Darke Reviews | The Amazing Spiderman 2

Alright folks, so the summer blockbuster season has officially begun. It is May. For the next 4 weeks we will be inundated with some of the strongest contenders for box office gold. With June having a semi weak following in comparison just to gear up for the 4th of July and mid july stakes. August is the dump slot where all films studios aren’t sure about go to die or surprise people. Yes, that means even Guardians of the Galaxy, despite it’s budget is in that space. As we’ve discussed before this year has pretty much sucked overall. It’s had highlights (thank you Cap) but mostly been a bloody mess.

Now, I made no bones about it with the review of the first Amazing Spiderman (I really need a way to link to prior reviews…hmm) – I didn’t like it. There’s too much there that rubbed me wrong and took away from the film for me to really embrace it. It wasn’t even the too soon factor. Now, we have Amazing Spiderman 2; which from the trailers made it appear to fall prey to sequel syndrome with three apparent villains. Did it work? Keep reading. Were they too ambitious? Keep reading. Did I go in with low expectations? Not so much, they were low, but other things this year have been so much lower. Where did it finally land?

Well for one Mark Webb, the director who has music videos to his credit prior and (500) Days of Summer returns for this one. Consistency helps, but a lot of my complaints with the last movie came down to directorial decisions that were pretty bad. I think he learned. There are still some really bad decisions here. The pacing of the movie, which runs a full two and a half hours, is terrible. I was able to get up for a bio break during the midway part and feel confident I missed nothing important. I was right. He understands highs and lows in the plot and how to utilize them well enough, but there are just too many and the director should be able to have some control there and Webb did not. I am beating up here, but he does redeem himself. some of the blame in this area of pacing and storytelling comes down to the writers.

If I wasn’t counting repeats, the total count is seven. You may commence worrying now. When you do account for repeats, it still only drops it for four. Two of which I will blame nearly entirely for any flaws in execution of the story and those are Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. These two until recently are inseparable. They are the ones who gave us Transformers 2, Star Trek into Star Wars..er Darkness, Cowboys and Aliens, and so many other disasters of storytelling. They make GREAT producers, but as writers they leave a little to be desired. The movie also has Jeff Pinkner who worked with K/O on Fringe, Lost and Alias; and finally James Vanderbilt, who gave us the underrated Basic and Losers movies.

With this many writers, its no wonder the overall plot is a hot mess of trying too much and being too ambitious. Granted, it succeeds at a good portion of it, but not in every area. It does try to stuff three classic spiderman bad guys, their origins, their character development into a single film. While doing that it also tries to give a bit of the heroes journey narrative for your friendly neighborhood web head both in and out of costume. God, I want to get into spoilers here, but my promise is none. There is also a plot involving Peter’s parents again which I suppose if I followed the comics would make more sense, so Ill leave it as is. There really is a lot going on here, and it falls to the actors and director to try to make you care.

They succeed. This is where Webb shines. He has built a fantastic cast to work with and each of them really get a moment in the sun. Enough so that I was really able to see the world from their point of view. Jamie Foxx as Electro does a good job on what would otherwise be a fairly stereotypical caricature. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) channels mid 90’s Leonardo diCaprio and Cillian Murphy here to give his performance. He does make you feel for him and are able to follow his arc as Harry Osborn. Paul Giamatti is not used nearly enough in his role, but there are of course movies to come. Emma stone (zombieland) is an amazing woman who gives you a modern day Gwen Stacy. She is strong, she is independent, and she will not let someone else make decisions for her. I admire her, she’s someone people could look up to. We need her in more roles, more comic book and sci fi roles if possible. Actioners too. She is a really talented actress who brings a lot of fire into the role of a character who in the original run of the comics was little more than fridge bait and a victim. FOr this, I say thank you Ms. Stone. You were needed and you did a great job of being more than what she was drawn as.

The brunt of the praise, that Webb earned as well, comes down to Andrew Garfield. Our Peter Parker. Our Spiderman. He is everything that he needs to be and covers the range of emotions that he needs to. You can feel his despair, his confusion, his fear, his pain, and even his joy. He runs the gambit of the emotional rollercoaster through the film and you are with him the entire time. You really don’t question him (much) as he hits each beat. what he also delivers and delivers well is something we’ve been lacking in our superheroes of late. We have been in a rut of post modernism  in our heroes. This one wants to bring us hope, to bring smiles and that my friends is a nice change of pace and breath of fresh air. Is he moody? sure. Emo at times, yes, but with reason. Ultimately though he’s a comic book hero without too much deconstruction and we needed it. You may not know you needed it, but you did. Hope, light, and goodness are what we need more of in our heroes. So thank you. Thank you for doing it right here. Now do it again until people get off the dark and brooding kick.

The movie also boasts a fantastically executed soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Pharrel. I know right? It works. It isn’t memorable in the way that Star Wars or Superman is, but it is a strong soundtrack that elevates the film. You have moments of not being able to tell if you are dealing with effects or soundtrack at time and I consider this a good thing. Other musical choices in the film are just as relevant and just as well done.

It isn’t perfect though. Not by a long shot. As I said before the pacing is pretty bad. It runs about 30 minutes too long. Some of the visual effects are clearly animated and not blended well. Plot points are eye rollingly contrived at times with unnecessary threats and tension that only serves to distract. Editing errors are rampant; with confusing cuts and unusual beats with no explanation. Those moments serve to confuse rather than add. The visuals are a bit intense at times with motion and enough to be noticed, but not as bad as some have indicated.

TL;DR?

I feel good in recommending this one.

It’s a landmark improvement over the previous entries into the Spiderman franchises. There’s room for improvement in the next. It was solid, it was entertaining and just a good movie. I didn’t come out of it as excited as I did in Cap, but I won’t hold it against the movie as it does deliver all it tries to. Some parts better than others.

Spiderman is certainly an all ages film. I don’t think any beats get too dark for younger audiences, but I do think the story when it begins to drag will leave some kids *really* antsy.

3D? Isn’t necessary to enjoy it, but if you can afford the extra and don’t have anything that makes 3D bad on you. Try it. It does add to the film, which is the first time I’ve said that this year. Yay.

Final note: This movie is bright in the story sense, the character sense. Please Hollywood, when this one wins the box office this weekend pay attention. This is what we need in our heroes and for the love of the art form get back to this!!

Darke Reviews | Captain America:The Winter Soldier (2014)

Darke Reviews – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I promised Beth and Stef I would start off with the TL;DR on this one.

Holy Amazeballs. Yes. Go See this film. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect (but maybe spend) $200. Go see Cap. It is one of the best films to date in the Marvel cinematic universe and the best film to date this year. To be absolutely clear it is not a perfect film. There are flaws I will go into below, but it did everything I needed it to. It made me smile, made me sit on the edge of my seat, made me giddy with anticipation of something strange, made me laugh and even made me cry.

Go see it. Full price. No 3D, it isn’t needed by a long shot.

Full review time? I suppose so. Lets see if I can set a speed record on this writing.  These normally take me about 45 minutes to an hour to write because I want to choose everything I say carefully and keep the review SPOILER FREE!

Directed this time by Anthony and Joe Russo. If you’ve never heard of them that’s ok. Their biggest credit is the TV comedy Community. Seriously. These guys were given Captain America. I have absolutely no idea what Kevin Fiege and the other Marvel producers saw in them, but it worked. They got exactly what they needed from their actors and every shot. The down side is that the movie was filled with some magnificently beautiful fight sequences that I would have loved to watch. Really, I am tired of quick cuts and camera motion. What I could see of the fights was pretty amazing and painful. The movie also has some pacing issues which fall on the directors feet, as it runs a long two hours and thirty minutes and at times feels it.

The time of course is needed for the complexity of the plot. Ed Brubaker is credited with the concept and story, that was converted to screen play by Chronicles of Narnia writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  The three of them created a Bond worthy plot within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Bible. NOTHING in these films is done without forethought or planning. When I consider that, it tells me that parts of the plot that seemingly came out of left field were planned. It tells me they knew what they were doing and the filler was done exceedingly well. The movie runs long and a few scenes could have been cut I suppose, but I really enjoy that the writers bothered to put quiet moments. Emotional moments for the characters to let their relationships build and let you get to really know who they are in the dark. They intelligently don’t over explain when lesser writers would have spelled some things out. I applaud them for that.

Of course the writing and direction need actors. Thankfully the movie has them and for once they aren’t chewing scenery. Even Redford as Alexander Pierce comes across with a subdued yet powerful presence. Samuel L Jackson stopped being Samuel L Jackson and was Nick Fury. The limelight, however, belongs to Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie. I’ve talked about the need for chemistry in a film before. You know when actors are not a hundred percent comfortable with each other, their roles, or  some element of the film. Here they all make it look effortless. The quiet moments have a serene and subtle quality that they need. The moments of bonding feel natural and not forced. The moments they need to be strong and dominating the screen as larger than life beings come across just as well with these actors. Each one of them has their moment in the sun and they cast a tremendous shadow when they get it.  I was really pleased with the balance of their characters through the movie in a way that surprised me.

I didn’t mention the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t get to do a lot other than kick ass. I am not saying his performance wasn’t good, but it didn’t hold the nuance the others brought.

From a technicals standpoint, the 3D is largely wasted on the fact you can’t appreciate the motion of Falcon flying due to quick cuts and massive camera movements. I swear the cameraman may have been having a grand mal seizure. This is by far the biggest flaw of the film. Everything else is on par with all we’ve been given before. This is something Marvel needs to be careful of  as the effects need to continue to advance with the years or things will look dated. The movie doesn’t suffer from that yet, but it wont be long before it could.

Overall the movie is, as I mentioned before, arguably one of the best Marvel films to date. It is up there with Avengers. It feels like a comic book movie that Captain America SHOULD be in. It feels like they should be doing this and the plots complexity fit perfectly. There’s enough references to the other Avengers in the film to make fans smile and unlike refuse like Iron Man 3 or a flawed Thor Dark World, happens quick enough and in such a way that calling in back up doesn’t feel viable.  So thats another applause there. It was enough to have who they did, doing what they did.

Of course, stay for the post credits scenes. Yes, plural. The first is more powerful, but the second has meaning.

That’s it folks. Speed record set (30 minutes). Go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Cap movie we needed and deserved.

Darke Reviews | 300: Rise of an Empire

Ah Zack Snyder, you and I have a love hate relationship. You make such visually stunning movies. You make movies so thin on plot that they are translucent. You have an eye for action that many directors would kill for, yet you cannot let us see all the action with your quick cuts and camera movements. You are a teenage boy playing out his fantasies and whims on the big screen, making money hand over fist despite all logic saying otherwise. Now, you returned to the movie that made you a Hollywood name.

7 years ago, a guy who gave us an interesting yet ultimately hollow remake of Dawn of the Dead was given a book written by the talented Frank Miller. The book was a mere 88 pages of illustration and light text. Snyder then proceeded to faithfully recreate nearly every panel of the book on screen. He proceeded to make a film with a visual style we had never seen. The usage of slow to fast combat had never quite been done in this manner. He didn’t fear blood, violence and style. He was given 65 million dollars by Warner Bros. and turned it into 210 million domestically ($456mm combined). We loved it for all it was worth and ripped it apart in the way that we do in the months to come. He has had 7 years to learn and grow as a director, writer and producer. Has he?

Perhaps so. Indicated by that he didn’t actually direct this. That task fell to unknown director Noam Murro. I don’t think he disappointed. As a writer on this Snyder once again played faithful to Millers 300 sequel “Xerxes”. He was assisted by Kurt Johnstad who apparently doesn’t have blood in his veins only testosterone. Johnstad also wrote 300 and Act of Valor prior to this. Does this man just want to write recruitment videos for the military? He’s succeeding if so. All of that said, this movie actually had more character moments in it than its predecessor but only barely. More epic speeches and only slightly less yelling. It doesn’t do much more than 300 did, but is thankfully different enough to not just rehash the last film.

What it does do however is provider Murro a perfect backdrop with which to craft the art of the film. Now this part may seem strange, but there was a time History channel showed actual history. I know, its surreal. One of the specials they had done was on the battles between Persia and Greece. Murro, Snyder and Johnstad must have seen the same special. For this movie they used actual tactics of the Greek Navy against the Persians. They used ship to ship and naval tricks and tactics used by both sides. Sadly they didn’t put in any of the biological warfare that was also used, but I will take what I can get. Yes, its hyper stylized, dramaticized and not completely historically accurate, but damn it they tried and should get credit for it.

As it comes to the acting the movies strength is here. The movie is filled mostly with relative unknowns who have had small roles in film or within TV. Returning of course is Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones if you didn’t know) who apparently must play truly bad ass women. This is not a complaint, more of a compliment. Though her part is regretfully minor she is memorable. David Wenham appears as a backdrop piece only in his role of Dilios. Rodrigo Santoro gets to go without full make up for a bit as Xerxes again, but is otherwise also little more than backdrop. Even Themistokles, our movies hero, played by Sullivan Stapleton (one of those unknowns) is only somewhat memorable.

The movie belongs to the character who was once in the title of the film, Artemisia. Eva Green (Casino Royale, Kingdom of Heaven and the abomination that was Dark Shadows) is center stage here. The camera loves her, the plot loves her and even as the villain of the movie you cheer for her. Every scene she is in, she commands. She is watchable, she is a gothic beauty that is magnificently psychotic. She’s a Wednesday Addams in Greece. All of her scenes, even one that is pretty much unnecessarily long, she is in control. She is not passive in the movie and joins the battle as quickly as anyone else. The subtle nuances she brings in the quiet moments are what make her whole and keep her from being the caricature that Xerxes was. Does it sound like I am in love? Perhaps so.

Sadly, the movie comes with its flaws as well. Much like Hercules earlier this year, apparently 3D now means you must have motes floating in every…frakking scene! Seriously, if there were that many embers of the fires in the air people would be incinerated from the inside out. It actually was distracting me in some scenes where we were supposed to focus on the characters. There’s even more blood splatter in this movie than 300 if you can believe that. I am not sure if thats good or bad yet, but it’s there. The hyper stylized colour pallette of 300 has also returned, though it doesn’t always seem present which is a little off putting. There was one scene where I am reasonably certain every character in it was a CGI render. If it wasn’t it was *really* bad CG colour correction and overlay on those characters that turned them from men to something I’d expect to see in a video game cut scene. Not good guys. Not good there at all.

There are some editing issues as well. In 300 we are introduced to characters that we are supposed to care about and we learn, care or not, their fates. Here, we are introduced to characters we are supposed to care about and apparently the editors forgot that. There are a few characters you may like, but didn’t rate high enough to know their ultimate fate; which is surprisingly in question. Also the strength and skill of both Greek and Persian changes depending on whom they are fighting. If we don’t care the persians die, if we care the greeks die. If you can tell me the characters name they are pretty awesome in battle, otherwise well…yeah.

TL;DR?

This movie made me smile. It’s the movie I have been waiting 66 days for. The first movie this year I can say with satisfaction is GOOD. It’s not great folks, but damnit it is both good and entertaining. It has its completely over the top ridiculous moments, but it is the work of art it needed to be and is reasonably solid throughout.

That said, its not for all audiences. I won’t deny the eye candy on either side of the gender roles, but this won’t be your *average* date movie and certainly isn’t family friendly. If you have a date who wants to see this and you want to see it. Go. Dear gods go. Otherwise, just go!

If this is how the spring blockbuster season starts, there’s hope for the movies this year yet.

Next week, I feel the need, The Need for Speed. – No I don’t think it looks good, but what the hell.

Darke Reviews | Legend of Hercules (2014)

The world, my readers, everyone owes me for this one. Brace yourselves, my review is coming. Not since Die Hard 5 have I felt this way about a film. My cohort tonight thought it was better than she expected, however that scale was against something like Sharknado. Me…well let’s go through the usual breakdown shall we.

The director, Renny Harlin, who is best known for some of my favourite films of the 90s. He can claim Die Hard 2, Long Kiss Goodnight and Cutthroat Island. He can even claim Jaws 2000 er …Deep Blue Sea. He also can claim underrated films like The Covenant, Driven and Mindhunters. Sadly Cliffhanger is in his credits as well. Now, after watching his take on Hercules I have but a few lingering thoughts about this once brilliant action director.

One, did Uwe Boll challenge Harlin to a boxing match and cause brain damage? Did Uwe Boll perhaps kill Harlin and begin impersonating him. Did he hear the song transcendental dream and the line “I’d rather have this bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy” and go “Let’s try both!” These are but some of the likely possibilities for how this film turned out. Sad to say that I think some of Boll’s films are actually better.

Of course no film of this caliber is complete without its script. There are four writing credits and if you’ve read my reviews before you know what that means. We Daniel Giat on his first (and likely last) feature film. Giulio Steve (as IMDB credits him) an Italian producer with his first and only credit for writing. Harlin himself who has minimal experience in this field; which may explain a few things. Sean Hood is the final credit. He has a written by on the recent Conan adaptation and screenplay credits on the 4th Crow movie Wicked Prayer. By some chance and random boredom one day I watched that travesty of film and waste of celluloid and investor dollars. It explains, in its raw derivativeness (that should be a word) what I witnessed tonight.

Please good readers know that I fell on my spear for you. I bore witness to this abomination and did not walk out. This is how much I love you. I watched a film in which the writers and director clearly had this conversation:

“You know that scene from Troy?”
“Use it.”
“You know that shooting style of 300?”
“Use it.”
“What about Immortals? I mean it kinda ripped off 300 but had Gods.”
“Use it.”
“How about this epic shot from 300?”
“Use it.”
“Can we use this shot from the 300 sequel that hasn’t even come out yet?”
‘Sure. Then we can claim we did it first.”

This conversation clearly happened shortly after some drug addled producer at Summit and Millennium films drank themselves into a stupor on the worst possible grain alcohol they could find. These two sloshed and brain damaged individuals heard the Rock was making a Hercules movie and thought they could make one too. It might confuse audiences and perhaps even make them some money on the side. It could ruin the Rocks chances (as if). Much like before, these are the explanations I must surmise from that festering pile of film that was shown tonight.

Every year there are two films that it’s clear are ripped off one another. It’s only a challenge to figure out which came first and which is the rip off. Last year was White House Explosions, this year it is Hercules.

Surely the acting held some redeeming value? You can ask yourself that now. Its ok I understand. Sadly Kellan Lutz (Hercules) may have found that his career peaked with his role in the twilight films. I can believe he took acting lessons on range from Kristen Stewart. Oh his body is fine to look at and you are given opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to watch it; but the boy just cannot act. Stewart is a better actress. You know how hard that is to write? No one else in the cast is even worth mentioning aside from the unknown actress who plays his love interest. Gaia Weiss (Princess Hebe) actually shows more range and emotion than the movie deserves. She also takes more personal action than anyone else in the film. Despite the fact there were at least three scenes the costumer clearly confused this girls costume with that from the She-Ra Princess of Power costume Gaia is actually worth watching once or twice.

Technicals? Don’t hold your breath. I knew how bad this film was going to be when the computer generated archers were firing shot after shot without even getting new arrows from their quivers. Completely arbitrary and abysmally rendered computer overlays of characters and backgrounds took you right out of the experience in just how bad they were. SyFy does a better job blending their actors with the movie events. Then there’s the lightning whip sword scene. Let those words sink in a moment as I move to the 3D rendering.

If anyone actually goes to see this en masse it could destroy the 3D market for movies everywhere. Every bit of the usage was a gimmick. Chains, Blocks, spears, arrows coming at you. The artist was also obsessed with Motes of dust and flower pollen on screen at all times. I think it was an addiction. More Dots he cried! Then the orderlies came and gave him his sedatives. The rendering was so bad in post-production there were parts of frames that were still blurry WITH the 3D glasses on. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Alright, how to sum this up.

TL;DR

As I have had time to really dwell on the film I can say that the smell of curdled milk has more appeal. The raw, festering, bilious mass that took up two hours of my night tonight gives me hope for one thing alone.

That if this putrid production is how the year opens it can only get better from here.

Avoid this film. Do not redbox it. Do not Netflix it. Don’t even try to watch it through other means. Just….don’t. You will thank me for it.

Now, please excuse me I need to pour some acid into my sinus cavity and find a power drill to get this thing out of my head.

Darke Reviews | The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Sorry for the lateness on this one folks, I had every intention to get this out to you yesterday. The usual disclaimers apply here and need to be covered especially as I am aware of some significant changes in the core story. I have not read, nor am likely to read the original book The Hobbit. I have not read the revisions written by Mr. Tolkien that brought the story in line with the Lord of the rings trilogy. I have not read The Silmarillion, from which I understand material was used. This movie will be judged on its cinematic narrative alone and how it flows as part of its own trilogy. Also I am going to remain spoiler free as always.

I am at the moment undecided if this movie breaks the rule of too many writers and still being really good in the script department. We have Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (HellBoy/Pacific Rim). The first three of this quartet have the entirety of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films as their credits. del Toro, who was originally brought in to direct but left to do Pacific Rim, is a surprising credit. While this work is partially out of his normal realm, when you consider the environment and world of Pans Labrynth it almost feels like elements of that could have been middle earth. While the four have screenplay credits, the bulk of the work was done by Tolkien himself. Adaptation of the core material is difficult in many respects and they did well, not perfect, but well. The problem I find in the writing is that with very few exceptions I dislike the characters and there are too many to care about. More on that in a bit.

Directing of course falls on the shoulders of Peter Jackson himself. The primary complaints I had about An Unexpected Journey seem to have been resolved; where he has decided to stick to a single tonal style. The last one couldn’t decide if it wanted to be for kids, for adolescents, for adults or in the vein of the previous trilogy. A single voice was used here which focused on the similar style choices to the original trilogy. The lighting tends to be a bit brighter in palette with less muting of the colours throughout. It creates an atmosphere that shows the world has not become the bleak place where the armies of Sauron march – yet. The one exception is what I am going to forever call the Donkey Kong moment, where while very fun was almost a bit too silly.

I want to talk more on the technicals for a moment as they were a clear decision he made in this regard. I understand that he wants to push the visual medium of film to the next level and elected to use the 48 frames per second (FPS) as he did in Unexpected Journey. Normal film you watch is done at 24 FPS. By shooting the film this fast it creates a clarity that we are not used to. It’s almost more real than real and its actually a bit jarring for most movie going audiences. It’s too clean and we aren’t used to it yet. Thats one of the problems, the other is because it creates such crystal clarity of image you can see things on screen you don’t want to. You can see lighting rigs at times from the set and elements that are clearly from sets rather than real life actually look fake; which they are but a slower frame rate hides that. Real life, wide angle shots of walking (yes there’s more walking!),  look great. CG imagery and obvious sets, clearly look apart from the reality that is the actors and natural stone and wood. It’s problematic to say the least. The 3D added little to the overall effects and was used more for gimmick than anything.

The CG work is overall more clean than it was in the first. It is still not great and I wish they had trusted practical effects and make up more. Many of the characters that are given a CG overlay truly do not look like part of the world. One day someone will also figure out that moving people in “nimble” ways through CG doesn’t look natural. Ten years or so ago when Neo fought a few hundred Smiths in the apartment basketball court everyone thought the fight was cool, but it was painfully evident when it was computer generated bodies. That effect hasn’t improved and really needs to be avoided until someone gets it right. The skin “looks right” but is off and you can tell it’s not natural.

The other technical flaw and it comes with the high frame rate is camera movements. The pan and sweeps move too fast and that makes it hard on the eyes. They don’t look completely bad, they just are disorienting.

The acting is nothing to write home about. Everyone is “just fine”. It’s hard to be impressed when there are so many characters to keep track of. There are some notable characters in the mix though. Ken Stott’s Balin (the really old looking one) is perhaps the most heart filled of the Dwarves and brings a gentle wisdom and compassion to the screen that had it been lacking would have been detrimental to the film. Aidan Turners Kili (the..cute one?) is probably given more screen time than was written before and I am thankful for it. The story between him and the elven guardsman Tauriel is one of the more interesting stories through the movie and honestly that’s problematic. When you create a new character (Tauriel) and create a story with an existing character and it’s far more interesting than many of the other arcs going on something has failed in the rest of the plot. That being said, Tauriel is someone I’d honestly want to see more of. Legolas addition to the film neither helps nor hurts the narrative much other than a quick nod to the future nearly a century down the line. I think its an odd choice to have him, but if it makes sense in the history I know nothing about so be it.

Now for the part everyone has really been waiting for.

Smaug.

The dragon is awesome. It has scale , it has weight and it has power. Even in 48 FPS because of the lack of natural lighting he is amazing looking. Cumberbatch’s voicing of the creature does add an additional gravitas that only a handful of other actors could have delivered. To say much more risks spoilers and lets face it, you are going to this movie to see the Dragon and I do not think you will be disappointed with what you get.

TL;DR?

Alright Barrel riders, I have to say this one is significantly better than the first. It is not the best film of the year, but it is truly solid film making and still entertaining. I question the need to make three movies, but it has worked thus far.

It’s worth seeing without a doubt.

DO not see it in the High Def 3D, I think it actually takes away for the most part. Save yourself the $5 extra per ticket. 2D should be fine, or if you must regular 3D.

I still recommend this one as being ok for an all ages show, but be wary if the little ones are sensitive to some of the darker/scarier moments the film hits.

I know I will be seeing it again with others and I don’t regret it in the least. Its the movie to see this December with not much coming out to challenge it for weeks to come.

Darke Reviews | Frozen (2013)

What? The Vampire Princess can’t like animation? Honestly, I have a weak spot for animated musicals. I was born in the dark ages of Disney animation where Black Cauldron was one of the highlights. I do remember watching Fox and the Hound, and all the classics. I stared in awe at the animations of The Little Mermaid and had a crush on Aladdin. I cried when Simba’s father died, I dreamed of running through the mountains of western Maryland as Pocahontas and even wanted to find Atlantis and stay there as Milo in Atlantis. I wanted to be taken away by a Beast and live in castle full of books as Belle – He could stay a beast too thank you very much. So obviously this girl had to see Frozen.

I understand there’s some people who are annoyed by the whiteness of it and the fact that many of the character models are rendered using the same skeletons as Tangled. It is true. I would say at least half of the models are re skinned versions of half the side characters of Tangled. Even the sideburns and hair color are there. The two main female characters are also somewhat similar but I am going to outright disregard the criticisms. Here’s why: most of the Disney princess art/characters are so bloody similar to begin with many of them have just subtle alterations anyway unless there are drastic art style changes (Pocahontas/Hercules).

So what?
Does it take away from the beauty? No.
Does it take away from the narrative? Not in the least.
What does it take away from? If anything perhaps a bit of originality.
It makes the toy makers lives easy as they only have to make a few changes and lets be honest folks, Disney is still a company and they want to make money and the movies are giant commercials for the toys for kids. I am ok with this. They don’t really pretend otherwise.

It only takes away if you let it and I won’t let it.

As far as the movie is concerned, lets get to the review a bit. Its a touch light as I am still trying to remain spoiler free.

Frozen is based on a story titled The Snow Queen, by the often adapted Hans Christian Anderson (Little Mermaid as an example), written in 1845. When I say adapted, I mean to say that it involves a Snow Queen, a Reindeer, take place in the far north of Andersons Scandinavia and has snow. This story focuses on two princesses Elsa and Anna. Elsa was cursed with the ability to freeze things with a touch and is forced into isolation from her little sister Anna. The whys and wherefores of the curse matter little. One fateful night, as they often are, Elsa’s secret is revealed and she runs from her castle and her family into the north. Her leaving triggers a massive freeze in the kingdom. Her sister Anna is determined to save her sister even if it means her own life. Along the way she is helped by Kristoff (an ice merchant), Olaf (a snowman) and Sven (a reindeer). Can she save Elsa, herself and her kingdom?

Well you need to watch to find out, duh.

Lets talk writing and direction for a minute since they are the same. Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee(…nothing before) direct with an additional writing credit from Shane Morris. They’ve taken a tact similar to what other recent Disney movies have done where they went very tongue in cheek with blatant nods to Disneys traditional ridiculousness. An example is Tangled where Flynn Ryder is the only one to be bothered by all the singing and the hyper intelligent animals. Frozen picks on the conceit of love at first sight and has more than one character call attention to how silly it can be. There isn’t a lot otherwise to the film beyond a solid story that at times got a little jumbled. Its solid, but not perfect. The fact that the musical numbers stop a little before the halfway point is a bit disappointing.

The voice actors are spot on with Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) as Anna carrying the brunt of the voice work. Idinza Menzel (Enchanted, Rent, Wicked) sings her heart out as Elsa. I was pleasantly surprised at Kristen holding her own in a duet with Idina. Both are always fun to listen to through the movie and bring the emotions they need to the performances they have. Jonathan Groff (Jesse from Glee) must have been brought along with Idina from her time on Glee and sadly isn’t used for all the musical potential he has. He does bring a certain charm to the movie and grounds the film where it needs to be. The rest of the cast isn’t really worth mentioning sadly, but the focus isn’t on them. It is, however, worth mentioning that I had expected to be annoyed by the Snowman and the Reindeer and was happily surprised that they didn’t annoy me and actually were quite endearing.

This is where I normally talk effects, shooting, etc. So instead lets talk animation. Yes, the character models themselves are from Tangled. Moving on. The actual “skins” are really quite beautiful with an ever increasing attention to detail on how fabric moves and how hair looks. There is a clear and conscious decision to separate the faces from realism while hyper attention to detail has been placed on the finer details and lighting. The snow is rendered like someone who has been in a blizzard and knows how it moves; while the ice. Wow. It is incredibly beautiful and perfect. Many people will miss how you can see reflections in the ice of all the objects that should be; all the while able to see through it at the proper places. There’s a scene where Elsa makes a dress (that I want) out of ice and walks through a door and you can see how the ice on the walls distorts the image from inside. Even the simple stomp of her foot and the explosion of ice seems to have a weight and gives the ice life like it does if you were to watch something freeze at high speed.

The musical numbers are a mixed bag for me. Some of them truly resonated and I’ve listened to one track twenty times already while writing this review. Others did not and thats all that keeps me from buying the CD right now. It is sad that the musical beats stop about halfway and they don’t use Groffs talents more, I have distinct feeling there are some serious edits to the film as there are a few seconds/scenes in the trailers that didn’t make it into the final film. Live action movies aren’t the only ones who run into that.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed it. It isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it was a solid film for its two hour running time and I feel right in recommending it for evening or matinees. It is most certainly kid friendly and still enjoyable for adults.

There is a warning of course to those who don’t like cold. If you have a thing about the cold, this is not a good movie for you.

If you are like me and think Ice and Snow are two of the most beautiful things to be surrounded by – I promise during Let It Go (Elsa’s solo) you will stare in awe as I did and fall in love with the beauty and wonder of it as she is.

…Now if you will excuse me I need to see who I can bribe to make Elsa and Anna’s dress for me….

Darke Reviews | Epic (2013)

William “Rise of the Guardians” Joyce brings us another tale for the kids. Instead of fanciful dreams and Guardians of the children of the world; we are given the miniscule yet potent Guardians of the Woods. While last falls Rise of the Guardians (RozG) was brought to us by Dreamworks and delivered all its trailers promised, this particular fairy tale is delivered to us by Fox and does not deliver all that was promised.

Wait, wait wait. Am I telling you this is a bad movie? No. Not in the least. Point in fact its rather good and will be highly entertaining to its core demographic of 5 to 12 year olds. Adults may get something from the animation and action as well. There is a solid story and it doesn’t once get Ferngully/Avatar levels of preachy on you. It doesn’t get that way at all point in fact. Which is a point I have to appreciate.

SO what doesn’t deliver? The trailer.

Let me give you the original teaser from June 2012

Now as of November of this year, they were still mostly pitching this as an kids actioner befitting the title it has. There were a few more comedy moments inserted and overall you got a better feel for the film that would be coming. In recent weeks Fox, in their usual mis/manhandling of their properties have all but ruined their chances of making back the budget on this one.

We have had trailers over emphasizing the comedic beats of the film that are completely out of context. I mean literally. They changed the music in the trailers from the music of the scene and it alters the tonality as much as it could be. There is also the fact of who they are choosing to play up in the cast. Comic actors (Ansari, O’Dowd) and singers (Beyonce, Steven Tyler) more than any known elements (Hutcherson, Farrell, Seyfriend, Waltz). Name dropping on this scale and style usually means the studio has no faith in the picture or the trailers to draw people in and instead have to use this particular tactic to try to entice parents and their kids to see their favourite funny people and singers – though really does anyone in their target demo know who Steven Tyler is?

That’s the promise failed folks. Once again I find the trailer house and studio grossly negligent in their marketing. Kids will go see this expecting this shiny happy comedic movie with talking animals. They will be disappointed. Kids will go expecting their big stars through the movie, they will be half disappointed.

Granted I know I am not the target demographic and I can’t honestly say what kids may take from the trailer sand expect in the movie, but if I am right you will get back what you put in. The studio idiots at Fox and whomever they contracted for the trailer half assed it and they will get half as much as they could have unless positive word of mouth saves this work.

That being said and my rant done – If you have kids take them to see it. 6 is the youngest I’d take, but 5 might be safe. There’s nothing particularly too dark or scary in it at all. Rather well done that way for kids.

If you are an adult and were curious – Try it out.

I enjoyed it and honestly part of me hopes there are Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs out there.