Darke Reviews | A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Of course I haven’t read Madelien L’Engles book. Have we met? Yes, I know it came out in 1962 and was popular in middle schools and high schools everywhere. I was reading other things like Stephen King, Clive Barker, and everything I could get on vampires at the time. Regardless of that fact, along with Black Panther this was one of my more anticipated movies of the year. Why? Because 

Image result for Representation Matters

^ This ^

Beyond that, even though it bears repeating every time it comes up until it sinks in with those in the back, the film itself also looked like a modern fairy tale mixed with science – two things I adore. I suppose the question then is

How was the movie?

Let’s mix it up a bit shall we? Let’s talk about Storm Reid. She’s 14. She has to carry a movie that cost over $100 million to make. She has to avoid being a blank slate, avoid the pitfalls of the “she’s just a child actor”, sell being an actual human being with facets. Someone with anger, love, fear, doubt, uncertainty about herself and her worth, and her image. She also has to be likable while being all of this. She has to have chemistry with her cast, especially Chris Pine as the movie hinges ultimately on them being able to sell the relationship of father daughter and what they would do for each other.

I’d like to say, no I will say: She succeeds.

This movie would collapse around its (many) flaws if it weren’t for this child. The earnestness of her performance and it’s actual complexity allowed me and my film partner tonight to get lost in the film and feel. We both identified with this character (probably a bit too much) not because of her being an “everywoman/everyman” a tabula rasa to imprint on and see ourselves in. We saw ourselves in her because of her flaws. her quirks of personality, and her world view. Reid makes the character a compelling one when I’ve seen the majority of adults fail at such tasks.

She isn’t alone, 9 Year Old Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace and 15 Year old Levi Miller’s Calvin play with the same heart and conviction on dialogue that really doesn’t work; yet somehow they made it work. Chris Pine reminds us he is a very talented actor and the scenes he gets with Reid are sold with every fiber of his being. Mindy Kaling steals the frame every time as Mrs. Who and outshines even Ophrah (Mrs. Which) and Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit). Even with limited screen time Zach Galifianakis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make their scenes work.

All of this tells me the casting department deserves a raise. Each of the actors puts their hearts on their sleeves for this and goes for it – which makes this movie have the heart it does. Which left me in tears in more than one scene. Sadly, the script by Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) is a bit rough at times. Lesser actors under a lesser director would have struggled with this. What I don’t know if the dialogue was there and edited out or just not there. The movie suffers as many do in their adaptations. Again, I’ve never read the book but I can tell you watching the movie that it was based on a book and that there’s a lot of material left on the cutting room floor or in the writers room.

There are technical flaws beyond the writing that need to be addressed as well. The movie runs screaming at a break neck pace for the first hour, barely giving time for the characters to breathe, to let scenes soak in, or even explain anything of whats going on. I firmly believe in show don’t tell, especially in film, but you have to actually….show. This might be intentional as I think of a scene on the Act II to Act III bridge, but I can’t be certain. There’s very weird edits, there’s scenes very clearly missing (including very obvious ones from the trailer), and again the dialogue at times is beyond hokey into the pokey.

I appreciate when you are in the realm of fantasy that not everything has to look “real”, that the cartoonish can work and I will forgive the movie some of this because there was such a distinction sold in the movie of what is earthbound and what isn’t. The movie pushed it’s luck here a few times, but always won me back. What ejected me more often than not was the music, not score, that was inserted into the film. The songs themselves are fine, but they just did not work in the moments they were using them or were just so jarring it broke me from what I should be feeling to wonder why they used lyrical songs rather than a fantastic score by Ramin Djawadi. There are some questions I have about the camera work that most folks won’t notice but film reviewers might. It’s called a Mid shot guys. You can do it. I promise. Not everything needs to be a 180 close.

So yes, this is a heavily flawed movie I have the power to dissect like a 10th grade biology student, but I don’t want to. Ava Duvernay (Selma) directed this with such conviction, brought out tremendous performances, and hits on more than a few points of modern culture for young people of colour in such a way that it rings true. Few other directors could have pulled off a few of these beats with such tact and even subtlety as they work well into the narrative of the movie.


This movie could be used as the literal definition of a good, family film. It doesn’t quite hit “great”, but they tried. They put everything into this and tried and it shows. Because of that a movie I could rip apart, and from what I hear others are, doesn’t deserve that

It does deserve our dollars though. Representation of a young child of colour being in front of the camera, and a long standing woman of colour in the industry behind it (not to mention Oprah Winfrey too). This movie like Get Out (congratulations Jordan Peele on your Oscar), and Black Panther is so important that it deserves our money, and yes, forgiveness for its flaws.

If that isn’t a reason to see it. I get it. Here’s another. I meant what I said about this being a good family film. It has so much heart, it has a good message that doesn’t come across as saccharine or insincere. It is enjoyable. It is a bit of light in the darkness we have in the world right now.

That’s also good enough for me.

Should I see it?

Yes. Big screen needed for some of the great visuals the movie has. IMAX if you can, 3-D optional. D-Box could be fun too.

Will you see it again?

Being honest? Not in theatre no, but thats due to other things I plan to do not from lack of enthusiasm for this.

Will you buy it?

Yes. I might even try to get it a 4K TV for it too. At least BluRay though.

Why so forgiving on this?

Because it made me feel. It sold the message it was trying to. I was with Reid’s character. I was her and there are a lot of films that just don’t earn the emotion the way this one did. I haven’t actually watched/read the other reviews that are saying this isn’t that good or is disappointing beyond their headlines.

I went in hoping for something good and pure, and looking for a sense of wonder and joy. I found it. I hope you can too.

What happened to the Death Wish review?

Life. Bad news Thursday as I mentioned on FB when I was writing it. Then worse news over the weekend. I will publish it this weekend. Promise, it doesn’t deserve it though.

What’s coming next?

I might go see Thoroughbreds this week during the work week. I loved Anton Yelchin, so getting to see him one last time might be worth it. I hope. Also next week is Tomb Raider.


Darke Reviews | Moana (2016)

So what does Queen Elsa, the Vampire Princess, the nocturnal frozen being that she is think of Moana? It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I do like Disney animation. I grew up at the tail end of the ‘dark ages’ of Disney animation when the Golden Age was touted as what we had and the Silver Age was…special. I still think The Black Cauldron is underrated, but then again what kid doesn’t like a Gaelic myth of bringing back an undead army? Ok so maybe just me.  That’s fair. You might be asking but Queen Elsa, how will you judge this fairly against your own film, Frozen? Well if you check the link there even as hyped as I am on my own song (Let it Go,…duh) I found the movie to be a mixed bag. Even before knowing how many 11th hour changes there were it was clear there were some choices made that didn’t make a seamless film.

What does that spell out for Moana? Does it have the same issues?

You’d think so as it not only violates my rule of three, it goes beyond double. Yep, 7 writers on the credits. Story by…and  I am going to bullet this since there are so many

  • Jordan Kandell –  No other credits, twin brother to Aaron
  • Aaron Kandell  – No other credits, twin (duh) both raised in Hawaii
  • Pamela Ribon – writer on Mind of Mencia
  • Don Hall – Emperors New Groove, Tarzan
  • Chris Williams – Mulan, Bolt
  • John Musker – Treasure Planet (highly underrated), The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Aladdin, Princess and the Frog, and oh hey the Black Cauldron
  • Ron Clements – same credits as Mr. Musker.

The final screenplay credit goes to Jared Bush, who has a “Creative Leadership Walt Disney Animation Studios” – which I am not sure what that means. Clements, Musker, Hall, and Williams have dual director and co-director credits for the movie. So 7 writers, 4 directors chairs – with a lot of overlap. This should be a mess.

It isn’t.

Now as near as I can tell, this is an original story inspired by native Hawaiian and Pacific Island mythology. Yes, not based on any particular myth, previously told story, but instead apparently original. This is awesome. What it also gives us is a cohesive narrative that doesn’t feel like something has to be shoe horned together to make it palatable to both adults and children. It gives us a story of bravery, heart, and finding yourself that we’ve seen many a time since the Disney Renaissance in 1989 (started by Musker & Clements); but it does it better somehow. There are more than a few times the movie tugged on heartstrings in either well written emotional ways or the big hero moments that bring the whole thing together.  This movie should be all over the place tonally, but it isn’t. It should be a wreck that looks like it’s been edited to the ends of the earth then back again but it isn’t. Somehow, this was the right combination of leadership, intent, and will made this movie work against it’s own odds.

Is it perfect in the writing and directing department? Maybe. I mean that. Maybe. No beats felt out of place, except maybe one.

All of the performances were on their A-Game; especially Auli’i Cravalho who voices and sings Moana. She has a set of lungs that rival people twice her age (she’s 16 today – no lie November 22, 2000). She poured her heart into this and as her first role I hope to see she has many more to come.  Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was also in top form as Maui, with all his natural charisma brought to bear with the power of his voice and good animation. He holds the serious and somber moments down like the professional he is, but also charms you with the comedic beats he is given. The other performances are solid, but suitably minor, such as Nicole Sherzinger, Jermaine Clement, Temuera Morrison, and Rachel House.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of Alan Tudyk every performer I can find a bio on is either of Maori, Samoan, Hawaiian, or other Oceanic/Polynesian descent. With as much time as I spend not seeing movies for inappropriate diversity or casting, I need to make note of this. This is special. This is right. This is good. We need more of this. Thank you Disney for getting it right this time. Please Hollywood follow in their footsteps and learn something here. Please.

Ok, so how is the animation? The best they’ve done. Period. Full stop. Look I have only been to Hawaii once and it was last April, but if they didn’t capture how alive it was, how beautiful it was; then I don’t know what I watched. The colours were so vibrant and magnificent. Then lets talk water. Perfection. Yes, it’s clearly meant to be animated, but I think if they wanted to, they could have made it real. The day was lovely, but the night shots were absolutely magnificent. There is so much awesome in the animation here I could go on, but instead…


I just bought the soundtrack. Need more? Ok. I can do that. The same attention to detail that was given to the story, the acting, the animation was given to the songs. All of them felt right. All of them were good, even the one that was a touch out of place with the others still felt thematically ok with the movie. Unlike Frozen, they remembered the entirety of the movie that it was a musical and let the songs carry along the bridges of scenes and acts and it served them well. The music maintains the themes, language, and style of the incredible people who the movie is about. Yes. Language. There are a few songs that they don’t sing in English and it doesn’t matter. That’s how effective the music is.

Full disclosure, Moana’s theme song also speaks to me – it’s not spoiler to share the lyrics (Song by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know, where I can not go
Though I long to be

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, if I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

One thing my friends know about me is you can’t get me away from the water if I am near it. There’s a reason I spend hours at Torrey Pines park just watching the waves. Does it beat out Let it Go? No, but it’s definitely in the top 3 of my “I want”/”Who I am” Disney songs.


Just see it already. I don’t need to say more. It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Music, Animation, Acting, its fantastic. This is one of Disneys best and it gives representation in a time where there is so little. Support this movie. It’s a great movie for adults, kids of all ages.

Yeah that’s it.

Go. Go now. It’s ok to see movies on Wednesday night. It’s ok to hide from the hordes on Black Friday and see this instead.

So should I see it?

*shakes you* did you not read? YES! Seriously. Go see it

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Without question. I mean I just bought the soundtrack

How about 3D?

I saw the film with two people who are unable to watch 3-D, but having watched it. Yes, I think the 3-D will enhance the experience. If you can’t afford 3-D, then standard will be fine.

Anything else?

Yes. The toddler Moana is the most adorable thing I have ever witnessed on screen with my own two eyes.

Darke Reviews | The Jungle Book (2016)

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

How did this adaptation go?

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

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

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

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


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

Should you see it?

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

Will Jess buy it?

Very much so.

Darke Reviews – Tomorrowland (2015)

For those that know me and what I do for my 9-5 you know I am an inherent pessimist. I get a glimpse of the darkness of mankind and the general evil of the world. Its a very narrow peephole into that which is wrong. I frequently expect the worst out of people, places, and overall events; which are then almost as frequently proven right. I am rarely disappointed or surprised in this regard. What you don’t know about me, what I don’t show in a world that is little more than pain – is hope. I believe in hope. I believe in heroes. I * want* more out of the world and part of the reason for this blog (aside from reviews) is to deliver that. It’s a small act, but one I take seriously. This is important to understand as you read this review.

Brad Bird (Incredibles, Iron Giant, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) returns to us with a project right up his alley. He wanted the directors chair and took up the pen as well. Sadly he wasn’t the only one to take up the pen on this one, with Damon Lindelof having done much of the original work on the film. Lindelof, for my opinion, has damaged every project he has been on. Let me give four examples:

All four of these movies have something in common – their pacing blows. No sugar coating here. In the WWZ review I mention how Lindelof is the one responsible for the worst parts of Cowboys and Aliens and Prometheus. I am pretty sure the point holds true here. Lindelof needs to be stopped. Please.

Based on previous works, it is very clear where Bird and Lindelof intersected and where they didn’t. I won’t go into the story itself as it is best experienced, but the movie does have some horrific pacing issues. The House of Mouse will also have it’s day as well and their influence is clear – and appropriate in this one. Bird tends to tell stories that are designed to inspire people to be more. Even superheroes who must be more than they were and that has not changed here. There is something inspiring to the story.

Bird also directs well here. A combination of George Clooneys raw acting chops and natural charisma and Brads directing allow both children in the film to really hold their own. Our heroine Britt Robertson (Secret Circle, Under the Dome) is a breath of fresh air. She is able to blend the dual role of audience surrogate and protagonist seamlessly. The concept of the audience surrogate is a character in the film who asks the questions you are thinking and generally is there to connect you to the story. They tend to be bland or “everymen” so it is easy to ‘imprint’ yourself on them; see Rupert Evans as John Myers in Hellboy as a prime example. The challenge is to make them relatable and still bland enough to carry you with them. Robertson does it with apparent ease. She drives the story forward and is something more, special…inspiring; yet still asks what we would be thinking and generally speaking acts as a normal human confronted with the bizarre. Young Raffey Cassidy (Snow White and the Huntsman, Dark Shadows) also holds her own. She makes her part believable and endearing, she acts with a skill of those twice or even three times her age (13 by the way). She actually outshines Clooney in a few scenes. In a way she reminds me of Kirsten Dunst from Interview with the Vampire. She performs that well and with subtlety in nearly every scene. The supporting cast is actually just as interesting with Hugh Laurie (House) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Pierce Gagnon (Looper), Tim McGraw (yes, the Tim McGraw) all do remarkably well with the time they are given and are both memorable and relatable – another hard combo it seems.

From a technical standpoint, the pacing issues are pretty bad. It takes awhile to get going and stutters more than a few times. As an FX movie there is some interesting CG work early on that bothered me until I realized the intent – which was to create a very Jetsons like image to the world it exists in. Beyond that the film has some rather innovative shots and effects. There is enough that is both set and practical to let you focus on that and ignore the errant graphics that may surround it. They actually got the lighting right during the green screen scenes enough that I believed for a brief, brief, moment – someone had a functional jetpack.

What impresses me most about the movie is that much like Ex Machina – it embraces science. It tells us that while the world around us may try to burn by our hand or another that we shouldn’t give  up hope. That we keep trying. That we innovate. That we invent. That we care to make change. That caring and then doing is needed to really make a difference. That science, music, and art (two of which are fading from american schools) are what we need to make the world a better place. I want that better place. I want the better place they gave us. I want more hope and this movie inspired that. It tells you that *anyone*, *anywhere* can be that person who can make a difference. While the main cast is caucasian, the movie shows that the next generation can and will be from anywhere and any gender. They go to great lengths, (maybe a bit much at times) to make it clear that women DO belong in the scientific field and should be there more than the are. The movie can give hope to people to enter those fields and change the world.

We need that. We really do.


Tomorrowland is a good movie. It’s better than average overall. It didn’t take me on a fast paced romp, that I think I was expecting, but it really was enjoyable. We need more movies like this. We need the Hope and the Inspiration. For that alone – go see it

Kids can see it without much fear, there’s some mild violence but nothing too bad.

Adults should see it as a general rule, parents especially.

It’s a good movie and needs our support. It’s a good movie because it is about something. We need that too.

I am ready for Tomorrowland, are you?


Darke Reviews | Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I did the math on the way home. Took the day off and spent the better part of it at the theatre. Granted I slept til 1:30 then headed over, but yeesh. Was it worth it though? Double Feature of Avengers and then Age of Ultron, discounts on food and drink. Conversation with another movie geek on the comics, animated movies, and general geektitude. Yep all of it was worth it. It was weird hearing people in the audience who hadn’t seen Avengers first and odd to note things that raised questions in the first Avengers in light of Winter Soldier. But…did Age of Ultron live up to the hype?

Let’s be honest folks – you are going to see it anyway regardless of this review. This easily falls into the #seeitanyway category. Let me see if I can keep to my usual spoiler free territory.

Written and directed by geek god Joss Whedon, the film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of all the previous films. It starts mid-stride with the Avengers continuing to try to find Loki’s staff in the wake of the events of Avengers. It’s clear they’ve worked together awhile on various missions enough so that they have clear roles and methods in how they work with each others powers, or lack there of. A new threat of their own making rises in the form of Ultron. An AI with a goal and the Avengers must overcome their internal issues and external ones to win the day, will they?

Lets talk the cast a moment. Our favorites return in the roles that we love them for. Chris Evans is once again on point as Captain America, he still has his ghosts, but as Dr. Irskin asked of him – be a good man. RDJ of course returns as Iron Man with no real acknowledgement of the events of Iron Man 3 one way or the other. I think we are better for that. He was made to play Tony Stark, but it is clear that he is both comfortable and tired of the role. Mark Ruffalo is given significantly more time as Bruce Banner and is allowed to show more than he did in the previous film. I still believe he is a secretly genius casting and he does well with what he is given. Chris Hemsworth takes Thor out for his 4th outing and doesn’t do much new or at all I suppose. ScarJo gets her own 4th showing as Black Widow, the assassin and spy, and is actually given more depth this time with the barest glimpse into her background.  Jeremy Renners complaints were clearly heard after the last movie and has a lot more time as Hawkeye with some significant divergence from his comic roots. They don’t hurt, but they are surprising. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders all become proof positive that the writer and producers heard the complaints about Iron Man 3 and went ‘oh yeah, all of these guys exists and you know should be here…even briefly’. Sadly we get no Paltrow or Portman as Pepper and Jane; which we do hear some snark about in film – it’s nice. Of course we also have the introduction of Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Godzilla) as Pietro Maximoff, who can’t be called Quicksilver due to rights issues, and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff, more commonly known as the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Old Boy). Ultron is gifted with the voice of our favorite man in a fedora from Blacklist, James Spader. I swear this man could read a phone book and make it sound delicious.

Whew….was that too busy?

That there is the movies problem. It’s taken me twenty minutes to think about this and a good twenty minutes talking with my partner in crime this evening. The problem here is the film is too busy. Too big. We aren’t given a chance to breathe, save one scene. The scene we are ostensibly supposed to be able to revel in the quiet, is just too tense to enjoy the moment. It’s off putting rather than relaxing. The tension was ramped up and kept at a certain level that left you bordering on uncomfortable. It all was too much. Too many locations, too many fights, too many cuts. Too busy.

Things that need explanation are left painfully vague or explained too quick to sink in. There is expectation you have seen everything to this point and if you haven’t you may scratch your head at a few scenes. It’s clear there are significant cuts and edits to the film as well as a few scenes from the trailer are noticeably missing. I think Joss stumbled on this one, it’s not a failure, but it is a clear stumble. He wrote himself into corners he didn’t know how to write himself out of elegantly or cleanly. When he did give himself a needed out, the outs came off awkward. While I am rarely one to encourage films to be split into two, I think there was enough material here that this could have or should have been. It wasn’t in the plan so it couldn’t be and the narrative pays for it. I feel, I believe the studio interfered more this time as well. Joss is far from perfect, but there’s just something wrong about the entire picture on a level I can’t quite put my finger on. It is almost as if they were trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle they had with the first Avengers and didn’t quite stick the landing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve overly expounded on the problems here, but the movie is still solid. You will continue to love and hate the characters as appropriate. The fight sequences are solid in their own right. The movie properly zooms into comic book physics without batting an eye and we are ok with all of this. The movie still has humor in the right places and darkness in the others. The famous Hammer and party sequence are everything I hoped they would be. Spaders voice work and mo cap of Ultron is in a word incredible. The man’s presence can be felt even if he himself is not on screen.


The movie lands solidly in the better than average to as low as the “it’s ok” realm. I might (probably) watch it again to see if my opinions on it shift the needle in either direction. This is still likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year, though Furious Seven has set a benchmark that will make it hard for other films to hit. This one, probably will though – and deserves to. The movie **is** good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t quite as good as the last Avengers and doesn’t quite have the same magic.

If you were going to see it – see it! You’d ignore the review or not want to read it anyway (despite me being spoiler free when possible)

If you were on the fence – eh…see it Matinee.

If you were curious – I’d ask what rock you’ve been living under and why you haven’t seen the others. You definitely don’t want to start on this however, and you’d likely feel lost as there’s enough history required for this one to not make this a first timers film.


Coming Soon

Review season has begun, I get the next week off after that. Mad Max and Pitch Perfect in the same weekend – thankfully not vying for the same audiences. Tomorrowland follows with San Andreas the week after (though that review will be late due to Phoenix Comicon). The rest of summer after that looks to be hit and miss. Here’s hoping folks.

Sunday, you might get a special throwback review…Big Trouble In Little China has a screening at one of my local theatres.

Darke Reviews – Cinderella (2015)

I apologize to all my readers for the hiatus, we’ve had a bit of a dry spell with movies and my 9-5 ( 6 to 5?) takes dominance in this time of year. Have to afford all these movie tickets somehow neh? I remember my reaction for this particular films teaser with just a long tracking shot of the glass slipper and hearing that Kenneth Branagh was expected to direct. Overall though I did not have a lot of faith in the live action version of the film as Disney is hit and miss with me on their conversions. Alice in Wonderland was garbage and I enjoyed Maleficent as examples. I was cautious about this film and have made an active choice to avoid reading anything about its production including casting. I find out in the 11th hour that Helena Bonham Carter is in the role of the fairy godmother and my heart sinks a bit.

So where does Cinderella fall? Does the slipper fit and is it magic?

This might be one of the most adapted stories ever (Dracula holds the title last I checked) and has been made and remade ad nauseum for decades with varying degrees of success. In America the concept of a “Cinderella story” is a cultural norm that nearly everyone knows regardless of seeing the original animated. This is one of the Disney flagships with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The original three princesses that in my opinion have defined the studio as much as the Mouse has. Who does Disney hand the reigns to adapt the story for the big screen to? Chris Weitz, the man behind the box office bomb The Golden Compass and the direct of the Twilight sequel New Moon. Excuse me while I examine the water in the Mouse House and wonder what the production team was thinking. Alright, it’s been eight years since his last script, he could have gotten better right? I am not sure. The story does next to nothing new, it almost does less than nothing new and that is a feat in and of itself. Should I blame the writer if he was told to just make the original film over again?

Does blame fall on the directors chair instead? Kenneth Branagh’s career began to boost to life with Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (a veritable catapult to the mainstream), Othello, and Hamlet. With that pedigree the man should easily be able to take a fairy tale and bring it to life. He is a near expert at the period piece conversion from writing to screen with the Bard being his go to guy. Yet, these are the drama’s of Shakespeare. Not his fantasies, not his comedies.  So instead of giving the writer the brunt of my disdain I send it Branagh’s way. Sure he has been nominated for the Oscar and Golden Globe a combined 8 times, but not every director is successful on every film. Again I feel the studio had some pretty tight reigns on him, yet within those constraints he still failed.

Let me be clear, had I not been seeing it with someone I may have walked out during the first act from pure boredom. I was bored and even mildly annoyed by what I was being given for too much of the movie. It was unnecessary, bloated, and significantly weaker than many of its cheaper counterparts over the decades. I know the actors here are better than they gave us and that allows me to blame the director for the greatest flaws within the film. How Blanchet moves as Lady Tremaine is right out of a stage production or comedy it is so exaggerated and over the top, but when you compare that to the others around here who are not performing the same way it sets her apart. This weakens one of Disneys greatest villains. The woman is evil. Maleficent is bad, but this woman is supposed to be a tangible evil that makes your skin crawl with only the great Tchernabog to beat her as the most evil. Did we get that? No. Blame I can lay solely at Branagh’s chair.

I am sure someone is reading this and thinking of other reviews they’ve heard or read. I am sure they think I might not like fantasy, fairy tales, or stories like this. Quite the contrary. I *love* a good fairy tale. I love the idea of a fairy godmother. I want to be the fairy tale princess. I need fairy tales in my life and they count among my favorite films. That is why this movie is such a sin to me. For the better part of the movie it is just dull. It has no magic and no life. It just seems to be for no other reason than it can be.

Surely something is good? Yes. Cinderella herself, as played by Downton Abbey’s Lily James and The King in the North – Richard Madden (thats a game of thrones reference). Madden’s smile, sans Stark beard, can light up a room. He defines a prince charming here and is hands down the best character in the movie. James for her part isn’t given a lot of actual interaction with others, but is able to move herself through the picture in a way that allows her to steal the scene most of the time she is on screen. She does have one scene where my eyebrows went up wondering what direction she was being given but she gave whatever it was her all. Blanchet is entirely wasted here. Lady bloody Tremaine and she gets to do nothing. In his supporting role Nonso Anozie (Xaro Xhoan Dazos from Qarth – another Game of Thrones alumni) is another character who is just comfortably enjoyable on screen; while Helena Bonham Carter seemed to channel Jack Sparrow as her role model for the fairy godmother, right down to eye and body motions. It was actually a bit distracting.

Along the distracting lines – the CG work. I expect better. Some was not too bad, but when it was bad it was distractingly so. Places where practical effects would have come across a thousand times better had CG used to their detriment. It doesn’t give me hope for Beauty and the Beast.


I was nervous about the film. Sure. Sadly the film met those expectations and left me bored or annoyed for the better part of its running time. I have seen many review headlines that are contrary to my opinion and I am glad that they took something from it I didn’t. Neither I nor my partner for this viewing particularly enjoyed it. We found it lacking in many respects with out enough to bring it back up to a pass. It doesn’t do anything interesting or particularly new with the story and that works against it.

If you have kids that want to see it or are curious, matinee it at best. I think the kids may be a bit antsy in all the set up in Act I.

If you were on the fence about it, I have to advise against this movie. If you need a good Cinderella story watch the film Ever After. Drew Barrymore and Angelica Huston are incredible in that movie and it works end to end.

I as always am open to understand what I didn’t see. If you do see this and don’t agree with me – tell me please. I am curious to what you saw that I didn’t. In the meanwhile, I have two more reviews to write from films this week and hopefully some more reviews in the coming weeks as we ramp up once again towards summer blockbuster season.


Darke Reviews – Into the Woods (2014)

If you know me personally, you know I love musicals. I’ve seen a fair share on Broadway in NY, and a few at other venues not in the City that Never Sleeps. Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom top my list of performances. When it comes to Hollywood adaptations of musicals where do I land? Honestly in the positive. Chicago, Phantom of the Opera (I like it, bite me), Rent, Les Mis, Rock of Ages, the list goes on. Now we have the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Where do I land here?

Well, surprisingly I have not seen the original source material, heard it, or otherwise been entertained by it. Rather unusual for this drama club girl. The story and screenplay were handled, rather than manhandled by the original writer James Lapine. The music of course is by Stephen Sondheim, who also gave us Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which was also adapted for film by Tim Burton). The music itself, which is as much a star as anything else has Sondheim’s usual quality to it; which is to say a bit all over the place. It isn’t bad, but has a rather odd lyrical range that doesn’t quite seem to flow – but it works still. If you aren’t familiar with musicals it may strike you odd when you hear the lyrics. Musically the composition is quite beautiful and one of the better arrangements I have heard, but it lacks some energy that other musicals have; I am missing some of the crescendos that I was expecting. A few of the pieces did sound like something from Sweeney Todd in how they built, rose, and fell. Perhaps it was just how Depp was singing that reminded me of his singing of Pretty Women in Sweeney Todd. There are songs (Agony) that were worth the price of admission though, and the rest are all very well done, but Agony is the best.

That comes down to the performances. I didn’t know Chris Pine could sing, but he really can and has a sense of comedic timing and placement that should only be classified as praise worthy. I offer the same compliment to Emily Blunt, who has impressed me twice this year with her performance in Edge of Tomorrow and now her turn as the Bakers Wife here. Both her acting and singing were where they needed to be and allowed her to play off of James Corden as the Baker. Corden is the heart of the movie and so I shall put him in the center of praise for the acting. I am looking over his IMDB page and have seen absolutely nothing he has done, which is surprising considering the billing he received in the trailer was equal to many of the more known stars of the film. I will have to keep an eye out for him as he really did well and pulled off a few difficult moves during the dance numbers. We also have young broadway star Lilla Crawford fresh from the 2012 stage reboot of Annie as Little Red Riding Hood. She reminded me a bit of Maisie Williams at times, which is good; but sadly doesn’t get as much screen or vocal time as I wish. Another performer from the stage is Daniel Huttlestone, who has previously played Gavroche in Les Miserables on stage and in the film (knew he looked familiar). Wrapping up our amazing performers is Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick. Streep is no stranger to musicals and is just as powerful here as she ever is. Kendrick is pure magic as always. I may have some bias towards here, but she has yet to disappoint me with her performances in straight up acting or her singing (Pitch Perfect). This movie is no exception.

The story for those who are not familiar with it involves the blending of several fairy tales into one cohesive story. To say much more would verge into spoiler territory, but these are very classical retellings of these stories and I was happy to see them. From a technical standpoint, there really isn’t much in the movie that doesn’t hold up. Most shots are clearly a soundstage, but within the context of this film it works as you are taking a stage play and putting it on screen. A few effects here and there, but ultimately it’s really solid. It feels a little long at times, but only clocks in at 2 hours.


The movie is good. I was entertained and in at least one scene laughed rather hard (along with the entire row behind me). That row, who has performed this particular show 3 times, said it was a good adaptation – in fact one of the best. They were laughing and singing and otherwise enjoying themselves. That speaks volumes for the movie in a way no review really can.

So with that, if you enjoy musicals I think you will enjoy Into the Woods.

If these films or plays are not your thing, I would warn you to stay away or stick to a matinee.

At least the year goes out on top after a month of rather disappointing films. Now…should I join the rest of the reviewers out there and do a best and worst films?