Darke Reviews | The Lost City of Z (2017)

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

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

Should you sign up however?

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

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

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

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

A scene in the movie:

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

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

So…I shouldn’t see it?

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

Is it really that bad?

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

But Rotten Tomatoes…

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

Anything else?

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

Advertisements

Darke Reviews – Black Mass (2015)

This one was a request from a coworker and is  a few days later than I wanted, but I promised a review. The other reason it’s late is I had a bad experience at the movies and didn’t want to let my bias from the experience affect the review. This gave me time to really think on how I feel about the film and make recommendations with some time away from it.

So should you attend the Mass?

As we start this, you understand from my history this is not my preferred genre. I like good drama’s and the occasional “based on real events” films. I firmly believe there is a gap in time that should occur to let a film begin to fade from collective memory a bit and help us remember bits of our history we may not know as well. Films like Captain Phillips, The 33, and the upcoming film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are too new, too recent for my tastes. This hits the right bridge of time away, but with individuals who are in recent(-ish) headlines.

The movie here focuses on that of James “Whitey” Bulger, leader of a small criminal empire, and his relationship with FBI agent John Connolly. Much of the film focuses on the relationships between Bulgers inner circle of the Winter Hill Gang and the interactions Connolly had with them and his own with the FBI itself.

It’s worth mentioning here that acting is amazing in this. Depp is back in form again and I want more of this man in movies. While Jack Sparrow probably allowed him to buy another island, it’s not why we learned to love him. The fact that he can become most anyone is. I lost Depp in this performance and saw the man he was playing and want more of this. Joel Edgerton has had a lot of high profile work and this probably for me is one of his strongest performances. Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, Exodus, show a growing penchant for him as a heavy, despite earlier performances in such movies as The Thing and King Arthur. He is a solid actor who actually showed an interesting range in the film. The other stars, such as Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochran, Adam Scott, all do really well and craft whole people; which is good since they are portraying real people. That isn’t always the case in a performance, but thankfully was here. Benedict Cumberbatch does a passable job at a New England accent but not quite, but that could be argued as someone trying to fake a New England accent over a Southie accent, and in this case over his natural accent.

The screenplay for the movie comes from two men, Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. Butterworth is one who was responsible for the beauty of Edge of Tomorrow and will be on the hook for Spectre later this year. This is Mallouks first writing gig. As the film is based on a book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, I am not sure where to place some of the blame in dialogue. There are just some parts that are too ridiculous to believe anyone would buy, too tropish to be real and that took me out. Also, I am pretty sure the F-bomb is not actually punctuation, the movie disagrees with me to a level that would leave The Boondock Saints in awe.

Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnance) loves himself the close up. While not as bad as Maggie for having the camera in his actors face there are a lot of scenes where the actor uses well over 75% of the screen space with their noggin. It’s a technique that can work, but doesn’t always.  Also, the timing of cuts, beats, and overall pacing of the film drags a bit to the long side. I wasn’t expecting the Departed when it comes to action, but I wanted the pacing just a bit tighter. Also I would be left to believe things only happened every 10 years if the movie was my only guide.

TL;DR?

Black Mass is a solidly acted film that I can highly recommend to anyone who enjoys the era of the Modern Mafia. If you love stories in, about, or related to Boston this is a must see. The city doesn’t live and breathe here as it’s own character despite their attempts, but you know where you are. The movie can be compared to one of my more favorite films of this type of genre Citizen X.

If you aren’t a fan of this type of film, you won’t miss anything. Even the curious could give this a pass. Save it for the genre lovers.

 

 

Darke Reviews – The Devil’s Pass

So where last year I was doing a vampire movie every other day, this year I think I shall do a classic every other day. As we started the month with a classic horror, let’s jump to something a bit more modern. It is also quite likely something you haven’t heard of or seen yet. Added bonus for me to get to introduce such films. I should mention, I am a supernatural mystery junkie. Ghost Hunters, Fact or Faked, Unsolved Mysteries, etc all were favorites of mine. I have a shelf in my library around such topics. Now a few months before even hearing of this film I came across the Dyatlov Pass incident from 1959. The story of 9 hikers who were found in an unusual state some weeks after vanishing in the Ural Mountains. There are dozens of plausible explanations for it, but I love the idea of mystery.

The Devil’s Pass takes this mystery and applies the found footage genre to it. Made famous (and nigh inescapable) in 1999 by the Blair Witch Project this style of film is designed around the conceit of someone using a camcorder, cellphone, or some other recording to capture every moment of an event or experience. These films also are particularly known for shaky cam due to the nature of the work, which is a turn off for some watchers.  Night vision is also a regular trick of the camera work but is usually far more bearable and tends to add something to the film. The found footage aspect really isn’t wasted and the film utilizes it as one of the tools of storytelling rather than a style. The film was written by an unknown, Vikram West, but directed by a very well known Renny Harlin. Harlin has a strange career and aesthetic to his work, but most people know Die Hard 2, Long Kiss Goodnight, and Cutthroat Island.  This sort of film seems deeply out of the norm for him.

Since this one is definitely newer, I am retaining normal spoiler free territory.

It focuses on a group of college students from the University of Oregon trying to uncover the mystery of what happened in 1959.   The mystery and tension continues to build amongst the group and the environment around them as it bothers to explore some of the psychology of these events.  The actors, while falling to similar stereotypes, don’t really get too annoying.  They are overall rather smart and came with all preparations in mind. The only mistake they make is the one not to leave when things get odd. The individual characters themselves are all relatively interesting and worth watching. They do figure some stuff out on their own that made me smile and showed some awareness usually lax in teen/twenty something films. I believe the interactions between them and watching their own fears become manifest in the performances. Regretfully, I do lose track of who is who a few times as we have a cast of Abercrombie models, but it’s negligible with only a total cast of twenty in the film.

From a technical standpoint the movie has solid practical effects where possible and they sell themselves well. It doesn’t rely on a lot of gimmicks in the effects and lets your imagination do the work. The CG that is used occurs sparingly but is limited by budget and I can tell. The best is the avalanche that had to occur in any mountainy/snowy terrain for a movie like this. Yes, you can blow it off as the sounds it makes coming down, but at the same time they really did a good job of bringing the raw force of nature to life.

TL;DR?

I was really surprised by this film. I found it on a lark one day when I was searching my Netflix. I was reminded of the actual incident and thought I’d give it a once over. It was absolutely worth it. It is a slow burn that builds to a satisfying climax that is worth discussing with whomever you watch it with.

If you have issues with found footage though, give it a pass because the camera work is pretty normal for the genre and could make you nauseous. There is little blood or gore in this one – which I suppose hits some spoiler territory – but also in prep for the film you need to know.

All in all Devil’s Pass is a fun little horror movie and an enjoyable ride. It’s fun to think what if sometimes…

 

Darke Reviews – The Quiet Ones (2014)

I told you guys I would be watching more horror movies, a genre I have long since avoided. Mostly because the films haven’t interested me. Partially because of nostalgia for my golden age of Horror. So marking the second theatrical review for me of this genre is the Possession Horror – The Quiet Ones.

As it seems to be, from what I can tell in the trailers, films like this are set as a period piece. They are also nearly always (it seems) based on “actual events”. Commence eye rolling. The original screenplay was by Tom deVille, who has only a few TV episodes and a short to his credit prior. Then, there are three writers credits over his. Craig Rosenberg (After the Sunset), Oren Moverman (The Messenger, I’m Not There), and John Pogue (US Marshalls, Rollerball (2002), Ghost Ship). Three writers credits and once again the rule holds true. You can see all the different hands in the film and that at no point they agreed on how the story should go. Is it science? Is it supernatural? What are the rules? Are there rules?

Pogue, was also the director and that may also be the problem. Ok, its not a problem in that he is able to receive elevated performances from all of his actors. Actors who mostly aren’t known, but even Jared Harris shows an interesting range of emotions and mental states as the film progresses. Some credit must go to the director. Blame for the movies pacing also goes to the director. One should not be watching a movie and look to their viewing partner and go “what time is it?”. I was trying to figure out how long I was watching it and how much longer it would go. But Jess, it’s a slow burn film. Slow burn implies things happen. It implies that the film is building tension. It implies that at the end of it there will be a climax worth having a reaction to. A reaction that isn’t “what the heck were you thinking?” This had none of that, its simply flat.

That isn’t to say I don’t care about the characters. Sam Claflin (Finnick from Hunger Games) and Olivia Cook (Bates Motel) are actually the best thing this movie has going for it. At times I thought Claflin was Nicholas Hoult with his wide eyed expressions, but I cared what happened to him. I cared about his emotional state and actually respected the haracter he was playing, because of his performance. Cook, looking fantastic with black hair, reminded me of Eva Green in how she moves her mouth and the slight facial tics she affected through the film. Her range is actually quite something. I would look forward to seeing other work for her so she can progress as an actress. The ability to flip your emotions, and be believable, like a lightswitch should not be discounted.

That being said, even good acting cannot save a movie that fails at the most primal aspect of a horror movie. Tension. I felt none. The final act of the movie came closest and was most intriguing. I have a little bias to it, but thats another story. I just wish they had taken another route. Yes, it was loosely based on an actual experiment from Toronto in the ealy 1970s. Paranormal experimentation in the 70’s is about as trustworthy as a politician trying to win an election. On top of that the “based on” conceit is all but utter garbage unless there’s actual evidence from the event. That means they could have gone even further with this and didn’t.

TL;DR

If you are a horror junkie, go ahead and see Quiet Ones. Otherwise I found this a good place to take a nap for an hour and fourty minutes.

That may be my shortest TL;DR ever. Anyway, next week we begin the summer blockbuster season (and pretty much more reviews from me than I can shake a stick at) with Spider Man 2.
Complete aside – if I were to hold a contest for a pair of movie tickets, would you fine folks be interested?

Darke Reviews – The Conjuring (2013)

This movies continues a predictably long line of Hollywood milking the low budget unseen horror film. Long line? Perhaps you’ve heard of Paranormal Activity (1-5), The Grudge, Insidious, Mama, Sinister? Horror movies work because they play on a fear. Typically fears of the modern consciousness and sometimes our subconscious fears that particularly attentive writers have tapped into as they create their projects. The writers usually say it is their own fear put to page and when created lets the audience realize it is their fear too.

The 80’s it was the slasher; the faceless killer, the stranger and something that could not be stopped. The 90’s had no real identity of it’s own and is actually very weak in the genre instead giving us the Teen Scream. This was a more literal transition of the Slasher film to focus on the teens themselves, such as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, Urban Legends, etc. At the end of the 90’s we were given the start of the found footage horror with Blair Witch; which began the start of the supernatural horror we are in now. In this decade, we are inundated with a slightly different take on the Supernatural/Unseen horror where it is blended with the Home Invasion. Movies like the Purge and Your Next, Dark Skies are all representative of this new wave of horror in their more physical sense. Insidious, Paranormal Activity and the Conjuring are a blend of home invasion and the unseen.

Granted these are just my perceptions on the horror genre and I could go on these at length (and may if so asked), so lets get down to the review itself.

2013 saw the release of a few movies in this vein and the Conjuring is the most successful. It actually ranks 5th in the most successful Supernatural horrors of all time. It had a production budget of $20 million and brought in $137. Not a bad haul and the reason that Hollywood will continue to take this route. The conjuring also uses one other theme of new horror -“Based on True Events”

Director James Wan (saw, Insidious) is the proud papa of some serious horror franchises. Despite my personal feelings on this genre, he has a clear understanding of how to shoot to build tension. How to get performances of his actors old and young that are believable and make them feel like people. It’s actually one of the strengths of the Conjuring, that every performance is balanced and well done enough that the characters fears are played to their most subtle and nuanced.

The story by the Hayes brothers, Chad and Carey, is set back in the 70s and focuses on a family who move into an old farmhouse. Shortly after they move in they begin to see and experience strange events, mostly centered around the children. To make matters worse the father Roger (Ron Livingston – Office Space) Perron is a truck driver who could be away for days at a time. The mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor – The Haunting) is even being attacked by these entities and reaches out to a married couple who specialize in Paranormal investigations. The couple Ed (Patrick Wilson -Insidious, A Team) Warren and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga – The Departed) Warren give lectures on the exorcisms and events they have helped people through. Much of their focus tends to be on the demonic and they even keep a collection of possessed objects in their home as a kind of museum. When the Warren’s arrive in the Perron home events begin to escalate to horrific conclusion. Where Ed must make a choice to save the lives and souls of the Perrons.

I’ve spoken briefly on the acting already. Every actor performs amazingly leaving nothing on the floor and holding nothing back. To be clear this isn’t over acting, but actors, adult and child alike, who put their everything into the performance. They get close in the final act to overacting due to the nature of what they must do and playing out an exorcism. I have to admit Wilson, Livingston, Taylor and Farmiga make this more intense than the Exorcist for me.

The technical aspects of the film are sufficient enough where they rely on the jump scares more than any other technique. The make ups for the dead and possessed are at this time getting a bit overwrought and while I cannot condemn them for it, I can say it’s maybe time to move to a new type of genre. The make up can only be done so many times and anything after this is getting redundant. The CGI when it happens is used to enhance the make up and create transitions to show claw marks, burns and other manifestations. These are definitely to the movies credit. I also cannot complain about movie that relies strongly on camera tricks and practical effects over CG.

TL;DR

I can see why the conjuring was successful and while this new breed of horror isn’t my cup of tea it works. The inspired and based on real events is also getting old, but again when you consider that there are tapes of the interviews between Ed Warren and Carolyn Perron from 1971 it adds a certain element of horror to it that cannot and should not be denied.

Overall I have to say it’s a solid film, and while it didn’t scare me, that will scare more than enough people out there. I do think Hollywood needs to stop while it’s ahead and get to a new genre before they milk this one dry.

Tomorrow’s review knows where the bastard sleeps.