Darke Reviews | The Dark Tower (2017)

One of the first not for kids books I remember reading cover to cover was Stephen King. Now granted, it wasn’t heavy reading at 127 pages, but I was 9 at the time so there’s that. The Mist is still one of the scariest stories for me but that’s because I heard it as a book on tape after reading it. Sound effects and regular mist/fog in Maryland help. I read IT, and The Stand I read in church (the irony isn’t lost), Christine I got in trouble in 9th grade for reading instead of Gatsby. I could never quite get into his work in the 90’s though; something had changed in them that stopped engaging me. It was then I came across his mass market paper back of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I think I read a hundred pages or so into the Dark Tower, but it didn’t grab me. So it, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass,  The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower itself went unread. That means my usual rules of not having read the book get to apply here. The real question though is:

Did someone finally do Stephen King right?

This movie has been in development hell for as long as I can remember paying attention to movie development cycles. A lot of people claimed it was unfilmable over the years as it’s changed directors, writers, producers, companies and so on. So it appears they did the only sensible thing – they made an original story in the universe set after the books? Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either. The movie invokes the three writer rule, with an add on as we have four. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who no major directing credits, but does have screen play for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2009, gets the last credit. Another Dane by the name of Anders Thomas Jensen has the next credit; who has no credits I recognized from this side of the pond. Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider Man 2) and The 5th Wave who is a frequent collaborator with our final writer the dreaded Akiva Goldsman. When I first started in this business, I read a lot of insider sites and other reviews. Goldsman’s name was dreaded. I couldn’t figure out why at the time. In retrospect I understand. Yes, while I absolutely adore Practical Magic, he is responsible for Insurgent, I am Legend, Angels & Demons, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space – and the latest much maligned (deservedly) Transformers The Last Knight.

Goldsman is poison for movies when pen touches paper. As a producer it doesn’t get much better with most of his films being either mildly entertaining to just bad. Mostly on the bad side like this years King Arthur. Why am I picking on Akiva? Because I think I figured out what happens. What it is he does and it happened here. It isn’t so much mediocrity as an art form, but being so unoriginal, so bland, so unwilling to commit to a risk that the project is a colossal meh. I had a conversation just this afternoon about the DC movies and how so many movies today have tonal quality issues. They don’t know what they want to be – is it a comedy, a horror, an action, a sci fi? Studios are afraid of picking one and sticking to it, so they bring a new writer in to ‘polish’ the script and add their own tone. What you end up with is a muddled uninteresting mess.

That’s what happened here. Goldsman and company made a movie so safe, so middle of the road to try to appeal to everyone that it will appeal to no one. Akiva Goldsman is the Syndrome of the movie industry. It’s PG-13, when it could have been R. It has little blood. Little watchable action. Little engaging. Is it Sci fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a western? Is it horror? All and none of the above are true. It wants to be everything and in the end is nothing. The dialogue loops on itself more than a few times or has no context to care so you are left wondering why things happen rather than following them happen.

I don’t think a young inexperienced director like Arcel could handle it; but then again I am not sure Ron Howard (another producer on this) could have saved it had he been in the directors chair either. The shots are bland and reused. There’s nothing interesting in the camera work, the staging, the stock shots of New York, the creature designs (when you see them). It’s either too dark, too jostly, or too fake looking to care. Nothing has weight and you can’t buy any of the risk; thus when loss of any kind occurs nothing can be felt. The most interesting shots of action are what you get in the trailer with nothing more or less fascinating delivered beyond that.

I don’t think I want to talk about the actors. Elba is fine as The Gunslinger. McConaughey is fine as the Man in Black; honestly one of the better things in the movie.. Tom Taylor, as the kid Jake is ..passable. He’s at least not annoying?

It’s technically a very poor movie. As mentioned before there are so few engaging camera shots that one would find above basic. There’s action with no weight. There’s just nothing to work with here to even pick apart. If anything the movie just expects you to follow along and I guess that is ok?

TL;DR

They have forgotten the face of their fathers.

The Dark Tower is a mediocre movie. It’s milk toast. I had an older couple behind me on the ride down the escalator who HAD read all the books and laughed with me when I said it wasn’t good.  It  may have calls that fans of the books know, but I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the fact that in an attempt to not ostracize people who haven’t read the book they failed everyone.  As I said in the main body, it wanted to please everyone and in the end pleases no one.

I think I really would have liked to see the book as a movie or even an adaptation of the book but this wasn’t even that.

Should you see it?

No. Not even Matinee, sorry.

So not buying it?

If I thought burning it as an offering to the things outside the wheel of the tower would keep movies like this from being made – I might.

Anything even remotely fun in it?

Playing the “Guess the Stephen King reference” as the movie goes on. I got Christine, Cujo, The Shining (literally same verse), 1408, It, and Misery. Did I miss any? Wait you aren’t seeing it (I hope). Damn.

Ok so what next?

A few weeks off as there’s nothing in August after this. It’s the graveyard of summer movies typically and this summer (and movie) exemplifies it. I might throw a review or two up of random things like The Core, or the new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie.

 

Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping for something here, but I can’t even offer a ray of hope. King has said this line is one his best: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I agree. It’s intense. It’s engaging. It’s evocative and intriguing and the movie is none of these things. The work that is Kings magnum opus has come to this and I am sorry for Mr. King today.

Maybe “It” in September will be as good as we all hope it is.

Darke Reviews | Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

The number one question I was asked about this movie today: “What’s it about?”

My best answer: “Two soldiers in space fighting against some big evil that threatens to destroy everything. It’s by Luc Besson, the guy who did Leon the Professional, Lucy, and The Fifth Element based on a french comic from the 60s”. I like Besson’s work. I really do. He has a list of films and inspirational works that change how other works are done or are otherwise remade. From La Femme Nikita, the films mentioned above, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and writing projects such as The Transporters, District B13, and Lockout. A lot of his films take place in his home country (duh) so the idea of him adapting a French comic for the big screen – especially one that clearly inspired as much of modern sci fi as Flash Gordon and John Carter did makes sense.

So the real question is did it work?

We’ve talked a lot about the Writer and director – Luc Besson. Credit where its due must go to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières the original writers of the comic back in 1967. It seems that from a story and plot element that Besson took inspiration from the material but is trying to tell an original story within it. If you look at covers of the comics ( which I have not read) you can tell how much the source material inspired his own work with one cover literally showing a scene from the 5th Element with people on the edge of a building, a floating taxi and a floating semi with very specific and familiar designs. Hell, Jean-Claude Mézières was brought in while he worked on the 5th Element who asked him why he was making that and not Valerian. He has easily lifted some of the dialogue and personalities, based on some research into the history of the comic and one of its animated adaptations from 2007 (it aired in France). So why…don’t I care?

Yep. There’s the first hint how this will go.

It is absolutely evident this should have been a passion project for Besson, capitalizing on the advances in technology thanks to James Cameron to make the aliens come to life in ways we hadn’t seen; but even with that in mind the movie is hollow. I think going totally original was a mistake. There are no clear or present stakes that mean anything, the character of Valerian (yes its his name) are not serviced by the script and is generally unlikable. I figured out early on what was going on, as Besson couldn’t do subtle if a Agatha Christie wrote for him. There is no subtext with him, only text and a strong sense of visual style. There is no ticking clock, no sense of tension; just a moment to moment – event to event beat through the film that has our characters going after each other and the McGuffin with no stakes at play that you can take seriously. Death doesn’t hold any weight with others who die because you don’t know them or only know them in so little passing that it renders it emotionless.

The actors really do try their best, but cannot overcome the script or their own drawbacks as actors. Dane DeHaan tries, he really does; but his character is just shy of being an insufferably chauvinist and egotistical. Additionally you cannot buy him as a top notch high ranking special operations soldier; even though he is thirty he just doesn’t play it or carry the weight. He moves well and pulls off the action he gets to do, but he never quite sells it and the nature of his character comes across in his young 20’s not 30s. This same flaw affects Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad’s Enchantress) either, who comes across younger, but more mature. She seems the more seasoned soldier, if less experienced, while he is the hot headed rookie but….isn’t as he out ranks her by quite a bit. It’s rather dissonant and confusing to watch and parse out. She by far is the more likable of the two.

Literally no one else is worth discussing as they have so little screen time or overall impact on the story. Aside from the McGuffin. I want one, it was adorable.

The elephant in the room here is the visuals. Dear powers that be is this movie gorgeous. It’s clear a lot of effort and a significant portion of the $180mm budget went into merging practical and visual effects. It is about the same level as what we got in James Cameron’s Avatar, including I think using the models as a base with minor adjustments to the skins to keep them different. Graphic quality is both as good and bad as the scene needs; with the one exception being the transitions in Rhianna’s highly fetishistic and male gaze rewarding dance sequence. The transformations look amazing. The aliens in this movie do look amazing. There are plenty of designs I haven’t seen before and a lot of craftsman ship in key places.

The editing is rough and I am pretty sure there’s a few scenes on the editing room floor as some jokes feel like there’s a setup missing and most of the emotional beats are missing the reminder before the not so payoff. Additionally since I know there’s a lot of chatter on this topic; yes I can see where Mass Effect influenced this movie but also where it was influenced by the material; but overall the movie gets top marks on visuals and I would bet the 3-D looks amazing.

TL:DR

While the 3-D may look amazing, no one will see it. The movie really isn’t that good. Its light, its fluffy, but it isnt good popcorn as I was bored quite often. It held no surprises and was lifeless which if nothing else disappoints me. I wanted it to be good, but didn’t have the bar raised too high. I think it may do well internationally, but within the U.S. it is going to flop harder than a Magikarp. Ok the opening scenes on Mul were amazingly beautiful, but that doesn’t save the other 2 hours of the movie.

It does succeed at one thematic component – the science fiction. It has technology and idealolgy that we are missing from a lot of sci fi; but some of the negative tropes too so there’s that. It is still good science fiction despite the flaws.

Should you see it?

No…sadly.

Will you see it again? Maybe it needs a second viewing?

Eh…I don’t think so.

Buying it?

Maybe for clips for some future video project that might happen, but out of the bargain bin if I do.

Are you going to see or review Dunkirk?

Probably not. I am not a huge fan of Nolan and find that he has an inflated sense of his own importance that too many people support. He is technically a master of his craft; but if I only wanted technical proficiency from films I would watch Kurosawa or other classics that may be dated by show the artistry of the director. I need both some form of emotional connection and some level of technical accumen for me to have interest in the film. Nolan  succeeds at one so well the other is sacrifced; where the movie I just watched didn’t nail either well beyond visual delight.

So what’s next week then?

Atomic Blonde.

Darke Reviews | War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In preparation for this movie I did a double feature in my own home last night watching both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – worth noting it was almost 3 years to the day on release from the last film.  I remembered they were good, with computer animation that defies so many other films we see, most of it focused on amazing motion capture work with Andy Serkis. The first movie is classic science fiction with a morality tale built in as it should be, but in my opinion doesn’t warn us away from the science. Granted it does require the stupidity and bad lab procedures to survive itself, but its a conceit I allow for the sake of the whole. The second movie is more of what we have become used to in our science fiction with a dystopian world with nature taking control and humanity on the brink. The question asked is can we peacefully co-exist? The answer is not when prejudice and hatred continue to reside within either side; which leads us to War.

Should you avoid this War though?

Matt Reeves returns to the directors chair after successfully helming the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, in my opinion is proving Cloverfield wasn’t a fluke of directing and that Let Me In was as well done as it was for a remake due to finite control of his camera and his actors. He with director of photography Michael Seresin (Dawn, Prisoner of Azkaban) go for some interesting camera shots. While most of them are not as evocative as those in Rise or Dawn, they are still appropriate. There are a few Dutch angles in the film for those who look for them and I believe you will find them appropriately used.  Intelligent use of wide shots as well as the close up.  He brings out the right performances from his actors and in scenes where I thought I might get annoyed I was surprised that I wasn’t. He, along with the story he co-wrote, know how to ease down the tension without letting it go away; allowing for laughter in the right times and right beats so as to not take away the dramatic moments that happened only minutes before. He ramps and lets go very well throughout the film with only one or two stumbles

The supporting story allows for it with Reeves and Mark Bomback on the pen. Bomback having screenplay credits on the last film, The Wolverine (Wolverine in Japan, aka the other good one); but also the less than stellar Insurgent and Live Free or Die Hard. The story is what it advertises itself to be – a war movie; but more akin to ones like The Longest Day (1962) or Battle of the Bulge (1965).  What does that mean? Well war is the backdrop to personal stories. Sure there is action but the action is in service to the plot rather than the plot and the story being in service to the action. They let beats linger long, they use the lack of actual dialogue to their benefit, and the dialogue they choose to use is used well; while the sign language of the apes continues to be very effective in this medium. They are able to introduce new characters both heroes and villains, human and ape – who manage to have their own arcs and finality to them as well. There are a few moments that while set up if you were looking close that may have some folks rolling their eyes, but it is not a major sin.

I said it before and will say it again, please just acknowledge Andy Serkis is deserving of an Oscar and punch anyone in their lying mouth if they say you can’t act or emote through Motion Capture. His Ceasar is a tired leader in this one and the weight of everything on his shoulders and it plays perfectly through the film. Karin Konoval’s Maurice, the orangutan, continues to plug the heartstrings of ape and audience while being the films conscience. Steve Zahn surprised me with how charming his performance was; which made a brilliant counterpoint to Woody Harrelson as The Colonel. He is just the right kind of monster that you can almost get for a few moments then come to your senses (I hope). Twelve year old Amiah Miller does not annoy and in fact endears through the movie as the little girl. All in all every performance was good and adds to the effort of script and camera.

Technically – yes the Apes and motion capture are even better than Disney did with Rogue One. They are improved over the last 6 years and almost…almost flawless especially in their weight on screen against living actors. Granted some of that comes from the mo-cap work, but the CG artists have to deliver on it. I want to say it’s perfect on this front, but I can’t. There’s a few shots that don’t work with the Apes, but they are rare. What is sad that some of the environmental, technological, and background effects are missing that same level of quality. While not “bad” they just aren’t quite good and temporarily ejected me from a scene, but most audiences will give it a pass. I think there are a handful of editing mistakes in the film, most of which are forgivable. At 140 minutes the movie does run a bit long and probably could have had 10-15 minutes shaved here and there with negligible impact, but improved the pacing.

TL;DR?

During my last review for this series I invoked Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II and I stand by it. War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the trilogy of films perfectly. This is arguably one of the best cinematic trilogies of all time up there with the original Star Wars arc, Godfather, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are other trilogies sure, but they have a weak film in their series, where this franchise really doesn’t; only getting stronger as time goes on.

My only fear is Hollywood will foolishly try to make another and I hope Matt Reeves and others say no. You have as good as you are going to get and it would be wise to let the series end on the high note.

Should you see it?

Yes. War for the Planet of the Apes is an very good movie worth watching. I can’t say reasonably that 3-D would make it better, but XD probably would.

Will you buy it?

Without question.

 

Is it good Sci Fi?

Yes. yes it is. It gives you option for conversation. It gives you something to think about. It also gives both text and subtextual plots that are worth discussing. The movie defies tropes that other lesser films would have gone for. It takes risks and is intelligent about them.

Are you serious on the trilogy thing?

Absolutely. Look there’s a lot of trilogies out there and some good, some bad. It’s hard to find one that keeps getting better as it goes or ends as well.

This is a well made, well shot, well executed film deserving of praise and funding via ticket sales. I absolutely encourage people to watch this.

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

So let’s talk about Baby Driver, aka the movie I didn’t write a review for but really deserved one. Wait, wait – I was teasing. Mostly. It does deserve a review, but that’s not why you are here – you want to hear more about Spider-Man. Now as much as I do love the Bat family and Ghost Rider, Spider-Man was actually the first superhero I can remember from my childhood. I did see the 70’s and early 80’s live action shows, of course adored Spider-Man and and his Amazing Friends (1983). Yes, I had a crush on Firestar. There is even a picture of me – that no one will ever see – at the young age of 6 with a 12 inch Spider-Man figure. I did, however, thankfully avoid Spider-Man 3. Suffice to say we have had good incarnations, ostensibly great incarnations, cheesy ones, campy ones, and we shall never speak of the emo dance sequence ones.

So to paraphrase the words of Stan Lee – do you True believers have something to fear or not?

Homecoming was directed by John Watts, probably best known for his short film Clown and later its not as interesting feature length version. With that pedigree I did go in worried a bit, especially since his other credits seem to be for The Onion – which I suppose indicates a good sense of wit. Could he succeed where Sam Raimi burned out and where Mark Webb failed with Amazing Spider-Man 2? I wasn’t sure at first, then I saw how many writers it had. I know my three writer rule is pretty accurate overall, but beyond that it gets more so.

Writing credits for Homecoming, excluding Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Six. Six writers including screenstory and screenplay. Jonathan Goldstein, who gave us such memorable films such as Vacation (2015), Burt Wonderstone, and Horrible Bosses 2. Why would Sony give such a charming resume this movie? True it was also paired with Sweets from Bones, John Francis Daley as a screen story credit with the same writing credits. This does not seem auspicious; nor do their next films M.A.S.K, ROM, and Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light all based on 80’s cartoon properties of varying nostalgic value. Moving on to the actual screenplay we have Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna from (Lego Batman),  John Watts and his collaborator Christopher Ford (also from Clown).

This should have been a train wreck. I am not entirely sure how it isn’t. This is a very solid movie that unlike many other hero movies focuses on the smaller moments for the character. It stops to breathe, stops to have consequence and threat. It tries and succeeds to have heart. They gave us Peter Parker first and foremost. They are letting him learn to be Spider-Man without going into yet another origin story and montaging the learning process. Instead we have the learning process and the origin is given a single throw away line – because we all know it. The writers and directors don’t treat the audience like idiots and focus on what we want to see (mostly). There are a few moments of teenage awkwardness, and Spider-Man in the suburbs that go a little too long or too uncomfortable but that is a matter of taste. I am also giving the movie props for making the kids as wide ranging as they were. I *like* this Flash Thompson – clarification I don’t like the character but I like the interpretation, the character is still a bully who needs to be spaced. If the words great power and great responsibility were used I didn’t hear them which  goes to the movies credit yet again. They gave me a intelligent and compelling villain with understandable and relatable motivations – hell Marvel and DC have yet to do that with their movie properties since Loki. They even address some of the fallout of the Marvel Cinematic universe better than Agents of Shield ever did.  I was surprised by all of this. Yes the awkward moments of being a teen and Spidey drew a little long and not good for *me*; some of the Stark & Happy parts annoy me but it mostly ties back to my growing annoyance with Stark; your mileage may vary though. The rest is damn solid.

That goes for the acting as well. Now for the record Tom Holland was 20 when Civil War came out and is 21 as of a month ago. Tobey Maguire was 25 when Spider-Man came out in 2002 and Andrew Garfield was almost 30 for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. So he is *not* a teenager playing a teenager, but he is the closest we have had so far. He does it best of all. That’s right this is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man we have ever had grace the big screen. He has the heart, the fear, and the charm. He may not be as quipy as some people want but this is effectively Spider-Man Year One. Give it time. Also – he’s a kid. They make a point of it. He still acts like it. It works. Just as much as Michael Keaton absolutely nails it as Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. The casting went off type for him as well vs the characters comic look and the movie benefits from it.  I will say it again one of the best villains since Loki or Red Skull. The secondary cast sells it as well with of course Jacob Batalon as the best friend Ned being the grounding rod Peter needs and part of the emotional heart of the film.

From a technical standpoint. I have no complaints on the FX. None. Not one. On those lines I love how they really embraced the comic book and showed how strong he can be during a few scenes and gave him some of the classic poses in creative ways. The shots are clean and the colour palette is bright, if not normal – which when compared to the Marvel movies makes it abnormal. Black is black. Red is red. There are good contrasts in colour that make it work tonally. So not only do we get Spider-Man feeling like our friendly neighborhood web slinger, but he looks straight out of a comic page. It does have some Act II and Act III bridge pacing issues and some editing I noticed, but nothing bad. It runs long at just over 2 hours so be aware.

TL;DR

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie we have been asking for. This has what was missing from the Garfield ones (even if I did like them they were flawed). It makes up for the Raimi finale. It sets up a sequel in a very good way. It is loaded with easter eggs for fans of Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic universe.

Should you see it?

Yes. 3-D might be nice if you go for that. I saw it in 2D and was fine. I do think better sound systems will help, but not much.

Will you see it again?

Maybe. Depends if someone takes me. I won’t complain if they do.

Buying it?

Yes – which is more than I can say for the past few Marvel outings except for Civil War.

Where would you put it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Top 5 I think. Just on the edge of it if not. It’s no Winter Soldier, First Avenger, or Iron Man. Civil War and Avengers run neck and neck and I don’t know if this beats either, but it might.

Closing thoughts?

I do not think Spider-Man is a great movie. It is a solid, well above the curve we have grown complacent with and just really good. I do think people should see it and I do think Marvel could stand to look at this and figure out what is working and take a moment to learn from it.

Related: Stay for the final credits it’s beautifully meta. There will be also be lot of Easter Egg videos coming. Here are a few…- roll over to read –

  • Zendaya is our new MJ, perennial love interest of Spidey.
  • The look of “The Shocker” has homages to his actual look. this also shows how to do a multi villain movie right.
  • The principal of Peter’s school is played by Kenneth Choi who was Jim Morita in Captain America First Avenger. He is playing Principal Morita, who appears to be the son or Grandson of the Howling Commando based on a photo on his desk.
  • Not confirmed, but I am pretty sure one of the other school students is, or is related to Silver Sable. They kept showing a girl with Silver White hair and I know there is a Silver Sable, Black Cat and Venom movie in pre-production.
  • The person they are having an arms deal with on the ferry is named Mac Gargan, aka The Scorpion. if you doubt this look at his tattoo in the closing credits prison scene.

Darke Reviews | Wonder Woman (2017)

So here we are, but where have we been to get here. A quick summation of events in the past few years in table form:

Marvel Movies DC Movies

Ok with me so far? Yes, Suicide Squad was absolutely entertaining but it cannot be argued that on critical analysis it is riddled with flaws – mostly in the editing department. Batman v Superman was nothing short of a train wreck, even the longer cut which made some of it more bearable didn’t make it as a final product something anyone should be proud of. That being said, something glorious was indeed found in the carnage of that film. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. I said it before and I will say it again – I am a fangirl of hers since she first walked on screen in a Fast and the Furious movie.

So the real question you are here to find out – has DC gotten it right yet?

Three writers, in addition to William Moulton Marston who created Wonder Woman, have credit on the film. Story by Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs, and Allan Heinberg. Heinberg gets the sole screenplay credit so what we finally got was the last touches he put on and the orders from on high. If we take a moment to look at Fuch’s work, as Snyders work is well known and often lamented, he is responsible for the garbage of a movie that was 2015’s Pan and the 2012 film Ice Age: Contintental Drift. Don’t remember it? You didn’t see it. This leaves us Heinberg, who is  primarily a TV writer with a handful of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Party of Five, and the OC.  So based on how I chose to write this you might be thinking “this is going to be horrible.”

You’d be right – except you need to replace going to be with should be. It should have been horrible as Snyder has not shown any capacity for character focus or actually understanding characters at their core and why people like them. Fuch’s work on the disaster Pan showed no real understanding of world building or character either. Yet, somehow these three men did it. They told a, mostly, cohesive story that delivered us the Wonder Woman we deserve and need. I think Heinberg may be part of the reason we get this.

Wisely set during World War One, the great war, the war to end all wars as it was called, we are introduced to Diana princess of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons. They live an idyllic life of peace and beauty yet continually prepare for a war that may never come. Until it does with the appearance of Steve Trevor followed closely by a small legion of German soldiers intent on killing the American. The battle is joined and Diana ventures into Mans world to try to fight for those who must be protected with Steve at her side.

The story is relatively simple as they go, with a McGuffin and a lofty goal. What they did unlike so many other superhero movies, including Marvels, is watch their scale. Yes it was World War I, but they made it smaller than it was and kept the stakes (even as high as they were) to something we could understand and relate to. There is another success here, but I think it belongs to Patty Jenkins, the director as much as anyone – more on her in a bit. The movie has its action beats but it for once in the DCEU focuses on the character we want to see. Diana. She’s the focus. Period. They let you get to see her wonder, her frustration, her anger, and the depths to which she can feel. They let her personal interactions with people last more than two seconds. Wonder Woman is a warrior yes, but she is also diplomat, a caretaker, a nurturer, and a sign of hope. They got that. They let her be that.

In Man of Steel, they had to tell us “it’s not an S, it means Hope” and we laugh at them because they had to SAY it and didn’t for one moment show it. Here – they show it. They live it. They do it. It’s never said.

So let’s talk Patty Jenkins. Not only do we have our first big budget sole female lead superhero movie, but it also has a woman director at it’s helm. Jenkins directed the acclaimed 2003 film Monster with Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, since then she’s mostly done a little TV and passed on Thor 2 as she wanted to tell  different story than Marvel did. I am glad she passed so she could do this. Comparing this to all the other DC films there is real character here. Sure not everyone is fleshed out as much as I want, sure some elements are paint by numbers, and absolutely can we see Snyders influence – but we also see Jenkins. A director who is on the set with her cast and crew physically interacting with them and giving them the guidance she feels with an undaunted passion. There are a number of articles on how important Jenkins time in the directors chair is that are worth reading – here at the Washington Post and here at THR the Hollywood Reporter. Sexism is alive and well in Hollywood, and here we are with the most expensive film shot by a woman.

She also took a page from Richard Donner that Snyder missed the memo on. You can do an origin story and let us get to know the character and like them. Let them *show* us why they are a hero by their choices and actions rather than why they aren’t by the dialogue and moping. Show don’t tell. Let us see the action. Let it be kinetic but let us see it. Let it feel SUPER HEROIC. Let it be magical and impossible – it’s ok. We’re dealing with the Amazons here. Jenkins did all of this.

Of course you need actors.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Full Stop. This cannot be argued. She’s everything she needed to be and more. Nothing more needs to be said about her – she’s absolutely perfect in the role.

Chris Pine is an excellent Steve Trevor, charming, fearless, but believable as a man dealing with the unbelievable. He doubts as much as he shoulder, but trusts as much as his character and heart are supposed to. Connie Nielsen, who I haven’t seen since 2003’s fantastic film Basic,  is Hippolyta and knocks it out of the park bringing what I expected of such a character to life.  Robin Wright (House of Cards), Danny Huston (American Horror Story), David Thewlis (Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin) , Saïd Taghmaoui (GI Joe Rise of Cobra), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), Eugene Brave Rock (The Revenant), and Elena Anaya (Van Helsing) bring good performances to screen in multi national cast that is also worth noting.

Alas, the movie does have flaws. The final act fight is a touch green screen heavy. Some of the other green screening doesn’t work well. I think Hollywood needs to find another way – something between green screen and front projection. The lighting never quite matches – or they need to move their green screen work from inside with the studio lights to outside in the sun – so the lighting actually matches. There are some dialogue choices, some thinness to characters, some of a few different things in the production that may distract someone looking for flaws; but with few exceptions these can be overlooked.

TL;DR

In what is currently my longest review this year (1270 words as of this) I can sum it up simply

Wonder Woman is what we have been waiting for DC to make.

Not just because she is the first big budget female solo superhero film. Nor because she is in a list of less then 10 other films that fall under the solo female lead in a super hero genre. Nor because this is a sign for so many female directors in Hollywood that they can potentially make a tentpole film that is amazing. Not for any of those reasons alone but for all of them. Wonder Woman is just good people. It is a good film we need to support. We need it to be as successful as it deserves to be. It needs us and we needed it.

Should you see it?

Yes. I plan on seeing it at least once more this weekend. I’ll post to my personal facebook page as to when/where if folks want to join me.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No doubts.

Are you blinded by fan girl of Gadot or Wonder Woman?

No. Look it has flaws. Plenty of them but it still goes beyond them.

Guys – this is a film to watch. It has action. It has heart. Warner Bros finally did it. Do I think they will learn from it? No, but a girl can dream and no matter what I say as a unpaid but trying to  be professional reviewer there’s something more important at work here.

Representation Matters

This is an actual quote from the woman next to me in the theatre when I asked did you like it?

“I am so emotional right now. You don’t see that. Its just the dudes. Not the girl kicking ass. She was amazing.”

51% of the planet now has the chance to see themselves on screen – alone – as the hero we need right now. This is important. This movie is important.

Please support it.

Darke Reviews | Alien: Covenant (2017)

I have many fandoms. So once again I will say these words, “I am a fan of this”. I have read quite a few of the Alien books, comics, and other media over the years; at least until the late 90’s. I could, and can still, recite to you from memory the names of every member of the crew of the Sulaco and the Nostromo. I called one of my ex girlfriends Ripley as a nickname. I have literally watched every Alien movie more than once, multiple cuts of them, directors cuts, “assembly cuts”, I’ve collected deleted scenes and for awhile I kept trying to hunt down the laser disc (ask your parents kids) of Aliens just so I could see the extended death scene of Burke, Carter J.  I also don’t think Prometheus is a bad film. I see what the director was trying to do and have a feeling that he may have seen the death of his brother Tony coming and was trying to cope with it in his question for whats next, life and death, and being angry at your makers. I also get why this movie divided the fans, some forgive it (I don’t), some hate it (I also don’t).

So how was it’s sequel?

Four writing credits. That’s never a good sign right? Right. The movie has a story by Jack Paglen (Transcendence) and Michael Green (Logan, Green Lantern); which was converted to screenplay by John Logan (Skyfall, Last Samurai) and Dante Harper (first writing credit). So we have a mix of good, bad, and holy hell this is bad – which explains much. The movie decides to lift from Percy Bysshe Shelley and so shall I in excerpt:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

It’s ironic really that a friend of mine and someone I look up to Satyros Phil Brucato posted today on Facebook about the responsibility of IP holders and writers in relation to their products; his is specifically about the dumpster fire that is Marvel comics right now. I find that both Ozymandias and Satyros hit the problems I have with this movie.

*pulls up a chair and stares at the Hollywood writing room*

I am a writer. I know what you do is very difficult. I have yet to finish a novel. I have yet to finish a script. You have done these things. I applaud you. BUT – when you are making a thing, based on a previous thing…there are dangers. The waters are not uncharted, many have navigated them successfully, far more have crashed upon the rocks of fandom. As Satyros pointed out,

When you work with legends… even, perhaps, create them… those legends are bigger than you are. You might legally own the intellectual property rights to a given legend, but the power of that legend belongs to its audience. A legend holds that power because it speaks to human needs, fears, aspirations and dreams.

The Alien series, the creature, the world it is legend. You, even its creators such as Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and the original director Ridley Scott – have a responsibility to the fans. Yes, you as owner and creator can do anything you want with it. I do not argue that. Your changes do not devalue my love of the original works, such as Alien and Aliens – both of which can easily be classified as near perfect films. What you do though when you try to retcon (Retro-Active-Continuity …ie changing the history you already wrote to …do something) your own world is leave us confused to the status of your world.  When you ignore literally every work that has come since the original you take a huge risk of alienating the fans. Jurassic World took the risk and didn’t do so badly with it – but the sequels of Jurassic Park are not looked upon with legendary eyes.

Alien and Aliens are. The links between the universes of Alien and Predator are. The comics, the books, all of it – people have passion about. There are people who have done full blown physiological studies of both the Xenomorph and it’s cycles as well as the Yautja (Predators).  You had a chance, you choose to do something …else with it; you changed your own history, science and so much else. Something you had a right to do.

 

The point is, this product in my opinion is nothing more than a disappointment. You told nothing new. You didn’t scare us. You didn’t make me care if the characters lived or died. You changed so many of your own rules and so much of the backstory people know and care about – nothing ends up mattering.

This is what brings us back to Ozymandias – look upon your work and despair.  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay.

I can talk about the acting – its fine. No one stands out to me. Fassbender can act we know this. Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) can have a range of emotions, but I never saw her evolve. The character I was introduced to is the character I ended with. There was no metamorphosis of the character – she is a shadow of Ripley and that is not the fault of the actress. I have a new respect for Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and want to see him act in more straight roles like this one. They are fine. They are all fine.

The effects are…good. Mostly. Every effect is very clean and looks in frame. I appreciate the effort there. It should be noticed and applauded by anyone in that industry and looked to for guidance in the future. There’s a lovely mix of practical and CG that works very very well. However, some puppetry looks…wrong to the point of being nearly silly.

Production value? Yes. Very high. Very well framed, crafted etc. The biggest complaint is the film is too dark. It’s been colour corrected to be darker but is also washed out because of it bluring the lines of contrast at times making it difficult to see what, if anything, is going on – but not in a way that illicits fear.

TL;DR

This should be the last of the Alien franchise for awhile. Mr. Scott, please leave it alone. Fox. Please leave it alone.

If your intent was to make a movie that was gothic horror, or horror at all like the original – you failed.

If your intent was to touch on the action and sci fi horror/action of the sequel – you failed to deliver.

If your intent was to create a science fiction movie that raised questions and could allow for debate or good conversation – you missed your mark.

Hell, you even failed at making a continuous sequel that makes sense. You had no set tone. You had nothing compelling. The characters were erasable.

You created instead bland mediocrity that served no purpose and delivered no meaning or subtext – or entertainment value.

So…should you see it?

Look, yes, I am a fan girl. But I do my best to judge a movie on it’s own merits. It does a few things interesting but fails in every other regard to make me care or invest myself in the story. Guardians of the Galaxy with a terribly weak story pulled that off, so something like this should have been able to without trying.

It didn’t.

So no – don’t see it. It is in a word: Disappointing on every level.

How do you rank it in the franchise?

Well…I’d watch it before the theatrical cut of Alien 3? At least the AVP movies and Alien 4 were enjoyable in their badness. This is just bland.

So not buying it?

No. Not even on a dare. It just would anger me more.

Wow – you are angry?

Yes, because I went in with no expectations after the last one. I went in with a gleam of hope it could be better. I was upset by how little this left me caring.

So what next?

I am not reviewing Pirates 5. Didn’t see the 4th. don’t want to see the 5th (who asked for a 5th?). Wonder Woman on June 2nd is my hope now…I must be crazy.

 

This is Jessica Darke, last survivor of Alien Covenant signing off.

 

Darke Reviews | King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Preview screenings, yay! No one polling on exit? Odd. There are some movies I have seen in theatres I do not have reviews for. There are some, like High Rise, that are intellectually very good but I couldn’t solidify my emotions on it to write a review. Movies I have boycotted for Hollywood BS that don’t get a review but something else instead. Movies that are so mediocre that I cannot bring myself enough emotional weight to put words to screen and write a review (the final Divergent movie).

Then there is this one. A movie you probably didn’t even know was coming out and I was tempted to avoid writing a review lest it creep into your consciousness like some kind of mold or parasite from a bad sci fi movie and make you aware it exists. I would rather see it fall into the unseen reaches of movies that die with not a scream, but a whisper. Suffice to say then you get a review so you know to avoid this.

So what went wrong?

Let’s begin with the script. The rule of three is invoked. Story by David Dobkin, who has a story credit on one of my most reviled movies since I began writing R.I.P.D. and Joby Howard (Awake (2007)).  I really want to know how Dobkin can keep making movies, or more to the point ruining them. I am concerned now that I see Howard is a screenplay credit on The Flash, the DC movie.  But we’re not done yet as Howard gets a screenplay credit along side Lionel Wigram, who worked with Ritchie on Sherlock Holmes and Man from U.N.C.L.E. Ritchie himself also has a screenplay credit which tells me a story of some pretty decent on set rewrites after the script hit. Guy Ritchie has the final screenplay credit himself.

The story focuses on, Arthur Pendragon (Charlie Hunnam) and his rise from the ashes of betrayl by Vortigern. Young Arthur is raised in a brothel in Londinium from about age 6 until he is a man and is more or less a street tough and protector who is thrust into the plot against his will. Vortigern wants more power for nebulous reasons. Arthur must find his destiny, use the sword, save the kingdom.  The plot is thin and largely irrelevant because the editing has made it so. They, admirably mind you, try to do a lot of show don’t tell – but to succeed at it you need context. There’s exposition dumps amidst hastily edited and quickly read dialogue. There’s things that are never fully explained and matter even less in the end. I mean there is a REAL attempt to try not to explain everything but in the end nothing is explained and what is explained is done so over…

and over,

and over,

and over.

Then comes the directing. There’s a beautiful opening establishing shot that successfully establishes nothing in its 30 seconds of run time. It has no context, no bearing, and simply exists. Guy Ritchie continues to attempt to be clever by explaining a scene while its happening, cutting between the scene in the future and the explanation – but none of it really works as it comes across a muddied mess. There are attempts at wit that come and go and sometimes work, but rarely. I really can’t say what some of the actors were told to do in more than a few scenes which read quite similar to a block of wood. Don’t even get me started on the nausea inducing editing for the fight sequences involving real people. Between the camera jostling, changing angles, cuts, and overall movement it’s hard to make heads or tails of who is fighting what, where, or why. I mean the only reprieve here is that all of the bad guys wear black so they are different looking than the browns and off whites of the heroes. I mean that’s good right?

Now if you are still reading – you may have noticed I said fight sequences involving real people. I am reasonably…no I am certain until video evidence shows otherwise – that at least three fights were the equivellent of a modern video game cinematic. Which considering the quality of those should not be condemnation; but as it is in a live action movie it becomes one. I cannot prove it but  I would bet the writers played CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3. There’s one fight sequence that lasts too long that I think came right from the game…or might as well have. The rest of the graphics and visuals do their best to give you something you haven’t seen before, but I was so distracted by the overall badness of the production I couldn’t stop to appreciate what did work.

TL;DR?

I am tired of writing about this. It is a kinetic, frenetic, frenzied mess of a film with no sense of itself. It isn’t bad enough to be mocked by MST3K or good enough for me to actually hate it. It just is a disappointing film in which the actors I think try but are hampered by a script held together by bailing wire and day old bubblegum; and direction that leaves me wondering what happened to Guy Ritchie.

Should you see it?

No. Not even drunk…ok maybe drunk, but you would want to be near the fall down levels and make sure to get an ride home after.

Will you buy it? 

If only to burn in ritual sacrifice to the dark deities that such things are not done again.

Jess – seriously, is it that bad?

At the moment this is the worst movie of the year I have seen. Lost City of Z, also with Hunnam the poor sod, was made with great care and good production values. This was made with good production values and potentially shrooms or chemical alteration of the people in the production. I wanted it to be good folks. I wanted to like it but its actually bad. Not even mediocre. I am ultimately disappointed with the thing to a degree I didn’t think it would manage.

Anything else?

It’s a total sausage fest? I mean there’s women in it but only one of them gets a name. Uther simply calls his wife “woman” at one point…

Ok so what should I see this weekend? What else do you have coming?

Go see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Please, let it make more money.

As far as Alien: Covenant, I am trying to avoid spoilers but headlines on places I follow….yeah my hopes are pretty dashed –  which means it can only go up in my estimation!

 

Sorry folks this movie is just really bad and made by and with really good people.