Darke Reviews | Shazam! (2019)

The exclamation mark is important if you want to get the right title when looking this one up. Now, I am just barely old enough to remember Shazam (1974) and Isis (1975) on reruns as a kid.

Shazam and Isis

 

I of course have some of the 90’s and early 2000’s comics with Billy Batson and the rest of the Marvel family, oh yes. Thats right. I mentioned on a post about the recent Captain Marvel movie that there was some beautiful irony in putting the Shazam! trailer in front of that movie. So a bit of comic history, Captain Marvel was created in 1939 by Fawcett Comics and then was sued by what would eventually become DC comics for copyright infringement on Superman. The case went back and forth for a few years with the two settling out of court in 1953. The character went out of print shortly after due to declining sales. After the silver age of comics DC licensed the characters from Fawcett in 1972, but at this point Marvel had already established Captain Marvel and a trademark on it that forced DC to go with the title of Shazam. The character didn’t unquestionably and fully take his name as Shazam until the 2000’s. So there you go, you now know something you didn’t before.

The real question is should you watch the movie?

Let’s face it DC is hit and miss. Mostly miss in my opinion. Man of Steel doesn’t hold up as it did on my initial review and hundreds of people are happy to tell you why. BvS….let’s not discuss that. Wonder Woman certifiable hit, but a touch weak on the villain front. Suicide Squad, I like. Others don’t. I can see the criticism though. Justice League…mostly a miss, but so much closer than they had been before. Don’t @ me snyder fanboys – his vision wasn’t good. Aquaman, the box office and I disagree on how good this was, so its a solid ok; but still firmly in Snyders shadow. Shazam! is the first movie that is 100% out of it and it shows.

The story was written by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Goosebumps) and Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo); who basically made their paychecks with kids films. This might have been the stroke of genius missing or maybe just what a movie with a kid as the star needed. The story is good here and undeniably solid. There is some rather good show don’t tell storytelling through out the movie that is a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre; and while there is exposition only at one point does it not work. The meat of the story is around Billy and his search for his family and every line of it works. Every interaction with the foster parents, the other foster kids works. It was beautiful and heartbreaking to watch some of the scenes and really to give us a GOOD Foster situation in film. All too often you hear about “the system” and it’s shown as a meat grinder for kids who work their way out of it, and this movie turns that on its head and I love it for that. Director David F. Sandberg clearly is not the first choice I’d have gone to for a kid based superhero movie after his first two feature films were the 2016 horror film Lights Out and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation; but again this somehow worked. He shot a movie that is both heartfelt, heart breaking, and funny all at the same time and never loses sight that this is a kid who is becoming a hero.

The kid in question, Asher Angel (Andi Mack) as Billy Batson. Besides looking too much like Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) twin brother he has to carry the film as much as anyone, which is hard for a 16 year old. He does it though bringing the edge needed for a kid who is running away from everything in search of something he may never find, then is granted all the powers anyone could hope for and having to make some real choices. Angel is able to handle all the nuance needed for his character and Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled) as the older version of him captures the rest of it well. Points to the script, the directing, Levi, and Angel here as I really felt that this wasn’t a grown man being childish but a child trying to be a grown man. Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak from IT) has a lot of work to do as well as Freddy Freeman, Billy’s foster brother. Thankfully he is just as capable of carrying the torch and bearing the weight as Angel is. The two of them felt right in their roles and Grazer had to work with both Levi and Angel and make it feel that he was talking to the same person and was able to do so. Mark Strong (Kingsman, Sherlock Holmes) was clearly having a good time on set as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Here we have a competent villain who is a match for our hero, has motive, and is understandable. Strong was perfect for the role and the enjoyment he clearly had shows through in every frame.  I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the other supporting cast who really helped bring the heart to the movie. Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews as the foster parents were perfect and honestly, I wish those characters were my parents. The other foster children played by Grace Fulton (Mary), Ian Chen (Eugene Choi), Faithe Herman (Darla), and Jovan Armand (Pedro) are also quite perfect though of them young Faithe steals the show every damn time.

The effects on display are also really good guys. Like impressively so, with the flight, the transformations, the fights, all of it looking some of the best I’ve seen in years. Some of that comes down to the editors not hypersaturating the movie. The colour balance here is just perfect and only a touch off photo real with the reds and whites always being slightly brighter. This doesn’t look for feel like any of the DC movies or Marvel movies and I want more of it. I need more of this. Even the score is solid, though not as emphasized as I would like – I felt it and it played me the way it was supposed to.

TL:DR?

Guys. This is good. This is really good. Like after the inspiration that Wonder Woman brings and the epicness of her film, this is easily my second favourite of the DC movies. This had the purity and heart that the original Donner superman captured but with modern film making techniques. If I want a good super hero movie that reminds me what it was like when the heroes cared about saving people and the movie showed it, when someone was just a GOOD person because it was the right thing to do – this movie is going to  be in that rotation. I am hoping and praying to whatever box office gods that listen that this can take and hold the box office for a few weeks and show DC that we want more of this.

Should i see it?

Yes. No question. Yes. On the Big screen.

Would you see it again?

I just might.

Buying it?

Absolutely. I am going to be happy to have this in the collection.

You sure this was a DC movie?

I know right? This was closer to Black Panther than it was a DC movie. Great story telling, compelling characters. While the movie has a few moments that make me personally uncomfortable (Bullies, Family issues) the fact that i made me feel those moments is a tip of the hat in its favor not a strike against. I’m always surprised when I write my reviews. I sometimes expect them to be positive and they turn out fairly negative, or I expect them to be positive but then when I write it and think about it the review is glowing. This is one of the ones I am happy to say is in the glowing category.

 

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Darke Reviews | Aquaman (2018)

In what seems to be one of the strangest holiday seasons yet, there is yet another early access showing; this time in conjunction with Amazon Prime membership. So far in what is one of the most packed Decembers I can recall where we have Bumblebee, Mortal Engines, Aquaman, Spider-Man, and Mary Poppins all coming within two weeks of each other; all of them have had early showings except Poppins. I think this is combination confidence and ego on the party of Disney knowing the name alone will carry a lot of weight. Steven Spielberg of all people went “I’m out” and moved Alita: Battle Angel to an uncontested Valentines day slot. The others all are all competing for early release positive buzz and need it desperately in the cases of Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Spider-Man as the brand they are representing (DCEU, Transformers, and Spider-Man) don’t have the best track records in the cinema. Spider-Man proved not only to be worthy, but the best animated movie of the year and possibly one of the best Spider-Man movies ever put to screen.

Is Aquaman worthy?

The movie violates my Three Writer Rule out of the gate, with Will Beall (Gangster Squad, Training Day TV series), director James Wan (the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious series) , and Geoff John’s (DC’s version of Kevin Fiege ie the head of the “movie studio”) having story credit; then Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Red Riding Hood, Wrath of the Titans) on screenplay. By their powers combined they have created a hot mess. To be fair to them, the work of Snyder before and the Justice League movie didn’t give them as much room as a team coming in fresh and thats where some of the narrative choices come from and were not handled deftly. From a purely cinematic universe standpoint the average movie goer won’t know half of whats going on or missing so I can’t and won’t call them to task. Comparing to the comic is like comparing to a book. Changes need to be made, so be it. What I can call them to task for is trying to do too much and not doing all of it well as a result; with plot threads left dangling, characters who feel like they were supposed to be more important and vanish; and most critically a lack of consequence along the way that really shouldn’t be ignored as the meta narrative of the movie put such an intense focus on rules and ancient laws.

The story itself, isn’t so much an issue. Arthur Curry’s, aka Aquaman, mother was the Queen of Atlantis, made a child with a Lighthouse keeper. Then had to return home or they die. She has a son with the King. This son, Orm, later in life wants to wage war on the surface for indistinct reasons and conspires to do so. Meanwhile Mera, someone loyal to the Queen seeks out Arthur in an attempt to have him usurp the throne and prevent all out war between the surface and Atlantis. A McGuffin must be found to give Arthur legitimacy as he is a half breed and the clock is ticking as Orm advances his plan to become the Ocean Master.

The plot itself isn’t the issue. It really isn’t. It’s the beats and how they were architected, its those hanging moments and characters that vanish and other points that just take away from the whole. Logical fallacies within the world that continually don’t add up. I am not talking the suspension of disbelief that you have to take a heaping dose of for the movie to work, I am talking violating that suspension. The movie does it time and time again; and I am not sure why. Wan is a competent director and writer and has shown to be better than this. I wonder if this is a curse of bigger budget with talented directors ruins them somewhat. There are some truly inspired shots and action sequences in this movie. I’ve been beating up on it thus far and it’s not all bad. There are some really good moments, but not enough of them. There’s some great camera work, but not enough of it.

From an acting perspective, sorry folks, I know Momoa is pretty to look at. He is eye candy for those who enjoy that aesthetic and I appreciate that is the reason many people will go see it. I know he wants to maintain and showcase the ties to the Maori and he does so through the movie more than once; and the Haka at the premier was beautiful. He doesn’t have the charisma to pull this off, or someone told him not to use it. He *should* work as Aquaman, but doesn’t. He comes across as a “Biker Bro” who has powers. He would have been a great Lobo with this performance, but I don’t buy him ever becoming the King of the Sea with it. Amber Heard (Drive Angry, The Danish Girl)  is far more compelling as Mera and is the Mera I know from the material I’ve come across who doesn’t take anything from anyone. Between the two of them there was absolutely no chemistry and I can’t be certain if it was her recent life events in dealing with toxic masculinity and abuse or just it not being there at all. Willem Dafoe phones it in, but its still better than most of the cast. Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Watchmen) is engaging as King Orm and tries, with the script doing him no favours.  Nicole Kidman was allowed to be bad ass as Queen Atlanna, but also seemed vaguely exasperated or confused that she was there.  Also what a waste of a Julie Andrews voice. Black Manta was treated well overall and handled about as well as one can expect.

The production design. This is as about a mixed bag as the rest of the movie is. Bill Brzeski had the unenviable task of creating Atlantis and the other kingdoms of the seven seas. Overall it was beautiful, but at times it was muddled by the motion and camera choices. More wide shots were needed, like the scene in the trailer with the flare and the boat. More awe was needed to show the power, expanse, and majesty of Atlantis – and sadly it wasn’t all there. Costuming, a category I don’t often bring up, fell to Kym Barrett, who was nominated for over a dozen awards for her work on Cloud Atlas. She also worked on the Matrix and Speed Racer. She did create original designs or was able to successfully translate comic designs to film in almost every case. Mera’s costume during one scene was literally the most inspired I’ve seen for an aquatic movie. Mera’s costume the rest of the movie left me confused. The clothing was theoretically designed to be form fitting, but quite regularly there were gaps between clothing and skin that were really glaring to me; almost as glaring as the High Heels.

The woman who lives underwater is wearing high heels.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Don’t even get me started on the red wig they had her in. In a rare moment, let me say Justice League treated her better than the movie she was the main player in. Don’t believe me? Look. Also please note the superior costume for Justice League – which takes place before this movie.

Justice League Promo

Justice League

Aquaman. Look at that Natural Red

I want to  rant about the music being odd and switching between the current trend of 80’s Synthwave, standard scoring, and weird Pop songs in the movie I haven’t seen outside of a YA movie or Evanescence in Daredevil back in the day; but this review is already getting too long.

TL;DR

Surprisingly, despite its laundry list of flaws the movie still manages to be somewhat entertaining. It isn’t as patently offensive as Man of Steel has become to me, or BVS, its production values exceed that of Justice League; even if the story beats and acting are rougher. It isn’t as good as Suicide Squad (to me) and definitely not in the league with Wonder Woman. There is a movie here begging to be made to be made well, another pass on the script, another wave of clean edits, a second look at the costuming and music all could have elevated this uncontested into the #2 slot of the DCEU.

Instead we get something just above mediocre through raw effort on everyone’s part that is not more than the sum of its parts, but isn’t falling apart either. A series of baffling decisions both in and out of narrative leave me wondering about the motivations of the characters and why I should care at all. Just a few lines of dialogue here or there really could have solved more than a few of this movies problems so it’s other issues wouldn’t have been as glaring.

Should I see it?

I can tell you no. Most people are going to ignore me and go “But Momoa is pretty.” So I won’t even bother. When this comes out next week it will be competing with a Mary Poppins sequel and Transformers movie, both of which will be reviewed when I see them before this ones release.

Currently the verdict is:  If you were going to see it regardless of this review I hope you enjoy it. I truly truly do. There’s more than a few moments to enjoy and I did have a good time, but I might have had that same good time watching it home later.

So not seeing it again then?

No. I’ll be seeing Spider-Man and Anna and the Apocalypse at a minimum before seeing this again.

Buying it?

*deep sigh* Maybe. Probably. Again its deeply flawed, I have trouble giving it a firm recommendation, but it’s not dumpster fire. Wow….my bar for the DCEU is low.

Anything else to add?

It’s a solid filmmaking effort, and I can see that effort was put in. They tried. Tried and failed on a lot of points, but they tried and I have to give them credit for that. No one in the crew phoned it in and the director did all he could saddled with five prior films of baggage that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The mistakes in the film shine like spotlights to me but may not to most audiences so there’s that in the movies favour.

Aquaman was the most joked about member of the Justice League for decades. His movie could have been far worse so I will take it for what it is.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Justice League (2017)

This is probably one of the most anticipated or dreaded reviews this year.

*sigh*

*heavy sigh*

Can I just re-watch Justice League (the animated series) and review that instead? I suppose not; since that would just repeatedly talk about how even it’s weakest attempt is greater than many TV shows and movies best attempts. Justice League Unlimited – I mean it had some weaker episodes, but even then most of their episodes are still better than most TV we get – and their greatest episodes just down right heart breaking and or epic. If you look at my reviews for the prior DCEU films, you will see I raved on Man of Steel at the time – I blame the initial hype; but I still believe we need a world where we can look up in the sky and see a Superman. We need that sort of hope these days, it is in short supply. Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice. Even the extended cut, which I have watched the add-ons from don’t help enough. I still will defend Suicide Squad, even if its editing is nothing short of a train wrecking into a train wreck with a cruise ship. Wonder Woman is near perfect (for the DCEU). Don’t you speak ill of her or it – I will fight you.

So where does that leave us? Justice League. Right right.

Is Justice League the final nail in the coffin for the DC Extended Universe?

I am going to structure the review from here on out a bit different than usual so bear with me while I try this out.

Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio (Justice League, Argo), Joss Whedon.

Whedon ends up getting a credit due to the reshoots, with him as a director. I will absolutely not allow anyone to bash Snyder for stepping away from the project when he did and for the reasons he did. I will absolutely bash Snyder for the work he did leading up to it. The script is a mess. The story is convoluted and ultimately as hollow as the rest with of course earth shattering stakes that will have no lasting impact, no risk, and no one you actually care about. The add on scenes for Themiscyra are just short of offal; which is to say it shouldn’t have been used, but if it had been done by a better cook it wouldn’t have been awful. It does bother to slow down and give a few character moments but they seem so out of place against the others that if they were part of the original script and shooting it makes the movie worse. If they weren’t it adds a redeeming quality, but they don’t fit tonally or even in how they were shot and coloured. Snyders vision still sucks and there were small overtures to move from that in how the story played out, but not enough to salvage this.

Actors: All of them I think. Breaking it down by main characters shall we?

Affleck is still a good Batman and Bruce Wayne and while they lift some scenes from Justice League the animated he works. He is also given some ridiculous dialogue to have to work through and some repeats that make him look like the worlds greatest idiot than detective but I don’t blame Affleck as much as the aforementioned script. I honestly hope he comes around on the stand alone film he can do it.

Gal Gadot is perfect. She also plays Wonder Woman really well. The problems with this Wonder Woman vs. the standalone come down to cinematography. Could you not put her in skin tight pants and stiletto heels? In one scene I thought it was Catwoman or her character from the 5th Fast and Furious movie not Wonder Woman. She is an (beyond) attractive woman, yes, but we don’t need almost every single intro and outro for her being a butt or legs shot. She has a face – focus the camera there ok? Thanks.

Henry Cavill. This isn’t a spoiler folks – he’s in the bloody trailers as Clark. *sigh* There’s going to be a day where you get to have fun. I saw part of it here. Part, and it’s enough for me to want to see you finally get to play Superman. Well done sir for trying to rise above the limitations and be charming.

Ezra Miller as the Flash. He isn’t Grant Gustin, which we covered why not in the BvS review. The idea that Gustin wouldn’t fit is odd with what they did give us for him. I *think* they were trying to get him to play someone who wasn’t neurotypical, on the spectrum somewhere, but I can’t be 100% sure. He is very ok as a young, just starting out Flash. They use him for the comedic beats well enough, but I am a harsher judge there. I didn’t hate his performance by a long shot, but it didn’t blow my skirt up. I don’t think they knew how to use him as a character well, which isn’t on Miller at all it just didn’t give him enough to work with beyond the comedic expression.

Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Yes ladies, he is very pretty. The character I saw was Jason Mamoa playing Aquaman, not Aquaman. He came across as a half drunk biker with aquatic capabilities. Even the one scene with Mera (Amber Heard) shows him more as a rogue than a ruler. I am pretty sure I know what they were going for by the very bad dialogue they gave Heard, but its so rushed its hard to tell. This was more similar to his performance in the really bad werewolf movie “Wolves” than it was an Aquaman. Is it him or is it the script and directing. I am not sure, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for a great Aquaman stand alone film based on this.

Ray Fisher as Cyborg is literally a deus ex machina. Again he tries but the script and directing here is like a black hole swallowing anything greater than itself; and I feel bad for Fisher. He is just fine, but the overly computer look for the costume just looks wrong. I want to shake Weta Digital who actually seems to be regressing and point them at Robocop, which came out almost 30 years ago and looked better as a half man half machine. You can do Cyborg with practical then enhance with digital. The all digital did not work. If there was practical at all it was lost, like Fishers performance in distractingly bad graphics.

Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf, well his voice. The voice is fine. Absolutely nothing else works here. The look is awful, the dialogue is worse by a hair. Just no. Honestly, as I think about it, they may have reused the skeleton from Incubus and El Diablo from Suicide Squad for the underlying animations for him – this is not a compliment. It looks recycled and honestly bad.

Technicals: Graphics – Weta Digital, Rodeo FX, Double Negative, Scanline VFX.  Music – Danny Elfman

The good – Danny Elfman. Mr. Elfman, I have found you haven’t grown in your work in some time, but here you did as well as anyone possibly could. But there’s one piece of magic you wove into this that lifted my spirits. Hearing the chords of the original Batman and Superman themes, even for a few bars was enough for this geek girl. Thank you.

The bad – The graphics. Just…no. No. No.

                                        My face during most of this movie.

I totally appreciate the amount of time, skill, and effort that go into animating a single frame. I totally appreciate that it is *not* an easy art form; but when it was the end of the day, when it was closing in on the end of the project did anyone look at the final product and go “can we have another week? Please?”. If I know my artist friends well enough – they did. They were told no, or were given unrealistic deadlines to complete the work. Perfect is the enemy of good enough but I would ask the executives at Warner Bros to please consult the following ven diagram. This is presented in the form of a chart to ensure you understand. Please refer to this on your future projects as I can tell it will help.

 

Here is a small list of what is wrong: Physics fails, even by superhero standards. Corn. Lighting during reshoots. Steppenwolf. Fight scenes that looked better before you lifted them from an Injustice video game.

Here is a sample list of what works: Aquaman standing as a massive wave hits him. Mera. Wonder Woman’s speed, though guys she isn’t the Flash.

Final technical and the worst sin: I condemn the costumer for the Amazons to walk through a shoulder high briar patch for all eternity in the costume they designed. You are the worst. The absolute worst.

(Left) Amazons as designed by a woman and someone with sense. (Right) Sense and the woman have left the building.

TL:DR?

No force in the vast heavens or all the realms could have saved this movie. The majority of it was shot and “in the can” as they say before Wonder Woman came out and DC and WB learned what works. The reshoots may have helped some on the final project and I think they did, but nothing could save the overall project. This movie was a ship that had caught sign of the Flying Dutchman and was doomed.

But….

It had some moments which were good. Not enough overall, but some.  It *was* good to see the Justice League fighting as a team. It was good to see more Diana Bruce chemistry.  There were a few more good parts as well and based on the reshoots and Wonder Woman – maybe…maybe the next one can be better.

Should you see it?

*sigh* I think you plan to anyway. Look a lot of people are enjoying it. If it’s your cup of tea I think you will get your moneys worth. If you have hated all the DCEU outings, except Wonder Woman – don’t. Just don’t. It can wait til disc or digital.

Will you buy it?

I am undecided. I am trying not to hate on it because its trendy.

Oh?

Look, the DCEU is one of the easiest cinematic punching bags there is. They’ve made it easy to hate for purists, movie goers, reviewers, and critics. Much if not most of it is deserved. But when I hear the young teenage boys and girls laughing and cheering like I did back in 1989 with Batman, which objectively is pretty bad 30 years later, how bad is this one exactly? We live in a society that is clinging to our childhoods and geek culture because its one of the few safety nets we have in a world that is largely devoid of hope or joy for far too many people. I am very OK with that (and part of it), but if we want to cling to those old fantasies, let’s consume our media as if we had as well.

This is why I still think the DCEU and Zack Snyder still have much to answer for, but finally, finally they are moving the right direction. It’s taken too long, too much money, and too much fan goodwill, but finally they are showing the faintest glimmers of getting it.

I am just afraid they (WB) will throw the baby out with the bathwater and not keep trying to get better and relax to what hasn’t worked yet.

This turned into a very long review, but ultimately it comes down to this:

If you think this looked like a good time from the trailers. Go see Justice League.

If you are expecting enough wreckage to sink a continent – give it a pass and let others enjoy it for what they can.

Also, this review is officially 2000 words, making it one of my longest.

 

Darke Reviews | Suicide Squad (2016)

To say I have been harsh to the DC Cinematic Universe would be like saying summers in Arizona are a touch warm. Now, I can lay down geek cred pretty well with my comic collection – which does include one of the earlier runs with the Suicide Squad with friggin Catman (yes..Cat) as the lead with Deadshot also on the team. I grew up without Harley Quinn until the amazing and legendary Batman the Animated series invented her (all praise to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini). I’ve watched how the character has evolved and changed over time, some good, some bad – recently very good. So on the eve of her 25th birthday as a character (September next year) she gets her first cinematic appearance alongside a bunch of bad guys not a lot of folks have heard of outside of the comic scene or DCAU scene. DCAU gave us Assault on Arkham, a Suicide Squad story, two years ago and I keep a digital copy on most of my devices because it is one of the best of the DCAU. That said….

Should she and the others be thrown in a hole and then forget the hole or do we need more?

Let’s talk first about an uncredited writer, John Ostrander (who has a lovely tribute in the movie) who created the Suicide Squad back in 1987, and also created “Oracle” from the ashes of Barbara Gordon. Just a small thanks to him for creating the idea of villains working for good and being one of the team who also gave us Amanda Waller (with John Byrne and Len Wein). Thank you Mr Ostrander. The movie itself was written and directed by David Ayer, who also directed the disturbing war movie Fury, as well as End of Watch; and was the writer of the original The Fast and the Furious. He does great street level films and gritty films, and I could even say I would want to see what he would do with an Escape From New York or Dirty Dozen remake if someone were to deign to do such a thing. Here’s why…

This is what a director should do!

His blocking was spot on most of the time. There is an entire scene in the movie with very little dialogue but the body language and looks of those involved tell you everything you need to know about whats going on. Is the writing and direction perfect? No. I blame Zack “I suck the colour out of everything” Snyder for some of it. Some does go to Ayer, but overall this was a very well written and directed movie. It’s critical to consider that unlike the Snyder films thus far, all of the characters here we get to focus on feel like characters. I don’t just mean they are accurate to their comic characters, which they are, but they are dimensional entities of their own. They have motivations which they hold true to and you understand and care about. They aren’t painted with a thin veneer of character and we’re supposed to believe it. They are something you buy.

That gets some credit to the actors themselves. Will Smith was the classic charismatic Will Smith again. I had doubts after his last round of movies of him playing the Clark Gable inspired Floyd Lawton. These doubts were put to rest quickly and held through the movie. He was Deadshot. Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Legend of Tarzan) was a version of Harley Quinn that was an amalgam of several of her more recent incarnations and even outshined Smith in the charisma department. This explains why I liked her so much in Tarzan. She was given the opportunity to show a few facets of Harley people don’t consider and it made me happy to see. Hell she made me happy.  Her and Smith had excellent chemistry which was needed for two of the most likeable villains DC has ever written. Ayer brought that to the fore and you like the villains. You enjoy them…you know you shouldn’t root for them, but you do anyway. That’s the very definition of charisma. I can’t believe I am writing this, but even Jai Courtney (Divergent, Good Day to Die Hard, Terminator Genisys) delivered. I wonder if it is because he got to speak in his natural Australian accent as the rogue Captain Boomerang. I still think Hollywood should stop trying to make him happen, but he was really good and earned more than a few laughs. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii, Mr. Eko on Lost)  gives us a wonderful Killer Croc, Cara Delevigne (Pan, Anna Karenina) is an amazing and mesmerizing Enchantress, and Joel Kinnaman (Robocop, The Killing) does pretty good as the all american normal guy – Rick Flag.

Smith and Robbie shine, but Jay Hernandez (Max, Nashville, Quarantine) takes someone I’d have trouble classifying even as high as a C lister and makes him understandable, relatable, and kinda awesome. It is the definition of standout performance. Karen Fukuhara is, in her first cinematic role, is absolutely imposing as Katana. Despite being 5’2″ she has a presence on screen and is the bad ass she should be. Oh yeah…so now we have someone else who could have played Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. No I am not letting it go. Viola Davis is the Amanda Waller we have all been waiting for. I saw the movie with three friends who friggin adore ‘The Wall’ in both comic and DCAU formats and boy does Davis deliver. When Harley asks if she’s the devil in the trailer, those who knew of Waller before were going “well…” and thats what we get. Amanda Waller is a character who if the Devil showed up she would look him dead in the eye and go “You’re Late” or “Are you finally ready to deal?” without batting an eyelash. That is the Waller we got and Davis is on point.

So what about Leto? I know some of you are waiting for it. This was the Clown Prince of Crime. This was a Joker we had never seen on the big screen,…or any for that matter. My friends and I shivered in one scene going “make him stop”. His costume choices were all from various art and comics over the years. Am I still upset that they lied and said “this isn’t the look” …when it damn well was. Yes. Did it grow on me in the movie? Mostly. I get the no teeth thing the number of times he has crossed The Bat. The ink …eh a bit overdone, but whatever, its aesthetics. Not mine, but it doesn’t detract too badly. Something one of my friends noted was how he interacted with Harley is actually what we should be seeing. It ain’t healthy folks, that might be a bit spoilerish from me – but Joker/Harley *is not healthy*. The movie only begins to hint at it and we are A-OK with that. In short (too late) he was fine.

From a technical perspective, some effects work. Some don’t. Enchantress looks and sounds amazing. It’s also the first introduction of magic and they did it well. The Killer Croc make up was absolutely incredible (thanks KNB/Greg Nicotero) and further proof why you need to go practical more Hollywood. Musically, this is the soundtrack I’ve been missing. I grew up in the 80’s with awesome movie soundtracks and I was thinking the other day how those are missing. Not anymore. It’s all it should be and a bag of chips. The editing….

*sigh*

I can count roughly…15-20 minutes of movie that is missing. I can see the lines of the reshoots. I can see where scenes were cut short, I can see where scenes are even missing. An important lesson Hollywood. Do not focus on scenes in trailers and your production stills if they don’t make it into the movie. Roughly a quarter of material from the trailers is not to be seen. While the editing isn’t as criminally bad as Ghostbusters…it is pretty bad.

TL;DR?

This is the movie I have been dreading and hoping for all summer. The wait is over and I already want a sequel. I really enjoyed the hell out of this. Please for the love of all you hold dear Geoff Johns and the rest of the producers at Warner Bros. learn the *right* lessons from this. This is how you make a superhero (villain?) movie. You gave me a good antagonist, good protagonists, people I cared about and oh yeah real characters. It wasn’t as dark and gloomy as the last two movies and if the reshoots were to thank for that – GOOD! They were worth it. Do not ever give us another BvS when you have this as an option. I am so bloody thankful that they moved away from the grey scale they were teasing us with initially. I don’t think it was planned. I think it was reaction to BvS and it was a good reaction to have.

This felt more to me of the quality of the DC Animated Universe than it did the Cinematic…and it shows as people are you know…enjoying it!

Should you see it?

Like action? Yes. Like comic book movies? Yes. Like a violence? Yes. Like Harley, Deadshot, Waller, Croc, Diablo, Katana, Enchantress? Then Yes. Yes you should see this. They earned the PG-13 Rating and it felt like the PG-13 that I grew up with versus the overly sanitized PG-13s we’ve had of late. Remember when Red Dawn and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created PG-13…yeah this is right there with them. Thankfully.

Will you buy it?

I am irritated I can’t pre order it. I just checked…

Anything else?

Give us Pamela Isley in the next film so we can see Harley move onto a nice far more stable sociopath.

Uh…

I am probably seeing it again this weekend, or next week…or something. I am still undecided on Pete’s Dragon so may see this again. I didn’t realize how much I needed this in my life until now.

Darke Reviews | Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

When it comes to comic canon and graphic novels there are a handful of seminal works, especially in the past 30 years. If you ask most fans, you will hear the following titles (not in order of importance)

  • Dark Knight Returns
  • Watchmen
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes/Season of Mists)
  • The Killing Joke

Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller are the men behind those titles. There are other titles that are up there as well, such as Powers, Preacher, Road to Perdition, Superman Red Son, All Star Superman, etc. The ones in the list though, they almost always make everyone’s lists. So when I heard that they were making The Killing Joke into a movie in the DC Animated Universe I was ecstatic. The DCAU has never failed to disappoint me and my regular readers have seen me reference them in multiple other reviews as the writing, animation, and just overall quality of work is impeccable.

So how did they do for this fan girl?

They are adapting the story from the Alan Moore Killing Joke, which pretty much changed the DC comic universe forever. Now, there are challenges here in this review as not everyone read the comic and I don’t want to spoil anything. Which is a challenge for me in this review as much as it was for Brian Azzarello who adapted the source material to screenplay. Azzarello last touched the animated scene with Batman: Gotham Knight (Working through Pain sequence), and beyond that has worked on DC Vertigo comics (same ones who gave us Sandman) and wrote some of the Wonder Woman New 52 run (which as I understand is praised).  You see, up to this point the DCAU hasn’t introduced Barbara Gordon or Batgirl, so in order for this story to work they have to create a first act which focuses on her decisions, challenges, and the life she is living.  This is a requirement as there is a population that has never really met her as they are only aware of what we have in the DCAU.

Do I agree with every decision they made? No. One of them was …ill conceived at best. Do I understand what they were trying to do with that decision? Yes. Overall, I think the first act is solid and if instead of the first act you consider it a ..prologue you will be fine. I understand a lot of reviewers have issues with it, and let’s be fair, I can equally see where they come from. I just disagree with them more than I disagree with Azzarello’s decisions on the screenplay.

Act II and III are the original material from the comic and are pretty much shot for shot and line for line. Director and Art Department Lead/Storyboard Artist Sam Liu made some wise choices in that aspect. You can absolutely tell how meticulously planned this was. Liu is no stranger to the DCAU, with several of the Batman films under his belt, including one of my favorites Assault on Arkham (it’s Suicide Squad just two years ago). You might be mistaken in thinking an animation directors job is easy. Consider that they, like their live action counterparts have to consider blocking, camera angles, how a shot moves. In fact, they have it both easier and harder. Easier in that they are not restricted by what visual effects can do or little things like physics; conversely they have to consider how the background painting, foreground, *and* characters move as they can all move independently of each other to give more motion to the narrative. I think this is one of the reasons the animated verse is so strong as they can tell a story that feels more epic and have to use every single tool at their disposal to the maximum effect, even little things like a squinted eye, a slouch, or putting your hands on another’s shoulders.

Voice acting. I will say this once. There is one Batman. His name is Kevin Conroy. You may think otherwise, but it’s ok to be wrong. You can grow from it. Mark Hamill is also the definitive voice of the Joker. Sure the live performances of Ledger, Nicholson, and Romero are legendary in their own rights, but Hamill just does it. There’s something alien about what his voice does and it lets you know you are in danger when you hear it. Troy Baker and John DiMaggio put their spin on it and do hold their own, but damnit Hamill *is* the Joker. Both he and Conroy have more screen time as their characters than anyone else in history, and likely will be reigning champions for time to come. Both also came out of retirement for the characters just to do *this* picture. That tells you how much it means to them as actors and how much they and the DCAU crew understand what it means to have them. We thank Andrea Romano and her rolodex of voice talent every time one of these comes out and this is no exception. These guys are absolutely on point here and get to share the dialogue and even a laugh that they never really did on Batman the Animated series, or the equally amazing Mask of the Phantasm. The other actors Tara Strong (normally Harley, this time Barbara) is as solid as ever, Ray Wise, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Nolan North, and others are fan favorites even in bit parts here and do what they need to; but once you are through Act I, …it’s Hamill and Conroy and nothing else matters.

TL:DR?

Batman: The Killing Joke is amazing. It is everything I wanted it to be. It does have some flaws in the new material. It also should come with a trigger warning. This absolutely earned it’s R rating and it’s not for actual violence on camera – they’ve done worse. It’s what’s implied. What they don’t show mixed with what they hint at. Much like the original work, this is not for the faint of heart or those who are uncomfortable with certain topics. The movie makes you think, they bring up topics that you should think about when you consider The Batman, The Joker, and Jim Gordon. The utter insanity in the Joker is in full swing and I really question people who idolize him. He is chaos and evil personified.

This is absolutely *not* for children. Do not let a child watch this unless you are willing or want to have that conversation. Just be aware.

I am putting a spoiler section below, as I want to discuss one of the more controversial elements in the new material.

So should I watch it?

Whew…read above. This earned it’s R rating and is not ‘fun’ or ‘light’. I would watch this again and again, but I will need to be in the right mood for it. Like when I am wanting to write something really disturbing.

Will you buy it?

Technically for this one I had to, but I have no regrets not only buying the BluRay but the BluRay special edition.

 

What’s this spoiler?

spoilers

 

Spoiler-Warning

 

Rollover to read….

Alright. So the first act focuses on Bab’s. It has to. Not everyone knows that Babs is Batgirl, or how she became Oracle. Or they only know in passing. The DCAU has barely dealt with her since the Batman Animated series. They have to tell this story to build up an emotional impact when she gets shot. 

Did she have sex with the Bat? Here. Yes. The comic? No. Hell no. She was with Dick Grayson. Do I agree with her and the Bat having sex in this movie? No, but they made it clear it was something she wanted and as an adult it was her agency and her choice. I don’t think the Bat would ever go for it with someone under his wing and I do believe this is a departure from his character. 

The painful and trigger warning part. Did the Joker sexually assault her? It’s up for debate in the comic and movie. It is *heavily* implied. Considering the earlier scenes are about her agency, and this is a violation of that of the worst kind. I know where I land on it. It is absolutely vile. It does remind you that the Joker is never a sympathetic villain, he is a monster of the worst kind. They do a good job in the movie of making the scene dark and yes disturbing without really having to show much of anything.

Is everything in the first act needed? Eh..no.
Is it the catastrophe I keep hearing about? Definitely not.

 

Darke Reviews | Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

I was wrong about many things over the years. I have even been questioning my own reviews of late as so many mediocre movies continue to come out and I don’t have the energy to write about them. To write about another film that is so middling and ‘meh’ that it isn’t even worth the energy or time to write about it. I’ve even wondered if watching movies knowing I will review them has soured me to good films. Then I think about films like The VVitch, Victor Frankenstein, The Last Witch Hunter, Krampus, and realized that it’s not me. Noticed I left off films like Deadpool and The Force Awakens? It’s because they are both critical and financial successes. They are too obvious a target to say “see I still like movies!”. The other four films are something new, something different and something to be celebrated as they try to rise and claw and bite into the sun of something more than mediocrity. Now we are living in the Snyder-Verse when we talk about the DC Cinematic Universe. This is an important distinction to make as their Animated Universe films are some of the best comic films being made these days. The Cinematic though? People seem divided.

I called it the Snyder-Verse specifically after a comment he recently made about Grant Gustin not being right for The Flash.

I just don’t think [Gustin] was a good fit. I’m very strict with this universe and I just don’t see a version where… that (tone is) not our world.

Even if Grant Gustin is my favorite guy in the world, and he’s very good, we made a commitment to the multiverse, so it’s just not a thing that’s possible.

Source: http://io9.gizmodo.com/why-zack-snyder-never-considered-grant-gustins-flash-fo-1766285179

My thoughts on Mr. Snyder.

The most polite version of the meme I could find…

I appreciate the fact that Snyder has a vision for the films. Just as Nolan did. I appreciate that the execs at DC/WB are supporting his vision. I even will go so far as to say I can understand his vision for the DCCU. I know what he is trying to achieve. It’s easy to see in the fan service to Jim Lee and Frank Miller. It’s easy to see in the colour palette, the designs, and the characterizations. This movie is going to make a boatload of money unless a miracle happens. So he will be allowed to continue his vision for the verse and the movies will maintain their dour tones.

I really wish that he was struck blind. Metaphorically speaking…

I think his vision sucks. I think that he is really good at lifting material from better writers and visionaries and tries to interpret it as his own. There are no less than six different scenes from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns in this movie. This is the universe Snyder is putting us in. The Batman costume is literally the same design. Some of the best Bat scenes are here and truth be told they made me smile when I saw them, but what he failed to notice was that was a Batman story first and foremost. The Superman in that story is portrayed like this

Yes it’s cheesy, the comic even mentions it but…

Giants walk this earth.

That is a Superman. That is a man people can look up to. That’s a hero. That is not what we got.

I am tired of mopey, dull, non-heroic Superman. I don’t need him deconstructed. The world doesn’t need him deconstructed. I am not a huge fan of Four Colour comics as a whole, but Superman belongs there. He needs to be larger than life. He *is* larger than life, something Good and something to aspire to. Even Batman is larger than life, and in his purest form something to aspire to. A man who has perfected his body and mind to be one of the best humans on the planet and doing what he does to protect people. (I did say purest form….)

This review has turned into a diatribe against Snyder and his vision rather than the movie.

His vision is the movie.

Long -nearly 3 hours.

Dull.

Dreary.

Hopeless.

There are slight glimmers of brilliance. Slight moments where something becomes more than the director himself is capable of. More than the story is capable of.

Those moments typically involve Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot. Affleck is one of the best visions of the Bat we have had since Keaton in cinematic live action tellings. The costume looks good, his fighting is good, how he operates works so well. He is a tired Bat, but I believed he WAS both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Gadot gave me someone I thought was a nigh immortal Wonder Woman in Man’s world. She was warrior, she was beautiful, she was intelligent and elegant. I am happy with her performance – as I expected to be. Alexander Luthor, as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, was hit and miss with more hits than misses. Though the misses are significant and I cannot discuss without hitting spoilers. I liked him. I bought him – mostly. His performance is not nearly as complete, as whole, as Affleck and Gadot.

Technically the movie was a bit of a train wreck. The editor couldn’t keep a single frame in camera for more than 30 seconds. I literally started counting. The CG was strong with this one and the lines were showing. When they got to the titular fight I just didn’t care. It was all spectacle without any emotion or caring put into it. Sure there were beats that had me excited but those only created emotion because someone else had done them better in other material and in another media. There were just too many other technically flawed moments through the movie to give a damn. The Batman story arc is one of the more interesting ones we’ve had in a very very long time. The Superman story arc is more of the same that we got last time with the world being too hard for the poor boy and more moping.

TL;DR?

I am not angry at this film. I am angry at Warner Bros. I am angry at Zack Snyder. I want to hate the film, but I can’t. I blame the people behind the camera. They have failed us.

Sure it’s going to make bank. I wish it wouldn’t. Sure there will be people who forgive it’s flaws and like it. I am not one of those people. We *need* to expect more. To expect better. We need to stop being satisfied with this….whatever this was.

Should you see it?

No. You will anyway, some of you will like it. I bet fans may like moments, but the whole of the film no. No you won’t.

Will I buy it?

In the bargain bin, so I can make a fan edit and remove most all the material involving Superman.

 

I am tired. I am going to keep reviewing films and trying to find the ones that are good. This is not one of them.

Darke Reviews | Constantine (2005)

So it is fortuitous that this review was requested. I had been wondering what I would review for todays post and this works out perfectly as the TV series just premiered friday as well. I am going on record saying when I first heard of this film – I refused to see it. Absolutely, Selene as my witness refused to even consider seeing this film due to the casting of Keanu Reeves as the titular character. I was a minor fan of the comic book character having enjoyed him in The Books of Magic and various other appearances with DC/Vertigo characters I knew and loved. I knew certain things of him were absolute.

  • Blonde.
  • Welsh/British
  • Chain Smoking
  • Bi Sexual
  • Witty

Of Keanu’s things he can do in a film to portray the character, chain smoke. He technically could be bisexual, but the film didn’t address it. We saw the british accent once…yeah and it was laughable. This was one of the worst possible castings I have ever come across. I was resolute in my not seeing of this film until I was one day – almost literally – tied down and forced to watch it on DVD.

So how does it do once I take off the glasses of raw seething hatred?

Let’s take a poke at the director a moment. This was his first feature film. He had just come from being a music video director and went right into this. Since then he has given us I Am Legend (I’ll review that some other time when I am feeling the need to cut myself and do that instead), Water for Elephants ( I have no comment on this, I haven’t seen it), and The Hunger Games Catching Fire. Ok, so its clear he has evolved, but did he do a bad job here? Honestly – no. He does a good job of getting performances out of his actors and controls the shot in rather inspiring ways at times. He lets angles distort our perceptions and appropriately uses colour and the visual effects to maximum effect.  There are a lot of good decisions here that show serious potential and I can see how he eventually directed Hunger Games. I can also sense a lot of studio interference.

When we talk about story we have characters created by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis for the original comic and a story by Kevin Brodbin for this. Brodbin never got much work. He did the 1996 Seagal movie the Glimmer Man, this, and the woefully underrated Mindhunters in 2004. He took a stab at the screenplay and an additional writer was brought in to fix it up if I had to guess based on the second credit of Frank Cappello.  I can’t imagine why he was brought in having really only done Suburban Commando before. Yet by their writing powers combined they actually nailed the essence of Constantine and the hidden world within our own. The movie probably has one of the best representations of a world within a world that normal people don’t or can’t see. I could watch this, The Craft, and Mortal Instruments and they almost fit seamlessly.

Ok, now this is where we usually talk about cast. I will get to Keanu last. We have a young Shia LaBeouf, mostly being Shia, but not entirely terribad. Moving on. Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, a noted character in the Vertigo verse and he nails it with all of his usual charm and screen presence. He has weight and lets it go full throttle for this film. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) is our catalyst as a LA Cop with a british accent, possibly adding to my fury at Keanu, since they were able to obviously get someone from the UK into the film. While some of these cast members are interesting and do their best, nothing really compares to these two: Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. Swinton (Narnia, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive) is Gabriel, the archangel. She uses her vaguely androgynous looks to maximum effect and is both beautiful and offputting as an angel might be. She has some of the best dialogue in the film and devours scenery like someone coming off of a fasting. Peter Stormare as Lucifer? One of *the* best performances of this character I have ever seen. Talk about scenery chewing, nothing compares to this, nothing in this film anyway. Overall, he is up there against Viggo Mortensen in the Prophecy for raw creepy pasta levels.

The visual effects in the film are remarkable strong for 2005 as well. Only one real effect is an absolute fail with the bug guy on Figueroa, aside from that there is a definite elegance on how they choose to evoke effects. The fire looks good from the Dragons Breath. The wings of demons flying by windows look good. The make up effects are *really* good, but of course they came from Stan Winston Studios and had bloody Ve “Face Off” Neill as make up department head. Even their vision of hell and the demons is not something I’ve quite seen before. Even the flying tracking shots, while a mix of cg and real work fairly well.

Now on to Keanu. Whew. I didn’t hate it. There I said it. I Didn’t hate it. While he still lacks most of Constantines charm and wit I blame that on script as much as acting. He still isn’t John Constantine, but he is the american cousin if he had one. He gets the sarcasm, the nihilism, and the chain smoking down. He gets people around him, friends, dying as par for the course, but the reality is he isn’t a bad Constantine. He isn’t great, but I will admit he got as close as the script, the studio, and his talent could allow. That of course is the downside, he isn’t great and was limited by his talent. Keanu is not charming. He doesn’t really have much in the way of charisma, even in John Wick he isn’t charismatic or charming but fun. Here we are missing some of the fun, and all of the charm.

TL;DR time.

From a purely comic book loyalty standpoint, they got a good Constantine story here. It fits, but they fubar’d the casting so badly that it was nearly unwatchable by the fanbase that could have supported the movie. If you take off those fandom goggles and just watch the film as an adaptation of John Constantine Hellblazer, then …and only then you might enjoy the film.

It is a better film than most give it credit for and Keanu is its greatest strength and weakness. He does pretty damn well for the role, but misses it just enough that it doesnt work. I do think people should give it a shot, but for the love of all that is holy in your life do not compare it to the source material. Consider it instead a Supernatural Mystery with Religious overtones.

So do I regret not seeing it in theatres? No. I think I would have hated it out of hand and never given it a shot for a decent review, coming back later I think I can be honest in saying Constantine: Not too bad actually.