Darke Reviews | Annie (2014)

In the land of unasked for and unneeded remakes we have our newest entry – Annie. It was interesting to initial reactions to this particular remake as the traditional white girl with freckles and red curly hair was being replaced with a black girl with her brown curly hair. Original stories talked about how producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith wanted their daughter Willow in the role. Ah Hollywood nepotism and the Smith family. Karate Kid, After Earth (*shudder*), and then Annie. We add Jay Z to the mix for – reasons – to help produce the movie. I kind of like to imagine that Jay Z was the reason Willow isn’t flipping her hair back and forth and instead we got a different young actress.

If you are not familiar with the original 1982 movie, comic strip, or musical from 1976, or comic strip from 1924 it is the story of Little Orphan Annie. Surprise I know! It covers the adventures of a young girl, her dog Sandy, her benefactor “Daddy” Warbucks, and a few other characters that would be extraordinarily racist these days.

For the new film, we have  couple of updates. She’s no longer an Orphan, she is a Foster kid. The satire of the New Deal and FDR is gone, replaced with mobile phones, modern politics, and social media. Also gone is the risk and the charm. Replacing it is a sense of bitterness of the world.

From an acting perspective, it doesn’t suck. Quvenzhane Wallis is the bright spot in this film. She really does light up the screen the way Annie should. She affects peoples lives around her the way that Annie should. She is everything I wanted from an Annie. Rose Byrne (X-Men First Class, Damages, Insidious) plays Warbucks assistant Grace and seems to be the only person really trying to have fun aside from the kids. Both Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz I think were given wrong notes by the director. Diaz plays obnoxiously over the top for the better part of the film finally coming down to a low simmer in Act III. Diaz may be a good actress but she is no Carol Burnett. Foxx for his part seemed to miss the mark on how to perform; which is odd for such a talented man. Where everyone else was singing in an almost Glee sense as if it was part of the scene, Foxx sings and performs his songs as if he is on stage – which creates a serious disconnect with the costars.

That disconnect continues through most every performance in the film. Sometimes they break the 4th wall, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people react to those singing. Sometimes they don’t. It is all so random and arbitrary as to if the song is Glee style, performance style, or improv. It just doesn’t make sense as to when or where people will react to the songs being performed. That makes the performances awkward to watch and at times uncomfortable because you don’t know the rules. Only one or two are an exception to this and even they don’t make sense. Most  of this of course falls on director Will Gluck.

I am really not sure how Gluck got the unfortunate seat at the table on this one. His directorial roles stick to RomCom fare with Easy A and Friends with Benefits. He has produced more but none of them are musicals. So most, if not all, the problems with this film come down to Gluck and the producers not having a good idea of what to do, or how to do it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Smith’s checked out after Willow wasn’t cast. I would have thought Jay Z or Will would have better been able to influence the musical moments with their own experience, but apparently not.


The movie is an awkward, uncomfortable mess. It has so many tonal shifts and character shifts you have trouble keeping up and have no real desire to. In a common critique of modern films, it takes no risks. I remember the original where Annie was on the train tracks being threatened by Rooster (Tim Curry) and for a moment I was actually worried and felt real threat. Nothing comes close to that here. It’s as if Hollywood is afraid to show any form of risk or harm.

The movie suffers and honestly, isn’t that good. I can’t recommend the film to anyone – even if there are a few bright spots, because so many just fall flat or are painful to sit through.






Darke Reviews | The Amazing Spiderman 2

Alright folks, so the summer blockbuster season has officially begun. It is May. For the next 4 weeks we will be inundated with some of the strongest contenders for box office gold. With June having a semi weak following in comparison just to gear up for the 4th of July and mid july stakes. August is the dump slot where all films studios aren’t sure about go to die or surprise people. Yes, that means even Guardians of the Galaxy, despite it’s budget is in that space. As we’ve discussed before this year has pretty much sucked overall. It’s had highlights (thank you Cap) but mostly been a bloody mess.

Now, I made no bones about it with the review of the first Amazing Spiderman (I really need a way to link to prior reviews…hmm) – I didn’t like it. There’s too much there that rubbed me wrong and took away from the film for me to really embrace it. It wasn’t even the too soon factor. Now, we have Amazing Spiderman 2; which from the trailers made it appear to fall prey to sequel syndrome with three apparent villains. Did it work? Keep reading. Were they too ambitious? Keep reading. Did I go in with low expectations? Not so much, they were low, but other things this year have been so much lower. Where did it finally land?

Well for one Mark Webb, the director who has music videos to his credit prior and (500) Days of Summer returns for this one. Consistency helps, but a lot of my complaints with the last movie came down to directorial decisions that were pretty bad. I think he learned. There are still some really bad decisions here. The pacing of the movie, which runs a full two and a half hours, is terrible. I was able to get up for a bio break during the midway part and feel confident I missed nothing important. I was right. He understands highs and lows in the plot and how to utilize them well enough, but there are just too many and the director should be able to have some control there and Webb did not. I am beating up here, but he does redeem himself. some of the blame in this area of pacing and storytelling comes down to the writers.

If I wasn’t counting repeats, the total count is seven. You may commence worrying now. When you do account for repeats, it still only drops it for four. Two of which I will blame nearly entirely for any flaws in execution of the story and those are Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. These two until recently are inseparable. They are the ones who gave us Transformers 2, Star Trek into Star Wars..er Darkness, Cowboys and Aliens, and so many other disasters of storytelling. They make GREAT producers, but as writers they leave a little to be desired. The movie also has Jeff Pinkner who worked with K/O on Fringe, Lost and Alias; and finally James Vanderbilt, who gave us the underrated Basic and Losers movies.

With this many writers, its no wonder the overall plot is a hot mess of trying too much and being too ambitious. Granted, it succeeds at a good portion of it, but not in every area. It does try to stuff three classic spiderman bad guys, their origins, their character development into a single film. While doing that it also tries to give a bit of the heroes journey narrative for your friendly neighborhood web head both in and out of costume. God, I want to get into spoilers here, but my promise is none. There is also a plot involving Peter’s parents again which I suppose if I followed the comics would make more sense, so Ill leave it as is. There really is a lot going on here, and it falls to the actors and director to try to make you care.

They succeed. This is where Webb shines. He has built a fantastic cast to work with and each of them really get a moment in the sun. Enough so that I was really able to see the world from their point of view. Jamie Foxx as Electro does a good job on what would otherwise be a fairly stereotypical caricature. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) channels mid 90’s Leonardo diCaprio and Cillian Murphy here to give his performance. He does make you feel for him and are able to follow his arc as Harry Osborn. Paul Giamatti is not used nearly enough in his role, but there are of course movies to come. Emma stone (zombieland) is an amazing woman who gives you a modern day Gwen Stacy. She is strong, she is independent, and she will not let someone else make decisions for her. I admire her, she’s someone people could look up to. We need her in more roles, more comic book and sci fi roles if possible. Actioners too. She is a really talented actress who brings a lot of fire into the role of a character who in the original run of the comics was little more than fridge bait and a victim. FOr this, I say thank you Ms. Stone. You were needed and you did a great job of being more than what she was drawn as.

The brunt of the praise, that Webb earned as well, comes down to Andrew Garfield. Our Peter Parker. Our Spiderman. He is everything that he needs to be and covers the range of emotions that he needs to. You can feel his despair, his confusion, his fear, his pain, and even his joy. He runs the gambit of the emotional rollercoaster through the film and you are with him the entire time. You really don’t question him (much) as he hits each beat. what he also delivers and delivers well is something we’ve been lacking in our superheroes of late. We have been in a rut of post modernism  in our heroes. This one wants to bring us hope, to bring smiles and that my friends is a nice change of pace and breath of fresh air. Is he moody? sure. Emo at times, yes, but with reason. Ultimately though he’s a comic book hero without too much deconstruction and we needed it. You may not know you needed it, but you did. Hope, light, and goodness are what we need more of in our heroes. So thank you. Thank you for doing it right here. Now do it again until people get off the dark and brooding kick.

The movie also boasts a fantastically executed soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Pharrel. I know right? It works. It isn’t memorable in the way that Star Wars or Superman is, but it is a strong soundtrack that elevates the film. You have moments of not being able to tell if you are dealing with effects or soundtrack at time and I consider this a good thing. Other musical choices in the film are just as relevant and just as well done.

It isn’t perfect though. Not by a long shot. As I said before the pacing is pretty bad. It runs about 30 minutes too long. Some of the visual effects are clearly animated and not blended well. Plot points are eye rollingly contrived at times with unnecessary threats and tension that only serves to distract. Editing errors are rampant; with confusing cuts and unusual beats with no explanation. Those moments serve to confuse rather than add. The visuals are a bit intense at times with motion and enough to be noticed, but not as bad as some have indicated.


I feel good in recommending this one.

It’s a landmark improvement over the previous entries into the Spiderman franchises. There’s room for improvement in the next. It was solid, it was entertaining and just a good movie. I didn’t come out of it as excited as I did in Cap, but I won’t hold it against the movie as it does deliver all it tries to. Some parts better than others.

Spiderman is certainly an all ages film. I don’t think any beats get too dark for younger audiences, but I do think the story when it begins to drag will leave some kids *really* antsy.

3D? Isn’t necessary to enjoy it, but if you can afford the extra and don’t have anything that makes 3D bad on you. Try it. It does add to the film, which is the first time I’ve said that this year. Yay.

Final note: This movie is bright in the story sense, the character sense. Please Hollywood, when this one wins the box office this weekend pay attention. This is what we need in our heroes and for the love of the art form get back to this!!

Darke Reviews | White House Down (2013)

Darke Reviews – White House Down

Ahhh Hollywood, nearly every summer we get a glimpse of how ethical the studios really are. I want you to think back over the years and consider the number of times a movie comes out in theatres and then a few months later a very very similar film comes out. It happens in both movies and TV. This is what happens when a writer shops his script around trying to sell it to the studio to get made. The studio declines to pay him for his treatment and then hires another writer to make a film using the same concept. One is often more dramatic, the other more action oriented depending on the year, the studio and the environment. This years winner of the golden rip off pair is Olympus Has Fallen & White House Down. I cannot tell you which one was pitched first, so I do not know whom ripped off whom.

SO where does that leave us with White House Down, the second of the White House attack films this year? In a very interesting place by comparison to previous outings of a similar nature. WHen I saw the first of the two I thought it was the action oriented love letter to Die Hard and the first actual Die Hard film in nearly a decade. Tonight I saw another ode to John McTiernans classic action movie from the 80s. Thats right folks, we have another contender in the “I am a fan of Die Hard so I want to honor it with my take.”

Did they do it justice? Well..yes and no.

Director Roland “If Its a landmark I will destroy it” Emmerich actually has reigned his damage in and learned a slight ounce of subtlety. At the same time he wanted to do that THING. Writer James Vanderbilt (Amazing Spider Man, Losers, Basic) is probably the best script writer that Emmerich has worked with to date giving us more than a few characters that have the slightest degree of emotional investment and a plot, while still heavy handed in many respects, that is quite entertaining.

Channing “I’m hot but can’t act” Tatum, plays John McClain..er Cale (Yes his Jame is still John) who much like our original hero is a cop in the wrong place at the right time. He even spends half the movie in a white tank top that gets progressively dirty. He has a wife – sorry – daughter in harms way as one of sixty hostages. He must run around a complex building trying to avoid bad guys while getting more and more beaten up as he goes. There’s even a rooftop fight where the choppers are coming in.

Jamie Foxx is our President in this one. Don’t laugh. It works. Much like any president he is a man who has to be more than that. He has to make decisions no man should have to make and live with them. Sometimes they have costs in other peoples lives. FOxx delivers all of this and brings a much needed levity to this film.

Olympus has fallen was all action all the time. White House Down is action with the humor that OhF was missing. Even Tatum delivers a few good ones from time to time, which is hard for man whose cardboard cut out has more acting range.

Yes Jess – but is it good?

God no. But it is entertaining. Much like Fast 6 this is a Popcorn fest that this summer needed. Yes it has it’s eye rolling plot holes and things that just would not work, but that isn’t the point. While there is a not so subtle political message embedded in the film it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be self righteous. Point in fact I was having a conversation with someone earlier today about movies that try for too many tones and don’t go far enough. This one goes for a few different ones and gets them right. It went just far enough and didn’t take itself too seriously at all.

This is what makes White House Down work

So for the TL;DR

If you are looking for a good popcorn flick – This will do just fine.

It isn’t weighty, it isn’t trying to sell something. It’s just raw very silly and quite ridiculous fun. Again, it is NOT good, but it is entertaining.