Darke Reviews | Bumblebee (2018)

In September 8, 1984 the world had changed for children everywhere with Challenge of the GoBots, …what you thought Transformers was first out of the gate? Nay my friends that didn’t happen until September 17th, but we can see now which one is remembered. Robots that were more than meets the eye filled the airwaves, and Christmas mornings that year as we met characters evocative names such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Iron Hide, and Bumblebee. For the next two years these cartoons were a staple in many American households, and those around the world, as new Robots were introduced on both the Heroic Autobots and Evil Decepticons side…all to sell us the toys. In 1986 the world for these children changed again when Transformers the Movie hit theatres everywhere. An updated edgier theme song, a more traditional Japanese animation style, with new characters introduced that looked less like the cars, trucks, and military aircraft we knew and more space aged. That movie also did something no other series dared to do and killed off, KILLED off major characters from the original line. This was so traumatic at the time every child in the theatre I saw it in, myself included, was in tears as you heard the words “Prime, you can’t die…”. It was so traumatic that it also killed the prospects of G.I. Joe the movie from going to the theatre and forced a rewrite of it where they had intended to kill some of its original line of heroes and villains.

For years to come since there has almost always been a version of Transformers on the air, from Beast Wars, to Armada, to Prime, to Cyberverse; all catering to different ages and demographics with different levels of storytelling. In 2007 Michael Bay (stop hissing at his name…yes he earned it, but c’mon), provided us a “Live Action” Transformers the Movie. They solicited the fans for lines to use which gave us hope, as we heard Peter Cullen, the eternal voice of Prime, say “Autobots Transform and roll out”. That may have been the last time the audience as a near collective enjoyed the movie franchise. This was the start of a schism which has infected most of our beloved series to this day where some people don’t mind, the fan boys cry you ruined my childhod, and others wonder what the fuss is about; and even others like them. For my part, the quality degraded sharply with the second film and never recovered and was so bad I couldn’t even watch the last one. Apparently neither could audiences as The Last Knight barely scratched making half its budget back domestically with a mere 130 million dollars, against a 217 million dollar budget.

All of this was an albatross around Michael Bay’s neck to many movie goers who were just tired of the explosions, racism, impossible to understand action sequences, and raw stupidity of the plots. That, was just last year. So when we, as an audience, heard there was a Bumblebee spin off movie we were justifiably nervous, and really just asking

“Why?”

Money of course. Paramount likes money. The franchise, despite critical reception has been profitable. Could they turn it around though after the Bay-formers were losing more and more audience goers? They went to their writers room and found Christina Hodson, who had just worked on the mediocre film Shut In, and the absolutely forgetable Unforgettable. This is cynical me talking, as I think the execs went “Female writers are all the rage, lets get one to write a Transformers movie, how much worse can it get?” The more hopeful me says Hodson had a story pitch and they listened. I know that she was involved before the director was picked which is a really good sign. She put herself into this script and that makes me happy, she wanted to see a girl on screen in this kind of movie, she’s always wanted that and I’m glad because we need that. The movie is a lot slower than the other films and is a soft reboot of the series that I think it needed. The script actually bothers to let the moments breathe and let Bumblebee become the character we, as kids, kinda knew and loved. The studio somehow made a character piece between a Girl and her Robot and I have to tell you folks it works.

Hodsons script and emotional heart to the story is an amazing start, and I can’t wait now to see what she does with the Harley Quinn movie. Travis Knight, our director I think is the other major part that makes this work. Knight is the CEO of Laika entertainment who gave us Paranorman, Coraline, and Kubo and the Two Strings, which Travis also directed. If you have watched any of those movies, you understand that they get what characters mean, they know how to do near perfect emotional beats. His capabilities as a stop motion animator also make him ideal for directing a GIANT ROBOT movie as he can not only visualize the scene but be able to describe and communicate it to his team.  Between Hodson’s story and script and Knights skills, all you need is actors to make a good movie regardless of genre.

Enter Hailee Steinfeld, who exploded into the cinematic scene as Mattie Ross in True Grit, is a singer, and is our Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man. She makes her character of Charlie Watson something few of the humans in any other Transformers film before it did, likable. Charlie is in a rough spot in her life as she turns 18 and is dealing with the unexpected loss of her Dad, her family moving on, and not sure who or what she is. Steinfeld is able to bring the complexity of the character (even if it is a bit tropish) to life and does so against a 12 foot yellow robot. Between the performance of Steinfeld, and the performance given to Bumblebee by the director and animation department, they have humanized this franchise in a way I didn’t think possible at this point.

Speaking of animation department; do you remember when you could watch the fights in movies and understand what was going on? So do I. They were good times. This movie brings those times back. The fights avoid quick cuts and shaky cam instead going for more flowing animation and traditional medium or wide takes to let you appreciate what is going on. The return to the Generation 1 (original) looks for some of the characters doesn’t hurt either. There are even some other 1986 movie references hidden in some of the sequences that made me bounce when I saw them. On top of that rather than fully acting against green screen Hailee was actually able to act against a model of Bee on set so she had something to work with – novel idea. The soundtrack is a best of 80’s alternative and a few others, with one lovely easter egg for Transformers 1986 fans.

TL;DR?

Guys, I never thought I would sat this. It is a good movie. A really good movie. It doesn’t fully divorce itself from the Bay run as much as we might wish it and there are elements such as Sector 7, the Hoover Dam, etc; but it more or less ignores the metaplot that was given to the first five films entirely. Transformers fans, especially G1, will geek out over all the nods from the classic designs to the Transformer sound effect being used through the movie. Caution flag on this though folks, a lot of the G1 stuff is in the opening but its so worth it. The rest of the movie is a much slower and better Transformers movie than we deserve, but definitely needed. The cast is small and you actually do give a damn what happens to them. This isn’t to say they disappoint on the action, when they give you the beats they are good ones and while not nearly as over the top as Bay, are just good.

Bay is an interesting director who has his own style which some may like more than others, but I have to say if this is what Travis Knight can do with a real camera and more than a voice cast, we need to get him in live action more than ever. Also – watching Optimus Prime fight on Cybertron in the opening is fantastic.

Bumblebee is a wonderful nostalgic ride that has a lot of movie baggage to overcome and truly deserves to.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yes. I want this movie to succeed so badly so we can continue to get QUALITY Transformers movies like this. So we can get other 80’s franchises with the right treatment and right care.

Would you see it again?

Maybe not in 3-D, but absolutely even at full price.

How about buying it?

4K baby. In 4K

Alright, which of the releases this month would you see and in what order now that everything is out?

  1. Spider-Man into the Spiderverse
  2. Anna and the Apocalypse – this one gets me alright?
  3. Bumblebee – only in spot 3 because Spider-Man is that amazing and I have a truly weird affection for Anna, or it would be in second place
  4. Mary Poppin’s Returns
  5. Aquaman
  6. I would never see Mortal Engines again. why do you even ask?

My partner and I tonight really liked this movie, it is easily the best live action Transformers movie we have received and handled both the human and robotic characters well; and avoided juvenile humor along the way.

I don’t know what else to tell you, someone, somewhere may have listened and given us what we wanted. We should do them the favour and see this movie.

 

Darke Reviews | Widows (2018)

To borrow from the YouTube channel CinemaWins, Viola Davis is always a win. The first trailer for this movie grabbed me. Liam Neeson on a failed heist, the wives of his crew having to pull off his last job or be killed by the people he robbed from. Michelle Rodriguez (who I still haven’t forgiven for The Assignment) as a working mom, Viola, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, this movie had star power; oh and thats without even mentioning the amazing Daniel Kaluuya who has been on fire since Get Out last year. I also happen to love a good Heist film, especially well layered and nuanced ones.

Should Widows have given up the score?

The movie is based on a previous British TV movie from the early 80s, by Lynda LaPlante, who has mostly been doing TV writing since the 70s and is still active today. It was adapted for this story by mystery novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects), and the director himself Steve McQueen. This was a passion project for McQueen, who must have been influenced by the original tv movie, and he apparently has really wanted to do this project for awhile.  McQueens name became big in Hollywood with his Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave back in 2014 (and nomination for best director). Widows is his first major project since that Win and I can tell you that it wasn’t a fluke that he won. There is a well crafted, nuanced, performance guiding director at the helm here. He knows what he wants his camera to be doing and knew how to layer his story appropriately. He also has an absolute right to insert some material into the movie that I was not expecting, but is unfortunately very timely. If anything the flaw in the scripting left little time to truly explore the number of characters and plotlines, even with the films two hour plus running time. Ideas, threads, and other beats are introduced but never fully resolved, or are brought in in the 11th hour to such a degree that I feel like we have a good fifteen minutes or more of movie missing; and I wouldn’t mind seeing that footage.

Viola Davis, again is always a win, as Veronica Rawlings, wife to Liam Neeson’s Harry. She largely has to carry the movie and can do so with ease, shifting between fear, determination, and pain with all the grace and skill of an actress of her calibre ( 1 Academy Award, and 2 additional nominations). Michelle Rodriguez surprised me a bit, I had a feeling she could do it, but she subdued herself well for this one. The two standouts for me out of the cast beyond Ms. Davis and her screen presence were the two who stood up and made their presences known in equal measure. Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, The Cloverfield Paradox) has always played background or tertiary roles, in this one she steps it up, and due to her performance you can see a literal evolution of her character Alice before your eyes and it is one of the more compelling subplots. Our second supporting star is Cynthia Erivo who I praised in the under performing Bad Times at the El Royale. She has charisma, she had a singing voice, and here she shows she’s quite the physical actress as well. I really hope we get to see more of both of these women. The other names I mentioned during the intro are of course solid for the screen time they are given. Kaluuya is a stand out performance as he has brought us charm and politeness, balance and rage, and this time he brought menace. It worked. Duvall and Farrell of course are good, but I can’t speak to either of their Chicago accents, it’s not one I can mimic myself well enough to say they nailed it or not.

Beyond the cast there is a strong technical proficiency to the movie; with one particular long take from the hood of a car during a conversation telling two different stories that you can follow simultaneously and very effectively. Almost every shot in the movie shows an understanding of the camera, framing, colour and energy; matched with effective production design to highlight the stark contrasts displayed the movie just sails away and brings you with it. It does suffer from some scene cutting, dropped plots, and jerky pacing, but the sum of the parts overall out weigh this

TL;DR?

Widows is a very good film. There is a compelling cast, with an at its core simple story, that contains layers of storytelling involving corruption, debts, self-identity, and sense of self. Steve McQueen is a director to watch out for and he really knows how to control the camera and bring out the best in his cast. This is a movie that in another directors hands would have been a hot mess, but because of his passion for the project and his skill it turns out to be just shy of what I would call an excellent film

Should I see it?

If you are joining me on the boycott of Fantastic Beasts, this is your film this weekend. If you aren’t joining me on it, and enjoy a good heist this is a good heist film.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Full price even!

Are you buying it?

Absolutely

Any other thoughts?

This movie won’t make the money it deserves unless FB bombs. It is stuck in a bad position and with the next several weeks doesn’t have a great shot and showing its legs. It has just 2/3 of the screens FB s getting, and 400 less screens than Instant Family, Wahlbergs new one.  This feels like alternative programming, with not as much faith. I’d at least have fought for 3,300 screens instead of the 2,800 it’s getting.

Next week Creed 2 will probably peel off any audience this would get and Ralph Breaks the Internet will try to take down the Harry Potter franchise. After that Widows might hold on, but the December crunch begins and the winter Blockbusters will come to destroy all that have come before.

I think this is sad for Widows and it deserved a better slot.

Darke Reviews | Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

This marks the first true sequel in the series. There are little to no references between movies one and four. Yes, a character or two comes back, but the events of the films don’t. Not until Ghost Protocol returns Michelle Monaghan as Julia who Ethan must stay away from bringing continuity between movies three and four. Ghost Protocol is often considered the reboot of the franchise and marks the first time the movies get a subtitle. Before it was just Mission: Impossible, MI: 2, then MI:3. Rogue Nation picks up with the aftermath of the events of Ghost Protocol, but doesn’t really count as a sequel in that the binding story and events of that film do not carry over. Fallout breaks that in that the actual events of Rogue Nation are the catalyst and driving force behind the events of Fallout.  Too nerdy or convoluted? Yeah it kinda is, but after 6 movies over 22 years with little continuity between them beyond Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames? This is also the first time that the movies share a director and principle screenwriter.

Done with the movie trivia? Ok good. I have more, but I will hold it off.

The question of course is should you choose to accept Fallout?

As stated above, this is the return of Christopher McQuarrie to the directors chair, it also marks his return to the script; this time as a solo act. That’s right, Writer Director combo. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes good. Since McQuarrie and Cruise have a good working relationship for about a decade it makes sense that Cruise would want him back on the chair.  They worked the first time with Christopher as the writer and producer of 2008’s Valkyrie, then again in 2012 for the underrated Jack Reacher with CM in the directors chair. Then yet again in 2014 with CM scripting the criminally underviewed Edge of Tomorrow, and of course 2015’s Rogue Nation. McQuarrie also has a writing credit on last years The Mummy, but they can’t all be good. Based on my viewing of that particular abomination I think some of the high points might be his work.

Now that we have a feel for McQuarrie I can confidently say that his direction is solid as it gets. He isn’t what one would call a visionary director, he isn’t a Speilberg but they all shouldn’t be. He’s leaps and bounds above a dozen other directors this year and they should take notes from him. He has very interesting camera control and knows how to frame shots to their fullest advantage. In a movie with three women only one truly gets a “sexy” shot and its while she’s drawing a butterfly knife and is about to use it effectively. He draws out solid performances from his actors, no one is going home with an Oscar here but that isn’t what a Mission: Impossible movie is about. Ok, maybe Cavill should get one for giving us a thousand times more range with his character than we’ve seen of him as Superman. Also worth noting, the Mustache should be nominated for an award as well.

The downside here of course is in the last movie I called out some pacing issues and a bit of formulaic elements to the structure and the villains. The villains of the piece were passable, but there was a lot of tell not show vs. say …Phillip Seymour Hoffman in MI: 3; who just exuded menace. Michael Nyqvist in Ghost Protocol was also formidable, but we just don’t get that here. That isn’t to say the Villain is MCU bland, – yes I will continue to jab at the majority of MCU villains – just that we don’t feel their weight on screen the way we could. I don’t fault Sean Harris for that in his reprise of Solomon Lane, He’s “fine”. They actually give him more to do in this one and I don’t mind him, yet he is still lacking something.

The plot remains very spy vs spy vs spy; which if you aren’t fully engaged could leave you scratching your head at some of the twists, turns, crosses, and loop de loops the movie puts you through. How could someone not be engaged though? Well that’s that pacing problem again. The movie runs a full two hours and twenty minutes when the credits begin to roll and it absolutely feels it. Nearly every scene lasts about a minute longer than it needs, but they do give you the much required moments to breathe and let a beat go on long enough too. It’s just a bit too long sometimes.

The real crime is the action beats. They are fun until they are boring. Look, we get it. Tom Cruise likes to run on screen. Tom Cruise likes to ride motorcycles on screen. Nearly every action set piece the movie has goes too long without any real tension to them, and most of them are chase sequences involving, Cars, Motorcycles, or Helicopters. You could trim a solid 15 minutes of the movie from these action scenes and it wouldn’t be detrimental to the movie. It is that noticable, it can be forgivable depending on your tolerances and attention to the length of the scenes; but it is a real problem for the film.

The Bathroom fight though? Yes. yes please. The physicality of Cruise and his stunts? Absolutely.

There are also points in the positive that this movie has such amazing continuity within itself. While there are some logical failings if you squint, it does hold true to itself and gives some decent audience misdirects that I am assuming are intentional ones. There are details however that are given their due course and hold up to any scrutiny given.

TL:DR

If you’ve enjoyed the franchise so far, this is a must see. Tom Cruise is in good form and Rebecca Ferguson shines when she’s on screen. Ving and Simon are perfect and you can feel the camaraderie between the characters and I believe the cast at this point. Cavill could use some work, but he is leaps and bounds above most things we’ve gotten with him in he past few years. Also, please give an award to the ‘Stache. They had to CGI that sucker for Justice League.

I think that Fallout is a very solid, good movie. It hearkens back more to traditional spy thrillers than a Mission: Impossible movie; but still is able to keep its tongue planted in its cheek for the moments it needs to where you have no choice but to go “really?”

So should I see it?

I think so. It does have some serious and unignorable pacing issues, but overall its a good ride. I don’t think you’ll regret full price, but XD or DBox would be wasted on this one.

Would you see it again?

You taking me?

Buying it?

Absolutely. I realized my collection is missing some of the others, which I plan to fix soon, but this one will be on my shelf.

Anything else?

Of my two companions tonight, one pretty much didn’t like it. The other thought it was ok. Neither are big on the spy thrillers of yore so I can’t ignore that call out that I made above. It was a servicable action piece in an otherwise mediocre year for those.

So what’s next?

Next week no review. Travelling for work, but the week after….The Meg! Don’t forget to sign up if you want to see it with me.

Darke Reviews | The Equalizer 2 (2018)

First thing out  of the gate, there is absolutely no reason to see The Equalizer before seeing this. I had to go deep into the tomb to find that review, it’s one of my earlier ones. That aside, the first film is ultimately still very watchable and my feelings for Mr. Washington really haven’t changed in the four years since. The first movie introduces us to the character, his ticks, and his friends; yet you do not need it for this one. It trusts the audience from the cold open to follow along and be smart enough to figure out between the trailers and the opening that he is a former assassin turned maker of wrong things right – an Equalizer.  Shocking I know.

Did we really need the sequel though?

Richard Wenk, who in the years since the first provided us the screenplay for The Magnificent Seven and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, returns to his script duties. At this point, I have literally seen almost every movie he has ever written. I still love Vamp despite the hardcore 80’s cheese, I found 16 Blocks boring, the 2011 remake of the Mechanic was uninspired, The Expendables 2 was…a movie that can’t be argued. The Equalizer has been covered, as have the other two films mentioned. Suffice to say I can see his style now, understand his writing to a point, and know his quirks. He really is just an OK writer that Antoine Fuqua likes working with. Wenk has both pacing issues and a sense of being overwrought in every single script. He wants to be writing deep, cerebral, emotionally centered movies with men beyond their prime going for one last job, regardless of the job; but then he also likes damn near schlocky action against it. He is trying but he never quite rings the bell and the scripts fall apart with any real scrutiny. If you don’t think too hard here, it all works; there is a combination of intelligence to the story, but it then requires the dumbest of actions from some characters to survive. It doesn’t follow through on some components that you realize (again if you think) should have impact.

Wenk is saved though by Fuqua at the helm. In his first feature film since 2016 Fuqua remains true to form in providing us clean action beats along with knowing how to film the more emotional and tense beats provided by the script elevating them as much as they can be in the process. The problem I think here is that he was not as thoroughly invested as he was in other projects. The first movie was just shy of doubling it’s estimated $55 million production budget barely topping over $100 at the domestic box office. While this sequel feels like something Wenk, Fuqua, and Washington wanted to do, I keep thinking (dangerous here) that they also wanted to do something else. There’s an attention to detail strangely missing from multiple components of the movie and an emotional weight that is never fully realized.

Washington is actually better in this film than he was the first; giving a far more nuanced performance with the slower pace of the film and less action beats to break up those cerebral moments I mentioned before. He avoids many of his usual ticks in acting which certainly improve the movie; but it is still Denzel.  Game of Thrones Pedro Pascal is nearly unrecognizable without a facial hair and serves up a solid character for the movie. The rest of the cast is sufficient but not worth calling out.

On the technical side of things, the movie is paced slowly and methodically allowing the momentum of events to build along with the backdrop. I liked that the pacing was slower and the action beats less frequent here as it let us get to understand McCall as a character more. Act I is entirely set establishing his routine and world; while still advancing the plot because the world moves with or without you. I’ve criminalized movies for doing this poorly before, but even if Fuqua was asleep at the wheel it still is better than some directors fully coherent.

What I can’t forgive though is bad effects and a lack of attention to detail from someone like Fuqua. The digital effects in the third act of the film are nothing short of awful; while many of the practical ones stand out because of how bad the digital touch ups are. It is impossible to NOT notice. My partner tonight noticed and they don’t hyper analyze films like I do – so it’s kinda obvious. That makes this even more sinful as the movie has $7 million more to the budget than the first; yet feels as if it was made for half that. If Blumhouse productions look better, you are in trouble guys. Do better next time.

TL;DR

The Equalizer 2 was the sequel no one really was clamoring for, but is utterly harmless in its final execution. I may have beaten it up a bit in the top half of the review, but that is strictly because I expect better of the cast and crew of this movie. It was overall a fun little film, even got me emotional a few times; and wincing a few others. Running just over the two hour mark it just barely keeps you from checking your watch while sitting in the theatre. Had it been too much longer with it’s pace then it would have been more problematic.

This is a harmless, good ride of an action film. Take that for what you will.

Should I see it?

Well if you like the first one; sure. If you were curious or like Denzel, you will have a good time. As I said before you don’t need to see the first to watch and understand this, which is interesting. I do not think you need DBox, XD, or anything fancy. I wouldn’t go above matinee pricing unless you are a die hard Denzel or Fuqua fan.

Would you see it again?

In theatre’s its highly unlikely. It’s an Ok action film; but it lacks the fun of last weeks Skyscraper or the rawness of something like Sicario.

How about buying it?

I won’t mind owning it. It was passable. It wasn’t a “Meh”. I had reactions and did enjoy it. I just shouldn’t think too hard on it.

Any final thoughts on the movie?

It does hit a point where I think it is too smart for it’s own good. I just shy of accused the movie of being kind of basic before with aspirations to be more. During one of those reaching for the gold ring moments it could fail for, again, anyone who pauses a moment to think about it. It isn’t *bad* per se, but it might leave some heads scratching. The bad guys of the movie make some terrible decisions as well that in combination with the reach which leaves you asking questions that the answer is not kind to.

I’m torn on how much to penalize the movie for it though. I often write about how movies tell more than show or how they dumb down and explain everything to the audience. This doesn’t quite do that, but it also kind of goes the other way and doesn’t make sense as a result. So yay for not dumbing down, but boo for trying to be too clever.

Next week?

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE FALL OUT!!! Yes, I am an unapologetic fan of everything in the Mission Impossible franchise, except the second one. The last films have been amazing and I look forward to seeing how this literal sequel to the Rogue Nation goes.

Also, I will be posting an Event on the Facebook page for my local readers to come see The Meg with me on August 9th!

 

Darke Reviews | Power Rangers (2017)

I really don’t know why I wanted to see this movie. I was not a fan of the show when it premiered the first time back in the early 90’s. I was a bit disappointed considering I had grown up on Voltron and thought I was getting a live action version. I was young. I didn’t know better.  So despite that the trailers did their job and I wanted to go see it. With that in mind I figure if I enjoyed the movie then it is a solid movie without nostalgia glasses getting in my way to either love it or hate it for its differences between then and now.

So should you go go to the theatre to see it?

I invoke the three writer rule as the movie goes to five. We have story by Kieran and Michelle Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold,  Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt) and Matt Sazama (Dracula Untold,  Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt) and the final screenplay by John Gatins (Flight, Kong: Skull Island). At this point unless I am given photographic evidence to the contrary I am going to say Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama are a modern version of Alan Smithee. The real surprise here despite the rule being invoked – they told a decent story. Sure it’s origin story 101 but unlike so many other movies with a wide cast to introduce they actually let you get to know the characters. The dialogue, the character decisions, all felt natural. There’s one particular scene around a campfire that was in the paint by numbers guide, but it worked. No this isn’t going to win any awards for storytelling or doing something particularly new but it did its job. It does have a few plot holes you can pilot a zord through but you forgive them because the characterizations of your five mains are as strong as they are.

This is director Dean Israelite second feature film since Project Almanac; and while he shows more restraint than he did there he still has not quite mastered the camera. I will give absolute credit for trying a few things with the camera that worked, but then he went too long on them and it stopped working. I get the sense that there’s more to him, as overall the movie was surprisingly enjoyable. Directorially speaking the beats work mostly, the camera work is solid for a majority of the film and the performances and blocking are good. His sense of pacing was on point, but his tonal choices were a tilt a whirl of emotion. I remember looking to my sister during the movie going “well that was bleak” during one scene; yet they earned the beats they got and the emotions they drew out of me.

What takes the movie to the next level is the actors who had remarkable chemistry with each other. Dacre Montgomery as our Red Ranger Jason isn’t just a bland white guy lead. He tries to be more and largely succeeds; and I will be curious to see him in Stranger Things Season 2. British actress (of Indian origin) Naomi Scott (Lemonade Mouth) is our Pink Ranger Kimberly and much like Dacre really makes more of the character than I thought possible. RJ Cyler ( Me Earl and the Dying Girl) is our Blue Ranger Billy, who I am going to talk more about in a moment. Ludi Lin is Zack, the Black Ranger; which leaves us with singer songwriter Becky G  as Trini our Yellow Ranger.

Bryan Cranston returns to Power Rangers, this time as Zordon and I must say he makes an excellent face on the wall. Elizabeth Banks steals the show as a semi serious and surprisingly menacing Rita Repulsa. That isn’t to say there aren not fantastical elements to her performance deserving of a laugh but much like the heroes, her moments are earned well enough you enjoy seeing her.

Why did I not talk about the five mains more? Because they need to be talked about together. If you read my reviews with any regularity I speak of representation and how it matters. This movie has given us Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and Black actors in what is easily claimed as a superhero role. Ok so the movie hits you over the head with it with a line, but I forgive it for them actually bothering to do it in the first place. On top of that we have a character who identifies on the autism spectrum – and actually calls it out in film. This movie made a real effort to have multiple types of representation across the board and succeeded where other films fail. What makes it even better so it feels less forced than it is – the actors have amazing chemistry with each other. When two of the characters meet for the first time I was taken aback by how well they sync’d and felt right on camera together. This kind of interaction continue to go on as the movie moved forward; furthering my surprise.

So we have good representation and good actors who connected with a decent script and pretty solid direction – this lets me overlook the movies flaws.

Oh yes. There are flaws.

As I said, the camera work is improved over Project Alamanac, but definitely still needs work. I would shake the director of photography to make him use a steady cam, but I don’t think he’d notice the motion as there are more than a few shots that had noticeable wobble that didn’t need it. The fight sequences when the camera is still? Great. When it’s moving. Kinda a mess. The same can be said for the Zords. I know there’s a T Rex and a Pteranodon, but due to camera movement and poor design of the robots the others are kind of a mess. There are a few plot holes that are glaring and can leave you with a lot of questions if you think about them too long and some effects work – others not so much.

TL;DR

Power Rangers is a surprisingly good movie. There are a ton of callbacks to the series that even I picked up on. It, in my opinion, has a lot of heart to it and I feel there was some passion by the cast and crew in getting this made. It while following the formula of origin stories and generic teen filler movies somehow stands apart from them. The production crew was serious about making this as good a movie as you can while still embracing what makes it Power Rangers.  If anything, they did lose *some* of the hokeyness that was part of the charm, but the cast’s charm overpowers that flaw.

Should you see it?

It is different than the show as I know of it, but if you are even remotely interested yeah its a very entertaining ride.

Would you watch it again?

Probably.

Really? You going to buy it too?

Yes. No doubt.

Any warnings?

So Power Rangers the show is very kid friendly no matter the age. 5 and under I’d keep out, maybe 7 and under on this one. This is a solid PG film that wanted to dip its toes into PG-13 (well modern PG-13).

I like the movie and don’t have issue recommending it at all.

Surprise!

Oh and there’s some product placement in the movie used as a punchline – and I didn’t mind it. It worked and I liked it.

So where’s Beauty and the Beast?

I was on vacation. Haven’t seen it yet. Might this weekend. If so you’ll get a review.

Darke Reviews – Attack on Titan: Part 1 (2015)

So this review is getting in one a technicality for the review-a-day, as it involves monsters eating people in gory ways. That classifies as horror for most American films, yes? I mean sure it is based on Anime, based on Manga, but the ultimate themes fits some of the horror. There’s the herd mentality, the survivor mentality, the combat the beast mentality; all of which are found in archetypal horror. So here we take a story that’s been translated to TV now being translated to the big screen. It’s not like we’ve seen that go wrong before with taking a beloved anime like cartoon and putting 23 hours(ish) of tv into 3 hours. That’s NEVER gone wrong.

So do they go right here?

Well, this is going to be an odd review as it’s more targeted to folks who are familiar with the source material rather than standard movie going audiences. I will come out of the gate and say if you are not a fan of tokusatsu style of Japanese films you have no real reason to see this. If you are not familiar with that term, we will use Wiki today:

Tokusatsu (特撮?) is a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of special effects (tokusatsu literally translates as “special filming” in Japanese).

Tokusatsu entertainment often deals with science fiction, fantasy or horror, but movies and television shows in other genres can sometimes count as tokusatsu as well. The most popular types of tokusatsu include kaiju monster movies like the Godzilla and Gamera film series; superhero TV serials such as the Kamen Rider and Metal Hero series; and mecha dramas like Giant Robo. Some tokusatsu television programs combine several of these subgenres, for example the Ultraman and Super Sentai series. Tokusatsu is one of the most popular forms of Japanese entertainment, but most tokusatsu movies and television programs are not widely known outside Asia.

So unless you rather enjoy my reviews, poor attempts at humor, the anime, and/or the manga you could probably come back tomorrow for the next review. For those left it is assumed you have already watched or are otherwise familiar with the series.

SPOILERS BELOW

My face during most of this movie

My face during most of this movie

That image matches my face and the young woman in front of me in full Armin Arlert cosplay (some people confused her for Annie or Historia); who kept throwing her hands up in exasperation. The movie is that incredibly different than the series. I mean radically different. Oh there are Titans, there are some of our characters, there are walls, and three dimensional maneuver gear. That more or less is where the similarities between film and series.  It took me awhile to accept this as the series is so good, but when you start to consider the movie as a fan-fic or gritty adaptation of the material it begins to work and you start consider it as it’s own work independent of the material.

The story is that you have three friends, Armin, Eren, Mikasa who live inside the outer of three walls which are protecting the remains of humanity from Titans; giant beasts that are near unkillable that do nothing but destroy and eat. They are large (the name is a give away), unintelligent, sexless, and eat people for no known reason. After a hundred years they break through the wall, chaos ensues. After the group is separated and experiences a loss we jump to two years later and training is finished. There’s a last ditch attempt being made to close the hole in the wall and this group of raw recruits are all that’s left. Of course things go wrong.

You know, as much as I complain about white-washing, this is the first time I’ve seen a movie that is Asian-washed. Only *one* character legitimately should have been Asian here, the rest vaguely germanic. So, to be transparent, I will not hold this against the movie. We do it enough over here so it gets a pass. The acting is about on par for what I have seen from other high end tokusatsu style films, with some good character moments and really nice emotions coming from the people at the right times. Conversely, there are quite a few – what in the hell – moments that left the entire and I do mean entire audience laughing.

On a technical side of things, the movie isn’t too bad. The Titans look good. The three dimensional gear looks ok, some times yes, sometimes no. The style of the film goes full Walking Dead or post apocalyptic, a tone the show never quite hits but maybe should. The pacing is ok, but there are enough weird moments to throw you long enough you have trouble getting back in. Also the movie is intelligent enough to break itself into two pieces. The climax really did look good and appropriate.

TL:DR?

Honestly, as a fan of the show I was put off by quite a bit of the movie. You really must accept it as an AU (Alternate Universe) to embrace it for what it is.

Still, many of our favorite characters are missing and some weird characters are introduced. Most fans will want to see it, so this review comes mostly as a warning to lower your expectations. Overall the audience enjoyed it, even Armin, but we were mostly confused.

The movie does NOT hit Airbender levels of bad by any stretch and is entertaining.

So you have been warned. Watch, but be prepared.

 

 

Darke Reviews – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

I have only a passing familiarity with the original TV series that ran from 1964 to 1968. I think I caught some reruns in syndication when I was a kid. I am pretty sure I remember the awesome Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum (Duckie from NCIS) as Illya Kuryakin. It was very much a product of it’s time in a similar Cold War era vein of James Bond, The Avengers (no not those Avengers), Mission: Impossible, Danger Man/Secret Agent, Get Smart, The Saint, I Spy, culminating in the end of the Cold War with Scarecrow and Mrs. King (I never missed an episode).

Something you may notice, I made all of those links to the original series. Something else you may notice almost all of them have been remade into modern movies – very very poorly with only two notable exceptions. As a reminder ( I am cruel) here you go to the notably bad ones.

I understand if you need to pause reading to take anti psychotics or antidepressants at being reminded of those films. I needed to set the stage for what is one of the last of the genre of old spy movies being redone.

Did it work better than the others? Does it break the curse?

If you are a regular reader you know the Three Writer Rule. 3 or more writers goes bad almost invariably. This movie has four unique story credits and with two of those repeating on the screenplay. This is excluding the Sam Rolfe credit for the TV series. Lets knock a few parties out right now. Jeff Kleeman is a producer with a pen. He generally is the money and some influence on a film, with no major film credits  prior as a writer it’s clear he wanted a say in the film enough to get himself a story credit. Then there is David C. Wilson, who has precisely two credits; the 1991 martial arts movie that made Escrima cool The Perfect Weapon and the oft forgotten 2000 film Supernova. I am almost wondering if David C. Wilson is an Alan Smithee in disguise? This brings us to Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie. Now things begin to get interesting as Wigram helped give us the RDJ  Sherlock Holmes in 2009 as a writer, then has largely served as an executive producer for such films as Harry Potter 5, 6, 7.1 and 7.2. He also gave us Cool as Ice. I am trying to decide if that wipes all the other good credit out. Then of course is Guy Ritchie, writer, director, producer. Gaining his fame from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, later to give us the two new Sherlock Holmes films.

Did they tell a good story together? Well yes and no. The film is so predictable with its beats and overall plot that I probably could have looked like some sort of PreCog from the Future Crimes division if I had written this review first. Every single plot point is 100% unsurprising and even telegraphed. The movie then goes onto explain, as if we’re idiots, how some of the beats happened when a cut was used to show not tell. Not good. What is good is when the movie takes small moments to be quiet. They are a touch absurd and a bit off, yet bring the whole thing back together. The downside of course is they, like the movie run a bit long and rather than allowing you to catch your breath leave you checking your watch. Not that the movie needed time to let you catch your breath, the pacing, music, and overall feel of the film read more like Steven Soderbergh (Haywire, Oceans 11,  Traffic). The only touch of Ritchie I see is some of the cuts he chooses and a deliberate attempt to give it that 60’s film grain vibe.

From an acting perspective the mediocre retreaded script does little to help the actors. Thankfully someone reminded Henry Cavill he wasn’t working with Zack Snyder and that he could smile again and be charming again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that and that isn’t a good thing as beyond his magnificent physique the man actually has natural charm. Armie Hammer, who hasn’t had much work since the atrocity of the Lone Ranger plays our Russian. If you want a man to be charming and charismatic when he reads wooden – don’t let him play a cold war russian. It doesn’t mix. Thankfully Hammer and Cavill both transcend the script and what must be poor direction to at least make me crack a smile a few times. They made it work. They had the quiet moments and bromance that fan fic writers are already scribbling down ideas for. Supporting the stars we have a star in her own right, Alicia (I am really not an AI) Vikander, coming off of a stellar performance in Ex Machina. She at least has chemistry with the male leads which allows this film to work and Ritchie and the script realize she is not just a window dressing and use her appropriately.

No one else is really able to transcend the script, except Hugh Grant who as near as I can tell is playing Hugh Grant.

TL;DR?

Short version the movie is a meh.

You can get a few smiles and maybe some nostalgia from it if you enjoyed the original series. Hammer and Cavill pull off Illya and Solo rather well and I buy them and everything about them. If you were interested give it a matinee shot, otherwise this is a pass.

Slightly longer version? I think the Spy Genre is dead in film. Sad thing is I like Spy Movies. Always have. We’ve been Bourned to death. Mission Impossible and Bond work because they are larger than life. They are so huge from both the characters and the enemies. Even in the grittier and more reality (hah) centric film style we’ve gotten both Bond and MI are still bigger than us and that makes them truly timeless. The world that produced these earlier works is gone and even though the idea of vintage everything is still popular it doesn’t work as well when your genre needs a black and white enemy that is firmly of this world. Maybe in another few years this could be revisited but right now in the context of the world we live in the genre just does not work if you dance too close to reality. That thought, even watching the movie, took me out of it so hard that I started seeing the figurative paint and set dressing.

I think that explains why this was released in August. People might just be desperate enough to see it and it could make some money back.

So again – It’s a Meh. If you were planning on it anyway – Matinee. Otherwise, save your money a few more weeks until something that is must see comes out.