Darke Reviews | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

First let me apologize for not getting that Earth to Echo review out. I will make an attempt this evening, but first I want to talk to you about a sequel. Sequels notoriously have a curse for being less awesome than their predecessor. There are a handful in all of time that break that. Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II being two of the most prominent. August 5, 2011 saw the reboot of a franchise that was abused to the point it still causes flashbacks. Burtons version is at best an abomination and at worst a cinematic enema on the audience and good movie making.

But…enough of that 2011 we got Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was a fantastic film very few people saw. It only opened to $54 million and went down hill from there. This was a crime. It had all the makings of a fantastic work. Good acting. Good editing. Good graphics. Good story. While not a flawless film, it is an amazing one that sadly only made $176 million domestically. It was enough though, enough for a sequel three years later. A sequel released this week.

Does it measure up?

So the movie picks up about a decade after the first ends, and this is me tap dancing to avoid spoilers. The Apes have their culture and humanity has its own. They live in ignorance of each other and sadly that ignorance is about to be shattered.

Lets talk acting first. Just give Andy Serkis an Oscar. Now. Don’t wait til January and don’t snub him again. If anyone and I mean anyone says you cannot act sufficiently through Mo-Cap or make up do me a favor and smack them in the face with a good open hand slap. Serkis is a genius. Nothing in his performance as Ceasar is lost or wasted. Every body language pose, posture, and shift is there for us. His  face is a map to raw emotion. What words there that exist are used so sparingly forcing the man to do so much more through sign and expression. You always know what he is feeling, what he is thinking with barely a syllable uttered. This is acting. This is what others need to aspire to when they do motion capture. Peter Jackson has just had someone set the bar higher.

Nearly everyone else is passable against the magnificence that is Ceasar. Jason Clarke, a man usually relegated to secondary or tertiary roles in film and TV brings an A game many doubted he had. This isn’t the man from White House Down, Zero Dark Thirty or the Great Gatsby. This is a potential headliner still in need of some refinement but one who holds his own remarkably well. Its a hard task to carry the weight of the human centerpiece on your shoulders in this movie and he seems up to it. He even proves a great counterpoint to Gary flippin Oldman.

Sadly he is the only human who has a really well defined personality or chance to show it. Everyone else is a stereotype of some kind or somehow useless. I didn’t even know Keri Russells character name. Oldman too is a stereotype, but one you can empathize with. He takes a note from his own playbook and brings it back to the subtle for the most part. Ok subtle for Oldman. This is a very Gordon like performance for him. When the cracks show in the veneer of control is when you see what he is and it works.

The Apes on the other hand are the stars. Everything Transformers gets wrong in this space, THIS movie gets right. None of the actors are particularly well known and are never actually seen. Each performance as an Ape is nuanced. Everything that Serkis delivers is brought to the game by the other actors. He set a bar and they reached for it and were largely successful in doing so. Its magic.

It’s the uncanny valley.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is -generally – the point in which human likeness in something unreal becomes so close to real we grow uncomfortable. This movie tips the balance. The graphics work is so near perfect in every detail its hard to believe we are not looking at actors in make up at times. Reality and computers have come closer than ever and are nearly…nearly flawless in execution within this film. Nothing to date comes close to how real the Apes appear.

Add to that particularly inspired design choices. Brilliant even. The use of sign language over voice speech by the apes was the act of an ingenious mind. Animal behaviorists will have a field day on the accuracy of the movements and actions of the ape society. Research was done. Effort was put into place. It paid off. These are details many would not realize are there, but I’ve lived with a vet tech for a decade and a half now. We’ve discussed these things, studied them for games, and have a basic above average understanding. Trust me when I say it is well done in this space.


Ok so. I referenced the Godfather II and Empire Strikes back earlier. Yes this movie is in the same calibre as them. It IS that good. The only true suffering is in the pacing. The bridge between act II and III is just too long and drawn out. Aside from that it is an excellent film we SHOULD be going to see.

Just like Snowpiercer the week before, these are the movies we need to be giving our money to. These are the movies we need made.

Yes, you should see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

But Jess should we see it in 3D? – ok no. 3D adds nothing but ticket price.

Go see it in 2D and enjoy it for all its worth. Tell hollywood with your wallet where we need to have movies made. Good stories, acting, plots, and effects are rolled into one.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while an homage to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, shines in its specialness and could – if we are lucky – be the dawn of a new era of movies.

Darke Reviews | Robocop (2014)

Dead or alive, I was going to see this. I admit I had a serious amount of nostalgia for the original 1987 Paul Verhooven (Starship Troopers, TOtal Recall) vehicle. I was one of the ones who when I saw the black sleek look on Robocop was unhappy. When I heard it was PG 13 instead of a hard R I was unhappy. Then I saw the trailer and at least understood why he took the black. I was more ok with it. I went yesterday as part of a double feature where my friend and I saw “I, Frankenstein” and this back to back. I don’t think going into it either of us realized the beautiful symmetry of this combination of films.

In previous reviews I have explained the multiple writer problem with a film. In some cases, the reverse can also be true where only one writer can be just as damaging to a film as too many writers. Giving such a recognizable property to a first time writer though, seems an odd choice and further echoes the words “Studio Cash Grab”. Joshua Zetumer clearly put his passion into the script and tried to update the movie for almost thirty years later. He also made some mistakes as well where he wanted to do too much and didn’t know how to execute on the interesting ideas he had. It’s a common problem with writers, myself included, where we have ideas and we want to get them to the page but we don’t explore them nearly as much as they deserve because we want to get to other stuff. Tip: If you are not ready to commit to a philosophical topic in a movie, don’t even begin to address it.

The story focuses around good cop and family man Alex Murphy. The quintessential good apple in a bad city surrounded on all sides by corruption and a city that’s screaming up to the powers that be “save us.” When Alex is seriously wounded as a counterattack for going after one of the cities biggest weapons dealers Omnicorp steps in and offers a solution. You see Omnicorp has a problem, they can’t put their robots on the streets of the US due to a law and the power of public opinion. Instead they put a man in a machine and sell him to the people to get opinion to change and to overturn the law. If only it were that easy, see a man has a will his own and while OCP seeks to control him at any cost the newly roboticized Alex decides the cost is too high.

Much like the original the film tries to lampoon a bit of what the modern societal landscape is. The 80s version covered ridiculous, toxic waste, corporate corruption, russians, drugs, and the raw depredation of society. While a serious film, it didn’t take itself too seriously. The 2014 version attempts to poke at the pathetically one sided news agencies with hosts who don’t report news but shout buzzwords at an accepting audience, marketing and that self same corporate greed the earlier one did. This one also tries to get philosophical and asks the question of what makes a man? unfortunately I Frankenstein handled that better (more in that review) The problem with all of this is that it takes itself too seriously and rather than shining a light on the idiocy of it all; it instead becomes a simple weak beat in a plodding plot.

The script isn’t entirely to blame though. Jose Padilha, in his first time directing an american film, also deserves his share of the blame. The movie has some of the most horrific pacing issues I’ve seen of late. It runs an easy twenty minutes longer than is needed and has a deeply unsatisfying ending thats reminiscent of the Return of the King with the number of false stops it has. His direction of the camera doesn’t do the action any justice either with a constant swirl or shaky cam that tells me he just wanted to try the technique. I only say that because he shows in other sequences that he does understand the concept of a steady cam. A sequence in which Robocop attacks a lab is shot in either thermo vision or night vision depending in which side of the fight you are on. It felt like he saw how Tarantino got away with bloodshed in Kill Bill (Bride vs Crazy 88s) and wanted to try that so he could keep the movie at a studio mandated PG13.

The studio also gets its share of the blame, but sadly its understandable from a corporate point of view. Their job is to make money and R rated movies don’t make nearly as much as PG-13 as they keep out a significant portion of the potential young male audience. First time director, first time writer, no actors anyone really recognizes (mostly)? Its clear they didn’t care about the project and just wanted to make a little over its budget or needed to retain rights for later.

The acting is…a mixed bag for me. The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman does what he can with the script and the direction. He tries a lot to bring some emotion to a film otherwise devoid of it. Is he as imposing as Peter Weller? No, not even close. His delivery of a few nostalgic lines needed work. But he tries and that is important. Abbie Cornish (Suckerpunch) plays his wife and tries as hard as Kinnaman does to bring emotion to it and deal with the storyline of Alex trying to reconnect to his family after the accident. I’d like to see more of her in other films; though admittedly I thought she was Radha Mitchell at first. Those are the two noteworthy performances. Michael Keaton phones it in as director of Omnicorp Raymond Sellers. Everything about him comes across like a half arsed understanding of what a corporate leader is these days. I know he is trying to make a career comeback, but he will have to actually put a little effort next time. Sadly next time is Need for Speed; not a good way to come back Mike. Jackie Earle Haley (watchmen, Nightmare on Elm Street) and Samuel L Jackson are here to chew scenery and be just shy of ridiculous. Sadly only Haley actually delivers on that. Jacksons presence while picking on the modern news agent actually detracts from the movie. As my friend said “I can’t take the movie seriously now” when he finished his opening rant. It was true. He was too much as he often is. I loved sam for awhile, but much like Willis he needs to stop while he is ahead before he becomes his own punchline. Speaking of actors, Gary Oldman as Dr. Dennett Norton tries as well to do what he can with the material. His performance falls right in the middle. I love Oldman for all he does, but could have cared less this time around.


That’s largely the problem with the film. I don’t care. It had no substance to it. It wanted to be more than it was capable of and reached for the stars. I don’t even think it made escape velocity. It wasn’t prepared to commit to any of the ideas it wanted to try and because of that for well over two hours you are left wanting a bit more than you will ever get from the movie.

It is not right, nor fair, to compare it to the original. They are different films; and as much as I love the original I know its not good. Its a beautiful painting of ridiculousness.

Sorry to say folks, Robocop deserves a pass. I had hope for it, but as the credits rolled I felt unsatisfied. Your move hollywood, make it a good one next time.

Darke Reviews | Bram Stokers Dracula (1992)

Of all the literary creations out there, Romeo & Juliet, Holmes, Hamlet, Frankenstein, none come close to appearing on screen more than Dracula. The character as we know him was created by an Irishman named Bram Stoker in 1897. So few characters evoke such imagery in both European and American cultures as the name “Dracula”. Think for a moment of what comes to mind, what thoughts you have when you say that name. High Capes & Collars? Fangs? Bats? A gentleman? A Monster? Sex? Seduction? Blood? So many more thoughts and concepts come with that name. It is safe to say while Stoker did not invent the vampire, their legends date back to ancient Sumeria (trust me on this), he created the modern version. He took them from monster to seducer. He made them an incubus (or succubus depending on the writing) that we want despite the danger, rather than the unattractive corpse. Nearly every author in the vampire genre has been somehow affected by this seminal work.

As the inspiration and basis of so much that came in the century since I found it interesting when the trailers appeared and people began to freak out. Sure Keanu couldn’t hide his accent no matter how hard he tried and people joked “Whoa! Its, like Dracula dude!”. Almost no one had heard of this Gary Oldman guy. Hannibal Lechter is Van Helsing? That chick from Beetlejuice is in it; ok thats almost expected. The guy who made Apocalypse Now AND the Godfather is doing Dracula? What? All of that got people, but the fact there’s a shot in the trailer with him in the sun had people lose their minds. Sad to say folks, sunlight didn’t kill Stokers Dracula, only annoyed him and so many people didn’t know and didn’t want to believe it after 90 years of Dracula that is killed by the sun.

Lets talk about that decision, which probably lays at the feet of writer James Hart. This is the same man who gave us Hook, Muppets Treasure Island, Contact and this years Epic. Yeah that’s what I said too, this guy is all over the place. He does however show a keen understanding of what was so attractive about the original work and made a point to use so much of the style that he could. Granted there’s a lot added to it as well, partially him and partially the director, but all of it is successful.

That comes from the experience of having such an acclaimed director at the helm. Acclaimed and insane. I’ve read the stories of things he did making Apocalypse now. Yeesh. He is however a visionary and used that vision to give us things we have never quite seen in film before. Intelligently using color (mostly reds), sound, lighting, shadow and atmosphere to its fullest. He goads his cast of well know names to places they had never quite gone and probably for many will never achieve again – even 20 years later. It’s a near perfect atmospheric film that tells the story in word, deed and look. A $40 million dollar budget being doubled at the box office and 3 academy awards show other people noticed too.

Behind the scenes is important, but then there’s the cast. This film had one of the most amazing casts of its day where nearly every actor was known for something and those that weren’t have become infamous since. The weakest performance is of course Keanu as Harker. He is trying his best at the time, but really never quite delivers. This could be due to four movies released in the previous year (Point Break, Bogus Journey among them) and just being tired. Ryder on the other hand had built a career so far on being in dark or gothic films, such as Heathers, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands. She seemed to take to the role of the prudish, repressed Wilhemina Murray fantastically. Her accent work is fairly good and she carries the natural transitions of the character through the film. My biggest gripe is that she comes across more waifish than Stokers actual Mina who was more active in her part in the story. One cannot talk about the actors without mentioning the great Sir Anthony Hopkins. Probably one of the wildest portrayals of the character he also plays the most menacing. Much of the dichotomy comes from Hopkins performance where he devours scenery as the Count devours blood. The movie even hints at a specific background for VanHelsing that is not touched on much in other releases where there are clear ties between Dracula, the Brides and vanHelsing. A lot of that comes through in the performance as well; which only goes to show what happens with a master at the helm of the character.

In 1992 the name Gary Oldman was barely known to American audiences. Few people had seen Sid & Nancy or recognized him as Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK (1991). So when faced with the amazingly manic range of emotions, expressions and body language delivered people didn’t know what to think. Since then he has proven to be one of the greatest actors of our time. We see hints of his genius in how he can change at the drop of a hat and put every ounce of emotion into the performance that you feel for him through the film.

Many people also forget that Cary Elwes (Princess Bride, Saw) makes an appearance as Lord Arthur Holmwood. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) plays American Quincy P Morris, who lives and dies as he did in the novel. It’s worth mentioning that the beautiful Monica Bellucci (Matrix 2, 3, BRotherhood of the Wolf) is one of the brides in only her 4th credited screen appearance.

The technicals are worth mentioning. I rant about post production computer imagery over practical effects all of the time. This film has almost none. Nearly every shot was done using elegant, if not old fashioned, camera tricks. Coppola actually fired the original FX crew when they said what he wanted couldn’t be done. Apparently he was right and they were wrong and the film was better for it.


This is, excluding the Twilight series, the 4th highest grossing Vampire film ever. 3 of which involve the character Dracula. If you haven’t seen it – you must. While some of it may come across corny at times, it is one of the vampire greats and should be enjoyed for all it offers, good and bad.
Tomorrows review – I am going to let my readers request below.

Darke Reviews | Paranoia (2013)

I am reasonably certain most people have not heard about this little film, even with its star packed cast. What a lot of folks don’t know is that August is often considered a death slot for the summer season. This is where studios send movies to die that they have little faith in. Schools are coming back in session, last minute summer vacations and just the dog days of summer keep people away from the theatres by comparison to the  May, June and July releases. Studios will spend less time marketing, with rare exceptions, anything in August and if something sells its a blessing to them more than anything else.

Why do I tell you all this? Because it’s clear to me this is how the studio felt about this movie. A director (Robert Luketic) best known for his mostly unsuccessful comedy work such as Legally Blonde, the Ugly Truth and Killers was given what should be a high tension corporate espionage thriller. Odd match right? The movie shows it as well with a definite lack of finesse and technique through and through.

Nearly every twist and turn is telegraphed a mile away by anyone paying the closest bit of attention. Because of that moments that should have you wondering what will happen next you already have the answer. Ultimately the movies greatest sin is a lack of consequences for actions. Sure the big bad pays, but there are other elements to the film that should not be tied up as neatly like a christmas present.

That isn’t to say this is a bad movie folks. It sounds it, but it’s not bad. Bad is reserved for the equally uninspired World War Z. This film has the benefit of a relatively strong and motivated cast that I didn’t feel was going through the motions. It’s a testament to the actors natural ability that they could do what they did with what they had to work with.

Liam Hemsworth (Thors little brother, yes he is as cute) plays Adam Cassidy a young technician for a multi million dollar cellular company. He is up to his eyes in bills paying for his sick father (Richard Dreyfuss). He is offered the proverbial golden goose  by his boss played by the eternally awesome Gary Oldman; who per normal puts all his passion, his accents and his ability to blend into any role he does into the part. All Adam has to do for his boss is fake being a successful executive in a rival company to steal ideas from them. The owner of the other company is played by an oddly shorn Harrison Ford who felt that he needed to go toe to toe with Oldman in the acting department. Thankfully he is more than capable of keeping up, though once or twice I wanted him to yell Get off my plane. The supporting cast is surprisingly talent and believable in their roles. Amber Heard as the love interest, Lucas Till as the geekier best friend, Julian McMahon as the wanna be heavy (the weakest of the supporting) and Losts Josh Holloway as an FBI agent.

There are some twists, but as I said before most if not all of them are telegraphed long in advance. The pacing is off the entire film however keeping you just off balance enough that it is awkward more than tension building.


Paranoia isn’t going to be a summer sleeper, but you may fall asleep watching it. Save this one for the DVD or TV you aren’t missing anything.