Darke Reviews | Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Special thanks to my movie going partner tonight for the summation on the TL;DR on this review. I can surely say you make the movie going experience better. Thank you.

Now onto the review itself.

Hooboy. Despite appearances this is spoiler free thanks to the trailers.

Set three years after the incident at Jurassic Park, a group of conservationists and scientists, plus survivors of the first incident at the park return to Isla Nublar to take what action they can to save the dinosaurs. What they find there is treachery by the very company who sent them as a great white hunter betrays them and a weaselly white man in a suit working for the older gentleman has his sights set on pure greed. Instead of wanting to preserve the formerly extinct animals, he wants to profit off of them. Our heroes must find a way to save the dinosaurs from the machinations of corporate greed without getting anyone else killed in the process.

Wait sorry that was the plot of Jurassic Park 2. Or was it Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom? I think…I think they are the same. They pasted over the paint with fresh wallpaper and some new modern furniture, but the house, the frame, the wiring are all the same. I blame Colin Treverrow, who proved with Jurassic World he wasn’t quite up to the task based on the audience and critical mixture that happened with it. Yes, it made oodles of money, but not nearly as much as the studio wanted when you consider it remained uncontested in theatres for weeks but saw consistent 50% box office sale drop offs week after week. Anything that might have contested it was even worse so it reminded us of 1993 when dinosaurs ruled the earth. This got him yanked from Star Wars Episode IX direction and after the laughable book of Henry it may be awhile before we see him in the directors chair again. He gets the blame for this as he was originally to script and direct, but was yanked from this one as well. Derek Connolly the other writer on this one was also the writer for Jurassic World and Kong Skull Island ….and Star Wars Episode IX, so hold on to your butts for that one.

*pulls up a chair and sits across from the two men* Look I get it it. You may have been given a raw deal from the studio. You didn’t have any great new ideas for a sequel to a reboot, which in itself is a sequel. So you went back to the well. Literally. You lifted the major beats and plot points from what is arguably the second best Jurassic Park film, then doubled down on all the beats you really loved from your last movie. The problem, gentle sirs, is that you crossed a line here. It’s a fine line in any reboot or sequel, of which you are dealing with both; but it is the line where you draw parallels to earlier works. You rehash scenes, beats, and locations from earlier – better works and all it makes us do is think of the better film or at least the scene where it was done better. I mean I will give you points for not having gymnastics beat a velociraptor, but that’s narrow praise.

Your main antagonist is near identical to the crib sheet you used. The secondary antagonist lacks any of the charm, wit, or sublime caliber of the original model – which makes him a comical parody of what was already a parody character. Did you not realize he was this thing? Then, oh…I just ….you expect J.A. Bayona, a horror director to shoot a scene that looks lifted right from a bloody Loony Toons cartoon. This is a mistake. This script was a mistake. It has moments which work, but they are but brief glimmers of something better that never arrived. Unless there was a contractual obligation the studio made a mistake here not bringing in another writer to tweak the script.

J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, Penny Dreadful – 2 eps), is clearly a talented director. There are very intentional costume changes that I noticed. He was able to get the actors to do more than phone it in which I think they were trying to do more than a few times. I get it the script hindered you, like a lot. I imagine the studio did as well. You had no easy task here. You did everything you could to tell a visual story that conflicted itself every twenty minutes or so and was plagued with such laughably bad decisions that Speilberg couldn’t have saved it. You too though have some things to learn. You have to earn your musical score. The music by Michael Giacchino was wonderful but did not belong in a movie about dinosaurs, volcanos, and evil corporations. It belonged in Middle Earth or some other middle fantasy setting. Your big bad dino’s theme cannot be at the levels of Sauron, or any other of the epic baddies, it wasn’t earned. I could tell you and your visual effects artists had the idea for one shot being awesome, and they tried so hard…but you beat it a minute later with a much better one. Then you beat it again five minutes before with one of the best. If the script didn’t go back to the well, you did too and too much of it and its sour.

I haven’t talked about the actors yet, besides mentioning almost phoning it in. Chris Pratt is Chris Pratt, though he largely looked bored here. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire learned from the last movie and was wearing sensible hiking boots going back to the island. The movie makes sure you notice. No I am not joking. She’s fine otherwise. Justice Smith as the high pitched screaming kid from the trailer is fine; even if he has to utter the line every hacker in every movie says “I’m in.”  Daniella Pineda (The Originals) gives one of the most entertaining performances but I have a weakness for sarcastic smart feminists in STEM fields. It’s a thing. There is literally no one else worth mentioning, sorry James Cromwell, not even you.

I could spend another hundred or two words going over some not good CG work, really really bad science (I have rage), and ranting about this is a movie in search of an identity between action and horror and never quite hitting it.

TL;DR

Turn your brain off for two hours. You might have a good time.

I don’t actively hate this movie, its just another hollow high budget production that has a few moments that made me laugh or smile, but not enough for me to actually like it or feel anything about it at all. If any emotion I have towards the movie its a high level of irritation. I can’t even say this is a well made bad movies. Its a high budget mediocre movie that many will enjoy. I am so bloody happy for them I could cry. The biggest win is that the movie didn’t bore me and kept me engaged enough to want to see which plot point from previous movie they would lift next.

Should I see it?

After my dismal reviews on Avengers Infinity War and Incredibles 2, my overwhelmingly positive review of Solo, and less than stellar review of this one you decide. Personally I would say Matinee if you must see it. This is not worth full price, 3D or even XD.

So…won’t be seeing it again?

Nope.

Buying i..

Nope.

Ok what about Goldblum?

He is actually in the movie as a bookend. We needed more of him.

Is it really that bad?

Look I love the T-Rex. It’s amazing. It’s also a bloody apex predator. Stop giving it hero moments. Please.

 

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Darke Reviews | Ready Player One (2018)

I was born in the 70’s. I am a child of the 80’s. The better part of my teens were the 90’s. I had a friend with an Atari. I had the Nintendo, the robot, the gun. I remember all the Saturday morning cartoons and weekday ones. I remember hundreds of reruns of the cartoons and shows of the 60’s and 70’s. I spent a summer watching all of Lost in Space since it was on syndication when the pool I went to every day was closed. I did plenty of things on my bike, in my neighborhood, and with what few friends I had I consider reckless and can’t explain beyond “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I was unbeaten in my high school at Star Wars trivia (ooh big title I know! shiver in despair *rolls eyes at self*).

I’ve also been riding the pop culture surge like everyone else. So this movie is all but made for me and everyone like me, with its heady dose of pop culture and nostalgia that the trailers promised.

Should you play the game though?

The movie is of course based on the landmark novel by Ernest Cline of the same title. Beyond that Cline is probably best known for his script for the Star Wars buddy road trip movie, Fanboys that was released 2009. Fanboys, like Ready Player One focuses on people who are obsessed with pop culture though that one is specific to Star Wars, RPO goes beyond that….way beyond that. Cline himself was hired for the script, which levies most of the “Its not like the book” arguments mostly null, and Zak Penn was brought on to assist. Penn is a mixed bag for me as a writer. His first script, which is a fan boy view of a film genre, The Last Action Hero gives him good credibility to be here alone. That said, he is also on the script for X Men The Last Stand, Elektra, and Inspector Gadget.

The story is as the trailers promised. Bland Token White Boy with SuperHero origin is an obsessive gamer who absorbs pop culture like most people breathe.  He and millions, if not billions, of others are trying to find the literal keys to the Kingdom of a virtual world; racing against the evil big business IOI (eye oh eye, not one zero one) who wants the kingdom to well monetize people. The movie is a touch prescient in that regard considering recent news stories about data. Along the way he meets and makes friends, rallies the Oasis, …and….well any more I’d be spoiling right?

The movie is absolutely generic in its plot. It’s not quite the heroes journey, as it doesn’t have enough of a fall in it, but it plays out with more than a few beats lifted from A New Hope. It exists. It’s fine. It does no real harm and has no real weight to it. There’s no real risk involved or felt for our main hero and while the movie without question celebrates the history of pop culture from the icons, to the music, to the actual history, it doesn’t put any real gate keeping on it. The phrase I dreaded hearing never came up. “Only true fans” ….Goddess I hate that phrase. The success of the hero isn’t his alone and there are other factors that keep it from being an absolute gatekeeping boys club. It honestly saved the movie for me.

From an acting perspective, Tye Sheridan (X-Men Apocalypse, Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse) as Wade Watts is as bland and forgettable as they come. He is so generic that he makes Kristen Stewart in Twilight look positively animated by comparison. I think this is by design. I hope this is by design. What likely isn’t by design is his total lack of chemistry with Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds, Bates Motel) who plays our female heroine Art3mis. She should have been the lead. We should have followed her. She’s dynamic, she’s engaging, and one of the more interesting characters. I’d watch a movie with her and Aech alone. The actress tried her heart out to do something with him, and nothing. I’ve been looking at photos of them all at press junkets and tours. He looks so bored and unengaged, while she is electric. The same goes for their characters. The epic speech from the trailer? Yeah it’s there. It’s like that.

From the other characters the only real standout I can mention is Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Slow West). I feel like they took all the feedback given about his attempt at villainy in Rogue One and made that a character. It made him easy to be in the role, but he’s otherwise…unremarkable. Others exist, one is slightly above the rest, but they are otherwise also…unremarkable.

Visually. The movie lives up to its hype. It’s Spielberg doing literally what made Spielberg Spielberg (this is such an odd sentence and represents much of what is wrong with the English language). This is literally what a PG-13 version of VR could and probably would look like. The PG-13 is important. I’ve seen Second Life. I know what happens when you get to R. The CG is allowed to look CG there and it works with the lighting choices Spielberg always makes. What impressed me most here in the Oasis action scenes is how busy it all was but you could still follow the action you wanted to. Just when it would edge on too much or too hard to follow they would slow it down and let you get back on the road. This is Spielberg here as we’ve seen lesser directors leave shots like these a mess. That same logic holds true through the rest of the film’s main sequences giving you just enough chaos to look right, but enough room to follow said chaos. It gives you the time to see the cameo (barely) and move on.

Yes, the cameo’s. The trailers didn’t show us everything. Yes, you will still geek out when you see them on the big screen. Also in the technical win department is the music by Alan Silvestri. Composer of easily one of the greatest themes ever, Back to the Future, he channels that skill once again and provides the epic. The soundtrack that accompanies is also appropriate for the film. Beyond that though is a plodding editing that leaves the movie running over two hours and starting to feel it at the 90 minute mark.

TL;DR?

Ready Player One is absolutely harmless pop culture and popcorn fair. It is a bland, unremarkable story of bland unremarkable characters doing things we’ve seen a hundred times before. What keeps it afloat is that love of pop culture with technical masterwork and that’s what will get the butts in the seats for it. It won’t keep them long though. It doesn’t have anything more to it.  It’s a visually arresting film that does everything it can to make up for the deficit the material and acting have.

That’s it. It’s Ok. It’s not bad (again thanks to the FX and Nostaligia Glasses) It’s not great or genre redefining. It’s the first real popcorn movie this year and it’s overall just there. I laughed a few times, I did enjoy myself so it came out better than I was expecting.

Should I go watch it?

Yeah, why not? Grab some popcorn, a coke, relive the nostaligia. Escape for a few hours. The real world will be there, and the movie won’t do any harm.

Will you see it again?

On the big screen probably not. I couldn’t tell if the 3D helped the movie, but it didn’t hurt it either.

On the big screen eh?

Yeah, I am buying it. I like hundreds of others obsessive geeks will buy it. Then rip it. Then go frame by frame to look for all we missed. Ok. I probably WON’T do that, but it crossed my mind. Though when I do buy it, I expect a lot of pausing to go hunting for my own little Easter eggs. I know they are there.

Anything else on the movie?

The product placement. Oof. I should be offended, but somehow I am not. I think just the nature of the movie made the Pizza Hut and Doritos and Tab just…make sense?

Have you read the…

Have we met? of course I haven’t read the book. It’s kinda a thing with me and movies.

So what next?

Next week I plan to see “A Quiet Place”, then Rampage after, a week off, then Avengers Infinity War.

 

There it is folks Ready Player One. It’s OK. Considering the rest of this year so far, that’s pretty good. This could have been a lot worse.

Darke Reviews | Death Wish (2018)

*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. What does this have to do with Death Wish?

First – Pause here. I cannot write this review without touching on politics. I almost didn’t write the review because of it. Movies and the subsequent reviews do NOT exist in a vacuum and I have to touch on some topics beyond opinions on movies. If you do *not* want to read any of that skip to the TL;DR.

Skip.

Skip.

Skip.

Ok.

Wish fulfillment. Action movies in the 70’s began the narrative of a good guy with a gun, with the original Death Wish (1974),  then of course Taxi Driver in 1976. Beating the crime on our streets as an every man. The 80’s action movies were over the top gung ho Rah-Rah films that were there to make us feel good and that we could always beat the bad guys, even when they are countries. 90’s action movies are hold overs from the 80’s with more grit and our broken hero. The past decade and a half the biggest, and most successful, action fare in the western market is superheroes. We want to be them. We want to be beautiful/handsome, have powers, and kick ass with little to no consequences.

It’s ok to want that too. None of it is a crime to want to be more. To be the one who makes the change. To be THAT guy.

When it stops being want and starts becoming do – then it’s a problem. In today’s world this movie is in nothing short of bad taste. It was delayed due to Vegas, then they release it anyway a few days after a school shooting. Take the hint. Stop while you are ahead, release it straight to DVD like it looks like it was made for anyway.

From a purely production standpoint. This is bad all the way around. Willis is the least compelling character in the movie and his acting is so bland and so dry it made the Sahara Desert look like the middle of the pacific ocean by comparison. He is absolutely the worst thing in this movie. He had no charisma, no charm, no emoting of any real caliber; which is in stark contrast to Vincent D’Onofrio who was literally the only one in the cast trying. The character of Paul Kersey just did not work this time in any way shape or form either. In the original he was an architect and a conscientious objector. He had no skills for this and actually had to escalate from a sock full of quarters to the gun and then it was a simple revolver.  Making him a surgeon in this one gave him useful skills for what he was doing. Gave him the ability to try to mask his tasks and assets to use to enable his plan. He didn’t come across nearly the amateur and then there was no escalation of the character into the killer. They took away anything that made Kersey an interesting, if not flawed character, and replaced it with bland. That’s without getting into the political aspects of the character in 2017. The attempt to lampshade the appropriateness of his actions with colour commentary by local DJ’s on morning shows is severely weakened by the fact it just rings hollow.

TL;DR

This movie sucks. This movie absolutely sucks.

It is timed badly, it is made badly. It is in poor taste. It just is awful in every aspect of its production and release. I would say the studio and the director Eli Roth should feel ashamed, but they won’t. They don’t.

If you want to watch a superior version of this film, set modern, that turns the lens onto the character itself, while escalating and still providing that visceral thrill and sense of wish fulfillment. Watch the 2007 film Death Sentence with Kevin Bacon. It is an actual sequel to the Death Wish Novel and then adapted into a movie. It works. This does not

I am skipping the usual outtro here, as this review is late. I’m not even bothering to attach the image. It’s that irritating.

This is a bad movie that shouldn’t have been released.

Darke Reviews | A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Of course I haven’t read Madelien L’Engles book. Have we met? Yes, I know it came out in 1962 and was popular in middle schools and high schools everywhere. I was reading other things like Stephen King, Clive Barker, and everything I could get on vampires at the time. Regardless of that fact, along with Black Panther this was one of my more anticipated movies of the year. Why? Because 

Image result for Representation Matters

^ This ^

Beyond that, even though it bears repeating every time it comes up until it sinks in with those in the back, the film itself also looked like a modern fairy tale mixed with science – two things I adore. I suppose the question then is

How was the movie?

Let’s mix it up a bit shall we? Let’s talk about Storm Reid. She’s 14. She has to carry a movie that cost over $100 million to make. She has to avoid being a blank slate, avoid the pitfalls of the “she’s just a child actor”, sell being an actual human being with facets. Someone with anger, love, fear, doubt, uncertainty about herself and her worth, and her image. She also has to be likable while being all of this. She has to have chemistry with her cast, especially Chris Pine as the movie hinges ultimately on them being able to sell the relationship of father daughter and what they would do for each other.

I’d like to say, no I will say: She succeeds.

This movie would collapse around its (many) flaws if it weren’t for this child. The earnestness of her performance and it’s actual complexity allowed me and my film partner tonight to get lost in the film and feel. We both identified with this character (probably a bit too much) not because of her being an “everywoman/everyman” a tabula rasa to imprint on and see ourselves in. We saw ourselves in her because of her flaws. her quirks of personality, and her world view. Reid makes the character a compelling one when I’ve seen the majority of adults fail at such tasks.

She isn’t alone, 9 Year Old Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace and 15 Year old Levi Miller’s Calvin play with the same heart and conviction on dialogue that really doesn’t work; yet somehow they made it work. Chris Pine reminds us he is a very talented actor and the scenes he gets with Reid are sold with every fiber of his being. Mindy Kaling steals the frame every time as Mrs. Who and outshines even Ophrah (Mrs. Which) and Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit). Even with limited screen time Zach Galifianakis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make their scenes work.

All of this tells me the casting department deserves a raise. Each of the actors puts their hearts on their sleeves for this and goes for it – which makes this movie have the heart it does. Which left me in tears in more than one scene. Sadly, the script by Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) is a bit rough at times. Lesser actors under a lesser director would have struggled with this. What I don’t know if the dialogue was there and edited out or just not there. The movie suffers as many do in their adaptations. Again, I’ve never read the book but I can tell you watching the movie that it was based on a book and that there’s a lot of material left on the cutting room floor or in the writers room.

There are technical flaws beyond the writing that need to be addressed as well. The movie runs screaming at a break neck pace for the first hour, barely giving time for the characters to breathe, to let scenes soak in, or even explain anything of whats going on. I firmly believe in show don’t tell, especially in film, but you have to actually….show. This might be intentional as I think of a scene on the Act II to Act III bridge, but I can’t be certain. There’s very weird edits, there’s scenes very clearly missing (including very obvious ones from the trailer), and again the dialogue at times is beyond hokey into the pokey.

I appreciate when you are in the realm of fantasy that not everything has to look “real”, that the cartoonish can work and I will forgive the movie some of this because there was such a distinction sold in the movie of what is earthbound and what isn’t. The movie pushed it’s luck here a few times, but always won me back. What ejected me more often than not was the music, not score, that was inserted into the film. The songs themselves are fine, but they just did not work in the moments they were using them or were just so jarring it broke me from what I should be feeling to wonder why they used lyrical songs rather than a fantastic score by Ramin Djawadi. There are some questions I have about the camera work that most folks won’t notice but film reviewers might. It’s called a Mid shot guys. You can do it. I promise. Not everything needs to be a 180 close.

So yes, this is a heavily flawed movie I have the power to dissect like a 10th grade biology student, but I don’t want to. Ava Duvernay (Selma) directed this with such conviction, brought out tremendous performances, and hits on more than a few points of modern culture for young people of colour in such a way that it rings true. Few other directors could have pulled off a few of these beats with such tact and even subtlety as they work well into the narrative of the movie.

TL;DR

This movie could be used as the literal definition of a good, family film. It doesn’t quite hit “great”, but they tried. They put everything into this and tried and it shows. Because of that a movie I could rip apart, and from what I hear others are, doesn’t deserve that

It does deserve our dollars though. Representation of a young child of colour being in front of the camera, and a long standing woman of colour in the industry behind it (not to mention Oprah Winfrey too). This movie like Get Out (congratulations Jordan Peele on your Oscar), and Black Panther is so important that it deserves our money, and yes, forgiveness for its flaws.

If that isn’t a reason to see it. I get it. Here’s another. I meant what I said about this being a good family film. It has so much heart, it has a good message that doesn’t come across as saccharine or insincere. It is enjoyable. It is a bit of light in the darkness we have in the world right now.

That’s also good enough for me.

Should I see it?

Yes. Big screen needed for some of the great visuals the movie has. IMAX if you can, 3-D optional. D-Box could be fun too.

Will you see it again?

Being honest? Not in theatre no, but thats due to other things I plan to do not from lack of enthusiasm for this.

Will you buy it?

Yes. I might even try to get it a 4K TV for it too. At least BluRay though.

Why so forgiving on this?

Because it made me feel. It sold the message it was trying to. I was with Reid’s character. I was her and there are a lot of films that just don’t earn the emotion the way this one did. I haven’t actually watched/read the other reviews that are saying this isn’t that good or is disappointing beyond their headlines.

I went in hoping for something good and pure, and looking for a sense of wonder and joy. I found it. I hope you can too.

What happened to the Death Wish review?

Life. Bad news Thursday as I mentioned on FB when I was writing it. Then worse news over the weekend. I will publish it this weekend. Promise, it doesn’t deserve it though.

What’s coming next?

I might go see Thoroughbreds this week during the work week. I loved Anton Yelchin, so getting to see him one last time might be worth it. I hope. Also next week is Tomb Raider.

Darke Reviews | Annihilation (2018)

We’ve discussed in other reviews, more than a few, my love for Sci Fi. So when I saw the visually arresting trailer for this film I knew I had to see it. It wasn’t a well maybe, it was a must. First you have Natalie Portman who is always engaging and lights up the screen regardless of role since I first saw her in Leon The Professional. I’ve previously said Oscar Isaac needs to be cast in everything. My statement stands. Then you see directed by Alex Garland, whose screenplay I adored for the 2012 Dredd, 28 Days Later deserves its praise, and of course one of my favourite films this decade Ex Machina. The real question is –

How could this movie possibly go wrong?

The film is based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer with screenplay by Alex Garland, who as mentioned before directs. The story surrounds a team of women scientists who explore an extraterrestrial field that no one else has returned from. Inside they confront bizarre and magnificent mutations of both flora and fauna – all in the search of a two very simple questions. What is happening, and why? The answers of course are hardly simple or we wouldn’t have any drama.

Garland is one of the true auteurs in modern film making, and while he doesn’t have Guillermo Del Toro’s distinctive stylings, or Wes Anderson’s quirk, he definitively has a style. He understands, with Cinematographer Rob Hardy, how to move the camera for the right effect. How to get compelling and still subdued performances from his actors. Working with production designer Mark Digby, who gave us a true MetroCity One in Dredd,  they created a unique world that was both ours and alien at the same time. This movie lives up to its visual hype and is driven forward by those visuals which only get more surreal like watching a series of Salvador Dali paintings come to life.

The actors of course are fine, they couldn’t be anything else really. Portman carries the film on her more than capable shoulders as our lead character Lena. Jennifer Jason Leigh is positively subdued as Dr. Ventress. Swedish actress Tuva Novotny makes a surprising mark as she moves through the film as Cass Sheppard. My favourite Valkyrie, Tessa Thompson, delivers her own unique performance showing a range we didn’t get to see in Thor but is no less fascinating to watch as our physicist Josie Radek. They are all fine. The cast is small. The director is good with small casts. He excels at them. I question some of the character names, as the novels characters didn’t have them, to see if they are other sci fi references, such as Asajj Ventress (Star Wars) and me..I mean Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), but that isn’t a fault at all.

What is though I think, is the message of the movie. Science fiction should make you think. Should make you wonder. Should start conversation. While this film does make me want to talk about it, I am not sure how I feel about it or what to say specifically about it beyond the technical components above. Sure it is one of the most visually compelling sci fi movies in awhile, even Arrival was washed out to be nearly black and white at times; which I picked on then. There is contrast here between the outside world and what’s inside and how colour, light, and life interplay with their surroundings, but visuals cannot be everything. I used the Dali reference above intentionally, as the movie felt like I was watching a series of magnificently crafted paintings for two hours, with an occasional drop of dialogue to remind me this isn’t an art gallery. The movie kind of suffers for this as it’s pacing moves seemingly at a crawl so that you can enjoy and appreciate all that you see. There is a lot to appreciate, with creature and set designs unlike anything I’ve seen and ideas introduced that we have never quite seen like this. Another flaw comes in the sound design in act three. You shouldn’t typically notice how sound is done in a movie like this, but there’s a choice in the final act that ejected me from the moment rather than draw me in.

TL;DR?

Annihilation is a solid, technically well crafted film with every dollar spent on production design, sets, and creatures used to the best possible calibre; yet it somehow misses the mark for me.  I am not sure if I didn’t get the message they were trying to sell as this is science fiction – not horror, or they truly failed on delivery.  I really want to like this movie a lot more, but I feel that it trips over its own art and crashes through its delivery leaving me asking questions; but not the ones it wants me to.

Should I see it?

Well…maybe. I think there’s a lot here, but it is a very slow movie that doesn’t really nail the landing.

Would you see it again though?

Maybe at home with some friends this time to talk about it beyond the eye candy that is the design.

So you’re buying it?

The magic 8 ball says, most likely.

Anything else to share on this?

I think I am going to be in the minority on this one. I finished writing my review and broke one of my rules and started skimming other reviews online before publishing my own. I agree it is weird, surreal, again beautiful, but I am missing any exploration of humanity in this or our own world view. If anything I would say it’s a touch nihilistic if the message I did take from it is correct, but in no way did I find it scary even in it’s vast implications throughout.

So again I think I didn’t get what they were selling or others are reading more into this than I saw; which brings me back to the maybe go see it and me watching it again with friends for the discussion vs. a solo run.

Darke Reviews | Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Last movie of January, with a potentially strong February coming with Winchester, Black Panther, and Annihilation coming. This of course marks the third movie in the Maze Runner series and to hear about it (read about it?) is why you are here right now. Shall we recap the first two?

Maze Runner surprisingly solid and a concept we haven’t quite seen before with good production values and actors who are at least giving it their all.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials were more of the same but plodded along with a pace that can only be described as glacial and with three fake out endings that just made me want to scream.

So is does the Death Cure just leave you wanting to die?

It’s been two and a half years since the last movie, there was of course the hiatus forced when Dylan O’Brien severely broke his leg making this to the point I hadn’t heard it had been finished until the trailer dropped. I was a bit unkind to the writer the last time T.S. Nowlin, but after watching this…no I still feel it was somewhat justified.  We don’t introduce any new characters I am expected to care about here, so I don’t know if he has learned his lessons in that regard from the last one. I do know that he either has come to understand or was able to show he does get it when it comes to making certain moments count – most of the time. He also understands all magic comes with a price dearie. More on that in the roll over spoiler corner at the bottom. It will be marked and you can avoid it easily don’t worry.  Nowlin didn’t have to do much here as the groundwork was laid, he just needed to finish the job and that he did.  The plot is coherent with a few reveals handled about as decently as possible without being overwrought, you can follow the train from point A to Z and it logics out. This does not remove my newfound concerns of him being on the screenplay for Pacific Rim Uprising (March 2018) or Godzilla vs Kong (2020)

Director Wes Ball got a lot of flak in the last review and it is also is still mostly justified. He has a style and visual aesthetic. I was glancing at some of the images from his 2011 short film Ruin and see much in the way of similarity. I complained last time of how they got Last of Us in my Maze Runner. This time he gets Fallout in my Maze Runner, more on that in the technicals. While he does understand what to do with the characters this time he hasn’t quite mastered the pacing piece. The movie runs just shy of two and a half hours and it feels it. His eye for visuals is gorgeous which distracts. The opening sequence is positively kinetic and is reminiscent of some early Fast and Furious movies in the best way possible. There’s a director in here folks, but I think he still needs to sit down and get a better feel for how to pace a movie as while I wasn’t checking my watch it was getting close.

The actors are of course the best part, and yes Ball gets credit for that. Dylan O’Brien can do no wrong in my eyes thus far. Little sad to see nothing coming on his IMDB page, but please Hollywood use him. He can emote, he can act, and he can do the action and make it believable. Ki Hong Lee returns as Minho and is a joy to see, even if he gets little to do. Kaya Scodelario has escaped the Pirates franchise to finish this one out and sadly reads a little flat. I can see her trying to do more, but whatever chemistry her and O’Brien had previously seems gone and it leaves her performance a bit weaker as a result. Thankfully we have Rosa Salazar who has all the chemistry this time. They give her far more to do and I am filled with joy for it. They need to cast her in everything. I am truly excited for Alita: Battle Angel as she delivered a solid performance this time and showed me she has the action, the emotion, and an ability to stand out. Personal choice: Please make a Disney’s Gargoyles movie and cast her as Detective Maza. Thanks. There is one other stand out, Thomas Brodie Sangster, our own Jojen Reed as Newt. He gives the best performance I have seen from him to date and absolutely nails each delivery through the movie.

On the technical front, last time I mentioned in my spoiler corner how the infected of the Flare Virus looked a lot like the creatures from Last Of Us. That hasn’t changed much, but we have also added Ghouls from Fallout 4. The make up is an amazing piece of work, but it absolutely will remind anyone who has played the FO franchise recently of Hancock. Bearing in mind this is an observation not a complaint. The visuals in the movie are rather incredible and when you consider the budget was only $62 million they made every dollar count. I have seen hundred and hundred and fifty million dollar movies look far worse than this did. There is an amazing amount of practical work that holds up remarkably well and the CG work that exists is blended near flawlessly. The pacing is still problematic, but I also can’t think right now how I’d edit it differently. I can maybe shave 10 minutes tops without losing something. It’s clear the directors visual style I mentioned earlier affected the production design and maybe he would be good with something like a Fallout or Last of Us movie. It seems thats what he wants to make.

TL;DR?

I was surprised to find out how much I enjoyed the movie. The opening grabbed my attention, the beats played well and the actors on their third film together have gelled in such a way the non verbal communication sells well. There’s some tonal issues in the movie, but they are all within the genre so it isn’t as bad as other movies that run into those tone issues. The biggest problem Death Cure has is it’s length and ok the biggest problem is no one will see it.

The Scorch Trials brought in $81 million domestic, a 20% drop from Maze Runner. With this January dump slot and weak opening to this years movies only die hard Maze Runner fans will go out for this. I think this might be expected considering its release date, but don’t go expecting this to turn around movie goers. You *do* need to see all three to get the experience and not enough saw the second to sell the third to the larger audiences. This is a bit sad because it is a good movie. There’s love and care here and most of the actors continue to give it their all. It was enjoyable and I have no regrets about spending the extra money on the D-Box (moving) seats.

Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the series so far, absolutely. Give it a go and enjoy the ride. They throw everything at the fence with abandon and it sticks and is worth it when they do. Even the lampshades look nice.

If you aren’t engaged in the series, try the first one. If it doesn’t hold you then you won’t get the same experience from the finale.

Will you buy it?

Honestly? Yes. Good visuals. Good acting. Solid entertainment. Salazar, Sangster, and O’Brien knocking it out of the park – no regrets.

Is this the end of the YA series conversions?

Harry Potter started it. Twilight let it explode. Hunger Games rang the dinner bell and everyone came running. Most of them tripped over their own feet. There aren’t nearly as many YA conversions these days because studios wanted to put minimal effort into them and paid the price. They think the audiences are stupid or aren’t worth it. Neither of these things are true and the cinema is paying for it.

If Death Cure is how YA franchises go out I won’t be sad. This was probably the best conclusion to one of these yet.

I am kind of happy that this is how the month goes out, it gives me a bit of hope for the year to come.

 

Um spoiler corner?

I changed my mind. It’ll get a spoiler editorial later. I think this one needs some thought.

Darke Reviews | Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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

Is this a mystery with uncovering though?

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should you see it?

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

Would you watch it again?

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

I deduce that you are are buying it then.

You would be correct in your logic.

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

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

I will probably tell you to see this instead.