustler (1961)

      This will seem an odd one coming from me and it isn’t really a well known sequel. The original film has both amazing performances from Jackie Gleeson and Paul Newman. What the sequel does so smart is they introduce you to a very young Tom Cruise who seeks out a now aging Newman to show him how to shark. The music, the acting, the personalities all work and shows a logical dramatic evolution of the Newman character. It is actually rare to make a sequel like this where your original young star now plays the elder mentor. Its on this list as I think the formula here has opportunity for usage. It could and should have been used on the recent Flatliners film as Sutherland was in fact playing his prior character and would have been perfect to continue the story and mentor the new scientists on the risks.

    3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) / Blade Runner (1982)

      Just see my recent review and know that these films are amazing pieces of work and the sequel is the best possible sequel you can make from a movie that didn’t have implicit architecture to do so. Already news agencies are talking about how 2049 bombed. As a financial investment it certainly did, but this doesn’t keep it from being amazing film making.I was tempted to throw everyone by putting Kurt Russel’s Soldier on here as the sequel to Blade Runner, but as its merely a spiritual successor/side-quel set in the same Universe I couldn’t. But you should see it and I still consider it an amazing film for what it is.

    4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)/ Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

      The first movie of the remakes here has one of the greatest film surprises in it of all time with a single word uttered. The second capitalizes on the world and the conclusion and takes us a time into the future. The visuals become stronger as does the storytelling. It is great science fiction in that it makes us look at our own humanity and our interactions with each other through the lens of how Ape culture is being built, interacts with itself and the natural divisions that occur – THEN goes and adds humans into the mix to show when opposing cultures meet. Many deride movies like this for showing the evil of “man”, but ask the un-contacted tribe in the Amazon what they think of modern man. Wait, you can’t they were just wiped out by a gold mining company.We do have better angels, but movies like this remind us of what we do all too frequently overtly and unconsciously amongst our own society. This is why it makes my list as the movies put these issues in focus and do it well consecutively.

    5. Aliens (1986) / Alien (1979)

      Alien is one of the definitive horror films of all time. So how do you make a sequel in the genre? Trick question – you don’t. You instead turn it into a pulse pounding yet character driven action movie. Aliens does something that most horror and action films fail to do – let you get to know the characters just enough so that when they die you knew who they were and a basic personality. To borrow from Oceans 11 “He has to like you and forget you.” Modern films in these genres give us the same amount or more of disposable characters, letting you know they will die, but don’t bother to make you care so the stakes never rise. Think about Vasquez, tough as nails, reaching for her partner Drake. Sgt. Apone, Frost, Weirzbowski, Ferro. Most fans of the franchise know each of those names, but they were nothing more than tally marks against the things have gotten bad. Hudson, Vasquez, even Gorman are left with you so that when they die, you see just when it couldn’t get worse it does. Hicks is taken out for the last fifteen minutes of movie, but for a moment you worry he won’t make it because of how all the others were structured. Even Bishop is set up to let you worry and you do. Not bad for a machine. This is why Aliens is a fantastic sequel. It defies convention and sets up structure in a way that others should, but don’t learn from, on how to do horror/action/and or sci fi.

    6. Superman II (1981) / Superman (1978)

      Richard Donner cheated here. Both films were made in 1977 with Donner having filmed an estimated 75% of it prior to being removed from the project by the studio. Richard Lester replaced Donner, but to get the credit had to shoot 51% of the material – which meant much in the way of reshoots. While I do feel the Donner cut is superior and the troubled production does create some very interesting continuity errors in the movies, Superman II is quite likely the most remembered of the two movies. This comes down to Terrence Stamp as Zod and Reeves Superman being so much larger than life. It brings the otherworldly nature of Superman into the focus vs. the weird real estate story of the first. If I asked you to quote a line from either of these films easily 90% of people would say “Kneel before Zod” – and that right there is why it makes the list. The *fond* memories of it and how well it holds up 40 years later.

    7. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) / Star Trek: Generations (1994) AND Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982) / Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

      Ok this one is kinda a cheat as its the same franchise, but different generations. MP allowed for Khan where they reached into the series and pulled one of the iconic villains and resurrected him into one of the most iconic sequels of all time. The battle of wills and the sacrifice of friends to see it through. Sure the sacrifice was short circuited by another film, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of watching Spock die before your eyes.

      First Contact does similar and brings the analogy closer to Moby Dick (as the movie points out), but does so very well. It’s also the first time TNG really goes “Dark”; meanwhile telling two very different stories successfully. Both of these movies tend to top people’s Star Trek film lists and for good reason.

    8. The Dark Knight (2008)/ Batman Begins (2005)

      Batman Begins is the better comic book movie that remains true to its origins and is an overall better Batman film. The Dark Knight deviates keeping only trappings of comic book worlds but tells instead a gritty crime drama with a villain who is on par cinematicaly with Hannibal Lechter. It is better made as a film, where you could watch it and a movie like Heat in a film study of crime films and while there might be a few eyebrows raised the argument is easy to make.The loss of the more comic book aspects and too much of it shot during daylight do take away from the Batman nature of it, but with its billion dollar gross, near universal fan and critical praise The Dark Knight does need to be acknowledged as one of the great sequels of all time.

    9. Terminator 2 Judgement Day (1991) / Terminator (1984)

      What is it with Cameron making superior sequels -ignoring Pirhana II the spawning. In this case he expands on his own universe and gives one of the most financially successful sequels of all time. Terminator 2 largely holds up in every category from then til now even with its early generation CGI effects. There are some that don’t let’s be fair, but it works on a lot of levels in the FX department even now. Much was practical and then we have excellent character development like we saw with Empire Strikes back on how characters changed over time. Terminator gave us a world, a look and a feel. Terminator 2 capitalized on it. The sadness is that none of the sequels gave us John Connor like we were promised from T2’s battlefield shot or even a world as promised by Kyle Reese in the first.

    10. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) / Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

      I have a love for The First Avenger. Of the two movies it is the one I am more likely to watch just because it is a touch more on the feel good components (all things considered) and less on more modern horror shows. It makes me feel in the right ways. That being said, Winter Soldier is without a doubt the best sequel in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers had issues mocking it because much like Dark Knight it is solid film making. What it does better is keep within the strongest parts of its comic book trappings.

That’s my list. While I have a feeling I missed something and didn’t fully explain everything (I’m already at 2500 words) I believe these are the right choices. There were a few who didn’t make the cut. I may get inspired to talk about remakes/reboots in a future post to this. Special thanks to Jessica L. for inspiring this post.

Comment here on AmusedintheDark on Facebook on what you think should be on this list or if you agree or disagree.

Runners Up:

  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) / Pitch Black (2000)
  • The Wolverine (2013) / X Men Origins Wolverine (2009)
  • Hellboy 2 The Golden Army (2008) / Hellboy (2004)
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Darke Reviews | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I would like to ask you some questions.

First there are some disclosures. I have not read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, nor really any of his other works. I suppose this doesn’t surprise my regular readers as me reading books with movie ties is a rare bird indeed. Another important disclosure, I had never watched the 1982 Blade Runner until within the past two years. Sure I had seen parts, but never all the way through. I am not sure how I missed it (aside from being 6 when it came out) until recently, but it happened. I think Blade Runner is a seminal work of science fiction which has inspired an easy fifty percent of film in that genre since then. I think it is a master craft of film making in its art direction, style, acting, and story. I also think it is heavily flawed in it’s pacing and let us not discuss the consent issues. It is easily the pinnacle of Ridley Scott’s directing career, and while films like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven are also going to be long remembered – none of his later works will have such a cultural impact as the Blade Runner (or Alien, which needs to be acknowledged as well).

First question: Should Blade Runner have been retired?

It’s hard to make a sequel 35 years later. Very few have succeeded with such a large gap between films and even fewer have this long of a gap, but there is a lot that can help make it less painful. Start with bringing back an original writer from the first film, in this case Hampton Fancher, who has literally done next to nothing else in the writing realm, so I can’t speak to his style beyond what we know. We do know he has both story and screenplay credits. Beyond that we add Michael Green to our recipe. Green is a mixed bag having given us the Green Lantern movie we do not speak of in polite company, but also Logan, but also again the claptrap that was Alien: Covenant. He leaves me scratching my head to his impact on what is otherwise a nearly flawless execution of story; a story I won’t discuss beyond what you see in the trailer as spoilers duh. It feels like a natural continuation of the world of 2019, city speak, blade runners, and off world colonies. A world of billboards as tall as buildings, neon, concrete, and rain. I see the thirty years of evolution in a world that is dying yet fighting and clawing for its last breath through humanity and machine. Because of this execution, because of how the story played – it evoked emotion and thought.

Things movies forget to do in genre films often enough. Movies like mother! provoke. Movies like High Rise provoke, but they often can leave you feeling confused on how to feel about what you saw. You know it was art, but you can’t quite pin it. The same goes here, but with a defter hand. You know this is art when you watch it, but you can more eloquently describe how it made you feel or think without questioning the artistry in the process or asking “was that necessary?”.

Much of that credit needs to go to Denis Villeneuve (Happy birthday 50!); who gave us one of the best science fiction movies of this decade in Arrival. He is the only man I would want to direct this film, even as I watch it I know the hand on the wheel has precision and intention without being full of himself (*stares at Nolan*). The word that comes to mind to me at times watching how beats play out, how the camera works, how angles, and colour are used is sublime. Villeneuve is a director you need to watch for. He needs to continue making science fiction, I am positively begging him as he is able to blend technical precision, emotion, and thought into film – all the while using cinema for all it can bring to you. His staging is incredibly intentional and I noticed more than once certain patterns and trends in aspects of the film making. In my opinion, there is absolute reason why he choose to have it snow off and on during the running time. Don’t go looking for anything, it is nothing major – just an impression.

Let’s talk acting. I have heard people say this is Harrison Fords best performance. I am not sure if I agree, but it is certainly in his top 5. He does bring all his years of experience to bear and it is an absolutely solid performance, but I have to say he’s upstaged. Ryan Gosling, who I knew was solid after seeing Drive, gives what in my opinion is an Academy Award winning performance. There are people who may say after films like Drive or Only God Forgives this role isn’t a stretch and I would disagree with them. There is a lot of nuance to his role as our Blade Runner but also chemistry with one of his co-stars Ana De Armas. Anna plays Joi; and while I have not seen anything else in her body of work, I hope to see much more. She is engaging in her role and the interactions with Gosling are part of what made me feel so I must give credit where it comes due. Another new comer to western cinema is Sylvia Hoeks who reminds me of someone I can’t quite place. Her character Luv is as complex as any other and uses her time on screen to maximum effect. Other actors worth mentioning in their roles are Robin Wright (Wonder Woman), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), MacKenzie Davis (The Martian and an admitted girl crush), and Carla Juri (Brimstone).

Don’t even get me started on the effects. Villeneuve made the brilliant decision to go as practical as he possibly could. If someone told me he made real holograms for some of the shots I wouldn’t be surprised. Minatures, Bigatures, full sized props and set pieces absolutely litter this film like confetti on New Years Eve. It’s magnificent and grand. The computer effects that do exist are generally seamless and hold tight against the practical. There’s even a few shots I had never quite scene before and amazed me to see now. While some of those may have been done, I don’t think they’ve ever been done that well.

So by now I have heaped the praise. I would love to tell you it is flawless in all facets of execution. It is not. There remain pacing issues, which left me near the two hour mark thinking I had been watching for easily two and a half. Not nearly as prevalent (and with 100% improvement in consent issues) as the first was, it still didn’t quite hold every single shot. There are scenes and beats which could have been trimmed and no loss would have occurred. As my dearest best friend pointed out, if you are thinking about the run time while watching it – they got something wrong. Additionally, there are a handful of nitpicks I could make but it would be pedantic to do so. I have heard the word pretentious thrown around in regards to this and while in large part they are wrong, I did find Leto’s performance little more than that descriptor. The movie struggles to try to be as important or have plays like the first but doesn’t quite reach the shoulder of Orion.

TL;DR?

Blade Runner 2049 is well deserving of the praise it is getting. It is a well crafted, technically masterful, beautifully acted and directed film. It is just shy of me using the word Great when applied to it. I don’t know if it will ever, or could ever , be seen in the same light as the original.  I don’t know that this long after and with the nostalgia for the first and its myriad versions it would have a chance anyway; but then again who does expect it? The movie succeeds in a way that so few do especially in this genre in that it made me have rich emotions watching it. It made me think about what it was trying to do and what it was showing me. I left me thinking about it beyond this review on the drive home.

I have another listing for the spectacular films of 2017 amidst the slurry of releases this year and I will be surprised if anything coming out the rest of the year will reach the heights the films thus far have. Of course other films, such as Thor and Justice League will make lots of money, but will they be this GOOD. Will they make me feel a range of emotions or just turn off the brain for a bit. Even The Last Jedi, which is the only remaining film I am eagerly anticipating in 2017 will no doubt be good, but not this close to Great filmmaking. Great Sci Fi.

Next Question: Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the original, sci fi, curious, or otherwise want to have the potential for rich discussion with me or others around it – yes. Yes you should. This weekend. If you don’t like the original or thinking sci fi (thats ok too ya know) you may want to give it a pass or at least matinee.

Seeing it again?

Maybe. Probably.

XD or 3D?

The XD or other equivalent sound systems and screens do improve the movie from a standard definition and basic Dolby stereo. The 3D might be ok, but it was just fine without.

I take it then you are buying it?

No question in my mind.

So it made you feel?

Yeah and I am really happy about that, even if all the emotions involved weren’t joy themselves.

Last Question – you’re walking through a desert. Kidding. Whats next?

Next week I hope to see The Foreigner and Happy Death Day.

Why did you choose that poster for your image?

Because I am tired of teal and orange….long story. Might post on it.

Darke Reviews | Flatliners (2017)

It’s generally not a good sign for a movie when I don’t have any Thursday night screenings available, so alas the review comes tonight a few hours after the last show. Obviously I have seen the original a couple of times when it first came out and on VHS. It was beautifully atmospheric and though it came out in 1990 it still was riding that wave of 80’s that will mark it forever. I can’t say I have any particular fondness for it one way or another, I thought it was good and had a lot of stars of the day headlining it. Obviously I was curious when this one started dropping trailers a few weeks ago. I thought they were interesting and there’s always a glimmer of hope for a remake. So I threw on one of my favourite shirts, not realizing the irony and headed off to the theatre.

Oh the irony

You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime

So should they have resuscitated this film or left it for dead?

The story credit here goes to Peter Filardi, original writer of the 1990 film as well as The Craft. Which largely means this was brought to you by the writer of Source Code, which was interesting in concept if not execution, Ben Ripley has the screenplay credit. I cannot say if Filardi had any work on this one or not, but the core story he wrote remains intact with names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. In the 80’s and 90’s we didn’t expect a lot of our sci fi or horror films, not really. As an audience we’ve come to expect more because we have literally seen it all before. Which makes Ripley’s choices on script so problematic for me.

Flatliners has at least a half dozen different ideas, concepts, and notes of interest. Every last one of them is dropped in favor of keeping the beats of the original. With almost 30 years of separation between films and some seriously interesting plot threads introduced the movie fails to embrace those more interesting ideas and instead treads the already worn path to mediocrity. With so many advances in science and medical technology since then and the story premise presented by the characters it could have been explored. The reactions and results could have been explored. A characters existence in the story could have been explored. New consequences, new risks could and should have been taken. The movie took one, but it was the safest to take.

With remakes, and some sequels, writers can be condemned for violating the source material. Deviating too far from it. Conversely they can be criticized for not doing something new or original. What gets missed is the middle ground. You can be faithful to the original story, original concept, and original ideas; but also tell something new and explore new ideas separated by the times in production. From 1951 to 1982 – 30 years right? Compare The Thing/The Thing from Another World. The concepts are the same. There’s beats that are the same but these are vastly different films and both are applauded for what they did. The same could be said for The Fly (28 years), Dracula (1930s, 70s, 90s), Nosferatu (50 years). Outside of this genre, we have 3:10 to Yuma, Thomas Crown Affair, The Seven Samurai to Magnificent Seven, Oceans Eleven, True Grit. These films are all proof that you can tell the near exact same story and improve on it or at least make it different enough to be fresh without losing the heart of the material itself.

Flatliners, like most remakes in this decade, plays it safe. It stays in the lines and takes very few risks. As I said, it does take one or two, but they aren’t entirely successful. One I feel was a studio add to “amp the tension” but just looks ridiculous because I know they don’t have the fortitude to see it through.

This leaves me disappointed as a whole. Neils Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) is capable of more. The shots are pretty. The acting is sufficient, but there’s nothing new or unpredictable in those shots. Just adding to how safe and milquetoast the movie ends up being. Again I think he may have had some hamstringing from the studio on this, as well as being saddled with a PG-13 rating. Who do they think is going to see this? Go for the R and commit.

The acting is fine, by the by. Ellen Page is always a joy, even with a joyless character like Courtney. She has enough charisma to make the character likable as she convinces others to join her crusade. Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev have wonderful chemistry and are probably two of the most heartfelt performances in the movie. James Norton, largely known for his work across the pond and the voice of Dragon Age Inquistions Cole, turns a character that I should have hated and gives him something to work with. Kiersey Clemons rounds out our medical students with poor judgement. She has a decent body of TV work and will be the Iris West to Barry Allen in the upcoming DCEU films. She, like the others was cast well and holds her own. There’s absolutely no fault on acting here.

The fault lies with script and production. We’ve talked about how safe the script is. The remainder of the production isn’t nearly as risky, probably to keep that rating.

TL;DR?

Flatliners should have had a DNR signed if this was going to be the result. This is a bland, mediocre film that does nothing particularly new or interesting with the original story to warrant it’s existence. It tries to introduce stuff, but drops it a hot ten minutes later. I think at some stage of the production someone suffered partial amnesia to forget so many things; especially in a film about being haunted by the past.

Which I guess comes to the final statement on the movie. When you consider the subject is guilt over past sins, the weight of them on you and how they can kill you – I think that’s what happened here. No one involved had either the power or ability to say no. No one had the power to go could we do better. So they didn’t try and because of that – this movie will die.

Should you see it?

No. Its not badly shot or badly acted. It’s just irritatingly droll.

Huh?

I wanted more from this movie only because it kept showing me it was capable of it. It kept showing me things that were far more interesting than the final result and those things were never actually explored.

Ok so you aren’t seeing it again. How about buy?

Newp. There’s nothing here for me to both trying to remember.

So you hate it?

Not really. Just disappointed by the wasted potential.

So what’s next?

Image result for origami unicorn blade runner

Darke Reviews | Kingsman : The Golden Circle (2017)

I have not seen the movie. I no longer plan to see the movie.

Everyone close to me knows I avoid all other reviews, review sites, production blogs, insider blogs, etc. prior to a movies release. I base everything on my reviews from the trailer to screen only. I do not want to taint my review by production nightmares or amazing productions and horrible final products. I base them on what you promise me via trailer and what I receive when I put down my $11. So when the person closest to me in the world goes: “Hey this article ( https://www.themarysue.com/taron-egerton-kingsman2-scene/ )  has spoilers. I won’t be seeing this or any Matthew Vaughn movies”, an hour or two before I go see the movie; it causes me to take note.

So I read the article. I am both happy and sad I did. I can tell from other reviews I have watched between now and this writing that the overall product is a solid Ok to Good, but at least three have brought up a scene in question without getting into the details found in the article from TheMarySue. I was deeply conflicted for a bit.

The scene/issue: In attempt to plant a bug to track someone Eggsy has to seduce a woman and insert the object into her via her vagina. The shot is done as a point of view following his hand.  The actor who played Eggsy was actually uncomfortable performing the scene (and did not in the end).

Can I tolerate overt, unnecessary sexism in a film that uses it as a punchline for all of 30 seconds?

I mean I have watched plenty of things that are gratuitously sexist. Piranha 3D and 3DD come to mind right out of the gate. I have watched my share of movies with consenting (and even not consenting) adults having sex in them or women in lingerie having sex (Atomic Blonde , The Hunger ). So why does this bother me more than those?

If you are still with me reading this, lets start with Piranha. The sexism there probably kept more than a few women out of the theatres, including me. I have watched them since and realized that while yes it is still sexist that sexism is also the joke and the victim of the joke as well. It is so ridiculously over the top and consistent about it. It is just on the right side of lampoon. There are more than a few people who will enjoy the overt perversion of the film, but they are as much part of the joke as well. The title of the second one even plays into that, even as it earned derision from many. In the case of the Piranha movies they go in with the knowledge, intent, and desire to be comedy horror and the overt sexism is a literal constant part of both narratives. That constant is what makes it different.

Alright so what about films like Atomic Blonde and The Hunger. *sigh* Admittedly this one is a touch harder with these two mentions. Let’s address the Hunger. As a lesbian vampire film you can tell it was filmed by a guy. That said the act itself is treated well, and the seduction and succumbing to it is a functional and necessary part of the narrative with the associated consequences as part of it. Atomic Blonde is slightly different in that regard, but only slightly. It treats the bisexuality of the characters and the act slightly better; while still generally being filmed for the male gaze. Both sequences have a high degree of intimacy and passion that ultimately serve the characters and narrative rather than detract from it. They are naturalistic within the story and it would change the film and characters in a significant way if they were absent.

So why is this different? Because it is unnecessary. Like the Princess Tilde scene from Kingsman – what did it actually serve? Did you *need* to see the scene? Would it have worked had Eggsy closed the door with her smiling on the bed and Merlin looking over and going “Oh my”? Yeah. It would. The problem here with a POV shot of the hand sliding down her stomach and into her panties and then her? It adds to a pattern.

Vaughn is outright juvenile and sexist. He is a shock jock (DJ) like old Howard Stern. He does it because he can and wants to be bold and edgy. He’s a 15 year old with $90 million dollar budgets. Let me clarify.

The Tilde scene was on it’s own? It caused a minor murmur. Some folks didn’t like it, but that was it. Didn’t really hit the radar in reviews or news. Now add this scene with Poppy Delevinge’s character Clara. Most reviews I am coming across are bringing it up with a “why was this needed?” – more on that in a sec. Two isn’t a pattern yet. There’s more. Let’s look at Hit Girl in Kick Ass. I like the movie, love the character, but he has her drop the “C” word just to shock people. Then there’s the teen sex scene, true the actors were 20 and 23 at the time but they were playing high school kids. I am not against teens having sex, not even remotely, I am wondering why it needed to be filmed? There’s the treatment of Roxy in the first film – you know the one who actually became a Kingsman? True the narrative is about Eggsy and Harry, but you lessen the one of two named significant female besides his mother; who is not treated particularly well either, by leaving her off screen for much of the action?

My final point on the why was this needed for the Clara scene? If a script writer gives this scene to you as a director and producer you have the absolute right to change the scene and change how its filmed. You can keep it from being exploitative if you feel you need to include it. This fails here as Vaughn is writer, director, and producer. He wrote the McGuffin for the intent to write this scene and shock. He picked how it would be filmed. It literally only exists in this format to allow him to film it as such. The McGuffin could have worked any number of ways that didn’t require *this*. Yet here we are.

Where does that leave us?

I cannot in good conscience see this movie. I cannot in good conscience recommend it.

If this scene as described doesn’t bother you and you can enjoy the rest of the movie without this being a detractor – props to you. I am not going to judge people who don’t have an issue with it. I hope those that see this truly enjoy it and this doesn’t take away from it.

It would for me enough to taint the rest of the experience. Enough to taint how I think of his other movies, which I enjoy as well.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand for white washing and I have to here for this absolutely unnecessary sexist filming.

Is there anything else you are drawing a line in the sand for in the near future?

Trigger warning for pedophilia on this topic so I am using my spoiler roll over text to discuss. If you wish to see just highlight from here:

Yes. Jeepers Creepers 3. When the first two came out the internet wasn’t nearly as powerful as it is now. Information about people and their misdeeds not nearly as prevalent. I had no idea the director Victor Salva was a convicted pedophile. Not only committing the crime but filming it as well. I cannot support his works now that I know. Do I still enjoy JC/JC2? Yes – for what they are. You can enjoy something still after you find problematic issues with those who made it. It does not mean, however, you have to continue supporting them once you know.

This includes Polanski. I had no idea of his background at first. I know the victim wants the story to die so she can keep moving on. This is does not equate to absolution. Do I like the Ninth Gate? Sure. Can I continue to support him? No. Which means not adding some of his older works to my collection such as the Fearless Vampire Killers to avoid giving him any form of residuals. 

As a reviewer, topics like these do cause conflict. I have an objective role to perform in the watching of film and media and writing about it. I also have my subjective beliefs and values. I have to be true to myself and not support things I find problematic.

I hope you all understand and can join me for the next review.

Darke Reviews | American Assassin (2017)

I seriously am starting to wonder if people don’t realize they should shut the frak up when a movie is going. There are a whopping 18 people in the theatre which can house 9 times that easy. Old couple in front of me, wife keeps talking to the husband. Two women at the end of the row to my right I had to look across the 6 seats separating us to tell them their voice carries. Three rows behind me, there’s another elderly gentlemen explaining the movie and all the trailers to whomever he is with in stage whispers. This did not start off my movie going experience tonight on the right foot. It’s been a rather stressful time of late and I was hoping for a nice quiet theatre and a mediocre action movie to forget the world for awhile. Which movie? A lot never heard of it, but here’s the trailer:

I suppose the real question now is

Did I forget the world or should the world forget this movie?

In traditional Vampire Princess fashion, I have not read the book by Vince Flynn. The trailer tells me it is a #1 NYT Best Seller. Ok. Sure. So per usual I have no point of reference and get to judge this as a movie. The first thing worth noticing is the early September slot. If August is were movies go to die by the studios, September is where they are buried, and we do not speak of what happens with January movies. It is just…just ..no we do not speak of it.

Seriously the timing of the movie is an indicator of a studios faith. The movie immediately violates my three writer rule, bringing in the work of Marshall Herskovitz (Last Samurai, Great Wall) and Edward Zwick (same credits), Michael Finch (November Man, Predators), and finally Stephen Schiff (The Americans – tv series, True Crime, Lolita). With no research on this whatsoever, my guess is we have Michael Finch adapting another spy novel with passing success like his last work, possibly working with Stephen Schiff who has done some very good things, based on word of mouth, for the Americans series. Herskovitz and Zwick are brought in either before or after Schiff for additional work. My parsing on this is based on the fact the story is fairly solid, but has some leaps of logic only a spy novel can bring, with a final act McGuffin that strains credulity. The characters are only inches away from being mere shadows of a character rather than something more. The character arcs and subplots exist, but the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with them to tie the bow or tacitly confirm that there is an arc. You can read a lot into a few of the characters motivations once all the pieces are together, but you will doubt if the movie did it on purpose or not.

Beyond the base structure, the movie is your standard spy thriller from the point of inception of a new asset. It dips its toes into xXx territory with the recruitment of a civilian into the life who handles himself as well as multi year trained military. This is part of the movies internal logic you must accept, once you do, the ride is passable. If you can’t accept it you will have issues.

Director Michael Cuesta (TV only, some Dexter, some Homeland) doesn’t do anything new or inventive. That may be to his credit as I don’t think the movie could survive on more. He keeps the camera work and the direction simple. There are of course, unfortunately, quick cuts during some of the hand to hand fight sequences which detracts from the actors weight in the moments but I don’t know if he had a say in that or not. If so shame. If not, well still shame. He doesn’t give me a lot to discuss except for his execution of act three which mostly comes down to ideas bigger than your budget and capabilities. It’s just a solid…huh.

The actors on the other hand own this movie. The camera or the script do them no real favors, with one scene giving Sanaa Lathan’s (AVP, Blade) Irene Kennedy and Dylan O’Brien’s (Teen Wolf, Maze Runner) Mitch Rapp get a full 180 camera flip with each line of dialogue rather than a single medium shot to show them sitting across the table from each other. If you didn’t know better they wouldn’t have had to be in the same room. Thankfully, both of them command what the camera gives them and turn out very strong performances. Unlike Maze Runner though O’Brien doesn’t need to carry the movie on his all too adept shoulders. He gets Lathan and most importantly gets Michael Keaton. We all had the joy of seeing him in Spider-man Homecoming this year as our bad guy. Once again he gets to be a heavy, but on the side of subjective good.  You do not doubt who he is or his character for a moment. His relationship with O’Brien and their on screen presence, physical and charisma, are what drive this movie forward more than the plot. It makes me feel like I am watching a ‘sanctioned’ version of the Mechanic (Bronson version tyvm) and this is a good thing.  Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship, Wolverine) is in this. He doesn’t do badly.  He doesn’t get enough screen time to really break the curse that his been his career thus far. The last actor to absolutely make their presence known is Shiva Negar as Annika. She reminds me of how Sofia Boutella stole the screen (and our hearts) in Kingsman. She had physicality, charisma of her own and with her co stars, and sold her arc well. I would like to see more of her here in the states.

TL;DR?

This is pleasant pop corn fare. American Assassin spends just the right amount of time on its tap dance of being more than mediocre but not quite being something I could call “Good”. It’s solid, it had me invested. It avoid’s a ‘Murica F*** yeah trope I thought it would hit, but doesn’t get too preachy on the other side. Design or accident I can’t tell. The actors are solid, the story is passable. American Assassin won’t change anyone’s cinematic going world, it won’t win any awards; but it does maintain a very modern approach to the spy genre.

It definitely deserves better than it is getting in the box office, but who could have expected IT to dominate. I think of movies like Columbiana, Hanna, 3 Days to Kill, and it deserves better than these got. Though it could be argued those movies are what killed this genre. It ranks up there with Point of No Return / La Femme Nikita, and the Mechanic with a touch of greats such as Spy Game.

American Assassin could have been better, but I promise you it could have been far far worse than it was. It stays within the guardrails and though it tries once or twice to be more it doesn’t do damage to the genre in it’s effort.

I enjoyed my time with it and at the end of the night isn’t that what movies like this are for? Enjoyment.

Should you see it?

If you were curious yes. I think you will get your monies worth. I think I did.

Will you see it again?

Truth be told, not in theatres, but that is mostly due to other things coming out and limitations of budget and time.

Are you going to buy it?

Yeah I think I am

What’s coming this week we should look for?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Predictions?

A rushed sequel for a movie far better than anyone could have anticipated? If Kingsman was Smokin’ Aces, I think Golden Circle will fare better than the others sequel; but I am not sure it will resonate nearly as well. I am hoping I am wrong though and I fall out of my chair laughing again.

Darke Reviews | It (2017)

It’s been 27 years since I read Stephen Kings IT. No joke. It was freshman year in high school and me and my friend Darrin were reading and sharing our King stories and favourites. I bet if/when he reads this post he will remember the days we both would go – “Late last night and the night before.” It’s also one of the few times I had read a book before the film, when we were unexpectedly graced with the TV Mini series in November 18, 1990. The mini series gave more than a few people coulrophobia (fear of clowns), but looking back its hard to see why when you remove the nostalgia glasses. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mini series but it doesn’t really hold up all that well across the board now as Nostalgia Critic pointed out deftly a few years ago. Parts yes were really well done, but very made for TV and very PG. Here we go with a theatrical release and an R Rating (I hope)

Should IT have stayed in hibernation?

So to be very clear I have little recollection of the book, aside from one or two things. This will be judged as the movie itself. I won’t be comparing it to the 1990 version either as these are incredibly separate beasts; which while there’s a nod or two here and there are structurally, tonally, and behaviorally different films. Make no mistake this is not the IT you grew up with. The beast evolved with the times.

Now as I understand it, considering I try to avoid insider info now, the core screenplay was by Cary Fukunaga, writer of Sin Nombre and Beasts of No Nation. It had additional work done by Chase Palmer (no relevant credits I could find) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation). As I can’t remember the source material sufficiently I can’t speak to its adaptation. Things I do remember such as the house on Neibolt Street, made it into the film and were quite well done. What struck me most is how well they balanced the horror, the dialogue, and the humor in the film. There were times people laughed, people shrieked (yes shrieked), and even applauded during the 2 hour run time. I even triggered the applause during one scene; which moved like the wave in a stadium. The movie was resonating with people of all ages in the crowd from the teens to the elderly. I question the logic of the person who brought the 10 year old though. The writing was solid through and through with tension building, release, and even breaks to laugh at well timed and well placed humor. It is not flawless however, as there does seem to be some loss of fidelity to the Losers club. Mike, and Stanley don’t feel as fully formed as they could be. I think Mike suffers the most from this as some of his arc from the 90’s was moved to Ben. You do get a sense of who he is, but it isn’t remotely the same level as what Bill, Bev, or Ben get. You do get your Losers club, but they aren’t 100% realized.

That could potentially fall to material on the editing room floor or decisions made by director Andy Muschietti (Mama). This is one of the few failings of the film. It could be script, could be director, could be editors. Muschietti nailed it otherwise. His vision for the camera with director of photography Chung-hoon Chung (Old Boy – the original, The Handmaiden) were nothing less than inspired to me. Dutch angles used appropriately but not overused. All of the basic shot types are used with precision. Not once did I feel “oh this should be been done as an over the shoulder” or “too close for no reason. go to a wide here.” The blend of diagetic and non diagetic sounds, music used within the material the characters can hear vs music for the audience, worked well especially during the opening credits. What impressed me most is the methods in which tension was built. The jump scares are few and far between yet the movie twists that emotional rubber band to its breaking point a number of times. Those familiar with the previous work will expect beats that never come and get a handful that make you question how much they are changing. All of this to the movies credit.

None of it would work without the kids though. Jaden Lieberher (Book of Henry, Midnight Special) has a lot of weight on his 14 year old shoulders as Bill. He delivers. He has the chops to be the charismatic leader of the Losers, so desperately searching for his little brother when everyone else tells him no. Jeremy Ray Taylor (bit roles in Ant-Man and 42) is our new kid Ben. His fear of Henry, his isolation, and his feelings are shown well through action as much as dialogue. Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, turns it up to 11 in her performance. The 15 year old actress is both strong and vulnerable. Bev is the rock for the group and Lillis shows the range of the character well. Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler from ST) is our mouth Richie Tozier. This is a thousand times different than the Seth Green performance from 1990 and quite honestly superior in every way. Jack Dylan Grazer, another 14 year old, plays our Eddie Kaspbrak.  This kid has star power, quite possibly the “weakest” of the Losers, he doesnt let that stop him and its hard to turn your eyes to focus elsewhere when he speaks. Sadly, as mentioned before Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon) and Wyatt Olef (Stanley Uris) don’t get nearly enough to do. They sell their fear. They are part of the Losers no doubt. You just don’t have as strong as a sense of them due to the flaws above, but the actors did their absolute best.

On a more technical standpoint, the movie really nails the 1980’s in the vein of the aforementioned Stranger Things. Its the end of the 80’s but rather than overload us with toys, phrases, pop culture, and pure nostalgia of the time they use it as set dressing for atmosphere. There are little things here and there that hit those points, but they aren’t a focus and the movie is all the richer for it. I looked to my friend Tony who I saw it with tonight (thanks to his screener tickets) a few times and went “I remember doing that.” That’s how you hit 80’s. It was perfect. Additionally there’s a cute little time table through the film told via the marquee on the movie theatre. Not a spoiler, just if you want to know “specific dates” that’s how you can tell. Beyond the 80’s the movie needed to be tension filled through sets, lighting, and make up. It was. If anything the flaws that exist are minor. There’s incredible attention to detail on Pennywise…oh wait I didn’t mention him in the actors.

Bill Skarsgård has given our favourite clown new life. Having watched him in Atomic Blonde (twice now) I was surprised how much I lost him to the character. That is a very good sign. He does some interesting things with his voice, face, and body language that aid in making this Pennywise absolute nightmare fuel. I was asked if he was better than Curry. Short answer is yes. Long answer: Its a different character with a different movie that comes from the same source material.  The choices in the technicals surrounding him (Costume, Make up, FX) only add to make him one of the most terrifying characters I have seen in awhile.

TL:DR?

IT may be the scariest movie I have seen in a very long time. This is horror done right. This is King done right. This should be in the top 5 list of any King movie list. It ranks with Carrie, The Shining, and even Shawshank. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is extraordinarily well made, trope avoiding, and drenched with atmosphere (and blood during one scene). It has gore, but doesn’t overdo it instead letting the starkness of it offset the performance by the kids. The Losers club are performed in their A game and feel totally natural.

IT comes with my highest recommendation and while summer 2017 may have been the most disappointing for Hollywood in 25 years – this movie is surely a sign of what can happen when you treat a property with respect. Wonder Woman, Logan both show this as well. I hope Hollywood takes note of what worked so well from casting, to direction, to script, to film style. This movie works.

Should you see it?

If you have a fear of clowns or horror movies in general? No. Otherwise – Yes

Do you plan to see it again?

Yes. Absolutely.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

Ok, but did it scare you the Vampire Princess?

Yes. It’s a pleasant feeling I had long since forgotten in movies.

Parting thoughts?

The 90’s one will have a soft spot in my heart. This is just well done and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Wait….sequel?

*grin*

Darke Reviews | The Dark Tower (2017)

One of the first not for kids books I remember reading cover to cover was Stephen King. Now granted, it wasn’t heavy reading at 127 pages, but I was 9 at the time so there’s that. The Mist is still one of the scariest stories for me but that’s because I heard it as a book on tape after reading it. Sound effects and regular mist/fog in Maryland help. I read IT, and The Stand I read in church (the irony isn’t lost), Christine I got in trouble in 9th grade for reading instead of Gatsby. I could never quite get into his work in the 90’s though; something had changed in them that stopped engaging me. It was then I came across his mass market paper back of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I think I read a hundred pages or so into the Dark Tower, but it didn’t grab me. So it, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass,  The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower itself went unread. That means my usual rules of not having read the book get to apply here. The real question though is:

Did someone finally do Stephen King right?

This movie has been in development hell for as long as I can remember paying attention to movie development cycles. A lot of people claimed it was unfilmable over the years as it’s changed directors, writers, producers, companies and so on. So it appears they did the only sensible thing – they made an original story in the universe set after the books? Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either. The movie invokes the three writer rule, with an add on as we have four. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who no major directing credits, but does have screen play for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2009, gets the last credit. Another Dane by the name of Anders Thomas Jensen has the next credit; who has no credits I recognized from this side of the pond. Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider Man 2) and The 5th Wave who is a frequent collaborator with our final writer the dreaded Akiva Goldsman. When I first started in this business, I read a lot of insider sites and other reviews. Goldsman’s name was dreaded. I couldn’t figure out why at the time. In retrospect I understand. Yes, while I absolutely adore Practical Magic, he is responsible for Insurgent, I am Legend, Angels & Demons, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space – and the latest much maligned (deservedly) Transformers The Last Knight.

Goldsman is poison for movies when pen touches paper. As a producer it doesn’t get much better with most of his films being either mildly entertaining to just bad. Mostly on the bad side like this years King Arthur. Why am I picking on Akiva? Because I think I figured out what happens. What it is he does and it happened here. It isn’t so much mediocrity as an art form, but being so unoriginal, so bland, so unwilling to commit to a risk that the project is a colossal meh. I had a conversation just this afternoon about the DC movies and how so many movies today have tonal quality issues. They don’t know what they want to be – is it a comedy, a horror, an action, a sci fi? Studios are afraid of picking one and sticking to it, so they bring a new writer in to ‘polish’ the script and add their own tone. What you end up with is a muddled uninteresting mess.

That’s what happened here. Goldsman and company made a movie so safe, so middle of the road to try to appeal to everyone that it will appeal to no one. Akiva Goldsman is the Syndrome of the movie industry. It’s PG-13, when it could have been R. It has little blood. Little watchable action. Little engaging. Is it Sci fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a western? Is it horror? All and none of the above are true. It wants to be everything and in the end is nothing. The dialogue loops on itself more than a few times or has no context to care so you are left wondering why things happen rather than following them happen.

I don’t think a young inexperienced director like Arcel could handle it; but then again I am not sure Ron Howard (another producer on this) could have saved it had he been in the directors chair either. The shots are bland and reused. There’s nothing interesting in the camera work, the staging, the stock shots of New York, the creature designs (when you see them). It’s either too dark, too jostly, or too fake looking to care. Nothing has weight and you can’t buy any of the risk; thus when loss of any kind occurs nothing can be felt. The most interesting shots of action are what you get in the trailer with nothing more or less fascinating delivered beyond that.

I don’t think I want to talk about the actors. Elba is fine as The Gunslinger. McConaughey is fine as the Man in Black; honestly one of the better things in the movie.. Tom Taylor, as the kid Jake is ..passable. He’s at least not annoying?

It’s technically a very poor movie. As mentioned before there are so few engaging camera shots that one would find above basic. There’s action with no weight. There’s just nothing to work with here to even pick apart. If anything the movie just expects you to follow along and I guess that is ok?

TL;DR

They have forgotten the face of their fathers.

The Dark Tower is a mediocre movie. It’s milk toast. I had an older couple behind me on the ride down the escalator who HAD read all the books and laughed with me when I said it wasn’t good.  It  may have calls that fans of the books know, but I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the fact that in an attempt to not ostracize people who haven’t read the book they failed everyone.  As I said in the main body, it wanted to please everyone and in the end pleases no one.

I think I really would have liked to see the book as a movie or even an adaptation of the book but this wasn’t even that.

Should you see it?

No. Not even Matinee, sorry.

So not buying it?

If I thought burning it as an offering to the things outside the wheel of the tower would keep movies like this from being made – I might.

Anything even remotely fun in it?

Playing the “Guess the Stephen King reference” as the movie goes on. I got Christine, Cujo, The Shining (literally same verse), 1408, It, and Misery. Did I miss any? Wait you aren’t seeing it (I hope). Damn.

Ok so what next?

A few weeks off as there’s nothing in August after this. It’s the graveyard of summer movies typically and this summer (and movie) exemplifies it. I might throw a review or two up of random things like The Core, or the new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie.

 

Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping for something here, but I can’t even offer a ray of hope. King has said this line is one his best: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I agree. It’s intense. It’s engaging. It’s evocative and intriguing and the movie is none of these things. The work that is Kings magnum opus has come to this and I am sorry for Mr. King today.

Maybe “It” in September will be as good as we all hope it is.