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 | Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Wait wait ! Look at the year. Yes, I am keeping the boycott in place for this movie. Please, however, if you do want my final thoughts on the new movie – there is a VERY SPOILER section below. I did not see it. I will not see it. You cannot pay me to see it. The spoiler I got (and covered below) is a forever deal breaker on that ….thing.

What we are going to talk about today is the original anime, which I saw upon it’s stateside release way back in the day of 1995. Anime was all the rage in small town Maryland with folks drooling over Speed Racer in my senior class. During a cast party for one of our high schools drama club we watched Akira, so that would have been 93 or 94 for that show. I remember watching Ninja Scroll shortly after, Battle Angel, Gunsmith Cats, etc etc. I distinctly remember learning different styles of Anime at the time and levels to which they would go. Akira for instance was visually stunning but in many respects conceptually well over my head. So when I came across Ghost in the Shell during that time and watched it I was enthralled by the visuals – but did I get it?

Well no.

Ironic that the girl who has been questioning her own identity missed the point a few years prior when she saw a movie about questioning the identity and sense of self

So what can I say about the movie that you want to know?

Credit goes to the manga, the original book form, author Masamune Shirow; then adapted for screenplay by Kazunori Itô. The Anime is directed by Mamoru Oshii.

I want you to consider this was released in 1995. 21 years ago. The animation is still far and beyond some of what we get today for multipliers of the budget spent here. The movie is nothing less than a visually stunning masterpiece of artwork.  The last word there is important. This isn’t just animation – it is artwork – which means that every frame is an intentional choice by the director and artists to bring to life and focus on. As it is artwork it is also subjective and the movie does have multiple bits where it relies on the art to convey a feeling or express something it wants you to think about. The problematic part is these sections can linger a bit too long for many audiences. The messages are either not always clear or near hitting you over the head with what they are trying to do. It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the art, but does detract from the pacing of the movie.

What about the story?

Let me ask you some questions –

Are you alive?

What is life?

Define your sense of self.

Define your identity.

What makes these up? 

Now – what if you wanted to quit your job and you had to turn your body in and go back to another one?

Would you still be you?

These are overt questions the movie asks in text, not subtext (which isn’t spoiling anything) that it defies you to think about as it progresses along its primary axis. The Major, Matoko Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka) is a member of a paramilitary government organization in a world where nearly every human is partly cybernetic. Eyes, Ears, Part of your brain, joints, muscles – the odds are good you aren’t entirely human; but in this world that has left you vulnerable to a new breed of criminal who can hack your brain. Now, in our own world hackers can access the networks of our cars and take over steering controls by getting into the radio. No. I am not kidding. So consider then what a hacker could do if the computer was literally in your brain? Would you trust your own memories? Your own thoughts? Your own actions?

Thankfully the Major and the rest of Section 9 are there to stop people that do that kind of thing. The plot follows them trying to stop one in particular called the Puppet Master. In traditional Japanese fashion it asks a lot of questions, has intrigue, and rather good action sequences through out.

TL;DR?

21 years ago we were given a storytelling treat which asks the questions in a very plain way that for the most part if you listen versus hear creates a very powerful message; all  of this captured in state of the art animation from the lovely country of Japan.

Does it have pacing issues? Yes. Is some of the wording odd? Absolutely. Does it detract from the overall product? Not in the least.

The original Ghost in the Shell is not for everyone; most certainly not everyone in the West. It still however is an iconic moment of filmmaking that is easily equivalent to a Citizen Kane within it’s genre.

Should you watch it?

If you are a fan of anime and haven’t? Yes. If you are interested in the origins of the new movie? Yes. If you want to see something better than the new movie – Yes.

If none of these interest you – it’s ok. It’s like any fine art. Some people enjoy it. Some people don’t. It says nothing good or bad about either side. Just tastes – which are, should, and can be different.

How rewatchable is it?

Once a year – maybe. Once every 2 about right.

The Ghost in the Shell ARISE series or Stand Alone Complex are easier to watch repeatedly as their pacing is a touch faster and the stories more streamlined.

Ok so whats the big spoiler that has you outraged?

 

Roll over to read begins now.

Screw this movie in the face with a rusty chainsaw dipped in blow fish poison wielded by someone who has a personal hatred for that face.

As you know when the first casting came out I was against it due to Scarlett Johansson, who is a good actress, being given the role over someone like say Rinko Kikuchi, or any other of the dozens of Asian actresses who should have gotten the part. I have talked about White Washing before on several reviews. I am going to link to the bowl of raisins story again because it still explains it better. 

Mostly white people go “I don’t see the problem”.  It has nothing to do with her acting. I am sure her acting is fine. The problem is the part could and should have gone to any number of Asian actresses. 

You are going to see counter videos of people going to Japan and speaking with Japanese people what they think. They in the clips shown – don’t seem to have a problem. They of course are not looking for representation of themselves in Western media. They aren’t looking for heroes, icon’s, actors, actresses, stars, and the people we look up to here to go “I can be that”. Representation matters. 

Fine. Ignore both sides of the theoretical argument of who could have and should have been cast. The weak excuses about why it was done.

The spoiler. They literally white washed the character.

Literally.

The character in the movie was a Japanese girl named Motoko, who was kidnapped and had her brain implanted into a Caucasian cybernetic body and had her identity stripped from her. 

What the actual…

How..can anyone justify this? Please tell me. 

They literally took an Asian and “improved her” and made her white in the process. 

It doesn’t matter that most reviewers I have watched said its great visually, but ok otherwise. Just ok. 

They literally and figuratively white washed her and have spent the past year defending it. 

This movie needs to be burnt to the ground. This is a problem and folks – you need to help stop it. Please stop supporting movies like this.

Roll over ends.

 

Darke Reviews | Warcraft (2016)

Tired of me yet? 3 movies. 3 days. 3 reviews. The roller coaster that is my life has had my butt in a theatre all this week, even the guy checking me in at the movies tonight asked me, “hey weren’t you in that same theatre last night?” Thanks Ben. Now…we have a movie based on a video game. Probably one of the most popular video games ever made, though myself I have never played it. I know plenty of people who did, my game was City of Heroes, and I was a one game kinda gal. So much like with books, I have no experience, no background, no anything about the lore here to make me like it more or less based on changes made to achieve film. This is the extent to which I know Warcraft: Slaughter Your World.

Of course, we cannot forget that video games have a sordid history in being converted to film, with far more misses than hits as Hollywood really just doesn’t respect the material even if it is there. Don’t get me started on Uwe Boll, he might challenge me to a boxing match.

Does Warcraft break the mold or are audiences going to need heals after seeing it?

Based on the characters by Blizzard game designer Chris Metzen, Warcraft was adapted to the screen by screenwriters Charles Leavitt (In the Heart of the Sea, Seventh Son, K-PAX) and Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code). While I did not personally see Heart of the Sea, I heard pretty consistently it was a slog, I know that Seventh Son was so bad they pushed it out a full year from its initial release date and hoped no one would notice. Jones for his part does have the critically acclaimed Moon in 2009, Source Code was pretty bland. Why am I focusing on these failures so much? Because they hold one of the most, if not the most significant flaw of the film. I can feel it’s running time. What is worse it felt *longer* than it actually was, like extended cut Return of the King long.

Story wise, it’s ok. Having no familiarity with the terminology beyond Horde and Alliance didn’t really hamper me. I pretty much was able to figure out everything in time with the movie and they (wisely) did not over explain anything. Point in fact, they barely explain anything at all. This is a strength of the film, letting the story flow pretty naturally and hope the audience follows along with it. The downside of that is that it has a lot of ground to cover so the film ends up stuffed to the gills with material. Had it had exposition as well….? Yeeesh.  There are a few beats of the film that fall flat and a hole or two you could fly a Dragon through; conversely, there are moments that had everyone laugh, cheer, or go “oooh” with a wince. Which means they drew the audience in – this is good.

Continuing into our bag of holding, we have other mixed blessings. I was only able to stand a single human in the entire movie. One. The friggin mage. Ben Schnetzer (The Book Thief) plays Khadgar, and while a little flat I at least found I liked his character at least. Travis Fimmel (Ragnar from Vikings) as Anduin Lothar is just insufferable; which may be how he is written, but the man can act and he was all over the place which I lay on Jones head in directing. Dominic Cooper (Preacher, Dracula Untold) as King Llane Wrynn was mostly wasted, but gave a solid performance. Even Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Pandorum) didn’t quite deliver as I know he can in the role of the warlock Medivh.

The same, cannot be said of the Orcs. Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) absolutely sells it as Durotan leader of one of the Orc tribes. Daniel Wu (Europa Report) also nails the voice and mo cap work as the evil Gul’dan. Clancy Brown could have phoned in his performance of the warband leader Blackhand, but didn’t and we are all thankful. Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2 Guns)  starts off strong as Garona, but gets a little simpering into Act III which was bothersome for an otherwise awesome character, but overall she was a solid performance.

As with the game, since you could play either side they have to show both sides, with the Horde side being “evil” but not…bad? Due to that and who they focused on as characters I found myself preferring the Horde arc and characters a thousand times more than I did the Alliance side.

The one technical aspect I was worried about I needn’t have been. I forgot I was looking at Motion Capture CGI creations on more than one occasion through the film. It wasn’t flawless, but it was amazingly well done computer work to render what they did so consistently and be able to do so in wide daylight shots. The scenery, while being almost entirely CG was expansive and to the credit of the writers of both game and film, really sold me on a world that I could envision. They may have failed in other areas, but they did give me a living, breathing world that I could see, understand, and even would want to interact with. The fights are both watchable and in some cases brutal, but there was a distinct lack of hyperactive shaky cam.

TL; DR?

The movie is a solid…”It’s ok.”. There are so many nods and winks to game and lore fans, even I who knows little could see them. It runs long and flattens in the wrong spots sadly. It is absolutely not the worst video game film ever made. It would, and should, make it into anyone’s top 5 on production value alone. The money sunk into this shows and I am happier for it. It bored me at times, but when it wasn’t I was engaged.

I’d like to say I liked it more, but I didn’t. The fans around me did though. It *is* good, and above a meh. If I had been engaged by the characters on both sides more I think I would rate it higher. I do think it will make bank though.

Should you see it?

If you aren’t seeing Now You See Me 2? Sure. Matinee only 3-D optional.  If you are a fan of the game and lore: See it. 3-D. It was worth it in that aspect.

Will Jessica buy it?

Honestly? Yeah probably. It is something to throw on in the background while you are focusing on other things. You’ll look up and smile at a moment or pause to watch a fight.

Which side would you pick?

My brain says Horde, but my heart goes Night Elf.

What’s next?

I get next week off as only Central Intelligence and Finding Dory are coming out. Reviews return with The Neon Demon and Independence Day Resurgence. Followed quickly by Legend of Tarzan and Ghostbusters.

Darke Reviews | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

Busy week – review 2 for your reading pleasure. I had to go back and re-read the original review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 2014 and verify if I liked it as much as I thought I did back then and how I feel about it now. More or less – yep still holds up. The things that annoyed me then, annoy me now. Things I liked and smiled at then, I smile at now. I still haven’t been able to find the AMV from the 2003 reboot of the series that was so friggin epic, and still haven’t read the comics. I do remember most every episode of the original animated series and much like last time I will do my best to remove the Nostalgia Glasses.

Ok, more like 30 years ago. Yes...30.

Ok, more like 30 years ago. Yes…30.

How does this one go?

Acceptance. You must accept to continue this review. Accept that this is in fact made for kids first and foremost. We, who grew up with the Turtles may find elements that we appreciate. Nods and jokes, moments, and looks, but this is for kids.

Good, let’s move on.

Director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) replaces Jonathan Liebesman at the helm, which sadly is to the movies disservice. Watching the film I saw naught but a puppet to Platinum Dunes studios, which as a Producer gives them say, but the reality here is I feel this was ghost directed by Michael Bay himself. I remember seeing Earth to Echo and while it tried to be E.T. it mostly just came as Google marketing campaign with mediocre editing and camera work. It wasn’t *bad* but it wasn’t memorable enough for me to even do a solid review of it. This lacked…well anything. It really was mostly style with so little substance to it that I watched a few children in the audience get bored. It might be the inability to hold a shot for more than 6 seconds and literally no sense of framing or blocking. The camera work was 100% Bay though who cannot pass a rotating shot if his life depended on it.

From a script perspective the original writers from the last film, Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum return sans Evan Daugherty. They still completely get the four brothers and who they are, which is good. My complaint of too much Will Arnett and Megan Fox in the last movie was apparently addressed as their roles are lesser. Sadly Arnett still gets more screen time than he deserves and Fox not enough with the script as written. The plot is unsurprisingly simplistic (see Acceptance above) and is fairly run in the mill for it’s intended audience. Nothing good, nothing bad, it exists. They didn’t make a mistake and change Bebop and Rocksteady much at all, which was a good thing and while we will talk about Tyler Perry in a minute, Baxter Stockman was pretty surprisingly solid. Warning – do not think during this movie. It is not wise. If you think, you could drive a Technodrome through some of the holes. I think they also tried to do too much and could have better set up sequel bait. Two plots didn’t need to be in here.

Acting? Alan Ritchson (Raph), Noel Fisher  (Mikey), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), and Pete Ploszek (Leo) all return as the titular characters, with Ploszek actually getting to voice Leonardo this time. The change was unnoticable, and much like in Hellboy 2 letting Doug Jones do the voice of Abe, in retrospect is clearly an improvement. Fox doesn’t get to do much this time around – like at all. I kinda wish she did as the moments they give her with the boys actually work and make it feel like she is friends with them. Granted, I’d prefer to see her kick a lil more butt after two years with Ninja as friends, much like we got in a few of the animated series. Arnett…exists. I suppose my intolerance for his character matches my intolerance for the character of Vernon Fenwick. Too much of him for when he is on screen and even more Tyler Perry who is …*sigh*. Why so much focus on Stockman when you have Brian Tee as the Shredder? This was wasteful of a good actor vs …someone who I think was trying to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson and failing. I suppose when I look back (see Acceptance again) Perry acted as if he knew he was in a kids movie, no one else really did. This was disjoined.Stephen Amell does give something other than Oliver Queen in his performance as Casey Jones, which is no surprise to this girl.  All in all – it was what it was. I can’t say it was “oh damn did you see that scene and it’s delivery?” or even a “kids are going to love that scene because so and so nailed it…in a way for them.”  Except maybe for WWE star Sheamus as Rocksteady, and Gary Anthony Williams as Bebop. They just made me smile without rolling my eyes too much (some humor I don’t get, this is known).

The effects were about on par with the last one. No…actually they were better. Thanks to Bebop and Rocksteady. They *really* got these two right. The transformation was really well done and their overall animation and interaction with the world around them was just as well done. The Turtles looked good.  Krang was definitely a more modern take on him, pretty sure I saw this variant in an amv, but the core principles of him were there. The look of the head on the robot made me smile. Seeing the Technodrome made me smile. There was a lot in this department that did bring the nostalgia back. Sadly the camera work took me out of it since I could barely tell what was happening. I also get the sense as I picked on the director earlier some scenes were clearly directed differently. The Garbage Truck scene good. Others…not so much. I am also reminded of the 90’s movies where they were told the Turtles couldn’t actually use their weapons, which more or less showed up here too. There’s a few moments, but not nearly enough.

TL;DR?

This one wasn’t for me. I know this. There were moments and plenty of them that were, but overall this is definitely a kids film. There’s an 11 year old girl me who would eat this up. Hell even maybe 15 year old me would. It’s an ok film on the very low end of ok as an adult. As a kid? It’s above average but that’s about it. That’s it, the TMNT 2 review. It’s better than what we got in the 90s, but that is faint praise.

Should you see it?

Well since this review is about 5 days late, you probably already have or aren’t going to anyway. Short answer: Unless you are a die hard Turtle fan, nah. It’ll be fine on Netflix or HBO. If you’ve got kids who want to see it it won’t be *that* painful for you..

Will I buy it?

My magic 8 ball says undecided. Ask later. Probably not though. I’ve gotten pickier about what I put in the collection since I ran out of space.

Stay tuned, tomorrow comes Warcraft!

 

 

Darke Reviews | The Jungle Book (2016)

A quiet year for my reviews so far with this as my seventh review in a time where I should normally have maybe ten or twelve. Some movies have left me with such ennui that I couldn’t even bring myself to write about them (Allegiant, London Has Fallen). Others have left me with seething disappointment (BvS: Dawn of Justice). Then came along The Jungle Book, another in a line of Disney adapting their classic animated, and other properties to live action. Alice in Wonderland was….bleh, Cinderella was a bore, Maleficent was good, The Lone Ranger was a putrid pile, and Prince of Persia was a train wreck. There have been other adaptations of this with the 1994 Steven Sommers adaptation (his filmography tends to bring me smiles), starring Jason Scott Lee and Lena Heady and Andy Serkis is planning his own adaptation. Most folks however are familiar with the 1967 classic animated one, if not the film you know the soundtrack.

How did this adaptation go?

The script is adapted from the Rudyard Kipling book, as all are, by Justin Marks who has nothing of quality to his credit on the big screen. With his sole film being Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, ironically in light of the new photo from the Ghost in the Shell, that movie has come up in conversation recently as simply being bad. Then again in this situation he merely need to take what a master has written and adapt it to the screen under the careful eye of director Jon Favreau; who is thankfully best known for being the director of Iron Man. The producers on this one are a hot mess of “Wow” and “whoa…”. Yet somehow they brought it all together and told a cohesive story, free of many tropes (not all), appropriately emotional and dramatic, and capable of building tension and smiles.

Some of that credit goes to the cast of course. Bill Murray as Baloo, I am still not sure was the right choice, worked really well. Ben Kingsley brought the appropriate gravitas to Bagheera. Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito as Raksha and Akela the wolves that served as Mowgli’s parents brought the heart. Scarlet Johansson was serviceable as Kaa, though many could have done what she did and had the same impact. Christopher Walken’s King Louis is memorable. Idris Elba. Idris frikkin Elba. When I first saw the trailer I was worried about his voice matching appropriately to the role, something felt off. Whatever it was – is gone. He was amazing. He was terrifying. It was magnificent. So many movies have weak villains these days and this film that is not a problem. He has real weight on screen and brought his natural commanding presence through as Shere Khan.

10 year old Neel Sethi has a huge task. He is the only live actor in this film against some tremendous voice actors and otherwise CGI experience. I cannot say he delivers every line like a pro, but damnit if he doesn’t try. He is just so earnest in his delivery of every single line that I want to believe him. A lesser actor would come across annoying with the same delivery, but he makes it charming. I suppose that is all he has to do though to play the part right? I mean I listened to his dialogue and how he presented it and went “ok so he’s 10.” I consider that a success.

Let’s talk technicals shall we? The movie is gorgeous. As many other reviewers will tell you CG must be used properly. If it is you can’t tell what is and is not computer generated. While intellectually I knew the animals were, the movie made me forget. I cannot tell you from scene to scene with 100% certainty what was real and what was not. This is how you do it right. This is how you balance your colours to make it look like it’s real even when it is not. This is a lesson so many others fail at with hyper or desaturation to try to muddy the edges. They didn’t do that here. It was near perfect.

TL;DR?

I liked this movie. As I write about it I like it more. As I talked about it today, I liked it more. This is a good movie. It’s got repeat value. It’s not “Oh my god I am going to see this again tomorrow night…” but I really just enjoyed this work.

Should you see it?

Yes. Yes you should. Especially if you have kids.

Will Jess buy it?

Very much so.

Darke Reviews – Big Hero 6 (2014)

I can’t lie, but this film is one of the ones I was looking forward to the most this fall. Of course, the makers of Frozen tag line in the trailer had something to do with it. The reality is the original trailer did nothing for me. It looked cute, but if you really want to get me interested in a movie give me a good trailer with good music. Despite my love for Frozen, the trailers didn’t grab me. Point in fact, I almost didn’t see it because of the trailers originally released – how sad would that have been? The use of Fall Out Boys, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” along with some intriguing animation got my eye in the first full trailerTrailer 2 got me more, with Greek Fire’s “Top of the World”, more importantly it showed me this was a team thing rather than just a boy and his robot. Yes – I know this is based on a comic, but I haven’t read it so didn’t know. The music just sounded inspiring and I love a good heroic team effort. While not usually a fan of Four Colour hero stories, I do find the pure, good, heroism something that makes me smile. Then they released Trailer 3 (below) with New York Comic Con. I was sold. Fall Out Boys new song Immortals was just what I needed to seal the deal and really showed what the team aspect would be about.

So should you see the movie?

This movie is the exception to Jessica’s Film Writing Rule. I’ve often talked about how too many writers on a film tends to lead to a bad film. I happily acknowledge this as an exception. Now we have a story based on the comic by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle. I paused writing this review long enough to peruse the power of Google. I will make a slight adjustment, a story based on and inspired by the comic. While the character names are more or less the same, the personalities and styles are incredibly different (more on that when I talk about the characters). The story was written by Don Hall and Jordan Roberts. Hall was the writer on Princess and the Frog and Tarzan, while Roberts had very few writing credits before. Their story was then adapted for a screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Roberts himself.  Baird has a  screenplay credit on Monsters University and Monsters Inc. with Gerson.

I have to admit, I was surprised the writers weren’t involved in The Incredibles as the movie really does a good job of evoking that heroic transformation vibe. Now, I will not tell you the plot is anything complex or new. Point in fact the movie had nearly no surprises for me, yet it still kept me entertained and even drew laughs and tears when appropriate. Quite a few tears I should add. The simplicity of the story doesn’t take away from it, but because it mixes action and emotional beats really well for adults, younger audiences (under 6) may be bored until those action beats.

The directors may be a reason why the story has such as an emotional punch, even if it is simple. Story writer Don Hall with, the story writer of Mulan and Bolt, Chris Williams dual direct the film. Directing a live action film requires certain muscles, but animation has a different set of muscles it must use in addition. The physical impossibility of shots becomes irrelevant; while the actors body language and expressions become the realm of the animators.

From a cast perspective we the movie brings in a wide range of talent from different ages and realms of experience. Our Hero…Hiro Hamada, a boy genius,  is voiced by young asian american actor Ryan Potter (Supah Ninjas). This character is probably one of the most accurate to his original incarnation with his brilliant mind and the de facto leader of the group. Jamie Chung (Once Upon a Time, Smallville) voices one of my favourite characters Go Go Tomago, speed freak, no nonsense snark,  and specialist in magnetics. I wasn’t able to see much of her character from the quick research but she’s fairly on point and fairly snarky in the movie which instantly endears her to me.  Honey Lemon, the groups chemist, is voiced by Genesis Rodriguez (Man on a Ledge, The Last Stand) and has the one of the biggest variations from the source. Gone is the blonde cheerleader physique and near exhibitionist clothing style replaced with an almost stereotypical nerd girl. I think this is primarily due to the Disney factor more than anything else, but I don’t find fault in it. In fact I kinda prefer this version. The next biggest change is Wasabi No Ginger, I am not kidding about the name, voiced by Damon Wayans Jr. (Let’s Be Cops, The Other Guys), changing him from a japanese chef, to a black dreadlocked inventor. Much like Go Go, I don’t have much to compare Fred to from the source, but TJ Miller (How to Train Your Dragon, and that horrific Transformers movie this year), but he does seem accurate as the non scientist in the group.

The supporting cast is also filled with named and known character actors, such as Maya Rudolph (SNL), Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Alan -Lead on the Wind- Tudyk (Firefly, Frozen), and James Cromwell (Secretariat, Star Trek: First Contact) .

From a technical perspective the art is fantastic. It still has a certain style to it which I appreciate. There use of light and shadow is probably some of the best I’ve seen with sunsets and skylines that border on photo realistic at times. From a character model perspective people like to rip hard on Frozen and Tangled for looking too much alike and as someone who studied computer animation for a bit when she was in college I understand why and don’t judge on that. If you have pre existing skeletons and muscle structures you can save time and money rather than creating new ones. THe movie has a job to create new ones as well (the full Big Hero 6 crew); so when background and secondary characters look like ones I’ve seen in other films I don’t mind as much. It was a bit distracting at first but I got over it.

There is a lot this movie does right and thats where my focus is. The movement through the film is some of the most dynamic I have seen in a film of this style. The flying sequences are up there with How to Train your Dragon. The camera tracking on some of the others, especially Go Go really has an energy of all its own that gets your heart pumping.

Now, I’ve talked about the characters and brought up race a few times in that. There’s a reason for it and it’s the best one of all – representation. The movie has this in spades with young characters who are scientists from multiple races and genders. This is why I don’t mind the change to Honey Lemon as it only increases the representation within the film giving young girls who feel dorky or nerdy someone to look up to – someone who is consistently strong in the movie. The changes to Wasabi while reducing one aspect of representation create another where there was none, giving young black kids someone (aside from the epic NDGT) to look up to and want to be like. Hiro also marks the first time in my recollection we have a Asian male lead in an american made production  – that isn’t a martial artist. This is huge!

There is a huge problem with diversity in film in general, but superhero films specifically. Name the number of female superheroes we’ve had in film in the past decade? Black superheroes? While in this film we have two strong females and a strong black male character. What’s even better is that the movie doesn’t make a big deal out of it – though we need to. The movie SHOULDN’T make a big deal of it, because it should be a naturally accepted state. The characters are the characters defined by personality and skills – not their race or gender. They applied themselves, they weren’t born different, which allows people to identify themselves with these characters and lets them aspire to be these characters. The movie gives us an ideal world in this regard and it’s a world we should aspire to as well and if we can get Hollywood to keep making movies like this, the media can help bring us there.

TL;DR

Go. See. This.

Thats all. I don’t care who you are. What your age is (ok 6+ recommended).

Go. See. This.

Please.

 

 

 

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Darke Reviews | How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

If I recall correctly, How to Train Your Dragon was one of the first films I did a review on when I began writing reviews again a few years back. I stopped again and started hard core last year. Things that I remember from the review was that my ex and I were some of the only people in theatres in week two of its release and that weeks three and four it picked up even more steam. If you don’t know how rare that is that a movie gets MORE popular the longer it goes, well that just means you are a normal individual who isn’t obsessed with movies. I remember showing people the DVD long after and the general consensus is “I wish I had seen it in theatres”. This is a chance to fix that – sort of.

So how did they do on the sequel?

Well, to be perfectly honest and still spoiler free. They held to sequel rules. If you have a big bad, you need a bigger bad. Check. Call backs to the first film. Check. Take it a bit darker in certain beats? Check. Character Growth? eh…not so much.

This is one of those rare cases where being both Writer and Director works. Dean DeBlois, who gave us the original How to Train and Lilo & Stitch returns in both writing and directing roles. I can see the writing that gave us Lilo & stitch here. I can see the writing that gave us the first How to Train here. I can also see only a slight bit of experience and growth. When the first film became both critically and financially successful ($217mm) in 2010 the sequel was inevitable. I can see that he had a lot of ideas and tried to get some of them in, but not all of them worked.

He did avoid some serious pitfalls most teen characters with a romance in the first movie fall into. THANK YOU. Sorry that verges into spoiler territory, but it was needed. The movie plot wise also does just a few too many call backs to the original in near entire rehashes of some scenes. None of the characters seem to have learned much in the time between movies. Sure they aged, sure they got better at what they do, but did they grow? Eh, not really.

But damn, did they remember how to fly! One of the things of beauty in the first film is the flying sequences as Hiccup and Toothless become friends and partners. They take to the skies in all three dimensions and bring you along the way with the camera in a way that really does bring you with them. Its beautiful, it is magical and it is whimsical. It is magnificent in every sense of the word and they remembered how to do it. They also got better at it. Some of the sequences were just amazingly beautiful that I started to cry from it. The sky dance (not a spoiler) is breathtakingly gorgeous. This is the movies greatest success.

The return of the entire cast of the first is also a success. Everyone reprises their roles from the first as if they have never left. Sadly they don’t get a lot of screen time but the movie wisely doesn’t make more of certain characters since  they have become more famous over the past four years. Adding to the cast is Djimon Hounsou as Drago and Kit Harington as Eret. Finally Jon Snow knows something! Apparently it’s dragons. The irony is not lost on me.

The music is also as engaging as it was in the first. With…one exception. There’s a trend in certain movies to stick a song with vocals over a scene rather than use a score. It’s particularly virulent in childrens movies. The first movie avoided this, sadly this one doesn’t. The song isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It has a very Owl City vibe, but I would have preferred the musical queue to be pure music rather than an actual song. It took me out of the moment just enough that it was, to me a bad call.

TL;DR?

The movie made me laugh. Made me cry. Made me smile. Made me catch my breath. What else should a movie do? Some movies are designed to be art appreciated for that. Others are designed to be entertainment. This movie is both artistically beautiful in a literal sense and entertaining.

I know that there were children in the audience you didn’t hear move an inch or utter a word that wasn’t a squeal of joy. What else should there be?

Really nothing. The movie is good. Really good. A few missteps keep it from being great, but I wholeheartedly recommend this film.  I recommend becoming lost in it and enjoying what it delivers.

I also recommend 3D if you can take it. Not required, but it does certainly enhance the movie.

If you go to see a movie this weekend or next, go learn How to Train Your Dragon again. You won’t regret it. This is *the* movie to see with family, friends, children over the next few weeks.