Darke Reviews | Wonder Woman (2017)

So here we are, but where have we been to get here. A quick summation of events in the past few years in table form:

Marvel Movies DC Movies

Ok with me so far? Yes, Suicide Squad was absolutely entertaining but it cannot be argued that on critical analysis it is riddled with flaws – mostly in the editing department. Batman v Superman was nothing short of a train wreck, even the longer cut which made some of it more bearable didn’t make it as a final product something anyone should be proud of. That being said, something glorious was indeed found in the carnage of that film. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. I said it before and I will say it again – I am a fangirl of hers since she first walked on screen in a Fast and the Furious movie.

So the real question you are here to find out – has DC gotten it right yet?

Three writers, in addition to William Moulton Marston who created Wonder Woman, have credit on the film. Story by Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs, and Allan Heinberg. Heinberg gets the sole screenplay credit so what we finally got was the last touches he put on and the orders from on high. If we take a moment to look at Fuch’s work, as Snyders work is well known and often lamented, he is responsible for the garbage of a movie that was 2015’s Pan and the 2012 film Ice Age: Contintental Drift. Don’t remember it? You didn’t see it. This leaves us Heinberg, who is  primarily a TV writer with a handful of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Party of Five, and the OC.  So based on how I chose to write this you might be thinking “this is going to be horrible.”

You’d be right – except you need to replace going to be with should be. It should have been horrible as Snyder has not shown any capacity for character focus or actually understanding characters at their core and why people like them. Fuch’s work on the disaster Pan showed no real understanding of world building or character either. Yet, somehow these three men did it. They told a, mostly, cohesive story that delivered us the Wonder Woman we deserve and need. I think Heinberg may be part of the reason we get this.

Wisely set during World War One, the great war, the war to end all wars as it was called, we are introduced to Diana princess of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons. They live an idyllic life of peace and beauty yet continually prepare for a war that may never come. Until it does with the appearance of Steve Trevor followed closely by a small legion of German soldiers intent on killing the American. The battle is joined and Diana ventures into Mans world to try to fight for those who must be protected with Steve at her side.

The story is relatively simple as they go, with a McGuffin and a lofty goal. What they did unlike so many other superhero movies, including Marvels, is watch their scale. Yes it was World War I, but they made it smaller than it was and kept the stakes (even as high as they were) to something we could understand and relate to. There is another success here, but I think it belongs to Patty Jenkins, the director as much as anyone – more on her in a bit. The movie has its action beats but it for once in the DCEU focuses on the character we want to see. Diana. She’s the focus. Period. They let you get to see her wonder, her frustration, her anger, and the depths to which she can feel. They let her personal interactions with people last more than two seconds. Wonder Woman is a warrior yes, but she is also diplomat, a caretaker, a nurturer, and a sign of hope. They got that. They let her be that.

In Man of Steel, they had to tell us “it’s not an S, it means Hope” and we laugh at them because they had to SAY it and didn’t for one moment show it. Here – they show it. They live it. They do it. It’s never said.

So let’s talk Patty Jenkins. Not only do we have our first big budget sole female lead superhero movie, but it also has a woman director at it’s helm. Jenkins directed the acclaimed 2003 film Monster with Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, since then she’s mostly done a little TV and passed on Thor 2 as she wanted to tell  different story than Marvel did. I am glad she passed so she could do this. Comparing this to all the other DC films there is real character here. Sure not everyone is fleshed out as much as I want, sure some elements are paint by numbers, and absolutely can we see Snyders influence – but we also see Jenkins. A director who is on the set with her cast and crew physically interacting with them and giving them the guidance she feels with an undaunted passion. There are a number of articles on how important Jenkins time in the directors chair is that are worth reading – here at the Washington Post and here at THR the Hollywood Reporter. Sexism is alive and well in Hollywood, and here we are with the most expensive film shot by a woman.

She also took a page from Richard Donner that Snyder missed the memo on. You can do an origin story and let us get to know the character and like them. Let them *show* us why they are a hero by their choices and actions rather than why they aren’t by the dialogue and moping. Show don’t tell. Let us see the action. Let it be kinetic but let us see it. Let it feel SUPER HEROIC. Let it be magical and impossible – it’s ok. We’re dealing with the Amazons here. Jenkins did all of this.

Of course you need actors.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Full Stop. This cannot be argued. She’s everything she needed to be and more. Nothing more needs to be said about her – she’s absolutely perfect in the role.

Chris Pine is an excellent Steve Trevor, charming, fearless, but believable as a man dealing with the unbelievable. He doubts as much as he shoulder, but trusts as much as his character and heart are supposed to. Connie Nielsen, who I haven’t seen since 2003’s fantastic film Basic,  is Hippolyta and knocks it out of the park bringing what I expected of such a character to life.  Robin Wright (House of Cards), Danny Huston (American Horror Story), David Thewlis (Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin) , Saïd Taghmaoui (GI Joe Rise of Cobra), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), Eugene Brave Rock (The Revenant), and Elena Anaya (Van Helsing) bring good performances to screen in multi national cast that is also worth noting.

Alas, the movie does have flaws. The final act fight is a touch green screen heavy. Some of the other green screening doesn’t work well. I think Hollywood needs to find another way – something between green screen and front projection. The lighting never quite matches – or they need to move their green screen work from inside with the studio lights to outside in the sun – so the lighting actually matches. There are some dialogue choices, some thinness to characters, some of a few different things in the production that may distract someone looking for flaws; but with few exceptions these can be overlooked.

TL;DR

In what is currently my longest review this year (1270 words as of this) I can sum it up simply

Wonder Woman is what we have been waiting for DC to make.

Not just because she is the first big budget female solo superhero film. Nor because she is in a list of less then 10 other films that fall under the solo female lead in a super hero genre. Nor because this is a sign for so many female directors in Hollywood that they can potentially make a tentpole film that is amazing. Not for any of those reasons alone but for all of them. Wonder Woman is just good people. It is a good film we need to support. We need it to be as successful as it deserves to be. It needs us and we needed it.

Should you see it?

Yes. I plan on seeing it at least once more this weekend. I’ll post to my personal facebook page as to when/where if folks want to join me.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No doubts.

Are you blinded by fan girl of Gadot or Wonder Woman?

No. Look it has flaws. Plenty of them but it still goes beyond them.

Guys – this is a film to watch. It has action. It has heart. Warner Bros finally did it. Do I think they will learn from it? No, but a girl can dream and no matter what I say as a unpaid but trying to  be professional reviewer there’s something more important at work here.

Representation Matters

This is an actual quote from the woman next to me in the theatre when I asked did you like it?

“I am so emotional right now. You don’t see that. Its just the dudes. Not the girl kicking ass. She was amazing.”

51% of the planet now has the chance to see themselves on screen – alone – as the hero we need right now. This is important. This movie is important.

Please support it.

Darke Reviews | Alien: Covenant (2017)

I have many fandoms. So once again I will say these words, “I am a fan of this”. I have read quite a few of the Alien books, comics, and other media over the years; at least until the late 90’s. I could, and can still, recite to you from memory the names of every member of the crew of the Sulaco and the Nostromo. I called one of my ex girlfriends Ripley as a nickname. I have literally watched every Alien movie more than once, multiple cuts of them, directors cuts, “assembly cuts”, I’ve collected deleted scenes and for awhile I kept trying to hunt down the laser disc (ask your parents kids) of Aliens just so I could see the extended death scene of Burke, Carter J.  I also don’t think Prometheus is a bad film. I see what the director was trying to do and have a feeling that he may have seen the death of his brother Tony coming and was trying to cope with it in his question for whats next, life and death, and being angry at your makers. I also get why this movie divided the fans, some forgive it (I don’t), some hate it (I also don’t).

So how was it’s sequel?

Four writing credits. That’s never a good sign right? Right. The movie has a story by Jack Paglen (Transcendence) and Michael Green (Logan, Green Lantern); which was converted to screenplay by John Logan (Skyfall, Last Samurai) and Dante Harper (first writing credit). So we have a mix of good, bad, and holy hell this is bad – which explains much. The movie decides to lift from Percy Bysshe Shelley and so shall I in excerpt:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

It’s ironic really that a friend of mine and someone I look up to Satyros Phil Brucato posted today on Facebook about the responsibility of IP holders and writers in relation to their products; his is specifically about the dumpster fire that is Marvel comics right now. I find that both Ozymandias and Satyros hit the problems I have with this movie.

*pulls up a chair and stares at the Hollywood writing room*

I am a writer. I know what you do is very difficult. I have yet to finish a novel. I have yet to finish a script. You have done these things. I applaud you. BUT – when you are making a thing, based on a previous thing…there are dangers. The waters are not uncharted, many have navigated them successfully, far more have crashed upon the rocks of fandom. As Satyros pointed out,

When you work with legends… even, perhaps, create them… those legends are bigger than you are. You might legally own the intellectual property rights to a given legend, but the power of that legend belongs to its audience. A legend holds that power because it speaks to human needs, fears, aspirations and dreams.

The Alien series, the creature, the world it is legend. You, even its creators such as Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and the original director Ridley Scott – have a responsibility to the fans. Yes, you as owner and creator can do anything you want with it. I do not argue that. Your changes do not devalue my love of the original works, such as Alien and Aliens – both of which can easily be classified as near perfect films. What you do though when you try to retcon (Retro-Active-Continuity …ie changing the history you already wrote to …do something) your own world is leave us confused to the status of your world.  When you ignore literally every work that has come since the original you take a huge risk of alienating the fans. Jurassic World took the risk and didn’t do so badly with it – but the sequels of Jurassic Park are not looked upon with legendary eyes.

Alien and Aliens are. The links between the universes of Alien and Predator are. The comics, the books, all of it – people have passion about. There are people who have done full blown physiological studies of both the Xenomorph and it’s cycles as well as the Yautja (Predators).  You had a chance, you choose to do something …else with it; you changed your own history, science and so much else. Something you had a right to do.

 

The point is, this product in my opinion is nothing more than a disappointment. You told nothing new. You didn’t scare us. You didn’t make me care if the characters lived or died. You changed so many of your own rules and so much of the backstory people know and care about – nothing ends up mattering.

This is what brings us back to Ozymandias – look upon your work and despair.  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay.

I can talk about the acting – its fine. No one stands out to me. Fassbender can act we know this. Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) can have a range of emotions, but I never saw her evolve. The character I was introduced to is the character I ended with. There was no metamorphosis of the character – she is a shadow of Ripley and that is not the fault of the actress. I have a new respect for Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and want to see him act in more straight roles like this one. They are fine. They are all fine.

The effects are…good. Mostly. Every effect is very clean and looks in frame. I appreciate the effort there. It should be noticed and applauded by anyone in that industry and looked to for guidance in the future. There’s a lovely mix of practical and CG that works very very well. However, some puppetry looks…wrong to the point of being nearly silly.

Production value? Yes. Very high. Very well framed, crafted etc. The biggest complaint is the film is too dark. It’s been colour corrected to be darker but is also washed out because of it bluring the lines of contrast at times making it difficult to see what, if anything, is going on – but not in a way that illicits fear.

TL;DR

This should be the last of the Alien franchise for awhile. Mr. Scott, please leave it alone. Fox. Please leave it alone.

If your intent was to make a movie that was gothic horror, or horror at all like the original – you failed.

If your intent was to touch on the action and sci fi horror/action of the sequel – you failed to deliver.

If your intent was to create a science fiction movie that raised questions and could allow for debate or good conversation – you missed your mark.

Hell, you even failed at making a continuous sequel that makes sense. You had no set tone. You had nothing compelling. The characters were erasable.

You created instead bland mediocrity that served no purpose and delivered no meaning or subtext – or entertainment value.

So…should you see it?

Look, yes, I am a fan girl. But I do my best to judge a movie on it’s own merits. It does a few things interesting but fails in every other regard to make me care or invest myself in the story. Guardians of the Galaxy with a terribly weak story pulled that off, so something like this should have been able to without trying.

It didn’t.

So no – don’t see it. It is in a word: Disappointing on every level.

How do you rank it in the franchise?

Well…I’d watch it before the theatrical cut of Alien 3? At least the AVP movies and Alien 4 were enjoyable in their badness. This is just bland.

So not buying it?

No. Not even on a dare. It just would anger me more.

Wow – you are angry?

Yes, because I went in with no expectations after the last one. I went in with a gleam of hope it could be better. I was upset by how little this left me caring.

So what next?

I am not reviewing Pirates 5. Didn’t see the 4th. don’t want to see the 5th (who asked for a 5th?). Wonder Woman on June 2nd is my hope now…I must be crazy.

 

This is Jessica Darke, last survivor of Alien Covenant signing off.

 

Darke Reviews | King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Preview screenings, yay! No one polling on exit? Odd. There are some movies I have seen in theatres I do not have reviews for. There are some, like High Rise, that are intellectually very good but I couldn’t solidify my emotions on it to write a review. Movies I have boycotted for Hollywood BS that don’t get a review but something else instead. Movies that are so mediocre that I cannot bring myself enough emotional weight to put words to screen and write a review (the final Divergent movie).

Then there is this one. A movie you probably didn’t even know was coming out and I was tempted to avoid writing a review lest it creep into your consciousness like some kind of mold or parasite from a bad sci fi movie and make you aware it exists. I would rather see it fall into the unseen reaches of movies that die with not a scream, but a whisper. Suffice to say then you get a review so you know to avoid this.

So what went wrong?

Let’s begin with the script. The rule of three is invoked. Story by David Dobkin, who has a story credit on one of my most reviled movies since I began writing R.I.P.D. and Joby Howard (Awake (2007)).  I really want to know how Dobkin can keep making movies, or more to the point ruining them. I am concerned now that I see Howard is a screenplay credit on The Flash, the DC movie.  But we’re not done yet as Howard gets a screenplay credit along side Lionel Wigram, who worked with Ritchie on Sherlock Holmes and Man from U.N.C.L.E. Ritchie himself also has a screenplay credit which tells me a story of some pretty decent on set rewrites after the script hit. Guy Ritchie has the final screenplay credit himself.

The story focuses on, Arthur Pendragon (Charlie Hunnam) and his rise from the ashes of betrayl by Vortigern. Young Arthur is raised in a brothel in Londinium from about age 6 until he is a man and is more or less a street tough and protector who is thrust into the plot against his will. Vortigern wants more power for nebulous reasons. Arthur must find his destiny, use the sword, save the kingdom.  The plot is thin and largely irrelevant because the editing has made it so. They, admirably mind you, try to do a lot of show don’t tell – but to succeed at it you need context. There’s exposition dumps amidst hastily edited and quickly read dialogue. There’s things that are never fully explained and matter even less in the end. I mean there is a REAL attempt to try not to explain everything but in the end nothing is explained and what is explained is done so over…

and over,

and over,

and over.

Then comes the directing. There’s a beautiful opening establishing shot that successfully establishes nothing in its 30 seconds of run time. It has no context, no bearing, and simply exists. Guy Ritchie continues to attempt to be clever by explaining a scene while its happening, cutting between the scene in the future and the explanation – but none of it really works as it comes across a muddied mess. There are attempts at wit that come and go and sometimes work, but rarely. I really can’t say what some of the actors were told to do in more than a few scenes which read quite similar to a block of wood. Don’t even get me started on the nausea inducing editing for the fight sequences involving real people. Between the camera jostling, changing angles, cuts, and overall movement it’s hard to make heads or tails of who is fighting what, where, or why. I mean the only reprieve here is that all of the bad guys wear black so they are different looking than the browns and off whites of the heroes. I mean that’s good right?

Now if you are still reading – you may have noticed I said fight sequences involving real people. I am reasonably…no I am certain until video evidence shows otherwise – that at least three fights were the equivellent of a modern video game cinematic. Which considering the quality of those should not be condemnation; but as it is in a live action movie it becomes one. I cannot prove it but  I would bet the writers played CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3. There’s one fight sequence that lasts too long that I think came right from the game…or might as well have. The rest of the graphics and visuals do their best to give you something you haven’t seen before, but I was so distracted by the overall badness of the production I couldn’t stop to appreciate what did work.

TL;DR?

I am tired of writing about this. It is a kinetic, frenetic, frenzied mess of a film with no sense of itself. It isn’t bad enough to be mocked by MST3K or good enough for me to actually hate it. It just is a disappointing film in which the actors I think try but are hampered by a script held together by bailing wire and day old bubblegum; and direction that leaves me wondering what happened to Guy Ritchie.

Should you see it?

No. Not even drunk…ok maybe drunk, but you would want to be near the fall down levels and make sure to get an ride home after.

Will you buy it? 

If only to burn in ritual sacrifice to the dark deities that such things are not done again.

Jess – seriously, is it that bad?

At the moment this is the worst movie of the year I have seen. Lost City of Z, also with Hunnam the poor sod, was made with great care and good production values. This was made with good production values and potentially shrooms or chemical alteration of the people in the production. I wanted it to be good folks. I wanted to like it but its actually bad. Not even mediocre. I am ultimately disappointed with the thing to a degree I didn’t think it would manage.

Anything else?

It’s a total sausage fest? I mean there’s women in it but only one of them gets a name. Uther simply calls his wife “woman” at one point…

Ok so what should I see this weekend? What else do you have coming?

Go see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Please, let it make more money.

As far as Alien: Covenant, I am trying to avoid spoilers but headlines on places I follow….yeah my hopes are pretty dashed –  which means it can only go up in my estimation!

 

Sorry folks this movie is just really bad and made by and with really good people.

Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)

So nearly 3 years later and we have moved from the late summer “Oh I hope it does well but oh well if it doesn’t” dump slot to the first of the May blockbuster releases. Guardians of the Galaxy practically minted money for Disney and Marvel then, surprising everyone from the fans to the critics to the execs. I mean sure the cast and crew may have known what they had, and I know how carefully cultivated the Marvel Cinematic Universe is – but this one felt like a “think we can do it?”, “Have we built up enough good will to try this?” “Well no harm if it doesn’t work, its not on earth right? *insert weak laugh*”

  • Budget: $170 Million
  • US Gross: $333,176,600
  • Non-US Gross: $440,152,029
  • 3rd highest grossing movie in 2014 (beating out The Hobbit, Captain America The Winter Soldier, and Transformers by no less than 70 million dollars)

So it’s safe to say they did well that year. That a sequel order was in the mail on release day. Like suddenly they knew they had something and ran with it before the final numbers even came in for the opening weekend. 3 years and a $200 million dollar budget later we return to the wider galaxy and the adventures of its guardians with their quirky personalities, and early 80’s theme music?

But should they have been ignored like the B sides of a tape?

James Gunn returns with pen in hand for both writer credit and gets the oh so comfy director chair as well. If you had told me the guy who wrote the two Scooby Doo movies and Lollipop Chainsaw (video game) would be directing not just one but two movies in a film series that’s profits exceed the GDP of several countries combined – I would laugh. I mean He wrote Tromeo and Juliet (a classic for Troma lovers) – now he writes the story of a gaggle of guardians gallivanting gregariously about the galaxy. What? I had to try anyway….The story picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the last movie in media res with the heroes defending a McGuffin from a thing. Which leads to another event and then another. Things look up. Things look down. Things go wrong. Things go right. Secrets are revealed!

This is a no spoiler review. I am not giving you more than the trailers do.

What I will say is that the movie shifts tones a few times. There are parts of humor that for me largely fell flat, but the audience around me laughed at most of the jokes. Most. The problem with some of these is that they jump from a scene that is emotionally compromising or otherwise somber to a moment of near slapstick humor. It can eject some movie goers from the moment – especially as not all the jokes work. A majority didn’t work on me, but if you are a frequent reader you know I have a lot of issues with humor and me not getting it. Thankfully humor isn’t everything the movie is based on. It also bothered, unlike so many other films, to stop and let you breathe. Let you have character moments and get a little closer to them so you are feeling with them. Would these moments have worked without the first movie? No. They require you to know the barebones you were given before so when more is revealed about them you form a deeper connection with them.

Tonal quality shifts are not the films only area of flux. Visually the film goes from amazing make up and computer effects to something I would have expected from the late 90’s or early 20’s. There is one part that I swear the movie goes full cartoon and it absolutely ejected me from the film; which was then re entered by the next beats character moment. Granted for some of the effects I feel nothing but pity for the animation studios called upon. Having to create rich visual effects that are believable for this is a daunting task. They largely succeeded.

What didn’t succeed in the flux category beyond some of the visuals, some of the characters, and some of the story beats? The music. Hold on! Hold on! I know I loathed the soundtrack of the last one. Not so here. Volume 2 Awesome Mix is a much better tape, not one I’d listen to regularly, but it doesn’t have songs I despise. In fact Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is easily in my top 100 songs of all time. No, the accompanying soundtrack is fine and works within the movies diagetic sound as much as it does non-diagetic to the point where you aren’t sure and it doesn’t matter.  The part of the soundtrack that doesn’t work is the score. Its recycled. You will hear the Avengers theme…a few times. It is disappointing when so much care is put into it that they are recycling their musical queues from other films.

If you are curious about what I mean – check this video from the awesome Every Frame a Painting

 

Do I believe most people notice or care? Fair question and I would say no – but that doesn’t earn my forgiveness or the fact it needs to be called out.

At this point I normally talk about the actors, but everyone is absolutely fine. New comer to the series Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Ingrid Goes West) merges amazingly well with the existing party as Mantis. As I mentioned in my recent Fast and Furious review. I want Kurt Russel in all the things ever. This has only reaffirmed that.

I’ve avoided talking about the action because I found it…wanting. It’s there; just not as visually compelling or character driven as it could be. Marvel – please note – swarms and masses of faceless attackers does not make your combat more interesting or the stakes any higher. It was just very very safe.

TL;DR?

I would hit play on the Volume 2. Despite the flaws I perceived in the movie, of which there were many, I had a good time. It wasn’t great, but it was solid good pop corn fun. It got me emotionally invested in the stories of the characters and that is hard to do. It succeeded on a personal level where some of the production failed on an intellectual level. Audiences will love it and no one left the theatre until the last of the credits rolled. Again its flaws need to be called out in that the action is kinda bland and safe, the story and scenes have some amazingly jarring tonal shifts – but beyond that its absolutely serviceable and watchable.

Should I see it?

I don’t believe you will regret it. It’s a good time to be had by most.

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

Ok serviceable and watchable don’t sound like high praise though?

In this day and age it is still praise. It is also not the best Marvel feature but it is far from the worst.

End Credits scenes?

Three of them cut throughout the credits. It’s also worth *watching* the credits as there’s some easter eggs, jokes, and other cute things in them. I rather enjoyed those.

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

Brace yourselves. Summer movie season is coming. Next week King Arthur.

Darke Reviews | Free Fire (2017)

Haven’t heard of this one? Yeah few have. It’s kinda an under the radar indie flick from production studio A24. I came across the trailer on YouTube one day a few months and thought “Hey this looks kinda fun and like a Guy Ritchie movie!” I like Cillian (pronounced Kill-ee-an if you didn’t know)  Murphy quite a bit. Brie Larson is largely unknown to me, but she’s going to be playing Captain Marvel so I was curious about her, and Sharlto Copely is usually memorable in whatever he does.

Just to see if you are interested – here you go. This is NSFW (language mostly) –

 

So I was promised something, but did the deal go south?

The movie, if you couldn’t tell by the trailer is a love letter to 70’s action. Not just content to set it in the 70’s but also feel like how an action film would be back then. The action is tight. It is contained. The entirety of the movie takes place in a single building; which does take some incredible precision and vision as a director. At the helm for this then is Ben Wheatley, who also directed last years critically acclaimed film High-Rise. I had the opportunity to watch that one and never could bring myself to review it as I wasn’t sure how I felt about it by the end. Still couldn’t tell you. I know it was expertly directed and well acted but my brain was confused about it. Not so much on the confusion here. Wheatley clearly has vision as a director and knows how to get the best performances out of his cast and the camera.

I could talk about the script and story by Wheatley and Amy Jump (screenplay and editing on High-Rise). It’s straight forward – gun deal goes south. The trick is to maintain a healthy level of tension, realism, and character goals. The movie verges into the absurdist without ever crossing that line as much as say Hot Fuzz does, but still has the humor from the characters themselves being just bloody odd. My only gripe and it’s a single throw away line, but that makes it bother me a touch more – just because you can use a word or words because they were period appropriate doesn’t mean you have to. It’s a single line but it was jarring in the moment for me and wasn’t needed as it never came up again. Unlike say Tarantino who still feels like a kid able to use all the bad words simply because he can.

The actors are good. Murphy, Larson, Copley are just fine. The one that steals the show though is Armie Hammer as Ord. I was wondering about him after The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but he really is charming when he has good direction. He absolutely stole every scene when he was the center and I loved him most of all. I have an idea about Larson now as well and can only say I am looking forward to her turn in the tights as Captain Marvel.

From a technical standpoint – it is shot really well with generally clean action and shots that help progress the story; then allow you a few moments to breathe before the next action piece. Unlike many films today, an intentional move by the director, gunshots hurt. A lot. The actors carry that through the movie and it works for and against the movie. It wears old at the 60 minute mark as the injuries have taken their toll and it becomes very quickly more of the same.

TL;DR?

I think the deal went east on me. I can tell the actors had fun. I can tell the director succeeded at his vision. I can tell it is well shot and hit the vibe it wanted to. I also think the trailer  lied to me. It’s funny – not THAT funny. It’s got action – not THAT much action. It also has some pacing issues as the conceit draws a little long. The characters, even the unlikeable ones are memorable and charismatic so that’s a win over a lot of other films and another tip of the hat to the director.  I mean it is a film about arms dealers – how nice could they all be?

One other huge credit on this film worth mentioning in the positive column – It is ORIGINAL. It is different. That should be celebrated!

Should you watch it?

If you can handle a subdued slow burn 70’s style action? Sure. Otherwise nah. It’s everything I expect to come out of this production house so any real disappointment is on me.

Will you buy it?

Probably?

How is the action?

It is not action like we are used to. I appreciate that.

What next?

I am really really hoping we get Sleight locally. Check this trailer out –

Darke Reviews | The Lost City of Z (2017)

That’s pronounced Zed within the movie as it is incredibly British. Amongst my interests as a little girl was exploration. The discovery of lost civilizations and new uncharted areas, I can’t say I am still not fascinated every time something forgotten is found within the jungles of Central and South America or within Africa. Granted – when I was a little girl no one talked about the problematic elements of the age of empires and exploration. The treatement of the native peoples, the imperialism, colonialism, etc etc. The entire period of time and how things were handled is not quite covered by the word problematic. We know this now. It needs to be acknowledged.

On the other hand the legends, stories, and what they do to a young girls imagination? I have talked about reading the Tarzan stories and my love for Indiana Jones is well known to those who pay attention. So the idea of a movie based on the discovery of a lost city hidden deep inside the borders of the Amazon? Sign me up.

Should you sign up however?

First the facts. There was a man named Percy Fawcett. He did try to find a Lost City of Z in the early parts of the 20th century. In the early part of the 21st century David Grann wrote an exacerbated dramatic book based on Fawcett and his explorations. This movie is based on the book more accurately than it is the actual man based on some quick (re: Wikipedia) digging. Director James Gray adapted the book for the screen in a dual credit. Gray’s most known work as a director is the Joaquin Phoenix film We Own the Night – which he also wrote. I believe after watching this he needs to stick to crime thrillers.

There’s no narrative. No point. No characters. There are actors playing parts, but without any real clear motivations or discernible traits. The book cover says it is a tale of dangerous obsession – but that is never realized. While Fawcett as a character is focused on the discovery once we cross the half way point of the movie – yes it takes that long – nothing about it screams dangerous. Obsessed? Maybe. Dangerously so? No. There is never a true sense of danger or tension revealed through the over two hour running time. There is no risk and thus no reward for the viewer. Even if there was a risk the editing does the film no favors in letting you really learn who the characters are and watching them grow or regress during the progression of the story. Everyone is bland. Everything is bland.There’s an attempt by Gray, I think, to try to be “Woke” and have the Fawcett try to talk about how noble and wronged the Natives are by the white man. It doesn’t work.

Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) is absolutely serviceable as Fawcett and pulls off the proper Englishman just fine but perhaps too well as he is totally without charm or memorable in any particular way. Robert Pattinson (Twilight, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and his epic beard actually somehow standout despite being a secondary character with maybe 30 lines and that’s being generous. Sienna Miller (Stardust, High-Rise) tries to elevate her character and at least stands out in my memory but can only do so much before direction and the script hobble her. Our new Spider Man Tom Holland is wasted as Fawcett’s son Jack; yet it can be say he acted as well as he could. All of the actors acted. They did their job. I can tell they tried to do more, but bad directing and bad editing hamper them.

The pacing and tone of the movie from a technical aspect are all over the place and hold the film back from being more. It’s shot well enough, aside from some bad CGI waterfall moments, with clean bright colours in the jungle and cooler colours in England. I would give them a cookie if in any way that was original. It’s not as terribly noticeable as it was in Tarzan but there is some colour correction occurring and light choices that dull the English scenes. Did I mention the editing? Disappearing, reappearing characters? Missing establishing shots.

A scene in the movie:

“The canoe won’t work we’ll need the raft.” and later “Take the horse…”

Whoah whoah whoah. What raft? What horse?! You did nothing to show these things even existed. All the shots were medium shots without a good wide to establish the full scene. It happens so many times I wish I had counted.

TL;DR?

The Lost City of Z needed to stay lost – or maybe was lost in production? The acting is the best they could do with a subpar script, horrible direction, and worse editing. The motivations are as lost as the city itself and the movie neither conveys a sense of wonder or desire to explore from me. My imagination did about six different things that the movie failed to do.

If any credit must be given beyond the actors, it is to Amazon Studios. It is absolutely clear that the costs were not cut to make the movie on the cheap. There is absolutely real production value here and I only wish the story or anything else about the movie had been more compelling.

It wants to be more and the director clearly thinks its more than it is. He just forgot to make the characters or story likable or in leiu of that interesting. Every time I think it’s going to do something stimulating…it fails.

So…I shouldn’t see it?

I can’t even recommend it as a rental. HBO maybe?

Is it really that bad?

No. It’s finely made and with care. It is very well made and I can see where the money went – just everything after isn’t that good.

But Rotten Tomatoes…

Yeah I broke one of my rules and read some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as I got to this part. I disagree with the critics pretty hard on this one.

Anything else?

Tonight was a double feature for me. Free Fire is next.

Darke Reviews | Fate of the Furious (2017)

I can do my usual lead in paragraph if you want? I mean I said it with my Furious 7 review – you’ve already made up your mind to watch this one or not. You are invested in the series or not. This series which started out at least somewhat serious in tone (it has a flippin drive by) has become the beer and pretzels franchise. It doesn’t claim to be more than that – it stopped trying to be more than that a very long time ago. So I suppose the real question is should you see yet another film in this franchise after you thought they had nothing more to tell? Should you see a Fast movie without Paul Walker? Should you get behind the wheel to go see this?

or more importantly – should they have? 

The 8th…yes…8th installment of the series is directed by F. Gary Gary who has in his career since 1995 given us Friday, Set it Off, The Negotiator, and recently Straight Outta Compton. He worked with Deisel in A Man Apart (2003); which has some of that mans best acting. He is reuniting with Theron and Statham from when he ddirected them both in The Italian Job (also 2003); which had some pretty decent car stunts as well. It seems he is a perfect choice for this film series – and you’d be right mostly. The problem is the series has fully devolved into its beer and pretzels and cannot decide what tonal quality it wants to go for.

Will I be a serious film with real intensity and some brutality – well when Vin Deisel is the main focus? Yes.

Will I be a 7 layers of cheese dip with all the corny lines to go with it – well when Vin isn’t on screeen? Yes

Will I be somewhere in the middle, even briefly, when the group as a whole is on screen with him? Of course.

Yes he directs them all fine. I honestly think these guys could do a movie without a director at this point. ….I might even pay to see that. Yes the action scenes are fun and new (more later); but the character pieces never linger long enough to care about the stakes beyond your initial investment in the characters, which likely has been dwindling alongside the franchises respect for the laws of physics.

I think I have to blame someone I praised previously though. Chris Morgan has been on the franchise since Tokyo Drift. I think he is chained in a cage somewhere with nothing but a word processor and a printer being forced to write these at this point.  It is entirely possible he is using one of these to come up with the concept, plot, and events of the movie:

Admit it – you’re now thinking you should try it!

 

Nothing in the movie lasts long enough to care. The motivations are as foggy as a San Francisco morning (with one exception). The dialogue is just lazy. They didn’t even bother with having the two cyber specialists try to talk Hacker at the camera. A few vague words, lots of typing without actually see them doing anything. I kind applaud them for that one. Overall though its phoned in to the nth degree.

And it doesn’t actually matter.

You are paying to watch the actors do things with cars (usually). So how are they? Let’s bullet it as there are a lot of them.

  • Vin Diesel looks stern, talks about family, is generally bad ass. I honestly don’t know how much different the actor and character are at this point.
  • Jason Statham has some of the most fun I have seen from him since Crank?
  • Dwayne Johnson mugs for the camera. He flexes for us who go that way. He chews scenery. We love him for it.
  • Michelle Rodriguez is underused.
  • Tyrese earns that paycheck (credit CinemaSins) and mostly tries to be funny and fails – which I think is the joke. Humor and I don’t speak to each other often.
  • Charlize Theron is actually pretty solid when she wants to do a villain in a film like this. Nicely done.
  • Kurt Russell in this mode needs to be in all the things. There is a real possibility he ad libbed every line and I am 100% ok with that.
  • Scott Eastwood shows unlike in Suicide Squad he does have a personality.

Ok – so thats that.

How are the stunts and effects you ask? 

This gif is my answer.

Shark Jumping Duh

If you know this image – you are old. You also very clearly get the message.

 

Most of the stunts with the cars are fantastic. The others are  “fantastic”. When they go practical you will wince, when they go CG you will probably wince for other reasons. It’s pretty typical for this franchise, but they do take it to 11 this time. Its true the series jumped the shark long long ago – but now they have forgone any pretense.  What absolutely kills me is the shaky cam in the non-car fights. You have quick, powerful, or agile actors – we don’t need the camera looking like its sitting on the San Andreas during  an earthquake to add ‘dynamism’ to the fight. If you need that to add energy – rechoreograph the fight. Please. No more shaky cam especially when you have talent.

TL;DR?

It is absolutely fun. It is absolutely stakeless on an emotional level.  Yes it has stakes and a threat, but I couldn’t care less. In other movies I would probably rip them a new one for such behavior, but Fast and the Furious has earned its stripes and there is real effort and love in the movie.  In an era of unnecessary grit and hyper realistic action Fate of the Furious is a glass of cool lemonade on a hot summer day.

Should you see it?

I have no regrets. I doubt you will.

Would you see it again?

At home with a few beers, pizza, and friends? Yes

So you buying it?

No question about it. Yes.

The magic 8 ball is leaving me confused did you like it or not?

Yes, I liked it. It gave me everything I wanted it to be and didn’t disappoint on any of the facets I cared about for a Fast and Furious movie. This is the 8th movie in a franchise not based on anything but itself. That doesn’t happen in Hollywood anymore – maybe ever. I am happy to celebrate that.