Darke Reviews | Atomic Blonde (2017)

I have been eager for this movie since the trailer first premiered a few months back. It looked like it had energy, charm, and was a riff on a female John Wick. How could it go wrong? The music was amazing and the plot was veiled in the trailer; which told us only as much as we needed to know. Then the video came out showing Ms Theron doing her combat training and so much of her own stunts (well as much as the insurance company allows); and sure it’s a promo video designed to spark interest but there is a lot in camera showing the work. Imperator Furiosa is no stranger to action, with one of her earliest roles being in the often forgotten Aeon Flux. She’s played hero, she’s played the lover, she’s played the monster, she’s played the beauty to the beast but –

Can she also play the Spy?

Based on the Oni Press graphic Novel series “The Coldest City” (writers Antony Johnston, Sam Hart), it was adapted for the screen by Kurt Johnstad. It seems Johnstad has a knack for adaptation as he had previously worked on 300 and 300: Rise of An Empire; as well as 2012’s Act of Valor. I am not familiar with the original property yet, but the movie intrigues me enough to pick it up. It’s a beautiful end of the cold war spy thriller with all the twists and turns you want. I said when I did my review for The Man from U.N.C.L.E that perhaps it is time to lay the spy thriller to rest, that it is dead in film.

I’m with Spock on this one

I do like spy movies, always have and always will. We have been Bourned to death and I stand by Bond and Mission Impossible working because they are larger than life. What I didn’t know at the time is you can go small with someone who is just a bit larger than life and it can work. If you let them be human, but still something to aspire to (or desire) beyond the norm it can work and the movie does that. I know! I was as surprised as anyone how quickly I found myself getting wrapped into the story.

Part of that has to go to director David Leitch. Not familiar with his work? I referenced John Wick earlier. Turns out there is good reason as he was an uncredited director on it, that I called out in the review. He has 82 stunt, stunt coordinator, or action coordinator credits to his name. I said it with John Wick and I will say it again – these guys make *good* directors. Give them a solid script to work from, good talent who isn’t afraid of action or getting themselves dirty in the process and you have a film. In this case a good one. Between the director and camera work by Jonathan Cela (John Wick) they framed almost every shot perfectly. There’s some really great camera movement I haven’t seen outside of Asian films such as The Raid, The Raid 2, or the Protector which really added to the visceral nature of the action sequences and kept so much in camera that you feel a lot of the hits. Quick cuts are eschewed for a steady rolling camera motion that follows the action and actors as it needs with great sweeps and pans as it moves.

I would be remiss to not speak the praises of Charlize Theron as our lead Lorraine Broughton. She nails the spy, the action heroine, the intelligent heroine, the femme-fatale, and vulnerable all at once and sometimes within the same scene. The camera treats her well and as a protagonist not a piece of meat to be ogled. While the scene with Sofia Boutella hinted at in the trailers does obviously get a longer cut; it is not gratuitous and not shot entirely for the pleasure of the male gaze. Not entirely – I will give credit there is a lot of framing on their faces during it which many other sequences of its ilk fail to do. In short though Theron nails it. Sofia Boutella, who sadly was in The Mummy, and not so sadly was in The Kingsman really does well and I want to see more of her acting as this film should do well and land her more roles. Kingsman showed she had physicality, Mummy tried to show menace, and this showed more acting than we got in either. James McAvoy (X-Men Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein) gives us his usual manic but not performance teetering on the edge of some kind of psychosis; and I love him for it since it flips on and off like a lightswitch. There are other solid performances from known actors, but what is beautifully pleasing is how much of the cast is made up of stuntmen – which allows the action to be seamless as you move from a full face shot to action to drama back to action without having to hide the person playing the part. This is yet another benefit of the movie and the director.

I talked technicality a bit with the camera work and it is solid. There’s a fight sequence I would put on the same list as Daredevil (Hallway fight) and They Live. Yeah it’s that kind of fight. Is it up there with those? Maybe maybe not, but it is in good company at least. The most striking thing, beyond the punches, in the movie is the music. Tyler Bates score is vaguely reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s work on the first Resident Evil movie without the eerie tones. Which upon further research after writing that sentence makes sense since there is a song on the soundtrack by them both. Heavy doses of old school synthwave and pop absolutely riddled his score and work entirely within the framing and context of the narrative; which then leads us to the soundtrack. Bowie’s Cat People, Nena’s 99 Luft Balooons (in german), Siousixe and the Banshees, The Clash , Blue Monday. It’s perfect and floats in and out of both being diagetic and non diagetic sound. Part of the movie and part of the storytelling component. If this had come out much later after Baby Driver, I would say someone was being influenced by Edgar Wright’s styles and this is a good thing. The music simply adds to the energy with one odd musical queue at around the half way mark that had me smiling as the German discotheque pop faded into some familiar piano keys.

TL;DR?

I am still on an adrenaline high from how happy this movie made me. The movie itself has beautiful pumps and doses of adrenaline, but the overall effect of story, camera, 80’s nostalgic music appropriate for the story, acting, and action just combined into an exceedingly good film. If it has any real failings there are some scene cuts and edits that cause some pacing issues here and there but otherwise the camera work is stellar with a Director and DP who know what they are doing.

Theron is perfect and honestly I can best compare her to the original John McClane in how she progresses physically through the movie. It lands equally in the territory with treatment Die Hard gave it’s protagonist and it serves to benefit the movie. Granted she is still the highly trained spy vs the beat cop, but the physicality of it all sells.

Should you see it?

Yes. We’ve had few months since John Wick 2. Now it’s time for the ladies to take a turn and with Proud Mary on the way (I am excited for that too) it’s good to see us women get our shot at high octane, well shot, well done action.

Ok you like it, but will you watch it again?

Full price. No question.

Are you going to bu..?

Yes. I am going to buy it. Probably the soundtrack too.

Wow, you haven’t been this hyped in awhile.

I know right? I just really do love this movie. It gave me a lot I didn’t know I wanted or needed and handed it to me with a bow.

So do you think next week’s movie will be the same?

I am not as attached to the Dark Tower as some, but it looks solid. I am hoping for the best. Meanwhile this lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

Warning: After the Dark Tower, I may be on Hiatus. There is absolutely nothing else coming out for the month of August I have any desire to see.

Darke Reviews | Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

The number one question I was asked about this movie today: “What’s it about?”

My best answer: “Two soldiers in space fighting against some big evil that threatens to destroy everything. It’s by Luc Besson, the guy who did Leon the Professional, Lucy, and The Fifth Element based on a french comic from the 60s”. I like Besson’s work. I really do. He has a list of films and inspirational works that change how other works are done or are otherwise remade. From La Femme Nikita, the films mentioned above, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and writing projects such as The Transporters, District B13, and Lockout. A lot of his films take place in his home country (duh) so the idea of him adapting a French comic for the big screen – especially one that clearly inspired as much of modern sci fi as Flash Gordon and John Carter did makes sense.

So the real question is did it work?

We’ve talked a lot about the Writer and director – Luc Besson. Credit where its due must go to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières the original writers of the comic back in 1967. It seems that from a story and plot element that Besson took inspiration from the material but is trying to tell an original story within it. If you look at covers of the comics ( which I have not read) you can tell how much the source material inspired his own work with one cover literally showing a scene from the 5th Element with people on the edge of a building, a floating taxi and a floating semi with very specific and familiar designs. Hell, Jean-Claude Mézières was brought in while he worked on the 5th Element who asked him why he was making that and not Valerian. He has easily lifted some of the dialogue and personalities, based on some research into the history of the comic and one of its animated adaptations from 2007 (it aired in France). So why…don’t I care?

Yep. There’s the first hint how this will go.

It is absolutely evident this should have been a passion project for Besson, capitalizing on the advances in technology thanks to James Cameron to make the aliens come to life in ways we hadn’t seen; but even with that in mind the movie is hollow. I think going totally original was a mistake. There are no clear or present stakes that mean anything, the character of Valerian (yes its his name) are not serviced by the script and is generally unlikable. I figured out early on what was going on, as Besson couldn’t do subtle if a Agatha Christie wrote for him. There is no subtext with him, only text and a strong sense of visual style. There is no ticking clock, no sense of tension; just a moment to moment – event to event beat through the film that has our characters going after each other and the McGuffin with no stakes at play that you can take seriously. Death doesn’t hold any weight with others who die because you don’t know them or only know them in so little passing that it renders it emotionless.

The actors really do try their best, but cannot overcome the script or their own drawbacks as actors. Dane DeHaan tries, he really does; but his character is just shy of being an insufferably chauvinist and egotistical. Additionally you cannot buy him as a top notch high ranking special operations soldier; even though he is thirty he just doesn’t play it or carry the weight. He moves well and pulls off the action he gets to do, but he never quite sells it and the nature of his character comes across in his young 20’s not 30s. This same flaw affects Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad’s Enchantress) either, who comes across younger, but more mature. She seems the more seasoned soldier, if less experienced, while he is the hot headed rookie but….isn’t as he out ranks her by quite a bit. It’s rather dissonant and confusing to watch and parse out. She by far is the more likable of the two.

Literally no one else is worth discussing as they have so little screen time or overall impact on the story. Aside from the McGuffin. I want one, it was adorable.

The elephant in the room here is the visuals. Dear powers that be is this movie gorgeous. It’s clear a lot of effort and a significant portion of the $180mm budget went into merging practical and visual effects. It is about the same level as what we got in James Cameron’s Avatar, including I think using the models as a base with minor adjustments to the skins to keep them different. Graphic quality is both as good and bad as the scene needs; with the one exception being the transitions in Rhianna’s highly fetishistic and male gaze rewarding dance sequence. The transformations look amazing. The aliens in this movie do look amazing. There are plenty of designs I haven’t seen before and a lot of craftsman ship in key places.

The editing is rough and I am pretty sure there’s a few scenes on the editing room floor as some jokes feel like there’s a setup missing and most of the emotional beats are missing the reminder before the not so payoff. Additionally since I know there’s a lot of chatter on this topic; yes I can see where Mass Effect influenced this movie but also where it was influenced by the material; but overall the movie gets top marks on visuals and I would bet the 3-D looks amazing.

TL:DR

While the 3-D may look amazing, no one will see it. The movie really isn’t that good. Its light, its fluffy, but it isnt good popcorn as I was bored quite often. It held no surprises and was lifeless which if nothing else disappoints me. I wanted it to be good, but didn’t have the bar raised too high. I think it may do well internationally, but within the U.S. it is going to flop harder than a Magikarp. Ok the opening scenes on Mul were amazingly beautiful, but that doesn’t save the other 2 hours of the movie.

It does succeed at one thematic component – the science fiction. It has technology and idealolgy that we are missing from a lot of sci fi; but some of the negative tropes too so there’s that. It is still good science fiction despite the flaws.

Should you see it?

No…sadly.

Will you see it again? Maybe it needs a second viewing?

Eh…I don’t think so.

Buying it?

Maybe for clips for some future video project that might happen, but out of the bargain bin if I do.

Are you going to see or review Dunkirk?

Probably not. I am not a huge fan of Nolan and find that he has an inflated sense of his own importance that too many people support. He is technically a master of his craft; but if I only wanted technical proficiency from films I would watch Kurosawa or other classics that may be dated by show the artistry of the director. I need both some form of emotional connection and some level of technical accumen for me to have interest in the film. Nolan  succeeds at one so well the other is sacrifced; where the movie I just watched didn’t nail either well beyond visual delight.

So what’s next week then?

Atomic Blonde.

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

So let’s talk about Baby Driver, aka the movie I didn’t write a review for but really deserved one. Wait, wait – I was teasing. Mostly. It does deserve a review, but that’s not why you are here – you want to hear more about Spider-Man. Now as much as I do love the Bat family and Ghost Rider, Spider-Man was actually the first superhero I can remember from my childhood. I did see the 70’s and early 80’s live action shows, of course adored Spider-Man and and his Amazing Friends (1983). Yes, I had a crush on Firestar. There is even a picture of me – that no one will ever see – at the young age of 6 with a 12 inch Spider-Man figure. I did, however, thankfully avoid Spider-Man 3. Suffice to say we have had good incarnations, ostensibly great incarnations, cheesy ones, campy ones, and we shall never speak of the emo dance sequence ones.

So to paraphrase the words of Stan Lee – do you True believers have something to fear or not?

Homecoming was directed by John Watts, probably best known for his short film Clown and later its not as interesting feature length version. With that pedigree I did go in worried a bit, especially since his other credits seem to be for The Onion – which I suppose indicates a good sense of wit. Could he succeed where Sam Raimi burned out and where Mark Webb failed with Amazing Spider-Man 2? I wasn’t sure at first, then I saw how many writers it had. I know my three writer rule is pretty accurate overall, but beyond that it gets more so.

Writing credits for Homecoming, excluding Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Six. Six writers including screenstory and screenplay. Jonathan Goldstein, who gave us such memorable films such as Vacation (2015), Burt Wonderstone, and Horrible Bosses 2. Why would Sony give such a charming resume this movie? True it was also paired with Sweets from Bones, John Francis Daley as a screen story credit with the same writing credits. This does not seem auspicious; nor do their next films M.A.S.K, ROM, and Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light all based on 80’s cartoon properties of varying nostalgic value. Moving on to the actual screenplay we have Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna from (Lego Batman),  John Watts and his collaborator Christopher Ford (also from Clown).

This should have been a train wreck. I am not entirely sure how it isn’t. This is a very solid movie that unlike many other hero movies focuses on the smaller moments for the character. It stops to breathe, stops to have consequence and threat. It tries and succeeds to have heart. They gave us Peter Parker first and foremost. They are letting him learn to be Spider-Man without going into yet another origin story and montaging the learning process. Instead we have the learning process and the origin is given a single throw away line – because we all know it. The writers and directors don’t treat the audience like idiots and focus on what we want to see (mostly). There are a few moments of teenage awkwardness, and Spider-Man in the suburbs that go a little too long or too uncomfortable but that is a matter of taste. I am also giving the movie props for making the kids as wide ranging as they were. I *like* this Flash Thompson – clarification I don’t like the character but I like the interpretation, the character is still a bully who needs to be spaced. If the words great power and great responsibility were used I didn’t hear them which  goes to the movies credit yet again. They gave me a intelligent and compelling villain with understandable and relatable motivations – hell Marvel and DC have yet to do that with their movie properties since Loki. They even address some of the fallout of the Marvel Cinematic universe better than Agents of Shield ever did.  I was surprised by all of this. Yes the awkward moments of being a teen and Spidey drew a little long and not good for *me*; some of the Stark & Happy parts annoy me but it mostly ties back to my growing annoyance with Stark; your mileage may vary though. The rest is damn solid.

That goes for the acting as well. Now for the record Tom Holland was 20 when Civil War came out and is 21 as of a month ago. Tobey Maguire was 25 when Spider-Man came out in 2002 and Andrew Garfield was almost 30 for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. So he is *not* a teenager playing a teenager, but he is the closest we have had so far. He does it best of all. That’s right this is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man we have ever had grace the big screen. He has the heart, the fear, and the charm. He may not be as quipy as some people want but this is effectively Spider-Man Year One. Give it time. Also – he’s a kid. They make a point of it. He still acts like it. It works. Just as much as Michael Keaton absolutely nails it as Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. The casting went off type for him as well vs the characters comic look and the movie benefits from it.  I will say it again one of the best villains since Loki or Red Skull. The secondary cast sells it as well with of course Jacob Batalon as the best friend Ned being the grounding rod Peter needs and part of the emotional heart of the film.

From a technical standpoint. I have no complaints on the FX. None. Not one. On those lines I love how they really embraced the comic book and showed how strong he can be during a few scenes and gave him some of the classic poses in creative ways. The shots are clean and the colour palette is bright, if not normal – which when compared to the Marvel movies makes it abnormal. Black is black. Red is red. There are good contrasts in colour that make it work tonally. So not only do we get Spider-Man feeling like our friendly neighborhood web slinger, but he looks straight out of a comic page. It does have some Act II and Act III bridge pacing issues and some editing I noticed, but nothing bad. It runs long at just over 2 hours so be aware.

TL;DR

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie we have been asking for. This has what was missing from the Garfield ones (even if I did like them they were flawed). It makes up for the Raimi finale. It sets up a sequel in a very good way. It is loaded with easter eggs for fans of Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic universe.

Should you see it?

Yes. 3-D might be nice if you go for that. I saw it in 2D and was fine. I do think better sound systems will help, but not much.

Will you see it again?

Maybe. Depends if someone takes me. I won’t complain if they do.

Buying it?

Yes – which is more than I can say for the past few Marvel outings except for Civil War.

Where would you put it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Top 5 I think. Just on the edge of it if not. It’s no Winter Soldier, First Avenger, or Iron Man. Civil War and Avengers run neck and neck and I don’t know if this beats either, but it might.

Closing thoughts?

I do not think Spider-Man is a great movie. It is a solid, well above the curve we have grown complacent with and just really good. I do think people should see it and I do think Marvel could stand to look at this and figure out what is working and take a moment to learn from it.

Related: Stay for the final credits it’s beautifully meta. There will be also be lot of Easter Egg videos coming. Here are a few…- roll over to read –

  • Zendaya is our new MJ, perennial love interest of Spidey.
  • The look of “The Shocker” has homages to his actual look. this also shows how to do a multi villain movie right.
  • The principal of Peter’s school is played by Kenneth Choi who was Jim Morita in Captain America First Avenger. He is playing Principal Morita, who appears to be the son or Grandson of the Howling Commando based on a photo on his desk.
  • Not confirmed, but I am pretty sure one of the other school students is, or is related to Silver Sable. They kept showing a girl with Silver White hair and I know there is a Silver Sable, Black Cat and Venom movie in pre-production.
  • The person they are having an arms deal with on the ferry is named Mac Gargan, aka The Scorpion. if you doubt this look at his tattoo in the closing credits prison scene.

Darke Reviews | Wonder Woman (2017)

So here we are, but where have we been to get here. A quick summation of events in the past few years in table form:

Marvel Movies DC Movies

Ok with me so far? Yes, Suicide Squad was absolutely entertaining but it cannot be argued that on critical analysis it is riddled with flaws – mostly in the editing department. Batman v Superman was nothing short of a train wreck, even the longer cut which made some of it more bearable didn’t make it as a final product something anyone should be proud of. That being said, something glorious was indeed found in the carnage of that film. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. I said it before and I will say it again – I am a fangirl of hers since she first walked on screen in a Fast and the Furious movie.

So the real question you are here to find out – has DC gotten it right yet?

Three writers, in addition to William Moulton Marston who created Wonder Woman, have credit on the film. Story by Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs, and Allan Heinberg. Heinberg gets the sole screenplay credit so what we finally got was the last touches he put on and the orders from on high. If we take a moment to look at Fuch’s work, as Snyders work is well known and often lamented, he is responsible for the garbage of a movie that was 2015’s Pan and the 2012 film Ice Age: Contintental Drift. Don’t remember it? You didn’t see it. This leaves us Heinberg, who is  primarily a TV writer with a handful of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Party of Five, and the OC.  So based on how I chose to write this you might be thinking “this is going to be horrible.”

You’d be right – except you need to replace going to be with should be. It should have been horrible as Snyder has not shown any capacity for character focus or actually understanding characters at their core and why people like them. Fuch’s work on the disaster Pan showed no real understanding of world building or character either. Yet, somehow these three men did it. They told a, mostly, cohesive story that delivered us the Wonder Woman we deserve and need. I think Heinberg may be part of the reason we get this.

Wisely set during World War One, the great war, the war to end all wars as it was called, we are introduced to Diana princess of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons. They live an idyllic life of peace and beauty yet continually prepare for a war that may never come. Until it does with the appearance of Steve Trevor followed closely by a small legion of German soldiers intent on killing the American. The battle is joined and Diana ventures into Mans world to try to fight for those who must be protected with Steve at her side.

The story is relatively simple as they go, with a McGuffin and a lofty goal. What they did unlike so many other superhero movies, including Marvels, is watch their scale. Yes it was World War I, but they made it smaller than it was and kept the stakes (even as high as they were) to something we could understand and relate to. There is another success here, but I think it belongs to Patty Jenkins, the director as much as anyone – more on her in a bit. The movie has its action beats but it for once in the DCEU focuses on the character we want to see. Diana. She’s the focus. Period. They let you get to see her wonder, her frustration, her anger, and the depths to which she can feel. They let her personal interactions with people last more than two seconds. Wonder Woman is a warrior yes, but she is also diplomat, a caretaker, a nurturer, and a sign of hope. They got that. They let her be that.

In Man of Steel, they had to tell us “it’s not an S, it means Hope” and we laugh at them because they had to SAY it and didn’t for one moment show it. Here – they show it. They live it. They do it. It’s never said.

So let’s talk Patty Jenkins. Not only do we have our first big budget sole female lead superhero movie, but it also has a woman director at it’s helm. Jenkins directed the acclaimed 2003 film Monster with Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, since then she’s mostly done a little TV and passed on Thor 2 as she wanted to tell  different story than Marvel did. I am glad she passed so she could do this. Comparing this to all the other DC films there is real character here. Sure not everyone is fleshed out as much as I want, sure some elements are paint by numbers, and absolutely can we see Snyders influence – but we also see Jenkins. A director who is on the set with her cast and crew physically interacting with them and giving them the guidance she feels with an undaunted passion. There are a number of articles on how important Jenkins time in the directors chair is that are worth reading – here at the Washington Post and here at THR the Hollywood Reporter. Sexism is alive and well in Hollywood, and here we are with the most expensive film shot by a woman.

She also took a page from Richard Donner that Snyder missed the memo on. You can do an origin story and let us get to know the character and like them. Let them *show* us why they are a hero by their choices and actions rather than why they aren’t by the dialogue and moping. Show don’t tell. Let us see the action. Let it be kinetic but let us see it. Let it feel SUPER HEROIC. Let it be magical and impossible – it’s ok. We’re dealing with the Amazons here. Jenkins did all of this.

Of course you need actors.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Full Stop. This cannot be argued. She’s everything she needed to be and more. Nothing more needs to be said about her – she’s absolutely perfect in the role.

Chris Pine is an excellent Steve Trevor, charming, fearless, but believable as a man dealing with the unbelievable. He doubts as much as he shoulder, but trusts as much as his character and heart are supposed to. Connie Nielsen, who I haven’t seen since 2003’s fantastic film Basic,  is Hippolyta and knocks it out of the park bringing what I expected of such a character to life.  Robin Wright (House of Cards), Danny Huston (American Horror Story), David Thewlis (Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin) , Saïd Taghmaoui (GI Joe Rise of Cobra), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), Eugene Brave Rock (The Revenant), and Elena Anaya (Van Helsing) bring good performances to screen in multi national cast that is also worth noting.

Alas, the movie does have flaws. The final act fight is a touch green screen heavy. Some of the other green screening doesn’t work well. I think Hollywood needs to find another way – something between green screen and front projection. The lighting never quite matches – or they need to move their green screen work from inside with the studio lights to outside in the sun – so the lighting actually matches. There are some dialogue choices, some thinness to characters, some of a few different things in the production that may distract someone looking for flaws; but with few exceptions these can be overlooked.

TL;DR

In what is currently my longest review this year (1270 words as of this) I can sum it up simply

Wonder Woman is what we have been waiting for DC to make.

Not just because she is the first big budget female solo superhero film. Nor because she is in a list of less then 10 other films that fall under the solo female lead in a super hero genre. Nor because this is a sign for so many female directors in Hollywood that they can potentially make a tentpole film that is amazing. Not for any of those reasons alone but for all of them. Wonder Woman is just good people. It is a good film we need to support. We need it to be as successful as it deserves to be. It needs us and we needed it.

Should you see it?

Yes. I plan on seeing it at least once more this weekend. I’ll post to my personal facebook page as to when/where if folks want to join me.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No doubts.

Are you blinded by fan girl of Gadot or Wonder Woman?

No. Look it has flaws. Plenty of them but it still goes beyond them.

Guys – this is a film to watch. It has action. It has heart. Warner Bros finally did it. Do I think they will learn from it? No, but a girl can dream and no matter what I say as a unpaid but trying to  be professional reviewer there’s something more important at work here.

Representation Matters

This is an actual quote from the woman next to me in the theatre when I asked did you like it?

“I am so emotional right now. You don’t see that. Its just the dudes. Not the girl kicking ass. She was amazing.”

51% of the planet now has the chance to see themselves on screen – alone – as the hero we need right now. This is important. This movie is important.

Please support it.

Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)

So nearly 3 years later and we have moved from the late summer “Oh I hope it does well but oh well if it doesn’t” dump slot to the first of the May blockbuster releases. Guardians of the Galaxy practically minted money for Disney and Marvel then, surprising everyone from the fans to the critics to the execs. I mean sure the cast and crew may have known what they had, and I know how carefully cultivated the Marvel Cinematic Universe is – but this one felt like a “think we can do it?”, “Have we built up enough good will to try this?” “Well no harm if it doesn’t work, its not on earth right? *insert weak laugh*”

  • Budget: $170 Million
  • US Gross: $333,176,600
  • Non-US Gross: $440,152,029
  • 3rd highest grossing movie in 2014 (beating out The Hobbit, Captain America The Winter Soldier, and Transformers by no less than 70 million dollars)

So it’s safe to say they did well that year. That a sequel order was in the mail on release day. Like suddenly they knew they had something and ran with it before the final numbers even came in for the opening weekend. 3 years and a $200 million dollar budget later we return to the wider galaxy and the adventures of its guardians with their quirky personalities, and early 80’s theme music?

But should they have been ignored like the B sides of a tape?

James Gunn returns with pen in hand for both writer credit and gets the oh so comfy director chair as well. If you had told me the guy who wrote the two Scooby Doo movies and Lollipop Chainsaw (video game) would be directing not just one but two movies in a film series that’s profits exceed the GDP of several countries combined – I would laugh. I mean He wrote Tromeo and Juliet (a classic for Troma lovers) – now he writes the story of a gaggle of guardians gallivanting gregariously about the galaxy. What? I had to try anyway….The story picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the last movie in media res with the heroes defending a McGuffin from a thing. Which leads to another event and then another. Things look up. Things look down. Things go wrong. Things go right. Secrets are revealed!

This is a no spoiler review. I am not giving you more than the trailers do.

What I will say is that the movie shifts tones a few times. There are parts of humor that for me largely fell flat, but the audience around me laughed at most of the jokes. Most. The problem with some of these is that they jump from a scene that is emotionally compromising or otherwise somber to a moment of near slapstick humor. It can eject some movie goers from the moment – especially as not all the jokes work. A majority didn’t work on me, but if you are a frequent reader you know I have a lot of issues with humor and me not getting it. Thankfully humor isn’t everything the movie is based on. It also bothered, unlike so many other films, to stop and let you breathe. Let you have character moments and get a little closer to them so you are feeling with them. Would these moments have worked without the first movie? No. They require you to know the barebones you were given before so when more is revealed about them you form a deeper connection with them.

Tonal quality shifts are not the films only area of flux. Visually the film goes from amazing make up and computer effects to something I would have expected from the late 90’s or early 20’s. There is one part that I swear the movie goes full cartoon and it absolutely ejected me from the film; which was then re entered by the next beats character moment. Granted for some of the effects I feel nothing but pity for the animation studios called upon. Having to create rich visual effects that are believable for this is a daunting task. They largely succeeded.

What didn’t succeed in the flux category beyond some of the visuals, some of the characters, and some of the story beats? The music. Hold on! Hold on! I know I loathed the soundtrack of the last one. Not so here. Volume 2 Awesome Mix is a much better tape, not one I’d listen to regularly, but it doesn’t have songs I despise. In fact Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is easily in my top 100 songs of all time. No, the accompanying soundtrack is fine and works within the movies diagetic sound as much as it does non-diagetic to the point where you aren’t sure and it doesn’t matter.  The part of the soundtrack that doesn’t work is the score. Its recycled. You will hear the Avengers theme…a few times. It is disappointing when so much care is put into it that they are recycling their musical queues from other films.

If you are curious about what I mean – check this video from the awesome Every Frame a Painting

 

Do I believe most people notice or care? Fair question and I would say no – but that doesn’t earn my forgiveness or the fact it needs to be called out.

At this point I normally talk about the actors, but everyone is absolutely fine. New comer to the series Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Ingrid Goes West) merges amazingly well with the existing party as Mantis. As I mentioned in my recent Fast and Furious review. I want Kurt Russel in all the things ever. This has only reaffirmed that.

I’ve avoided talking about the action because I found it…wanting. It’s there; just not as visually compelling or character driven as it could be. Marvel – please note – swarms and masses of faceless attackers does not make your combat more interesting or the stakes any higher. It was just very very safe.

TL;DR?

I would hit play on the Volume 2. Despite the flaws I perceived in the movie, of which there were many, I had a good time. It wasn’t great, but it was solid good pop corn fun. It got me emotionally invested in the stories of the characters and that is hard to do. It succeeded on a personal level where some of the production failed on an intellectual level. Audiences will love it and no one left the theatre until the last of the credits rolled. Again its flaws need to be called out in that the action is kinda bland and safe, the story and scenes have some amazingly jarring tonal shifts – but beyond that its absolutely serviceable and watchable.

Should I see it?

I don’t believe you will regret it. It’s a good time to be had by most.

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

Ok serviceable and watchable don’t sound like high praise though?

In this day and age it is still praise. It is also not the best Marvel feature but it is far from the worst.

End Credits scenes?

Three of them cut throughout the credits. It’s also worth *watching* the credits as there’s some easter eggs, jokes, and other cute things in them. I rather enjoyed those.

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

Brace yourselves. Summer movie season is coming. Next week King Arthur.

Darke Reviews | Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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

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

Well no.

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

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

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

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

What about the story?

Let me ask you some questions –

Are you alive?

What is life?

Define your sense of self.

Define your identity.

What makes these up? 

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

Would you still be you?

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

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

Should you watch it?

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

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

How rewatchable is it?

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

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

Ok so whats the big spoiler that has you outraged?

 

Roll over to read begins now.

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

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

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

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

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

The spoiler. They literally white washed the character.

Literally.

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

What the actual…

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

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

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

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

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

Roll over ends.

 

Darke Reviews | Logan ( 2017)

In yet another movie this year, I get to go “17 Years ago…” we were introduced to this world and this character. Things really haven’t changed much in a lot of respects. When Jackman was cast no one wanted him in the fan community. He’s too tall. He’s not stocky enough. Cast Glen Danzig, were just some of the many things being said. Granted the only casting at the time that anyone really felt was right was Patrick Stewart as Professor X, at a spry 60 taking the role of the iconic character. Granted since 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation aired, he instantly made the top of everyone’s who to cast list. Now, we are hard pressed to think of anyone but these two in these roles. I mean look at this opening.

 

Sure there have been calls for Jackman to retire after the past three movies. People have been getting tired of Wolverine and the X-men which the movies had become for a bit. The first spin off movie X:Men Origins Wolverine was absolute garbage which didn’t help.  Too few people saw the redeeming The Wolverine in 2013, or its even better directors cut on DVD. Then there were rumors of “Old Man Logan” being adapted, but nary a still or production debacle to make the waves. Then the trailer was released and we realized we may have something good.

A tired Logan, an aging Charles and a world that wasn’t quite as familiar. Oh and one of my favourite characters – X-23, which came as a complete and happy surprise to most people. When that trailer dropped people lost their minds “is that X-23?” then they confirmed it…and the hype train grew to the tones of Johnny Cash.

So should you board the hype train?

Let us discuss the writing. 3 Writer rule – revoked for this one. Scott Frank (The Wolverine, The Lookout, Get Shorty) gets a screenplay credit with Michael Green a TV (The River, American Gods, Kings) producer who has his own share of screenplay listings (Green Lantern, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049). Additionally director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) has both story and screenplay ties. So Mangold comes up with the story he wants to tell and then the others are brought in for polish and adjustment. Based on what I saw, probably by Mangold himself as there doesn’t seem to be significant tonal or story shifts as the movie progresses. Significant ones. There are a few beats, a few story elements which seem to clash with the overall film and some near unnecessary third act exposition but it doesn’t detract from the overall story being told.

It is a good story. One we haven’t seen a hero movie do before, or at least not in awhile. I was literally commenting to my sister the other day – “When is Hollywood going to remember bigger isn’t better with the bad guys? That not every plot has to be an end of the world. Sometimes smaller is better.” You see if the stakes get too high and you stop caring. You know they won’t destroy the world. You can’t have a sequel that way. Mangold apparently knew this and rather than a bombastic end of world apocalypse, he tells a smaller story. A story about people, about life, death, and hope – just with the lens and world view of a tired, bitter old mutant who has seen and done too much.

The story is good and so is the direction. I found no camera angle wasted. No colour palette bled. Every beat existed for a reason that I could tell. Some last a few too long, true. Some will complain about the pacing not being as quick as others. That’s the point. The director wants you to spend time with the characters, remember them, and feel them again as you did back in 2000. He wants you to learn about Laura in her own way through careful interaction that is well crafted and bothers to show who and what she is without exposition.

The acting is spot on from our two stars we know. Jackman didn’t phone this in and Stewart looked like he was having the time of his life, despite what I would guess for both of them involved at least 3 hours in the make up chair each day. Jackman lets his characters age show in every moment. Stewart steals the show as a 90 year old Xavier in every bloody scene he is in, but there’s quiet competition from Dafne Keen (The Refugees) as Laura aka X-23. The 12 year old (11 at filming) Spanish actress is once again why I will say child actors can be just fine – bad direction and bad scripts are the problems (sometimes). She gets added to the list of young actresses who really make a mark in a good film. I don’t know if she did her own stunts, but if she did I am even more impressed.

I’d like to say the villains of the piece leave as much a mark but in what is quickly becoming tradition – they don’t. I think that is ok in this case as they are but a catalyst for the story not the be all and end all of the story. Richard Grant’s (Bram Stokers Dracula, Dig) Dr. Rice is passable just as Boyd Holbrook’s (Narco’s, Gone Girl) Pierce. Pierce is a nice change of pace for a villain though as he does show intelligence, cunning, and actually using his brain. I liked him, but will quickly forget him. That’s ok. Again, as it’s worth repeating the story here is only driven forward by the villains but the focus is where it should be – Logan, Laura, Charles.

On to the technicals? Have you heard the phrase “a hard R” before? Ok short version it means that they are going for an R Rating that really can’t be disputed. I think they went for a soft NC-17 just to get the R rating.  Every F— they couldn’t use in all the other movies were saved up here. Oh and a vicious and violent Wolverine movie that was being asked for. Your wish is bloody granted! Heavy emphasis on bloody. Not gory though, just brutal and ferocious as the character deserves – both of them. Yes, if you’ve seen the trailers Laura is just as violent and you will love the movie more for it. The make up effects are good and a lot of practical to cherish.

TL;DR

 

The movie deserves the praise it is getting from audiences and critics alike. It is absolutely savage in its many, many take downs. The action is clean (ish). The story good. The movie lets you breath. It’s shot really well. The movie proves Fox is getting it as with half the budget of Civil War, Batman v Superman, Amazing Spider Man, Man of Steel, Ultron, Dark Knight Rises – they made a far better movie. It isn’t some over the top send off for beloved characters, but instead a tighter picture with a lot of restraint.

It should remind you of a good western; the movie hits you over the head with it a few times in case it doesn’t. It also goes on to prove GRITTY and REALISTIC doesn’t mean grey, bland, dirty. You can have colour AND grit. Pay attention to that lesson and that lesson alone.

While I haven’t yet watched Movie Bob’s review, I agree with his title: Don’t try to make this again. It worked for a variety of factors, not the least of which was 17 years of investment. If you feel the need to emulate it learn how to focus on the characters – not bigger/badder – XTREME (missing “e” intended).

Logan is the movie that Wolverine deserved. Logan is the movie we’ve been wanting

Should you see it?

Yes. Please. Let this make all the money this month. Let this make all the money this part of the year. Let them know they were right to make it this way.

Are you buyi-

Yes. Next question.

Will you see it again?

If I can talk folks into seeing it with me? Yes.

Can I take the kids?

Depends – did you think Deadpool was watchable for them? Thats the benchmark. It is good ol fashioned violence, blood, and foul language. Even Robocop would be impressed.

FYI – this would have been PG-13 in the 80’s….maybe an R. Maybe.

Last thoughts?

Guys, I gotta tell you this movie is the best one I have seen this year. I will be surprised if it doesn’t stay in my top 5 through the year. It made me feel something more than once and for a superhero movie – that is saying something.