Darke Reviews | Frozen II (2019)

For many people Avengers Endgame was their most anticipated movie of the year, for others it might have been It Chapter 2, and others still Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker next month. All of those were, or are, eagerly anticipated by me true; but this – this right here tops the list without fail. My review of Frozen was early in my “career” and doesn’t have what’s become my trademark closings, but I stand by the review. The original movie is kind of a mixed bag, music drops off at the half way point and some of the songs don’t work. I still avoid doing research into a movie before writing the review, but have more easily picked up edits and such. I called it in the original review that there were a lot of last minute edits, I just didn’t realize the scale and scope of them and that the majority came in the two to three months prior to release.

Since then I have more or less become an Elsa to many, and in my own head if were being honest, and she is part of who I am now. There are the Facebook tags and the running joke of being summoned at the sight of an Elsa meme. Whenever anything Frozen or Elsa comes out, I get tags or people pleading for me to stop the snow (NO!). I have an extensive collection to Elsa and Frozen and have easily listened to Let it Go over a thousand times without exaggeration.

The cold still doesn’t bother me anyway. Did this sequel?

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return to the writing and directing chairs, but not alone. Kristen Lopez Anderson and Robert Lopez who did the music for the original also get story credits. Additionally Marc Smith, likely for his work on the short Frozen Fever and contributing in the writers room. Unlike last time this story feels far more cohesive and music as much part of the story as the script and truly moves it along in many cases; albeit on the nose more than a few times. The writers were smart here and did something few other franchises have and aged their characters a respective number of years, but more than that they aged them with their audience. This sequel is for the fans of Frozen. The characters have grown as the children (and adults) who loved the original have and the story is written for them. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough for the newest generation and judging from the laughs I heard they got it too.

The writers do something else not often seen in a sequel – the characters don’t regress. Often in sequels you see characters falling into the behaviors they were trapped by or grew out of in the course of the original movie because someone can’t figure a new plot. Here that is not that the case. In fact the entire plot is original as near as I can tell as I have never seen *this* story told before. So we have two major things that sequels fail to do overcome by supported, competent writers who are also clearly listening to their audience.

The plot is as shown in the trailers; with Elsa hearing a mystical sirens call that no one else can hear. During a night something changes and Arendelle falls into danger once more. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven must go north and solve and old mystery from their past. Danger, magic, and beauty await them in the mystic forest. Together they forge their way through and….

What? No spoilers duh.

The acting in the movie is fine by the way. Its hard for it not to be with the same cast returning to characters they’ve become recognized as for the past half decade. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff fall back into it as naturally as if they had literally been these characters for the last six years. I was sad to see that Maurice LaMarche (Brain) did not reprise his role as the king in the flashbacks in this film. I am never going to forget meeting him in my Elsa costume a few months after coming out as Transgender and him using the fathers voice and changing the line, “Don’t conceal, feel, let it show.” I cried for a solid five minutes after and he may never know how much that meant. We do get some new voice talent in the form of Sterling K Brown (This is Us, Black Panther), Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld, True Blood, and biseuxal icon), Jason Ritter (Gravity Falls, Drunk History), and Rachel Matthews (Happy Death Day) and as expected on a production like this no one phones it in.

There is of course the music and I am happy to say the movie remembered it was a musical from the beginning to the end and somehow oddly breaks more than a few normal musical theatre conventions in the process. While not every song will be for everyone, there are more songs for everyone here. Kristen Lopez Anderson and Robert Lopez wisely do not try to do something that one ups let it go. You can’t. They didn’t try. They do hit another anthem however that has nearly as a powerful message that will be resonating with folks for some time. Let it Go still reigns, even if the movie pokes a joke at its expense (its a good one), but songs like Into the Unknown and Show Yourself will do what they were very very clearly and intentionally meant to. The highs aren’t AS high and the lows aren’t as low as Frozen, but they are more consistent and consistently at a higher caliber.

The animation though, here is where this movie absolutely explodes. This is, for me and my Dark Court tonight, hands down one of the most beautiful Disney animated movies ever put to screen. The colour contrasts, the brilliant pops and attention to detail, lights, shadows, bloom, depth of field, its all there. That’s not even getting into the motion and the beauty of that. There were several shots in the movie where we thought it was photo real. It is THAT good on this front.

TL;DR?

I don’t want to oversell this movie. I am going to tell you I definitely prefer it to the original for its consistency and improved musical control. I cannot tell you how much I love the animation and how just beautiful the entire production is. I am still trying not to oversell this film. It is GOOD. Possibly even great. It didn’t meet all of my expectations and does have some flaws I couldn’t overlook entirely, but they don’t take away from the final piece in the same way the original did with its flaws.

What I can tell you with confidence is that two seats down from me there was an 8 or 9 year old girl singing along with every song happily. It was pure and almost as adorable as baby Yoda (I said almost!). I could hear the kids in the theatre laughing, singing, and cheering as the movie went on and adults too. I often complain about who is a movie made for? Who asked for this? Well in this case, we did. We got what we asked for (mostly) and it showed in the reactions of everyone in the theatre and even listening to people as they were leaving and the conversations we could hear happening around us.

That’s what this kind of art exists for and I am glad of it.

Would you watch it again?

Yeah, when do you wanna go? You buy? I’ll buy my own if needed. I do like it. The bigger the screen and sound system the better. I can only imagine this on an IMAX screen.

So buying it then?

I just checked, its not on pre-order yet.

Right, so trying not to oversell it huh?

Seriously not. I had to manage my expectations going in and this movie exceeded those expectations. It has flaws, more than a handful, but they do not take away from the whole and I spent two hours really enjoying myself and just watching some very very gorgeous moving art.

Any parting thoughts then?

The movie will introduce those who look her up to Norweigan singer Aurora and her music, which I am going to be exploring myself over the next few days. Also everyone is going to love either the Salamander or the Nokk or both.

Darke Reviews | The Addams Family (2019)

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

Should this movie have gone without name too?

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

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

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

Then there is the animation

Credit: Charles Addams

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

TL;DR

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

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

So should I see it?

Yep. Take the kids. Take the whole family.

Would you see it again?

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

So you’d be buying it then?

Without even a second thought.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Darke Reviews | Abominable (2019)

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

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

Was Abominable abominable?

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Should I watch it?

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

Would you watch it again?

Without a doubt.

How about buying it?

Absolutely.

This is so not your genre…

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

Fair. Anything else to share on this one?

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

 

 

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Greetings True Believers. So a theatre chain did a screening of the new animated Spider-Man movie tonight, needless to say I had my butt in a seat for it. While the trailer left me wondering a bit on the animation style as it wasn’t anything I had quite seen before I knew this movie would be important as it was the first time we got to see Miles Morales on screen. Now those who are not familiar with comics, and truth be told I’ve been out of them for awhile, may not know that in 2011 a new Spider was introduced; and this one happened to be a young Afro-Latino boy.   Needless to say in an age where in post after post I have to say #RepresentationMatters this movie is important. Until this year we have not yet had a person of colour lead a major comic book movie in this Renaissance of the comic movie. Yes, Black Panther was this year – how wild is that? Now obviously we can all name T’challa, Falcon, and even Nick Fury as black Heroes on screen. Now name the number of Latinx ones you’ve seen on screen.

Miles Morales is important.

This movie is important.

But is it good?

Let me cut to the chase and avoid the TL;DR cut – Yes. Yes it is.

First, let’s talk writing, this was written by Phil Lord of the Lego Movie fame (and kicked off of Solo: a Star Wars story fame) with his writing partner Christopher Miller as a producer. The story is an origin story, but damn if it isn’t solid. Not only do we get the origin for Miles to become Spider-Man, they introduce five other Spider’s from alternate universes. So the movie is able to juggle a total of six Spider’s and still keep Miles as our central character, with character conflict, growth, and identity being underlying themes through the movie and it works. Miles remains center stage, but you still get enough time with the other major characters through the story to get it. The movie also retains a beautiful sense of humor through out and is as far from Grimdark and Depressing as you can get.

It’s rare I get to talk about three directors for one movie, but here we go with Rodney Rothman (a Lord & Miller partner and writer on their projects), and two artists. The first is Bob Perischetti, who worked on Mulan, Tarzan, Shrek 2, and Monsters vs Aliens; as well as the acclaimed The Little Prince.  Peter Ramsey is an artist turned director, who worked as a storyboard and illustrator for Bram Stokers Dracula, Tank Girl, and was the director on the painfully underrated Rise of the Guardians.  These men know how to get great voice acting that has the subtle intonations that elevate the performance and also bring a strong visual style to the art team who had their work cut out for them combining cell shaded animation, traditional four colour dot art, CG characters, traditionally animated characters, and more into a single picture.

This movie is absolutely gorgeous. Colour theorists will have a field day with this one and they should with every colour being intentional and also amazingly vibrant. Even in the “dark” scenes in the movie, the contrast of colours against the true blacks just pop off the screen to the point I almost wondered how this would look with 3-D glasses. There is such amazing kineticism to the film as well where your eyes are always watching something and when the fights, chases, and other major beats happen there is a fluidity of motion you just cannot do in live action film making and the movie takes full advantage of it. It is raw, it is dynamic, and the camera always follows the action and keeps pulling you into those action beats so well. The animation also knows when to be still as well. The right moments are held like freeze frames with only minimal motion, but maximum emotion. Even the character designs, while so bloody disparate work when they really shouldn’t.

Credit must be given to Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down) is our Miles Morales, and for a 23 year old knocks it out of the park playing a very young teenager. Because of the complexity of the voice acting Moore brings we have a truly three dimensional portrayal of this character with a fantastic message for our viewers. Jake Johnson (the computer geek guy from Jurassic World) is our Peter Parker and while I wasn’t sure on him at the opening he also brought layers to what otherwise would have been a lesser character. The same can be said for Hailee Steinfield (Ender’s Game, True Grit, and the upcoming Bumblebee) as Spider-Woman/Gwen or Ghost Spider. This movie did her right too and I can think of hundreds and thousands of girls who will see a female hero who isn’t treated sexually in any way shape or form and is absolutely someone who kicks butt, has her own arc, and just is well done. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, This is Us) and Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight) have some emotional burden to carry too and do it admirably.

Even the music in this movie just rocks from beginning to end and …and ..

TL;DR

This movie I could go on and on about. I can tell you the hype for it is real. The positive reviews may not go far enough. I saw yesterday that this movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature and I have no argument that it should win. You haven’t seen a movie animated like this before, and maybe won’t again, but it’s original. It’s vibrant. The characters are good. The story is good. The movie works on every possible level and holds it’s own against some of the best Marvel and Disney have put out.

Not only is it good, but it also reminds us how much Representation DOES Matter and gives us the heroes we really do need right now, and a message we need as well.

So I am taking it I should…

Yes. Yes you should. In theatres. IMAX if you can for the full immersion of colour.

Would you see it aga….

Yes. Next?

Buying it?

This movie is why 4K TV’s exist.

Ok Vampire lady calm down aren’t you a bit too hyped?

Maybe. My best friend and I were talking about this movie the entire ride home and just how GOOD it is. Like capital “G”. It has a positive message for the kiddos, tons of nostalgia for those old enough, is beautiful, and honestly pure. I almost feel bad for Peter Jackson next week when this comes out as Mortal Engines is going to get destroyed by this.

I really do like this movie and I hope you see it and like it too.

 

Darke Reviews | Wreck it Ralph 2 – Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ok so that took longer than I was expecting to decide what to title this. Apparently most of the sources are going by the short title now “Ralph Breaks the Internet” so that’s a thing that happened. Last year I forgot that with the Wednesday pre thanksgiving release, the movie gets its preview night showings on the Tuesday as Wednesday is the full release. Around 6:30 tonight I remembered. So you get your review as usual the day of the release since most of you are reading this in the morning. As the year winds down we always have the big Disney release on this weekend and this year is no different and for the first time in forever its a sequel; something Disney does not do well historically on their own, Pixar being it’s own beast in that vein. Of course I am nervous about my sequel Frozen 2 and what that might look like, but we aren’t here to read about that.

Did they Wreck it or Fix it?

Not that 2012’s Wreck it Ralph needed to be fixed really and it doesn’t surprise too much that it would get a sequel as it made almost half a billion dollars domestically. The story was sweet, the threat was impressive, and the characters weren’t quite like anything we had been given before; which was a breath of fresh air into the Disney sails. Six years later, and five writers (eep) we have our sequel. The story credits here go to Josie Trinidad (head of story, and a Disney story artist on Tangled, Princess and the Frog and Wreck it Ralph), Pamela Ribon (story by on Moana), Jim Reardon (story by on Wreck it Ralph, Zootopia, and WALL-E),  Phil Johnston (Zootopia, and Wreck it Ralph), AND Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck it Ralph). Whew, five writers is usually a bad sign, but not unusual on a major Disney production as there is often a writers room involved. The screenplay was then polished by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon, and directed by Johnston and Moore. So everyone is deeply involved in the production along the way here.

The story is as we see in the trailers, Vanellope von Schweetz game Sugar Rush has a bit of a physical break. Only one place on the Internet has the part needed to fix her game, and it is more pricey than the Arcade owner is willing to spend – which means he may shut down the game forever. In order to get the new part Ralph and Vanellope go to the Internet and attempt to save Sugar Rush and Vanellope’s game. Along the way adventure and hijinks ensue where our characters travel to familiar internet hotspots and meet or run into characters we all know and love.

The story here is basic and sweet guys, do you expect much more? It has all of the very predictable, and to me somewhat annoying, ups and downs of any given Buddy movie ever made. That isn’t a bad thing at all. Sometimes basic is good and here it works. The message within the movie is something the real target audience could use and again this is not a bad thing and honestly its so direct that the message might sink in. So many kids movies try to be subtle in the message or shove in some motivational language or ham fisting their message as a line of dialogue at the end. This one actually uses it as a through line and I appreciate it for that.

John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman carry the movie as one would imagine as our main two protagonists and it really isn’t much effort on their part, but the emotion is there in the performances. Gal Gadot and Taraji P Henson are show stealers as their characters Shank and Yesss. The rest of the voice cast is filled with names you will know and yes, the Disney Princesses are all voiced by their still existing voice actresses when and where possible. A personal favourite voice actress, Jennifer Hale, voices Cinderella of the broken shoe. No she’s nothing “special” within the context of the movie, I just like the actress.

The animation is everything you’d expect from the House of Mouse, no better and no worse. It’s clean. It’s bright. It’s crisp. It’s animated in both the literal and figurative sense. There’s so much motion going on in the film at almost all times there’s something to be said for the work put in there. The Disney Princess scene from the trailer is everything promised and more, even for being as short as it is.

TL;DR?

Look it’s Disney. It’s good. It’s a kids movie coming out on Thanskgiving. It won’t change the world. I can’t say it’s great. It absolutely is the movie you are expecting it to be with nothing more and nothing less given or shown. The scene everyone wants to see from the trailer is absolutely worth the price of admission and the racing scenes promised are pretty awesome to watch when you consider the amount of animation effort that goes into them.

My friends and I had a good time tonight. So take your best friend, your family, whomever and go see it. I bet you wanted to anyway!

Should I see it?

If you wanted to? Absolutely. You will get your moneys worth. If you weren’t all that interested, this movie won’t be change your mind that much one way or the other.

Would you see it again?

Maybe on a matinee. I’d pay full price the first time, but second Matinee is fine

Buying it?

It has Elsa in it. Of course I am buying it. Also its solid enough to be in the collection and has some pretty good rewatch value.

Anything else on it?

It has Elsa in it.

I have a mighty need for her “casual” outfit from this movie.

 

Ultimately folks, the movie is as sweet as it is harmless. It has a good message and is the family film that people have been waiting awhile for this fall. Go see it and enjoy.

Darke Reviews | Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Wait wait ! Look at the year. Yes, I am keeping the boycott in place for this movie. Please, however, if you do want my final thoughts on the new movie – there is a VERY SPOILER section below. I did not see it. I will not see it. You cannot pay me to see it. The spoiler I got (and covered below) is a forever deal breaker on that ….thing.

What we are going to talk about today is the original anime, which I saw upon it’s stateside release way back in the day of 1995. Anime was all the rage in small town Maryland with folks drooling over Speed Racer in my senior class. During a cast party for one of our high schools drama club we watched Akira, so that would have been 93 or 94 for that show. I remember watching Ninja Scroll shortly after, Battle Angel, Gunsmith Cats, etc etc. I distinctly remember learning different styles of Anime at the time and levels to which they would go. Akira for instance was visually stunning but in many respects conceptually well over my head. So when I came across Ghost in the Shell during that time and watched it I was enthralled by the visuals – but did I get it?

Well no.

Ironic that the girl who has been questioning her own identity missed the point a few years prior when she saw a movie about questioning the identity and sense of self

So what can I say about the movie that you want to know?

Credit goes to the manga, the original book form, author Masamune Shirow; then adapted for screenplay by Kazunori Itô. The Anime is directed by Mamoru Oshii.

I want you to consider this was released in 1995. 21 years ago. The animation is still far and beyond some of what we get today for multipliers of the budget spent here. The movie is nothing less than a visually stunning masterpiece of artwork.  The last word there is important. This isn’t just animation – it is artwork – which means that every frame is an intentional choice by the director and artists to bring to life and focus on. As it is artwork it is also subjective and the movie does have multiple bits where it relies on the art to convey a feeling or express something it wants you to think about. The problematic part is these sections can linger a bit too long for many audiences. The messages are either not always clear or near hitting you over the head with what they are trying to do. It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the art, but does detract from the pacing of the movie.

What about the story?

Let me ask you some questions –

Are you alive?

What is life?

Define your sense of self.

Define your identity.

What makes these up? 

Now – what if you wanted to quit your job and you had to turn your body in and go back to another one?

Would you still be you?

These are overt questions the movie asks in text, not subtext (which isn’t spoiling anything) that it defies you to think about as it progresses along its primary axis. The Major, Matoko Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka) is a member of a paramilitary government organization in a world where nearly every human is partly cybernetic. Eyes, Ears, Part of your brain, joints, muscles – the odds are good you aren’t entirely human; but in this world that has left you vulnerable to a new breed of criminal who can hack your brain. Now, in our own world hackers can access the networks of our cars and take over steering controls by getting into the radio. No. I am not kidding. So consider then what a hacker could do if the computer was literally in your brain? Would you trust your own memories? Your own thoughts? Your own actions?

Thankfully the Major and the rest of Section 9 are there to stop people that do that kind of thing. The plot follows them trying to stop one in particular called the Puppet Master. In traditional Japanese fashion it asks a lot of questions, has intrigue, and rather good action sequences through out.

TL;DR?

21 years ago we were given a storytelling treat which asks the questions in a very plain way that for the most part if you listen versus hear creates a very powerful message; all  of this captured in state of the art animation from the lovely country of Japan.

Does it have pacing issues? Yes. Is some of the wording odd? Absolutely. Does it detract from the overall product? Not in the least.

The original Ghost in the Shell is not for everyone; most certainly not everyone in the West. It still however is an iconic moment of filmmaking that is easily equivalent to a Citizen Kane within it’s genre.

Should you watch it?

If you are a fan of anime and haven’t? Yes. If you are interested in the origins of the new movie? Yes. If you want to see something better than the new movie – Yes.

If none of these interest you – it’s ok. It’s like any fine art. Some people enjoy it. Some people don’t. It says nothing good or bad about either side. Just tastes – which are, should, and can be different.

How rewatchable is it?

Once a year – maybe. Once every 2 about right.

The Ghost in the Shell ARISE series or Stand Alone Complex are easier to watch repeatedly as their pacing is a touch faster and the stories more streamlined.

Ok so whats the big spoiler that has you outraged?

 

Roll over to read begins now.

Screw this movie in the face with a rusty chainsaw dipped in blow fish poison wielded by someone who has a personal hatred for that face.

As you know when the first casting came out I was against it due to Scarlett Johansson, who is a good actress, being given the role over someone like say Rinko Kikuchi, or any other of the dozens of Asian actresses who should have gotten the part. I have talked about White Washing before on several reviews. I am going to link to the bowl of raisins story again because it still explains it better. 

Mostly white people go “I don’t see the problem”.  It has nothing to do with her acting. I am sure her acting is fine. The problem is the part could and should have gone to any number of Asian actresses. 

You are going to see counter videos of people going to Japan and speaking with Japanese people what they think. They in the clips shown – don’t seem to have a problem. They of course are not looking for representation of themselves in Western media. They aren’t looking for heroes, icon’s, actors, actresses, stars, and the people we look up to here to go “I can be that”. Representation matters. 

Fine. Ignore both sides of the theoretical argument of who could have and should have been cast. The weak excuses about why it was done.

The spoiler. They literally white washed the character.

Literally.

The character in the movie was a Japanese girl named Motoko, who was kidnapped and had her brain implanted into a Caucasian cybernetic body and had her identity stripped from her. 

What the actual…

How..can anyone justify this? Please tell me. 

They literally took an Asian and “improved her” and made her white in the process. 

It doesn’t matter that most reviewers I have watched said its great visually, but ok otherwise. Just ok. 

They literally and figuratively white washed her and have spent the past year defending it. 

This movie needs to be burnt to the ground. This is a problem and folks – you need to help stop it. Please stop supporting movies like this.

Roll over ends.

 

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.