Darke Reviews | The Lost City of Z (2017)

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

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

Should you sign up however?

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

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

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

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

A scene in the movie:

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

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

So…I shouldn’t see it?

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

Is it really that bad?

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

But Rotten Tomatoes…

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

Anything else?

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

Darke Reviews | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

As you, my regular readers, know I never read the books for the movies I watch. Well almost never, sometimes after I may but that is extraordinarily rare. The same rule applies to even things like Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and yes Harry Potter. While the other 6th graders in middle school were reading The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, I was reading Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew. When they were reading The Hobbit, I was on The Stand and Clive Barkers Cabal. This says a lot of my preferences and possibly how my brain works. I earned my nickname in school (thank you Darrin ) for many a reason, reading material was a part of it. The point of this is that my only attachment to the Potter-verse is the films and some well written fan fic.

In the interests of full disclosure when this trailer dropped, I was unimpressed. Nothing about it made me want to see it. It was unfamiliar, but didn’t seem to provide me the sense of wonder and awe that many of the Potter movies did.

So…did it impress me?

Well, let’s tackle the writing shall we? J.K. Rowling herself has the sole credit. No one can say this is beyond the authors intent here.  She brings us what would amount to her own fan fic or head canon, expanding on a bit character mentioned in passing. It’s absolutely correct for her to do so. Any writer will tell you that some characters stick with you, they are a line in passing when you write them but they won’t let you go. I believe she said as much of Newt Scamander. She believed his story needed to be told. Now I can’t be certain if that story wasn’t asked of her by the studio and her publisher as well, but she wanted it too and here we are.

I think though, that she needed an editor on this script. Another one anyway. It’s kinda a mess. The tonal shifts are mind boggling, the story is both convoluted and so painfully simplistic and obvious simultaneously without being particularly good at either. Nothing came as a surprise and to me there, but for a few moments was missing the wonder and joy that Potter brought. A movie about fantastic creatures should truly make them fantastic. I should want my Falcor or Artax, but I am left wanting here. Wanting something not quite delivered on save a brief few seconds and barest moments of reveal. The rest is shot in such a way that you don’t get to really take it in and appreciate it, or are distracted by it rather than being allowed to focus.

That of course goes to the fault of director David Yates, this years mediocre to failing Tarzan and the last few Harry Potter films. After this film and Tarzan I think I was generous with him on that review. While he managed to direct the hell out of beats that were successful, he also – now  – is clearly responsible for the ones that weren’t. He is responsible for the washed out palette I vetched about in my last review as well. The moments of colour are too few and far between. That’s his call and I think it was a wrong one. Muted colours and muted emotions; yet he did manage to pull some things in the film off successfully. That may have to go to the actors though.

Eddie Redmayne remains a mystery to me. I can’t tell if I like him or not. I still need to see The Danish Girl, he was ok as Marius in Les Miserables, but then there is his performance in Jupiter Ascending. I just don’t know what to make of him. Knowing the other tones he can and has done, I would say he does rather well here however showing someone who cares more about his Beasts than anything else around him to a certain point. He is just likeable enough and when you see him interact with the creatures it shines; which is impressive since none of it was there. Katherine Waterston (Boardwalk Empire, Inherent Vice) acts her part well enough but has zero chemistry with Redmayne romantic or otherwise. Our future Flash, Ezra Miller, channels his inner Kylo Ren for this. He’s ok.

Two people however stand out. Alison Sudol (Between Us, Dig, Transparent) as Queenie Goldstein is just the perfect blend of manic pixie dream girl, charming, and sweet to make her a positively endearing and memorable character. This is especially evident as she plays against Dan Fogler (Fan Boys) as Jake Kowalski. While I was annoyed at his intro, I blame the entire movie for that as the set up to the plot was clumsy as a newborn deer, he turned out to be my favourite character in the film. Eddie’s performance as Newt may be the face, but Fogler is the heart. He was everything I needed and once I warmed up to him I was invested in HIS outcome. The movie itself? Not so much because I knew the beats before they happened. Just not his. So he was the only real investment I had in the movie and if I have to have some  – I am ok with it being him.

From a technical standpoint. It’s just as messy as the plot and story architecture.  The acts themselves are mediocre, but the bridges between them tend to shine. The same can be said of the effects which are somehow, yet again, less than a movie from five years ago. There was too much CG, too much colour wash, too much warping. Just too much and too fake to care. There were some good shots, but not enough. There were some beautiful pan and zooms, but not enough against the whole. It was both dull and overly produced at the same time.

TL;DR

The last sentence there really encapsulates the movie. Both dull and over produced. The movie is a mess but it has a heart. The dichotomy of this production is so fascinating I don’t know what else to say. It is deeply flawed and feels as rushed as a Formula 1 driver on the track, but there’s something to it. That said, if you were to compared this to another series, film and book, this is The Hobbit to the Potter films Lord of the Rings. It is both a prequel and has some particularly odd beats that might appeal to children…or something.

It is clear it’s the same universe, but the tone is so dramatically different. The movie itself can’t keep it’s own tonal consistency to the point I really did stop caring and just wanted to see how they’d tie the bow at the end.

Should you see it?

I have been weighing this answer the entirety of the 30 minute drive home.

The entirety of writing this review.

I am not sure if it is me or what, but the movie is clunky but still has heart. I would NOT pay full price, Matinee at best.

But I think people *should* probably see it…I guess?

Will you see it again?

cheap seats or if someone else buys my ticket – maybe. I’d rather save the money for Moana.

Will you buy it?

eh….the magic 8 ball says Not Certain. Ask again later.

About Moana….

I am on media blackout for it until next week. I will be seeing it. I will fight anyone who tries to stop me or spoil it. I want to see this. I want it to be good. Yes I may like it more than Frozen, but not more than Elsa and Let it Go.

Darke Reviews | Arrival (2016)

If you’ve been paying attention to me over the past few years I have been running this site, you will know I love Sci Fi and Science in general. I was raised on Sci Fi movies, with some of my favourites from childhood being things like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Aliens, The Blackhole, 2010, The Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine, Dune, The Abyss, Tron…ok so the list goes on. Alright the list does go on *deep breath* Flash Gordon, Altered States, Flight of the Navigator, My Science Project, Explorers, Lifeforce, Night of the Comet…ok ok I will stop now. That’s still but a fraction of what I grew up with and love. Some holds up better than others, others such as 2001 and Blade Runner I didn’t appreciate as a kid but do now.

When it comes to sciences, Chemistry, Archaeology, Linguistics, Physics, History, Astronomy, and Psychology are but a tip of an iceberg of things that fascinate me to no end. Put an article in front of me around some of these fields I will read it and do my best to understand it. Give me someone in these fields to talk to and I will probably pick their brain and ask questions, even if I only understand about a third of what they are saying. There was a time in my living room two linguists started speaking about various complexities of language and the breakdown of components of language and language groups. I comprehended a fraction, but still found it fascinating and had I chosen could have studied more to understand the rest. With this combination of fascination it should be no surprise that on Stargate and SG-1 my favourite character is Daniel Jackson. That I spent time making a character for a game who had a journal and was deciphering Goa’uld. That I love studying how Dothraki and High Valyrian work; which by the by enabled the creation wonderful relationship with someone, simply by speaking just a little Dothraki and sharing the geekness.

So whats the point and how does this apply to the movie?

Well let’s talk about that then. The film deals with the arrival (roll credits, ding), of an alien race and our protagonist is brought in to help decipher their language. So we have the marriage of Sci Fi and Linguistics. Ok so that’s technically repeating myself as it is SCIENCE Fiction, but for so long we have been moving away from the science part of science fiction relegating it’s existence to that of technobabble and gimmicks, without asking the important questions. Like The Martian, this movie goes back and puts the Science back with gleeful abandon and still manages to make it accessible to most any film goer who chooses to watch this.

This is not entirely an original work as it is based on the book Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. It was adapted for the screen by Eric Heisserer who also penned The Thing (2011), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and this years Lights Out.  As I’ve started recently, this tells me he either has been offered projects that have ties to classic 80s or he has a passion for it. Success rate of the film notwithstanding. He also seems to understand and appreciate dramatic tension, or strives to do so. With this, while still unfamiliar with the original material, I feel he succeeded as the dialogue choices and plot points either hit or tropes avoided brought me great joy. He also managed to make it accessible to people who don’t have a passion for science. While not as open as the Martian was, there’s a lot here that they do explain and it works. The rest of the time you can follow along and it works with little explanation.

That means a credit must go to director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). You see a script can tell you one thing, but your decision to show not tell makes all the difference. What makes this movie work is a combination of showing and telling, ironically a plot point of the film. In combination with the script he is able to weave a cohesive story that tells you what you need to know, asks questions to keep you engaged, and delivers an ending that was surprisingly well handled. The direction of his actors was good as was his blocking and choice of camera angles. There are a few scenes where very intentional tricks of the camera are used if you are watching. That is the best term to apply to the direction here. Intentional. This is well thought out and I believe there is very little deviation from the plan as the scenes unfold in practice vs on paper.

Of course you need your stars to deliver as well. Amy Adams (Enchanted, American Hustle) delivers a fantastic performance as our Linguist – turned Xenolinguist  – who must carry the film. She brings the appropriate levels of shock, scientific methods, and inquiry that I wanted to see in this. Jeremy Renner (Avengers, American Hustle) is a ‘hard scientist’, physicist I believe, who works for the government and is brought in with Adams to help uncover the purpose of the aliens. What I absolutely love is the chemistry and partnership between both actor and character as the film progresses with good delivery and solid execution on his own sciences while they unravel the mystery of the aliens.

But….

There are flaws, I really wish directors would stop adjusting the contrast and colour balance of their work. While it’s clear it’s an intentional choice, I don’t know that it was a necessary one. Retaining your normal palette here would have been sufficient and forced other techniques to come into play to show other components of the story. That’s it. That’s my big flaw. OK there are a few minor tropes they hit which were…able to be dealt with and quickly which made them bearable in an otherwise near perfect product of science fiction.

TL:DR?

As Passengers has not come out yet, Morgan was disappointing, I am the lone dissenting voice on 10 Cloverfield Lane; this is hands down the best Science Fiction movie of the year. I will easily put this up there with films such as Contact, The Martian, Ex Machina, and others of their ilk. It proves we haven’t lost how to do good Sci-Fi just that people may be afraid to. Without trying to sound too elitist, this is Sci Fi, the rest is space action or space fantasy. Let’s face it Star Wars is a space fantasy, we can all accept this and love it as much as we all do anyway.

The performances are good. The camera work is good. The script and direction are good. The movie had a very tight (by Hollywood standards) budget of $47 million and you can see the amount of control they had in making this and we all benefit for it. This is the kind of movie, like The Martian, that lets you and your friends have good intelligent conversation coming out of the movie about what you just watched.

My recommendation? Help them make their money back and then some.

Should you see it?

See immediate sentence above.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Yes. No doubt.

Any warnings?

It’s appropriately slow, but methodical. This has the pace of a good drama. It is NOT an action set piece.

Folks that’s it for this one. We have a really good movie here that was really enjoyable.

If you are a reader of my reviews and have a passion for Linguistics, see it and come back and tell me what you think of the science.

Darke Reviews | Inferno (2016)

So, I’ve watched all of the Dan Brown movies before watching this. I rather like The Da Vinci Code. I felt the acting was on point, enjoyed the mystery, even if there were a few contrived points. It probably comes from an absolute love and fascination with history. In addition a passion to ask the question, “What if?” These types of stories that are just a touch off the history, just a touch off the real thing that they create a fully enriched and believable mythology are fascinating to me. The mystery presented there was small(ish), and self-contained which allowed it to work as well as it did. The consequences were interesting, but at a specific scale that was relatable to the audience. History and Religion intertwined.

Then came Angels & Demons. Physics and Religion.  The mystery was curious, and while my love for physics and the sciences there is not nearly as strong as my love of history, it was engaging. Then the third act came along and left me feeling generally annoyed. A lot of goodwill for the movie was lost in short order and while again it was well made, it was annoying and too convoluted. While my memory can recall most of DVC pretty accurately, I can maybe recall 50% of Angels & Demons. It was an “ok” after a solid opening.

Now we have Inferno.

The question remains did I get stuck in the Inferno, Purgatorio, or Paradiso watching this?

First, let me say I have a early 1900’s print of The Divine Comedy in my library, so again I say History geek. Not that it comes into play much in this screenplay. In short, its a mess.  I cannot speak for Dan Brown’s novel, but David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds) either was faithful and the novel is a mess, attempted to salvage it and failed, or took something good and gave it anxiety. Now, looking at his filmography he tends to work with pretty decent directors and the films themselves generally are well received. But there have been flaws since 2002. Secret Window, then in 2005 War of the Worlds, 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he did work on Angels & Demons as well. I am not sure what is going on here, but…this movie is a bloody mess.

The narrative is hard to follow and the parts that should be interesting are glossed over with such a wide brush I could paint the deck of the USS Enterprise with a single stroke. It takes a normal man who at least in the first movie was relatable. Now he is immediately thrust into the story of a super spy better fitting a Mission Impossible or Bourne movie without the physicality of either.  Every line is said, but they are just small quick beats that serve little point beyond getting to the next in something that is too large and ultimately meaningless.

I’ve been seeing a lot about risk show up in Superhero reviews. There are no risks. The dangers are too big to comprehend, thus you do not care. Ultron is going to destroy the world in some vague plan. Loki destroy the world, but to no particular real end.  The villain of Suicide Squad, destroy the world for reasons in some vague way. The stakes are TOO high. Too much. Constantly too much. This time, the trailers tell us we are at threat from something that will somehow wipe out only half of every living human. I admit my biochemistry and virology game are a bit weak, not really studied in over 20 years aside from a few journals reviewed from time to time and keeping an eye on the newest advances in medical science. That said, the science begs the incredulous here. A pathogen that will only take half the population because reasons? A race against the clock to stop it or the world dies in some vague way. It’s too big to care about or buy into. Unless…..

Unless you have the directorial fortitude to make the 12 Monkeys, Planet of the Apes, or 28 Days Later call; which would surprise everyone. The mystery and the race have no weight because we all know this isn’t going to happen. The first movie it’s about uncovering the Grail, something big but stays personal and the ramifications to the world are mostly philosophical in nature. Angels & Demons….would affect a single religion and how it affects the world, but in this day and age we see that even the faithful will turn against the faith if a message is sent they don’t agree with. It’s still a personal, theological, and philosophical outcome; but also was the first to have a McGuffin level body count on failure. This, from the trailer alone is a 4 billion people body count on failure. A failure you know won’t happen. So why care?

That is not the directors only failing here. The opening credits tried to mimic things like 12 Monkeys or I Am Legend, and other staccato style openings with dialogue that has no context to us at this opening. After that we begin in media res; in the hopes that we will dive right in and be brought along on the confusing journey of Dr. Robert Langdon. The trick to bring us along? Just tell the story. Let Hanks act. You do not need to cut every 2 to 4 seconds. You don’t need to blur the camera or lens flare it or wobble it to make us realize he’s confused. The man can act, at least based on 5 Oscar nominations and 2  wins of the golden statue. We don’t need camera tricks.

I really need to go to the story about Marathon Man, with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier

During the filming of “Marathon Man,” Dustin Hoffman was supposed to play a man who had been up all night. And method actor that he is, he spent the night before shooting the scene awake. When he arrived on the set, his co-star Laurence Olivier asked why he looked so tired. Hoffman explained his approach. Olivier paused and then said, “Try acting, dear boy . . . It’s much easier.”

Director Ron Howard just out and out fails this movie. Let your bloody actors act. If you want to keep a mystery don’t focus on things that most audiences these days will pick up on. Don’t go to generic footage with bad CGI to show a plague scene. Interspersing so called Hallucinations of a battle just breaks the moment rather than enhances it. I really want to keep railing on the bad directing here, but the list would go on too long and I would need to have spoilers.

The final word on the directing is cutting the shot after no longer than 4 seconds the entire movie is a horrible way to make a film. It was noticeable, in such an excruciating way the guy next to me started counting along with me, even though I was just using my fingers. Just stop. Long takes are Ok.

*grumble* I didn’t expect this review to be this long.

Acting? Hanks sleep walks through the role, trying his best to play someone who has brain trauma. He’s uninvested the entire movie and has absolutely no chemistry with anyone at all, even himself. He doesn’t even manage chemistry with his suit. There are three bright spots however, Omar Sy (Bishop in X-Men Days of Future Past)  as a WHO operative on the trail of the plague. He is in the top three most memorable characters and enjoyable to watch, even if you see it all coming a mile a way since the movie opening (and trailer) spoils him. I finally have a line on Felicity Jones, having only seen her in Amazing Spider Man 2 as Felicia – which as I recall her being a bright spot in the movie. I am now looking very forward to her in a more action oriented role in Rogue One this December.  She does everything she can to elevate the poor material she was given and directed on. I can’t say she always succeeds, but I lay that on Howard not her performance.  Side note, I think she would make a great companion on Dr. Who. The brightest star goes to Irrfan Khan (Jurassic World, Life of Pi). He made me smile and laugh a few times (intentionally!!). It was needed. The man exuded charisma on screen and was so just casual and easy going that I wanted to watch a movie about him. Yet another failing on the material and director that a third string character (not actor) is so much more interesting than your main.

TL;DR?

This marks one of my larger reviews coming in at almost 1500 words at this point.

I didn’t expect to go off on such a rant above, but dear powers that be this movie fails on so many basic levels that I needed to use this gif.

While not an abomination like Die Hard 5 or other movies, this one is just such a remarkable disappointment. It is a dismal failure in my opinion on the career of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. It isn’t deserving of hate, but instead pity. Sadly that pity means I think it needs the Old Yeller treatment and to be never spoken of again. I come here to not praise this movie, but to bury it.

Should you see it?

I wish I hadn’t. So no.

Will you buy it?

Honestly I am hoping it bombs enough that the studio decides against putting it on BluRay. We should never speak of this again remember?

Is it really THAT bad?

Probably not, but unlike some movies which I can ignore the flaws for a greater narrative, performance, or filming technique there’s not enough good here to allow me to ignore the flaws.

Ok, so let’s talk Dr. Strange!

Let’s…not today. I would not be kind. Look for something on next weeks release soon though.

Darke Reviews | Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

There are times I know I am glad I almost never read the books for the movies I watch. Take for instance Jack Reacher, the 2012 movie I consider a near perfect film in its craft. The mystery is solid, well paced, the action while limited is view able and visceral. The acting is top notch and it has one of the best openings to a film probably in the last decade. It probably deserves a review of it’s own and I may have to get to that; actually a little sad I didn’t have one already. But that’s the movie. People RAGED over the casting of Tom Cruise as someone who is by the book supposed to be a mountain of a man. I suppose if I was a fan of the character in that way I might be upset, actually I know I was when Vampire Diaries came out and some of the characters I liked were changed. So I get it, but without that baggage I went in to an unknown property that I didn’t know was based on a book at the time and really enjoyed it.

The question is does the Hollywood mandated sequel meet the bar?

The movie of course is based on the book Never Go Back by Lee Childs, to which I have no idea the accuracy of said material (beyond his size). It was then adapted under my three writer rule by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz. Wenk has shown up in my reviews before as the writer of The Magnificent Seven and the Equalizer. He also was the writer on one of my favourite guilty pleasure vampire movies, Vamp. Herskovitz was a producer on the amazingly underrated The Last Samurai (also with Tom Cruise) and additionally working on the screenplay there. Leaving us with Edward Zwick, who was a writer on The Last Samurai, but also directed this movie. His directorial credits also include little films no one ever heard of such as the Civil War movie “Glory”, a little movie with Brad Pitt called Legends of the Fall, oh yeah and director of Blood Diamond and Last Samurai.

You may wonder why I go into this much detail on their prior works. I find it important as you can begin to see patterns in behaviors, styles of shots, dialogue, lighting, blocking everything. These guys have a pretty good pedigree. Which leaves me wondering what happened here? It has moments where the brilliance wants to shine. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is Ok. Good even, but its like diet low salt popcorn. Ultimately unsatisfying when it could have been so much more. The camera work, including some interestingly used Dutch angles, is ok. The mystery is ok. The…everything is ok. Why? Why is it just this? These guys have the skills to elevate it. Cruise is a producer, Christopher McQuarrie director of the superior first movie is a producer. There’s no excuse.

The story picks up with Jack Reacher (Cruise), former Military Police Major, doing his best A-Team impression drifting in and out of towns and uncovering things that offend his sense of justice and morals. He begins phone flirting with Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) and is intent on meeting her. When he arrives he finds she’s been arrested on espionage charges. He also finds, that someone has filed a paternity suit against him while he’s been doing the drifting thing, and that he may have a 15 year old daughter (Danika Yarosh). She of course is drawn into the plot of murder, betrayal, and corruption as a potential pawn to use against Reacher.

This is just lazy. I mean I went to see an action crime thriller and ended up with what, the most awkward family outing? I mean it was a joy to see Reachers misogyny. I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to see him be “a mans man” a few times and just try to blunt force trauma his way through social situations. Every beat is neatly telegraphed or otherwise rehashed from the first movie. There’s flat out lazy filmmaking choices to ‘show us’ that Reacher has a good memory. Directorial choices make it so painfully obvious how he’s observing everything around him. It was absolutely aggravating because it should have been better.

The actors are fine, though it appears unlike the first movie someone added leg day back into Tom’s contract. I counted three scenes of him running, maybe 4. I stopped caring. This isn’t to say Cruise did a bad job. Quite the contrary, and despite my earlier protests, he’s fantastic. It is GOOD to see your hero has flaws. It is good to see your hero can be wounded. Even little things like his fingers twitching after the in media res diner scene. That’s what happens as you come down from a fight. It’s again what makes me think there’s a better movie that wanted to come out. Cobie Smulders (Avengers, How I Met Your Mother) is excellent. She matches Tom Cruise quite well and is absolutely believable in her role. I think there’s a long term action star here if she wants it. She did all she could do with the script she was given and more, which puts her a leg up on a lot of other actors as she was able to elevate a few scenes beyond how basic they were. She has good chemistry with Cruise as an actor even if the characters are in conflict. Danika Yarosh (Heroes Reborn) is also good. She’s honestly believable as kid who has been in and out of the system a few times and treads carefully the line of the stupid teenager by both script and directing. I repeat myself, the fact that her performance and character is as good as it is is in direct opposition to the overall emotion I felt at the end.

The fight sequences up to the climactic one are a hair too dependent on cuts and camera motion; a detractor. Just a few seconds longer, just a bit more stability and Just Ok fight sequence would have been good ones. The climactic one was pleasing even if the beat leading up to it was…*sigh* The action was GOOD, if you could see it. The fights were visceral and brutal and seeing the hero hurt was good, but they lacked something – at least until the climax. That one felt Excellent. Again…annoyance at what should and was trying to be better.

TL;DR

I had my hopes up for this one. That may have been a mistake. It was a simple paint by numbers action mover, with a lackluster mystery. Everything was just a few shades, a few beats, or few cuts from being really incredible but just ended up on the right side of mediocre.

I don’t hate the movie, I am just disappointed in it. I am disappointed in the director and writers who I’ve seen enough body of work to know what they are capable of and could have given something richer. I am annoyed by some very lazy choices in film making that are undeserving of what this should have been.

So what would you rate it?

Somewhere between an Ok and a Good. It’s serviceable and has enough moments of entertainment that it is absolutely watchable. I just found that there’s enough detractors that I couldn’t ignore despite wanting to. Audiences will find it ok and a lot of dudes will be going Reacher is a bad ass.

Should you see it?

If you’ve got a spare ten bucks and aren’t seeing the superior film The Accountant? Sure. Just matinee…or with Beer or something. But really go see The Accountant.

Will you buy it?

Eh probably? I just won’t be rushing out to get it or pre order it.

So you didn’t do the review a day after all?

No. Heart wasn’t in it. It’s also tiring. If you watch web reviewers, they generally limit themselves to once a week. It’s harder than it looks to do these and do them well. Giving every review for 31 days the right attention and credit is draining. I might do another run in the future. Maybe random ones. I do owe someone a review of either Dungeons and Dragons or the Core.

Next week, Inferno. Because I hate myself, but mostly so I can get a sense of Felicity Jones before Rogue One.

 

Darke Reviews | Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Yes, this review is incredibly late. Vacation, then robbery, then some scheduling conflicts with my friend who wanted to see it with me. As we go into this review please understand that Burton is on his last legs with me. I have not really enjoyed anything he has done as a writer, director, or producer since 2003’s Big Fish. In fact there are some works of his I absolutely hate with a burning passion that cannot be described in the english language. Dark Shadows, I am looking at you. I won’t even taint my site with a review of that rancid nay putrescent pile of celluloid trash. If that does not make it clear my expectations for this film little will. What I did look forward to was some decent fantasy and the generally engaging Eva Green.

Did I go deeper in or desire to escape the fantasy?

The story is based on a series of YA/Childrens fantasy book by Ransom Riggs, yes that’s his real name as near as I’ve been able to find. Originally crafted to be based on an odd collection of photographs it’s clear the story evolved into so much more. It was adapted to screen by Jane Goldman, who worked on some amazing films such as Stardust, Kick-ass, X:Men First Class & Days of Future Past, and Kingsman. The story is ultimately a fantasy in which our hero Jake (Asa Butterfield) finds out his grandfather’s stories may not have been. He journeys to Wales to uncover the mystery of the stories and is introduced to Miss Peregrine and her home. Of course such stories are nothing without conflict and for that we have The Hollows who well are the bad guys. In usual fashion I have simplified the story so as to avoid spoilers.

There are precisely three directors who could make this film that come to mind. Tim Burton, Matthew Vaughn, and Guillermo Del Toro. You need someone who gets the nature of world building and creating a fantasy world that we can both relate to but is different and one that is tangible. That is the problem so many other directors have, they don’t give us tangible worlds. Think of the first Harry Potter films or the first Lord of the Rings films. The worlds created were high fantasy but very real and touchable.  Most films lose that in a swath of CGI, this retains its realistic physicality even though there is a distinct separation from between our world and the next. For fans of White Wolf Publishing/ Onyx Paths games this reminds me of either a small pocket realm from Mage the Ascension or a lost trod from Changeling the Dreaming. What it did was give me a sense of the surreal, a sense of magic. If you know anything of me, that automatically engages me if done right.

Burton did it right….mostly. Vaughn may have gone too far to the unreal. Del Toro probably would give someone nightmares (*stares at Pans Labrynth*). Burton is a visionary director who for the first time in a long time showed that he can move beyond the tired cliches of his other productions. While there are echoes of his style, this doesn’t quite feel like a Burton film that we’ve become accustomed to. It is beautifully early 20th century and at the same time shows the banality of the modern suburb. The colour palette is normalized for the majority of the film with the colours used to add to the story and are neither too far in either direction of the saturation scale. Where he fails us is tone. The movie is inconsistent. There are moments of “wow that’s intense” with moments that positively eject you from the movie due to tone, dialogue, and music. This is a problem he has had overall and how in the end I know it’s his. It just cannot decide where its lines are and how to stay within them or when not to appropriately.

Asa Butterfield (Enders Game) does sufficiently well in the lead role, mostly getting to stare wide eyed or longingly depending on the moment. The longingly is for Emma Bloom the girl lighter than air, (Ella Purnell) who pretty much has the same queues. I can’t say if they have chemistry or not, but their performances together tend to repeat so much of previous scenes I’ve seen a skipping records with less recycling of a moment. Both do act well, but the direction and or script do them no favours. Eva Green looks and acts fabulous as Miss Peregrine and has a major departure from most of her other works, though I think her time on Penny Dreadful helped a bit. Everyone else in the movie is “Good”. Nothing to write home about, no particular show stealers, but nothing that made me wince either.

I want to talk about production for a moment. The costuming, hair, and make up is stellar. The attention to detail is incredible. It is really well done and I do not believe a dollar of its $110 million budget was wasted. Sad that it’s only made $57 million so far. At best it will top out at $65, ensuring we do not see a sequel unless it screams to life on DVD. The creature designs were incredible and original and I wish I could find who specifically designed them. They were really well done and this person needs more work. As always though, no one has quite figured out creatures and purely CGI in daylight that doesn’t look wrong. It was glass breaking, at times, but otherwise really well done.

TL;DR?

This is an ok movie. It could have and should have been better. I was invested in the world and wasn’t quite sure how it would end and that’s refreshing. As with a lot of YA works, I love the worlds built and most of the characters, but something fell off in the execution that created a sense of being disjointed. Like I know I liked it and I would even say good, but there’s just enough wrong that it keeps the movie from being elevated into me not having to hem and haw on the good factor. Maybe I am being kind because I want to be peculiar, because I want to escape into this world so much. Maybe they just did it right.

If this is the Burton we are getting in the future, I am glad. He still needs to fix his tonal shifting and pick a theme, but this felt good. This felt original and new from him. More please. You are better than you have been, and this could be better. Maybe it was stretching off old muscles, but you did good here. On your next do more and we will all be happy.

Should you see it?

If you enjoy fantasy yes. It has some pacing issues but otherwise you will be fine. I was successfully invested and that makes it worth a recommendations.  Just measure your expectations.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Without a doubt.

What Next?

Haven’t quite decided if my week will allow me to see The Girl on the Train, but at a minimum you are getting the next Jack Reacher film next week. I hope it’s as entertaining as it’s predecessor.

Darke Reviews | The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

I was asked “who even wanted a Tarzan movie? why did they bother?” earlier this week when I mentioned going to see it. I explained that there’s an entire generation who grew up still with Tarzan still in the regular popular consciousness. I had the comics, the Christopher Lambert movie (1984 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes), the cartoon series; and yes even copies of some of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. Of course I also was able to enjoy the Disney version back in 99. So there are quite a few my age, slightly younger, and older who would love to see a Tarzan movie done well. Something we really haven’t had since 1999. It’s an opportunity to introduce another generation to Tarzan….

But did they miss the mark?

Obviously based on the works of Sir Edgar Rice Burroughs, this telling was brought to the screen by Craig Brewer and Adam Conzad. Conzad’s only other credit is the lack luster Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit. Brewer for his part was the writer behind the Footloose remake (which I adore), Hustle & Flow, and Black Snake Moan. While the pair give us flashbacks to the origin story, it’s wisely not told in full as many comic book movies could learn from. This is instead a story of after. After Tarzan meets Jane, after he returned to London…and is called back to the jungles of Africa. I would like to say they did well here, but alas I can but say they did ok. The movie has trademark fingerprints of studio over production where much is sanitized and the film retains one of the more problematic aspects of Tarzan in this day and age of “The Great White Savior.” I don’t think you can reasonably tell the film without that last component and it is an artifact of it’s time – but they probably could have tried.  Beyond that, motives are vague, the plot is as thin as rice paper, and the characters are told with strokes broad enough to paint an aircraft carrier with a single stroke. Even if it has elements of rarely known historical accuracy in it…it yeah.

Yet at the same time, I was still engaged; which may be due to David Yates directing. Yates, who got the unenviable chair of director for Harry Pottery from Order of the Phoenix until the end. No easy task. I can easily lay the beats of the movie that work so well on him. He elevates with good shots, blocking, and overall direction of his actors; but even his talent has limits. What he is able to do is salvage many moments of mediocrity into something trying to push the bounds of it. Intelligent moves make some character far more interesting and compelling than the story itself. He can’t save it all, but what few audience members there were tonight (about 10) laughed at times and cheered at others. That is something.

I would like to give all the actors credit, but only some get it. Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, Battleship), is not one of them however. He is *very* pretty. I maintain his abs have abs. His performance however, lacks something …feral? I don’t feel the Lord of the Jungle. I don’t feel a Lord of a Manor…I just don’t feel. Script, actor, or directing? I can’t tell. Based on what I saw in 2012’s Battleship? Actor…sorry True Blood fans, his Eric is very pretty, but I got nothing here. Samuel L Jackson surprised me here, as I find even a phoned in performance from him actually pretty decent. He kinda grew on me, even if the character weren’t needed. Christoph Waltz, does his best but the script does him no favors. He tries to get callbacks to Hans Landa here, but just can’t surpass the character he was given but damnit if he didn’t try. Margot Robbie as Jane? I wanted to see a movie about her by the end (of act I…). This is the Jane we didn’t know we needed. If they had called this Tarzan and Jane and had them together kicking ass through this? It would be a different review. She is absolutely fearless and I love her. More Margot please. More of this Jane please.

At a technical level…I just sighed writing that. That should brace you. Nothing is real. I can tell. I check the filming locations and not one lists Africa. Why? Budget? You had $180 million! It’s an amazing and beautiful continent and you know if you can’t film in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Republic of the Congo…where it’s supposed to be; you could try Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea? Ok…so you went to Gabon and did filming without your cast. Audiences can tell.  We’re getting better at picking up composite shots and you may just have to try a bit harder. The green screen is evident in shots where you could have lit better or differently. It’s sad as there’s some shots which could have been more amazing. If anything though they got the animals right. The movement and some of the behaviors were spot on even if the effect wasn’t perfect. From an action standpoint I am concerned as well, as it’s clear Skarsgard is ripped and athletic…you can teach him to fight and let us see it. You can’t pull an argument that this is for kids and have some of the other things you do in this movie. Also…don’t put shots in trailers…then have the same shot with a different backdrop entirely in the movie – it adds to the fake.

TL;DR?

The movie is safe. It’s over produced Hollywood churn factory. It’s hollow and without any real weight, feeling, or emotion. The action is…ok and could have been better. It’s a movie of “almost” and “missed opportunities” . Sorry folks, I can’t give it better than that. What I can say is – it’s ok Popcorn fare.

I am not angry for having seen it. I don’t hate it. It doesn’t irritate as bad as Independence Day did. You’d think I did hate it from how I ripped it above, but…

I did find myself enjoying it if I didn’t think too hard or care too much. It has a plenty of moments of good, touching on things no other movie in this genre actually has. Moments that made me see what it could have been. I enjoyed it, but the moment I think about it I get slightly annoyed at “if you just did…”. The adventure was almost there; an adventure I wanted to go on and they made me want to go on.

Should you see it?

Matinee fodder easily. 3D not really. If you want a popcorn movie to relax into this weekend…you could do worse.

Would you watch it again?

Truth be told? Maybe if I had nothing better to do. It’s not that bad…it just could have been more.

Will Jess buy it?

Yeah probably. It has more than enough for a purchase into the collection.

What’s the next review?

Pending any surprises between then and now – Ghostbusters on July 14.  Star Trek Beyond July 21, Jason Bourne and Nerve the following week, then Suicide Squad. I am uncertain on Pete’s Dragon. Kubo and the Two Strings is absolute.

That’s the rest of my ‘official’ summer schedule. Who knows what else may crop up?