Darke Reviews | Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Ah it feels like only yesterday sometimes when I was introduced to anime. Sometimes it feels like about a quarter of a century ago. Sadly the latter is more accurate. I’m not talking about things like Voltron, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z (aka Mazinger Z), or Robotech. I mean Vampire Hunter D, Nausica Valley of the Wind, Akira, Ninja Scroll, and yes, Battle Angel Alita. Anime at the time was unlike anything we had animation wise in the States with the primary sources being your toy commercials, I mean afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons, Disney, Bluth and Bakshi. Not only was the animation something new and amazing, but the storytelling was beyond the pale with complexity of character, depth of story, and a level of maturity we weren’t treated to in America. To be clear Anime wasn’t just cartoons – but boy did we use that as an excuse to watch them, it was adult storytelling with animation. This isn’t to say there wasn’t anime for kids, but many of the movie releases were certainly not and that doesn’t even touch the hentai material out there.

Since that time we have been treated to more and more anime and it’s influences coming into the west and changing the landscape of well everything. Sailor Moon? Dragonball? How about a little thing called Pokemon? Every now and then someone in the US tries to make a live action version; and we end up with Dragonball Evolution (2009) or the thoroughly and literally white-washed Ghost in the Shell (2017), or the Netflix remake of Death Note. Sometimes you get…wait I don’t think there is one. Make sure to comment over on Facebook if you think there is a WESTERN Live Action Adaptation that is good.

Where does that leave Alita?

Credit must first be given to Yukito Kishiro, writer of the original Manga series “Gunnm” that ran from 1990 to 1995. Laeta Kalogridis, James Cameron, and Robert Rodriguez adapted the Manga and 1993 anime for the screen with Rodriguez as the director. Cameron is well known for pushing technology to its limits and when it doesn’t exist inventing new technology so a movie like this feels right up his alley. What is interesting here is this is a movie he has held the rights to for almost a decade and even his show Dark Angel (2000-2002) was inspired by it. Rodriguez appeared on the scene in 1992 with his low budget El Mariachi and exploded into American audiences with Desperado in 1995. He is a visionary in the truest sense taking smaller budgets and doing amazing things as well as throwbacks to grindhouse cinema and other eras. Kalogridis was the creator of the amazing Altered Carbon series for Netflix, Shutter Island; but also Terminator Genisys and Alexander as well. This is a mix of talent that feels remarkably odd and shouldn’t work as well together as they did. There is a wild mix of artistic vision, cinematic style, and appreciation for the source material.

Producer James Cameron and Director Robert Rodriguez on the set of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Rico Torres.

The story, set in the 26th century, of a full bodied cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar), found in the scrap heap beneath the last of the floating cities Zalem by cybernetic genius Dr. Dyson Ido. She has no memory of who or what she is, but with her new body and a natural instinct for the fight, she works her way through Scrap Iron City with Ido and local boy Yugo against all comers and odds. Will she discover the truth and is it a truth she wants? What will the price be for that knowledge?

This is an amazingly solid lift from the source material. As I watch the original 1993 OVA writing this review I can’t help but be impressed with the number of scenes and lines of dialogue lifted frame for frame. It isn’t a perfect adaptation of course as they must pad out the run time, alter the story to fit, and make their own changes for audiences. Many characters though are 100% true to their original material even with this padding, others are significantly different.  Alita, for me, also avoids the “Born Sexy Yesterday” trope as this character truly is about and for her own agency so that is a win that shouldn’t be discounted. The problem comes in with the clashing styles of the material, modern filmmakers, and almost being too true to the story – which is a really odd flaw. Scenes that were included from the Anime and Manga feel jarring at times as they don’t mesh as well as they could with the film adaptation of the story. This can create an emotionally disjointed film with some odd rises and falls that leave you more uncertain than brought along on the ride. I am impressed how they avoid westernizing and well to be clear Americanizing the movie, but that does run the risk of alienating some audiences.

This isn’t to say the actors, with Rodriguez in the directors chair, don’t give it their all. Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner) owns the necessary complexity to play the titular character. She plays fragile, she plays innocent, she plays bad ass and makes it all work. True some of the dialogue (with corresponding music) doesn’t work but she tries and within the context of the story had it been placed elsewhere would have worked amazingly. I said it with Death Cure and I say it again Salazar is a talent to keep an eye on and deserves more roles.  Christoph Waltz, is somewhere between phoning it in and not knowing what kind of movie he is in. Waltz phoning it in is still better than many actors best days so it worked even when it shouldn’t.  I wish that Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly had been given more screen time as they own the camera when they are present.

Visually this movie is aces. I expect nothing less with Cameron in the producers chair but it cannot be understated how amazingly detailed the work in this movie is. Yes, the eyes are odd; but you need to appreciate that it is consistent throughout the movie and feels true to the alien, cybernetic nature that marks Alita as other. That doll like look is part of what makes her who she is and I kind of like it.  The Motorball scenes and other cyborg combat are just flat out amazing and remind me this is in fact live action anime.

I wish I could say it was all good here, but it’s not. The movie alternates between dragging and flitting from scene to scene just so they can cover some beats that really just dont need to be there. I think another pass on the script or another walk through the editing room could have done the movie a favor or two. I would need to watch it again, but the other lackluster thing was the music by Junkie XL. I can’t think of who else I would have gotten for the music, but it just was not inspiring.

TL:DR?

I like this movie. I am just sad I can’t say I love this movie. There is so much going for it from the visuals to the acting, that the editing and compressed story hurt due to how they were put together. As I was watching I felt like this should have been a new experiment for Cameron where he does a “theatrical mini series”; in which he releases multiple 75 minute chunks of a movie that deserves to be told and witnesses on the big screen. With such a packed slate of movies coming later this year, I am terribly afraid Alita Battle Angel will fall.

Should I see it?

Are you a fan of anime, this particular anime, manga in general? Yes. Go. Go now. If you were curious about the movie put down the money for the nice seats and enjoy a visual spectacle. If you were weirded out by the eyes and going what is this thing? Yeah…probably a safe skip.

Is 3-D needed?

No.

Would you see it again though?

Probably. Might even do it this weekend. Still need to see Happy Death Day 2U though, that comes first. Then Alita again.

Ok so buying it?

Yeah this is absolutely worthy of the collection. It has enough great moments and more than enough good moments and no real ‘bad’ moments to make me enjoy it on multiple viewings

That was a weird sentence.

Yes. Yes it was. This is not a bad movie, this is a good movie with great people behind it trying to be a very good movie. I don’t know what the secret ingredient here is precisely, I just know that it was absent and that is kinda sad. Unlike other movies (Glass) not anger inducing or frustrating, just …sad. I had a good time with Alita: Battle Angel, but I kept wanting and hoping for a bit more. I think with the people behind it that was reasonable.

Worth the money. Worth the rewatch for me. Who knows maybe I’ll enjoy it more the second time.

 

Special Edit Note: I didn’t mention this is the best western made live action Anime by leagues. It is. The bar is just so low it’s not fair to Alita to mention it.

Darke Reviews | How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

So I realized after the movie tonight why in the past few months there have been so many of these early audience screenings published through sources like Amazon Prime, Fandango, and Cinemark. If you are in this industry (movie reviews) you may have noticed a lot of conversation late summer and last fall around backlash on the critic scores, RottenTomatoes, and audience scores. The studios are convinced that critics  (RT was a target) are keeping people away from their movies, many critics and reviewers such as myself are saying “Make better movies”. This is how the studios are retaliating by giving audiences some of their tent-pole movies and let the audience voice take over vs the critical early. I for one welcome this change as if you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I encourage people to enjoy movies I don’t – its fine. I often disagree with critical and or audience reception of movies as well. This is what the experience *should* be. As a critic (yes I am moving myself from reviewer to critic), I can usually articulate why something does or doesn’t work – or more to the point shouldn’t. I can appreciate, and have many, so called guilty pleasure movies.

This franchise is not one of them. This franchise, which I was able to get to watch the finale of with some good and close friends tonight, is something that has been good and solid throughout.

How did the finale fair?

The movie is based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, adapted for the screen and directed by Dean DeBlois. Dean is responsible for the two prior movies and Lilo and Stitch in the same role (writer/director). This means for a franchise that the movie keeps the same narrative style, look, and feel as the others. That the voice direction, music, editing, and action all feel like the others – and while in some cases this can be bad (ie: Zack Snyder); the work DeBlois does has a certain almost universal accessibility to it and while I am hesitant to use the word purity to it that hold through the series that bear little critique. He reminds me in a way of George Miller, who gave us the entirety of the Mad Max series…and Happy Feet as his only entries. All of these have a specific style and vision to them and remain with a solid through line on them that works – even if continuity doesn’t always.

In this case, the continuity does match and holds through the franchise. The characters remain who they are even as they age and growing naturally, physically and emotionally, as they do. If anything in the plot of The Hidden World I expect others to critique the lack of meat to the villain, but he isn’t the point here. Capturing our main characters, Hiccup, Astrid, and Toothless growing is the real line of the movie and it does it amazingly; with an interesting line up between hiccup and the bad guy. For those worried about the new dragon, our Light Fury being subject to Hollywood ‘Girls have spechul powerz” – trust me you don’t have to worry. Moving onto the threat, while not meaty, does feel real and impactful. After the death of Stoic in the sequel you really can’t be sure who or what is on the table for this one and that helps a lot.

What also helps is the solid voice cast, Almost everyone returns to their roles, with Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, etc. Everyones favourite King of the North reprises his role as sideline character Eret that appeared in the sequel. The only, mildly, notable voice actor that doesn’t return is TJ Miller as Tuffnut, who is replaced by Justin Rupple. In January of last year the studio hadn’t commented on his (rightful) removal, and I can’t find any articles officially noting it; but good on Dreamworks. Continuing to focus on the positive here, Ferrera and Baruchel shine here with a lot of nuance to their voice acting which is only accentuated by the animation.

One thing everyone could say about these movies since the first one nine years ago is that they are gorgeous. The animation department at Dreamworks has always been top notch on these projects and they continue to push themselves from the lighting, the colour, and little details such as hair and microexpressions. None of this is ignored and makes the experience so much richer for it. The flight sequences absolutely are some of the best in the franchise and this movie doesn’t disappoint on that front either.  There is a sense of scale that the animators provided when displaying the hidden world that lets it feel as large and small as it should be simultaneously and giving you an opportunity to take it all in. The opening fight sequence should be required watching for action movie directors in how to control your camera and let your audience enjoy and view the fight – even with it being dark. You can follow everything in every sequence and understand the geography of where every character is and how they are interacting with each other; all while the camera maintains it’s own fluidity of motion to match the dialogue. Some might say this is easy because it is animation, but there are so many movies now where you get this kind of camera work on an action sequence and you see it *can* be done – people are just choosing not to.

Last special nod to John Powells score. Test Drive from the original is one of my favourite scored musics and I use it regularly for one of my 7th Sea characters, and here he outdoes himself with the callbacks to the prior two scores but some new ones that are just as powerful.

TL;DR?

This movie is the goods. It is good, it is pure, it is how you do the end of a trilogy right AND stick the landing. I honestly have little critique for it and just thoroughly enjoyed my time. The audience I was with, mixed with children as young as 4 to people in their 70’s did too. There was laughter, there were tears, there was applause all at the moments there should be those beats and when you get that from an entire theatre along side you the experience is so much better for it.

What you have is a great finale to a truly family friendly movie franchise and a good reminder this is entirely possible to make as a movie even as we wind down this decade.

Should I see it?

Yes. Go when it opens in a few weeks. Go and see and enjoy. Bring tissues.

Would you watch it again?

Friday February 22, 2019. You will find me at the theatre. Besides nothing else coming out that week, this one is worth seeing again. I honestly want to see it in 3-D if that release happens as the flight moments would be spectacular.

Buying it?

No doubt in my mind what so ever that I will have a 4K version of this the day I can get it in my icy little hands.

Are you perhaps overselling this movie?

No. I really am not. I am a fan of the franchise, but guys it’s that good. It may not be the greatest thing, but it is that good.

The year has started rough, but we have our first real entry and I am glad for it. I think you will be too.

 

Darke Reviews | Glass (2019)

I got the year right on the title! Go me. Seriously, it took three release weeks into the year before there was a movie that was even half interesting to review came out. I had zero interest in Escape Room beyond it’s concept, Replicas is a movie that sat on the shelf for two years – which tells you a lot. A Dogs Way Home isn’t my genre nor is The Upside. Glass is the *only* release this week; and next week is The Kid Who Would Be King and Serenity ..no not that one. I miss the years when I could at least count on an Underworld movie coming out in January to liven things up. This really is one of the worst months of the year for movies and the absolute dump slot for studios to put movies that they have no faith in and just hope they break even on.

Did they catch a break with Glass?

Ok my teaser question was spur of the moment forgive me. In all seriousness, I had interest in this film from the moment I heard about the stinger during Split back during it’s release in January of 2017. I never got around to watching that one as M Night Shyamalan has never personally apologized to me for his Avatar The Last Airbender movie and honestly thinks he did nothing wrong with it. Yes, I am that petty. I already know James McAvoy can act circles around people in his sleep and Anya Taylor-Joy is a fantastic young actress. Shyamalan though, he can suck the life out of any performance and remove all joy from the film going experience. He *is* actually a talented director, but I believe he has bought too much of his own hype and when he released The Visit people began to forgive him, then Split made $130 million for a January release making it one of the top January releases ever.  I am thinking that people have once again forgiven too much.

Glass was written and directed by Shyamalan, per usual, and while I must applaud the effectiveness of linking two different, disparate movies into a third film; it rings…hollow. The concept of a truly downplayed superhero/supervillain origin story and meet up in the age of the Superhero movie is actually inspired so please don’t get me wrong here; but this was too downplayed. Shyamalan’s direction is still soul sucking from otherwise talented actors with only McAvoy being able to rise above it due to the nature of the character. Everyone is so dispassionate, so inhuman in their performances I cannot believe for a moment any of them are real people or even facsimile’s of real people. They feel more like twisted analogues of a perception of normal human behavior – even with extraordinary circumstances. It most certainly is his style, it’s just not one I can find appealing.

From a script perspective; there really isn’t anything here either. No one person gets enough time to really be -except McAvoy. He is, still, amazing and honestly deserves better; but if this pays the bills until his next movie so be it. Samuel L Jackson spends a third of the movie twitching, a third absent, and a third just…holding back his natural presence. That’s fine I guess, but again with the script that’s present nothing comes as a surprise to anyone – I mean anyone – paying attention. Bruce Willis continues to try to remember to be human and what joy is, I am sure one day he will, but until then there is Shyamalan movies. Anya Taylor-Joy tries to overcome the script and lack of dialogue of any meaning – when she’s given dialogue; but cannot quite do it. Sarah Paulson, whom I am told everyone loves on American Horror Story, is literally the worst. Based on everyone’s reaction to her and what we know about Shyamalan’s directing and writing skills, I blame him for everything. On the upside her character elicits an emotion from me and that emotion is her character is hair pullingly aggrivating. Her line reads are what you’d expect from table read where the actors are first getting together. The dialogue itself sounds like bad two am self help infomercials. Nothing about her or this script works for me.

TL:DR?

Yeah I guess we’re at the TL;DR already here. Glass is an exercise in frustration. Nuggets of interesting concepts handled by a distracted squirrel on ketamine. As I write my first review of the year, instead of the general ambivalence I felt leaving the theatre, I find myself getting agitated by the wasted effort, acting, and story beats that worked. Looking forward to the rest of the movies this year, I will be surprised if Glass doesn’t make my worst of list.

Not because it’s badly made, because it isn’t. Because I can tell effort was put in, I can tell people tried to overcome Shyamalan and it failed. The movie is bad because effort was put in and this was the final result.

Should I see it?

Go watch Bumblebee if you haven’t or Spider-Man. I can’t tell anyone in good conscience to see this

Would you see it again?

Making me watch this again should be a war crime or would trigger violence. I am not sure which.

Buying it?

Please see above. I am still getting aggravated thinking this much about it

Aren’t you being kind of harsh?

There are many types of bad movies out there.

There are bad movies because no one tried, or they are a clear cash grab that has no soul. There are bad movies because they had a vision, but not a budget and not the skill to overcome it. There are bad movies because they thought they were good; and so on…

This is actually one of the worst types. This is a movie that is bad that has a lot of effort put in by cast and crew. This is movie that had little to no studio interference to make it so. This is a movie with one man at the helm who has a vision and that vision….isn’t a good one. He has talent, but the vision and style has corrupted it. It’s his vision and we should respect that, but to put all this effort in for a final product like this? It’s just frustrating to endure. So please don’t.

I will see you all in a few weeks when the February releases start.

 

Darke Reviews | Best and Worst of 2018

Welcome to the 3rd annual Best and Worst list, I am your hostess, The Vampire Princess.  We have a wallet breaking 48 movies watched in Theatres this year and even more original pictures watched on Netflix. Admittedly nothing from Netflix got a review, which might be something to correct in 2019; as 2018 brought us the above average Bird Box and the near unwatchable Cloverfield Paradox. It would certainly add to the list of reviews, along side the requests that were made back in September.

So here are the rules for this years list:

Rules:

  • Must be a First Run, so no re-releases of an older film
  • Must be in theatres.
  • Boycotted Movies don’t get to make the list – except as a commentary

 

Best of 2018

 

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
    At the beginning of the year I never would pegged this as my top movie of the year. Hell up to the day I watched it I never would have pegged it. Watching this however, it was in short a perfect movie. It has heart, great animation, charisma, great characters, enough design to keep artists discussing for months, and all that put into a single package that had no business working but did.
  2. Black Panther
    Before Spider-Man this was the movie. This was THE movie of the year and deservedly so. Both of them give us representation in the hero film genre in a way that we needed, and the box office shows it as one the highest grossing movie of the year and honestly, one of the highest ever. This movie deserves the praise it received and has the most compelling villain Marvel has ever given us, yes including Loki.
  3. Bumblebee
    It’s hard to put this one so high up on the list, but after thinking about it, it has no other place. It could be stated that it’s so high up because it’s so good in comparison to the others, but the reality is it is just good.
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody
    It was more than the movie I thought I was going to get from the trailers and original stories coming out. It was the emotional roller coaster it promised to be; even if it has a tainted production; which moves it down the list.
  5. A Simple Favor
    Really when looking at all the movies this year, this one is one of the top ones to just please me. The characters were compelling, the actors amazing, and I loved watching the evolution of the character arcs to a point I didn’t think Hollywood could give me.
  6. Halloween
    While a Quiet Place almost made this list in this spot, this really was the Halloween movie we have needed for a long time. A complete reboot of the franchise, while still respecting the original. It gave me the fan service I wanted in the nods to the original and some of the sequels, but wasn’t beholden to them. This is also one of the few movies I’ve seen twice this year (in theatre) and thus deserved its spot on the list.

Special Mention: Anna and the Apocalypse

It didn’t make the cut, but remained in the top 10 of my list longer than most. It doesn’t quite have the calibre of pedigree of the other films in the list, but I will be damned if I didn’t enjoy it and still do weeks later and really want people to watch this movie. Aside from Spider-Man this is the only movie on the list to truly put me in my happy place coming out of the theatre, a movie that took away all the pain, nightmares, and weight I feel and just let me enjoy life for a few precious minutes. I can’t really explain why, but it does.

 

Worst of 2018

  1. Mortal Engines
    This movie is one of the biggest cinematic bombs of the year barely even making 10% of its production budget back, excluding the marketing budget. This movie was a train wreck from the top down with pretty visuals. The only thing worse than it in that aspect is…
  2. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
    Simply put this one is just bad, high concept, high cost, poor execution all around. I don’t hate the movie, I was just disappointed. It’s even worse than Mortal Engines because Engines has some redeeming qualities.
  3. Winchester
    The only movie I walked out of this year. Uninspired and boring, yet there are worse. Ones that left me with an emotion a strong one.
  4. Pacific Rim: Uprising
    This one I hate. I couldn’t even get a proper review out to talk about how much I despise this movie and everyone involved in its production.
  5. Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom
    Even worse than the wreck that is Pacific Rim is this garbage fire. Pacific Rim is cheap and stupid. This is quite frankly expensive and offensively stupid and that is the worst sin.
  6. Death Wish
    While the previous entries on this list were bad for production values, acting, ineffectual storytelling, this movie is bad for all of the above AND is offensive to boot. It was absolutely tone deaf and had no business getting a theatrical release. While Pacific Rim and Jurassic irritated me, this one out and out angered me.

Special Mention: Hereditary

While not one of the worst movies of the year by a long shot, it is possibly one of the most overhyped movies of the year. I’ve had plenty of time to think on this one and the ending that everyone found freaky or horrifying I continue to find near laughable. The only thing keeping it off the list of the worst is there is artistry at play and the acting was top notch and no one in that film deserves to be decried for the effort put in. Hereditary is the difference between a movie where people really care about the art and the project, but don’t quite nail the execution and the other six on the list where I find it hard to believe real care was put in.

 

So thats the list. What are your best and worst of the year? Agree or disagree with my list? Discuss below or over on our Facebook page!

Darke Reviews | Bumblebee (2018)

In September 8, 1984 the world had changed for children everywhere with Challenge of the GoBots, …what you thought Transformers was first out of the gate? Nay my friends that didn’t happen until September 17th, but we can see now which one is remembered. Robots that were more than meets the eye filled the airwaves, and Christmas mornings that year as we met characters evocative names such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Iron Hide, and Bumblebee. For the next two years these cartoons were a staple in many American households, and those around the world, as new Robots were introduced on both the Heroic Autobots and Evil Decepticons side…all to sell us the toys. In 1986 the world for these children changed again when Transformers the Movie hit theatres everywhere. An updated edgier theme song, a more traditional Japanese animation style, with new characters introduced that looked less like the cars, trucks, and military aircraft we knew and more space aged. That movie also did something no other series dared to do and killed off, KILLED off major characters from the original line. This was so traumatic at the time every child in the theatre I saw it in, myself included, was in tears as you heard the words “Prime, you can’t die…”. It was so traumatic that it also killed the prospects of G.I. Joe the movie from going to the theatre and forced a rewrite of it where they had intended to kill some of its original line of heroes and villains.

For years to come since there has almost always been a version of Transformers on the air, from Beast Wars, to Armada, to Prime, to Cyberverse; all catering to different ages and demographics with different levels of storytelling. In 2007 Michael Bay (stop hissing at his name…yes he earned it, but c’mon), provided us a “Live Action” Transformers the Movie. They solicited the fans for lines to use which gave us hope, as we heard Peter Cullen, the eternal voice of Prime, say “Autobots Transform and roll out”. That may have been the last time the audience as a near collective enjoyed the movie franchise. This was the start of a schism which has infected most of our beloved series to this day where some people don’t mind, the fan boys cry you ruined my childhod, and others wonder what the fuss is about; and even others like them. For my part, the quality degraded sharply with the second film and never recovered and was so bad I couldn’t even watch the last one. Apparently neither could audiences as The Last Knight barely scratched making half its budget back domestically with a mere 130 million dollars, against a 217 million dollar budget.

All of this was an albatross around Michael Bay’s neck to many movie goers who were just tired of the explosions, racism, impossible to understand action sequences, and raw stupidity of the plots. That, was just last year. So when we, as an audience, heard there was a Bumblebee spin off movie we were justifiably nervous, and really just asking

“Why?”

Money of course. Paramount likes money. The franchise, despite critical reception has been profitable. Could they turn it around though after the Bay-formers were losing more and more audience goers? They went to their writers room and found Christina Hodson, who had just worked on the mediocre film Shut In, and the absolutely forgetable Unforgettable. This is cynical me talking, as I think the execs went “Female writers are all the rage, lets get one to write a Transformers movie, how much worse can it get?” The more hopeful me says Hodson had a story pitch and they listened. I know that she was involved before the director was picked which is a really good sign. She put herself into this script and that makes me happy, she wanted to see a girl on screen in this kind of movie, she’s always wanted that and I’m glad because we need that. The movie is a lot slower than the other films and is a soft reboot of the series that I think it needed. The script actually bothers to let the moments breathe and let Bumblebee become the character we, as kids, kinda knew and loved. The studio somehow made a character piece between a Girl and her Robot and I have to tell you folks it works.

Hodsons script and emotional heart to the story is an amazing start, and I can’t wait now to see what she does with the Harley Quinn movie. Travis Knight, our director I think is the other major part that makes this work. Knight is the CEO of Laika entertainment who gave us Paranorman, Coraline, and Kubo and the Two Strings, which Travis also directed. If you have watched any of those movies, you understand that they get what characters mean, they know how to do near perfect emotional beats. His capabilities as a stop motion animator also make him ideal for directing a GIANT ROBOT movie as he can not only visualize the scene but be able to describe and communicate it to his team.  Between Hodson’s story and script and Knights skills, all you need is actors to make a good movie regardless of genre.

Enter Hailee Steinfeld, who exploded into the cinematic scene as Mattie Ross in True Grit, is a singer, and is our Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man. She makes her character of Charlie Watson something few of the humans in any other Transformers film before it did, likable. Charlie is in a rough spot in her life as she turns 18 and is dealing with the unexpected loss of her Dad, her family moving on, and not sure who or what she is. Steinfeld is able to bring the complexity of the character (even if it is a bit tropish) to life and does so against a 12 foot yellow robot. Between the performance of Steinfeld, and the performance given to Bumblebee by the director and animation department, they have humanized this franchise in a way I didn’t think possible at this point.

Speaking of animation department; do you remember when you could watch the fights in movies and understand what was going on? So do I. They were good times. This movie brings those times back. The fights avoid quick cuts and shaky cam instead going for more flowing animation and traditional medium or wide takes to let you appreciate what is going on. The return to the Generation 1 (original) looks for some of the characters doesn’t hurt either. There are even some other 1986 movie references hidden in some of the sequences that made me bounce when I saw them. On top of that rather than fully acting against green screen Hailee was actually able to act against a model of Bee on set so she had something to work with – novel idea. The soundtrack is a best of 80’s alternative and a few others, with one lovely easter egg for Transformers 1986 fans.

TL;DR?

Guys, I never thought I would sat this. It is a good movie. A really good movie. It doesn’t fully divorce itself from the Bay run as much as we might wish it and there are elements such as Sector 7, the Hoover Dam, etc; but it more or less ignores the metaplot that was given to the first five films entirely. Transformers fans, especially G1, will geek out over all the nods from the classic designs to the Transformer sound effect being used through the movie. Caution flag on this though folks, a lot of the G1 stuff is in the opening but its so worth it. The rest of the movie is a much slower and better Transformers movie than we deserve, but definitely needed. The cast is small and you actually do give a damn what happens to them. This isn’t to say they disappoint on the action, when they give you the beats they are good ones and while not nearly as over the top as Bay, are just good.

Bay is an interesting director who has his own style which some may like more than others, but I have to say if this is what Travis Knight can do with a real camera and more than a voice cast, we need to get him in live action more than ever. Also – watching Optimus Prime fight on Cybertron in the opening is fantastic.

Bumblebee is a wonderful nostalgic ride that has a lot of movie baggage to overcome and truly deserves to.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yes. I want this movie to succeed so badly so we can continue to get QUALITY Transformers movies like this. So we can get other 80’s franchises with the right treatment and right care.

Would you see it again?

Maybe not in 3-D, but absolutely even at full price.

How about buying it?

4K baby. In 4K

Alright, which of the releases this month would you see and in what order now that everything is out?

  1. Spider-Man into the Spiderverse
  2. Anna and the Apocalypse – this one gets me alright?
  3. Bumblebee – only in spot 3 because Spider-Man is that amazing and I have a truly weird affection for Anna, or it would be in second place
  4. Mary Poppin’s Returns
  5. Aquaman
  6. I would never see Mortal Engines again. why do you even ask?

My partner and I tonight really liked this movie, it is easily the best live action Transformers movie we have received and handled both the human and robotic characters well; and avoided juvenile humor along the way.

I don’t know what else to tell you, someone, somewhere may have listened and given us what we wanted. We should do them the favour and see this movie.

 

Darke Reviews | Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Chim Chim-in-ey, Chim Chim-in-ey, Chim Chim cher-ee! Lyrics I sing at random to this day. I am sure for others it’s a Spoonful of Sugar, and even others still want to go Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I suppose even some may go dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes, but thats going a bit far don’t you think? So with children from the late 50s and early 60’s coming into contact with dear Ol Mary Poppins, to those of us in the 70’s and 80’s thanks to the Wonderful World of Disney, and the advent of VHS its safe to say the original movie has earned its reputation as a beloved classic. We all have the nostalgia glasses on for the original regardless of our feelings now, so the concept of a sequel coming out 54 years after the original is a bit jarring, wouldn’t you say?

Does it still have the magic though?

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods, Memoirs of a Geisha) , along with his partner John Deluca (Choroegrapher on Chicago and Nine), provided us the screenstory for this and David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland) wrapped that work up and converted it to a screenplay. They remembered what it was like to have a sense of wonder again, to turn things upside down and look at the world as if it had magic again. The story at times may be a little (a lot) on the nose with some more current trends; there is almost always a sense of the fantastical as the story unfolds. Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family, roughly 20 years after the events of the last film. The Banks family is out of money and time before they lose their home, but our wonderous Nanny comes in to provide some much needed lesson and perhaps a sense of adventure as well. If anything the flaws in the story are that it is just a bit too straight forward in its symbolism and meanings; but when making a movie for children of all ages great and small – is that really a bad thing?

The unfortunate bad thing is that the songs just do not work nearly as well. They aren’t bad by any stretch, but I can’t forsee anyone remembering these fifty years down the line. The movie does go full musical and there are far more songs than I remember in the original, but everyone puts on a good show and I can’t fault that at all. I just wish the dance routines, the songs themselves had just that little something extra to make their magic come alive in the same way the visuals did. You can see the songs that Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Smash) was going for when he worked out the lyrics and beats for the music and while they are lovely homages to 1964, I can barely tell you any of the lyrics now as I write this review. This isn’t a matter of repetition either, most of us may have only watched Mary Poppins a few times as children but we remember those songs to this day, none of these truly hit that and its a bit saddening.

Emily Blunt of course is practically perfect in every way and was the only real choice for the role. We knew she could sing and dance thanks to Into the Woods, and her class and charm are without question – who else could be Mary Poppins now? She brought the same type of personality that Dame Andrews did, and also remembered how to bring the more subtle, quiet moments as well. Rather than a sweep, we have Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamp lighter named Jack, who fills the exact same niche that Dick Van Dyke did all those years ago. Miranda has fantastic screen presence and anyone who thinks the man can’t sing or dance should be flogged accordingly; and thankfully he does not try for a cockney accent. Ben Wishaw (Q in the recent James Bond movies) as our grown up Michael (the child from the first film) despite being 38 doesn’t look old enough to be the part of a father of three. It might be a combination of his clothing and his natural youthful appearance but he really does look like a boy trying to be a man. Perhaps that’s the point though? The three children Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson ride that edge of being too much at times, but really do have what it takes to keep the audience endeared to them.  It was nice to see Julie Walters (Molly Weasley you muggle) again, even in the bit role she had; which can also be said for perennial villain David Warner (Tron, Titanic) in a far more pleasant and amusing role as Admiral Boom.

The costuming was amazing. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. When we get into our second animated-live-action hybrid sequence the look and style of the costumes are just so perfect. Overall the entire production design was spot on and let me feel like I was in that early London period. If anything there is a flaw in that it doesn’t feel like sets this time and is more real. Odd thing to call as a flaw. At 2 hours and 10 minutes though it does feel a bit long, but I checked and the original runs 2 hours and 19 so…improvements?

TL;DR

Mary Poppins Returned. From an opening credits of chalk art and matte paintings that reminded me and my partner tonight of vintage Disney, to the time of CINEMA and Audrey and the classics, to the true sense of joy of being a child again (if only for 2 hours and 10 minutes); the movie is absolutely cute. It is charming and nostalgic at the same time without being condescending or manipulative about it. While none of the musical sequences themselves made me want to sing along, coming out of the movie I was light on my feet and was dancing through the parking lot of the theatre.

The movie does lack some of the quieter beats the original held and has some more modern film making flaws cooked into it that would be inescapable, it really is a solid work. It’s a project born of love for the stories of Mary Poppins and a movie from 1964 and it does show in every frame. This is the definition of a family film that could satiate multiple generations and could become a holiday classic at home for some families.

Should I see it?

If what you want is that sense of child like wonder again and a sense of the nostalgic beyond pop culture, you would be well served to see this. I do really believe this is an excellent family film for all.

Would you see it again?

Quite likely, but that would be after seeing Anna and the Apocalypse or Spider-Man again. Still worth a rewatch though.

So you are buying it?

No doubt in my mind.

Anything else on the movie?

I think my estimates on its weekend take are about right, but I do wish people would see this instead of Aquaman. I will also say that the cameo’s by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury brought me to tears, especially Lansbury. Not all of the songs worked for me, but the magic did. This is nostalgia worth experiencing and hit the spot for that sense of wonder.

Also Mary Poppins is a Time Lord. Fight me.

Darke Reviews | Aquaman (2018)

In what seems to be one of the strangest holiday seasons yet, there is yet another early access showing; this time in conjunction with Amazon Prime membership. So far in what is one of the most packed Decembers I can recall where we have Bumblebee, Mortal Engines, Aquaman, Spider-Man, and Mary Poppins all coming within two weeks of each other; all of them have had early showings except Poppins. I think this is combination confidence and ego on the party of Disney knowing the name alone will carry a lot of weight. Steven Spielberg of all people went “I’m out” and moved Alita: Battle Angel to an uncontested Valentines day slot. The others all are all competing for early release positive buzz and need it desperately in the cases of Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Spider-Man as the brand they are representing (DCEU, Transformers, and Spider-Man) don’t have the best track records in the cinema. Spider-Man proved not only to be worthy, but the best animated movie of the year and possibly one of the best Spider-Man movies ever put to screen.

Is Aquaman worthy?

The movie violates my Three Writer Rule out of the gate, with Will Beall (Gangster Squad, Training Day TV series), director James Wan (the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious series) , and Geoff John’s (DC’s version of Kevin Fiege ie the head of the “movie studio”) having story credit; then Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Red Riding Hood, Wrath of the Titans) on screenplay. By their powers combined they have created a hot mess. To be fair to them, the work of Snyder before and the Justice League movie didn’t give them as much room as a team coming in fresh and thats where some of the narrative choices come from and were not handled deftly. From a purely cinematic universe standpoint the average movie goer won’t know half of whats going on or missing so I can’t and won’t call them to task. Comparing to the comic is like comparing to a book. Changes need to be made, so be it. What I can call them to task for is trying to do too much and not doing all of it well as a result; with plot threads left dangling, characters who feel like they were supposed to be more important and vanish; and most critically a lack of consequence along the way that really shouldn’t be ignored as the meta narrative of the movie put such an intense focus on rules and ancient laws.

The story itself, isn’t so much an issue. Arthur Curry’s, aka Aquaman, mother was the Queen of Atlantis, made a child with a Lighthouse keeper. Then had to return home or they die. She has a son with the King. This son, Orm, later in life wants to wage war on the surface for indistinct reasons and conspires to do so. Meanwhile Mera, someone loyal to the Queen seeks out Arthur in an attempt to have him usurp the throne and prevent all out war between the surface and Atlantis. A McGuffin must be found to give Arthur legitimacy as he is a half breed and the clock is ticking as Orm advances his plan to become the Ocean Master.

The plot itself isn’t the issue. It really isn’t. It’s the beats and how they were architected, its those hanging moments and characters that vanish and other points that just take away from the whole. Logical fallacies within the world that continually don’t add up. I am not talking the suspension of disbelief that you have to take a heaping dose of for the movie to work, I am talking violating that suspension. The movie does it time and time again; and I am not sure why. Wan is a competent director and writer and has shown to be better than this. I wonder if this is a curse of bigger budget with talented directors ruins them somewhat. There are some truly inspired shots and action sequences in this movie. I’ve been beating up on it thus far and it’s not all bad. There are some really good moments, but not enough of them. There’s some great camera work, but not enough of it.

From an acting perspective, sorry folks, I know Momoa is pretty to look at. He is eye candy for those who enjoy that aesthetic and I appreciate that is the reason many people will go see it. I know he wants to maintain and showcase the ties to the Maori and he does so through the movie more than once; and the Haka at the premier was beautiful. He doesn’t have the charisma to pull this off, or someone told him not to use it. He *should* work as Aquaman, but doesn’t. He comes across as a “Biker Bro” who has powers. He would have been a great Lobo with this performance, but I don’t buy him ever becoming the King of the Sea with it. Amber Heard (Drive Angry, The Danish Girl)  is far more compelling as Mera and is the Mera I know from the material I’ve come across who doesn’t take anything from anyone. Between the two of them there was absolutely no chemistry and I can’t be certain if it was her recent life events in dealing with toxic masculinity and abuse or just it not being there at all. Willem Dafoe phones it in, but its still better than most of the cast. Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Watchmen) is engaging as King Orm and tries, with the script doing him no favours.  Nicole Kidman was allowed to be bad ass as Queen Atlanna, but also seemed vaguely exasperated or confused that she was there.  Also what a waste of a Julie Andrews voice. Black Manta was treated well overall and handled about as well as one can expect.

The production design. This is as about a mixed bag as the rest of the movie is. Bill Brzeski had the unenviable task of creating Atlantis and the other kingdoms of the seven seas. Overall it was beautiful, but at times it was muddled by the motion and camera choices. More wide shots were needed, like the scene in the trailer with the flare and the boat. More awe was needed to show the power, expanse, and majesty of Atlantis – and sadly it wasn’t all there. Costuming, a category I don’t often bring up, fell to Kym Barrett, who was nominated for over a dozen awards for her work on Cloud Atlas. She also worked on the Matrix and Speed Racer. She did create original designs or was able to successfully translate comic designs to film in almost every case. Mera’s costume during one scene was literally the most inspired I’ve seen for an aquatic movie. Mera’s costume the rest of the movie left me confused. The clothing was theoretically designed to be form fitting, but quite regularly there were gaps between clothing and skin that were really glaring to me; almost as glaring as the High Heels.

The woman who lives underwater is wearing high heels.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Don’t even get me started on the red wig they had her in. In a rare moment, let me say Justice League treated her better than the movie she was the main player in. Don’t believe me? Look. Also please note the superior costume for Justice League – which takes place before this movie.

Justice League Promo

Justice League

Aquaman. Look at that Natural Red

I want to  rant about the music being odd and switching between the current trend of 80’s Synthwave, standard scoring, and weird Pop songs in the movie I haven’t seen outside of a YA movie or Evanescence in Daredevil back in the day; but this review is already getting too long.

TL;DR

Surprisingly, despite its laundry list of flaws the movie still manages to be somewhat entertaining. It isn’t as patently offensive as Man of Steel has become to me, or BVS, its production values exceed that of Justice League; even if the story beats and acting are rougher. It isn’t as good as Suicide Squad (to me) and definitely not in the league with Wonder Woman. There is a movie here begging to be made to be made well, another pass on the script, another wave of clean edits, a second look at the costuming and music all could have elevated this uncontested into the #2 slot of the DCEU.

Instead we get something just above mediocre through raw effort on everyone’s part that is not more than the sum of its parts, but isn’t falling apart either. A series of baffling decisions both in and out of narrative leave me wondering about the motivations of the characters and why I should care at all. Just a few lines of dialogue here or there really could have solved more than a few of this movies problems so it’s other issues wouldn’t have been as glaring.

Should I see it?

I can tell you no. Most people are going to ignore me and go “But Momoa is pretty.” So I won’t even bother. When this comes out next week it will be competing with a Mary Poppins sequel and Transformers movie, both of which will be reviewed when I see them before this ones release.

Currently the verdict is:  If you were going to see it regardless of this review I hope you enjoy it. I truly truly do. There’s more than a few moments to enjoy and I did have a good time, but I might have had that same good time watching it home later.

So not seeing it again then?

No. I’ll be seeing Spider-Man and Anna and the Apocalypse at a minimum before seeing this again.

Buying it?

*deep sigh* Maybe. Probably. Again its deeply flawed, I have trouble giving it a firm recommendation, but it’s not dumpster fire. Wow….my bar for the DCEU is low.

Anything else to add?

It’s a solid filmmaking effort, and I can see that effort was put in. They tried. Tried and failed on a lot of points, but they tried and I have to give them credit for that. No one in the crew phoned it in and the director did all he could saddled with five prior films of baggage that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The mistakes in the film shine like spotlights to me but may not to most audiences so there’s that in the movies favour.

Aquaman was the most joked about member of the Justice League for decades. His movie could have been far worse so I will take it for what it is.