Underwater 2020 Poster

Darke Reviews | Underwater (2020)

Feels like it’s been forever. Granted it has been two full weeks since I wrote a review, I also didn’t give you my friends my best and worst of 2019…might still get around to that. Usually around this time in the review, especially one early in the year, I will remind you that January is one of two things, a dump slot or Oscar bait. 1917 was released limited prior to this week so it could be the Oscar bait, literally nothing came out last week and this week we get a comedy I don’t imagine many will see and this bit of film that did not get a lot of promotion as near as I can tell. Granted, I have ad blockers, and pay for YouTubeRed so I don’t get commercials, but I truly don’t believe many know about this movie. Sadly I had to see it alone, as my two thirds of my Dark Court aren’t for horror and the other third did not think this was for them.

So is this a dump slot movie?

To me yes, in so much as that the studio wasn’t sure what to do with it or how to market it.

Example: The trailer

 

I Really don’t expect the average studio to look at some finished projects and know what they have and don’t have, especially on something like this; and this movie being a 20th century fox property prior to the buy out makes it more of a “well lets drop it and see if we can make something” move from the Mouse House. That said, you have a story by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter, Insurgent), with screenplay credit also going to Duffield. Adam Cozad (Legend of Tarzan), also receives a screenplay credit. I like what they do here. This is not a dialogue rich movie, but it is a dialogue appropriate one. What do I mean by that? Well despite most trends where this could have been exposition heavy to explain this thing or that thing or THAT thing, they don’t do it. Sure there’s some exposition, but it’s just enough to let you hear it and either follow along or don’t. The rest of the dialogue, with the exception of one character who I will get to in a bit, all feels natural given the circumstances and very directional to the story driving it, or the characters forward in a refreshingly honest way. The movie this reminds me most of, and I have a feeling this is Duffield coming through, is Alien. Imagine that crew, but underwater. The staging is different, the threat is different, but its that feel of character that is there and I was honestly riveted.

Credit has to go to director William Eubank (The Signal) for that as well. He makes beautiful use of Production designer Naaman Marshall’s (Art Director: The Dark Knight, PD: Don’t Breathe) work to create a both infinitely huge and claustrophobic space. The terms and conditions of being that far down are set up early and the movie reminds you of them frequently enough to make you worry, but not frequently enough to make you go “get on with it.” The Darkness and the depth of being nearly seven miles down on the Ocean floor have their own weight and menace to them, as much as open space did in well.. Space. To paraphrase, from a cheesy, but albeit really enjoyable movie, The Core – “Space, space is easy. There’s nothing there. When you go down, you have tons and tons of pressure.” That, in this case is both figurative and literal.

While not a cast of one, like Moon, the cast is small, with only 7 credited characters. Kristen Stewart gets top billing as Norah, a mechanical engineer on the deep mining rig and carries much of the movie on adept shoulders.  This is not, nor are any of them, a deep character, but that means in a film like this the work is even harder. Stewart not only has to make you care about her characters fate, but that of the others, and doesn’t get a lot of dialogue to do it. This relies on her abilities as an actress to use body language and expression; you know that thing everyone picks on her about, to sell the movie and she does. Jessica Henwick (Nymeria Sand on Game of Thrones, and Colleen Wing on The Defenders), plays Emily a research assistant in the wrong place at the wrong time and here again has to deliver and I find that she does. French Actor Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Brotherhood of the Wolf) as the Captain brings weight to the movie, while John Gallagher Jr. (Peppermint, 10 Cloverfield Lane) brings some humanity. I am really starting to like this actor. The one stand out however, is TJ Miller. He adds nothing to the movie other than wasting the oxygen of the rest of the cast and crew. He could, and should, have been replaced with most any other comedic actor if they wanted levity in the film and it would likely have improved things. But can’t win them all I guess.

I would spend another few hundred words here raving on the production design of the movie, instead I shall be concise. I love the production design. Literally everything about it. That is all.

TL;DR?

This movie is hard to market, which is sad, because I haven’t had this good a time with a movie like this in a very long time. I am trying to remember the last time a movie made me feel tense and looking at the screen for something, anything that seemed out of sorts. They don’t play with jump scares or high shrieking notes, they actually just build tension and dread. When the characters get to breathe, so do you. I came out of this movie excited for what I saw and what it delivered. It was surprisingly satisfying end to end.

This is a dump slot movie in that I also don’t know when else it could be released and do well enough for “Top men” at the studios. It’s not avante garde enough for the major awards circuits or indie circuits, but would never be a blockbuster either. So it’s in a weird limbo, but feels right there too.

I also mentioned Alien before. This movie is possibly the most Alien that has Alien’d since Aliens and there’s no xenomorph. The deep sea suits look both futuristic, yet lived in and rugged, but also reminiscent of those on the Nostromo. The tight corrodors, the cables, the pressing threat of death all evoke more feelings like Alien did than the last four movies combined. I suppose that is setting a high bar for the movie to draw that comparison but its what I was feeling as I watched it.

Should I see it?

If the trailer seemed curious to you, yes.  While not as “huge” as Space, the movie benefits from a big screen viewing.

 

Would you see it again?

Yes. Even at full price.

Buying it then I guess?

Yes, yes I am. Hopefully I can work the Dark Court up to it at the Manor.

Alien huh?

I know. I know. Underwater won’t win any awards, it doesn’t change the status quo of film, it doesn’t particularly do anything groundbreaking, and sadly will go overlooked by most. It is a solid little near future tension packed film. The characters felt real enough and Stewart carries well. When people say “we made the lead like Ripley”, this is what that SHOULD look like, vs….well every other time they claim that. Thankfully here, no one claimed it, but they did earn it.

What’s next?

Why Doolittle of course!

Darke Reviews | Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

9 movies in the Skywalker Saga. 42 Years. Marvel is impressive with its display on Endgame, but there’s something almost mystical to the staying power of Star Wars over the course of generations. No one, and I mean no one, in 1977 could have imagined this. $1.7 Billion in production costs, $4.6 billion (non adjusted) domestic box office and almost $9.5 billion in worldwide grosses over the course of that time with all of the theatrical releases of Star Wars. Accounting for inflation since 1977 Star Wars Episode IV a New Hope is the number 1 film domestically with an equivalent $1.4 billion domestic sales. Like the movies or not, their success is undeniable. Their presence in the public consciousness and discourse is easily one of the most powerful of all fandoms of all time. I mean no offense to the Star Trek fans (of which I am one) or any other Fandom out there, but this is *the* powerhouse franchise.

This of course does not inherently mean they are good. This does not mean they are quality. This means they are consumable. They are populist.

That does not mean they are bad. That does not mean they should be discounted, dismissed, or derided for simply being popular.

Being one thing does not automatically mean another. You can be a Star Trek fan *and* a Star Wars fan. You can be popular and good. You can be good and unpopular. You can be popular, profitable, and bad.

Why am I not talking about Rise of Skywalker yet?

It comes down to the rhetoric around the franchise that has grown in recent years. The originals are heralded and to critique them is to bring wrath, the prequels are debated but no one could say its a hot take to say they are widely considered “not good”; and now the new trilogy is contentious and polarizing. The Force Awakens: It’s too much like the original. Next movie. What is this it’s not star wars! Let me ask a question: What is Star Wars? defintively and not open for any argument. What is it that makes something Star Wars and be explicit! Just remember if someone says thats not it…you didn’t answer correctly! No one could answer that I think. I might be wrong, and there are thousands of frothing toxic “fans” that might think they can answer those and they are objectively right. They will mock, cajole, and even threaten harm to anyone who disagrees with their way of thinking. They are a very dangerous and vocal group and they exist everywhere and Star Wars is one of their battlegrounds.

Now, for me, Star Wars is a feeling. It is Space Fantasy. There are wizards. Light swords. Blasters. Spaceships. Aliens. Fascist threats and a strong, but small group of misfits fighting against them. It’s moments in time and beats that hit just right with some of the best musical cues ever written. It’s the power of hope and friendship over darkness and oppression.

Does The Rise of Skywalker meet my criteria?

The short answer is Yes.

The long answer is significantly longer. I cannot say I unabashedly love this movie. It has some flaws and they do need to be discussed.

I could write about how the movie regularly feels like it is both trapped by and needs to apologize for The Last Jedi. Both of these were wrong assertions by director J.J. Abrams and the Disney production leaders. It almost feels as if they were confused as to how they got where they are and the resulting pacing, editing, and story content is a slapdash overreaction to inaccurate criticism. There is a lot going on in this movie and much of it comes from nowhere or you sit and ask yourself – why did they have to do it *that* way. Characters are introduced who literally served no purpose other than to fulfill JJ’s nepotistic like behavior; while others are relegated to that of a “Sexy Lamp” and could be excised with no impact. Literally every fault *I personally* have, and there are more, with this movie I can lay solidly on Abrams as he gets screenplay credit with Chris Terrio (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League). Sure the story is by ousted director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World & Fallen Kingdom, Book of Henry) and Derek Connolly (Detective Pikachu, Kong: Skull Island), but since it’s clear Terrio and Abrams had final script and then Abrams is in the directors chair – any dialogue, plot, or other beats that don’t work are on him and him alone. Also worth mentioning while the movie does violate my Rule of Three its clear they do remember the rule of three in storytelling.

Thankfully, there is a lot that does work.

The OT3 that is Finn, Rey, and Poe (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac) are the beating heart of the movie and the emotion that drives it forward with every interaction. Abrams gets credit for the performances as director, but these three had to do the real work and work they did. Adam Driver gets to spread a bit here and what we see is good. I can only imagine the finished product had our Space Mom been with us to see this to fruition. I hope you are resting well and flipping people off where ever you may be Carrie. The rest of the cast does well, but I have to give Joonas Suotamo as our new Chewbacca some love for his performance and stepping into some very big shoes, literally and figuratively.

The visuals were excellent and evocative as ever. It was awesome to hear an easy 50% of the Stormtrooper voices be women. This movie may have one of my favourite emotionally weighted lightsaber battles ever. I could go on and on with the amount I loved out of this movie, but an easy 60% of it is spoiler territory.

TL;DR?

I have watched this movie twice now and am quite satisfied with it. From title crawl and anthem blare to the close of credits I am happy with what I got. It may not be my favourite of them all, but damn if I am not content with this. Even as I write this section out I am realizing how much I do like it and how its making me feel.

So should I see it?

If you’ve seen this many or any – yeah.

Would you watch it again?

Too late. Though bigger screens and better sound systems are recommended.

I guess you are buying it?

You would be guessing correctly.

So you kinda sounded negative on it overall?

I think the movie has flaws. Some more glaring than others to me. Some decisions I don’t agree with thematically against this trilogy. All of that is true, but this is one of those movies who can have the flaws I’ve mentioned and still overcome them. If it is flawed that deserves to be acknowledged so Disney and Abrams can learn and grow; but I do not want to take away from my final feelings.

I like this movie. I think people should see it. I saw it again with one of the members of my Dark Court and we spent a 30 minute drive back to work geeking out over the details and fan service we did catch from lightsabers to dialogue to certain spoiler territory things I want to scream in joy about but can’t. Sure Abrams may hit the nostalgia button a lot, OK I think he’s just sitting on it now, but that isn’t the worst thing. Abrams has opportunity to grow from this and mature into a style that goes beyond pop culture nostalgia. Do I think he will? No, but he could.

The movie shines when our three heroes and one villain get to stretch their wings and fly. They are what kept me engaged, not watching some callback to a thing that happened in this one movie one time.  This movie made me FEEL on more than one occasion and that isn’t that easy these days. They gets a lot of credit for that.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting and deeply satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

May the Force be with you, always.

or alternatively for those like me: May the Force Free you.

 

Darke Reviews | Knives Out (2019)

I do love public preview screenings. Since I am not associated to any associations I don’t typically get to see movies before the release date. Tonight was an exception. Granted I debated going to see Frozen II again and the manager at the theatre thought I was until I showed the ticket. I’ve been curious about the movie since the surrealish tongue in cheek trailer dropped a few months ago. I mean watching Chris Evans tell everyone he is not playing Captain America anymore by repeatedly telling people off frame to “Eat Sh**”. Daniel Craig attempting a Kentucky/southern accent in itself is an entertaining concept. Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas were additional incentive to get me in the seat tonight.

So is it time for a nice Knives out?

Yeah not my best play on words, but I’ll own it. Written and directed by Rian Johnson it was a pleasure to see him get back to his roots. Sure everyone knows him for the work he did on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I don’t hate but many people do. Looper, which had a ridiculous amount of studio interference on his plot, casting, and editing. They literally forced Bruce Willis on him and made them change Joseph Gordon-Levitt to look more like Willis. Yeah that kind of interference. This movie however reminds me of his original film I saw, Brick. Its a murder mystery with all the twists and turns you would hope for but with a style I can’t quite put my finger on – wait nevermind. Where Brick was full on hard boiled 1930’s noir, this plays more like Poirot via Agatha Christie.

The plot is really quite simple. The patriarch of a family, (Christopher friggin Plummer) is found dead the night after his 85th birthday. The police are investigating everyone involved, and private investigator Benoit Blanc (Craig) has also been brought in to find out who was involved, what their motive was, and why they think they can get away with it. The family is peopled with jerks all with their own motives shallow and deep, so it truly is a whodunit.  This is *not* Clue, and I will reiterate that point later. It’s not even a black comedy. It is a murder mystery with humorous undertones at the execution of the investigation, which again hearkens back to some of the 1960’s and 70’s mysteries of a similar style. There’s even a full on Murder She Wrote clip in the middle of the film on someone’s TV. It doesn’t get better than that.

It helps to have some talented actors playing the despicable members of the family. Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) as the eldest daughter, while Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) plays her husband. Toni Collette (Hereditary) continues to pick all the right roles, this time taking the widowed daughter in law, while Katherine Langford (Love Simon) plays her daughter. Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Man of Steel), takes a more subdued role as the youngest son. Then you have Chris Evans (Captain America) as an arrogant (and amusing) grandson; with Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) as a nurse who took care of the patriarch. Craig then is our southern fried detective with ridiculous accent and mannerisms; furthering my Poirot theory.

From a technical standpoint, its shot well using the expansive house and the surrounding area for maximum effect. The way the mystery unravels and reveals itself also is done with an experts hand in my personal opinion – which lets face it if you are reading this you are asking for.

TL;DR?

I still have issues writing reviews for murder mysteries as I maintain my 100% no spoiler rule on new releases. I enjoyed myself with this one trying to figure out if everything being given to me is objectively true. There are enough correct lines and clever red herrings that you’ll know whats up, but be questioning if you are sure or what really played out.

Should I see it?

If you like mysteries? Yes. I think it plays to its strengths, looks to be the love letter I am assuming it is.

Would you watch it again?

Yeah I would. I don’t think I will be, but I have Frozen II to watch again.

Are you going to buy it?

Pretty sure I am. I think there is some decent rewatch value in it if for nothing else than to see everyone and I mean everyone competing to chew scenery.

Parting thoughts?

I laughed, I enjoyed it. Folks around me seemed to be enjoying it. It’s not a game changer in this genre by any stretch. I don’t think this will redeem Rian Johnson for people who don’t like his work, but for those who enjoy his projects this is going to be right up their alley.

 

Darke Reviews | Frozen II (2019)

For many people Avengers Endgame was their most anticipated movie of the year, for others it might have been It Chapter 2, and others still Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker next month. All of those were, or are, eagerly anticipated by me true; but this – this right here tops the list without fail. My review of Frozen was early in my “career” and doesn’t have what’s become my trademark closings, but I stand by the review. The original movie is kind of a mixed bag, music drops off at the half way point and some of the songs don’t work. I still avoid doing research into a movie before writing the review, but have more easily picked up edits and such. I called it in the original review that there were a lot of last minute edits, I just didn’t realize the scale and scope of them and that the majority came in the two to three months prior to release.

Since then I have more or less become an Elsa to many, and in my own head if were being honest, and she is part of who I am now. There are the Facebook tags and the running joke of being summoned at the sight of an Elsa meme. Whenever anything Frozen or Elsa comes out, I get tags or people pleading for me to stop the snow (NO!). I have an extensive collection to Elsa and Frozen and have easily listened to Let it Go over a thousand times without exaggeration.

The cold still doesn’t bother me anyway. Did this sequel?

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return to the writing and directing chairs, but not alone. Kristen Lopez Anderson and Robert Lopez who did the music for the original also get story credits. Additionally Marc Smith, likely for his work on the short Frozen Fever and contributing in the writers room. Unlike last time this story feels far more cohesive and music as much part of the story as the script and truly moves it along in many cases; albeit on the nose more than a few times. The writers were smart here and did something few other franchises have and aged their characters a respective number of years, but more than that they aged them with their audience. This sequel is for the fans of Frozen. The characters have grown as the children (and adults) who loved the original have and the story is written for them. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough for the newest generation and judging from the laughs I heard they got it too.

The writers do something else not often seen in a sequel – the characters don’t regress. Often in sequels you see characters falling into the behaviors they were trapped by or grew out of in the course of the original movie because someone can’t figure a new plot. Here that is not that the case. In fact the entire plot is original as near as I can tell as I have never seen *this* story told before. So we have two major things that sequels fail to do overcome by supported, competent writers who are also clearly listening to their audience.

The plot is as shown in the trailers; with Elsa hearing a mystical sirens call that no one else can hear. During a night something changes and Arendelle falls into danger once more. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven must go north and solve and old mystery from their past. Danger, magic, and beauty await them in the mystic forest. Together they forge their way through and….

What? No spoilers duh.

The acting in the movie is fine by the way. Its hard for it not to be with the same cast returning to characters they’ve become recognized as for the past half decade. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff fall back into it as naturally as if they had literally been these characters for the last six years. I was sad to see that Maurice LaMarche (Brain) did not reprise his role as the king in the flashbacks in this film. I am never going to forget meeting him in my Elsa costume a few months after coming out as Transgender and him using the fathers voice and changing the line, “Don’t conceal, feel, let it show.” I cried for a solid five minutes after and he may never know how much that meant. We do get some new voice talent in the form of Sterling K Brown (This is Us, Black Panther), Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld, True Blood, and biseuxal icon), Jason Ritter (Gravity Falls, Drunk History), and Rachel Matthews (Happy Death Day) and as expected on a production like this no one phones it in.

There is of course the music and I am happy to say the movie remembered it was a musical from the beginning to the end and somehow oddly breaks more than a few normal musical theatre conventions in the process. While not every song will be for everyone, there are more songs for everyone here. Kristen Lopez Anderson and Robert Lopez wisely do not try to do something that one ups let it go. You can’t. They didn’t try. They do hit another anthem however that has nearly as a powerful message that will be resonating with folks for some time. Let it Go still reigns, even if the movie pokes a joke at its expense (its a good one), but songs like Into the Unknown and Show Yourself will do what they were very very clearly and intentionally meant to. The highs aren’t AS high and the lows aren’t as low as Frozen, but they are more consistent and consistently at a higher caliber.

The animation though, here is where this movie absolutely explodes. This is, for me and my Dark Court tonight, hands down one of the most beautiful Disney animated movies ever put to screen. The colour contrasts, the brilliant pops and attention to detail, lights, shadows, bloom, depth of field, its all there. That’s not even getting into the motion and the beauty of that. There were several shots in the movie where we thought it was photo real. It is THAT good on this front.

TL;DR?

I don’t want to oversell this movie. I am going to tell you I definitely prefer it to the original for its consistency and improved musical control. I cannot tell you how much I love the animation and how just beautiful the entire production is. I am still trying not to oversell this film. It is GOOD. Possibly even great. It didn’t meet all of my expectations and does have some flaws I couldn’t overlook entirely, but they don’t take away from the final piece in the same way the original did with its flaws.

What I can tell you with confidence is that two seats down from me there was an 8 or 9 year old girl singing along with every song happily. It was pure and almost as adorable as baby Yoda (I said almost!). I could hear the kids in the theatre laughing, singing, and cheering as the movie went on and adults too. I often complain about who is a movie made for? Who asked for this? Well in this case, we did. We got what we asked for (mostly) and it showed in the reactions of everyone in the theatre and even listening to people as they were leaving and the conversations we could hear happening around us.

That’s what this kind of art exists for and I am glad of it.

Would you watch it again?

Yeah, when do you wanna go? You buy? I’ll buy my own if needed. I do like it. The bigger the screen and sound system the better. I can only imagine this on an IMAX screen.

So buying it then?

I just checked, its not on pre-order yet.

Right, so trying not to oversell it huh?

Seriously not. I had to manage my expectations going in and this movie exceeded those expectations. It has flaws, more than a handful, but they do not take away from the whole and I spent two hours really enjoying myself and just watching some very very gorgeous moving art.

Any parting thoughts then?

The movie will introduce those who look her up to Norweigan singer Aurora and her music, which I am going to be exploring myself over the next few days. Also everyone is going to love either the Salamander or the Nokk or both.

Darke Reviews | Charlie’s Angels (2019)

I have missed you my readers. Have you missed me? There are a few reviews coming that I owe you, but first the viewing tonight. I had hoped to get this one to you last night, but there was a plague upon my house which kept me more or less incapacitated for several days. After some blood letting, no I am not saying whose blood, I am almost fully operational again. The members of my Dark Court went last night to the preview screening and all assured me I would enjoy this film. They gave me no spoilers, they know better. Now of course I remember watching reruns of the series as a little girl, Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Lad, Kate Jackson, Tanya Roberts, Farrah Fawcett. That…might explain a few things. I have also watched both the 2000 and 2003 movies, not particularly fond of the camp surprising no one. I did miss the 2011 series. Near as I can tell so did everyone else.

I suppose the real question then is, should you say Good Evening Angels?

The story for this film was written by David Auburn ( The Lake House) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (Hercules, Beauty and the Beast 2017), which creates an interesting mix of a Tony award winning writer who also did a romantic drama and a guy who has mostly made a lot of the Disney animated sequels. Not sure what to make of that mix in styles, but when you add Elizabeth Banks (Power Rangers, Brightburn) on the screenplay and in the directors chair it begins to take shape. Banks went mostly under the radar for me for years until I saw her in Hunger Games as Effie, then appearing as Gail in Pitch Perfect. I admit, I discounted her. I would say around Mockingjay I saw what was there all along (I have a bias against comedy you know this), then as Rita Repulsa in Power Rangers. She cemented her chops with me in Brightburn, but thats in front of the camera. What about behind? I am not a fan of her directorial debut Pitch Perfect 2, its fine, but didn’t resonate nearly as well as the first. She hasn’t gone behind the camera in 4 years and she’s been learning. More on that in a second.

The story presented is a long episode of the show. Someone has a secret, someone doesn’t want that secret shared. Spy games and spy vs spy ensue. Pretty clothes, disguises, and nifty gadgets follow. Women power in all the best ways. Basic works here. To embrace the premise of the show and take it seriously, which the movie does, you do not need overly dramatic complex or overwrought plots. You need a McGuffin, multiple locations, and some highly skilled Angels with just an air of mystery to the plot enough to satisfy the casual movie goer. It does that. While the movie does take itself seriously, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows where to poke, it knows where to have fun even at itself. This is what separates this particular remake of a 70’s series from so many of the others. Others go for the hard over the top ridiculous comedy, this is far far more restrained. Granted it is over the top in its own ways, but the humor in the movie is pure and good natured and charming.  Thats screenplay and directing done right Mrs. Banks

That also comes from the performers, Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper, American Ultra), Naomi Scott (Power Rangers, Aladdin), and Ella Balinska (first major theatrical role) as our Angels. They have to carry this movie not “just by being pretty” (but they are three of the most beautiful women on the planet imo), but they have to have the acting and action chops as well. They do. I know a lot of people still write off K-Stew and well…in my opinion they are wrong. She isn’t the performer she was in 2008. She knows who and what she is now and as the saying goes “brings her whole self to work” and I can tell you that it shows. She’s both charming and funny in this role, while still pulling off a number of decent action pieces with her in frame. Scott continues to hold her own and shows she can and should continue to be trusted as her career continues to grow. I will admit Balinska almost steals the show from both of them a number of times, including one particularly adorable scene with Noah Centino. I could go on to list all the co-stars and cameo appearances in this movie but we’d be here all night.

TL:DR?

The movie is fantastically well paced and trimmed to cut all the fat away giving you the bare necessities and deliver on everything the trailer promised. Just shy of 2 hours there’s very little to cut from this movie without sacrificing some element that keeps it all working. It also keeps an interesting sense of permanency with some aspects to the movie where certain things are not undone and I am pleased for it. There are dozens of nods and winks to the original series and the early 2000 movies without being too overt or fanservicy. Movies risk with that going “remember this better thing?” yeah they avoid all of that. All of it.

I really enjoyed the hell out of this adorable picture. This will likely make my top list this year.  Yes, I am serious.

Should you see it?

If you had any interest in it I can confirm you will get your monies worth. If you were waiting for confirmation from the anti comedy girl that its palatable, you got it. If you weren’t sure – I can comfortably recommend this for a beautiful popcorn bit of fun.

Would you see it again?

My Dark Court wanted to. One of them was able to tonight (the others had prior commitments) I stand by them on this and would.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely.

Are there any problems with it, like at all?

Sure. Its a bit shallow. If you know the genre there’s not a lot to the movie, but it doesn’t matter. There’s not a lot to the characters themselves, backstory or development wise, but if you wanted to kick off a franchise this wouldn’t be a bad way to do it.

Of course I am all for the pro feminism aspect of the movie. It does not even remotely shy away from it and a few times beats you over the head with it. You know what? GOOD. Let girls who come see this see themselves as bad ass action stars. Let them see they can wear pretty dresses, kick ass and save the world – and have fun doing it. We don’t need every movie like this to be Atomic Blonde, this is a nice accessible and fun balance to the mix and I encourage people to take their families to it.

Not…too young though. It is PG-13

Oh and yes it passes the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests by an order of magnitude.

Darke Reviews | Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Yeah I know this one has been out a bit, sadly travel prevented me from seeing it on release. I was tempted to see it last weekend, but I wasn’t up for writing three reviews. Where’s the Zombieland Double Tap review? I’ll get to it…eventually. The other deciding factor on this one was having my Dark Court with me, who always make movies better.  They weren’t able to attend on the weekend so instead of either of this weeks releases, Black and Blue (not at my theatre 😦 ) or Countdown which may still be on the docket, we see Maleficent Mistress of Evil. Now when Maleficent came out in 2014 I was one of the voices saying this is good. This is better than folks are giving it credit for. I stand by that even now, where while it may not have been the box office success of some of the later remakes, I still think it was one of the more successful ones as it went and changed the story so dramatically and dared to be different from the formula. Just like the high points in Aladdin were where they did something new, the entirety of Maleficent was a new take. So five years later we get a sequel, because Disney really can’t help themselves.

Should you see it or prick your finger on a spindle and take a nap?

Linda Woolverton (The Lion King 1994, Beauty and the Beast) returns as a story and screenplay writer for the Mistress of Evil. Joining her on screenplay duty is Noah Harpster (Transparent, the upcoming Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Transparent, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). The story is not nearly as complex or fascinating as the original here. Everything the trailer showed you is the basic premise and there is very little else to expect beyond that. Philip proposes to Aurora, Maleficent disapproves, they go to dinner with Philip’s parents, things go bad, things get worse,….then get better. Happily ever after maybe? I mean it is Disney so it’s hard to say that’s a spoiler. If anything the screenplay is the weakest element of this movie, the dialogue is about as upfront and in your face as it is going to get without a bullhorn screaming at you going “Do you see what we are doing here?” There are some significant flaws in the screenplay and story that would require me to hit actual spoiler territory, but after some of the elegance of the original one this one pales in comparison.

Thankfully director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Carribean: Deadmen Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki) is able to salvage most of it. While here some of the choices don’t work, the majority do and he does treat the audience to some wonderful set ups and payoffs as well as far more subtle acting and nuance than you typically get in a film like this. What seems odd is Rønning  as a directorial choice. I feel, and I could be wrong, that Disney has him in a three movie contract since Pirates 4 and there’s a better director inside trying to get out. There’s an attempt at a vision in here that holds and does it’s best to elevate the movie, but hampered either by screenplay or producers I can’t say it never quite lands where it needs to. That isn’t to say he doesn’t salvage it, because he absolutely does as this would have been a straight to DVD or straight to the bin with a lesser director. Even here though there are some choices made that left me feeling sour with the movie and only mostly redeemed by other moments.

Acting wise? Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning are still some of the top tier actors of the decade, they could have done this movie in their sleep and didn’t. They put the effort in and this is where some of the real positive directorial choices happen as well. Rønning, Jolie, and Fanning know enough about their craft to make moments work that bring you back into the world of the movie and invest you in the outcome. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) makes Philip more than one note, barely, but he does. Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Free Fire) returns as Diaval and puts heart in where its needed and good characterization.  Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor are wasted, but do what they can with what they have. Michelle Pfeiffer on the other hand has decided that she is hungry for scenery. She didn’t quite hit Jeremy Irons levels of over the top, but she was reaching for it.

Visually the movie is a treat. It brings the magic back from the first and generally speaking looks great through out with only a handful of shots not quite holding up. There’s a magnificent shot of Maleficent at one point in the film where you get to see her wings as they attach to her body and there’s a level of detail to it you cannot deny.

TL;DR?

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a Disney sequel. While I did enjoy myself and was engaged in the story, there are enough elements into it that detract that I can’t say it’s of the same quality as the first. When I consider the writers on the movie I think I can see the problem at its core.  There is something just ultimately unsatisfying through the movie. It’s not that it was cheap, that no one tried, or anything like that. There’s just a lack of clear vision on the movie, it does tell a coherent story but takes no action to elevate it or the characters.

Should I see it?

Well if you haven’t already you have about a week or two to try. Matinee at best.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatres no.

Buying it?

Yeah I am pretty sure I am. I know I really talked the movie down, but I was expecting and wanting more than I got from it. That’s on me I suppose.

You do seem conflicted on this one…

Not so much conflicted. I am calling out the flaws in a work that I still enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I could have. There’s real effort put into it, but it doesn’t amount as high or as much as it could have. It’s visually very pretty, the characters are fine if a bit over the top at times, but there’s all this build up and so little pay off through the various stages of the movie. It could have used another pass on the script maybe or another trip through the editing room. There was a lack of fang to the movie I suppose.

The movie DID make me feel though. That alone keeps it from being purely mediocre or meh and into the solidly Ok category.

So it’s good…I guess?

Not much of a conclusion there I know. Next week though you will get to see if we get the rug pulled out from under us again with Terminator Dark Fate.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Gemini Man (2019)

I didn’t feel the need to rush out and see this one when it came out two weeks ago. For one thing it didn’t seem all that interesting a premise to me, or more to the point it wasn’t one that grabbed me. I’ve seen The Sixth Day after all. Will Smith while talented yes, has been almost as flat as Bruce Willis of late with an intent or direction to become this stoic thing, Aladdin being an exception. Ang Lee while amazingly gifted is often hit or miss with his visual style compared to that of traditional western directors. Granted all his Academy Awards and the various nominations for such awards; little films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life of Pi, and Brokeback Mountain. Still with that kind of pedigree it was not a very grabbing movie in premise or look. $138 million put into its production budget and only a $30 million haul domestically so far says I am not the only one who felt that way.

Were we wrong?

I kind of broke protocol for myself on this one and watched a handful of reviews of it and thought of some of the points of discussion around it. The biggest point of contention is the fact that the film is shot in 120 frames per second, or FPS. What does that mean exactly? Well the average movie you watch is filmed in 24 fps, so when you increase the frames per second this means more detail is coming in, more subtlety of motion, even the way light reacts to the objects in frame changes at higher frame rates. 120 FPS looks great for slow motion as when you crank it down to 24 FPS where film is normally watched everything is moving significantly slower and you still get all the details in the frame. All. Of. The Details.

Does everyone reading this remember The Hobbit movies? They were filmed at 48 FPS. Remember how weird it looked? How off the lighting and costuming looked at times? Even the shot blocking was weird from time to time. This is due to the higher frame rate picking up details. There’s apparently some shots that had to be fixed in post production significantly because you could see the marks from the blocking on the floors where the actors were to stand. Every single detail becomes that much more crisp in 48 FPS. So what does a movie shot in 120 FPS look like?

I wish I could tell you, most theatres don’t even have the equipment to show a film in that degree of quality. My own was showing it in 3-D and 60 FPS, so a 20% increase over the Hobbit in frame rate and it looked…interesting. Daylight sequences appeared as if they were shot on green screen, yet shots on the open water the water was so pristine, so crystal clear it looked more real than I have ever seen. Action scenes, however looked different. They often benefit from a bit of motion blur, a bit of over or under cranking the camera, which is changing the FPS it is being displayed at. Filming at 120 already and displaying in 60 doesn’t give you any room to hide any flaws; but with Ang Lee directing they aren’t there in those shots.

There is a surrealist yet near photo real quality the movie brings, but some of that comes from the usage of post production color correction to bring up all of the colour values brighter and sharper for the benefit of the overall look. Many of the reviewers I checked out talked about how the high frame rate made the movie look cheap. I have to disagree. It made everything look cleaner. There was something just off true, but not enough to distract me as I was focusing on taking in all of those details. There were some unfortunate details true. There was an unusual desire to take close up shots, but have the eye lines just left or right of center rather than focusing on the audience.

Beyond the FPS the movie had one other major feat. Young Will Smith vs 51 Year old Will Smith. I understand they invented new software for this and it showed. Granted the high frame rate as mentioned left it feeling off in it’s own way, but if you moved past that and focused on the details  of the digital work on the younger Will Smith it was damn near perfect. We aren’t talking the Moff Tarkin or Leia in Rogue One, the nightmare fuel Bridges from Tron, or even young Michael Douglas in Ant Man – this is just amazing. Not quite perfect, but full on deep fake levels of skill and quality that are uncanny.

I could talk about the plot by David Benioff (Game of Thrones) and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps, Shazam!), with Billy Ray (Overlord, The Hunger Games) getting an additional credit on the screenplay. It’s about as bare bones as it gets with nothing really gained or given beyond what was revealed in the trailer. Nothing special to the dialogue, nothing special to the overall plot. I can see how much Benioff had to do with it as there are some really bad editing choices and places where the story just seems to forget how normal conversation works.

The acting from Will Smith is fine. Just fine. Its solid and almost perfunctory from him. If anything I did more or less feel he was embodying the role of someone who was trying to retire from the life. Benedict Wong as his friend Baron doesn’t get nearly enough to do. The breakout performance for this movie is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Thing 2011). She is *not* the strong female lead in a movie. She’s just a good character played perfectly.

TL;DR?

If you did not see this – you did not miss much to be honest. Its a solid OK, but mostly saved by the high frame rate and visuals for me. I don’t think audiences are ready yet for this as a regular technique, but until its pushed until it’s tested and used over and over again it won’t get better. From a technical perspective this movie is setting a bar for de-aging techniques and having two characters in the same frame and interacting and it looking good. For cinema to go anywhere we need people to continue to push the boundaries. As much as I dislike Nolan his technical proficiency raises the bar for everyone else. Ang Lee here shows some of the potential of the medium and also what can happen with time and practice.

I just wish it had been on a better movie as the studios will once again take the wrong lesson. They will take away that high frame rates and digital technology aren’t worth the investment, but they would be wrong. They are worth it. You have the tech in place now. It only gets cheaper with usage and development. You will make this something that gets better and bring people in just as James Cameron did with Avatar and 3-D.

A technically proficient director with vision, clarity, a *very* basic budget and a budget will do wonders.

Just not with this one.

Should I see it?

I want to say yes, but only if you fit two categories. 1 you can see it in the high frame rate. 2 you are a cinemaphile who is going to eat that up like Saturday morning cereal.

Would you see it again?

Yeah, but again with someone else and those two criteria in play. Also my girl crush on Winstead.

Buying it?

Well, I have a 4K TV, so yes. It *should* look lovely on that without motion blur and just be a smaller version of the cinematic experience.

Anything else to add?

Why did it have to be this plot? It was so uninspired and Lee’s direction of Smith and or Smith’s performance were so…meh through the majority of the movie its hard not to be bored. You should not be bored during a big budget action movie.