Darke Reviews – Fantastic Four (2015)

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been dreading this movie since the first trailer landed. All I could think of was how much it reminded me of the final beats of Mass Effect 3 (which we all know is epic). That the casting looked horrific for some of the critical roles. I am not talking the fact that Sue & Johnny are part of a mixed race family either. That is 100% irrelevant if the casting is good. Remember the Daredevil movie? I know some of you just winced and went for the nearest blunt object to bash your heads in; however Michael Clarke Duncan was a perfect Kingpin. I am talking about the fact that they barely looked old enough to shave. Ok, your argument is the studios change characteristics of thematic characters all the time. Wolverine isn’t a short, squat, lumberjack. Rogue wasn’t a southern belle. Storm wasn’t someone who can actually act. These kind of changes happen all the time and if done well; such as Wolverine, Beast, and Quicksilver can be an improvement and enhance the film.

So did they enhance the film or was it as bad I thought it would be? Spoiler free as always!!

Let us pause and examine the writers before all else. We hit the three writer rule, excluding ‘characters created by’ credit to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Screenplay credits go to Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and Josh Trank (also the director). I will talk about Trank in a minute. I do not know, nor want to know, who did what at which part of the development process. Slater has one credit prior to this, the much maligned and forgotten Lazarus Effect from earlier this year. I cannot speak to it’s quality not having seen it. Kingberg. I must ask myself why people give him work. He is so hit and miss, but mostly miss that I can see where so much of this train wreck came from. xXx: State of the Union, X-Men 3, Jumper, all are his. Yet he also has a hand on Sherlock Holmes and Mr. & Mrs Smith and several episodes of the fan favorite series Star Wars Rebels. Maybe the lesson here is that he needs to stick to TV?

Trank. Tank. Yep, bout right. Josh Trank has but one film credit prior, the quite spectacular Chronicle. This is what gave Fox the idea he would be good to direct this. I mean it was about a bunch of teen “heroes” with powers, so thats good enough right? Fox really needs to stop thinking. It rarely ends well for anyone involved when it comes to fandoms. What at first feels like a man with vision and clear ideas on how to do something new has turned into a nightmare with a 9 figure budget proportion; an estimated $120,000,000. With his hand on the script as well, Fox having their hand in the pot as producers, and Kinbergs previous work so much becomes clear to me; yet I am left with a profound sense of despondency.

The story begins with young supergenius Reed Richards and his friend Ben Grimm determined to make a device that allows teleportation. Enter Dr. Franklin Storm and his adopted daughter Sue who find interest in Richards work and bring him to the Baxter building to further his research and take it to the next level. Of course this cannot be done alone and others must be enlisted to finish the project; including Ben and Johnny. When the incredibly young scientists use their teleportation device they end up in another dimension when something goes wrong….

This is more or less where anything resembling a plot ends. After that the movie meanders aimlessly for the remaining hour without once giving me an “Oh yeah that was awesome” moment. How does a comic book movie do that? Rather how does it fail to do that?

First it takes actors who are actually rather good and sucks all the charm and charisma out of them nearly as bad as M. Night Shyamalan can. Miles Teller, best known for Whiplash, the Divergent series, and Footloose, has a natural charisma to him that you like him even when he is a jerk. He is the *only* one who shows any sign of his potential here. He has the chops to try to pull off Reed but is failed by the script and director so horribly I forgot he was actually supposed to be Mr. Fantastic and he just comes across as a moping science dude. Kate Mara (Shooter, House of Cards), another actress who can do most anything. She is far more believable as a scientist than Alba was, yet once again her own gifts are drowned out by a humorless script that gives her absolutely nothing to work with. I can count on one hand the number of smiles I saw from her in the film. Rising star Michael B Jordan (Chronicle, Creed, The Wire) is another person who should have done well. I mean Johnny Storm isn’t that hard to play, without even comparing him to Chris Evans performance, he just comes across petulant and dull. How do you make the Human Torch dull? He turns into living fire! How can you make that boring? Even Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer, TURN, Adventures of Tin Tin) just is so bland that he could become forgettable without the FX work that makes him The Thing.

I cannot recall a single emotion on this film regarding our heroes. Not one. No joy, no excitement, not even anger or sadness. Not a single emotion was felt towards them, and nary a smile was to be seen on my face. What little good will the actors were able to bring with the performances they tried to give us was destroyed by Tim Blake Nelson’s Dr. Allen. Rarely in my life have I wanted to watch someone truly suffer; which I suppose means the actor did ok, but he was just so damn annoying and stereotypical that I hated him for those facets alone. You may note at this point I have not mentioned Victor vonDoom, played by Toby Kebbell (Wrath of the Titans, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Sorcerers Apprentice). All I will say on the topic is he is actually, and somehow impossibly, worse than Julian McMahon in the original two films with the same role. It is godawful. He is godawful. I do not wish to see his career end as I am certain the bad story, bad script, bad directing, bad production design hurt anything he could possibly do.

The *only* thing that works. The effects for The Human Torch and The Thing. Thats it. Every other effect is bland, forgettable, and ultimately as dull and lifeless as the rest of the film. Some effects were clearly inspired by superior material from other sources such as Mass Effect and Halo. Thats right folks, video games look better than this did. From a color perspective, and sit down for this, Man of Steel and the recent Batman movies seem bright and cheerful by comparison. The movie is dark, dingy, and at times even dirty. It probably is what makes The Thing look good since the lines can be hidden, but the reality is the movie looks so bleak and dirty that Gotham city is considering suing for identity theft.


Jess, where is the hate? Where’s the Die Hard levels of vitriol we were hoping for?

I am sorry. I cannot hate this movie more than it hates itself. I would love nothing more than to tell you this is a pile of fetid refuse hiding in the remains of six week old chinese food, left in the bog of eternal stench, after being coated in the bile of a rabid howler monkey that smothered it in rotting durian fruit. I would love to tell you that I hate this more than I do World War Z.  I would love to tell you that the raw putrescence of the film is so gag inducing that those who suffer from Bulimia will be able to watch this to trigger their condition. But I can’t.

This movie hates itself more. It hates science. It hates the characters. It hates the actors. It hates color. It hates laughter. It hates happiness. It hates chemistry (literal and figurative). It hates the military. It hates the government. It hates the source material.

Most of all it hates the audience.

I watched this so you don’t have to. Save your money. Do not let them think we should go ahead and make the sequel.

Please for the love of all you hold holy, unless you are being dragged to this do not see it. If you must, be drunk. Be stoned. Be in some kind of altered state. You might find enjoyment somewhere in this soulless mass of self loathing celluloid; at the very least you won’t care.

I know I didn’t at the end.

Darke Reviews | Insurgent (2015)

I love March. It marks the beginning of the end for the toughest time in the 9-5 and the beginning of movies worth watching in the theatres – at least it usually is. This year is really not off to a good start and I just looked at April and with one major exception (Furious 7) there is next to nothing until Age of Ultron. I also seem to be among the few who did not like Cinderella last week; at least until the Walker brothers discussed it recently. So this week we got the sequel to last years Divergent.

Does Insurgent live up to it’s name and break the trend?

First, let me compare a bit to last years review. My friend at the coffee bar at the theatre told me there was a near full house for earlier showings yet my show was near empty. This time, the house was nearly full in one of the largest rooms they have there; which tells me this one grew despite the mediocre ratings the first one got. I still haven’t read the books, though they do look nice in my library – which means this review is still going to talk about the work from a purely cinematic standpoint. My last review talked about dystopian teen fiction at length for a bit.

Divergent took the tact of giving us a movie about class-ism or elitism and threw it out the window by giving us a main character who isn’t of any caste. It’s a pleasant twist. Insurgent continues the story of Tris Prior, a divergent, picking up days/weeks after the events of the last movie. This time the story is as much internal as it is external dealing with Tris facing her demons within and without. I rather enjoyed the conceit as we have a world where that can actually be a real thing to you.

Rather than keep the writers from the last film, three new writers come in. That’s usually not a good thing as my rule of three comes into play. I haven’t mentioned the rule for awhile and have some new readers. If you get to three or more writers for a film there is a degradation in the quality of the film. Too many writers, rewrites, and cooks in the kitchen and it tends to show in the final work. It does here too. Newcomer Brian Duffield was involved, working with Akiva Goldsman (Winter’s Tale, Angels & Demons, I Am Legend), and Mark Bomback (The Wolverine, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). I can’t tell what Duffield did for this movie as I have nothing to compare against. Goldsman brought his ability to write someone facing their own psychology, while Bomback brought a sense of reasonably well written action. By their powers combined, however, we get a bit of a mess.

The movie, much like the first, meanders a bit too much and has some odd pacing and tonal switches. It wants to address some things and then decides not to. It gives you threats then promptly ignores most of them. Like the first I have an overwhelming sense of meh for what I watched; and yet an interest to see what they do next. I am not sure how that works more than the movie falling to Middle of the Trilogy syndrome where it comes across as mostly filler but provides a set up for a more interesting finale.

I think the writers are not solely to blame for me not caring too much, as the director is the one who brought us one of the most bilious, refuse laden, nausea inducing films I have ever watched R.I.P.D.. I have such contempt for that film and likely find Robert Schwentke to blame for any flaws in films he works on. While, again, I have not read the books, I blame the director for me being deeply annoyed with most of the characters in the film. I blame the director for wasting Shailene Woodley as Tris.

I do not blame Shailene (Fault in our Stars), she actually does a good job. I understand her logic. I understand her fears. She makes sense and every decision – makes sense. That is so rare and most of that comes from the actor being able to pull off the nuance of emotions. Sadly something happened between the last movie and this one (I’ll blame Schwentke) with Woodley and her romantic co star Theo James (Underworld 4) who plays Four. I could be missing something but for the better part of the film I don’t feel chemistry between them, which is sad as much of the film needs that. There are exceptions, but not nearly enough.

Kate Winslet, as Jeanine, is one cat short of being a Bond villain.  Jai Courtney still annoys me and I am reasonably certain they used a cardboard cut out in two scenes with him and they turned in a better performance than the actor. Ansel Elgort (also Fault in our Stars) does well with what he has, but I don’t think he has much. Miles Teller (Footloose, Whiplash, and the upcoming Fantastic Four) is surprisingly enjoyable; even when he’s a jerk. He just makes his character work. The rest of the cast is entirely not worth mentioning – which is unfortunate.

From a technical perspective I’ve already hinted at some pacing issues. There are horrifically bad CGI birds that keep coming. When CinemaSins gets their hands on this, I fully expect at least one Birdemic joke; they are that bad. They are also totally unexplainable from the cinematic narrative. Someone who read the book might be able to explain them but from someone who only has the cinema to go from they make no sense. Most of the green screen is hidden and the action is pretty good. It isn’t perfect from a CG perspective but it does better than most.


Once again I find myself in the category of meh. I don’t think I had high hopes for this one. It proved me right as it is clearly a middle less interesting film that serves no point than to prepare us for something new with Allegiant.

If you liked the first one, or have at least seen the first one. Continue the story. Give it a watch, you won’t feel your time is wasted. There are some genuinely good moments amidst the ok ones.

If you haven’t watched the first, you’ll want to before watching this. If you don’t you may care even less.

There’s nothing major to see here. This isn’t the game changer for 2015 we were looking for. I don’t suppose I believed it would be, but it would have been nice.









Darke Reviews | Divergent (2014)

Let me open with, no I haven’t read the books. Remember that post on the personal facebook page about having an addiction? That was me dropping nearly $100 ON the Books (and a few others, like a hard cover of Frankenstein, but I digress). Now that I’ve seen the movie I can read them comfortably and know that this review is written from pure objectivity as a film. The girl at the coffee bar told me there was mad crowds for the earlier showings tonight and I find that interesting since my showing (the last of the night) only had about thirty or so in it.

what I truly find interesting is the range of material and world building that occurs within the Young Adult (YA) genre. I am twice the age, or more, of it’s target demographic yet I find the books in many of these series compelling. I suppose it’s ironic that a girl who read The Stand when she was eleven reads Vampire Academy, Hunger Games, and Divergent nearly three decades later. Back to the worlds though, when I was in high school it was the start of an interesting age in YA novels I think. I read Vampire Diaries (and still have my first prints) and the Secret Circle and they were sort of avant garde to my perception at the time. Now such works cover entire rows at the bookstores. They cover the supernatural romance, alternative history, alternative modernism, and dystopian futures.

They also show us who we are as a people and who we can be potentially when done properly. The dystopian futures do this best of all. Hunger Games being one of the stronger examples and now Divergent following close by. Where Hunger Games (movies) has actually kind meandered in showing what the best of us can do in adversity and a world that wants to devour of us; Divergent takes a different tact. They introduce a fascinating caste system (classism?) and promptly throw it out the window with the main character. Yes my review is still spoiler free, if you didn’t know she was different, then you haven’t watched a trailer of this yet and its been nearly a year since the first one. Statue of limitations is past. Deal.

Evan Daughtry (Snow White and the Huntsman, Bay’s TMNT) and Vanessa Taylor (three episodes of Game  of Thrones as a writer and 20  episodes of producer credits) have the task of converting twenty five year old Veronica Roths novels to film. As discussed before it is not an easy task. To be honest, I am not 100% sure they were up to it. Let me explain. Vampire Academy is an abomination of adaptation. It fails on more levels than it succeeds in taking the heart, soul and characters and bringing them to screen. It lacks subtlety in any way shape or form and you may feel dumber (or insulted) for watching it. Hunger Games (book 1) is a near perfect adaptation in terms of book to script to screen. There is very little actually cut from the story and the essence of what was trying to be told was brought to the screen.

In Divergent, we have the story of Tris a girl born to at once the lowest caste and the highest. When being tested and eventually choosing her caste for herself, she goes against the grain and adopts a new family forsaking her life and family before. In the course of training to become one with her new caste she truly comes to understand herself and her true nature. It helps to have a mentor along the way and she finds that in Four. While the discovery of self develops, there are machinations of the castes and politics of a different nature occurring that she is caught up in.

At the end of the movie I had an overwhelming sense of…meh. I wanted to care what happened next. I wanted to care and see more, but I didn’t. That is why I think the writers failed. when I read the book, I hope I can say they did what they could with what they had; but I have a feeling this isn’t the strongest adaptation out there. It’s still a  magnitude better than Vampire Academy or the movie that shares a title with the Max Brooks classic. Even not reading the books I know it is a better adaptation than those two repugnant pieces of cinema.

So if the script wasn’t to blame, then perhaps the directing? Neil Burger, best known for Limitless and the Illusionist (the less glitzy version of The Prestige), is the man to blame I think. He got some things right, but his sense of pacing is way off. The movie runs two hours and twenty minutes and it feels it. The best movies can run that long without the audience noticing. I noticed somewhere around the half way point that they were in no way even close to tying up this story. Its true in keeping with the amount of information in a novel it can increase running time, but a clever or skilled director knows how to mask that. Burger isn’t quite up to the task either. The shots are pretty, the direction of the actors is actually very well done, but the overall pacing allowed me to disengage from the story too often. A real problem towards the climax of the film. There are also some editing, continuity and logic fails that left me wondering.

The acting though. well…what to say there?

FINALLY. Finally a movie that isn’t starring Jennifer Lawrence or Chloe Grace Moretz where the younger (not teen) actors are not card board cut outs. actually in some films the cut outs might have more range. Divergent is not that film. All of the actors do their part and make it work. Shailene Woodley (Tris) who is relatively unknown unless you watched The Descendants or Secret Life of the American Teenager is able to carry the film. She brings the right emotions at the right times. Little body language ticks, eye movements, tears brimming, even posture and walk are spot on. She is engaging. She is believable. Her doubts and the fears she does have are played out beautifully as the character transitions due to her acting. She is also one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen of late that isn’t named Katniss. Theo James (Four) who really only has Underworld Awakening (yummy vampire…bad Jess) to his credit also has an amazing range displayed for someone trying to be stoic. While not as refined as Woodley he is just as engaging and worth watching in the time he is on camera. I have to admit, he’s not bad to just watch either. His acting though lets him bring both a certain physicality his role seems to call for and vulnerability in the right moments.

The remainder of the cast left me a little surprised in the opening credits. Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney (Reacher, I Frankenstein),  Ray Stevenson (Thor, the Punisher was almost unrecognizable), Zoe Kravitz (X-Men First Class), Miles Teller (Footloose, That Awkward Moment), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal, Last Samurai, Ghost), Maggie Q (Nikita, Preist) and Kate Winslet (her heart did not go on) cover the majority of the other roles. Most of them are playing their stereotypes well. To say they were anything other than stereotypes would be disingenous. I like and hate the characters accordingly and find that their performances are everything that they SHOULD be, and I really cannot ask for more than that; and I shouldn’t.

From an technical standpoint, seeing a post apocalyptic chicago was interesting. They did a good job crafting that and setting the stage for the world without going into too much exposition to explain it. The visuals tell a story all their own and thats what they should do. Wardrobe and make up were solid and I have to admit it was nice to see people in NOT black leather jackets at all times. The zip line scene was quite fun and might even be interesting in 3D. It’s something I would do.

That’s my final point before I get near the end (oh hush, I know this is a long one). Movies are about escapism to a point. While I don’t escape into this world as easily as I do others like City of Bones or Beautiful Creatures; I found myself wondering where I would be in this world. Dead probably. That said, it created enough of a world that while I wouldn’t want to go there, I could imagine it well enough to find myself there for two and a half hours. No mean feat really. I didn’t find myself wanting to beat the main character senseless for bad decisions, also a plus. In these facets the movie actually succeeds. It both comments on the class-ism of modern american society, gives an escape and entertains while it potentially informs. It does what a good movie should do.

TL;DR? (finally right?)

Divergent is a good movie. As I just said above, it does what a good movie should. It has the potential to inform you if you look beyond the cover, it can entertain you and can give you an escape from your own world for just a bit. It’s a nice place to visit, but you sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there. If you do, I am concerned for your well being.

Can I recommend it for everyone? No. It has problems in it’s execution that are enough that I wouldn’t highly recommend it. This isn’t Frozen or Avengers. This isn’t quite Hunger Games either and again thats to its benefit.

If you were already interested, you can breathe a sigh of relief.It is absolutely family friendly, but I saw someone’s face melt (Raiders) when I was five and was ok with it.

If you were curious, I can say give it a shot. You can even pay full price and not feel bad for it.

If you were not interested to begin with, you won’t be still and will likely find more flaws in it than I did.

After 300, Need for Speed (still surprised there) and now Divergent March has turned out to be a really good month. Here’s hoping the trend continues!