Darke Reviews | Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

9 movies in the Skywalker Saga. 42 Years. Marvel is impressive with its display on Endgame, but there’s something almost mystical to the staying power of Star Wars over the course of generations. No one, and I mean no one, in 1977 could have imagined this. $1.7 Billion in production costs, $4.6 billion (non adjusted) domestic box office and almost $9.5 billion in worldwide grosses over the course of that time with all of the theatrical releases of Star Wars. Accounting for inflation since 1977 Star Wars Episode IV a New Hope is the number 1 film domestically with an equivalent $1.4 billion domestic sales. Like the movies or not, their success is undeniable. Their presence in the public consciousness and discourse is easily one of the most powerful of all fandoms of all time. I mean no offense to the Star Trek fans (of which I am one) or any other Fandom out there, but this is *the* powerhouse franchise.

This of course does not inherently mean they are good. This does not mean they are quality. This means they are consumable. They are populist.

That does not mean they are bad. That does not mean they should be discounted, dismissed, or derided for simply being popular.

Being one thing does not automatically mean another. You can be a Star Trek fan *and* a Star Wars fan. You can be popular and good. You can be good and unpopular. You can be popular, profitable, and bad.

Why am I not talking about Rise of Skywalker yet?

It comes down to the rhetoric around the franchise that has grown in recent years. The originals are heralded and to critique them is to bring wrath, the prequels are debated but no one could say its a hot take to say they are widely considered “not good”; and now the new trilogy is contentious and polarizing. The Force Awakens: It’s too much like the original. Next movie. What is this it’s not star wars! Let me ask a question: What is Star Wars? defintively and not open for any argument. What is it that makes something Star Wars and be explicit! Just remember if someone says thats not it…you didn’t answer correctly! No one could answer that I think. I might be wrong, and there are thousands of frothing toxic “fans” that might think they can answer those and they are objectively right. They will mock, cajole, and even threaten harm to anyone who disagrees with their way of thinking. They are a very dangerous and vocal group and they exist everywhere and Star Wars is one of their battlegrounds.

Now, for me, Star Wars is a feeling. It is Space Fantasy. There are wizards. Light swords. Blasters. Spaceships. Aliens. Fascist threats and a strong, but small group of misfits fighting against them. It’s moments in time and beats that hit just right with some of the best musical cues ever written. It’s the power of hope and friendship over darkness and oppression.

Does The Rise of Skywalker meet my criteria?

The short answer is Yes.

The long answer is significantly longer. I cannot say I unabashedly love this movie. It has some flaws and they do need to be discussed.

I could write about how the movie regularly feels like it is both trapped by and needs to apologize for The Last Jedi. Both of these were wrong assertions by director J.J. Abrams and the Disney production leaders. It almost feels as if they were confused as to how they got where they are and the resulting pacing, editing, and story content is a slapdash overreaction to inaccurate criticism. There is a lot going on in this movie and much of it comes from nowhere or you sit and ask yourself – why did they have to do it *that* way. Characters are introduced who literally served no purpose other than to fulfill JJ’s nepotistic like behavior; while others are relegated to that of a “Sexy Lamp” and could be excised with no impact. Literally every fault *I personally* have, and there are more, with this movie I can lay solidly on Abrams as he gets screenplay credit with Chris Terrio (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League). Sure the story is by ousted director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World & Fallen Kingdom, Book of Henry) and Derek Connolly (Detective Pikachu, Kong: Skull Island), but since it’s clear Terrio and Abrams had final script and then Abrams is in the directors chair – any dialogue, plot, or other beats that don’t work are on him and him alone. Also worth mentioning while the movie does violate my Rule of Three its clear they do remember the rule of three in storytelling.

Thankfully, there is a lot that does work.

The OT3 that is Finn, Rey, and Poe (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac) are the beating heart of the movie and the emotion that drives it forward with every interaction. Abrams gets credit for the performances as director, but these three had to do the real work and work they did. Adam Driver gets to spread a bit here and what we see is good. I can only imagine the finished product had our Space Mom been with us to see this to fruition. I hope you are resting well and flipping people off where ever you may be Carrie. The rest of the cast does well, but I have to give Joonas Suotamo as our new Chewbacca some love for his performance and stepping into some very big shoes, literally and figuratively.

The visuals were excellent and evocative as ever. It was awesome to hear an easy 50% of the Stormtrooper voices be women. This movie may have one of my favourite emotionally weighted lightsaber battles ever. I could go on and on with the amount I loved out of this movie, but an easy 60% of it is spoiler territory.

TL;DR?

I have watched this movie twice now and am quite satisfied with it. From title crawl and anthem blare to the close of credits I am happy with what I got. It may not be my favourite of them all, but damn if I am not content with this. Even as I write this section out I am realizing how much I do like it and how its making me feel.

So should I see it?

If you’ve seen this many or any – yeah.

Would you watch it again?

Too late. Though bigger screens and better sound systems are recommended.

I guess you are buying it?

You would be guessing correctly.

So you kinda sounded negative on it overall?

I think the movie has flaws. Some more glaring than others to me. Some decisions I don’t agree with thematically against this trilogy. All of that is true, but this is one of those movies who can have the flaws I’ve mentioned and still overcome them. If it is flawed that deserves to be acknowledged so Disney and Abrams can learn and grow; but I do not want to take away from my final feelings.

I like this movie. I think people should see it. I saw it again with one of the members of my Dark Court and we spent a 30 minute drive back to work geeking out over the details and fan service we did catch from lightsabers to dialogue to certain spoiler territory things I want to scream in joy about but can’t. Sure Abrams may hit the nostalgia button a lot, OK I think he’s just sitting on it now, but that isn’t the worst thing. Abrams has opportunity to grow from this and mature into a style that goes beyond pop culture nostalgia. Do I think he will? No, but he could.

The movie shines when our three heroes and one villain get to stretch their wings and fly. They are what kept me engaged, not watching some callback to a thing that happened in this one movie one time.  This movie made me FEEL on more than one occasion and that isn’t that easy these days. They gets a lot of credit for that.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting and deeply satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

May the Force be with you, always.

or alternatively for those like me: May the Force Free you.

 

Darke Reviews | Frozen II (2019)

For many people Avengers Endgame was their most anticipated movie of the year, for others it might have been It Chapter 2, and others still Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker next month. All of those were, or are, eagerly anticipated by me true; but this – this right here tops the list without fail. My review of Frozen was early in my “career” and doesn’t have what’s become my trademark closings, but I stand by the review. The original movie is kind of a mixed bag, music drops off at the half way point and some of the songs don’t work. I still avoid doing research into a movie before writing the review, but have more easily picked up edits and such. I called it in the original review that there were a lot of last minute edits, I just didn’t realize the scale and scope of them and that the majority came in the two to three months prior to release.

Since then I have more or less become an Elsa to many, and in my own head if were being honest, and she is part of who I am now. There are the Facebook tags and the running joke of being summoned at the sight of an Elsa meme. Whenever anything Frozen or Elsa comes out, I get tags or people pleading for me to stop the snow (NO!). I have an extensive collection to Elsa and Frozen and have easily listened to Let it Go over a thousand times without exaggeration.

The cold still doesn’t bother me anyway. Did this sequel?

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return to the writing and directing chairs, but not alone. Kristen Lopez Anderson and Robert Lopez who did the music for the original also get story credits. Additionally Marc Smith, likely for his work on the short Frozen Fever and contributing in the writers room. Unlike last time this story feels far more cohesive and music as much part of the story as the script and truly moves it along in many cases; albeit on the nose more than a few times. The writers were smart here and did something few other franchises have and aged their characters a respective number of years, but more than that they aged them with their audience. This sequel is for the fans of Frozen. The characters have grown as the children (and adults) who loved the original have and the story is written for them. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough for the newest generation and judging from the laughs I heard they got it too.

The writers do something else not often seen in a sequel – the characters don’t regress. Often in sequels you see characters falling into the behaviors they were trapped by or grew out of in the course of the original movie because someone can’t figure a new plot. Here that is not that the case. In fact the entire plot is original as near as I can tell as I have never seen *this* story told before. So we have two major things that sequels fail to do overcome by supported, competent writers who are also clearly listening to their audience.

The plot is as shown in the trailers; with Elsa hearing a mystical sirens call that no one else can hear. During a night something changes and Arendelle falls into danger once more. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven must go north and solve and old mystery from their past. Danger, magic, and beauty await them in the mystic forest. Together they forge their way through and….

What? No spoilers duh.

The acting in the movie is fine by the way. Its hard for it not to be with the same cast returning to characters they’ve become recognized as for the past half decade. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff fall back into it as naturally as if they had literally been these characters for the last six years. I was sad to see that Maurice LaMarche (Brain) did not reprise his role as the king in the flashbacks in this film. I am never going to forget meeting him in my Elsa costume a few months after coming out as Transgender and him using the fathers voice and changing the line, “Don’t conceal, feel, let it show.” I cried for a solid five minutes after and he may never know how much that meant. We do get some new voice talent in the form of Sterling K Brown (This is Us, Black Panther), Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld, True Blood, and biseuxal icon), Jason Ritter (Gravity Falls, Drunk History), and Rachel Matthews (Happy Death Day) and as expected on a production like this no one phones it in.

There is of course the music and I am happy to say the movie remembered it was a musical from the beginning to the end and somehow oddly breaks more than a few normal musical theatre conventions in the process. While not every song will be for everyone, there are more songs for everyone here. Kristen Lopez Anderson and Robert Lopez wisely do not try to do something that one ups let it go. You can’t. They didn’t try. They do hit another anthem however that has nearly as a powerful message that will be resonating with folks for some time. Let it Go still reigns, even if the movie pokes a joke at its expense (its a good one), but songs like Into the Unknown and Show Yourself will do what they were very very clearly and intentionally meant to. The highs aren’t AS high and the lows aren’t as low as Frozen, but they are more consistent and consistently at a higher caliber.

The animation though, here is where this movie absolutely explodes. This is, for me and my Dark Court tonight, hands down one of the most beautiful Disney animated movies ever put to screen. The colour contrasts, the brilliant pops and attention to detail, lights, shadows, bloom, depth of field, its all there. That’s not even getting into the motion and the beauty of that. There were several shots in the movie where we thought it was photo real. It is THAT good on this front.

TL;DR?

I don’t want to oversell this movie. I am going to tell you I definitely prefer it to the original for its consistency and improved musical control. I cannot tell you how much I love the animation and how just beautiful the entire production is. I am still trying not to oversell this film. It is GOOD. Possibly even great. It didn’t meet all of my expectations and does have some flaws I couldn’t overlook entirely, but they don’t take away from the final piece in the same way the original did with its flaws.

What I can tell you with confidence is that two seats down from me there was an 8 or 9 year old girl singing along with every song happily. It was pure and almost as adorable as baby Yoda (I said almost!). I could hear the kids in the theatre laughing, singing, and cheering as the movie went on and adults too. I often complain about who is a movie made for? Who asked for this? Well in this case, we did. We got what we asked for (mostly) and it showed in the reactions of everyone in the theatre and even listening to people as they were leaving and the conversations we could hear happening around us.

That’s what this kind of art exists for and I am glad of it.

Would you watch it again?

Yeah, when do you wanna go? You buy? I’ll buy my own if needed. I do like it. The bigger the screen and sound system the better. I can only imagine this on an IMAX screen.

So buying it then?

I just checked, its not on pre-order yet.

Right, so trying not to oversell it huh?

Seriously not. I had to manage my expectations going in and this movie exceeded those expectations. It has flaws, more than a handful, but they do not take away from the whole and I spent two hours really enjoying myself and just watching some very very gorgeous moving art.

Any parting thoughts then?

The movie will introduce those who look her up to Norweigan singer Aurora and her music, which I am going to be exploring myself over the next few days. Also everyone is going to love either the Salamander or the Nokk or both.

Darke Reviews | Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Yeah I know this one has been out a bit, sadly travel prevented me from seeing it on release. I was tempted to see it last weekend, but I wasn’t up for writing three reviews. Where’s the Zombieland Double Tap review? I’ll get to it…eventually. The other deciding factor on this one was having my Dark Court with me, who always make movies better.  They weren’t able to attend on the weekend so instead of either of this weeks releases, Black and Blue (not at my theatre 😦 ) or Countdown which may still be on the docket, we see Maleficent Mistress of Evil. Now when Maleficent came out in 2014 I was one of the voices saying this is good. This is better than folks are giving it credit for. I stand by that even now, where while it may not have been the box office success of some of the later remakes, I still think it was one of the more successful ones as it went and changed the story so dramatically and dared to be different from the formula. Just like the high points in Aladdin were where they did something new, the entirety of Maleficent was a new take. So five years later we get a sequel, because Disney really can’t help themselves.

Should you see it or prick your finger on a spindle and take a nap?

Linda Woolverton (The Lion King 1994, Beauty and the Beast) returns as a story and screenplay writer for the Mistress of Evil. Joining her on screenplay duty is Noah Harpster (Transparent, the upcoming Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Transparent, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). The story is not nearly as complex or fascinating as the original here. Everything the trailer showed you is the basic premise and there is very little else to expect beyond that. Philip proposes to Aurora, Maleficent disapproves, they go to dinner with Philip’s parents, things go bad, things get worse,….then get better. Happily ever after maybe? I mean it is Disney so it’s hard to say that’s a spoiler. If anything the screenplay is the weakest element of this movie, the dialogue is about as upfront and in your face as it is going to get without a bullhorn screaming at you going “Do you see what we are doing here?” There are some significant flaws in the screenplay and story that would require me to hit actual spoiler territory, but after some of the elegance of the original one this one pales in comparison.

Thankfully director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Carribean: Deadmen Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki) is able to salvage most of it. While here some of the choices don’t work, the majority do and he does treat the audience to some wonderful set ups and payoffs as well as far more subtle acting and nuance than you typically get in a film like this. What seems odd is Rønning  as a directorial choice. I feel, and I could be wrong, that Disney has him in a three movie contract since Pirates 4 and there’s a better director inside trying to get out. There’s an attempt at a vision in here that holds and does it’s best to elevate the movie, but hampered either by screenplay or producers I can’t say it never quite lands where it needs to. That isn’t to say he doesn’t salvage it, because he absolutely does as this would have been a straight to DVD or straight to the bin with a lesser director. Even here though there are some choices made that left me feeling sour with the movie and only mostly redeemed by other moments.

Acting wise? Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning are still some of the top tier actors of the decade, they could have done this movie in their sleep and didn’t. They put the effort in and this is where some of the real positive directorial choices happen as well. Rønning, Jolie, and Fanning know enough about their craft to make moments work that bring you back into the world of the movie and invest you in the outcome. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) makes Philip more than one note, barely, but he does. Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Free Fire) returns as Diaval and puts heart in where its needed and good characterization.  Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor are wasted, but do what they can with what they have. Michelle Pfeiffer on the other hand has decided that she is hungry for scenery. She didn’t quite hit Jeremy Irons levels of over the top, but she was reaching for it.

Visually the movie is a treat. It brings the magic back from the first and generally speaking looks great through out with only a handful of shots not quite holding up. There’s a magnificent shot of Maleficent at one point in the film where you get to see her wings as they attach to her body and there’s a level of detail to it you cannot deny.

TL;DR?

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a Disney sequel. While I did enjoy myself and was engaged in the story, there are enough elements into it that detract that I can’t say it’s of the same quality as the first. When I consider the writers on the movie I think I can see the problem at its core.  There is something just ultimately unsatisfying through the movie. It’s not that it was cheap, that no one tried, or anything like that. There’s just a lack of clear vision on the movie, it does tell a coherent story but takes no action to elevate it or the characters.

Should I see it?

Well if you haven’t already you have about a week or two to try. Matinee at best.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatres no.

Buying it?

Yeah I am pretty sure I am. I know I really talked the movie down, but I was expecting and wanting more than I got from it. That’s on me I suppose.

You do seem conflicted on this one…

Not so much conflicted. I am calling out the flaws in a work that I still enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I could have. There’s real effort put into it, but it doesn’t amount as high or as much as it could have. It’s visually very pretty, the characters are fine if a bit over the top at times, but there’s all this build up and so little pay off through the various stages of the movie. It could have used another pass on the script maybe or another trip through the editing room. There was a lack of fang to the movie I suppose.

The movie DID make me feel though. That alone keeps it from being purely mediocre or meh and into the solidly Ok category.

So it’s good…I guess?

Not much of a conclusion there I know. Next week though you will get to see if we get the rug pulled out from under us again with Terminator Dark Fate.

 

 

Darke Reviews | The Lion King (2019)

How precisely are we going to discuss the Lion King going forward? You can’t really call this the live action one. It’s not the hottest take I know I know. I could poke fun if you say the 94 one is the original and pull out the receipts about Kimba the White Lion. That wouldn’t be entirely fair, no one consciously ripped off of a thirty year old animated TV series when they made the Lion King, but it’s disingenuous to say that the animators, writers, or even actors weren’t taking some childhood inspiration from it. Writers today might incidentally crib from Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Carpenter, some random episode of Silverhawks, He-Man, or Thundercats. The things we watch as children carry on and inspire creatives today. I couldn’t escape some of the dialogue from The Last Unicorn if I tried and I wouldn’t want to. Wanna bet me that “That’s what heroes are for” is going to make it into one of my stories or more than one? All of that said we have a Lion King twenty five years later.

Should it have stayed in the shadows?

Let’s sit down and chat about the writing. We have of course the “characters” credit you may see. This is just giving credit to the original writers, Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. The story credit on 2019 goes to Brenda Chapman, who was one of 27 (!!!!) writers credited on the original, but ultimately she also gets the Story Supervisor thus making it hers for this one, while the three previous names were the “screenplay” credits. Wow that’s convoluted. There is however a new credit for Jeff Nathanson (Speed 2, Rush Hour 2, Pirates 4); who apparently is a script doctor that gets a lot of uncredited work on movies like Twister and the original Rush Hour. If this man is a script doctor please take away his license to practice. Mister Nathanson, you literally took the script from the original word for word and ….did nothing with it. Wait, you did. You changed the dialogue on a handful of scenes that are iconic and changed them for the…lesser. You did nothing. Nothing else.

Jon Favreau the director who brought us Iron Man and the Jungle Book, but also Cowboys & Aliens does not escape my ire. Much like Nathanson you did…nothing. You were a glorified parking lot attendant telling people to go to the place they already knew to go. Your storyboard was the original movie and you didn’t deviate from it. Except, when you did. In those decisions you took a tight 88 minute movie and made it 118 minutes with nothing new to show for it of any measure. Except I don’t think you got a say in it, hence the traffic attendant with some producer at Disney saying “Do this exactly as we tell you and we will fund your next movie”. As the director, you are responsible for the look of the shots and the performances of your actors, but add a musical and now you are responsible for how those songs play out. To borrow from a greater movie, when you are called before your maker and asked why you did something, “I Was told thusly” is not sufficient. Mr Favreau, Jon…Jon you ruined one of the great Disney villain songs. (Side note comment on the post here on FB if you want me top 10 disney villain list). How do you ruin one of the easiest songs? I mean Aladdin didn’t include theirs, but you actually…ruined yours. Then your ballad,…I want you to look at the lyrics, Now look at your shots. Look at the lyrics again. Write on the chalkboard 1,000 times why you were wrong.

Actors! On stage. Ok…you did fine. No, that’s it. You were fine. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, 12 Years a Slave), you nailed Scar. While you lacked Iron’s ham, you had your own gravitas and made it work. Clearly the best in the lot. Mr Jones, good to have you back sir. Why did they auto tune you though? You still have it. Yes, you sound different, but you are still epic. Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Star Trek: First Contact) you exude class as Sarabi. Who else who else, oh yes, Florence Kasumba. You made the Hyena matriarch Shenzi flipping intimidating and even a bit scary at times. Well done. Like seriously well done. The rest of the performances are just average, yes including Beyonce. It’s just meh.

There is also a lot of critique on the expressionless animations going around since the trailers dropped. I have news for you, its intentional. I understand what the animators were going for. This is Disney showing off just how good they are at generating photo realistic animals and terrain. That is almost literally all this movie is. They went for a naturalistic animal expression, motions, and body language. Even animalistic ticks as they are even just standing around are present. Due to that the more human facial expressions we are used to from animation never make it across. 90% of the time the animations are amazing and beautiful, if emotionless, but its the other 10% that concern me. How, how in an entirely computer generated movie do you create shots that look like they are on green screen or against a matte painting? Follow up question – why would you?

TL;DR?

There are going to be a lot of people who like this movie. There were people in my showing who clapped for it. Myself and my Dark Court were not among them. With the Court it rated a meh at best, and to be fair that is all it is at best. I can forgive a bad movie that is a meh because it tried. I can forgive an original movie or even the odd remake that is a meh because they tried something original and appreciate it for what it does. Disney doesn’t get that slack.

Disney is a studio who has made $2.1 billion this year in the America alone. That’s with a B and only on 9 movies. The next closest studio is at $894 million with 23 movies released. Disney also has Maleficent 2, Frozen 2, and Star Wars coming this year. You don’t get a pass on Meh anymore, especially with tentpole productions. I actively dislike this movie.

Wow, ok should I see it?

No. Look just put the animated in. Share it with your kids and be happy.

Would you see it again?

No. I will see Aladdin again over this.

I am guessing…

I won’t buy it. You are correct.

Parting thoughts then?

I wasn’t hopeful for this movie to begin with. It met my expectations. I go back to what I said in the Aladdin review, Disney is at its best on these when it deviates from the original in new and inventive ways. The writing is bad enough I want to shake the writer and remind them of the Rule of three. I want to flog the editors for some of the weirdest pacing and cutting decisions that take away from many scenes which should have had emotional weight to them but just looked confused or rushed.

Also – how, how in Turings name did you make a stampede with no energy? A fight between lions and hyenas that just was…ok? That is unacceptable when you have no limitations on its capabilities.

I cannot recommend the Lion King to anyone – but alas I know it will make a few hundred million.

If nothing else we have a potentially good Mulan movie next spring?

 

Darke Reviews | Aladdin (2019)

One of the times where I need to put the year not just to cover when I released the review, but also to make sure it’s clear as to which version of the movie I am talking about – even within the same studio. To be fair 27 years is long enough between versions. Though as I write this it just struck me why we claim to be so tired of remakes, when remakes are as old as Hollywood itself. Access. We have more access than ever before to almost any movie ever made any time we want. This really began in my own childhood as VHS became widely accessible and cable began to sink its claws into the world giving us more channels airing more of our favourites. Then came (and went) laser disc, only to be eclipsed by DVD, then BluRay, now Digital. You love The 1992 Aladdin and likely have watched it more than a dozen times, and if you have kids shared it with them as well. It’s never faded from memory because we have it on demand by our own hands. Now to be fair, I am not demonizing the audience for liking what they like and wanting what they want. I am just being a bit introspective as to why we might be judging some of the studios as harshly as we do.

This isn’t to say they don’t also deserve it. They are part of the access issue and let’s face it with few exceptions Disney hasn’t exactly thrilled everyone with these live action remakes. I suppose with Lion King this year we should just call it a Digital Remake. The same might as well be said for this one too, though not to the same extent. For me Maleficent was one of the best of the live action remakes because they remixed the story and did something new with it rather than a shot for shot remake.

So should we just put Aladdin back in the lamp?

The script this time was penned by John August who is credited for work on about a solid third of Tim Burton’s work from Big Fish (yay) to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (special hell for you), to Dark Shadows (I will put you in that hell myself), and Frankenweenie’s 2012 remake. Guy Ritchie clearly did enough rewrites to get his name on the screenplay and of course he is in the directors chair. I am surprised after King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that Disney took a chance on him, but here we are and yes they did. More is the pity.

Let me be clear (I almost typed straight but I’ll never be that), I did enjoy parts of the movie and I don’t hate it. This will seem incongruous to the lambasting I am about to give it so I wanted to make sure you knew early. This film has no energy with one exception and that exception is not Will Smith. Somehow and I don’t know how precisely they took One Jump and Prince Ali and put on the display, put on the words, but it had no energy to it or passion to it. Even the opening Arabian Nights just doesn’t have the right sound to it as it desperately tries to emulate the original. Sure there are changes, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is they try to hit the rise and sound as large but they don’t. They fall just short of it every, single, time. Guy Ritchie made ONE JUMP BORING. HOW? How does a director known for such kineticism take a song born to be kinetic and make it flat. The musical numbers aren’t the only issue. Some scenes are truncated, but not to the movies benefit as it introduces new complexity that isn’t handled well. With one exception I will get to into in a moment the movie is simultaneously rushed and too long at the same time. More than a few of the changes made to story and events we all know aren’t just different, but are flat out weaker on their own and by comparison. It sort of is a mess in that regard.

What saves the movie is the actors. First things first, Will Smith is fine and reminded me of the Smith of old with his charisma and makes Genie his own. He doesn’t try to mimic Robin Williams, but they don’t stray far enough that you forget him. Mena Massoud is fine as Aladdin when the direction and script let him be. He was clearly hired for a smile that can light a room from across a country and that isn’t a bad thing. The boy does his best and starts to overcome everything against him, until they get him to sing. Then the flatness harms, but at least he and Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) have charisma together. He does all he can, but she just does it better. When it comes to the heavy lifting of the movie it’s all on Scott and she does it. She is the powerhouse, from song to performance to character arc.  Prior to this I had no idea she could sing and I am pretty impressed with what I got. Nasim Pedrad also adds some of the charm to the movie as Jasmine’s handmaiden and is definitely one of the brighter spots, in the film. I tried, I tried to buy Marwan Kenzari (Murder on the Orient Express, Ben-Hur) as Jafar, but he didn’t have the necessary venom. He was flat as many of the other performances and emotional depth of the movie beyond Scott. I don’t blame him, I blame Ritchie and August. Mostly Ritchie.

TL;DR?

The movie is fine. It’s passable. It’s just irritatingly mundane. As the Dark Princess who attended with me tonight said, they did everything safe. Everything. There is not a single choice made that wasn’t the safe one to make. Some of the changes and inserts made were ridiculously safe for 2019 and with but one exception did not add to the movie in any way. The CG ends up looking better than we got on the trailers, but that only harms the final product as there is a ridiculous amount of CG so the Genie ends up looking odd since he is coded to be more photo real.

Guy Ritchie was the wrong choice for this movie and while there were some more Bollywood style shots, costuming, lighting, and set design – next time give it to a director from Bollywood. It’s hard for me to forget the initial casting news from this one and it does colour my opinion of the final product. You may think that isn’t fair, but I have to ask would a different director have been able to get the right passion and made the right choices? I mean obviously a different director would have made different choices, but would a Bollywood director have given us the BETTER choices.

Aladdin 2019 will suffer by comparison to the original and that suffering is earned. It only improves one or two things, but again doesn’t stick the landing on those things.

Should I see it though?

Meh? I guess. Like I mentioned in the tomb diving part above, I am fairly displeased with so many of the decisions in the movie, BUT….I don’t hate it.  So take my review at face value and make your choice accordingly.

Would you see it again?

For some of the Naomi Scott scenes? Yes, but…

But you’ll buy it and not in the theatre

You got it.

Any parting thoughts on this one?

I am not hopeful for the Lion King?

 

Darke Reviews | Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Chim Chim-in-ey, Chim Chim-in-ey, Chim Chim cher-ee! Lyrics I sing at random to this day. I am sure for others it’s a Spoonful of Sugar, and even others still want to go Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I suppose even some may go dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes, but thats going a bit far don’t you think? So with children from the late 50s and early 60’s coming into contact with dear Ol Mary Poppins, to those of us in the 70’s and 80’s thanks to the Wonderful World of Disney, and the advent of VHS its safe to say the original movie has earned its reputation as a beloved classic. We all have the nostalgia glasses on for the original regardless of our feelings now, so the concept of a sequel coming out 54 years after the original is a bit jarring, wouldn’t you say?

Does it still have the magic though?

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods, Memoirs of a Geisha) , along with his partner John Deluca (Choroegrapher on Chicago and Nine), provided us the screenstory for this and David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland) wrapped that work up and converted it to a screenplay. They remembered what it was like to have a sense of wonder again, to turn things upside down and look at the world as if it had magic again. The story at times may be a little (a lot) on the nose with some more current trends; there is almost always a sense of the fantastical as the story unfolds. Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family, roughly 20 years after the events of the last film. The Banks family is out of money and time before they lose their home, but our wonderous Nanny comes in to provide some much needed lesson and perhaps a sense of adventure as well. If anything the flaws in the story are that it is just a bit too straight forward in its symbolism and meanings; but when making a movie for children of all ages great and small – is that really a bad thing?

The unfortunate bad thing is that the songs just do not work nearly as well. They aren’t bad by any stretch, but I can’t forsee anyone remembering these fifty years down the line. The movie does go full musical and there are far more songs than I remember in the original, but everyone puts on a good show and I can’t fault that at all. I just wish the dance routines, the songs themselves had just that little something extra to make their magic come alive in the same way the visuals did. You can see the songs that Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Smash) was going for when he worked out the lyrics and beats for the music and while they are lovely homages to 1964, I can barely tell you any of the lyrics now as I write this review. This isn’t a matter of repetition either, most of us may have only watched Mary Poppins a few times as children but we remember those songs to this day, none of these truly hit that and its a bit saddening.

Emily Blunt of course is practically perfect in every way and was the only real choice for the role. We knew she could sing and dance thanks to Into the Woods, and her class and charm are without question – who else could be Mary Poppins now? She brought the same type of personality that Dame Andrews did, and also remembered how to bring the more subtle, quiet moments as well. Rather than a sweep, we have Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamp lighter named Jack, who fills the exact same niche that Dick Van Dyke did all those years ago. Miranda has fantastic screen presence and anyone who thinks the man can’t sing or dance should be flogged accordingly; and thankfully he does not try for a cockney accent. Ben Wishaw (Q in the recent James Bond movies) as our grown up Michael (the child from the first film) despite being 38 doesn’t look old enough to be the part of a father of three. It might be a combination of his clothing and his natural youthful appearance but he really does look like a boy trying to be a man. Perhaps that’s the point though? The three children Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson ride that edge of being too much at times, but really do have what it takes to keep the audience endeared to them.  It was nice to see Julie Walters (Molly Weasley you muggle) again, even in the bit role she had; which can also be said for perennial villain David Warner (Tron, Titanic) in a far more pleasant and amusing role as Admiral Boom.

The costuming was amazing. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. When we get into our second animated-live-action hybrid sequence the look and style of the costumes are just so perfect. Overall the entire production design was spot on and let me feel like I was in that early London period. If anything there is a flaw in that it doesn’t feel like sets this time and is more real. Odd thing to call as a flaw. At 2 hours and 10 minutes though it does feel a bit long, but I checked and the original runs 2 hours and 19 so…improvements?

TL;DR

Mary Poppins Returned. From an opening credits of chalk art and matte paintings that reminded me and my partner tonight of vintage Disney, to the time of CINEMA and Audrey and the classics, to the true sense of joy of being a child again (if only for 2 hours and 10 minutes); the movie is absolutely cute. It is charming and nostalgic at the same time without being condescending or manipulative about it. While none of the musical sequences themselves made me want to sing along, coming out of the movie I was light on my feet and was dancing through the parking lot of the theatre.

The movie does lack some of the quieter beats the original held and has some more modern film making flaws cooked into it that would be inescapable, it really is a solid work. It’s a project born of love for the stories of Mary Poppins and a movie from 1964 and it does show in every frame. This is the definition of a family film that could satiate multiple generations and could become a holiday classic at home for some families.

Should I see it?

If what you want is that sense of child like wonder again and a sense of the nostalgic beyond pop culture, you would be well served to see this. I do really believe this is an excellent family film for all.

Would you see it again?

Quite likely, but that would be after seeing Anna and the Apocalypse or Spider-Man again. Still worth a rewatch though.

So you are buying it?

No doubt in my mind.

Anything else on the movie?

I think my estimates on its weekend take are about right, but I do wish people would see this instead of Aquaman. I will also say that the cameo’s by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury brought me to tears, especially Lansbury. Not all of the songs worked for me, but the magic did. This is nostalgia worth experiencing and hit the spot for that sense of wonder.

Also Mary Poppins is a Time Lord. Fight me.

Darke Reviews | Wreck it Ralph 2 – Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ok so that took longer than I was expecting to decide what to title this. Apparently most of the sources are going by the short title now “Ralph Breaks the Internet” so that’s a thing that happened. Last year I forgot that with the Wednesday pre thanksgiving release, the movie gets its preview night showings on the Tuesday as Wednesday is the full release. Around 6:30 tonight I remembered. So you get your review as usual the day of the release since most of you are reading this in the morning. As the year winds down we always have the big Disney release on this weekend and this year is no different and for the first time in forever its a sequel; something Disney does not do well historically on their own, Pixar being it’s own beast in that vein. Of course I am nervous about my sequel Frozen 2 and what that might look like, but we aren’t here to read about that.

Did they Wreck it or Fix it?

Not that 2012’s Wreck it Ralph needed to be fixed really and it doesn’t surprise too much that it would get a sequel as it made almost half a billion dollars domestically. The story was sweet, the threat was impressive, and the characters weren’t quite like anything we had been given before; which was a breath of fresh air into the Disney sails. Six years later, and five writers (eep) we have our sequel. The story credits here go to Josie Trinidad (head of story, and a Disney story artist on Tangled, Princess and the Frog and Wreck it Ralph), Pamela Ribon (story by on Moana), Jim Reardon (story by on Wreck it Ralph, Zootopia, and WALL-E),  Phil Johnston (Zootopia, and Wreck it Ralph), AND Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck it Ralph). Whew, five writers is usually a bad sign, but not unusual on a major Disney production as there is often a writers room involved. The screenplay was then polished by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon, and directed by Johnston and Moore. So everyone is deeply involved in the production along the way here.

The story is as we see in the trailers, Vanellope von Schweetz game Sugar Rush has a bit of a physical break. Only one place on the Internet has the part needed to fix her game, and it is more pricey than the Arcade owner is willing to spend – which means he may shut down the game forever. In order to get the new part Ralph and Vanellope go to the Internet and attempt to save Sugar Rush and Vanellope’s game. Along the way adventure and hijinks ensue where our characters travel to familiar internet hotspots and meet or run into characters we all know and love.

The story here is basic and sweet guys, do you expect much more? It has all of the very predictable, and to me somewhat annoying, ups and downs of any given Buddy movie ever made. That isn’t a bad thing at all. Sometimes basic is good and here it works. The message within the movie is something the real target audience could use and again this is not a bad thing and honestly its so direct that the message might sink in. So many kids movies try to be subtle in the message or shove in some motivational language or ham fisting their message as a line of dialogue at the end. This one actually uses it as a through line and I appreciate it for that.

John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman carry the movie as one would imagine as our main two protagonists and it really isn’t much effort on their part, but the emotion is there in the performances. Gal Gadot and Taraji P Henson are show stealers as their characters Shank and Yesss. The rest of the voice cast is filled with names you will know and yes, the Disney Princesses are all voiced by their still existing voice actresses when and where possible. A personal favourite voice actress, Jennifer Hale, voices Cinderella of the broken shoe. No she’s nothing “special” within the context of the movie, I just like the actress.

The animation is everything you’d expect from the House of Mouse, no better and no worse. It’s clean. It’s bright. It’s crisp. It’s animated in both the literal and figurative sense. There’s so much motion going on in the film at almost all times there’s something to be said for the work put in there. The Disney Princess scene from the trailer is everything promised and more, even for being as short as it is.

TL;DR?

Look it’s Disney. It’s good. It’s a kids movie coming out on Thanskgiving. It won’t change the world. I can’t say it’s great. It absolutely is the movie you are expecting it to be with nothing more and nothing less given or shown. The scene everyone wants to see from the trailer is absolutely worth the price of admission and the racing scenes promised are pretty awesome to watch when you consider the amount of animation effort that goes into them.

My friends and I had a good time tonight. So take your best friend, your family, whomever and go see it. I bet you wanted to anyway!

Should I see it?

If you wanted to? Absolutely. You will get your moneys worth. If you weren’t all that interested, this movie won’t be change your mind that much one way or the other.

Would you see it again?

Maybe on a matinee. I’d pay full price the first time, but second Matinee is fine

Buying it?

It has Elsa in it. Of course I am buying it. Also its solid enough to be in the collection and has some pretty good rewatch value.

Anything else on it?

It has Elsa in it.

I have a mighty need for her “casual” outfit from this movie.

 

Ultimately folks, the movie is as sweet as it is harmless. It has a good message and is the family film that people have been waiting awhile for this fall. Go see it and enjoy.