Darke Reviews | Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

This is one of the rare reviews in which I have read the book, but I think I was like twelve at the time. I also saw the 1974 movie with a cast of the time to rival this one: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, and Richard Widmark. Yes, I saw it on network tv as a little girl, pretty sure I also saw Ten Little Indians as well (or And There Were None if you are purist). I didn’t read much else of hers beyond the two, though I did get my share of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as well (preferred Nancy tbh). I remember seeing the trailer for this remake and asked myself “who asked for this?” and “Doesn’t everyone know this story?”. Apparently someone did ask, and as I found out tonight not everyone knows the story. Learn something new every day.

Is this a mystery with uncovering though?

The screenplay by Michael Green is of course based on Ms. Christie’s original story from 1934; which is generally considered a seminal work of mystery fiction. You don’t even have to be a fan of Agatha Christie to acknowledge that her stories are some of the most influential structures to the murder mystery genre we know today. Her work has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and re-imagined dozens of times over the last century. Her work is so important to this genre that the 1976 parody Murder by Death (a must see by the way – even if Peter Sellers caricature is problematic) includes send ups of two of her characters.  Green himself is a mystery to me, as one of the many writers on Green Lantern and Alien Covenant – he also has this, Logan, and Blade Runner 2049. Sure there’s hit and miss, but I feel like he’s shooting at a dart board blind folded for the hits to be so strong and the misses to be so abysmal. In this case he had a master to work with on the source material and an expert director, yet at the same time the dialogue was sharp, witty, and clean in such a way that it made several of the characters truly engaging beyond their role in the film. This is a mystery for me to solve, but when you have Agatha Christie to work from – it’s difficult to fail.

Ok the original writer helps, but then you add the director Kenneth Branagh. The man is a talented director and a true master of his craft. He too has hits and misses, but with few exceptions even his misses are better than much of what Hollywood puts out from it’s “best”.  He works at his “best” when dealing with period pieces and this is no exception. Every performance from the talented cast is absolute in its precision. The execution of beats, pacing, costume, colour, sound and blocking are exceptional – even if a few of them are a little derivative and on the nose for the shot. It still takes an expert to frame a shot that is derivative and make it work in a way that you don’t care. What impressed me most was the control of the camera with frequent Branagh collaborator Haris Zamarloukos – who was the director of photography. I absolutely adored the movement of the camera and how they made three cars of a train feel expansive and moved the camera around, through, and over them. There’s one tracking shot during the middle of the first act I didn’t even realize it WAS a tracking shot until it was half over because of how clean the camera moved through the scene. While I am sure there’s edits and I would need to watch the scene again to catch them, it looks like a single take at a massive scale that few save Speilberg can pull off.

From an acting stand point – what do you think happens when you put Daisy Ridley (Star Wars – Rey), Leslie Odom Jr. (CSI Miami), Penelope Cruz (Blow, Vanilla Sky), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, The Kings Speech, The Secret of NIMH’s Nicodemus), Michelle Pfieffer (Scarface, Batman Returns), Willem friggin Dafoe (Boondock Saints, Platoon), and the amazing Dame Judi Dench (Casinoe Royale, Shakespeare in Love) in a single film? Ok Branagh playing the part of Hercule Poirot is a bit of self insert fan fiction, but if you had a chance to play one of the worlds greatest detectives and COULD do it justice -wouldn’t you? I didn’t mention Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast),  who needs to move from comedy and get into drama. He is one of those actors who has the timing, presence, and gravitas to move between the styles of film and succeed remarkably well. The other standout is Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons, Jekyll & Hyde) as Bouc, director of the Orient Express. His intro is nothing short of entertaining and I think I could watch a movie about just him and Poirot and be happy.

The movie is near technically perfect as I mentioned before. Near though, not perfect. The green screen for Istanbul isn’t quite right and noticeable for someone like me. The computer rendered train on wide shots as she moves into the snow covered alps again just isn’t quite right. It’s gorgeous, but not right. It isn’t uncanny valley where I am unnerved by the perfection of it, so much as I think another rendering pass would have solved it on the light diffusion and textures of the train. That’s it though, those are my only complaints.  For purists I know the mustache is an issue, but since I am not one – it wasn’t one for me.

TL;DR?

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most expertly made films I have seen this year. I was entertained as a film goer and amazed as a film reviewer. It is near technically perfect with only a few nitpicks and probably a few others I could point out if I really wanted to dig. This movie has an uphill climb against the juggernaut that is Thor and the upcoming disappointment Justice League, which will still make more money than it deserves; yet it deserves recognition and an audience.

Sadly, I don’t think it will find it. Everything about it is solid, but it’s really banking on the actors names as much as anything to get people into the theatre and it still must compete with the raw popularity and “enjoyment” value of Thor Ragnarok. This is a murder mystery, its here to make you think. It’s a period piece; which is to let you embrace the costuming, acting, and other components that come with that. I truly hope people go out to see this movie and hope this review convinces people on the fence to see it.

Should you see it?

Yes. Full stop. Yes. It’s a really good movie with a good story and great production values.

Would you watch it again?

I knew the ending going in from seeing a previous version and I still saw it. I would absolutely see it again if someone wants to take me.

I deduce that you are are buying it then.

You would be correct in your logic.

Ragging on Justice League before it comes out – really isn’t that unfair?

Not in the least. DC and Warner Bros have only gotten one absolutely right, and one absolutely enjoyable (for me). This was scripted, filmed, and in the can before they could adjust based on lessons learned. It *looks* bad. Even the Joss Whedon reshoots can only do so much with the framework already there. Most people I’ve talked to are going to see Wonder Woman and drool over Aquaman. The rest is irrelevant. The movie could surprise me, but I doubt it.

I will probably tell you to see this instead.

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Darke Reviews | The Foreigner (2017)

One of two reviews tonight, so apologies if they are both not as in depth as others tend to be. While I don’t sleep *much* even Undead Princesses need some rest prior to putting on her guise of a normal mostly functional human being to obtain income. I first came across the trailer for The Foreigner a month or so ago and was delighted to see Jackie Chan in a role as a heavy against Pierce Brosnan. There was just something in the trailer beyond what looked to be a fantastic performance from Chan that grabbed my attention and apparently others as well. If you aren’t familiar. Here you go:

Looks interesting right? Good action and of course you know Jackie does his own stunts when he can.

So should you see it?

Based on a book titled “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather, and converted to a screenplay by David Marconi. Now Marconi is best known for his story of Die Hard 4 (Live Free or Die Hard) and Enemy of the State; which puts him in solid political thriller territory as a writer. Considering how LFDH looks, I would say he wrote a story and the other producers  shoved John McClain down it’s throat rather than it originally being a Die Hard movie. After a quick check to the Wiki, turns out that was a correct theory. Huh. With that sort of pedigree he does seem appropriate to adapt this story.

I want to talk about Leather for a moment. When I write these reviews I do some *very cursory* research to tell you about who they are and other things they’ve done. Something in Leather’s IMDB profile caught my eye. A story/TV movie called the Bombmaker; which has this as the story: “A former IRA bombmaker is forced to resume her craft when her daughter is kidnapped.” Now what are the odds of a writer having two books about the IRA and bombs? Turns out Stephen is from Manchester and worked as a journalist during the time the IRA was active and roughly around the time they bombed Harrods in ’83. I suppose this would inspire me as well to have a perspective and want to write about it.

Write he did, the story of a former special forces soldier from South East asia (Vietnam in the book, China in the movie) whose daughter is killed in an explosion. He then travels to Ireland to seek revenge on the killers.

Straight forward plot, so to make it something we need a director. For this task we gain Martin Campbell, who brought us Casino Royale, Mask of Zorro and Golden Eye (Yay!); but also brought us Legend of Zorro and Green Lantern (ugh). Ignoring the latter half of that list, let’s look at Casino Royale. Ostensibly an intense spy thriller with twists, turns, and solid action. The camera work and acting were well done and the movie revitalized a franchise that had been on life support for a few years.  The question was of course, at this point, could a director like this direct Jackie Chan?

I am happy to report yes. Yes he can. While on a technical side, I wasn’t a fan of a few of the camera angles and shots overall it was well crafted and spent a lot of time making sure to show what could be shown and hide what needed to be. Face it dear readers, Jackie Chan is 63 and he is amazing but he is not going to pull Rumble in the Bronx stunts anymore. Especially when his trademark use anything style isn’t in the forefront of the movie, though don’t worry you do get some of it. What amazed me most though is his choices involving Jackie and the amount of pain that was expressed through acting and camera. It takes no time at all for me to nearly be in tears just from how Jackie performed the scene immediately after the bombing and how it was all shot to bring it together and deliver the required weight.  I liked what action there was and it felt plausible for each of the characters involved and their backgrounds and associated skills.

From a performance, I cannot gush enough on Mr. Chan. His performance is so consistent and weighty throughout. He feels and looks like an elder man who is broken by too much weight of loss on his shoulders. The way he shuffles with each step plays so well when matched against his action sequences. It all stays within the realm of character and capability and knowing the actor you know what is in camera is him; which makes it even better. Brosnan finally gets to use his birth accent. The Irish born, UK Raised actor really delivers here. While not as convincing or powerful as his films nemesis he is standout and believable in his role. Game of Thrones fans will be delighted to see Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) in a supporting role in the film. The only other actor that stands out is Rory Fleck Byrne. There is something about him rather than anything specific in his performance that made him quite riveting during his scenes. I promise you it has nothing to do with him being in Vampire Academy. I find nothing good coming out of that movie.

TL;DR?

The Foreigner is a good film. I liked it. I can recommend it, but with some warnings. It is not an action movie, it is more of a political thriller with action set pieces, like something Clancy would have given us in the 90s. I am not nearly familiar enough with the troubles between Ireland and England beyond some surface knowledge of the IRA, northern/southern Ireland, and that the IRA typically would warn people before setting off an explosion to minimize casualties.  This relationship between the countries features heavily in this story and almost as much screen time is devoted to it as there is the revenge story. This is a non spoiler warning that is worth mentioning as it sets proper expectations.

Should you see it?

If the trailer intrigued you and you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet? Yes. This is a well made movie with good action, a solid and understandable plot; which has characters you can understand the motivations of.

Will you buy it?

The odds are in this movies favor of it being added to the collection.

Anything else?

I hope I can move as well as Jackie Chan when I am his age. It was impressive to watch.

Darke Reviews | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I would like to ask you some questions.

First there are some disclosures. I have not read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, nor really any of his other works. I suppose this doesn’t surprise my regular readers as me reading books with movie ties is a rare bird indeed. Another important disclosure, I had never watched the 1982 Blade Runner until within the past two years. Sure I had seen parts, but never all the way through. I am not sure how I missed it (aside from being 6 when it came out) until recently, but it happened. I think Blade Runner is a seminal work of science fiction which has inspired an easy fifty percent of film in that genre since then. I think it is a master craft of film making in its art direction, style, acting, and story. I also think it is heavily flawed in it’s pacing and let us not discuss the consent issues. It is easily the pinnacle of Ridley Scott’s directing career, and while films like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven are also going to be long remembered – none of his later works will have such a cultural impact as the Blade Runner (or Alien, which needs to be acknowledged as well).

First question: Should Blade Runner have been retired?

It’s hard to make a sequel 35 years later. Very few have succeeded with such a large gap between films and even fewer have this long of a gap, but there is a lot that can help make it less painful. Start with bringing back an original writer from the first film, in this case Hampton Fancher, who has literally done next to nothing else in the writing realm, so I can’t speak to his style beyond what we know. We do know he has both story and screenplay credits. Beyond that we add Michael Green to our recipe. Green is a mixed bag having given us the Green Lantern movie we do not speak of in polite company, but also Logan, but also again the claptrap that was Alien: Covenant. He leaves me scratching my head to his impact on what is otherwise a nearly flawless execution of story; a story I won’t discuss beyond what you see in the trailer as spoilers duh. It feels like a natural continuation of the world of 2019, city speak, blade runners, and off world colonies. A world of billboards as tall as buildings, neon, concrete, and rain. I see the thirty years of evolution in a world that is dying yet fighting and clawing for its last breath through humanity and machine. Because of this execution, because of how the story played – it evoked emotion and thought.

Things movies forget to do in genre films often enough. Movies like mother! provoke. Movies like High Rise provoke, but they often can leave you feeling confused on how to feel about what you saw. You know it was art, but you can’t quite pin it. The same goes here, but with a defter hand. You know this is art when you watch it, but you can more eloquently describe how it made you feel or think without questioning the artistry in the process or asking “was that necessary?”.

Much of that credit needs to go to Denis Villeneuve (Happy birthday 50!); who gave us one of the best science fiction movies of this decade in Arrival. He is the only man I would want to direct this film, even as I watch it I know the hand on the wheel has precision and intention without being full of himself (*stares at Nolan*). The word that comes to mind to me at times watching how beats play out, how the camera works, how angles, and colour are used is sublime. Villeneuve is a director you need to watch for. He needs to continue making science fiction, I am positively begging him as he is able to blend technical precision, emotion, and thought into film – all the while using cinema for all it can bring to you. His staging is incredibly intentional and I noticed more than once certain patterns and trends in aspects of the film making. In my opinion, there is absolute reason why he choose to have it snow off and on during the running time. Don’t go looking for anything, it is nothing major – just an impression.

Let’s talk acting. I have heard people say this is Harrison Fords best performance. I am not sure if I agree, but it is certainly in his top 5. He does bring all his years of experience to bear and it is an absolutely solid performance, but I have to say he’s upstaged. Ryan Gosling, who I knew was solid after seeing Drive, gives what in my opinion is an Academy Award winning performance. There are people who may say after films like Drive or Only God Forgives this role isn’t a stretch and I would disagree with them. There is a lot of nuance to his role as our Blade Runner but also chemistry with one of his co-stars Ana De Armas. Anna plays Joi; and while I have not seen anything else in her body of work, I hope to see much more. She is engaging in her role and the interactions with Gosling are part of what made me feel so I must give credit where it comes due. Another new comer to western cinema is Sylvia Hoeks who reminds me of someone I can’t quite place. Her character Luv is as complex as any other and uses her time on screen to maximum effect. Other actors worth mentioning in their roles are Robin Wright (Wonder Woman), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), MacKenzie Davis (The Martian and an admitted girl crush), and Carla Juri (Brimstone).

Don’t even get me started on the effects. Villeneuve made the brilliant decision to go as practical as he possibly could. If someone told me he made real holograms for some of the shots I wouldn’t be surprised. Minatures, Bigatures, full sized props and set pieces absolutely litter this film like confetti on New Years Eve. It’s magnificent and grand. The computer effects that do exist are generally seamless and hold tight against the practical. There’s even a few shots I had never quite scene before and amazed me to see now. While some of those may have been done, I don’t think they’ve ever been done that well.

So by now I have heaped the praise. I would love to tell you it is flawless in all facets of execution. It is not. There remain pacing issues, which left me near the two hour mark thinking I had been watching for easily two and a half. Not nearly as prevalent (and with 100% improvement in consent issues) as the first was, it still didn’t quite hold every single shot. There are scenes and beats which could have been trimmed and no loss would have occurred. As my dearest best friend pointed out, if you are thinking about the run time while watching it – they got something wrong. Additionally, there are a handful of nitpicks I could make but it would be pedantic to do so. I have heard the word pretentious thrown around in regards to this and while in large part they are wrong, I did find Leto’s performance little more than that descriptor. The movie struggles to try to be as important or have plays like the first but doesn’t quite reach the shoulder of Orion.

TL;DR?

Blade Runner 2049 is well deserving of the praise it is getting. It is a well crafted, technically masterful, beautifully acted and directed film. It is just shy of me using the word Great when applied to it. I don’t know if it will ever, or could ever , be seen in the same light as the original.  I don’t know that this long after and with the nostalgia for the first and its myriad versions it would have a chance anyway; but then again who does expect it? The movie succeeds in a way that so few do especially in this genre in that it made me have rich emotions watching it. It made me think about what it was trying to do and what it was showing me. I left me thinking about it beyond this review on the drive home.

I have another listing for the spectacular films of 2017 amidst the slurry of releases this year and I will be surprised if anything coming out the rest of the year will reach the heights the films thus far have. Of course other films, such as Thor and Justice League will make lots of money, but will they be this GOOD. Will they make me feel a range of emotions or just turn off the brain for a bit. Even The Last Jedi, which is the only remaining film I am eagerly anticipating in 2017 will no doubt be good, but not this close to Great filmmaking. Great Sci Fi.

Next Question: Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the original, sci fi, curious, or otherwise want to have the potential for rich discussion with me or others around it – yes. Yes you should. This weekend. If you don’t like the original or thinking sci fi (thats ok too ya know) you may want to give it a pass or at least matinee.

Seeing it again?

Maybe. Probably.

XD or 3D?

The XD or other equivalent sound systems and screens do improve the movie from a standard definition and basic Dolby stereo. The 3D might be ok, but it was just fine without.

I take it then you are buying it?

No question in my mind.

So it made you feel?

Yeah and I am really happy about that, even if all the emotions involved weren’t joy themselves.

Last Question – you’re walking through a desert. Kidding. Whats next?

Next week I hope to see The Foreigner and Happy Death Day.

Why did you choose that poster for your image?

Because I am tired of teal and orange….long story. Might post on it.

Darke Reviews | American Assassin (2017)

I seriously am starting to wonder if people don’t realize they should shut the frak up when a movie is going. There are a whopping 18 people in the theatre which can house 9 times that easy. Old couple in front of me, wife keeps talking to the husband. Two women at the end of the row to my right I had to look across the 6 seats separating us to tell them their voice carries. Three rows behind me, there’s another elderly gentlemen explaining the movie and all the trailers to whomever he is with in stage whispers. This did not start off my movie going experience tonight on the right foot. It’s been a rather stressful time of late and I was hoping for a nice quiet theatre and a mediocre action movie to forget the world for awhile. Which movie? A lot never heard of it, but here’s the trailer:

I suppose the real question now is

Did I forget the world or should the world forget this movie?

In traditional Vampire Princess fashion, I have not read the book by Vince Flynn. The trailer tells me it is a #1 NYT Best Seller. Ok. Sure. So per usual I have no point of reference and get to judge this as a movie. The first thing worth noticing is the early September slot. If August is were movies go to die by the studios, September is where they are buried, and we do not speak of what happens with January movies. It is just…just ..no we do not speak of it.

Seriously the timing of the movie is an indicator of a studios faith. The movie immediately violates my three writer rule, bringing in the work of Marshall Herskovitz (Last Samurai, Great Wall) and Edward Zwick (same credits), Michael Finch (November Man, Predators), and finally Stephen Schiff (The Americans – tv series, True Crime, Lolita). With no research on this whatsoever, my guess is we have Michael Finch adapting another spy novel with passing success like his last work, possibly working with Stephen Schiff who has done some very good things, based on word of mouth, for the Americans series. Herskovitz and Zwick are brought in either before or after Schiff for additional work. My parsing on this is based on the fact the story is fairly solid, but has some leaps of logic only a spy novel can bring, with a final act McGuffin that strains credulity. The characters are only inches away from being mere shadows of a character rather than something more. The character arcs and subplots exist, but the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with them to tie the bow or tacitly confirm that there is an arc. You can read a lot into a few of the characters motivations once all the pieces are together, but you will doubt if the movie did it on purpose or not.

Beyond the base structure, the movie is your standard spy thriller from the point of inception of a new asset. It dips its toes into xXx territory with the recruitment of a civilian into the life who handles himself as well as multi year trained military. This is part of the movies internal logic you must accept, once you do, the ride is passable. If you can’t accept it you will have issues.

Director Michael Cuesta (TV only, some Dexter, some Homeland) doesn’t do anything new or inventive. That may be to his credit as I don’t think the movie could survive on more. He keeps the camera work and the direction simple. There are of course, unfortunately, quick cuts during some of the hand to hand fight sequences which detracts from the actors weight in the moments but I don’t know if he had a say in that or not. If so shame. If not, well still shame. He doesn’t give me a lot to discuss except for his execution of act three which mostly comes down to ideas bigger than your budget and capabilities. It’s just a solid…huh.

The actors on the other hand own this movie. The camera or the script do them no real favors, with one scene giving Sanaa Lathan’s (AVP, Blade) Irene Kennedy and Dylan O’Brien’s (Teen Wolf, Maze Runner) Mitch Rapp get a full 180 camera flip with each line of dialogue rather than a single medium shot to show them sitting across the table from each other. If you didn’t know better they wouldn’t have had to be in the same room. Thankfully, both of them command what the camera gives them and turn out very strong performances. Unlike Maze Runner though O’Brien doesn’t need to carry the movie on his all too adept shoulders. He gets Lathan and most importantly gets Michael Keaton. We all had the joy of seeing him in Spider-man Homecoming this year as our bad guy. Once again he gets to be a heavy, but on the side of subjective good.  You do not doubt who he is or his character for a moment. His relationship with O’Brien and their on screen presence, physical and charisma, are what drive this movie forward more than the plot. It makes me feel like I am watching a ‘sanctioned’ version of the Mechanic (Bronson version tyvm) and this is a good thing.  Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship, Wolverine) is in this. He doesn’t do badly.  He doesn’t get enough screen time to really break the curse that his been his career thus far. The last actor to absolutely make their presence known is Shiva Negar as Annika. She reminds me of how Sofia Boutella stole the screen (and our hearts) in Kingsman. She had physicality, charisma of her own and with her co stars, and sold her arc well. I would like to see more of her here in the states.

TL;DR?

This is pleasant pop corn fare. American Assassin spends just the right amount of time on its tap dance of being more than mediocre but not quite being something I could call “Good”. It’s solid, it had me invested. It avoid’s a ‘Murica F*** yeah trope I thought it would hit, but doesn’t get too preachy on the other side. Design or accident I can’t tell. The actors are solid, the story is passable. American Assassin won’t change anyone’s cinematic going world, it won’t win any awards; but it does maintain a very modern approach to the spy genre.

It definitely deserves better than it is getting in the box office, but who could have expected IT to dominate. I think of movies like Columbiana, Hanna, 3 Days to Kill, and it deserves better than these got. Though it could be argued those movies are what killed this genre. It ranks up there with Point of No Return / La Femme Nikita, and the Mechanic with a touch of greats such as Spy Game.

American Assassin could have been better, but I promise you it could have been far far worse than it was. It stays within the guardrails and though it tries once or twice to be more it doesn’t do damage to the genre in it’s effort.

I enjoyed my time with it and at the end of the night isn’t that what movies like this are for? Enjoyment.

Should you see it?

If you were curious yes. I think you will get your monies worth. I think I did.

Will you see it again?

Truth be told, not in theatres, but that is mostly due to other things coming out and limitations of budget and time.

Are you going to buy it?

Yeah I think I am

What’s coming this week we should look for?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Predictions?

A rushed sequel for a movie far better than anyone could have anticipated? If Kingsman was Smokin’ Aces, I think Golden Circle will fare better than the others sequel; but I am not sure it will resonate nearly as well. I am hoping I am wrong though and I fall out of my chair laughing again.

Darke Reviews | It (2017)

It’s been 27 years since I read Stephen Kings IT. No joke. It was freshman year in high school and me and my friend Darrin were reading and sharing our King stories and favourites. I bet if/when he reads this post he will remember the days we both would go – “Late last night and the night before.” It’s also one of the few times I had read a book before the film, when we were unexpectedly graced with the TV Mini series in November 18, 1990. The mini series gave more than a few people coulrophobia (fear of clowns), but looking back its hard to see why when you remove the nostalgia glasses. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mini series but it doesn’t really hold up all that well across the board now as Nostalgia Critic pointed out deftly a few years ago. Parts yes were really well done, but very made for TV and very PG. Here we go with a theatrical release and an R Rating (I hope)

Should IT have stayed in hibernation?

So to be very clear I have little recollection of the book, aside from one or two things. This will be judged as the movie itself. I won’t be comparing it to the 1990 version either as these are incredibly separate beasts; which while there’s a nod or two here and there are structurally, tonally, and behaviorally different films. Make no mistake this is not the IT you grew up with. The beast evolved with the times.

Now as I understand it, considering I try to avoid insider info now, the core screenplay was by Cary Fukunaga, writer of Sin Nombre and Beasts of No Nation. It had additional work done by Chase Palmer (no relevant credits I could find) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation). As I can’t remember the source material sufficiently I can’t speak to its adaptation. Things I do remember such as the house on Neibolt Street, made it into the film and were quite well done. What struck me most is how well they balanced the horror, the dialogue, and the humor in the film. There were times people laughed, people shrieked (yes shrieked), and even applauded during the 2 hour run time. I even triggered the applause during one scene; which moved like the wave in a stadium. The movie was resonating with people of all ages in the crowd from the teens to the elderly. I question the logic of the person who brought the 10 year old though. The writing was solid through and through with tension building, release, and even breaks to laugh at well timed and well placed humor. It is not flawless however, as there does seem to be some loss of fidelity to the Losers club. Mike, and Stanley don’t feel as fully formed as they could be. I think Mike suffers the most from this as some of his arc from the 90’s was moved to Ben. You do get a sense of who he is, but it isn’t remotely the same level as what Bill, Bev, or Ben get. You do get your Losers club, but they aren’t 100% realized.

That could potentially fall to material on the editing room floor or decisions made by director Andy Muschietti (Mama). This is one of the few failings of the film. It could be script, could be director, could be editors. Muschietti nailed it otherwise. His vision for the camera with director of photography Chung-hoon Chung (Old Boy – the original, The Handmaiden) were nothing less than inspired to me. Dutch angles used appropriately but not overused. All of the basic shot types are used with precision. Not once did I feel “oh this should be been done as an over the shoulder” or “too close for no reason. go to a wide here.” The blend of diagetic and non diagetic sounds, music used within the material the characters can hear vs music for the audience, worked well especially during the opening credits. What impressed me most is the methods in which tension was built. The jump scares are few and far between yet the movie twists that emotional rubber band to its breaking point a number of times. Those familiar with the previous work will expect beats that never come and get a handful that make you question how much they are changing. All of this to the movies credit.

None of it would work without the kids though. Jaden Lieberher (Book of Henry, Midnight Special) has a lot of weight on his 14 year old shoulders as Bill. He delivers. He has the chops to be the charismatic leader of the Losers, so desperately searching for his little brother when everyone else tells him no. Jeremy Ray Taylor (bit roles in Ant-Man and 42) is our new kid Ben. His fear of Henry, his isolation, and his feelings are shown well through action as much as dialogue. Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, turns it up to 11 in her performance. The 15 year old actress is both strong and vulnerable. Bev is the rock for the group and Lillis shows the range of the character well. Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler from ST) is our mouth Richie Tozier. This is a thousand times different than the Seth Green performance from 1990 and quite honestly superior in every way. Jack Dylan Grazer, another 14 year old, plays our Eddie Kaspbrak.  This kid has star power, quite possibly the “weakest” of the Losers, he doesnt let that stop him and its hard to turn your eyes to focus elsewhere when he speaks. Sadly, as mentioned before Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon) and Wyatt Olef (Stanley Uris) don’t get nearly enough to do. They sell their fear. They are part of the Losers no doubt. You just don’t have as strong as a sense of them due to the flaws above, but the actors did their absolute best.

On a more technical standpoint, the movie really nails the 1980’s in the vein of the aforementioned Stranger Things. Its the end of the 80’s but rather than overload us with toys, phrases, pop culture, and pure nostalgia of the time they use it as set dressing for atmosphere. There are little things here and there that hit those points, but they aren’t a focus and the movie is all the richer for it. I looked to my friend Tony who I saw it with tonight (thanks to his screener tickets) a few times and went “I remember doing that.” That’s how you hit 80’s. It was perfect. Additionally there’s a cute little time table through the film told via the marquee on the movie theatre. Not a spoiler, just if you want to know “specific dates” that’s how you can tell. Beyond the 80’s the movie needed to be tension filled through sets, lighting, and make up. It was. If anything the flaws that exist are minor. There’s incredible attention to detail on Pennywise…oh wait I didn’t mention him in the actors.

Bill Skarsgård has given our favourite clown new life. Having watched him in Atomic Blonde (twice now) I was surprised how much I lost him to the character. That is a very good sign. He does some interesting things with his voice, face, and body language that aid in making this Pennywise absolute nightmare fuel. I was asked if he was better than Curry. Short answer is yes. Long answer: Its a different character with a different movie that comes from the same source material.  The choices in the technicals surrounding him (Costume, Make up, FX) only add to make him one of the most terrifying characters I have seen in awhile.

TL:DR?

IT may be the scariest movie I have seen in a very long time. This is horror done right. This is King done right. This should be in the top 5 list of any King movie list. It ranks with Carrie, The Shining, and even Shawshank. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is extraordinarily well made, trope avoiding, and drenched with atmosphere (and blood during one scene). It has gore, but doesn’t overdo it instead letting the starkness of it offset the performance by the kids. The Losers club are performed in their A game and feel totally natural.

IT comes with my highest recommendation and while summer 2017 may have been the most disappointing for Hollywood in 25 years – this movie is surely a sign of what can happen when you treat a property with respect. Wonder Woman, Logan both show this as well. I hope Hollywood takes note of what worked so well from casting, to direction, to script, to film style. This movie works.

Should you see it?

If you have a fear of clowns or horror movies in general? No. Otherwise – Yes

Do you plan to see it again?

Yes. Absolutely.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

Ok, but did it scare you the Vampire Princess?

Yes. It’s a pleasant feeling I had long since forgotten in movies.

Parting thoughts?

The 90’s one will have a soft spot in my heart. This is just well done and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Wait….sequel?

*grin*

Darke Reviews | The Dark Tower (2017)

One of the first not for kids books I remember reading cover to cover was Stephen King. Now granted, it wasn’t heavy reading at 127 pages, but I was 9 at the time so there’s that. The Mist is still one of the scariest stories for me but that’s because I heard it as a book on tape after reading it. Sound effects and regular mist/fog in Maryland help. I read IT, and The Stand I read in church (the irony isn’t lost), Christine I got in trouble in 9th grade for reading instead of Gatsby. I could never quite get into his work in the 90’s though; something had changed in them that stopped engaging me. It was then I came across his mass market paper back of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I think I read a hundred pages or so into the Dark Tower, but it didn’t grab me. So it, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass,  The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower itself went unread. That means my usual rules of not having read the book get to apply here. The real question though is:

Did someone finally do Stephen King right?

This movie has been in development hell for as long as I can remember paying attention to movie development cycles. A lot of people claimed it was unfilmable over the years as it’s changed directors, writers, producers, companies and so on. So it appears they did the only sensible thing – they made an original story in the universe set after the books? Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either. The movie invokes the three writer rule, with an add on as we have four. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who no major directing credits, but does have screen play for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2009, gets the last credit. Another Dane by the name of Anders Thomas Jensen has the next credit; who has no credits I recognized from this side of the pond. Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider Man 2) and The 5th Wave who is a frequent collaborator with our final writer the dreaded Akiva Goldsman. When I first started in this business, I read a lot of insider sites and other reviews. Goldsman’s name was dreaded. I couldn’t figure out why at the time. In retrospect I understand. Yes, while I absolutely adore Practical Magic, he is responsible for Insurgent, I am Legend, Angels & Demons, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space – and the latest much maligned (deservedly) Transformers The Last Knight.

Goldsman is poison for movies when pen touches paper. As a producer it doesn’t get much better with most of his films being either mildly entertaining to just bad. Mostly on the bad side like this years King Arthur. Why am I picking on Akiva? Because I think I figured out what happens. What it is he does and it happened here. It isn’t so much mediocrity as an art form, but being so unoriginal, so bland, so unwilling to commit to a risk that the project is a colossal meh. I had a conversation just this afternoon about the DC movies and how so many movies today have tonal quality issues. They don’t know what they want to be – is it a comedy, a horror, an action, a sci fi? Studios are afraid of picking one and sticking to it, so they bring a new writer in to ‘polish’ the script and add their own tone. What you end up with is a muddled uninteresting mess.

That’s what happened here. Goldsman and company made a movie so safe, so middle of the road to try to appeal to everyone that it will appeal to no one. Akiva Goldsman is the Syndrome of the movie industry. It’s PG-13, when it could have been R. It has little blood. Little watchable action. Little engaging. Is it Sci fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a western? Is it horror? All and none of the above are true. It wants to be everything and in the end is nothing. The dialogue loops on itself more than a few times or has no context to care so you are left wondering why things happen rather than following them happen.

I don’t think a young inexperienced director like Arcel could handle it; but then again I am not sure Ron Howard (another producer on this) could have saved it had he been in the directors chair either. The shots are bland and reused. There’s nothing interesting in the camera work, the staging, the stock shots of New York, the creature designs (when you see them). It’s either too dark, too jostly, or too fake looking to care. Nothing has weight and you can’t buy any of the risk; thus when loss of any kind occurs nothing can be felt. The most interesting shots of action are what you get in the trailer with nothing more or less fascinating delivered beyond that.

I don’t think I want to talk about the actors. Elba is fine as The Gunslinger. McConaughey is fine as the Man in Black; honestly one of the better things in the movie.. Tom Taylor, as the kid Jake is ..passable. He’s at least not annoying?

It’s technically a very poor movie. As mentioned before there are so few engaging camera shots that one would find above basic. There’s action with no weight. There’s just nothing to work with here to even pick apart. If anything the movie just expects you to follow along and I guess that is ok?

TL;DR

They have forgotten the face of their fathers.

The Dark Tower is a mediocre movie. It’s milk toast. I had an older couple behind me on the ride down the escalator who HAD read all the books and laughed with me when I said it wasn’t good.  It  may have calls that fans of the books know, but I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the fact that in an attempt to not ostracize people who haven’t read the book they failed everyone.  As I said in the main body, it wanted to please everyone and in the end pleases no one.

I think I really would have liked to see the book as a movie or even an adaptation of the book but this wasn’t even that.

Should you see it?

No. Not even Matinee, sorry.

So not buying it?

If I thought burning it as an offering to the things outside the wheel of the tower would keep movies like this from being made – I might.

Anything even remotely fun in it?

Playing the “Guess the Stephen King reference” as the movie goes on. I got Christine, Cujo, The Shining (literally same verse), 1408, It, and Misery. Did I miss any? Wait you aren’t seeing it (I hope). Damn.

Ok so what next?

A few weeks off as there’s nothing in August after this. It’s the graveyard of summer movies typically and this summer (and movie) exemplifies it. I might throw a review or two up of random things like The Core, or the new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie.

 

Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping for something here, but I can’t even offer a ray of hope. King has said this line is one his best: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I agree. It’s intense. It’s engaging. It’s evocative and intriguing and the movie is none of these things. The work that is Kings magnum opus has come to this and I am sorry for Mr. King today.

Maybe “It” in September will be as good as we all hope it is.

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.