Darke Reviews | Moana (2016)

So what does Queen Elsa, the Vampire Princess, the nocturnal frozen being that she is think of Moana? It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I do like Disney animation. I grew up at the tail end of the ‘dark ages’ of Disney animation when the Golden Age was touted as what we had and the Silver Age was…special. I still think The Black Cauldron is underrated, but then again what kid doesn’t like a Gaelic myth of bringing back an undead army? Ok so maybe just me.  That’s fair. You might be asking but Queen Elsa, how will you judge this fairly against your own film, Frozen? Well if you check the link there even as hyped as I am on my own song (Let it Go,…duh) I found the movie to be a mixed bag. Even before knowing how many 11th hour changes there were it was clear there were some choices made that didn’t make a seamless film.

What does that spell out for Moana? Does it have the same issues?

You’d think so as it not only violates my rule of three, it goes beyond double. Yep, 7 writers on the credits. Story by…and  I am going to bullet this since there are so many

  • Jordan Kandell –  No other credits, twin brother to Aaron
  • Aaron Kandell  – No other credits, twin (duh) both raised in Hawaii
  • Pamela Ribon – writer on Mind of Mencia
  • Don Hall – Emperors New Groove, Tarzan
  • Chris Williams – Mulan, Bolt
  • John Musker – Treasure Planet (highly underrated), The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Aladdin, Princess and the Frog, and oh hey the Black Cauldron
  • Ron Clements – same credits as Mr. Musker.

The final screenplay credit goes to Jared Bush, who has a “Creative Leadership Walt Disney Animation Studios” – which I am not sure what that means. Clements, Musker, Hall, and Williams have dual director and co-director credits for the movie. So 7 writers, 4 directors chairs – with a lot of overlap. This should be a mess.

It isn’t.

Now as near as I can tell, this is an original story inspired by native Hawaiian and Pacific Island mythology. Yes, not based on any particular myth, previously told story, but instead apparently original. This is awesome. What it also gives us is a cohesive narrative that doesn’t feel like something has to be shoe horned together to make it palatable to both adults and children. It gives us a story of bravery, heart, and finding yourself that we’ve seen many a time since the Disney Renaissance in 1989 (started by Musker & Clements); but it does it better somehow. There are more than a few times the movie tugged on heartstrings in either well written emotional ways or the big hero moments that bring the whole thing together.  This movie should be all over the place tonally, but it isn’t. It should be a wreck that looks like it’s been edited to the ends of the earth then back again but it isn’t. Somehow, this was the right combination of leadership, intent, and will made this movie work against it’s own odds.

Is it perfect in the writing and directing department? Maybe. I mean that. Maybe. No beats felt out of place, except maybe one.

All of the performances were on their A-Game; especially Auli’i Cravalho who voices and sings Moana. She has a set of lungs that rival people twice her age (she’s 16 today – no lie November 22, 2000). She poured her heart into this and as her first role I hope to see she has many more to come.  Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was also in top form as Maui, with all his natural charisma brought to bear with the power of his voice and good animation. He holds the serious and somber moments down like the professional he is, but also charms you with the comedic beats he is given. The other performances are solid, but suitably minor, such as Nicole Sherzinger, Jermaine Clement, Temuera Morrison, and Rachel House.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of Alan Tudyk every performer I can find a bio on is either of Maori, Samoan, Hawaiian, or other Oceanic/Polynesian descent. With as much time as I spend not seeing movies for inappropriate diversity or casting, I need to make note of this. This is special. This is right. This is good. We need more of this. Thank you Disney for getting it right this time. Please Hollywood follow in their footsteps and learn something here. Please.

Ok, so how is the animation? The best they’ve done. Period. Full stop. Look I have only been to Hawaii once and it was last April, but if they didn’t capture how alive it was, how beautiful it was; then I don’t know what I watched. The colours were so vibrant and magnificent. Then lets talk water. Perfection. Yes, it’s clearly meant to be animated, but I think if they wanted to, they could have made it real. The day was lovely, but the night shots were absolutely magnificent. There is so much awesome in the animation here I could go on, but instead…

Music!

I just bought the soundtrack. Need more? Ok. I can do that. The same attention to detail that was given to the story, the acting, the animation was given to the songs. All of them felt right. All of them were good, even the one that was a touch out of place with the others still felt thematically ok with the movie. Unlike Frozen, they remembered the entirety of the movie that it was a musical and let the songs carry along the bridges of scenes and acts and it served them well. The music maintains the themes, language, and style of the incredible people who the movie is about. Yes. Language. There are a few songs that they don’t sing in English and it doesn’t matter. That’s how effective the music is.

Full disclosure, Moana’s theme song also speaks to me – it’s not spoiler to share the lyrics (Song by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know, where I can not go
Though I long to be

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, if I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

One thing my friends know about me is you can’t get me away from the water if I am near it. There’s a reason I spend hours at Torrey Pines park just watching the waves. Does it beat out Let it Go? No, but it’s definitely in the top 3 of my “I want”/”Who I am” Disney songs.

TL;DR

Just see it already. I don’t need to say more. It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Music, Animation, Acting, its fantastic. This is one of Disneys best and it gives representation in a time where there is so little. Support this movie. It’s a great movie for adults, kids of all ages.

Yeah that’s it.

Go. Go now. It’s ok to see movies on Wednesday night. It’s ok to hide from the hordes on Black Friday and see this instead.

So should I see it?

*shakes you* did you not read? YES! Seriously. Go see it

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Without question. I mean I just bought the soundtrack

How about 3D?

I saw the film with two people who are unable to watch 3-D, but having watched it. Yes, I think the 3-D will enhance the experience. If you can’t afford 3-D, then standard will be fine.

Anything else?

Yes. The toddler Moana is the most adorable thing I have ever witnessed on screen with my own two eyes.

Darke Reviews | Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

This review is of course SPOILER Free.

SPOILER FREE got it?

Good.

On top of that since anyone who reads my reviews is seeing this as a foregone conclusion the review will take a different tone and style than usual.

It’s been a full decade since the debacle that was George Lucas last run at the helm of the Star Wars franchise. His prequel trilogy is rightfully lambasted by many, though they do have a few redeeming qualities here and there. A few. By and large they deserve to be confined into cell block AA-23 and then thrown into a trash compactor. The acting was bad, the effects were bad, it was over produced and under directed.

J.J. Abrams comes along in 2006 and gives us Mission Impossible 3. He then goes in 2009 and writes his resume cover letter with Star Trek; a film many acknowledge (and bemoan) is more Wars than Trek. Lo and behold he lands the impossible job of reinvigorating a franchise many felt might be irredeemable. Talent is brought in to write in the form of Michael Arndt (Oblivion, Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and, in a brilliant move, Lawrence Kasdan. The man who gave us what is critically considered the best of the Star Wars franchise, Empire Strikes Back. Kasdan was also the pen behind other greats, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Silverado, and Return of the Jedi. This is what was missing.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The parts that were supposed to be intentionally funny – were funny. I laughed. The theatre laughed.
  • The reveals of old favorites – the audience cheered.
  • There is no Jar Jar, there is nothing like Jar Jar, if you consider that a spoiler…well deal with it.
  • The effects are PRACTICAL when they can be and there are A LOT of practical
  • That which must be CG is and the movie is largely better for it. The flight sequences with the X-Wings look so much better on the big screen than they did when I first saw the trailer.
  • John Williams returns to do the music.
  • Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac have real chemistry. I want to see more of them.
  • Girls can look up to Daisy Ridley’s Rey. She’s a good character.

The movie could be called

Star Wars: The Force Apologizes

Is it flawless? No. There are a small score of issues  I have with it. Some of the CG isn’t as good as it could be. Some of the acting isn’t as good as it could be. Some of the editing isn’t ..ok a lot of the editing isn’t as good as it could be. There are flaws. Yes.

That said, the movie makes every single attempt it can to make up for the last three movies and does so with great passion.

Should you see it?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I really enjoyed it. It took me back with Nostalgia and then gave me some new things as well.

Should you see it in 3-D?

If you don’t have a problem with 3-D, absolutely. There are shots that beg for the 3D treatment and shine because of it.

Should you wait?

Eh…no. Mostly so people can talk about it with you. They will want to.

Are you buying it?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

 

Darke Reviews | Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Another review from the request bank, quickly running out of those, comes one of the few Nightmare movies I had the opportunity to see in the theatre. I remember the weird push for 3D on it and even have some of the tie in merch. Considering how much the first Nightmare scared me years before I turned around and embraced Krueger. I had books, I watched the TV show after I was supposed to be asleep (it was really bad), even had comics for it.

So with that much love for the franchise so far, especially part 3 and 4, how did what was reported to be The Final Nightmare hold up?

We can start with the director on this one Rachel Talalay, one of the few female directors in the field and even more important in the field of horror. She was also one of the producers on Dream Warriors and Dream Master of the Nightmare series. This film would mark her directorial debut, she would go on to give us Tank Girl then is largely relegated to TV for her career to date. In the documentary Never Sleep Again you can tell how passionate she is about the series and how much she believes in the franchise. Sadly, I am left to wonder how we got this product and design. It makes no bloody sense even on expanding Kruegers story, nothing is sold.

So let’s look at the script where Talalay has the story credit, with screenplay by Michael De Luca.  De Luca would also give us In the Mouth of Madness and Judge Dredd (the silly one). Largely he is a producer and based on the turn out of this film he should stick to that. The story is nonsensical even for a Nightmare film with some of the worst possible dialogue in the franchise. I love that they let Freddy quip by part 3, part 4 was ok, part 5 was bad, this is worse with near product placement levels of dialogue from Krueger. I have seen old Warner Bros cartoons with less sound effects and slapstick. Any evidence of subtlety is just gone with effects that break even more of the rules of the franchise at a level that pushes to the ridiculous. I really could keep tearing into this part, but we should move onto the acting.

Englund clearly was in it for the paycheck. He was here to mug for the camera nothing more; I mean he is having a good time but it’s just comical now. Shon Greenblat as John Doe at least tries to play it as straight as he can along with other previous leads. He brings a level of self awareness to the not so subtle dream states that makes him watchable in that early 90’s teen kinda way. Lisa Zane, older sister to Billy, plays Maggie; and I swear I think Freddy took her ability to emote. Every line reads flat. Honestly, no one does a great job here, even Yaphet Kotto, Breckin Meyer, and completely random cameo’s by Johnny Depp, Rosanne Barr, and Tom Arnold. It just doesn’t work on any level.

Even the effects have gotten laughable. As mentioned I’ve seen Looney Toons with less ridiculousness. This movie is a freedy cartoon given to us in 3D. The make up is horrendous. Nothing and I mean nothing works. Even Krueger looks like he is wearing a twenty buck halloween mask.

TL:DR?

This movie is awful. Just awful. It isn’t the worst of the series, that belongs to 2, as this is at least watchable in how bad it is vs. being some kind of fetish film. It looks cheap. It is cheap. You can see the Matte painting back drops. The sets look left over from the even worse TV series. There’s so very little redeeming about this MST3K worthy film. It is just so silly. There’s nothing even remotely scary about it.

The best way to see this is with alcohol or sleep deprevation so you just don’t care.

There are no nightmares to be found in this film.

Darke Reviews | Ant-Man (2015)

Are you excited for Marvel Phase 3? Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, Doctor Strange? Oh yeah and Ant-man is the kick off for this one. Haven’t heard of him? That’s fair. I am only barely familiar with the character before this, and specifically the Hank Pym version not the Scott Lang. So along with no spoilers, you will get no comparison to the comic character, story arc, etc as I have no basis. Ok, I am aware of one thing – a very controversial topic involving Pym that the movie wisely saw fit to act if it never happened and within it’s verse…maybe it didn’t.

(Editors Note: I received information that Ant-Man is actually the close to Phase 2.)

So how is the movie?

Let me start with the acting first and foremost. I, who has never seen, nor ever expected to see a Paul Rudd movie was incredibly dubious about the comic actor taking on the role of a Marvel hero. Granted I had the same reservations about Chris Pratt last year in Guardians of the Galaxy. He didn’t do bad. He was likeable, he was mostly an everyman, but at the same time I didn’t care about him. I think he was too much an everyman, so much so that he is forgettable. If you take Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, or even Bruce Banner, you will remember their personalities and just something more about them. Scott Lang, I can’t tell you much about him or his personality. I don’t know that I can blame Rudd there, but he doesn’t force more to the table through his own devices that maybe someone else could have.

Michael Douglas masterminds the plot as Dr. Hank Pym. Douglas does what he can here and the movie is absolutely better for him, though I would have paid extra for an interaction with him and Redford in some sort of flashback, just on principle. Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit), plays Hope van Dyne and is a bright light in the film. She was hungry to do more with the movie and her role and brings it all to the table, even though a horrific haircut that was needed for her character. She plays with all the complexity of her character and lets the right emotions through in a way that most of the others don’t quite achieve. I knew she could act, but this just solidifies it. Corey Stoll (The Strain, House of Cards) plays Darren Cross, yet another scientific genius in the ‘verse. Slight tangent: with all of these geniuses how the heck is the world in the shape it is? Stoll, I know has some chops from his role in the Strain, so I have to wonder what the director was thinking. He reads every single scene as if he is in a late 90s early 2000’s Hero movie. I can’t help but try to compare him to Jeff Bridges Obadiah Stane. Stane, even at his most ridiculous held weight on screen. This is almost comical. So since I know the man can act, I must blame the script or director. The rest of the cast is largely just ok or making me wish they weren’t there. I love Michael Pena to death but he was channeling his early John Leguizamo for this one and it wasn’t good. Since again I know the actor has capabilities beyond what I saw, I must blame the script or director.

Let’s talk story for a moment, as there are two writing credits here. This means two people worked out the overall beats and structure for the movie together. Those two people are Joe Cornish and Edgar  Wright. Cornish, delivered fantastically on previous works, such as Adventures of Tin Tin and Attack the Block. He was also in Hot Fuzz, a creation of Edgar Wright. Wrights legacy, barring anything in the future, will be  his Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Sadly he will also be remembered for the flop Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – which I personally enjoyed far more than I should. In an 11th hour decision Wright left this project. Yes, this one. He was also slated to direct. Marvel was not pleased with some aspect of his script and gave it to someone else to work on and do touch ups to. The returning product was something that had him so dissatisfied he left Ant-Man behind.

That’s where screenplay credits come in. Cornish and Wright both are obligated to get theirs, but the additional credits go to Paul Rudd himself, and Adam McKay. McKay’s writing history includes Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. These are all movies I will never see and a show I haven’t watched since the 80’s.  This does not give me confidence. Now, as I have seen and enjoyed the Cornetto’s and laughed at them far harder than is reasonable, I think I have a good grasp on his humor and sense of dialogue. So that means the fact that nearly every single joke in this movie falls flat is not on Wright, but McKay. Seriously, there were only a few times I felt the barest urge to laugh vs. throat punching someone. That urge showed up more.

Part of that blame also goes to the incoming director Peyton Reed. Reed previously directed Yes Man, The Break-Up, and Bring it On. Clearly he is right to carry on the vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Fiege and the other heads at Marvel seem to think so, so maybe they see something I don’t. I know I didn’t see anything stellar in this movie from a directorial standpoint. The movie was so emotionally flat I was thinking *it* had used a Pym Particle and was too small for me to see the part where I was supposed to care.

Ok…not entirely fair. I cared about the animals. Seriously, they made me care about the ants. Part of what made the movie work was the visual effects. They were actually really well done and while the CG work and overall look was near unavoidable they did a solid enough job that I didn’t care. In that vein, they are successful, they made me forget or not care that the entirety of what was seeing was computer generated. A few of the fights were just messy blurs but overall the work was really well done. This is one of the few movies to benefit from 3D.

TL:DR?

I think the movie is better than Iron Man 3, for what faint praise that is. It was a bit more enjoyable than Thor 2, which upon reading my review I may have been too kind to. It is a highly flawed film that has moments of entertainment in it that kept me from actually hating it. Rudd, who I was dismissive of above, is good as the hero. Some of the more annoying beats from the trailer are missing from the film and we are all better for it.

Overall, the movie generates a solid….bleh. I don’t hate it. I don’t really like it, it’s just there. Ultimately I think that’s where it lands. On a solid, emotionless, take it or leave it and I won’t notice. Marvel’s star is dimming for me and things I would have forgiven before are quickly becoming more noticable and less likeable. I think they have forgotten what made the original films as successful as they were with the fans.

  • If you are a completionist – See it matinee and 3D. The 3D does alright by the film. Stay for the end credits – there are two scenes.
  • Anyone else – that’s a negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. You can wait til Netflix as this will likely be out before the next movie is.

Sorry folks this was a bit of a downer, and we don’t have too much hope the rest of summer. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation has the best shot so far.

Darke Reviews – Minions (2015)

It is well established that I do not get comedy as a general rule. There are always exceptions, but for the most part comedy and I are at a disconnect that I just can’t quite grasp. I frequently ask people ‘why was this so funny’ (in a non ironic/non-trolling way) and still just don’t get it. I tend to be almost equally picky with my animation and animation styles as well as to what I want to watch and what attracts my eye. I had no desire to see Inside Out from animation to voice, to well everything. Saw it, refuse to review it as I think I am artificially biased against it from some things during the movie.

Much can be the same for Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. Two films I didn’t think I would enjoy as much as I did and did not see immediately. So when I heard they were making a movie about the Minions I was cautiously optimistic as it was a clear and present money grab yet I had been surprisingly pleased by the first two films.

Did I enjoy myself tonight seeing this? Am I upset at the people who requested that I see this instead of something else tonight?

Well…

The reality is – this is a cash grab. It is a well made cash grab. The script by Brian Lynch (Hop, Puss in Boots) is irrelevant. You can’t understand the characters. DM/DM2 director Pierre Coffin returns with a partner this time in Kyle Balda (The Lorax, and layout supervisor from DM) so they have some credentials to them. I can’t go into too many details here without hitting spoiler land, but what you see in the trailers is more or less what is delivered for the rest of the movie too. It is one of the few times that the trailer is 100% honest on what you see is what you get.

The producers pulled together an amazing voice cast to fill in the humans speaking roles, with Michael Keaton, Allison Janney,  Geoffrey Rush, and friggin Hiroyuki Sanada (I will make you look him up. Suffice to say he is awesome). Of course there is Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock who steal the show with their characters, Herb and Scarlett Overkill. It is amazing to think that Don Draper is Herb. They are just the right amount of over the top to make it work for a movie in this universe. Just ridiculous enough that you appreciate them and enjoy them but don’t roll your eyes. Coffin himself does the voice of the titular minions as he has in previous films.

You have to admit something here. This movie proves a few psychological studies true. You don’t need to understand someone to understand them. Body language, tone, everything else can tell a story as successfully as dialogue. Coffins voice acting, such as it is, does a rather good job of letting you know what is going through those little yellow freaks heads.

The other half of that equation is the animation. It is top notch. For a money grab they didn’t go the Disney route and give us a half-baked sequel with less quality in the animation. In fact I would argue that some of it has gotten better. The texture mapping is spot on for many materials to the point where I was truly impressed by the details as I have seen movies with the real thing that didn’t look as good. The artistic style hasn’t changed, which is good, but the animations have gotten much better. There’s a smoothness to them that is actually improving. Points there.

Before I hit the TL;DR on this rather short review I will say this – the movie is kinda well flat. I heard some of the kids getting restless, some of the adults too. There were times they laughed as there are jokes for adults in this project and it’s mostly bright colours and familiar characters for the kids. Let me get to it then…

TL:DR?

I didn’t hate it. My movie going partner tonight, and I, knew that walking out; but we were scratching our heads wondering what we had just watched. It was enjoyable, but hollow. It’s pacing was quick, yet empty? I think we just see the quick production and the flaws become apparent, but not enough to detract from the beats that worked and worked really well. The movie *is* cotton candy. Light. Fun. Mildly Satisfying. Leaves an odd, but not unpleasant taste. Instantly forgettable.

That said, there is absolutely a lot of material for adults and children alike here. It is still fun.

  • If you were looking forward to it, I don’t think you will be disappointed. Though, unless the kids really want it, save the money from the 3D. 2D is good enough here.
  • If you haven’t seen the other films, give this one a flyby ghost rider.

This is good alternative fare for those who need something they can take the kids to, which has really been in short supply this summer.

If however…you need to make a financial choice between this and Ant Man – you might want to hold off a week and see how my review comes back on the next Marvel piece.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews – Big Hero 6 (2014)

I can’t lie, but this film is one of the ones I was looking forward to the most this fall. Of course, the makers of Frozen tag line in the trailer had something to do with it. The reality is the original trailer did nothing for me. It looked cute, but if you really want to get me interested in a movie give me a good trailer with good music. Despite my love for Frozen, the trailers didn’t grab me. Point in fact, I almost didn’t see it because of the trailers originally released – how sad would that have been? The use of Fall Out Boys, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” along with some intriguing animation got my eye in the first full trailerTrailer 2 got me more, with Greek Fire’s “Top of the World”, more importantly it showed me this was a team thing rather than just a boy and his robot. Yes – I know this is based on a comic, but I haven’t read it so didn’t know. The music just sounded inspiring and I love a good heroic team effort. While not usually a fan of Four Colour hero stories, I do find the pure, good, heroism something that makes me smile. Then they released Trailer 3 (below) with New York Comic Con. I was sold. Fall Out Boys new song Immortals was just what I needed to seal the deal and really showed what the team aspect would be about.

So should you see the movie?

This movie is the exception to Jessica’s Film Writing Rule. I’ve often talked about how too many writers on a film tends to lead to a bad film. I happily acknowledge this as an exception. Now we have a story based on the comic by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle. I paused writing this review long enough to peruse the power of Google. I will make a slight adjustment, a story based on and inspired by the comic. While the character names are more or less the same, the personalities and styles are incredibly different (more on that when I talk about the characters). The story was written by Don Hall and Jordan Roberts. Hall was the writer on Princess and the Frog and Tarzan, while Roberts had very few writing credits before. Their story was then adapted for a screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Roberts himself.  Baird has a  screenplay credit on Monsters University and Monsters Inc. with Gerson.

I have to admit, I was surprised the writers weren’t involved in The Incredibles as the movie really does a good job of evoking that heroic transformation vibe. Now, I will not tell you the plot is anything complex or new. Point in fact the movie had nearly no surprises for me, yet it still kept me entertained and even drew laughs and tears when appropriate. Quite a few tears I should add. The simplicity of the story doesn’t take away from it, but because it mixes action and emotional beats really well for adults, younger audiences (under 6) may be bored until those action beats.

The directors may be a reason why the story has such as an emotional punch, even if it is simple. Story writer Don Hall with, the story writer of Mulan and Bolt, Chris Williams dual direct the film. Directing a live action film requires certain muscles, but animation has a different set of muscles it must use in addition. The physical impossibility of shots becomes irrelevant; while the actors body language and expressions become the realm of the animators.

From a cast perspective we the movie brings in a wide range of talent from different ages and realms of experience. Our Hero…Hiro Hamada, a boy genius,  is voiced by young asian american actor Ryan Potter (Supah Ninjas). This character is probably one of the most accurate to his original incarnation with his brilliant mind and the de facto leader of the group. Jamie Chung (Once Upon a Time, Smallville) voices one of my favourite characters Go Go Tomago, speed freak, no nonsense snark,  and specialist in magnetics. I wasn’t able to see much of her character from the quick research but she’s fairly on point and fairly snarky in the movie which instantly endears her to me.  Honey Lemon, the groups chemist, is voiced by Genesis Rodriguez (Man on a Ledge, The Last Stand) and has the one of the biggest variations from the source. Gone is the blonde cheerleader physique and near exhibitionist clothing style replaced with an almost stereotypical nerd girl. I think this is primarily due to the Disney factor more than anything else, but I don’t find fault in it. In fact I kinda prefer this version. The next biggest change is Wasabi No Ginger, I am not kidding about the name, voiced by Damon Wayans Jr. (Let’s Be Cops, The Other Guys), changing him from a japanese chef, to a black dreadlocked inventor. Much like Go Go, I don’t have much to compare Fred to from the source, but TJ Miller (How to Train Your Dragon, and that horrific Transformers movie this year), but he does seem accurate as the non scientist in the group.

The supporting cast is also filled with named and known character actors, such as Maya Rudolph (SNL), Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Alan -Lead on the Wind- Tudyk (Firefly, Frozen), and James Cromwell (Secretariat, Star Trek: First Contact) .

From a technical perspective the art is fantastic. It still has a certain style to it which I appreciate. There use of light and shadow is probably some of the best I’ve seen with sunsets and skylines that border on photo realistic at times. From a character model perspective people like to rip hard on Frozen and Tangled for looking too much alike and as someone who studied computer animation for a bit when she was in college I understand why and don’t judge on that. If you have pre existing skeletons and muscle structures you can save time and money rather than creating new ones. THe movie has a job to create new ones as well (the full Big Hero 6 crew); so when background and secondary characters look like ones I’ve seen in other films I don’t mind as much. It was a bit distracting at first but I got over it.

There is a lot this movie does right and thats where my focus is. The movement through the film is some of the most dynamic I have seen in a film of this style. The flying sequences are up there with How to Train your Dragon. The camera tracking on some of the others, especially Go Go really has an energy of all its own that gets your heart pumping.

Now, I’ve talked about the characters and brought up race a few times in that. There’s a reason for it and it’s the best one of all – representation. The movie has this in spades with young characters who are scientists from multiple races and genders. This is why I don’t mind the change to Honey Lemon as it only increases the representation within the film giving young girls who feel dorky or nerdy someone to look up to – someone who is consistently strong in the movie. The changes to Wasabi while reducing one aspect of representation create another where there was none, giving young black kids someone (aside from the epic NDGT) to look up to and want to be like. Hiro also marks the first time in my recollection we have a Asian male lead in an american made production  – that isn’t a martial artist. This is huge!

There is a huge problem with diversity in film in general, but superhero films specifically. Name the number of female superheroes we’ve had in film in the past decade? Black superheroes? While in this film we have two strong females and a strong black male character. What’s even better is that the movie doesn’t make a big deal out of it – though we need to. The movie SHOULDN’T make a big deal of it, because it should be a naturally accepted state. The characters are the characters defined by personality and skills – not their race or gender. They applied themselves, they weren’t born different, which allows people to identify themselves with these characters and lets them aspire to be these characters. The movie gives us an ideal world in this regard and it’s a world we should aspire to as well and if we can get Hollywood to keep making movies like this, the media can help bring us there.

TL;DR

Go. See. This.

Thats all. I don’t care who you are. What your age is (ok 6+ recommended).

Go. See. This.

Please.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Book of Life (2014)

I brought you a special review tonight, a book. This is a special book, a book that should be read (shown to your children). It’s even got sports in it! Are you kidding? Fencing, Fighting, Death, Giants, Monsters, Chases, Escapes, True Love, Miracles. Doesn’t sound too bad does it?

I do not use the above words lightly. I need you to understand this. If you know the words I used, you know how special they are. What they imply. I thought long and hard on the drive home tonight and realized the implications hold.

The Book of Life is a movie that defies modern day Hollywood. I have teased the rant to come on the issue of whitewashing in Hollywood. The issues of casting caucasians in the part where someone of another ethnicity either should have been cast as appropriate to the story or could have been cast with no detriment (and possible improvement). This is nearly the opposite in every respect and it shows.

First we have the movie produced by native Mexican deity of film making Guillermo del Toro (that explains a casting choice too now that I think of it). The director, Jorge R. Gutierrez has worked as an animator before this picture, and this makes his first big screen production in the directors chair – AND a screenplay credit. I am impressed. Sometimes this is a sin. Today it is a blessing. There is also a co writer credit for Douglas Langdale. Upon review of his previous writing credits I can only assume he has learned much over the years since the Return of Jafar.

The story focuses on the relationship between three friends, Manolo (The guitarist), Joaquin (the hero), and Maria (the firebrand). The two boys want to wind the hand of Maria, who is content with being in control over her own life and making her own choices. Little do they know their lives are the focus of a bet by two deities of the dead, La Muerte and Xibalba, over the fate of all mankind.

Remember the whitewashing issue I mentioned? Yeah here – most of the cast is actually hispanic, in a movie focused around a religious day for hispanic culture. SHOCKER. Yes, some argument could be made for commercializing the Day of the Dead, but that’s happening  en masse, at least this seems to show it some measure of respect. We have Diego Luna as Manolo, Zoe Saldana As Maria. Also we have Kate del Castillo (IMDB says she is one of Mexico’s most acclaimed and popular actresses), Hector Elizondo, Danny “Machete” Trejo, Gabriel “Hot and Fluffy” Iglesias, Cheech Marin, and famed and epic opera singer Plácido Domingo.

Yes, there are some casting choices that don’t fit the rest of the theme, but they don’t distract and they don’t annoy. Channing Tatum works in his usual fashion and honestly is as funny as he ever is. Christina Applegate still has one of the most beautiful voices around. Ron Perlman (DelToro connection) is …well Ron Perlman and therefor awesome. Ice Cube, perhaps, is the weakest casting in the voices and most distracting. Its right up there with Steven Tyler in Epic.

From a technical standpoint, the movie in 3D works. It is absolutely gorgeous in every single respect. Colour, lighting, sound, animation, aesthetics. It is near flawless. I could not get over how gorgeous (or comically absurd) the character designs were. How well the colors and depth of field were used through the film. The specific design choice to make the characters similar to wooden marionettes was brilliant within the context of the story being told. Aside from the odd gag, it worked beautifully.

TL;DR?

Yes, Fury comes out this weekend. I have to see it tomorrow. I don’t want to. I want to see this again.

I want everyone to see this film. EVERYONE. It is family friendly for certain at nearly all ages. There’s a lot for adults here. There’s a lot for dates here – the story of love and how its handled work well enough to make me cry at times.

On that – the movie did make me cry. It got to me. It also made me laugh and laugh hard at other bits. It didn’t anger me with how they handled Saldana’s character. Even the rivalry between the friends didn’t play out as bad as it could have.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again when it matters – the movie made me smile. It made me feel warm. It entertained on many levels and that is what movies are here for.

So yes, please go see Book of Life this weekend if you can. It’s what Hollywood looks at.  If you can’t see it this weekend, please at least see it.

It is so worth it.

 

PS – I am serious, I do consider that opening film I referenced a good comparison here. Right or wrong, its what I feel.

Darke Reviews | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

First let me apologize for not getting that Earth to Echo review out. I will make an attempt this evening, but first I want to talk to you about a sequel. Sequels notoriously have a curse for being less awesome than their predecessor. There are a handful in all of time that break that. Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II being two of the most prominent. August 5, 2011 saw the reboot of a franchise that was abused to the point it still causes flashbacks. Burtons version is at best an abomination and at worst a cinematic enema on the audience and good movie making.

But…enough of that 2011 we got Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was a fantastic film very few people saw. It only opened to $54 million and went down hill from there. This was a crime. It had all the makings of a fantastic work. Good acting. Good editing. Good graphics. Good story. While not a flawless film, it is an amazing one that sadly only made $176 million domestically. It was enough though, enough for a sequel three years later. A sequel released this week.

Does it measure up?

So the movie picks up about a decade after the first ends, and this is me tap dancing to avoid spoilers. The Apes have their culture and humanity has its own. They live in ignorance of each other and sadly that ignorance is about to be shattered.

Lets talk acting first. Just give Andy Serkis an Oscar. Now. Don’t wait til January and don’t snub him again. If anyone and I mean anyone says you cannot act sufficiently through Mo-Cap or make up do me a favor and smack them in the face with a good open hand slap. Serkis is a genius. Nothing in his performance as Ceasar is lost or wasted. Every body language pose, posture, and shift is there for us. His  face is a map to raw emotion. What words there that exist are used so sparingly forcing the man to do so much more through sign and expression. You always know what he is feeling, what he is thinking with barely a syllable uttered. This is acting. This is what others need to aspire to when they do motion capture. Peter Jackson has just had someone set the bar higher.

Nearly everyone else is passable against the magnificence that is Ceasar. Jason Clarke, a man usually relegated to secondary or tertiary roles in film and TV brings an A game many doubted he had. This isn’t the man from White House Down, Zero Dark Thirty or the Great Gatsby. This is a potential headliner still in need of some refinement but one who holds his own remarkably well. Its a hard task to carry the weight of the human centerpiece on your shoulders in this movie and he seems up to it. He even proves a great counterpoint to Gary flippin Oldman.

Sadly he is the only human who has a really well defined personality or chance to show it. Everyone else is a stereotype of some kind or somehow useless. I didn’t even know Keri Russells character name. Oldman too is a stereotype, but one you can empathize with. He takes a note from his own playbook and brings it back to the subtle for the most part. Ok subtle for Oldman. This is a very Gordon like performance for him. When the cracks show in the veneer of control is when you see what he is and it works.

The Apes on the other hand are the stars. Everything Transformers gets wrong in this space, THIS movie gets right. None of the actors are particularly well known and are never actually seen. Each performance as an Ape is nuanced. Everything that Serkis delivers is brought to the game by the other actors. He set a bar and they reached for it and were largely successful in doing so. Its magic.

It’s the uncanny valley.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is -generally – the point in which human likeness in something unreal becomes so close to real we grow uncomfortable. This movie tips the balance. The graphics work is so near perfect in every detail its hard to believe we are not looking at actors in make up at times. Reality and computers have come closer than ever and are nearly…nearly flawless in execution within this film. Nothing to date comes close to how real the Apes appear.

Add to that particularly inspired design choices. Brilliant even. The use of sign language over voice speech by the apes was the act of an ingenious mind. Animal behaviorists will have a field day on the accuracy of the movements and actions of the ape society. Research was done. Effort was put into place. It paid off. These are details many would not realize are there, but I’ve lived with a vet tech for a decade and a half now. We’ve discussed these things, studied them for games, and have a basic above average understanding. Trust me when I say it is well done in this space.

TL;DR?

Ok so. I referenced the Godfather II and Empire Strikes back earlier. Yes this movie is in the same calibre as them. It IS that good. The only true suffering is in the pacing. The bridge between act II and III is just too long and drawn out. Aside from that it is an excellent film we SHOULD be going to see.

Just like Snowpiercer the week before, these are the movies we need to be giving our money to. These are the movies we need made.

Yes, you should see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

But Jess should we see it in 3D? – ok no. 3D adds nothing but ticket price.

Go see it in 2D and enjoy it for all its worth. Tell hollywood with your wallet where we need to have movies made. Good stories, acting, plots, and effects are rolled into one.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while an homage to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, shines in its specialness and could – if we are lucky – be the dawn of a new era of movies.

Site Logo

Darke Reviews | How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

If I recall correctly, How to Train Your Dragon was one of the first films I did a review on when I began writing reviews again a few years back. I stopped again and started hard core last year. Things that I remember from the review was that my ex and I were some of the only people in theatres in week two of its release and that weeks three and four it picked up even more steam. If you don’t know how rare that is that a movie gets MORE popular the longer it goes, well that just means you are a normal individual who isn’t obsessed with movies. I remember showing people the DVD long after and the general consensus is “I wish I had seen it in theatres”. This is a chance to fix that – sort of.

So how did they do on the sequel?

Well, to be perfectly honest and still spoiler free. They held to sequel rules. If you have a big bad, you need a bigger bad. Check. Call backs to the first film. Check. Take it a bit darker in certain beats? Check. Character Growth? eh…not so much.

This is one of those rare cases where being both Writer and Director works. Dean DeBlois, who gave us the original How to Train and Lilo & Stitch returns in both writing and directing roles. I can see the writing that gave us Lilo & stitch here. I can see the writing that gave us the first How to Train here. I can also see only a slight bit of experience and growth. When the first film became both critically and financially successful ($217mm) in 2010 the sequel was inevitable. I can see that he had a lot of ideas and tried to get some of them in, but not all of them worked.

He did avoid some serious pitfalls most teen characters with a romance in the first movie fall into. THANK YOU. Sorry that verges into spoiler territory, but it was needed. The movie plot wise also does just a few too many call backs to the original in near entire rehashes of some scenes. None of the characters seem to have learned much in the time between movies. Sure they aged, sure they got better at what they do, but did they grow? Eh, not really.

But damn, did they remember how to fly! One of the things of beauty in the first film is the flying sequences as Hiccup and Toothless become friends and partners. They take to the skies in all three dimensions and bring you along the way with the camera in a way that really does bring you with them. Its beautiful, it is magical and it is whimsical. It is magnificent in every sense of the word and they remembered how to do it. They also got better at it. Some of the sequences were just amazingly beautiful that I started to cry from it. The sky dance (not a spoiler) is breathtakingly gorgeous. This is the movies greatest success.

The return of the entire cast of the first is also a success. Everyone reprises their roles from the first as if they have never left. Sadly they don’t get a lot of screen time but the movie wisely doesn’t make more of certain characters since  they have become more famous over the past four years. Adding to the cast is Djimon Hounsou as Drago and Kit Harington as Eret. Finally Jon Snow knows something! Apparently it’s dragons. The irony is not lost on me.

The music is also as engaging as it was in the first. With…one exception. There’s a trend in certain movies to stick a song with vocals over a scene rather than use a score. It’s particularly virulent in childrens movies. The first movie avoided this, sadly this one doesn’t. The song isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It has a very Owl City vibe, but I would have preferred the musical queue to be pure music rather than an actual song. It took me out of the moment just enough that it was, to me a bad call.

TL;DR?

The movie made me laugh. Made me cry. Made me smile. Made me catch my breath. What else should a movie do? Some movies are designed to be art appreciated for that. Others are designed to be entertainment. This movie is both artistically beautiful in a literal sense and entertaining.

I know that there were children in the audience you didn’t hear move an inch or utter a word that wasn’t a squeal of joy. What else should there be?

Really nothing. The movie is good. Really good. A few missteps keep it from being great, but I wholeheartedly recommend this film.  I recommend becoming lost in it and enjoying what it delivers.

I also recommend 3D if you can take it. Not required, but it does certainly enhance the movie.

If you go to see a movie this weekend or next, go learn How to Train Your Dragon again. You won’t regret it. This is *the* movie to see with family, friends, children over the next few weeks.

Darke Reviews | Maleficent (2014)

Probably one of Disney’s most anticipated films for some time in the live action genre. While some of their movies have been financially successful, critically they’ve been all but universally panned. Last years Lone Ranger was an abomination that cost them over a hundred million dollars (before marketing costs!!). Before that Prince of Persia, John Carter, three of the last four Pirates movies, I can go on. Some were good, some were garbage. Most of them cost Disney more money than they will ever see from them. Can the Mistress of Evil break the curse?

I don’t rightly know. Disney thinks it can with an aggressive marketing effort that doesn’t try to sell it on previous film “successes” and instead focuses on Angelina Jolie and her embrace of the titular character. Before we get into this too much, I want to point out that two of the people I saw this with have serious issues with the movie, far more than I did. They also had problems with Godzilla. Problems I did not have and appreciated from a film makers design decision. These reviews are my opinion and from my lens and my own tastes.

Where does that leave us for Maleficent?

Angelina is fantastic. Every moment on screen she has is spent acting her heart out.  She covers an excellent range of emotion and delivers a stunningly deep performance that develops her character into something more than is on the page or ever was on the page. She through the majority of the film dominates every single moment she on screen and makes it look effortless. Every choice she makes brings her character to life in a way that might annoy some who want her to be the monster from the original animated, but instead we have a fully realized post modernist Maleficent.

The rest of the cast cannot completely compete. Elle Fanning (Super 8, Twixt), little sister to Dakota, plays the sixteen year old Aurora. She doesn’t get a lot to work with, nature of the character I suppose, but she does sell it when on screen with Angelina. They surprisingly have a bit of chemistry and it makes it work. More on the surprisingly in a bit. Sharlto Copley (District 9, A Team) plays Stefan and was clearly hired for his ability to go dark in the blink of an eye and have some cultivated insanity. Everyone else is wasted in two dimensional undeveloped stereotypes. Some more annoying than others.

Ok, one exception. Newcomer Sam Riley as Diaval is the audiences eyes and window into the world. He’s everything he should be. When he stands in the shadow of Jolie he at least has a shape to himself and that is impressive.

That comes down to directing and story. Story first, Linda Woolverton is the written by credit with ten other based on credits, including the Brothers Grimm themselves. She has some movie credits to her name, but ultimately she has done a lot of TV and written for children, young children. None of her work has been solo until now. Sadly, she needs that help. Nothing here is ever fully fleshed out and the ideas are not developed as fully as they can be. I wish they had been as some of them were amazing. Others that were developed a touch, a touch were actually well done and they had the bravery to do some things. Just not enough.

Some of that goes to the director, Robert Stromberg. Don’t know the name? It’s ok. He is an oscar winner, but this is his directorial debut. What he has been is the production designer, that means he tells everyone else how pretty the setting will be, for Cameron’s Avatar, Oz the Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland. Well, for the first time since Avatar he got it right. Visually. Directorially, he needs work. His sense of pacing and care for the characters he is trying to develop is horrific. He spends no time on the character interactions in detail, barely showing the development of the characters. The only thing saving him is the cast and for me the visuals.

I find the movie gorgeous. I didn’t see it in 3D but wish that I had for the flight sequences. While the creature design is great and actually kind of unique they do look CGI for the most part. They look crafted with care, but there’s no way you buy them being “real”. I was able to overlook that for the beauty, colours, and whimsy of the world of the Faerie. Froud would be happy. The details in many other sequences were also present and not just glossed over. Magnificent transitions between shots and subtle details in others really made this work. The make up on Jolie and Riley was beyond perfect. Itwas flawless.

TL;DR?

The movie made me smile. The movie made me laugh. I felt joy and even teared up when I was supposed to. In all of this the movie works. I *enjoyed* myself during the film, even if those I saw it with did not. I let myself get wrapped into the world and taken for the ride they delivered. While I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, I can say that I enjoyed most of them.

I am a sentimentalist at heart. A true romantic (why am I single again?) and let the movie in. I didn’t think too hard. I let it bring the emotions in.

If you can do that, watch this movie.

Its absolutely for children of most ages. There is stuff for adults, but not nearly as strong as it should or could be. I do recommend the film and that when you sit down, its not about turning your brain off; but instead letting your own inner child sit back and watch the show.

Will Maleficent break the Disney live action curse? It might take all the powers of Hell, but it just might.