Darke Reviews | Jupiter Ascending (2015)

So this is a few days late, the 9-5 takes precedence, but was it worth the wait? It’s rather hard for me to avoid reviews of others until I write my own. I’ve also found the people you see a movie with can determine how you feel about it coming out. Last movie saw with one friend, we sang along, laughed, and winced. This one I saw with a friend who is notorious for not enjoying the sci fi genre that much and another who has far less tolerance than I when it comes to what they will accept in a film. Would I have the feelings I have for this without having seen it with them? Honestly…I’ve been thinking about that all day while I try to figure out how to write this review. I suppose it is worth mentioning I went in with some fairly low expectations.

Let me go into why for a moment. The Wachowski siblings are hit and miss. They gave us the Matrix, and its sequels. They also gave us the screenplay for V for Vendetta. They also gave us Speed Racer. Speed Racer gets a lot of hate, it is mixed in that regard as I see it as someone giving us live action anime. It gave me the cartoon I saw as a kid and again as a high schooler as the entirety of the artists in my class became obsessed with Speed Racer. Their work however, when looked at as a body is high in style, with a lot of marks for intent and most of the marks come in low on the execution. The Matrix sequels are proof of that concept as the artistic intent seems to be there, but their inability to execute it resulted in audiences decrying the franchise as a whole. And that dear friends is where the problems of Jupiter Ascending begin to show.

The movie is both written and directed by Andy and Lana; and you can tell. They learned none of the lessons from Matrix 3 and the exposition brigade. Nearly every yawn inducing line from the movie is about political intrigues, families, or space jabber that most folks won’t bother to try to keep up with. I referenced this in a friends post, but the script for this film is like Dune and Battlefield Earth had a baby…..and this movie is the afterbirth. I promise you that the ten minutes spent on space bureaucracy that makes a trip to the MDV after a root canal look positively entertaining could have been better spent on making me give a damn. Aside from horrific monologues, droll political double talk, the movie also suffers from bad science. I can take most films in the sci fi genre presenting me rules so long as they follow them. You cannot tell me how important genetics are to these people and pretty much violate some of the core science of genetics. Look I am not a genetic engineer, much like anyone on the internet I am an armchair scientist with enough information to be dangerous to myself and others. I understand this and try not to talk about things I don’t know and I really wish the writers here had too.

From an acting perspective, I fault no actor here. I lay the blame solely on the directors. Mila Kunis does fine as Jupiter, the typical destined one who has no idea of her destiny until people start trying to kill her. Channing Tatum is wasted as Caine Wise (thats right up there with Cypher Rage in After Earth) a man sent to find and return Jupiter to her family. Comedy he does well. Action he does well. Brooding he does not. Please stop with the brooding. He does not do it well. Also….peroxide blonde – not a good look for him. He does ok with the material, but that’s largely because he does actually have some talent in there. Poor Eddie Redmayne has this released the weekend he gets a BAFTA for Theory of Everything. I know this boy can act…but what the heck was this? If you’ve noticed a trend of confusion in my commentary on the actors it’s because these are good people who do stellar work normally and have jack to work with and are clearly being given the oddest direction imaginable.

The technical flaws don’t end there, but really seem to only begin. The movie has no fundamental tone. It can’t seem to make up it’s mind as to who the central character is to be, what the central focus is to be, or what the outcome is until it happens. It spirals around its own ideas but never coalesces into a cohesive shape of it’s own. Every fight takes about two minutes too long. Every scene is just a bit too busy. Even the resolution to some of the fights is repeated to the point it is almost a joke. I wasn’t kidding about the ten minutes of bureaucracy by the way, that actually happened and was boring. When Harry Potter did it in the first film there was whimsy to it and a sense of amazement even amidst the banality. Here the banality is on display for one and all and is quite possibly infused with a dementor as it sucks the soul out of you.

The one thing the movie has is beautiful visuals. The ships, the space flight, the planets, the creature design, the prosthetics are all top notch. Sadly thats about all I can say.

TL;DR

Had I not seen it with two friends I might have taken a nap at times waiting for the movie to realize what it was or fulfill a promise that I think it wanted to make. I knew going in this would be a style over substance movie as many other Wachowski films are; yet what I couldn’t realize was its attempts at trying to be more would be so bloody awful and dull. It has moments of fun spliced with long runs of nonsense. Even turning off my brain for this one wouldn’t lend enjoyment as I would have likely dozed off.

If you are curious, please feel free to check it out, but stick to the matinee and 2D.

Otherwise, give this one a pass. It wanted to be good sci-fi and failed. It tried to be more than it was and was a train wreck of proportions I have not seen since Ghosts of Mars.

 

Theoretically later this week I will go see 7th Son, at least I know that will be bad. This one sadly gave me hope. Silly me.

Darke Reviews | Book of Life (2014)

I brought you a special review tonight, a book. This is a special book, a book that should be read (shown to your children). It’s even got sports in it! Are you kidding? Fencing, Fighting, Death, Giants, Monsters, Chases, Escapes, True Love, Miracles. Doesn’t sound too bad does it?

I do not use the above words lightly. I need you to understand this. If you know the words I used, you know how special they are. What they imply. I thought long and hard on the drive home tonight and realized the implications hold.

The Book of Life is a movie that defies modern day Hollywood. I have teased the rant to come on the issue of whitewashing in Hollywood. The issues of casting caucasians in the part where someone of another ethnicity either should have been cast as appropriate to the story or could have been cast with no detriment (and possible improvement). This is nearly the opposite in every respect and it shows.

First we have the movie produced by native Mexican deity of film making Guillermo del Toro (that explains a casting choice too now that I think of it). The director, Jorge R. Gutierrez has worked as an animator before this picture, and this makes his first big screen production in the directors chair – AND a screenplay credit. I am impressed. Sometimes this is a sin. Today it is a blessing. There is also a co writer credit for Douglas Langdale. Upon review of his previous writing credits I can only assume he has learned much over the years since the Return of Jafar.

The story focuses on the relationship between three friends, Manolo (The guitarist), Joaquin (the hero), and Maria (the firebrand). The two boys want to wind the hand of Maria, who is content with being in control over her own life and making her own choices. Little do they know their lives are the focus of a bet by two deities of the dead, La Muerte and Xibalba, over the fate of all mankind.

Remember the whitewashing issue I mentioned? Yeah here – most of the cast is actually hispanic, in a movie focused around a religious day for hispanic culture. SHOCKER. Yes, some argument could be made for commercializing the Day of the Dead, but that’s happening  en masse, at least this seems to show it some measure of respect. We have Diego Luna as Manolo, Zoe Saldana As Maria. Also we have Kate del Castillo (IMDB says she is one of Mexico’s most acclaimed and popular actresses), Hector Elizondo, Danny “Machete” Trejo, Gabriel “Hot and Fluffy” Iglesias, Cheech Marin, and famed and epic opera singer Plácido Domingo.

Yes, there are some casting choices that don’t fit the rest of the theme, but they don’t distract and they don’t annoy. Channing Tatum works in his usual fashion and honestly is as funny as he ever is. Christina Applegate still has one of the most beautiful voices around. Ron Perlman (DelToro connection) is …well Ron Perlman and therefor awesome. Ice Cube, perhaps, is the weakest casting in the voices and most distracting. Its right up there with Steven Tyler in Epic.

From a technical standpoint, the movie in 3D works. It is absolutely gorgeous in every single respect. Colour, lighting, sound, animation, aesthetics. It is near flawless. I could not get over how gorgeous (or comically absurd) the character designs were. How well the colors and depth of field were used through the film. The specific design choice to make the characters similar to wooden marionettes was brilliant within the context of the story being told. Aside from the odd gag, it worked beautifully.

TL;DR?

Yes, Fury comes out this weekend. I have to see it tomorrow. I don’t want to. I want to see this again.

I want everyone to see this film. EVERYONE. It is family friendly for certain at nearly all ages. There’s a lot for adults here. There’s a lot for dates here – the story of love and how its handled work well enough to make me cry at times.

On that – the movie did make me cry. It got to me. It also made me laugh and laugh hard at other bits. It didn’t anger me with how they handled Saldana’s character. Even the rivalry between the friends didn’t play out as bad as it could have.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again when it matters – the movie made me smile. It made me feel warm. It entertained on many levels and that is what movies are here for.

So yes, please go see Book of Life this weekend if you can. It’s what Hollywood looks at.  If you can’t see it this weekend, please at least see it.

It is so worth it.

 

PS – I am serious, I do consider that opening film I referenced a good comparison here. Right or wrong, its what I feel.

Darke Reviews | White House Down (2013)

Darke Reviews – White House Down

Ahhh Hollywood, nearly every summer we get a glimpse of how ethical the studios really are. I want you to think back over the years and consider the number of times a movie comes out in theatres and then a few months later a very very similar film comes out. It happens in both movies and TV. This is what happens when a writer shops his script around trying to sell it to the studio to get made. The studio declines to pay him for his treatment and then hires another writer to make a film using the same concept. One is often more dramatic, the other more action oriented depending on the year, the studio and the environment. This years winner of the golden rip off pair is Olympus Has Fallen & White House Down. I cannot tell you which one was pitched first, so I do not know whom ripped off whom.

SO where does that leave us with White House Down, the second of the White House attack films this year? In a very interesting place by comparison to previous outings of a similar nature. WHen I saw the first of the two I thought it was the action oriented love letter to Die Hard and the first actual Die Hard film in nearly a decade. Tonight I saw another ode to John McTiernans classic action movie from the 80s. Thats right folks, we have another contender in the “I am a fan of Die Hard so I want to honor it with my take.”

Did they do it justice? Well..yes and no.

Director Roland “If Its a landmark I will destroy it” Emmerich actually has reigned his damage in and learned a slight ounce of subtlety. At the same time he wanted to do that THING. Writer James Vanderbilt (Amazing Spider Man, Losers, Basic) is probably the best script writer that Emmerich has worked with to date giving us more than a few characters that have the slightest degree of emotional investment and a plot, while still heavy handed in many respects, that is quite entertaining.

Channing “I’m hot but can’t act” Tatum, plays John McClain..er Cale (Yes his Jame is still John) who much like our original hero is a cop in the wrong place at the right time. He even spends half the movie in a white tank top that gets progressively dirty. He has a wife – sorry – daughter in harms way as one of sixty hostages. He must run around a complex building trying to avoid bad guys while getting more and more beaten up as he goes. There’s even a rooftop fight where the choppers are coming in.

Jamie Foxx is our President in this one. Don’t laugh. It works. Much like any president he is a man who has to be more than that. He has to make decisions no man should have to make and live with them. Sometimes they have costs in other peoples lives. FOxx delivers all of this and brings a much needed levity to this film.

Olympus has fallen was all action all the time. White House Down is action with the humor that OhF was missing. Even Tatum delivers a few good ones from time to time, which is hard for man whose cardboard cut out has more acting range.

Yes Jess – but is it good?

God no. But it is entertaining. Much like Fast 6 this is a Popcorn fest that this summer needed. Yes it has it’s eye rolling plot holes and things that just would not work, but that isn’t the point. While there is a not so subtle political message embedded in the film it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be self righteous. Point in fact I was having a conversation with someone earlier today about movies that try for too many tones and don’t go far enough. This one goes for a few different ones and gets them right. It went just far enough and didn’t take itself too seriously at all.

This is what makes White House Down work

So for the TL;DR

If you are looking for a good popcorn flick – This will do just fine.

It isn’t weighty, it isn’t trying to sell something. It’s just raw very silly and quite ridiculous fun. Again, it is NOT good, but it is entertaining.