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.

 

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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 | Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

It’s no secret August is the month where studios send movies they aren’t sure about to die. Sometimes they are surprised, Guardians of The Galaxy but usually they hold true. Even Suicide Squad is a victim of this, though they were really trying to capitalize on the GotG effect to….mixed success. This time through the end of September only gets worse the longer it goes. Which surprises me each year as Laika Animation releases their films in this period, with Coraline (2009) being the only February release – which is also the highest grossing at $75 million. This is the same studio who gave us Tim Burtons the Corpse Bride (2005), The Boxtrolls (2014), and the criminally under rated ParaNorman in 2012. They more or less break even domestically with each film running in the $60 million range each, and getting close to that domestic with a world wide total usually breaking it.

So why do they keep making movies? How do they keep making movies, and more importantly should you see this one?

For those unfamiliar, allow me a trailer.

 

The trailers for this looked amazing, but I have a weakness for good animation and stories that feel like myths and legends. Hell, the stories I want to write and lean into have that feeling. So how did they do on it?

The movie starts off in the dog house with the three writer rule, but seems to be an exception. The story is by Marc Haimes (a studio exec on films like Transformers, and Collateral) and Shannon Tindle (a character designer for multiple smaller films, and Coraline) . It was migrated from story to screenplay by Haimes and Chris Butler (Paranorman). So based on this, none of them have any writing experience. The movie isn’t based on *anything* and it doesn’t even have beats that are – “oh they got this from that”. This is a completely original property by people with no published writing work in the industry.

Maybe this should happen more often? The story here is tight. It is original. Very little is wasted, some things are telegraphed but you don’t care because it is earned. These three people need to become consultants for the rest of Hollywood as the movie spends a lot of its time in the “Show don’t tell” school of storytelling. They don’t over explain and don’t treat the audience like idiots. They expect you to either figure it out on your own or otherwise accept the world they’ve created. You can do this. They made it accessible. It’s endearing, and even surprising at times.

Please Hollywood take note of good, even if it is basic, storytelling and how it works. These guys did it right.

To pull the words off the page, you need a man with a vision and that man is Travis Knight, who served as lead animator on Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls. This is first time in the directors chair; which isn’t bad for the guy who is CEO of Laika. Between that dual position and the indicators from the writers. This is a project of passion. So to answer the question from earlier of why? They love it. This is what they do and they do it well. The love and passion for this kind of film making is evident as the movie really does have soul.

You have writers, a director, a talented staff of animators, but now you need to give your characters a voice. Charlize Theron voices Monkey, with Art Parkinson (San Andreas and Rickon Stark from Got) as Kubo. Matthew McConaughey is Beetle. They and the rest of the voice cast complete the work. They breath the final bits of life into these characters and make them more. Not surprisingly they deliver.

From a technical standpoint the stop motion is best in the game. There are some interesting flaws in it, but I have a feeling this is an aesthetic choice or purely a stylistic one that they accepted as part of their designs. Just consider for everything you see move, someone had to make it move. Take a picture, move it again and take another picture. It really is impressive and seeing a shot of how they did a fight in the post credits was even more so. It is cut near perfectly with a pacing that is just right. Musically it is powerful thanks to Dario Marianelli’s score.

TL;DR?

I really love this movie. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. It avoided a lot of potential tropes and pitfalls with the grace of a crane. It is everything *not* wrong with Hollywood today. It is everything it should be. I really, desperately wish the other executives would visit Focus Pictures, or Laika Animation in Oregon and ask them how they got it so right.

It absolutely captures the largeness of what a legend in the making should be, but makes it a very small personal story at the same time. It has the grandeur of myth but there’s something so tangible and good in it that it wraps you up comfortably for the two hour run time.

Should you see it?

Yes.

Wait..thats it?

No. I just wanted to be clear. You should see it. I debated about the kids aspect, but I remember I grew up with The Black Cauldron and I turned out ok. It does have some ‘scarier’ moments for the really young, but nothing too terribly intense. There’s a lot for adults to appreciate in this  in craftsmanship alone.

I saw it in 2-D but if you can handle 3-D I think it might be better.

Buying it Blu-Ray?

When can I preorder? Think Laika would send me a copy?

Anything else?

I really want this movie to do good this weekend. I want this studio to succeed and be appreciated. I want this film to be appreciated. Yes, this might be one of the best movies of summer in the all around competition.

Darke Reviews | Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

When it comes to comic canon and graphic novels there are a handful of seminal works, especially in the past 30 years. If you ask most fans, you will hear the following titles (not in order of importance)

  • Dark Knight Returns
  • Watchmen
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes/Season of Mists)
  • The Killing Joke

Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller are the men behind those titles. There are other titles that are up there as well, such as Powers, Preacher, Road to Perdition, Superman Red Son, All Star Superman, etc. The ones in the list though, they almost always make everyone’s lists. So when I heard that they were making The Killing Joke into a movie in the DC Animated Universe I was ecstatic. The DCAU has never failed to disappoint me and my regular readers have seen me reference them in multiple other reviews as the writing, animation, and just overall quality of work is impeccable.

So how did they do for this fan girl?

They are adapting the story from the Alan Moore Killing Joke, which pretty much changed the DC comic universe forever. Now, there are challenges here in this review as not everyone read the comic and I don’t want to spoil anything. Which is a challenge for me in this review as much as it was for Brian Azzarello who adapted the source material to screenplay. Azzarello last touched the animated scene with Batman: Gotham Knight (Working through Pain sequence), and beyond that has worked on DC Vertigo comics (same ones who gave us Sandman) and wrote some of the Wonder Woman New 52 run (which as I understand is praised).  You see, up to this point the DCAU hasn’t introduced Barbara Gordon or Batgirl, so in order for this story to work they have to create a first act which focuses on her decisions, challenges, and the life she is living.  This is a requirement as there is a population that has never really met her as they are only aware of what we have in the DCAU.

Do I agree with every decision they made? No. One of them was …ill conceived at best. Do I understand what they were trying to do with that decision? Yes. Overall, I think the first act is solid and if instead of the first act you consider it a ..prologue you will be fine. I understand a lot of reviewers have issues with it, and let’s be fair, I can equally see where they come from. I just disagree with them more than I disagree with Azzarello’s decisions on the screenplay.

Act II and III are the original material from the comic and are pretty much shot for shot and line for line. Director and Art Department Lead/Storyboard Artist Sam Liu made some wise choices in that aspect. You can absolutely tell how meticulously planned this was. Liu is no stranger to the DCAU, with several of the Batman films under his belt, including one of my favorites Assault on Arkham (it’s Suicide Squad just two years ago). You might be mistaken in thinking an animation directors job is easy. Consider that they, like their live action counterparts have to consider blocking, camera angles, how a shot moves. In fact, they have it both easier and harder. Easier in that they are not restricted by what visual effects can do or little things like physics; conversely they have to consider how the background painting, foreground, *and* characters move as they can all move independently of each other to give more motion to the narrative. I think this is one of the reasons the animated verse is so strong as they can tell a story that feels more epic and have to use every single tool at their disposal to the maximum effect, even little things like a squinted eye, a slouch, or putting your hands on another’s shoulders.

Voice acting. I will say this once. There is one Batman. His name is Kevin Conroy. You may think otherwise, but it’s ok to be wrong. You can grow from it. Mark Hamill is also the definitive voice of the Joker. Sure the live performances of Ledger, Nicholson, and Romero are legendary in their own rights, but Hamill just does it. There’s something alien about what his voice does and it lets you know you are in danger when you hear it. Troy Baker and John DiMaggio put their spin on it and do hold their own, but damnit Hamill *is* the Joker. Both he and Conroy have more screen time as their characters than anyone else in history, and likely will be reigning champions for time to come. Both also came out of retirement for the characters just to do *this* picture. That tells you how much it means to them as actors and how much they and the DCAU crew understand what it means to have them. We thank Andrea Romano and her rolodex of voice talent every time one of these comes out and this is no exception. These guys are absolutely on point here and get to share the dialogue and even a laugh that they never really did on Batman the Animated series, or the equally amazing Mask of the Phantasm. The other actors Tara Strong (normally Harley, this time Barbara) is as solid as ever, Ray Wise, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Nolan North, and others are fan favorites even in bit parts here and do what they need to; but once you are through Act I, …it’s Hamill and Conroy and nothing else matters.

TL:DR?

Batman: The Killing Joke is amazing. It is everything I wanted it to be. It does have some flaws in the new material. It also should come with a trigger warning. This absolutely earned it’s R rating and it’s not for actual violence on camera – they’ve done worse. It’s what’s implied. What they don’t show mixed with what they hint at. Much like the original work, this is not for the faint of heart or those who are uncomfortable with certain topics. The movie makes you think, they bring up topics that you should think about when you consider The Batman, The Joker, and Jim Gordon. The utter insanity in the Joker is in full swing and I really question people who idolize him. He is chaos and evil personified.

This is absolutely *not* for children. Do not let a child watch this unless you are willing or want to have that conversation. Just be aware.

I am putting a spoiler section below, as I want to discuss one of the more controversial elements in the new material.

So should I watch it?

Whew…read above. This earned it’s R rating and is not ‘fun’ or ‘light’. I would watch this again and again, but I will need to be in the right mood for it. Like when I am wanting to write something really disturbing.

Will you buy it?

Technically for this one I had to, but I have no regrets not only buying the BluRay but the BluRay special edition.

 

What’s this spoiler?

spoilers

 

Spoiler-Warning

 

Rollover to read….

Alright. So the first act focuses on Bab’s. It has to. Not everyone knows that Babs is Batgirl, or how she became Oracle. Or they only know in passing. The DCAU has barely dealt with her since the Batman Animated series. They have to tell this story to build up an emotional impact when she gets shot. 

Did she have sex with the Bat? Here. Yes. The comic? No. Hell no. She was with Dick Grayson. Do I agree with her and the Bat having sex in this movie? No, but they made it clear it was something she wanted and as an adult it was her agency and her choice. I don’t think the Bat would ever go for it with someone under his wing and I do believe this is a departure from his character. 

The painful and trigger warning part. Did the Joker sexually assault her? It’s up for debate in the comic and movie. It is *heavily* implied. Considering the earlier scenes are about her agency, and this is a violation of that of the worst kind. I know where I land on it. It is absolutely vile. It does remind you that the Joker is never a sympathetic villain, he is a monster of the worst kind. They do a good job in the movie of making the scene dark and yes disturbing without really having to show much of anything.

Is everything in the first act needed? Eh..no.
Is it the catastrophe I keep hearing about? Definitely not.

 

Darke Reviews | Warcraft (2016)

Tired of me yet? 3 movies. 3 days. 3 reviews. The roller coaster that is my life has had my butt in a theatre all this week, even the guy checking me in at the movies tonight asked me, “hey weren’t you in that same theatre last night?” Thanks Ben. Now…we have a movie based on a video game. Probably one of the most popular video games ever made, though myself I have never played it. I know plenty of people who did, my game was City of Heroes, and I was a one game kinda gal. So much like with books, I have no experience, no background, no anything about the lore here to make me like it more or less based on changes made to achieve film. This is the extent to which I know Warcraft: Slaughter Your World.

Of course, we cannot forget that video games have a sordid history in being converted to film, with far more misses than hits as Hollywood really just doesn’t respect the material even if it is there. Don’t get me started on Uwe Boll, he might challenge me to a boxing match.

Does Warcraft break the mold or are audiences going to need heals after seeing it?

Based on the characters by Blizzard game designer Chris Metzen, Warcraft was adapted to the screen by screenwriters Charles Leavitt (In the Heart of the Sea, Seventh Son, K-PAX) and Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code). While I did not personally see Heart of the Sea, I heard pretty consistently it was a slog, I know that Seventh Son was so bad they pushed it out a full year from its initial release date and hoped no one would notice. Jones for his part does have the critically acclaimed Moon in 2009, Source Code was pretty bland. Why am I focusing on these failures so much? Because they hold one of the most, if not the most significant flaw of the film. I can feel it’s running time. What is worse it felt *longer* than it actually was, like extended cut Return of the King long.

Story wise, it’s ok. Having no familiarity with the terminology beyond Horde and Alliance didn’t really hamper me. I pretty much was able to figure out everything in time with the movie and they (wisely) did not over explain anything. Point in fact, they barely explain anything at all. This is a strength of the film, letting the story flow pretty naturally and hope the audience follows along with it. The downside of that is that it has a lot of ground to cover so the film ends up stuffed to the gills with material. Had it had exposition as well….? Yeeesh.  There are a few beats of the film that fall flat and a hole or two you could fly a Dragon through; conversely, there are moments that had everyone laugh, cheer, or go “oooh” with a wince. Which means they drew the audience in – this is good.

Continuing into our bag of holding, we have other mixed blessings. I was only able to stand a single human in the entire movie. One. The friggin mage. Ben Schnetzer (The Book Thief) plays Khadgar, and while a little flat I at least found I liked his character at least. Travis Fimmel (Ragnar from Vikings) as Anduin Lothar is just insufferable; which may be how he is written, but the man can act and he was all over the place which I lay on Jones head in directing. Dominic Cooper (Preacher, Dracula Untold) as King Llane Wrynn was mostly wasted, but gave a solid performance. Even Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Pandorum) didn’t quite deliver as I know he can in the role of the warlock Medivh.

The same, cannot be said of the Orcs. Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) absolutely sells it as Durotan leader of one of the Orc tribes. Daniel Wu (Europa Report) also nails the voice and mo cap work as the evil Gul’dan. Clancy Brown could have phoned in his performance of the warband leader Blackhand, but didn’t and we are all thankful. Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2 Guns)  starts off strong as Garona, but gets a little simpering into Act III which was bothersome for an otherwise awesome character, but overall she was a solid performance.

As with the game, since you could play either side they have to show both sides, with the Horde side being “evil” but not…bad? Due to that and who they focused on as characters I found myself preferring the Horde arc and characters a thousand times more than I did the Alliance side.

The one technical aspect I was worried about I needn’t have been. I forgot I was looking at Motion Capture CGI creations on more than one occasion through the film. It wasn’t flawless, but it was amazingly well done computer work to render what they did so consistently and be able to do so in wide daylight shots. The scenery, while being almost entirely CG was expansive and to the credit of the writers of both game and film, really sold me on a world that I could envision. They may have failed in other areas, but they did give me a living, breathing world that I could see, understand, and even would want to interact with. The fights are both watchable and in some cases brutal, but there was a distinct lack of hyperactive shaky cam.

TL; DR?

The movie is a solid…”It’s ok.”. There are so many nods and winks to game and lore fans, even I who knows little could see them. It runs long and flattens in the wrong spots sadly. It is absolutely not the worst video game film ever made. It would, and should, make it into anyone’s top 5 on production value alone. The money sunk into this shows and I am happier for it. It bored me at times, but when it wasn’t I was engaged.

I’d like to say I liked it more, but I didn’t. The fans around me did though. It *is* good, and above a meh. If I had been engaged by the characters on both sides more I think I would rate it higher. I do think it will make bank though.

Should you see it?

If you aren’t seeing Now You See Me 2? Sure. Matinee only 3-D optional.  If you are a fan of the game and lore: See it. 3-D. It was worth it in that aspect.

Will Jessica buy it?

Honestly? Yeah probably. It is something to throw on in the background while you are focusing on other things. You’ll look up and smile at a moment or pause to watch a fight.

Which side would you pick?

My brain says Horde, but my heart goes Night Elf.

What’s next?

I get next week off as only Central Intelligence and Finding Dory are coming out. Reviews return with The Neon Demon and Independence Day Resurgence. Followed quickly by Legend of Tarzan and Ghostbusters.

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.

 

 

 

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Darke Reviews – How to Train Your Dragon 2

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.