Darke Reviews | Pokémon – Detective Pikachu (2019)

So two or three weeks ago when I went to the movies, my cinema partners (I really need a tagline for you two), saw the trailer for this movie in front of something else we were watching and looked at me and said “We’re seeing that” almost in unison. I had been generally ambivalent towards it, with a bit of curiosity, but no real drive to go see it. I didn’t grow up with Pokemon, and even then I preferred Digimon at the time. I had no particular affinity for the series of games, the card game, the cartoon, and had never watched the movies prior. Ryan Reynolds is funny, but my history of comedy and such does not a guarantee of watching make. The interest of my friends (fiends?) at least pushed the scales out of balance and had me see this tonight. Did they use their powers for good or for ill?

Was this movie the very best?

What? I always go for the joke/pun question if I can. I’ve played Pokemon Go, I’ve heard the theme song. I said I didn’t grow up with it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about it. Though in a feat that defies logic a movie that not only violates my three writer rule, but punts it across the arena. The movie has a total of seven credited writers between story and screenplay, granted two are repeats and one is the director. We have a story by Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel), Benji Samit (The Tick, One Day at a Time), and Dan Hernadez (The Tick, One Day at a Time). That gives us the baseline for the story and honestly it has a really good through line being as straight forward as it is. This is predominately a kids movie with a lot of material for the millennials (and anyone) who love Pokemon. The story was then polished into screenplay form by Samit, Hernandez, Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World(s), and Kong: Skull Island), and director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs Aliens, Goosebumps). The combined pedigree of the movies writing and direction could have either been a hot mess or a 2019 version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

We got Roger Rabbit.

The story of a kid who turned his back on Pokemon and the generally accepted order of the world, then gets pulled back in after the death of his father. He is forced to work with his fathers partner a Pikachu that he alone can understand, where everyone else hears the adorable Pika Pika. He meets multiple colourful characters and Pokemon along the way as the unlikely duo uncover the mystery and discover a bigger plot in the course of their investigation.  Like I said basic, but it doesn’t have to be complex and what is complex is naturally so.

Ryan Reynolds we already know can carry a movie without you ever seeing his face thanks to Deadpool, but can he do it kid friendly? Of course he can; but he doesn’t have to carry the movie. Justice Smith does. This confirms that Justice was not served in Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. The kid (OK, he’s 24) has some serious range and has to deliver quite a bit of it albeit at a direct surface level for the movie, but he does so. Kathryn Newton who looks far younger than 21 years old, does her best Gracie Law impression as a hard boiled reporter determined to get her story. There are other actors to talk about, but they exist to serve the story and you just need to enjoy.

Now you might have noticed I referenced Big Trouble in Little China and Roger Rabbit so far. The movie shoots for a vibe between the two and nails it. It understands 100% that this concept is ridiculous and is determined to play it all with a straight face. It brings in all the noir tropes and uses them to its advantage with a lampshade big enough to cover a Snorlax. Visually the movie is incredible. We have never seen the CG and real integrate to this level and with this degree of clarity honestly since Roger Rabbit. In literally every shot there is significant CG elements but you forget that as you watch. They work within the context of the world and that’s all that matters. There are a few weaker elements, but they don’t take away from the overall narrative or enjoyment of the spectacle.

TL:DR?

The movie was super effective. I have favourite parts, I have parts I didn’t care for as much. There are a few scenes that dragged, but overall myself and my cinema partners tonight had a good time and enjoyed the movie. They both are far bigger fans than I and had the opportunity to be more harsh but they enjoyed it and me mostly blind did as well. I was proud I could name roughly half the Pokemon they showed, then I just listened as the two of them started talking about stuff from the Pokemon first movie. This must be what it sounds like to hear me go on about my cherished nostalgia.

That’s important though. The movie did evoke that in them and me who is only cursorily aware of the story was still entertained. This very much is a kids movie as I mentioned before, but there is a lot for all ages in here. Maybe one joke didn’t land for me, but that’s not a bad average. Again as I mentioned in the deeper dive the movie is visually gorgeous with so much computer generated but feeling like a real lived in world. Much props to the visual effects houses on this one.

Should I see it?

If you like Pokemon, played Pokemon, or just want something that isn’t as heavy as Endgame? Yes. Bigger brighter screens recommended. There’s a lot to take in.

Would you see it again?

Yeah probably. Not likely, but I would.

So would you buy it then?

Absolutely. I could see myself watching this a few more times in the comfort of my home.

Is it that good?

It has flaws sure, but the overall package is really solid. This isn’t a great movie, but it absolutely is good family entertainment that uses a licensed property in a good way.

One last…

Actually question for you readers! ….Should this be considered a Video Game movie? If so…..sound off below on Facebook or the comments here.

…also if so – you might have your best adaptation yet.

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Greetings True Believers. So a theatre chain did a screening of the new animated Spider-Man movie tonight, needless to say I had my butt in a seat for it. While the trailer left me wondering a bit on the animation style as it wasn’t anything I had quite seen before I knew this movie would be important as it was the first time we got to see Miles Morales on screen. Now those who are not familiar with comics, and truth be told I’ve been out of them for awhile, may not know that in 2011 a new Spider was introduced; and this one happened to be a young Afro-Latino boy.   Needless to say in an age where in post after post I have to say #RepresentationMatters this movie is important. Until this year we have not yet had a person of colour lead a major comic book movie in this Renaissance of the comic movie. Yes, Black Panther was this year – how wild is that? Now obviously we can all name T’challa, Falcon, and even Nick Fury as black Heroes on screen. Now name the number of Latinx ones you’ve seen on screen.

Miles Morales is important.

This movie is important.

But is it good?

Let me cut to the chase and avoid the TL;DR cut – Yes. Yes it is.

First, let’s talk writing, this was written by Phil Lord of the Lego Movie fame (and kicked off of Solo: a Star Wars story fame) with his writing partner Christopher Miller as a producer. The story is an origin story, but damn if it isn’t solid. Not only do we get the origin for Miles to become Spider-Man, they introduce five other Spider’s from alternate universes. So the movie is able to juggle a total of six Spider’s and still keep Miles as our central character, with character conflict, growth, and identity being underlying themes through the movie and it works. Miles remains center stage, but you still get enough time with the other major characters through the story to get it. The movie also retains a beautiful sense of humor through out and is as far from Grimdark and Depressing as you can get.

It’s rare I get to talk about three directors for one movie, but here we go with Rodney Rothman (a Lord & Miller partner and writer on their projects), and two artists. The first is Bob Perischetti, who worked on Mulan, Tarzan, Shrek 2, and Monsters vs Aliens; as well as the acclaimed The Little Prince.  Peter Ramsey is an artist turned director, who worked as a storyboard and illustrator for Bram Stokers Dracula, Tank Girl, and was the director on the painfully underrated Rise of the Guardians.  These men know how to get great voice acting that has the subtle intonations that elevate the performance and also bring a strong visual style to the art team who had their work cut out for them combining cell shaded animation, traditional four colour dot art, CG characters, traditionally animated characters, and more into a single picture.

This movie is absolutely gorgeous. Colour theorists will have a field day with this one and they should with every colour being intentional and also amazingly vibrant. Even in the “dark” scenes in the movie, the contrast of colours against the true blacks just pop off the screen to the point I almost wondered how this would look with 3-D glasses. There is such amazing kineticism to the film as well where your eyes are always watching something and when the fights, chases, and other major beats happen there is a fluidity of motion you just cannot do in live action film making and the movie takes full advantage of it. It is raw, it is dynamic, and the camera always follows the action and keeps pulling you into those action beats so well. The animation also knows when to be still as well. The right moments are held like freeze frames with only minimal motion, but maximum emotion. Even the character designs, while so bloody disparate work when they really shouldn’t.

Credit must be given to Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down) is our Miles Morales, and for a 23 year old knocks it out of the park playing a very young teenager. Because of the complexity of the voice acting Moore brings we have a truly three dimensional portrayal of this character with a fantastic message for our viewers. Jake Johnson (the computer geek guy from Jurassic World) is our Peter Parker and while I wasn’t sure on him at the opening he also brought layers to what otherwise would have been a lesser character. The same can be said for Hailee Steinfield (Ender’s Game, True Grit, and the upcoming Bumblebee) as Spider-Woman/Gwen or Ghost Spider. This movie did her right too and I can think of hundreds and thousands of girls who will see a female hero who isn’t treated sexually in any way shape or form and is absolutely someone who kicks butt, has her own arc, and just is well done. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, This is Us) and Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight) have some emotional burden to carry too and do it admirably.

Even the music in this movie just rocks from beginning to end and …and ..

TL;DR

This movie I could go on and on about. I can tell you the hype for it is real. The positive reviews may not go far enough. I saw yesterday that this movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature and I have no argument that it should win. You haven’t seen a movie animated like this before, and maybe won’t again, but it’s original. It’s vibrant. The characters are good. The story is good. The movie works on every possible level and holds it’s own against some of the best Marvel and Disney have put out.

Not only is it good, but it also reminds us how much Representation DOES Matter and gives us the heroes we really do need right now, and a message we need as well.

So I am taking it I should…

Yes. Yes you should. In theatres. IMAX if you can for the full immersion of colour.

Would you see it aga….

Yes. Next?

Buying it?

This movie is why 4K TV’s exist.

Ok Vampire lady calm down aren’t you a bit too hyped?

Maybe. My best friend and I were talking about this movie the entire ride home and just how GOOD it is. Like capital “G”. It has a positive message for the kiddos, tons of nostalgia for those old enough, is beautiful, and honestly pure. I almost feel bad for Peter Jackson next week when this comes out as Mortal Engines is going to get destroyed by this.

I really do like this movie and I hope you see it and like it too.

 

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.