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.

Darke Reviews | Doctor Strange (2016)

First off let me apologize, as this is not actually a review.

One of the principles of my day job is Integrity without Compromise. So I am left with a quandary –

See a movie that I actually want to see but I know has a problem in it that I have boycotted movies in the past for.

– or –

Not see one of the most anticipated movies of the year and be unable to tell my readers about it.

I am sorry everyone, but I have to stick to my guns on this one. Due to the White-washing of a historically Asian character known as the Ancient One I cannot see Dr. Strange. Yes, Tilda Swinton is an amazing actor. There has been nothing she has done that I haven’t enjoyed her performance. The fault only lays on her for taking the role.

The real problem comes down to Marvel Studios and the writers rationale for doing so. Money. There’s absolutely no morality to the decision, point in fact it’s the opposite of it. I get big business I really do, but that doesn’t mean I have to let them slide on it.

This is where geopolitics comes into play. For those that don’t know China considers Tibet part of China. Tibet does not consider themselves part of China. If they cast a Tibetan actor, they cannot screen the movie in China, the second largest audience for movies in the world.  They can’t make money in China if they cast someone who is actually Tibetan, but if you cast a Chinese actor for the Tibetan role it sends a different (and even worse) message.

So you are left with this decision that is like one of those button push “You get this, but this….”

  1. Cast a Tibetan as the role of the Ancient but now you can’t show your movie in China.
  2. Cast another ‘Asian’ as the role of the Acient but now you’ve invalidated an entire country it’s independence in a tacit manor which to the rest of the world looks as if you are endorsing China.
  3. Cast another ethnicity as the Ancient but be lambasted for not being true to the character.
  4. Cast a white actor in the role and be accused of white washing, but hey you get to release in China.

Marvel chose option 4.

I will not deny the complexity of this decision, it shouldn’t be denied and needs to be appreciated. They are a business and it wouldn’t be just this movie that could be at risk, as China could not allow other movies simply out of spite.

Are there other facets to how they did this to try to mitigate the white washing? Sure. They wrote the character as a title that could come from any culture; but at the same time they keep the original white-savior narrative of Dr. Strange. You know the story, the white guy learns from the wise old insert ethnic group and becomes the savior? The did try to mitigate it, but they didn’t go far enough or brave enough.

If you want to write that it’s not white washed try these tricks

1. He doesn’t go to Asia at all. Shamballah did not have to be terrestrial.
2. The Ancient isn’t white.

Why does it matter so much about a white actor in a role that could have gone to a person of colour?

Please please read this:

Jar Full of Major Characters

or this

Casting Minorities as White Characters is not a double standard. Here’s why

The short version is this:

“When there are so few raisins to start, any change made is really easy to spot, and makes a really significant difference.

This is why it is bad, even despicable, to take a character who was originally a character of color and make them white. But why it can be positive to take a character who was originally white and make them a character of color.

The white characters bowl is already so full that any change in number is almost meaningless (and is bound to be undone in mere minutes anyway, with the amount of new story creation going on), while the characters of color bowl changes hugely with each addition or subtraction, and any subtraction is a major loss. “

But, Jess, you’re white. Why does it matter to you?

Because I have a voice, social awareness and consciousness, and need to speak when I see something wrong.

Because it matters to him: George Takei

So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales … in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots,” writes Takei. “Marvel already addressed the Tibetan question by setting the action and the Ancient One in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the film. It wouldn’t have mattered to the Chinese government by that point whether the character was white or Asian, as it was already in another country. So this is a red herring, and it’s insulting that they expect us to buy their explanation. They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces. Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are.”

I do not under any circumstances get to tell him he is wrong or even attempt to invalidate his opinion.

TL;DR?

I am absolutely certain Dr. Strange is a good movie, maybe even great. I won’t know, I cannot give the movie money – nor can I allow someone to pay for a ticket for me.

If you wish to see it, I really hope you enjoy it. Even with movies I hate, if someone loves it I am happy for them. Legitimately so. My opinion and recommendation is just that, mine. I write to share it.

I wrote to share this. I would ask you not to see Dr. Strange, but if you do – enjoy it.

Boycotting a bad movie like Exodus or Gods of Egypt is easy.

Boycotting a good movie is hard.

 

PS.

Suicide Squad made over $700 Million dollars Domestic+World Wide without release in China, and that movie is problematic and divisive as hell amongst fans. I think you could have survived Marvel.

Darke Reviews | Suicide Squad (2016)

To say I have been harsh to the DC Cinematic Universe would be like saying summers in Arizona are a touch warm. Now, I can lay down geek cred pretty well with my comic collection – which does include one of the earlier runs with the Suicide Squad with friggin Catman (yes..Cat) as the lead with Deadshot also on the team. I grew up without Harley Quinn until the amazing and legendary Batman the Animated series invented her (all praise to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini). I’ve watched how the character has evolved and changed over time, some good, some bad – recently very good. So on the eve of her 25th birthday as a character (September next year) she gets her first cinematic appearance alongside a bunch of bad guys not a lot of folks have heard of outside of the comic scene or DCAU scene. DCAU gave us Assault on Arkham, a Suicide Squad story, two years ago and I keep a digital copy on most of my devices because it is one of the best of the DCAU. That said….

Should she and the others be thrown in a hole and then forget the hole or do we need more?

Let’s talk first about an uncredited writer, John Ostrander (who has a lovely tribute in the movie) who created the Suicide Squad back in 1987, and also created “Oracle” from the ashes of Barbara Gordon. Just a small thanks to him for creating the idea of villains working for good and being one of the team who also gave us Amanda Waller (with John Byrne and Len Wein). Thank you Mr Ostrander. The movie itself was written and directed by David Ayer, who also directed the disturbing war movie Fury, as well as End of Watch; and was the writer of the original The Fast and the Furious. He does great street level films and gritty films, and I could even say I would want to see what he would do with an Escape From New York or Dirty Dozen remake if someone were to deign to do such a thing. Here’s why…

This is what a director should do!

His blocking was spot on most of the time. There is an entire scene in the movie with very little dialogue but the body language and looks of those involved tell you everything you need to know about whats going on. Is the writing and direction perfect? No. I blame Zack “I suck the colour out of everything” Snyder for some of it. Some does go to Ayer, but overall this was a very well written and directed movie. It’s critical to consider that unlike the Snyder films thus far, all of the characters here we get to focus on feel like characters. I don’t just mean they are accurate to their comic characters, which they are, but they are dimensional entities of their own. They have motivations which they hold true to and you understand and care about. They aren’t painted with a thin veneer of character and we’re supposed to believe it. They are something you buy.

That gets some credit to the actors themselves. Will Smith was the classic charismatic Will Smith again. I had doubts after his last round of movies of him playing the Clark Gable inspired Floyd Lawton. These doubts were put to rest quickly and held through the movie. He was Deadshot. Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Legend of Tarzan) was a version of Harley Quinn that was an amalgam of several of her more recent incarnations and even outshined Smith in the charisma department. This explains why I liked her so much in Tarzan. She was given the opportunity to show a few facets of Harley people don’t consider and it made me happy to see. Hell she made me happy.  Her and Smith had excellent chemistry which was needed for two of the most likeable villains DC has ever written. Ayer brought that to the fore and you like the villains. You enjoy them…you know you shouldn’t root for them, but you do anyway. That’s the very definition of charisma. I can’t believe I am writing this, but even Jai Courtney (Divergent, Good Day to Die Hard, Terminator Genisys) delivered. I wonder if it is because he got to speak in his natural Australian accent as the rogue Captain Boomerang. I still think Hollywood should stop trying to make him happen, but he was really good and earned more than a few laughs. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii, Mr. Eko on Lost)  gives us a wonderful Killer Croc, Cara Delevigne (Pan, Anna Karenina) is an amazing and mesmerizing Enchantress, and Joel Kinnaman (Robocop, The Killing) does pretty good as the all american normal guy – Rick Flag.

Smith and Robbie shine, but Jay Hernandez (Max, Nashville, Quarantine) takes someone I’d have trouble classifying even as high as a C lister and makes him understandable, relatable, and kinda awesome. It is the definition of standout performance. Karen Fukuhara is, in her first cinematic role, is absolutely imposing as Katana. Despite being 5’2″ she has a presence on screen and is the bad ass she should be. Oh yeah…so now we have someone else who could have played Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. No I am not letting it go. Viola Davis is the Amanda Waller we have all been waiting for. I saw the movie with three friends who friggin adore ‘The Wall’ in both comic and DCAU formats and boy does Davis deliver. When Harley asks if she’s the devil in the trailer, those who knew of Waller before were going “well…” and thats what we get. Amanda Waller is a character who if the Devil showed up she would look him dead in the eye and go “You’re Late” or “Are you finally ready to deal?” without batting an eyelash. That is the Waller we got and Davis is on point.

So what about Leto? I know some of you are waiting for it. This was the Clown Prince of Crime. This was a Joker we had never seen on the big screen,…or any for that matter. My friends and I shivered in one scene going “make him stop”. His costume choices were all from various art and comics over the years. Am I still upset that they lied and said “this isn’t the look” …when it damn well was. Yes. Did it grow on me in the movie? Mostly. I get the no teeth thing the number of times he has crossed The Bat. The ink …eh a bit overdone, but whatever, its aesthetics. Not mine, but it doesn’t detract too badly. Something one of my friends noted was how he interacted with Harley is actually what we should be seeing. It ain’t healthy folks, that might be a bit spoilerish from me – but Joker/Harley *is not healthy*. The movie only begins to hint at it and we are A-OK with that. In short (too late) he was fine.

From a technical perspective, some effects work. Some don’t. Enchantress looks and sounds amazing. It’s also the first introduction of magic and they did it well. The Killer Croc make up was absolutely incredible (thanks KNB/Greg Nicotero) and further proof why you need to go practical more Hollywood. Musically, this is the soundtrack I’ve been missing. I grew up in the 80’s with awesome movie soundtracks and I was thinking the other day how those are missing. Not anymore. It’s all it should be and a bag of chips. The editing….

*sigh*

I can count roughly…15-20 minutes of movie that is missing. I can see the lines of the reshoots. I can see where scenes were cut short, I can see where scenes are even missing. An important lesson Hollywood. Do not focus on scenes in trailers and your production stills if they don’t make it into the movie. Roughly a quarter of material from the trailers is not to be seen. While the editing isn’t as criminally bad as Ghostbusters…it is pretty bad.

TL;DR?

This is the movie I have been dreading and hoping for all summer. The wait is over and I already want a sequel. I really enjoyed the hell out of this. Please for the love of all you hold dear Geoff Johns and the rest of the producers at Warner Bros. learn the *right* lessons from this. This is how you make a superhero (villain?) movie. You gave me a good antagonist, good protagonists, people I cared about and oh yeah real characters. It wasn’t as dark and gloomy as the last two movies and if the reshoots were to thank for that – GOOD! They were worth it. Do not ever give us another BvS when you have this as an option. I am so bloody thankful that they moved away from the grey scale they were teasing us with initially. I don’t think it was planned. I think it was reaction to BvS and it was a good reaction to have.

This felt more to me of the quality of the DC Animated Universe than it did the Cinematic…and it shows as people are you know…enjoying it!

Should you see it?

Like action? Yes. Like comic book movies? Yes. Like a violence? Yes. Like Harley, Deadshot, Waller, Croc, Diablo, Katana, Enchantress? Then Yes. Yes you should see this. They earned the PG-13 Rating and it felt like the PG-13 that I grew up with versus the overly sanitized PG-13s we’ve had of late. Remember when Red Dawn and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created PG-13…yeah this is right there with them. Thankfully.

Will you buy it?

I am irritated I can’t pre order it. I just checked…

Anything else?

Give us Pamela Isley in the next film so we can see Harley move onto a nice far more stable sociopath.

Uh…

I am probably seeing it again this weekend, or next week…or something. I am still undecided on Pete’s Dragon so may see this again. I didn’t realize how much I needed this in my life until now.

Darke Reviews | Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

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

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

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

So how did they do for this fan girl?

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

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

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

So should I watch it?

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

Will you buy it?

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

 

What’s this spoiler?

spoilers

 

Spoiler-Warning

 

Rollover to read….

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

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

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

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