Darke Reviews | The Hunt (2020)

So this is what all the controversy was about? Originally slated to be released on September 27, 2019 the movie was pulled after the shootings that had occurred in both Texas and Ohio back in August of 2019. This was the right call to make, as I had previously mentioned in my Death Wish 2018 review. I will be honest, I can easily quote my opening of that review here and the context would remain the same, and so I shall.

*sigh* Movies do not exist in a vacuum. They exist as snap shots of culture, whether in the form of parody (comedy), our fears (horror), our hopes (science fiction), or in some cases wish fulfillment (action). These of course are generalizations of the genres and what they represent as you look at the passage of time. Not every movie fits neatly into that or you can mix and match to your hearts content. I’ve talked about how this applies specifically to horror movies in other reviews and that there’s a cultural shift to the idea of home invasion being one of the major themes in modern horror. The faceless killers, the victims, and eventually the final girl. There’s even a half dozen movies this year in that particular subgenre of horror to reinforce this.

 

That has not changed. What does is context and story.

What do I mean?

The Hunt is the newest variation in the well past the glue factory beaten horse of “The Most Dangerous Game” – Hint. It’s MAN. The short story was written in 1924, the first movie adaptation was in 1932. The making of the movie is as interesting than the actual movie. The essence of the story is Rich People hunt other People because reasons. The reasons vary from story to story, but the prey rarely does. Most of the time it’s prisoners, the poor, the homeless, or the otherwise desperate. This movie written by Damon Lindelof (Watchmen, World War Z, Tomorrowland, and dozens of other projects) and Nick Cuse (Watchmen, Maniac) changes it up a bit, just barely. The Rich this time are “Ultra PC Liberal Elites” *shuddering at having written that sentence* who are hunting conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and people who made fun of them on social media. No seriously. Thats the plot. Gather the prey, drop them in a field Hunger Games style, and …thats it. On Jason Blum (Blumhouse Productions) budget.

I spent the better part of the movie trying to figure out who the movie was for. If it was supposed to be making fun of everyone Mel Brooks style, it forgot to be funny. If it was supposed to be a lampoon, it didn’t remember who the target was. If it was Satire it forgot to actually be ironic and have a message. Who is the mass audience that would be coming to see this. Sure Blumhouse probably made this with a budget of three packets of Pixie Stix, a roll of duct tape, and one live pig, so if anyone saw it it might break even. Might. Instead you have a muddled mess with mildly entertaining death scenes that Spinal Tap would give the thumps up to. I am pretty sure the movie wasn’t taking itself too seriously, but then I go why not? If you are going to make this – take it seriously. If you aren’t going to take it seriously, make it funny. You have to pick…one. At least one.

Betty Gilpin (Stuber, GLOW) is one of the hunted and makes it work and honestly is rather entertaining. There’s an edge she rides with the character between stoicism and sarcasm that really is the highlight of the movie. I could talk about anyone else, but…there really isn’t a point. They are so two dimensional a piece of paper has more depth to it.

TL;DR?

This movie should have absolutely been delayed. I stand by the decision on that. That being said, the concept that this movie glorifies hunting people or gun violence shows me no one actually watched it. Gun violence is part of the movie, but unlike Death Wish which romanticized it, this…exists. That might be the kindest thing I can say about it. It exists.

Some of the headlines are pure hyperbole – “Designed to stoke division in this country”. Yeah no WSJ. “Gory Battle Royale”. I’ve actually seen Battle Royale, this doesn’t even rate in the top 30 gory movies of its kind. “Shows Hollywood for what it really is, demented and evil” – Fox news. I don’t even know where to begin on this one on how wrong it is. “Exploitative rather than opinionated” – the Daily Mail. I swear these headlines really are clickbait and I watched a different movie.

The actual controversy around it was sound and fury constituting nothing and may have only existed as part of the movies marketing mechanism, which it’s clear the poster for it’s actual release intended to use.

There’s nothing particularly “wrong” with the movie other than it isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is. It’s not as gory was people claim it is (one scene exception).  It wanted to be witty but amounts to little more than an ill placed whoopee cushion where everyone kinda chuckles but no one had a good time.

Should I see it?

No. It’s not even worth the curiosity fee.

Would you see it again?

Only if one of my reviewer friends gives me a hot take I missed entirely and when I can watch it for free on Netflix.

So …not buying it.

No. No I am not

You’re usually more wordy than this on a movie you hate.

I don’t hate it. I am just confused by it. I literally hit my friends up in discord going “what did I just watch?”. This isn’t like The Lighthouse or High Rise where I know what I watched was good but I can’t make heads or tails out of how I feel about it. This is a movie that exists, had its moments largely thanks to Betty Gilpin, but just left me very very confused as to what it wanted to be and was trying to do.

Who knows maybe Bloodshot tomorrow will be something….I doubt it, but I can hope.

Darke Reviews | The Invisible Man (2020)

I jokingly referred to this as Gaslighting the Movie when I saw the trailer. I’ve been debating, until watching it, how to do a Claude Rains joke, or if someone asks me “Did you see the Invisible Man?” making a crack “of course not, he’s invisible.” This is not the movie to make those jokes. Now, I have no confirmation of this, but this also feels like a movie that might have been shelved for a bit, as part of Universal (the movie’s distributor) and their ill planned (but not ill advised if we’re being honest) attempt at a Dark Universe. There was of course “The Mummy” in 2017 and my undying hatred of it and its ham fisted attempt at a solid launch of this Universe. Dracula Untold back in 2014 which had a shoe horned ending to try to insert it in the DU. Looking back at the classics, we’re only missing a few, Phantom, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Invisible Man.

The character of the Invisible Man first appeared in 1897 with a short story by H.G. Wells. It was further and widely popularized by the 1933 classic produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., directed by James Whale, and staring Claude Raines. The first two names are important because they *WERE* the Universal Monster makers. This movie was so iconic, as many of these were, that it spawned many sequels and other interpretations. I would say one of the more successful and well known attempts at a remake or re-imagining was in 2000 with the Kevin Bacon lead Hollow Man. This iteration introduces the sexual predator aspect, which brings us to our movie tonight.

Trigger Warning – Sexual Predation, Domestic Abuse, Gaslighting

Yeah, no quippy question today. The movie was storied, screenplayed, and directed by Leigh Whannel, who brought us much of this centuries modern horror. He is the writer of Saw, and two sequels, the Dead Silence remake, Insidiious and two sequels, and 2018’s Upgrade; which he also directed. I was not a fan of Upgrade, though many critics and others were. With this one Whannel has left his gore hound and supernatural horror background and continued his exploration of science horror as he did with Upgrade. Ironically, one of the major set pieces here is the same house from that movie. So if you do watch this and watched that – that’s where you’ve seen it before.

*sigh*

Ok, my joke title isn’t. This movie’s opening sequence is probably one of the most anxiety inducing scenes I have seen in an extraordinarily long time. While I myself have never been the victim of physical abuse, I know more than a few people who have and listened to others. I do know Narcissitic types and gaslighting, and other mental and emotional abuse techniques from having them used on me more times than I can count, and probably more than I was aware of if my reaction to this movie is any indication. The first seven to ten minutes of this two hour film are nothing but watching someone escape from their abuser. There’s barely a line of dialogue, the musical queues are light, but the camera control is on point. You watch as this woman, Cecilia Kass (Handmaids Tale Elisabeth Moss) clearly is trying to escape someone she is terrified of. The movie doesn’t waste any time showing you what she went through, or even telling you, it skips to the escape. The tension is real here, or was to me, with it continuing to build even through her actual escape. THEN the movie shows you what she was running from in just a few short seconds.

The rest of the movie plays like this. You spend the entire time watching this woman get broken down -after- she escapes her abuser. After it appears he is dead (not a spoiler, its in the trailer). Watching as someone or something manipulates her world and those around her to make her look more and more irrational to a situation. Full props must go to Ms. Moss here. She plays the descent like Nero played the fiddle. Aldis Hodge (Turn, Underground) and Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time) show up and play it all straight, but are completely overshadowed by Moss.

The tension and anxiety I felt going through the first act and a half of the movie were palpable. Enough that a few times I considered leaving. Not because I was scared, but because the movie made me uncomfortable. There are different kinds of horror, and this type, this type did not need to make the monster invisible to have him be the monster he is. He was all too real a Monster before hand and there are too many people in relationships with such monsters. That’s the power of this movie. Not the method in which he became invisible, or even the fact that he is, its that this kind of evil is real and doesn’t get tied up in a bow in 120 minutes.

If anything the last half of the movie becomes easier to watch, but this is where the plot holes form the largest. While there are a handful in the beginning, and they are significant, the last of them is large enough I could drive the USS Nimitz through it. This is also where IQ’s drop significantly with some of our protagonists. There are important questions that *are not answered* that leave me scratching my head even now.

TL;DR?

The Invisible Man is a rather well made modern horror. Easily made on the cheap, with a $9 million budget, production studio Blumhouses MO, the movie can’t help but turn a profit this weekend at the box office. It is well shot, though Whannel did clearly want to get a few “Upgrade” style camera move shots in.  I would say a solid quarter of the running time the movie is shot with Moss in a medium shot where you can see her and the entire room she’s in. No one HAS to be there, but her acting and the movie lets you think there is without a single drop of effect. Shots like that pepper through this film and build significant tension that never quite gets released. I would say the movie only even has one actual jump scare in it.

All of that being said…I drove home and was still feeling unclean having watched it. Normally when I write these reviews I listen to music or nothing at all to let me focus on the writing. Anything with actual dialogue can be distracting, but here I had to put on a nice safe horror movie like “You’re Next” to feel better.

Wow, should I watch this?

If any of my trigger warnings were relevant to you. No. No you should not. I am having a hard time recommending this movie. Despite some glaring plotholes, it really is well acted and well shot and does make you feel. You feel her fear, her anxiety, and the tension.

Would you watch it again?

Not for a long time.

Buying it? 

I really do not know.

You don’t usually ‘feel’ like this about a movie.

I know. I am a little surprised myself. While the IQ’s dropping and plotholes annoyed me the emotional resonance of the rest of the movie hit hard enough and well enough that I consider it an overall success. Just…its a little too real for my tastes with that opening.

I just can’t shake that people will be entertained by this and not get the horror isn’t the invisibility, its the abuser and the victim no one believes.

RhythmSection

Darke Reviews | The Rhythm Section (2020)

An interesting trailer. Noted girl crush Blake Lively. The Sleigh Bells covering Lead Belly “In the Pines” aka “Where did you Sleep last night” with a modern pulsing beat. I admit I was hooked from shot one. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get from it.

Sure, it looks to be a pulse pounding action thriller like a Jason Bourne movie. Perhaps something like American Assassin a few years ago? Barbara Broccoli is a producer and the Broccoli estate *IS* the James Bond film franchise.

So what’s under the surface?

Begin as we often do with written by, screenplay, and executive produced by Mark Burnell. Burnell is taking his novels to the big screen in a way few authors actually do with direct script control making the movie *his*. The film is based on his own book series around our central character Stephanie Patrick (Lively). An truly ordinary woman on a path of self-destruction after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash. When Stephanie discovers that the crash was not an accident, she enters a dark, complex world to seek revenge on those responsible and find her own redemption. This is not a super woman, she has no special set of skills, nothing that makes her more than an above average college student consumed by her grief after the loss of her family. A line in the movie calls her a cliche, which to some extent she is. She’s so wholly been destroyed by her depression and guilt she’s at the bottom when the story begins. I am torn on this portrayal, but it’s only part of the movie. The rest is a spiral and its hard to tell if its up or down for her as she enters the world of espionage.

If anything, this is not Bourne, Bond, or even Atomic Blonde. This is La Femme Nikita without the glitz and glamour. It reminded me of both the original Nikita (1990) and Point of No Return (1993), watching as a true nobody gets deeper and deeper into a world she isn’t ready for by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the feel comes from director Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale, I Think we’re alone now) and her knowledge of how to get intensity with both camera and actor. Morano has over 50 credits as a cinematogrpaher since 1999 and it shows with her choices to use natural(ish) lighting in more than few scenes, how to use her angles, and fish eyes to maximum effort through the movie, even as it slowly transitions to stable and clean as the movie progresses. It’s hard not to feel in the moment when the camera operator is in the passenger seat of a car during a chase sequence with constant pans and very clever cuts between driver, the road, and what chases the driver. Much like last nights Gretel & Hansel distortion is the name of the game and the game is played well here.

Blake Lively is absolutely amazing in this. I missed Gossip Girl with her, not my thing, but she came to my attention with Green Lantern and her strong desire to play Star Sapphire in the sequel that will never happen. Her first truly memorable turn was in the supernatural romance Age of Adeline (which I owe a review to), then The Shallows where she has to carry a movie alone. A Simple Favor was damn near perfection from her, and the contrasts in camera work and director are clear between the two. Some might say her performance is flat, but I would argue that as subdued and relying on more body language than dialogue. There is a lot going on there. I’d love to talk more about Jude Law or Sterling K Brown in this, but in a movie of spy vs spy….where they are the spies and the support for our star I wish to reveal nothing. They are fantastic actors and do their jobs and do it well.

TL;DR

I didn’t expect La Femme Nikita. I expected American Assassin. I am pleased in my disappointment. This is a well paced, well shot, well acted spy thriller with a fully developed lead character. While I am aware that there are more books in the series the movies doesn’t end on an obvious cliffhanger or stinger for a sequel. Bold move from the filmmakers and I support it. I can’t say there’s a deeper message to the movie, I can’t even say it’s not cliche in its own ways checking off tropes left and right as it does.

What I can say it was gritty in the right ways. This felt, for Hollywood, what a raw amateur with some training from a competent teacher might look like. There’s nuance and weight to it. Is it realistic? Of course not. That wouldn’t be entertaining. It is however entertaining and delivers on promises it didn’t know it made. It also delivered on good fight choreography in a way that you may not even notice at first, but there’s a oner hidden in the movie and I was pleased to realize it AFTER the fact.

So should I see it?

In the drought that is January for movies? Yes. If the genre you like is portrayed here – then yes. Even at full price. I think even the big screen helps with the camera work.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

So whats with the title?

It’s related to some in movie dialogue comparing your own pulse and breathing to parts of a band. It’s weird yes, but it works in context. It’s also the novel title so that’s a thing.

 

Darke Reviews | Dolittle (2020)

I think as a child I knew *of* Dr. Dolittle, but I really cannot remember anything with the character itself. I mean I know I knew the Rex Harrison movie from 1967, which apparently was written by the lyrcisist (Leslie Bricusse) for one my favourite musicals ever and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good one). I don’t think I ever read, and I know they were never read to me,  the original stories from the 1920’s, but the concept of people talking to animals was always tied to this character “Doctor Dolittle”. We are not discussing the 1998 Eddie Murphy movie or its four sequels. Ever.  That said, the concept of this character does seem pretty eternal and I don’t think there’s a child alive, or child at heart, who didn’t wonder about talking to animals. So when this trailer dropped, I was curious to say the least.

So should you go on a journey?

As mentioned, this character is based on a series of shorts by Hugh Lofting in the 1920’s and this particular iteration has a screenstory credit, and three screenplay credits. Usually a dangerous thing. The screenstory is by Thomas Shepherd, in his first cinematic body of work, and I don’t know the character or stories well enough to tell how his work is there. Two of the other credits go to Doug Mand and Dan Gregor (How I Met your Mother), who based on that shows success have a knack for comedy bits. Then we have our third screenplay credit, which is also our director, Stephen Gaghan, who worked on films like Traffic, Abandon, and Syriana. Clearly an obvious choice for a children’s movie about a man who talks to animals. Yet it worked. If you were to ask me to get technical, the movie is both rushed and slow in its script and pacing. It feels as if it rushes to get to the moment of wonder – and there are many – and then languishes between them before you are given the next. Despite it’s “period-ish” set pieces and existence, the dialogue from many in the cast is rather modern and may date the movie some in coming years. I have a feeling these were more adlibs than actual script. I hope they were anyway.

What amazed me most wasn’t the animals or even the adventure, but the setup. In an opening reminiscent of UP we are introduced to the character and his past deeds for Queen, Country, and Animals alike. THEN the movie begins. A fetch quest to get the McGuffin, to do the thing, against impossible odds, and enemies abound. A heroes journey that you see one beginning and the bottom of another. The movie checks most of the fantasy boxes and is proud of itself in doing so. It does have a right to be. True, its a mixed bag of characterizations and odd choices, but the emotional core of the movie never falters and I will take what is offered.

Characters themselves? The actors behind them. So bloody many. You have Robert Downey Jr. acting his heart out and reminding us he can be so much more than a man in a suit of iron. Sure everyone else I am about to list is fine, but RDJ and the accent he affects have to carry the movie. We count ourselves lucky he can do it and then some. I want to re-title this character “The Anti Toxic Masuclinity Hero” because it’s there and he does it so well. Michael Sheen is a hoot as the blatantly cartoonish Dr. Blair Müdfly, with the umlaut. I always like this man when he is having fun and it appears the direction he was given was to have fun. Then we have the last of our live actors of significance, with Harry Collett as Stubbins who does his best to shine with RDJ and the voice cast and doesn’t do too shabby a job. This isn’t to say he’s successful really, because the voice cast of animals of like a who’s who of personalities, with Emma Thompson (Brave, Harry Potter), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Robot) , John Cena (Bumblebee) , Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber, Silicon Valley), Octavia Spence (The Help, Hidden Figures), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindlers List), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, Hotel Transylvania), Marion Cotilliard (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), and more. If I was having to say this outloud on my new Youtube channel, I’d be out of breath. It is awesome that we have all these talented actors in this movie, but they are all vying for their moment and thankfully it works out mostly. This is part of what I am sure other reviewers will complain about. This is a very busy movie with characters and it doesn’t work to the movies credit as much as it could or should. It almost, almost detracts for me, but what keeps that from happening is its, to use modern meme language, Pure.

Technically it’s fine. The CG work on the animals works well enough and is A grade, but still CGI. It’s so present though you forget about it and just see another character. I will also give technical props for what I can only see as a jab at 2019 Lion King and emotionless lion cubs. I looked to the member of my Dark Court with me tonight and we both giggled when the little lion cub emoted better than all the animals in that other movie combined. The editing is…a choice. It’s not something I was particularly fond of and again will be a detractor for many.

TL;DR?

The trailer grabbed my attention and I don’t want to say the trailer lied, but it did – a bit. It showed something a bit more dramatic and intense then what was actually delivered. This is truly the first family movie of the year. I mentioned in the full review how the movie felt pure, or genuine and it does. Whether it is or not is another story, but this doesn’t feel like a cash grab. I couldn’t help but feel good watching this movie. I laughed quite a bit and that felt good too.

So I suppose this isn’t just the first family movie of the year, but the first movie that makes you feel good watching it. It’s a sense of escapism at its best, where for just over 90 minutes you are transported to a world where we can talk to animals if we listen and we can solve problems without hurting people. Surprising coming from the Vampire Princess, but even I like to feel good from time to time and don’t need everything to be explosions and darkness. This movie is a very strong response to Toxic Masculinity and we need that. Need it more than ever.

Should I see it then?

Yeah I think you should. Take the partner, take the kids, take other people’s kids. People you know sheesh! This is a good little romp for really all ages.

Would you see it again then?

As always, you buying.

Unlikely, but I will assume you are buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. This is one of those soft movies I can put on when the spoons run out and I can’t even muscle the knives. This is The Great British Bake Off of movies. This is going to be a helluva year and having this in my collection will give me a bit of good to watch from time to time come May.

But is it good?

Ok trying to pin me down I see. I don’t necessarily think so. I do think it hit my Three Writer Rule, I think the adlibs were clear, I do think its a bit slap dash with the editing. Not everything enjoyable has to be good. This isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure, this just is fun and warm. Its comfort food. I think it, without seeing the other here, will be a better film than Bad Boys 3. No I won’t be seeing Bad Boys 3, it just didn’t look good and the humor looked as if it should have died with the franchise a seventeen years ago.

Alright, so January. Bad releases normally…got anything else coming?

I love Mackenzie Davis, but I am not sold on The Turning, so unlikely something next week.

The following week you may get two movies with The Rhythm Section and Gretel & Hansel.

 

Darke Reviews | It: Chapter Two (2019)

It’s no secret how much I loved IT 2017 as that review attests. I didn’t go back and read the book to see what was different and a thousand people did their videos on what was different between that movie, the mini series, and the book. Even now as I write this I know there are a thousand people writing their scripts for the differences between the book and the movie. As I mentioned in the original review, I don’t care. This review won’t compare the original series or the book as all three are different styles of creation which would be unfair to compare against one another. King can spend a hundred words or more for a single description, both series and movie can do it with a single frame, held for two seconds. King has the luxury to explore the depths of psyche and depravity in a way that no Made for Network TV could conceive of, especially in the wake of the 80s and early 90s. Even now such material would be found on streaming content, cable, or premium cable to really go there. So thus book and mini series cannot truly and fairly be considered rivals, just as the mini series is a product of its time and capabilities this movie is a product of its and needs to be judged appropriately.

Does it continue the story of IT Chapter 1? Are questions answered? Are the required plot beats hit from the original material to progress the story? Is it scary? Is it visually interesting? Do the actors feel like they are the grown up versions of the children they had been? Does the ending feel like a good conclusion?

Or…should IT have not come back?

Certain credits remain in place, which might seem obvious considering the $700 million global haul it took on a $35 million budget, but Hollywood does stupid things all the time. Look at Dark Phoenix bringing back the writer of the most maligned X-men movie to write…the same movie. Gary Dauberman comes back as the writer to finish out the story, with a brief stint putting out the Nun, Swamp Thing for DC, and Annabelle comes Home in the meanwhile. Thanks to maintaining that same writer, the movie has a consistency with the 2017 release that keeps the flow going, and with it being an adaptation much of the material is there. Dauberman has perhaps one of the more unenviable tasks in this production as he has to adapt the unadaptable with some significant deep lore from the book that the series couldn’t touch and he has to decide what if anything to keep from that lore. I don’t disagree with most of his decisions. Point in fact some decisions made are so well done they almost make me overlook some of the flaws in that script (possibly editing, hard to tell). Which does mean there are flaws. The movie needs a few trigger warnings and while…thematically accurate I am not sure it was needed or could have been altered to not be as rough. I will discuss more on that in the TL;DR section. Some of the jokes could have been toned back or removed and left only for the villains to tell; mostly weight based ones for the record. I’m also not 100% on a beat from the end, but I will let it ride for now. Overall the screenplay does everything it needs to and shines where it must.

Which brings us to director Andy Muschietti, who has done nothing between the movies which is probably a good thing for the man directing this. He makes plenty of brilliant choices here and absolutely nails drawing the performances from the cast; but the flaws that might be in Daubermans script or in the editing must land on him. You can’t make certain references to objects, places, or phrases if you never set them up successfully. The movies near three hour running time does as well. There are at least two full scenes which could be struck from the movie and it wouldn’t have an effect on the overall plot for all that they did. While they may be canonical and something folks would like, it added nothing with some of the changes made to accommodate them. The trick to superior editing is removing a scene and if it doesn’t change the flow or narrative in any significant or character driven/growth way then it could be cut. It may seem I am being harsh on him, but I am really pleased with the overall product, but the parts that detract fall on him.

What doesn’t detract is the acting.

McAvoy and Chastain are well known and more than capable of playing the adult versions of Bill and Bev and they nail it. Bev is missing something I think, but that might be screenplay or editing failing not Chastain. This also marks their third appearance together in a movie as near as I can tell. Jay Ryan is hard to tear your eyes away from as the adult Ben Hanscom, meanwhile James Ransone (Sinister) brings it as an adult Eddie Kaspbrak. Andy Bean (Swamp Thing) nails the adult performance of Stanley Uris ridiculously well, you feel like you are really looking as if he grew up and looked the same just taller. Isiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters) gets the Mike Hanlon as an adult and brings all the desperation and depth he needs to bring everyone back to Derry after 27 years. All of them are good, if not great, they brought their A games and no one phoned it in in the slightest, but we need to talk about Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad). His Richie, his performance is absolutely next level. Some might say he wasn’t particularly funny and I would say they missed the point because those jokes were meant to fall flat. This mans acting is just through the roof and continues to bring the film back together in a way that makes the stakes seem so real for these adults. The same comes for the kids who are back to reprise their own roles for different angles on scenes we know and scenes we never saw, Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), Sophia Lillis (Bev), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), and Finn Wolfhard (Ritchie) get the most shining moments with Wolfhard getting an absolutely powerful scene that will surely be overlooked by most.

This is where Muschietti shines everyone. These performances require actors who are above the par, but it also requires a director who knows all of his stuff to get the performances I saw. Now I didn’t mention Skarsgard in th acting section relegating him to the technicals, but this isn’t his story this is theirs. He’s there. He does his thing. He is legitimately scary at times, but Chapter Two is all about the kids, the adults, trauma, and coming home again. While most of the work around Pennywise this time is good, some of the forms and threats just don’t look as clean as they could and another pass, another rendering effort could have taken them a step in the right direction towards ideal completeness. Of course, that doesn’t stop this movie from having raw nightmare fuel left, right, and center that was generated in a computer. There’s enough to keep some folks up at night that doesn’t involve clowns trust me.

TL;DR?

It: Chapter Two does everything it set out to do. It completes and concludes the story of The Losers Club and Pennywise the dancing clown. There are laughs to be had, there are jumps, and there are tears. There is real and imagined horror through this movie from the opening scene to the bruises on adult Bev’s arm that never go away during the length of the film. Growing up in a small town not too dissimilar from Derry, I can see coming back to town and walking through it to see what changed and what hasn’t and sometimes that’s terrifying in its own right.  Facing your past can be its own fear and making your own future as well. The movie is able to successfully hit all of these beats, plus never ceases to have a level of tension and did I just see that moments through it.

Knowing that Dauberman and Muschietti deviated from both the book and the original mini-series adds its own level of tension. If you know either of those incarnations you know things that will happen, but as proven they are willing to change things. So when the title credits begin with a WB logo surrounded by the deadlights, you can’t be sure *how* they will interpret scenes. What will their take on the Chinese Restaurant look like? The library? The final form? Who lives, who dies? It’s all up in the air and that is a magic all its own.

Should I see it though?

Yes. Absolutely Yes. Why aren’t you watching it yet? Go home. Watch it.

That said…I need to dip into spoiler(ish) territory out of respect for all of my readers needs for some potentially unexpected triggers.

  • Trigger Warning: Abuse of LGBT persons in the opening scene. Its a bit hard to watch, even harder thinking some people might be cheering it on.
  • Trigger Warning: Suicide. It is done as well as you can do that scene, but much as I didn’t know about the one in A Star Is Born, I must give my readers the warning if they have never seen the mini series or read the book.

Would you watch it again?

Even with the three hour running time? Yes. Yes I would. Lets go. Big screen. Big sound system.

You’re going to buy it aren’t you?

I am curious to what the box set will look like on my shelf. Yes.

Is it as scary as the first? 

Hmm I don’t think so. Sorry to say, part of the fear of the first is the initial shock value of what they did and the kids in peril. This focus on the adults and us knowing Pennywise, does take away some of the terror. That’s more or less like Alien vs Aliens. You will never be as afraid of the Xenomorph as you were in the original, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own level of terror.

Any parting thoughts?

It does run a bit long and hits a Return of the King type ending sequence, but beyond all of that this will be and should be a very well received film in my opinion. I do think that Mike isn’t treated particularly well by the script or the film and there’s some opportunity there; some of the CG could be cleaned up – but again this is about as good as you can do with the amount of material needing to be adapted.

Also three of the cast (McAvoy, Chastain, and Hader) were in Disappearance of Elanor Rigby together…the hell?

Darke Reviews | Pet Sematary (2019)

I saw a new meme yesterday going around. “What type of person are you based on the book you read in High School?” It had all the classics most of us had to read in the 80’s and 90’s. Me though? Didn’t really read them or pay much attention to them. I did however read Tommyknockers a few times and even had a greeting to one of my best friends (who will likely read this) during that time. We recently reconnected on FB and I used that to let him know it was me (I am a different than I was then). He’s also the one who gave me one of my fondest nicknames. So yeah in high school I wasn’t reading the required, I read Christine, Cujo, Tommyknockers, The Stand, and yes Pet Sematary. By that point I had already watched the 1989 movie a few times, mostly for Fred Gwynne’s last performance and my girl crush on Denise Crosby.

They say sometimes Dead is better. Should this have stayed buried?

Obviously based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this time the adaptation of the story for the screen is done by Matt Greenberg. Greenberg has had some adaptation work for King before either in his writing work on Children of the Corn III or the amazing 1408.  He also provided us one of the better sequels in the Halloween franchise, H20. Unfortunately he is also the one who did the screen story for Seventh Son. Don’t look it up or watch it. The script however came from the mind and idle hands of Jeff Buhler of the Midnight Meat Train and last years…interesting series Nightflyers; and the mildly disappointing The Prodigy. This is very much an adaptation of the King story where it is far more faithful in spirit, but still not the book – so don’t go looking for that. The basics are there, a doctor, his wife, daughter, and toddler son move from the big city to a small town in Maine (c’mon it’s King you expect it to be anywhere else?). Their new home is beautiful if you can stand the tanker trucks doing 60 on a road that clearly should be a 30, and this creepy little town graveyard for pets way back in the woods. When the family cat, Church, dies thanks to one of the aforementioned trucks their helpful old timey neighbor introduces the father to what lies beyond the barrier in the Pet Sematary. Burying Church in that stony soil begins an ever darkening and maddening chain of events.

As you can tell if you are familiar with the 89 movie or the book the meat is there, the potatoes are there. It digs deeper than the last attempt and shows that the writers cared to do so, but I am not 100% sold it went deep enough. There is not a real fault with the script or the dialogue of the movie. The mistakes of the past are gone, but there seem to be new ones; where it feels like a late 2000’s adaptation. Everything you want is there, but some aspect of it doesn’t quite resonate. I feel that some of it may go to the execution by duo directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch; but again it’s hard to pin it down. Their staging is fine, the blocking is fine, the actors performances are fine. One or two of the visuals is a bit rougher than I think they should be, but others just work.

Jason Clarke (Winchester, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) nails it as atheist doctor LouisCreed. I buy him as a man who is faced with the impossible and then an impossible choice. Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, The Killing) carries the trauma of Rachel Creed’s childhood, well enough; but I felt absolutely no chemistry between her and Clarke. This isn’t to say they aren’t trying, because they are – it just doesn’t quite work. John Lithgow can do no wrong and while he lacks more of the folksy quality in Gwynne’s earlier performance he still pulls off Judd well enough; even without a good ayup.  Jeté Laurence, at age 12, as the daughter Ellie, has her work cut out for her, but I felt she did better than many in her age group ever could have; and unlike Seimetz comes across having real chemistry with Clarke.

On the technical side of things to say the movie is short is an understatement, with a 101 minute running time including credits which run for about 8 of those minutes there is little fat on the movie. Then why does it at times feel like it’s moving so slow? Yes, there’s a point to pacing it for tension, which it builds, but they did this at the sacrifice of something. A little effect here. A poorly executed dream like sequence there. A ghostly image that exists because it had to, but not because of service to the story. Also shooting in the summer when you are supposed to be in Maine in the fall? The lack of appropriate colour shows.

TL;DR

Pet Sematary is a solid horror film; its perfectly serviceable. One of Kings better film adaptations to be sure, but I feel it is a reactionary product. When IT blew everyone (and more than a few records) away in September of 2017 it was only a matter of time before people began to look for the next King property to remake. Sure this one had been in talks since 2010, but it was green lit in December of 2017 right as IT was wrapping its $300 million domestic haul. A rushed schedule had filming in late June 2018 wrapping August 11th. This has all the hallmarks of a studio absolutely trying for a cash grab and investing just enough to make the movie look good while doing it. The problem with moves like this by studios, they *feel* like they are a cash grab when you watch it. You can see where every single corner has been cut and while you can’t put your finger on whats wrong with the picture you absolutely know that something is.

What made IT work was the investment of time and care, the $35 million didn’t hurt either. The $21 million budget on this one with the time given shows. Yes, the actors care. Yes, the production crew cares. That also shows, but those edges, those frays, and uneven cuts. That reek of something that feels like a studios hand or perhaps a not as good as they need to be writer making a choice does it all a disservice. While there are plenty of movies who run too long, this one is about five to ten minutes too short. If this comes out with a longer directors cut I might be happier with the final product.

So should I see it?

See Shazam first. It’s the superior movie this week, by leaps and bounds. That being said, while my critique is fairly harsh for the movie, I did enjoy it, but it was despite its flaws. This one is going to be VERY mixed and you’ll have to decide for yourself your tolerances.

So maybe, but unlikely.

Would you watch it again then?

Not in theatres, no.

Though buying it?

Yeah, I’ll buy it. Like I said, I did enjoy it. I just have to call a movie on what I think is wrong with it. Clarke, Lithgow, and Laurence are absolutely enjoyable. Seimetz tries, but it doesn’t work.

Do you think the content soured you?

This is one of King’s bleaker stories; which is saying something. The Stand at least had hope. You have kids and family pets dying and then coming back as something else, something different. You have a growing madness and desperation as you watch innocence die. That’s pretty bloody bleak. I knew that going in so that isn’t it. I don’t even mind the major change to the story for this adaptation, they made it work; but the movie lacks commitment or conviction.

I’m glad that this movie was remade. The 89 one is one of the rougher King adaptations, but I just wish a little more had been given to the movie.

Again I enjoyed myself, and the cover of the Ramones song Pet Sematary by Starcrawler. I just think we could have had more. Maybe the soil of my heart is too stony for this one.

 

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

So I realized after the movie tonight why in the past few months there have been so many of these early audience screenings published through sources like Amazon Prime, Fandango, and Cinemark. If you are in this industry (movie reviews) you may have noticed a lot of conversation late summer and last fall around backlash on the critic scores, RottenTomatoes, and audience scores. The studios are convinced that critics  (RT was a target) are keeping people away from their movies, many critics and reviewers such as myself are saying “Make better movies”. This is how the studios are retaliating by giving audiences some of their tent-pole movies and let the audience voice take over vs the critical early. I for one welcome this change as if you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I encourage people to enjoy movies I don’t – its fine. I often disagree with critical and or audience reception of movies as well. This is what the experience *should* be. As a critic (yes I am moving myself from reviewer to critic), I can usually articulate why something does or doesn’t work – or more to the point shouldn’t. I can appreciate, and have many, so called guilty pleasure movies.

This franchise is not one of them. This franchise, which I was able to get to watch the finale of with some good and close friends tonight, is something that has been good and solid throughout.

How did the finale fair?

The movie is based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, adapted for the screen and directed by Dean DeBlois. Dean is responsible for the two prior movies and Lilo and Stitch in the same role (writer/director). This means for a franchise that the movie keeps the same narrative style, look, and feel as the others. That the voice direction, music, editing, and action all feel like the others – and while in some cases this can be bad (ie: Zack Snyder); the work DeBlois does has a certain almost universal accessibility to it and while I am hesitant to use the word purity to it that hold through the series that bear little critique. He reminds me in a way of George Miller, who gave us the entirety of the Mad Max series…and Happy Feet as his only entries. All of these have a specific style and vision to them and remain with a solid through line on them that works – even if continuity doesn’t always.

In this case, the continuity does match and holds through the franchise. The characters remain who they are even as they age and growing naturally, physically and emotionally, as they do. If anything in the plot of The Hidden World I expect others to critique the lack of meat to the villain, but he isn’t the point here. Capturing our main characters, Hiccup, Astrid, and Toothless growing is the real line of the movie and it does it amazingly; with an interesting line up between hiccup and the bad guy. For those worried about the new dragon, our Light Fury being subject to Hollywood ‘Girls have spechul powerz” – trust me you don’t have to worry. Moving onto the threat, while not meaty, does feel real and impactful. After the death of Stoic in the sequel you really can’t be sure who or what is on the table for this one and that helps a lot.

What also helps is the solid voice cast, Almost everyone returns to their roles, with Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, etc. Everyones favourite King of the North reprises his role as sideline character Eret that appeared in the sequel. The only, mildly, notable voice actor that doesn’t return is TJ Miller as Tuffnut, who is replaced by Justin Rupple. In January of last year the studio hadn’t commented on his (rightful) removal, and I can’t find any articles officially noting it; but good on Dreamworks. Continuing to focus on the positive here, Ferrera and Baruchel shine here with a lot of nuance to their voice acting which is only accentuated by the animation.

One thing everyone could say about these movies since the first one nine years ago is that they are gorgeous. The animation department at Dreamworks has always been top notch on these projects and they continue to push themselves from the lighting, the colour, and little details such as hair and microexpressions. None of this is ignored and makes the experience so much richer for it. The flight sequences absolutely are some of the best in the franchise and this movie doesn’t disappoint on that front either.  There is a sense of scale that the animators provided when displaying the hidden world that lets it feel as large and small as it should be simultaneously and giving you an opportunity to take it all in. The opening fight sequence should be required watching for action movie directors in how to control your camera and let your audience enjoy and view the fight – even with it being dark. You can follow everything in every sequence and understand the geography of where every character is and how they are interacting with each other; all while the camera maintains it’s own fluidity of motion to match the dialogue. Some might say this is easy because it is animation, but there are so many movies now where you get this kind of camera work on an action sequence and you see it *can* be done – people are just choosing not to.

Last special nod to John Powells score. Test Drive from the original is one of my favourite scored musics and I use it regularly for one of my 7th Sea characters, and here he outdoes himself with the callbacks to the prior two scores but some new ones that are just as powerful.

TL;DR?

This movie is the goods. It is good, it is pure, it is how you do the end of a trilogy right AND stick the landing. I honestly have little critique for it and just thoroughly enjoyed my time. The audience I was with, mixed with children as young as 4 to people in their 70’s did too. There was laughter, there were tears, there was applause all at the moments there should be those beats and when you get that from an entire theatre along side you the experience is so much better for it.

What you have is a great finale to a truly family friendly movie franchise and a good reminder this is entirely possible to make as a movie even as we wind down this decade.

Should I see it?

Yes. Go when it opens in a few weeks. Go and see and enjoy. Bring tissues.

Would you watch it again?

Friday February 22, 2019. You will find me at the theatre. Besides nothing else coming out that week, this one is worth seeing again. I honestly want to see it in 3-D if that release happens as the flight moments would be spectacular.

Buying it?

No doubt in my mind what so ever that I will have a 4K version of this the day I can get it in my icy little hands.

Are you perhaps overselling this movie?

No. I really am not. I am a fan of the franchise, but guys it’s that good. It may not be the greatest thing, but it is that good.

The year has started rough, but we have our first real entry and I am glad for it. I think you will be too.