Darke Reviews | Power Rangers (2017)

I really don’t know why I wanted to see this movie. I was not a fan of the show when it premiered the first time back in the early 90’s. I was a bit disappointed considering I had grown up on Voltron and thought I was getting a live action version. I was young. I didn’t know better.  So despite that the trailers did their job and I wanted to go see it. With that in mind I figure if I enjoyed the movie then it is a solid movie without nostalgia glasses getting in my way to either love it or hate it for its differences between then and now.

So should you go go to the theatre to see it?

I invoke the three writer rule as the movie goes to five. We have story by Kieran and Michelle Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold,  Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt) and Matt Sazama (Dracula Untold,  Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt) and the final screenplay by John Gatins (Flight, Kong: Skull Island). At this point unless I am given photographic evidence to the contrary I am going to say Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama are a modern version of Alan Smithee. The real surprise here despite the rule being invoked – they told a decent story. Sure it’s origin story 101 but unlike so many other movies with a wide cast to introduce they actually let you get to know the characters. The dialogue, the character decisions, all felt natural. There’s one particular scene around a campfire that was in the paint by numbers guide, but it worked. No this isn’t going to win any awards for storytelling or doing something particularly new but it did its job. It does have a few plot holes you can pilot a zord through but you forgive them because the characterizations of your five mains are as strong as they are.

This is director Dean Israelite second feature film since Project Almanac; and while he shows more restraint than he did there he still has not quite mastered the camera. I will give absolute credit for trying a few things with the camera that worked, but then he went too long on them and it stopped working. I get the sense that there’s more to him, as overall the movie was surprisingly enjoyable. Directorially speaking the beats work mostly, the camera work is solid for a majority of the film and the performances and blocking are good. His sense of pacing was on point, but his tonal choices were a tilt a whirl of emotion. I remember looking to my sister during the movie going “well that was bleak” during one scene; yet they earned the beats they got and the emotions they drew out of me.

What takes the movie to the next level is the actors who had remarkable chemistry with each other. Dacre Montgomery as our Red Ranger Jason isn’t just a bland white guy lead. He tries to be more and largely succeeds; and I will be curious to see him in Stranger Things Season 2. British actress (of Indian origin) Naomi Scott (Lemonade Mouth) is our Pink Ranger Kimberly and much like Dacre really makes more of the character than I thought possible. RJ Cyler ( Me Earl and the Dying Girl) is our Blue Ranger Billy, who I am going to talk more about in a moment. Ludi Lin is Zack, the Black Ranger; which leaves us with singer songwriter Becky G  as Trini our Yellow Ranger.

Bryan Cranston returns to Power Rangers, this time as Zordon and I must say he makes an excellent face on the wall. Elizabeth Banks steals the show as a semi serious and surprisingly menacing Rita Repulsa. That isn’t to say there aren not fantastical elements to her performance deserving of a laugh but much like the heroes, her moments are earned well enough you enjoy seeing her.

Why did I not talk about the five mains more? Because they need to be talked about together. If you read my reviews with any regularity I speak of representation and how it matters. This movie has given us Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and Black actors in what is easily claimed as a superhero role. Ok so the movie hits you over the head with it with a line, but I forgive it for them actually bothering to do it in the first place. On top of that we have a character who identifies on the autism spectrum – and actually calls it out in film. This movie made a real effort to have multiple types of representation across the board and succeeded where other films fail. What makes it even better so it feels less forced than it is – the actors have amazing chemistry with each other. When two of the characters meet for the first time I was taken aback by how well they sync’d and felt right on camera together. This kind of interaction continue to go on as the movie moved forward; furthering my surprise.

So we have good representation and good actors who connected with a decent script and pretty solid direction – this lets me overlook the movies flaws.

Oh yes. There are flaws.

As I said, the camera work is improved over Project Alamanac, but definitely still needs work. I would shake the director of photography to make him use a steady cam, but I don’t think he’d notice the motion as there are more than a few shots that had noticeable wobble that didn’t need it. The fight sequences when the camera is still? Great. When it’s moving. Kinda a mess. The same can be said for the Zords. I know there’s a T Rex and a Pteranodon, but due to camera movement and poor design of the robots the others are kind of a mess. There are a few plot holes that are glaring and can leave you with a lot of questions if you think about them too long and some effects work – others not so much.

TL;DR

Power Rangers is a surprisingly good movie. There are a ton of callbacks to the series that even I picked up on. It, in my opinion, has a lot of heart to it and I feel there was some passion by the cast and crew in getting this made. It while following the formula of origin stories and generic teen filler movies somehow stands apart from them. The production crew was serious about making this as good a movie as you can while still embracing what makes it Power Rangers.  If anything, they did lose *some* of the hokeyness that was part of the charm, but the cast’s charm overpowers that flaw.

Should you see it?

It is different than the show as I know of it, but if you are even remotely interested yeah its a very entertaining ride.

Would you watch it again?

Probably.

Really? You going to buy it too?

Yes. No doubt.

Any warnings?

So Power Rangers the show is very kid friendly no matter the age. 5 and under I’d keep out, maybe 7 and under on this one. This is a solid PG film that wanted to dip its toes into PG-13 (well modern PG-13).

I like the movie and don’t have issue recommending it at all.

Surprise!

Oh and there’s some product placement in the movie used as a punchline – and I didn’t mind it. It worked and I liked it.

So where’s Beauty and the Beast?

I was on vacation. Haven’t seen it yet. Might this weekend. If so you’ll get a review.

Darke Reviews – Attack on Titan: Part 1 (2015)

So this review is getting in one a technicality for the review-a-day, as it involves monsters eating people in gory ways. That classifies as horror for most American films, yes? I mean sure it is based on Anime, based on Manga, but the ultimate themes fits some of the horror. There’s the herd mentality, the survivor mentality, the combat the beast mentality; all of which are found in archetypal horror. So here we take a story that’s been translated to TV now being translated to the big screen. It’s not like we’ve seen that go wrong before with taking a beloved anime like cartoon and putting 23 hours(ish) of tv into 3 hours. That’s NEVER gone wrong.

So do they go right here?

Well, this is going to be an odd review as it’s more targeted to folks who are familiar with the source material rather than standard movie going audiences. I will come out of the gate and say if you are not a fan of tokusatsu style of Japanese films you have no real reason to see this. If you are not familiar with that term, we will use Wiki today:

Tokusatsu (特撮?) is a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of special effects (tokusatsu literally translates as “special filming” in Japanese).

Tokusatsu entertainment often deals with science fiction, fantasy or horror, but movies and television shows in other genres can sometimes count as tokusatsu as well. The most popular types of tokusatsu include kaiju monster movies like the Godzilla and Gamera film series; superhero TV serials such as the Kamen Rider and Metal Hero series; and mecha dramas like Giant Robo. Some tokusatsu television programs combine several of these subgenres, for example the Ultraman and Super Sentai series. Tokusatsu is one of the most popular forms of Japanese entertainment, but most tokusatsu movies and television programs are not widely known outside Asia.

So unless you rather enjoy my reviews, poor attempts at humor, the anime, and/or the manga you could probably come back tomorrow for the next review. For those left it is assumed you have already watched or are otherwise familiar with the series.

SPOILERS BELOW

My face during most of this movie

My face during most of this movie

That image matches my face and the young woman in front of me in full Armin Arlert cosplay (some people confused her for Annie or Historia); who kept throwing her hands up in exasperation. The movie is that incredibly different than the series. I mean radically different. Oh there are Titans, there are some of our characters, there are walls, and three dimensional maneuver gear. That more or less is where the similarities between film and series.  It took me awhile to accept this as the series is so good, but when you start to consider the movie as a fan-fic or gritty adaptation of the material it begins to work and you start consider it as it’s own work independent of the material.

The story is that you have three friends, Armin, Eren, Mikasa who live inside the outer of three walls which are protecting the remains of humanity from Titans; giant beasts that are near unkillable that do nothing but destroy and eat. They are large (the name is a give away), unintelligent, sexless, and eat people for no known reason. After a hundred years they break through the wall, chaos ensues. After the group is separated and experiences a loss we jump to two years later and training is finished. There’s a last ditch attempt being made to close the hole in the wall and this group of raw recruits are all that’s left. Of course things go wrong.

You know, as much as I complain about white-washing, this is the first time I’ve seen a movie that is Asian-washed. Only *one* character legitimately should have been Asian here, the rest vaguely germanic. So, to be transparent, I will not hold this against the movie. We do it enough over here so it gets a pass. The acting is about on par for what I have seen from other high end tokusatsu style films, with some good character moments and really nice emotions coming from the people at the right times. Conversely, there are quite a few – what in the hell – moments that left the entire and I do mean entire audience laughing.

On a technical side of things, the movie isn’t too bad. The Titans look good. The three dimensional gear looks ok, some times yes, sometimes no. The style of the film goes full Walking Dead or post apocalyptic, a tone the show never quite hits but maybe should. The pacing is ok, but there are enough weird moments to throw you long enough you have trouble getting back in. Also the movie is intelligent enough to break itself into two pieces. The climax really did look good and appropriate.

TL:DR?

Honestly, as a fan of the show I was put off by quite a bit of the movie. You really must accept it as an AU (Alternate Universe) to embrace it for what it is.

Still, many of our favorite characters are missing and some weird characters are introduced. Most fans will want to see it, so this review comes mostly as a warning to lower your expectations. Overall the audience enjoyed it, even Armin, but we were mostly confused.

The movie does NOT hit Airbender levels of bad by any stretch and is entertaining.

So you have been warned. Watch, but be prepared.

 

 

Darke Reviews – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

I have only a passing familiarity with the original TV series that ran from 1964 to 1968. I think I caught some reruns in syndication when I was a kid. I am pretty sure I remember the awesome Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum (Duckie from NCIS) as Illya Kuryakin. It was very much a product of it’s time in a similar Cold War era vein of James Bond, The Avengers (no not those Avengers), Mission: Impossible, Danger Man/Secret Agent, Get Smart, The Saint, I Spy, culminating in the end of the Cold War with Scarecrow and Mrs. King (I never missed an episode).

Something you may notice, I made all of those links to the original series. Something else you may notice almost all of them have been remade into modern movies – very very poorly with only two notable exceptions. As a reminder ( I am cruel) here you go to the notably bad ones.

I understand if you need to pause reading to take anti psychotics or antidepressants at being reminded of those films. I needed to set the stage for what is one of the last of the genre of old spy movies being redone.

Did it work better than the others? Does it break the curse?

If you are a regular reader you know the Three Writer Rule. 3 or more writers goes bad almost invariably. This movie has four unique story credits and with two of those repeating on the screenplay. This is excluding the Sam Rolfe credit for the TV series. Lets knock a few parties out right now. Jeff Kleeman is a producer with a pen. He generally is the money and some influence on a film, with no major film credits  prior as a writer it’s clear he wanted a say in the film enough to get himself a story credit. Then there is David C. Wilson, who has precisely two credits; the 1991 martial arts movie that made Escrima cool The Perfect Weapon and the oft forgotten 2000 film Supernova. I am almost wondering if David C. Wilson is an Alan Smithee in disguise? This brings us to Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie. Now things begin to get interesting as Wigram helped give us the RDJ  Sherlock Holmes in 2009 as a writer, then has largely served as an executive producer for such films as Harry Potter 5, 6, 7.1 and 7.2. He also gave us Cool as Ice. I am trying to decide if that wipes all the other good credit out. Then of course is Guy Ritchie, writer, director, producer. Gaining his fame from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, later to give us the two new Sherlock Holmes films.

Did they tell a good story together? Well yes and no. The film is so predictable with its beats and overall plot that I probably could have looked like some sort of PreCog from the Future Crimes division if I had written this review first. Every single plot point is 100% unsurprising and even telegraphed. The movie then goes onto explain, as if we’re idiots, how some of the beats happened when a cut was used to show not tell. Not good. What is good is when the movie takes small moments to be quiet. They are a touch absurd and a bit off, yet bring the whole thing back together. The downside of course is they, like the movie run a bit long and rather than allowing you to catch your breath leave you checking your watch. Not that the movie needed time to let you catch your breath, the pacing, music, and overall feel of the film read more like Steven Soderbergh (Haywire, Oceans 11,  Traffic). The only touch of Ritchie I see is some of the cuts he chooses and a deliberate attempt to give it that 60’s film grain vibe.

From an acting perspective the mediocre retreaded script does little to help the actors. Thankfully someone reminded Henry Cavill he wasn’t working with Zack Snyder and that he could smile again and be charming again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that and that isn’t a good thing as beyond his magnificent physique the man actually has natural charm. Armie Hammer, who hasn’t had much work since the atrocity of the Lone Ranger plays our Russian. If you want a man to be charming and charismatic when he reads wooden – don’t let him play a cold war russian. It doesn’t mix. Thankfully Hammer and Cavill both transcend the script and what must be poor direction to at least make me crack a smile a few times. They made it work. They had the quiet moments and bromance that fan fic writers are already scribbling down ideas for. Supporting the stars we have a star in her own right, Alicia (I am really not an AI) Vikander, coming off of a stellar performance in Ex Machina. She at least has chemistry with the male leads which allows this film to work and Ritchie and the script realize she is not just a window dressing and use her appropriately.

No one else is really able to transcend the script, except Hugh Grant who as near as I can tell is playing Hugh Grant.

TL;DR?

Short version the movie is a meh.

You can get a few smiles and maybe some nostalgia from it if you enjoyed the original series. Hammer and Cavill pull off Illya and Solo rather well and I buy them and everything about them. If you were interested give it a matinee shot, otherwise this is a pass.

Slightly longer version? I think the Spy Genre is dead in film. Sad thing is I like Spy Movies. Always have. We’ve been Bourned to death. Mission Impossible and Bond work because they are larger than life. They are so huge from both the characters and the enemies. Even in the grittier and more reality (hah) centric film style we’ve gotten both Bond and MI are still bigger than us and that makes them truly timeless. The world that produced these earlier works is gone and even though the idea of vintage everything is still popular it doesn’t work as well when your genre needs a black and white enemy that is firmly of this world. Maybe in another few years this could be revisited but right now in the context of the world we live in the genre just does not work if you dance too close to reality. That thought, even watching the movie, took me out of it so hard that I started seeing the figurative paint and set dressing.

I think that explains why this was released in August. People might just be desperate enough to see it and it could make some money back.

So again – It’s a Meh. If you were planning on it anyway – Matinee. Otherwise, save your money a few more weeks until something that is must see comes out.

Darke Reviews – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Do you realize it has nearly been 20 years since the first Mission Impossible film with Tom Cruise? How about this – 50 years since the original Mission: Impossible first hit the air? (side note: I had the opportunity a few years ago to meet Peter Lupus at a convention. The stories he told were incredible!) That one lasted 7 seasons, the 1988 reboot, sadly only lasted 2 and yet somehow Peter Graves looked no different. What we have established here is that Mission: Impossible has truly become a cultural touchstone across many generations and we should be thankful for that at least. While it may not have the impact Bond did to the spy genre, it certainly hasn’t gone away. This is one of those times Hollywood going back to the well was a good thing.

The question is did the well run dry with a Rogue Nation?

Some think it should have. It’s hard to run a franchise into 5 films successfully. Those not based on a book series are rare. So let’s start with the writing a moment. The story is by Drew Pearce and Christopher McQuarrie. Pearce somehow avoided my ire and righteous wrath for his screenplay work on detestable Iron Man 3. McQuarrie on the other hand has a masters hand with screenplays such as the perfection that is The Usual Suspects, the very serviceable Jack Reacher, and the criminally studio mismanaged Edge of Tomorrow; he also directs this film.

There are some odd pacing issues through this very traditional MI style spy thriller. It is a bit formulaic, but it should be. Just improve the formula a bit and keep us guessing a bit more and you’ve done your work to make a Mission Impossible film. The pacing, as I said, is a bit off where it drags for a moment here and there, but then brings you back in with a laugh or an “oh damn” moment. The theatre was laughing, wincing, and one guy even cried out in joy at a moment in the film (which got a laugh) – so pacing aside it knew what to do right to bring a reaction from the audience when it was needed and it was. Everything plays to type here from a story perspective and if there is any particular failing it is the villains. They just don’t carry the weight of Kaiser Soze or even what little Christoph Waltz has given us in the Spectre teaser. This isn’t to say they aren’t threatening or don’t have weight, because they do; however most of that weight comes from Ethan Hunt having to tell us rather than allowing us to truly witness it.

The US has a love/hate relationship with Cruise. I for one love him. He may be a wackadoodle in real life (I swear folks will never forgive him for the Oprah thing or Scientology), but on set all reports are he is a class act. Film wise, he has not disappointed me since 2001’s Vanilla Sky. Everything else I have seen him in he has been at the top of his game or at least the best thing involved in the films (I’m looking at you War of the Worlds). According to several video shorts, the airplane sequence is actually him, not a stuntman and not green screen. The driving sequence that closes out Act II is also him behind the wheel of the car. Does he have tropes in this film that he goes to? Of course he does. Once again it is clear he did not skip leg day. Tom Cruise loves to run on screen, when he can’t get a motorcycle – which he also gets. If that’s really the worst we can pick on then he is doing good. The rest of the performance is spot on and I want to say a few things I noted, but they verge to spoiler territory – talk to me about it after you see it.

Simon Pegg gets more to do this time and we should love the movie for it. He returns for his 3rd outing as Benji Dunn; I know most of us forgot he was in 3 along with the fact that 3 exists. I am not shy about saying I love Simon Pegg as a performer and he is further proof of how a great comedic actor can be the best in dramatic moments due to their understanding of timing. Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner reprise their roles from the previous films, with Rhames not getting nearly enough screen time but making every moment count and delivering one of the funnier lines in the film. All others are serviceable in their roles, neither memorable nor horrible; save one who deserves special mention. Rebecca Ferguson. She effortlessly plays against Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. She is fun, conflicted, memorable, and also most importantly – bad ass. I would happily pay to see the sequel with her story as she is easily Ethan’s equal in the film 100%; and wisely the film does not pull what they did with Paula Patton in Ghost Protocol and overly sexualize her. She is female, she is pretty, but these are secondary to the camera shots for the vast majority of the film. Please Hollywood – take note? K. Thanks.

From a plot and technical perspective? Well honestly the film is exactly what it should be – Hyper-reality. It is our world, our issues, but with a twist to make it and the characters bigger than life. While Ghost Protocol brought things down a notch closer to real and this one continues the trend; Mission Impossible was never meant to really be in our world any more than James Bond is. The movie understands very clearly where that line is and keeps a comfortable enough distance that we can all enjoy it. Well mostly anyway. Some of the fight sequence camera work moves a bit too quick and cuts away just a hair too much. The car, plane, motorcycle, and so many other sequences are both beautiful and energetic. I will give credit to the Cinematographer, Robert Elswit, whose credits have some truly inspired camera work (Salt, The Town, There Will Be Blood).

TL;DR?

Very well – your mission should you choose to accept is to see Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and tell me if you enjoyed it as much as I did. This post will self-destruct in…

Do I think this is the best of them? I think this one is close with Ghost Protocol, it might edge it out if I rewatch GP and then this again. It is truly a fun, popcorn and soda film (or beer if you have it). I remember looking to my partner for the movie tonight and going “this movie brings me joy.” It really did. I smiled. I relaxed and I was able to enjoy the film, which while not flawless, was still just plain entertaining.

There’s no 3D on this one, so no warnings there. XD isn’t needed, but if you like the sound then the first sequence will be your payoff.

There is mostly August dump slot coming from the studios over the next few weeks. Things they don’t know what to do with and hope makes a little money before everyone goes back to school. Things I will see because I keep being told ya’ll love the reviews, such as Fantastic Four (why do you hate me?), Man from U.N.C.L.E., American Ultra and Hitman: Agent 47. If however, you need something we know to be good to close your summer out then accept the mission and don’t get disavowed.

 

 

Darke Reviews – Addams Family Values (1993)

Ok, I am doing two classics in a row here. Mostly because these films are beautifully crafted gothic humor classics. This one also breaks Hollywood tradition when it comes to sequels. Sure there are a handful of good sequels out there, but its rare enough that people can name things like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II and they stick out. No I am not in any way comparing Addams Family Values to those two films level of film making, but the three films do have one thing in common.

Barry Sonnenfeld (Addams Family, Men in Black) returned to this film almost immediately after the success of the first film. Success you may ask? Well on a $30 million budget they made $114 million domestic officially marking it as a blockbuster. The first film was even nominated for two academy awards.  I wish I could say the second did as well, but it only brought in $48 million (budget unknown). I have to admit now as we get into the details of the review – upon first watching I thought it was ok. I didn’t like it nearly as much. Let’s get back to that and I’ll get into the reasons why.

Sonnenfeld had great success with the first outing, but has since proven in the years to come that tends to be a trend with him. Men in Black was new and brilliant with significant changes from its comic book source material to make it a scifi comedy. The sequels were…ahem less than stellar. I shall also only name this film once, I will never review it without financial compensation – Sonnenfeld is responsible for Wild Wild West. *shudder*

For reasons I don’t fully understand even now, rather than using the writers from the first film again they went with a new untested writer. Perhaps Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson couldn’t meet the time table Paramount set. This has been known to happen before, so instead we get first time screenwriter Paul Rudnick, who has but one movie I recognize since – the forgettable Stepford Wives.

While the success and atmosphere of the first film and the cast of Addams’ made it difficult to stray too far – somehow they did. Now the story itself isn’t so bad, but it plays on nearly the same theme as the first film. A con artist (this time something more) inserts her way into the family and focuses on Fester. The family is too naive in their own special way that they can’t see it. It really does feel like the first movie rehashed more poorly as so much of the family connection is separated here. We also introduce the poor joke of a newborn child – because its the early 90s and babies must be in everything! Granted the summer camp scene while painful did deliver so many of the memorable lines. That comes down to successful casting again.

Every member of the Addams clan returns to reprise their roles. With time and experience Ricci became a scene stealer between films. In the first one, she was good – here she is a mistress of all that is Wednesday Addams and can even steal scenes from Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, and Christopher Lloyd. Honestly she steals every scene she is in. I am still not a fan of the Lloyd casting as Fester, but I can’t think of anything better.  The casting I think I like least is Joan Cusack. Her voice is near nails on a chalkboard for me. I just cannot stand her in this film.

What I enjoyed was seeing a very young David Krumholtz (NUMB3RS, Serenity), and cameos by people we know and love now such as Nathan Lane, David Hyde Pierce,  and Tony Shalhoub. Another point I enjoy, while I loathe the character archetype, the character of Amanda Buckman was played by Mercedes McNab was the same girl from the first movie in the girl scout scene. It was a cute callback and quite honestly entirely possible to be the same character. McNab later went on to play Harmony Kendall in Buffy and Angel.

Now I kind of ripped the movies plot apart above, but while the plot may fail – the jokes are just funnier. It is a far more quotable and memorable movie. Even after watching the first yesterday, and loving it all over again, I am hard pressed to quote it. It just doesn’t stick. This one does.

TL;DR

I think, in retrospect, I would switch the two films. While I do love the first and have some significant problems with the second, the second just ends up being a better film over the passage of time. The first film is timeless, but not memorable. The second film is clearly 90s, but far more memorable.

Both have strengths and weaknesses – but as I said before the second just tends to be a bit better of a film for me. My crush for Wednesday Addams continues to this day because of this film. I honestly swear I would try to be more like her if I thought I could get away with it more.

So there it is: Addams Family Values, a modern classic and a comedy (black as it may be at times) that I love and recommend.

It may take time to grow on you but I really think it does.

 

Darke Reviews – The Equalizer (2014)

Let’s see. The A-Team, check. The Muppets, check. Addams Family, Munsters, 21 Jump Street, and the list goes on.  TV shows are being adapted almost as much as books and comic books. Some better than others from the ability to watch and enjoy them. Some better than others in the box office. Some are even mutilated in their big screen transitions. Hollywood continues to mine the past for future generations, this time going back to the mid 80s.

The original TV series, which ran from 1985 to 1989 starring british born actor Edward Woodward as the title character. It’s the story of a retired intelligence agent of scary abilities who goes into the private sector to help those who need it. So you can imagine my surprise when I see they’ve cast Denzel Washington in the same role. Considering my soon to be coming rant on Hollywood White Washing, I can’t be too annoyed at the casting. I think I am just annoyed it was Denzel.

Before we get any further, let me be clear. I am not a fan of his.  I do not deny that he makes good movies – I just don’t enjoy him in them. Inside Man and Man on Fire being two of my favorite films of his. Though in his years since leaving St. Elsewhere he has countless films that are both critically and box office acclaimed. I find his performances largely one dimensional. I see so many of the same behaviors, mannerisms, and ticks in each performance that I could do an entire cinema sins on his personal tropes. I find him flat but that allows the others and the stories he picks to shine.

This is one of those situations. The film has a two and a half hour run time and it doesn’t need it; but at the same time doesn’t hurt too badly for it. I do long for the time of shorter films that we once had that were still entertaining. This film is bloated with multiple character stories that have Washington’s character, Robert McCall as the eye of the proverbial hurricane.

The movie carries a cast of extras you will know from other work but barely get to see in this, which is a bit of a shame. Chloë Grace Moretz, as a  call girl has one of the more humanizing and less tropish stories. Bill Pulman (Go get em President Whitmore!) and Melissa Leo (Oblivion, Flight) are used to give us more insight into what McCall used to be. Leo’s last line in the film brought a smile to my face.  New comer Johnny Skourtis is used well as a fellow employee of Home Depo…er Home Mart with McCall who wants to do better and finds help from McCall in multiple ways. He, like Moretz, brings much needed heart to the film as McCall is rather bland, but intentionally so.

The films Heavy is given to Martin Csokas, who you may (or may not) recognize from one of his three other films this year, Noah, Amazing Spiderman 2 or Sin City a Dame to Kill For. Prior to this, you were able to enjoy him in Kingdom of Heaven and xXx. I think he watched Javier Bardem on repeat from Skyfall as inspiration to this role. He carries the elegance of Christoph Waltz’s Col. Landa with him as well. He considers himself a force of nature who is then confronted with another one. It plays better than I expected it to.

This might be due to the writer, Richard Wenk (yay single writer credit). He previously had provided us films, such as Vamp (which I clearly need to review this October), 16 Blocks, and The Expendables 2. This tells me he is responsible for the pacing issues as much as he is for understanding how to write decent tension with minimal gimmicks in the script.

Of course, the Director gets some blame and praise as well. Probably one of my favorite action directors ever Antoine Fuqua once again delivers what I need from him. This of course isn’t Fuqua’s first time with Denzel either; having worked with him 13 years ago on Training Day. Fuqua also has directed such films as King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus has Fallen. He has an eye for good , watchable action that is near unmatched. He is also one of a handful of successful directors who aren’t white. This is a very good thing. We need more like him. His sins, however, in this film are the pacing. There were too many stories. Too many moments that didn’t really add anything on the surface.

Now, between Washington, Fuqua, and Wenk they did something special in the film. They acknowledged mental illness without letting it be something apparent, spoken, or even really ‘acknowledged’ on screen. Yet, it was front and center almost the entire time. You can see by the trailers, and this is not spoiler territory folks, that McCall times things. This isn’t just professionalism or precision at work – it’s a disease. He is exhibiting through the film various stages of uncontrollable obsessive compulsive disorder. Some might say I am reading into it, but I don’t think so. It was too perfect each time it happened. I applaud them for doing it. They took a character like this and broke him in a very real, very tangible, and identifiable way. He isn’t just another Bourne, Bond, or Batman. He’s human and I like the movie for it.

From a technical standpoint. I LOVE being able to see fights. I hate shaky cam. The movie does not disappoint in this way. Yes, they use the slow walk trope a few times, but at least one of them is done to fantastic effect. Editing is good. Music is nice as a largely somber classical or jazz vibe with an electric guitar throne in from time to time putting an edge to it.

TL;DR?

The Equalizer is very watchable. It is also very noticeable how long it runs.

It feels its length which isn’t all that good and some of the story elements largely feel unnecessary. I wish they had focused just a bit more and cut some of the fat from the finished work. A good 30 minutes less would have done this movie proud.  The action beats are spread just a little too far apart, but when they do show up they deliver nicely.

I also feel like I’ve seen this character from Washington before, especially in Man on Fire. There’s little different about Creasy and McCall.

All in all – if you were in any way interested expect a slow burn, but you’ll be rewarded for it.

If you were curious Matinee it at best. Wait for Redbox or Netflix at worst.

If you weren’t curious before and are now, the same applies. Otherwise you can give this a pass.

If nothing else it was nice to see another film worth seeing in September.

 

 

PS, I won’t be reviewing Box Trolls also out this weekend. One of the perks of being totally freelance is I can review what interests me and that one doesn’t.

Darke Reviews – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Wow was it hard to avoid reviews for this today! The skims that I saw as I scrolled through my news feed were not good. Even talk at work today indicated this wouldn’t be good. Now to preface this review there are some ground rules to understand where I come from on it.

1. I have not read the comic, but was aware of it when I watched the original cartoon.
2. I have watched the original cartoon, every episode. My favorite is the catwoman from channel 6.
3. I have watched a single video/AMV from *one* of the new reboots (2003 I think). It was epic. It was dark. It worked. Wish I could find it again.

So where does this movie fall in?

First thing is first. Remove the Nostalgia glasses. Acknowledge how bloody cheesy the original animated series was. If you think it was serious in any respect, I present you Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X. A Giant Brain living inside the STOMACH of a robot. Beebop and Rocksteady. If you can now acknowledge how ridiculous some of this is, we can continue. That is to say nothing of the core concept. Teenage. Mutant. Ninja. Turtles. Trained. By. A Rat. If you can’t just skip the TL;DR right now.

If you have embraced the insanity of the concept and all that comes with it; I present to you TMNT. As I have said this is based on a comic originally written and drawn by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, who did the opening title sequence. If they didn’t do it – someone who imitates their style did. This movie does bear the dreaded triple writing credit beyond that. Josh Appelbaum (Mission Impossible 4 (the good one), Alias), Andre Nemec (who has all the same credits as Appelbaum), and Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman, Divergent). They *did* embrace the insanity. Their sin? (ok one of them) Too much human. Too little Turtle power. Their homage? I can’t count the number of callbacks to the original run I picked up on and laughed at (mostly alone).

What about Michael Bay? Well…he is only a producer. The Director here is Jonathan Leibesman. The same man who gave us Wrath of the Titans, an unwanted and yet somehow better sequel to an unwanted remake of a classic film. He also gave us Texas Chainsaw Massacre 50. No that’s not it’s actual title. It might as well be. To his favor he gave us one of the better alien invasion sci fi epics with Battle Los Angeles. Yes, it had problems with the camera work but as a film it worked. He does much the same, good and bad here, with TMNT. His camera work makes much of the action hard to take in, but what you do see appears to be epic looking and kind of awesome. Decent tension and ok pacing.

Acting? Oof. well, it wasn’t too bad actually. Megan Fox (Transformers, Jennifers Body), Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Monsters vs Aliens) get far too much screen time and most of it’s groan worthy – but they make it work.  I don’t know if its the writing or acting or both. Whoopi Goldberg was here for a paycheck or perhaps some debt to satan for Sister Act 2? Tony Shalhoub as Splinter? A bit jarring yes, but because it is a man of his talents it works. The brothers are fine. The personalities mostly realized with the usual focus on Mikey and Raph. Their voice actors, including Johnny Knoxville do just fine. William Fitchner makes everything he does better (Drive Angry is a perfect example) and brings the ham and cheese with him as he chews scenery in a way that even Jeremy Irons can appreciate.

Effects. I have heard many comments about how creepy they are. “The noses are weird.” “The teeth and animations are just off putting.” Meh I say. They weren’t that bad. They’re strangely more appropriate than what we had before so I guess I don’t mind them. Not all of the effects are clean and the CGI over practical is evident but I got to ignore that to see the Ninja Turtles on screen for the first time in 20 years and they *do* look better than we got in the previous films. Period. Sorry my opinion on this one.

I want to give the Villain a bit of a special talk. I had a guy behind me dissing the look of the new Shredder. My only retort – you have to make a guy who is supposed to be a walking cuisinart look threatening. Sorry it needs to be armor. It needs to be samurai like. It needs a lot of blades. A LOT of blades. Did they go a bit overboard on it? Eh maybe, but so be it. This is a movie where a man in ridiculous bladed armor had to take on four six foot turtles wielding dual katana’s, nunchaku, sai, and metal collapsible bo staff. Check your suspension of disbelief at the door.

TL;DR

I had a group of people behind me who hated it. The guy next to me, whom I asked, and his  lady loved it. They felt it captured the feeling of the original run. The person I saw it with felt the same.

I happen to agree with them.

It really brought the heart of the original comics and animated to film. It is very superficial, but lets face it most kids movies are folks. This *is* a movie for kids. There’s enough here for adults, especially all of the aforementioned callbacks, but it is a childrens movie. That grants it a lot of forgiveness from me.

What also grants it forgiveness? It was a fun little romp through my own childhood. It just kinda works

Final recommendations:
TMNT is better than most reviewers are giving it credit for. It is not for everyone, but if you have kids – its an absolute this weekend. The kids I saw leaving the theatre in their masks were running and tumbling and just enjoying themselves. What else is it supposed to do?

If you are an adult who wants to see it – take off the nostalgia glasses, sit back, and just try to enjoy it. You just might.

If you weren’t interested – neither this review nor the movie will change your opinion.

At the end of the day TMNT is kinda fun.

Cowabunga!