Darke Reviews | The Girl in the Spiders Web (2018)

The past few weeks have been hell on my movie going timelines with vacation and a brief plague; in addition to a number of double or triple releases of films I want to see. This was a last minute viewing for me with no real plan or I would have invited my regular movie going partner with me, who I do owe a movie and a dinner for missing our last showing. Now, I am a fan of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the original Swedish release (2009), not so much the American remake (2011) a few years later. Noomi Rapace defined the role of Lisbeth Salander, and the late Michael Nyqvist introduced me to investigative journalist Mikael Blomvist. While director Niels Arden Oplev may not be the auteur that David Fincher is, I found his (original) film more engaging. Rooney Mara was good, but she just didn’t hit what Rapace did for me in the role. Unfortunately, I have not gotten around to watching the two sequel films in the Millenium series, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the Girl Who Kicked the Hornets nest; but they are on my list. The movies require a certain frame of mind and preparation for solid investigation, mystery, and intensity that we don’t often get here in the states.

Tonight I was in that frame of mind and took a chance. 

The characters were created by late activist and Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson (1954-2004), with whom even the original Millenium trilogy (Tattoo/Fire/Nest) was published posthumously, then converted to movies shortly after. This movie is based on the book of the same name, written by David Lagercrantz, who has another sequel in print The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. That’s a complex origin, but worth noting for future trivia contests if you so wish. Spiders Web was given the screenplay treatment by Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent) with Steven Knight (Allied, Locke, Seventh Son); with on set touch ups by director Fede Alvarez.  As the director is the third writing credit here, my take is that he was doing rewrites on set with his cast. Alvarez worked on 2016’s Don’t Breathe and the acclaimed 2013 remake of Evil Dead.

The story here is a simple one as told in the trailer, Lisbeth Salander, righter of wrongs, is an avenging angel in Stockholm. She is a computer genius and particularly vindictive to those who victimize women – regardless of their social standing. Lisbeth is contacted to steal a scary software MacGuffin, is nearly killed, and must recover the MacGuffin before it’s too late with the help of some friends. She has an on again off again friendship with famous reporter Mikael Blomkvist, who returns in this movie as well. All of the events though tie to a past we have not seen fully explored for Ms Salander and it may come back to bite her in the end. Honestly, the story is Steal the Scary thing. Scary thing stolen from you. Steal it back that we’ve seen in so many spy thrillers and heist movies over the years. What makes this different is the personal touches and ties to the past and sense of self. Trying to identify who you are and remembering your past without letting it consume you.

The acting is fantastic. Claire Foy (The Crown, Unsane) gets the character. She has the rage, the insecurity, the fear, and the cunning of the titular character down. It’s difficult to make a character like Lisbeth sympathetic as she’s relatively anti social and unlikable, but if you have the chops and can pull of the complexity you can show the sensitivity and the need to reach out for human contact in a look, a touch, or even the slight tilt of the head and Foy has that. It isn’t a surprise she won awards for her work on The Crown, I’d personally like to see her nominated again here. Sverrir Gunnason takes over in the role of Mikael and he’s good, but he doesn’t have the edge to him I was feeling with Nyqvists performance. Lakeith Stanfield (Selma, Death Note) plays another party interested in our MacGuffin and brings a physicality to the movie that it might otherwise be missing, but the character doesn’t do him justice beyond that unfortunately. Sylvia Hoeks is our woman in red, and gives an as nuanced performance as she did as Luv in Blade Runner 2049 last year; which is difficult with the make up and prosthetics she has going on. Even with the minor roles and mediocre characters there’s a lot of subtext in the movie the various cast members have to deliver on and they do that effectively.

The on location (Stockholm) really adds the required atmosphere for the movie. The ice and snow (happy Elsa sigh) are as much characters in the movie at times and add a necessary element to the film. The camera work is both stable and kinetic in that you can see everything going on in every sequence, but there’s a motion to the camera for many of them that draws you into the chases and chess moves being laid out before you on screen.

TL;DR

I was excited watching this movie. It’s good. It’s entertaining from beginning to end. Ultimately it is also satisfying. More than once I found myself sitting up in the lounge seat and leaning forward or quietly cheering for whatever actually happened. In addition to this the movie provides multiple types of LGBT representation which is worth calling out.

I really enjoyed The Girl in the Spiders Web and I think you will too.

Should I see it then?

Yes. This one absolutely edges Widows out if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s just the more satisfying film.

Would you see it again?

No question in my mind. also at full price.

Buying it?

Yes. Also likely to get the other films, sight unseen.

Anything else to add?

I am going to try to see Suspiria this weekend at a local theatre if I can.

Darke Reviews | The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

I admit to curiosity upon the trailer for this one being dropped. Visually it did look derivative of the Alice in Wonderland movies, which unfortunately I am not a fan, but there was some sense of wonder instilled and a sense of magic to the trailer. I am a bit late to the game on this one and the other review going up today due to a vacation so really the final tally is set for this film, but

Did audiences and critics miss the mark on The Nutcracker?

This film probably gets one of the more accurate credits in the “Suggested by the short story”, versus based on, inspired by, etc, of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Screenplay and Screen Story credit goes to first timer Ashleigh Powell. She’s been working in Hollywood as a production assistant for years and submitting screenplays and scripts since at least 2012, but this is the first one to make it to the screen. I can’t really get a feel for her off this script, as it feels like a watered down version of Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and a touch of Hugo.  We have the story of a girl out of place in her home since the death of her mother, she does have a loving father, brother, and sister which is a breath of fresh air. She is clever and an inventor, showing off her understanding with a Rube Goldberg machine in the opening tracking shot. Of course this puts her even more out of place in classic Victorian London. She inexplicably finds her way into a fantasy world and must save it from dark forces who seek to rule it all. The plot is basic. Discover who you are and you can do anything. Make some friends along the way. Come back to the world at the end with some important life lessons.

If this sounds very much like Alice in Wonderland and it’s sequel you are 100% correct. If this looks at all like it and the other films mentioned, you are also 100% correct. I just don’t know why though. You have Joe Johnston at the helm who gave us Captain America: The First Avenger and The Rocketeer. He has such a sense for evocation in his films, yet there’s none of that here. Maybe the other director Lasse Hallstrom is behind that? Yet he is a multiple award nominee with such films like The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Either of these two should have been able to evoke emotion in the style of the film. Awe, Wonder should have been easy, not to mention a sense of triumph or joy, or even risk and threat. The movie contains none of that and I am profoundly surprised and disappointed, and have to look to the producers perhaps? Some of the producers here go back to movies such as The Thing (1982 version), or Saving Private Ryan, others are first timers.

I could talk about the acting here, but MacKenzie Foy tries, but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot to work with. The script, the direction, even the background production design seems to be fighting her; literally in one scene Helen Mirren is wasted as is Kierra Knightley. Morgan Freeman seems to have just walked on set, got dressed, put on an eye patch and collected his check. Speaking of the production design I think it was left overs from all the other movies I’ve mentioned combined as nothing is striking or evoking here.

TL:DR?

This movie is a hot mess. It has all the elements behind the scenes to make it work, but nothing in it quite does. There’s no strong sense of visual style, direction, or music in the movie. I mean music beyond the Nutcracker Suite of course. Something is wrong in the House of Mouse here; as nothing in this movie feels like what anyone in this movie is capable of. The script needed a few rewrites. The editing was…a thing that happened badly. I am not sure what went on in pre-production or post production here, but something did. Something not good.

The Nutcracker is a bloody mess from start to finish and I could tell you a half dozen ways to fix it but no one did. This feels like contractual obligation the movie and it just doesn’t care beyond that. There are tonal issues, where the movie screeches to a halt for an actual balet in it, and I wonder who this movie is for? At best I can say it was an obligation and it was for no one in particular.

So would you see it again?

No. No I wouldn’t.

What about buying it?

Probably not.

Anything about it good?

There are beautiful elements to the production design, but thats about it.

Are you being harsher because you saw a better movie first?

I weighed that and unfortunately that isn’t the case.

This one just isn’t that good.

Darke Reviews | The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

So aside from the animated variety you won’t get many movies from me that would be considered kids movies, but the trailer for this one grabbed me somehow. Honestly, I’d have to say it was Jack Blacks performance in those trailers and the atmosphere of the movie that got me. Then I looked into it, and of course its based on a book I haven’t read or even heard of. Turns out the book was published three years before I was born, but I swear I never heard of it or anyone in my elementary school reading it or it being at a scholastic book fair (I miss those) even once. I’ll ask any of my old grade school mates that read my reviews (all 3 of you) if you can recall seeing it.

In the meanwhile, should you see the movie?

So the book was adapted for the screen by Eric Kripke. If you’ve watched the CW channel in the past thirteen years you’ve seen his name on a little show that much like its main characters refuses to die, Supernatural. As the creator of the show he will always be on the credits, he also happened to write eleven episodes himself. He was also behind such shows as Revolution and Timeless. This tells me he is good at making a product that does have mass market appeal, but also can have issues sticking the landing. He has a grasp of charm, pacing, mystery, and banter; all of which are necessary in a “haunted house” story that has a child, his eccentric uncle, and purple clad neighbor investigating the house for a mysterious clock. Quite honestly, there’s only a slight roll of the ankle on the landing here the movie is quite solid. There’s a bit much exposition here and there but its told as innovatively as they can and it does succeed in telling a coherent, charming, even quaint little story that is engaging.

Coming out of left field to direct is the gorehound himself Eli Roth. Roth is best known for his work on things like Cabin Fever, Hostel, and the Green Inferno, so of course this man is tapped to do a movie for a kids book. Without looking into it, I would guess this is something he asked for and fought for to get made vs being handed a script by a studio. This has the fingerprints of a passion project on it and sometimes that can be dangerous, yet here it wasn’t. You can tell by the darkness and atmosphere this is an Eli Roth production, but it never crosses the line on being too dark even if it dances on the razors edge with one or two shots. His overall composition is basic without any significant style to the shots, but each shot is still framed beautifully. You don’t always have to have a dutch angle or an inverted camera to make it good and Roth and his cinematographer Rogier Stoffers stick to the basics, but make it count. No one will be talking about it (but me probably) but the simplicity and cleanness of it was noticeable and worked for the movie.

From an acting perspective, this was Jack Black at his best. All of his usual schtick and overt goofiness is entirely subdued here giving a performance still fit for a kids movie, but still mature. I haven’t seen anything like this from him since King Kong with Peter Jackson (2005). I might actually go see more Jack Black movies if this is the direction he chooses to go. Aside from *one* scene it was nearly a perfect performance for my humor tastes and with just the right amount of drama to it that the movie needed.  Cate Blanchett is a goddess and can do no wrong. Much like Black here she has a subdued performance for a kids movie and there’s a single beat that had my eyebrows go up which I would believe was Roth’s choice, but damn if she didn’t sell it (again with a kids movie in mind here). Owen Vaccaro is our principle child actor here and he has a few beats that don’t work, but I am going to cut him some slack because they weren’t bad takes just not the best I think he could do. Overall his performance felt earnest and honest and he sold me on the character he was playing.

Visually the movie is a treat. It has atmosphere dripping from the walls almost literally and I want that house. All of it. The creature animations there are are bright and colourful but still are within the darker tones of the film. There’s only one real shot that could and should have been given a second look and I think Jack may have asked for it as its closer to his style, and the movie could do without. It just gels otherwise. This isn’t to say the movie doesn’t have some flaws as well. There’s some pacing issues that come hand in hand with the exposition dumps mid movie that may bore some children but otherwise the pace moves decently through the plot briskly enough you won’t find yourself checking your watch.

TL;DR

This is a cute, fun, little movie. It’s timing just at the start of fall is no accident as this movie feels like it should be a fall or halloween movie.  The only real complaint I have is asking myself and my partner tonight who is this movie for? It didn’t feel like a Young Adult demographic in its style or story. It might be a bit too dark for kids too young, so the best I can figure is the 8-12 range?  The performances are good, the plot is good, its just a good movie that families, including the adults, will be able to enjoy.

Should I see it?

It’s got my vote.  With a lackluster September overall and no real offerings for the families yet this should be able to make a decent amount this weekend and is worth that. You can pay full price here and not feel cheated.

Would you see it again?

Maybe. You buyin?

So you going to buy this family friendly movie?

If I am being honest, probably not. When it comes out on disc and if I see it I might.  It does have rewatch value and I am always for good atmosphere.

Final thoughts?

I was surprised how much I was entertained. From the 80’s throwback Universal Logo, to the old Amblin Logo, I can’t help but think of something like Monster Squad or some of the movies I saw when I was a little girl and this would fit right in. I am happy I saw it and I think, most people will be as well.

Darke Reviews | A Simple Favor (2018)

I happened upon this trailer only a few weeks ago and I was immediately curious about what the unfolding of the story would look like. Kendrick is always solid in anything she does, usually giving a stand out performance above and beyond her co stars; while Lively won me over in Age of Adeline and The Shalllows. I know Kendrick and Lively have been doing the rounds and marketing the film, but I’ve missed all of it; somewhat intentionally so I could enjoy the movie for what it wanted to do and bring me along on the journey of uncovering the mystery of what the simple favor might be and its results.

Was it worth the anticipation?

First we need to understand it was based on a book by Darcey Bell that I shall never likely read. It was adapted for the screen by Jessica Sharzer, who was a writer on a handful of episodes of American Horror Story and the 2016 movie Nerve that had some interesting ideas going for it. While I will never know what the material covered, I can say with confidence that Sharzer did an excellent job writing a screenplay for a suspense mystery that has an air of comedy to it that shouldn’t be possible with the directions it takes, but rides the line so deftly I cannot fault it. I often critique movies on tonal issues and had this one not been so intentional in its scripting it would have received the same such complaint. The script here is tight, and no I am not getting into the story beyond the trailer – Spoilers duh, but I don’t think there’s a single scene worth putting on the cutting room floor or a moment of dialogue I really found cringeworthy.

Surprisingly, some of the credit here goes to 2016 Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. Interesting and unrelated note, it is now getting the subheading of “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call”.  This makes Feigs first movie without Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters) since  2011, also while being his 4th film since then too. *sigh* He is not what I would call and inspired director, as the movie is largely shot as you would a rom-com or his usual fair within the cinema with static camera shots and a film almost entirely filmed from a medium shot, or close ups in a standard 180 back and forth. There were some hints of growth with a POV tracking shot or a slight sideways camera move, but not enough to call the movie thrilling in that aspect. What he can do, and proved in the only other film of his I’ve seen, is still get layered and nuanced performances from his cast. He brought the humor to the edge of too much a few times, but reeled it in at the last second all the while still giving us something to figure out and displaying the changes in our characters as the movie and mystery unfolds.

Kendrick and Lively are perfect together. Their scenes are endearing as you watch these polar opposite characters engage with each other and the evolution of Kendricks character Stephanie through the film. Watching that was truly a joy and so much beyond script and direction comes down to the levels that Anna Kendrick can bring to the screen. Also worth mentioning this is not a Blake Lively performance I have ever seen before and it is absolutely knocked out of the park. No one else in the film comes close, though Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) does his best. He is given more to do here than he was in that film, and the range is there. I would love to see him with a stronger director and different style of film to really understand what he can do. Granted I might be biased as his accent is to die for.

The movie does have its flaws though. As I said the camera work is uninspired and quite honestly, there’s a few things I would have loved to see them have the boldness to do. The pacing is brisk, but the editing is solid. One of the other highlights of the film in the technical aspect is the costuming, when you go see this pay attention to both our main female leads and watch what they wear as there’s very intentional craftsmanship in their costuming and make up through the film.

TL;DR?

This movie is the quiet dark horse of the weekend. It doesn’t cross the line The Predator did by going full comedy-action (in that priority order) and isn’t a historical mob drama, but I think it is quite likely one of the best releases we are going to get this September. This is not a mediocre film by any stretch, its both enjoyable and engaging; while still drawing you into the mystery and the lives of the charactrers. It has intent and effort that should be rewarded.

Should I see it?

Yes. No questions. Yes.

Would you see it again?

Absolutely.

Buying it then? 

No doubts.

You haven’t been this excited in a month; whats up?

The movie does a lot of things that speak to my interests across the board. It tells a story that just grabs me and takes me to the dark places I want to see characters go; even if it keeps on the guard rails. That’s the big flaw, it still is safe; beyond that it had me. I liked it.

Also special thanks to the unofficial girls night that lead to this and the friend who organized it and the other who joined us for the first time. I look forward to future engagements.

Darke Reviews | Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

The romantic comedy genre is most certainly not my bag. Largely due to the comedic part of it relying on embarrassment, odd and inconvenient situations, lying, and/or lack of communication. Romance though? Love it. It’s almost heartbreaking how much I love it. Age of Adeline, Practical Magic, Ever After, While You Were Sleeping, Carmilla, Bram Stokers Dracula, Interview with the Vampire *sigh* such beautiful romances. So when one dear friend saw the initial trailer and wanted to see this, and my recent movie going partner also wanted to see this…and let’s be fair I wanted to see this we went tonight to a theatre whose Air Conditioning was broken and watched a movie. I was uncomfortable the entire time.

Were we crazy to stay? 

Yeah ok the question was a bit forced, bite me. As usual I have not read Kevin Kwans original book and likely never will; so per the norm there won’t be any comparison to the source material. I can say that the adaptation by first time movie writer Adele Lim and Now You See Me 2′s Peter Chiarelli did something I am not used to. They put the characters first.  You just don’t see that in big budget, western studio productions. The comedy and situational humor and fish out of water jokes always drive the plot around a pretty basic story with characters that are as thin as wet cotton candy. Almost none of that is present here. The people are allowed to be people first and foremost and thats what we get to know before the true ridiculousness of the wealth of the characters becomes the backdrop for the events. They feel like actual people living extraordinary lives; but are done so in a such a way that the absurdity of the wealth is nothing more than set dressing to the real interactions and conversations that happen.

Much of that credit has to go to director Jon M. Chu. Yes, this is the guy who started with Step Up 2: The Streets (best of the series imo), moved on to Justin Beiber videos, GI Joe Retaliation, and then the cinematic dumpster fire that was Jem and the Holograms. Now that I have seen this, I would truly have loved to see what he could do with Jem had someone cared to give it a script or a budget. In this film though he draws out fantastic performances from his actors and has some of the best framing I’ve seen in a movie like this. You really don’t get the level of detail and precision in the camera work with your average American film in this genre. It just doesn’t happen, yet here it did and the movie shines from opening to credits because of it.

Having a power house cast doesn’t hurt. No offense to the mains (at all), but Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Star Trek Discovery) is a powerhouse. Without a single doubt she is the best actor in the film and does so much with the slightest facial expression. Every movement is a telegraph, every look is a short story of what is going on in her characters head and everyone knows it. She doesn’t have to say a lot, but when she does say anything you can’t help but listen. All that said, credit must absolutely be given to Constance Wu, playing Rachel Chu, in her first wide release movie appearance. She is beautiful, she is charming, she is strong, and the movie lets her be all these things without ever demeaning her character once. She delivers a fantastically balanced performance that I can’t say is as nuanced as Yeoh’s but is more complex than you would expect from an actress in the lead role of a “Rom Com”. Our lead actor, Henry Golding, playing Nick Young, has his *first* movie appearance with this movie. Truth be told he is one of the weaker performances, but that’s also like saying his character is moderately wealthy. He is everything he needs to be and more. There is just so much earnestness to his character and the chemistry between Golding and Wu is a make or break driving force of the movie. I am happy to report, its definitely make.

The supporting cast on the film is immense, Oceans Eight actor Awkwafina plays Rachel’s best friend Peik Lin Goh, and every time I thought she would get annoying it was reigned in by the actress, the camera, or the moment and it worked. The rest of the cast are some of the most beautiful people I have had the pleasure to lay my eyes on during a movie and while their characters or performances may not be as impactful as the main trio they deserve to be named from Gemma Chan as Astrid who has the C plotline in the movie and while it shouldn’t work does so very very well. Chris Pang (Tomorrow when the War Began) plays Nick’s friend Colin, the groom to be that brought everyone to Singapore; while his fiancee Araminta is played by Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina, La La Land). They are both so immediately endearing and ‘real’ feeling you become invested in them and their relationship and everything around them – which is the rest of the movie.

On the technical front I’ve already praised the camera work and deservedly so, but the costuming! The Wedding dress and wedding for Colin and Araminta is hands down one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Period. Also while still overall a tightly shot film, they really let the modern Singapore shine in this movie. It is treated as well as any major city and while I know there are parts that aren’t so shiny it is magnificent to see a major city we just don’t get to see as a centerpiece for a film

TL:DR

I like this movie. A lot. I am short cutting the questions, yes I  would see it again and I do plan to buy it. It was a terribly sweet, positively endearing and earnest movie. It doesn’t in my mind deserve to be called a Romantic Comedy. It has funny moments in it sure, but it’s more akin to Pretty Woman in that respect where there is humor, but the romance and the relationships are the driving force.

This movie is pure. It is good.

Go see it

 

Darke Reviews | The Meg (2018)

We bring ourselves here to talk about the August dump slot and how nearly every summer there’s one movie people are anticipating in this place that the studio has no faith in. From it’s first over the top trailer The Meg became that movie this year, with dozens of online reviewers and youtube channels eagerly anticipating a tongue in cheek monster movie. I remember first hearing of this movie back in 2005, when this concept art was released.

Image result for The Meg surfer

Now granted we saw this image in the recent Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s not an original concept idea to see a giant thing eating a puny human and well it is frakkin’ awesome to see. Disney actually was the first studio to option this for production back in the late 90’s – so thats a bullet dodged there. 90’s tech for this would have made an awful movie. In 2005 New Line Cinema took a stab at thee, but cancelled due to budget concerns before it got too far. In 2015 Eli Roth and Warner Bros decided to take a shot at the shark; and the movie was mostly filmed between October of 2016 and January of 2017. A Year and a half later – it’s finally on the screen.

This ladies, gentlemen, and other night stalkers is what we call Development Hell. 

The question is does the movie live up to a decade old piece of concept art or should it have stayed below the surface?

The movie is now directed by Jon Turteltaub, the guy who gave us 3 Ninja’s, National Treasure, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Clearly he is the right man to direct a giant monster movie with this pedigree. He of course needs a script to direct and that is brought by my Three Writer Rule. Sure it’s based on the novel by Steve Alten, but then this most current incarnation was given the screenplay treatment by Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris. This…this is an interesting mix of talent. Dean’s experience includes The Manchurian Candidate (2004 remake), Paycheck (2003 Ben Affleck film), and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). He hasn’t worked much on the movie script front since then. The Hoebers though, gave me the 2009 movie Whiteout, 2010’s action comedy great RED; and then something went wrong and they wrote Battleship and Red 2. Something went very wrong.

Somehow through this listing of B, C, and G (Battleship doesn’t earn an F) movies we get The Meg.

It works.

Surprising isn’t it? I mean you expect a kinda Good Bad movie when you see this one and hear its concept, but you instead just get a good movie. The first act is surprisingly tense and treats the audience with a degree of respect and intelligence and doesn’t over explain anything. The director and script use the power of the movie to both tell AND show without too much exposition dumping hitting you at once. They are relatively clever in most aspects and it holds up with real weight. The second act it doesn’t hold up as well and the third less so, but at that point you don’t care [as] much because they made the characters engaging and overall likable. Sure some of them could have been combined to give us less to juggle, but that is a minor issue as the ones we get are relatively engaging and intelligent. Sometimes they fall into stereotypes (looking at you Page Kennedy), but other stereotypes are somehow avoided in the main cast. It doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel Test or Mako Mori test, but gets pretty close on the latter. I am giving it a pass though due to the actors involved.

Statham is a known entity and gives us everything you expect from him. If anything his character of Jonah..sorry Jonas is a bit reserved for one of his typical action lead roles. Sure he does the things you expect, but its a touch more subdued than you’d expect over all. Also he’s the only one….the ONLY one who gets an objectifying shot in the movie. Bingbing Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Resident Evil Retribution) not only holds her own in the movie against Statham but steals some scenes from him in a way that made my black little heart beat a few times. Her character, Suyin, is strong in all the best ways and balanced well enough that she’s a real character.

Supporting our main stars we have Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super) is the movie Billionare Morris who funds the entire thing; but many will have trouble seeing beyond his turn as Dwight. Ruby Rose plays the tech geek Jaxx, sadly shes not used as much as I wish and I think, agreeing with one of the folks who saw this with me tonight, she could have had her character merged with Page Kennedy’s character DJ and we would have been fine. Ruby Rose was the stronger of the two though Kennedy gets the most lines and honestly his are some of the weakest in the film. Rounding out the supporting cast is Chinese actor Winston Chao (1911) and Cliff Curtis (Push, Sunshine). So for me Cliff Curtis is always a win (to borrow from a youtuber) and while I am not familiar with Chao in his time on screen you can tell he has an aura of someone who can normally command the camera. Ten year old (8 at the time of filming) Shuya Sophia Cal steals the show and hearts as Suyin’s daughter Meiying. She is just the right kind of precocious and absolutely not annoying in the least. American directors, please look to her performance for what children are capable of.

On the technical front, the movie is pretty solid. The Science in the Science Fiction is strong and the movie never violates it’s own rules – nor does it call attention to the other rules it may be violating based on science. As always with me if you give me your movies ground rules and stick them you get a pass on almost anything else. It doesn’t need many. It obeys the laws of physics, nature, and oceanography pretty damn well for the most part. The Digital effects that created the undersea “level” were quite beautiful and I do wish more of the movie was there. The star of course is the Shark and this ain’t no Bruce; but damn if it doesn’t look good.

TL;DR?

The Meg is not nearly as campy as I thought it would be. It’s tongue is not firmly stuck in it’s cheek. It is a much better movie than it had any right to be for these facts. I will compare it to Tremors, one of my favourite modern monster movies. This movie knows what it is and what it isn’t. It takes itself seriously without crossing a line that would make it be ridiculous for taking it too serious. The heart is there in many of the character interactions and it does contain some solid, well placed levity. This is the B monster movie elevated to a solid B+. I think some of the weaker moments are known to the production staff and they don’t really shy away from it, they just acknowledge it and move on.

I really liked the Meg and I think you will too.

Should I see it?

Yeah, you should. This was the first time I had multiple readers of this page join me in the movie and we all really kind of enjoyed ourselves. It’s the perfect popcorn science fiction action movie.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would

So you’ll be buying it then?

Without a doubt. There’s a lot of rewatch in this one.

But Vampire Princess, its a SHARK movie!

Yes it is, but this is one of the good ones. This isn’t a Deep Blue Sea (a guilty pleasure if I felt guilt on what I liked), Sharknado, Ghost Shark, Two Headed Shark Attack, Three Headed Shark Attack, or Shark Night 3D. It’s also not Jaws. This is to Jaws as Aliens was to Alien.

It has to have something wrong with it!

It does. Plenty in fact. I call out that the third act is pretty weak. It has some logical fails that annoy a bit. Some stereotypes are a bit on the nose to the point of being minorly offensive. It does have some tonal issues at times. Yet with all that it’s actually still a good movie. Better than it had a right to be.

 

Wrapping up next Wednesday should be the next review in a movie you wouldn’t expect from me: Crazy Rich Asians.

 

JAWS Reference Spoiler Corner Goes here. Roll over to read

 

The dog in the trailer is named Pippen – in Jaws – Pippet.

There are musical queues that are reminiscent of Jaws, not quite, but close

The Shark POV swimming through the seaweed before reaching swimmers

The kid begging mom to go play. She of course eventually relents.

I am pretty sure I heard a slightly off the key “roar” from Duel as a shark sank into the depths…

There might be more I’d have to watch Jaws again (oh no the horror)

 

END ROLL OVER

Darke Reviews | The Darkest Minds (2018)

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie, which I dubbed “X-Men with kids” since the first trailer.

As you may have noticed I am kind of big on the idea of Representation F*n matters; so the idea of a solid looking sci fi / action movie with a young POC girl in the lead; my choices were clear. Now granted, I could tell already this was based on a YA Novel series and it’s getting an August dump slot, the first one of the year so the studio didn’t have faith in it.

But should you?

Based upon the novel series by Arizona native Alexandra Bracken the movie covers the events of the first of the trilogy. Why are you asking if I read the book to yourself? Have you not read my reviews? That said, I am kind of hoping she might be a guest at a local con; I’d love to interview her on the adaptation process and her involvement from book to screen. Her book was adapted for the screen by Chris Hodge, who looks to have mostly been involved in television prior to this, and was the creator of Warward Pines, which seems to be a slightly toned down version of Hemlock Grove and a more supernatural version of Twin Peaks – so take that for what you will. Not being overly familiar with Brackens original work, I cannot speak to how well the adaptation takes it, but Hodge does seem to avoid more than a few of the YA to Movie Pitfalls, but not all of them.

The dialogue is not nearly as clunky as it can be in many adaptations of material like this, but some credit will go to the director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Nelson might be best known to most audiences for her work as director of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3; but prior to that she directed four episodes of the Spawn animated series (talk about dark). Her other background, which explains some aspects to the movie is as an artist, character designer, and story department. She worked on the criminally underrated 2003 Sinbad movie, and the amazing Dark City. This sort of experience lends itself to why the movie looks as good as it does in places, its strong dependence on overall subtle computer effects with a significant majority being done practically or with other visual tricks. She also showed talent in bringing well above average performances from most of her cast.

The absolute powerhouse of the film, figuratively and literally speaking is Amandla Sternberg as our protagonist Ruby. Most folks became familiar with her six yeas ago as Rue in The Hunger Games, and hopefully even wider soon as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give later this year. My partner and I tonight were talking at length about her and why she worked. Obviously script and direction help here as this has undercut other actresses with talent in movies like The 5th Wave, but here Sternberg shines. She is a complex character with real chemistry with her on screen friends and to borrow a line from another movie, She’s a Damsel. She’s in distress. She’s got it handled. Have a nice day. The character may be afraid and uncertain, but they never make her feel weak or simpering. This is a crucial balancing act in a YA or any material that is adapted and quite often fails.

Her main co-star Harris Dickinson (who will be Prince Phillip in Maleficent 2) also delivers. Quite often the male protag/romance interest in these films is completely bland from delivery and have the depth of a half empty kiddie pool. Dickinson as Liam lets the character actually emote and brings good chemistry with Sternberg. Skylan Brrooks as Charles is another solid character; while his opening can grate on some nerves once the movies pacing lets him he grows and you can really buy the friendship between the main three. I would love to say more about Miya Cech as the 11 year old Zu, but she doesn’t get to do more than be sweet and adorable and really a good counterbalance to the others strong persona’s. Unfortunately, no one else really stands out or otherwise borders on detrimental to the movie.

This leans into where the movie has some flaws, traps the director and writer may not have known how to find their way around. I realized watching this the problem with YA movies and am likely to do an entire editorial post on it later, but to sum up for this review – they run so heavy in the exposition, often with voice over that they forgot they are making a movie. When you read a book you need the characters inner monologue and long or detailed descriptions to let your mind paint the scene, the emotions, and to sell the interactions. With film you get to show don’t tell. The opening of the movie is painfully rushed so much so that the rest felt like it came to a screeching halt and part of that is due to the tons of exposition dump that occurred with little need for it. We’re told and shown when a show was enough. Due to this some of the characters would win my newly minted Snidely Whiplash award for hammy villains.

Image result for snidely whiplash

TL:DR?

While I don’t love this one nearly as much as Beautiful Creatures, The Darkest Minds is a very solid YA adaptation. It has good actors, a solid enough script, and good characters. The action beats work and the movie doesn’t pull punches where lesser material would. This surprised me a few times but I was very happy to see material remember the Adult part of Young Adult.

Amandla Sternberg is a gift and needs to be in more movies and I was very happy to support this one, even if it’s slated to be a box office bomb. Unfortunately this movie only made roughly $6 million of its $34 million budget domestically and just under $10 world wide. Unless there’s an international surge or my viewership sky rockets this looks to be one of the weakest openings and hauls of a YA movie.

So should I see it?

Well I would like to change this movies fate, so yes, I do recommend this one.

Would you see it again?

Honestly? The more I think about it yeah yeah I would.

Buying it then?

Without a doubt.

So how bad was that box office?

Well, it will likely do better than Vampire Academy  ($15m ww)so that’s a plus. It’s almost doubled Blood and Chocolate‘s $6 million world wide haul; but thats really faint praise on this one. It does deserve better than it got.

So…Rotten Tomatoes says..

Yeah, Critical 18%. Audience though with 800 ratings, gave it 82%. As a critic and reviewer I can see why Critics *wouldn’t* like it. It has flaws and flaws that I could be harder on if I chose to. I am chosing not to because it tried. The actors tried. The script tried. The director tried. It shows they tried and it wasn’t just another hollow YA cash grab.

But it has so many YA flaws that I shouldn’t ignore, but am choosing to because I believe a movie that tries is worth a dozen or more Pacific Rim Uprisings or Tomb Raiders or Death Wish remakes. We need more like this and less like those.

The Darkest Minds didn’t get a fair deal and that’s sad. If you have a free evening in the next two weeks go see it. I think you will see what I did in it.