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 | 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 | Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

From the moment I saw this trailer I wanted to see this movie. I am a theatre geek to begin with, so musicals are always a soft spot. I am THE Horror fan at my job, but one of my employees is a close second, as such Zombies get my attention. I am a sentimentalist and thus a good charming Christmas movie with a twist is always touching. What happens when you mix the three into a single movie? You get Anna and the Apocalypse. What appears to be the perfect blend of the comedy I like, a solid musical in the vein of High School musical, and zombies.  This absolutely should not work.

 

 

But did it?

The movie is a product of Scotland, a country that every day I am considering trying to import myself into, which also gave us the fantastic film Let Us Prey. The writers are also products of Scotland, with Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald in their first big release in their own country, much less globally. Director John McPhail is getting his first shot at wide screen title as well. The story is as simple as the trailer provides you, where a zombie apocalypse hits a sleepy coastal town in Scotland around Christmas. Anna and her friends have to make it to their school from across town amidst the chaos and undead to find their friends and family and hope for an evac from the local military.  That’s it. The plot couldn’t be more simple, but there is an elegance in the simplicity as the writers were able to focus and spend time on the characters as they deal with the undead, their own lives, and the burdens of growing up. Along the way there is full on musical numbers that are absolutely catchy and I haven’t stopped listening since I left the theatre.

On the topic of the musical beats, at first I thought they were non diagetic, which means that they aren’t “actually” happening in camera and are more traditional to a musical; but there are a few beats that make me question that to the point the movie may actually be having these absolutely absurd sequences happening real time. I honestly like that in this case. It takes the movie with a wink and a nod and brings you along with the fun. Some of the sequences and songs reminded me a bit of something I would see in Rocky Horror Picture Show, while others went full Disney, and even others went full Edgar Wright. Again I am ok with it, because while I can see these influences (due to seeing so many movies) they make it work and also make it their own. The film makes a few obvious references to Shaun of the Dead and this is worthy as you could almost consider this a spiritual successor to that film; and it is also clear to me that McPhail took more than a few influences from Edgar Wrights style of directing. This is something to be encouraged as we need more Wrights in the world and what he brings to the table with his cuts, editing, and camera work.

I in a rare instance get to talk about the singing and performance of our actors. Starting with our titular character Anna, played by Ella Hunt. She’s the perfect lead for this as she is both warm and engaging and her vocals are right in the range that I find pleasing. She gives a truly “human” performance as her character goes through the story and then is screen capturing when she gets her solo songs. Sarah Swire, who plays Steph, and gives the movie some positive Queer representation, has some great moments, but her vocals are just absolutely powerful and as good as Hunt is, Swire’s range and power is incredible. The other main players, Malcolm Cumming, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, and Marli Sui all do good jobs, but none of them quite stand out the way Hunt and Swire do. Wiggins, as his character Nick, gets a pretty good “hero” solo in the movie but the character is unlikable so it’s hard to enjoy as much as would be potential if he wasn’t such as knob. The surprising performance comes from Paul Kaye, as Headmaster Savage.  Game of Thrones fans will know him as Thoros of Myr; I thought he was doing his best impression of Bill Nighy to the point I couldn’t recognize him. He even had Nighy’s mannerisms and vocal ticks down in a few scenes so I can’t say if it was intentional or I just need to watch more of Kaye’s work. His songs give me the most feeling of something from Rocky Horror, not in theme but range, tone and style.

For my Gore hounds, I think you will be satisfied with this movie as the effects are good and beautifully practical. I think they could have gone further, true, but they struck a balance with the rest of the tone of the story. My theatre geeks will probably enjoy the overall production and beats and even the stage like performances for songs like Human Voice and Hollywood Ending. The Disney like “I want” song, “Break Away” has a great hook and a damn near addictive property with Hunt, Swire, and Cumming’s leading vocals. The camera work beyond the musical numbers is absolutely solid and shows more command than I’ve seen out of a dozen Hollywood films this year with some great intentional shots and use of motion.

 

TL;DR?

The hype for this one is real folks. I had a blast watching this as did the audience that was there, small as it was. Beyond the funny beats being my kind of funny, the music being well above the average we’ve gotten used to; the movie has one major thing going for it. It’s charming as hell. It isn’t full comedy guys, there’s a real story to it that plays out and you feel with the characters as it unfolds. There is absolute heart here and it shows in the love and care from writing, directing, cast, and crew.

Anna and the Apocalypse, will be in my permanent rotation going forward for my Holiday movie watching.

Should I watch it?

If you can. The movie has gotten a limited release here in the US, but if you have a showing in your area take the opportunity. For my less Horror inclined, I don’t think the movie offers much in the way of the scares or the spooks and I think it is really accessible for wider audiences if you can handle the more gory beats.

It isn’t perfect. There’s a few things I am not a fan of, but they don’t detract enough from the overall for me to degrade my recommendation.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres. At full price. No regrets

Buying it?

How else am I going to put it in my rotation? I’m even getting the soundtrack.

Are you going a bit overboard here?

Ok I’ve had a shite week. Like full on rubbish. This movie put me in a happy place with how genuine it felt and refreshing it was. It’s not mainstream by any stretch, but I don’t think it should be. It’s right where it belongs and the only thing it deserves is reciprocation of the love that the Cast and Crew clearly put into it.

Now excuse me while I see if I can put an Anna cosplay together.

What a time to be alive.

 

Darke Reviews | A Star is Born (2018)

As I pointed out on my Location tag earlier on Facebook, this is not my usual genre. Dramatic movies and I have an interesting interaction with each other. Mysteries work (Gone Girl). Human Interest Stories, generally don’t. Just general dramatic pictures about people don’t resonate with me as much. Most drama’s deal with the ups and downs of people like or very much not like us often in very realistic ways. They speak to the pain of the human condition and share the stories to those who might need to learn from it, learn about it, or get a glimpse into it. I don’t need other (inspired by, real, or imagined) people’s pain and heartbreak when my life has enough of that on it’s own. It’s part of why you won’t get a lot of those on my review site they don’t interest me intellectually or emotionally. They provide me nothing I crave or even need. Dunkirk as an example, was going to be a cinematic experience retelling a harrowing event in World War II history. It was going to be told by a technical master Christopher Nolan. It was going to be so technically proficient people were going to bend over backwards to talk about how amazing it was. I knew all of this the moment I saw the trailer. But because of all of this, that left me wondering what I’d get out of the movie. Another example is Titanic. Historical event, one I studied extensively prior to her rediscovery, but there I had a love story and an emotional beating heart that carried me through. Granted the tragedy itself to see something I knew so well recreated (based on current understanding) for the cinema was gut wrenching and delivered for me both an emotional core and intellectual appreciation.

This of course leads up to me seeing A Star is Born.

A movie well out of my normal tastes, but starring the one and only Lady Gaga. Many people will be talking about this in relation to the Barbara Streisand version from 1976. I don’t particularly care for her (she’s fine, just not my taste in music or acting), and thus have not seen that version. What many will not likely be discussing is that this is the fourth remake of the story. There is an original Academy Award winner, plus six additional nominations, from 1937 produced by Gone with the Wind’s David O. Selznick. In 1954 it was remade somewhere over the rainbow with Judy Garland and James Mason, this one was only nominated six times for the Academy and didn’t win there, but Judy and James both took home a Golden Globe for it. Then there is the infamous 76 version ( a good year if I must say), which according to Rotten Tomatoes only has a 32% score. There are stories abound on ego and personality clashes behind the scene with Streisand for better or worse coming out victorious on those.

Now we have in 2018 a new adaptation with screenplay credits going to Will Fetters (mostly romantic dramadys), Eric Roth (Munich, The Good Shepherd, Ali), and Bradley Cooper debuting in his first screenwriting and directorial credit. Cooper of course has a million dollar smile and rose to wide audience fame with the Hangover series, and Silver Linings Playbook opposite Jennifer Lawrence, More recently he has been working in providing the voice to Rocket Raccoon in the Marvel franchises. The three of them had a lot to work with as the movie has so many adaptations, but as near as I can tell they made it their own while still keeping the rise and fall of two performers who love each other at the core of the film. Make no mistake this movie does have a core and that is it. While it doesn’t delve deeply into the rise from a story perspective, it does show the fall and the prices paid continuously through out. A cynical critic may pick on the fact that Coopers own character is the focus of that fall and dominates the majority of the screen time.

I suppose though, its particularly noticeable as whenever Lady Gaga is on screen as her character Ally, she rules. She has such tremendous screen presence and gravitas in her performance through the movie it would surprise you that beyond American Horror Story this is her first full on role in a major production. She nails ever scene and the camera just falls in love with her; credit to the director – Cooper – and cinematographer – Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Mother!)- there too. We all knew by now that she was a stage performer from her years of giving us all that she has as Lady Gaga, her songwriting, production, and performances have helped redefine what the music industry could be. Here she lets the full weight of her acting chops go and it is a wonder to behold. Cooper of course is fine, as he has a different burden to carry here he does deliver it well. More on that after the TL;DR. Sam Elliot makes a surprise appearance but reminds us why we love him. The rest of the supporting cast gets very little time, and most everything is focused on Gaga and Cooper as it should be.

On a technical standpoint the camera work here is top notch telling a story in itself. There are so many scenes that have an air of craftsmanship to them that tells me this movie is Academy bait. The downside here though is the editing and length of the film. While the genre is not my usual, there is still a pulse to a movie and this one is stuttering. It goes for long, too long, beats without any real rise or fall, tension or growth of characters. At roughly the 90 minute mark I checked my phone to find out what time it was. There was still another almost hour to go after that and sadly it felt it. I am not sure what I could or would have cut, but it does lead to a slower pacing that distracted slightly through the later half of the movie

TL;DR

A Star is Born provided both emotional depth and intellectual depth for my entertainment needs this evening. My movie going partner tonight and I were able to talk about some of the aspects of the movie after and well there is a lot to talk about. This will without a doubt get at least a few nods at both the Academy and Golden Globes. I would truly be surprised if it didn’t.

The acting is amazing.

The screen work and camera work is amazing.

The songs are beautiful and heartfelt and the performances to go with them and the chemistry all work to make a Star is Born a bona fide great movie.

Would you see it again?

No, but you’ll need to read on to find out why.

Will you buy it then?

Unknown at this time according to my magic eight ball

Wait you didn’t answer if I should see it.

I know.

Ok, should I see it then?

The rest of the review should give you an inference, but  *sigh* Ok. I need to discuss something here. It violates my no spoiler rule, so here’s your warning banners. Stop now if you don’t want any spoilers.

Ok. No roll over text here.

This movie needs a trigger warning. There is an emotionally powerful and charged scene involving suicide during the movie. I didn’t know it was coming but I broke down crying watching it. I left the theatre immediately as the credits rolled to collect myself. I suppose the scenes were there telegraphing it, but it was still filmed in such a way that it was a gut punch I hadn’t braced for. It’s not glorified and it is horrifying. It is not gratuitous, but in those facets make it all the more poignant and painful to watch.

So please if you are triggered by Suicide in/on film do not watch this movie or be prepared to leave when you see the signs coming – and you will see them.

Sorry I don’t like dropping spoilers, but this may have decided if I saw this tonight or not. While I am glad I did see it, I am glad for the conversation I had after for almost an hour, if my head space had been worse or company I was in not nearly as awesome – it could have been a bad space night with a lot more tears and triggering responses.

Don’t worry, I am fine. I just feel I have a responsibility to my readers to let them know.

 

Darke Reviews | American Satan (2017)

About 4 months ago I posted on my personal wall about this movie. I was interested from the word go seeing Andy Biersack in a movie. I am quite a fan of The Black Veil Brides in recent years and have played his song, (as Andy Black) “We Don’t Have to Dance” on repeat way too many times. Then on top of that you see Malcolm MacDowell in the movie, and Mark Boone Junior (who is almost always a pleasure) and I am even more curious. You tell me the plot is about a band who is potentially, and literally, selling its soul to the devil to become famous – how can I pass it up?

Oh, it doesn’t get a showing in Tucson on it’s release date of October 13. That’s problematic. Yet good news came to me Wednesday as they announced a release date here well…today. Granted one theatre. One show, but I will take it.

The question is do I regret it?

Let’s start as we always do with the writers. We have Matty Beckerman and Ash Avildsen. I had to dig beyond my usual IMDB searching to find much on them. Beckerman is an interesting one mostly having functioned in a producer role; which means funding projects and  in one of his prior lives arranging soundtracks for movies. He has no writing experience. This brings us to Ash Avildsen, who is the founder and CEO of  Sumerian Records , who have among their roster Asking Alexandria. If I had to guess looking at the former bands Beckerman and and Avildsen met while working with some of the same bands. He too has little writing experience that I can find or any real experience in the directors chair. Both of these facts explain more than a few things.

The story here isn’t much deeper than described above. A group of friends who met online meet in L.A. and try to make their dream come true. Before they have the chance to succeed or fail on their own a man makes them a deal that is hard to refuse. Of course they COULD refuse, but to quote Once Upon a Time – all magic comes at a price dearie. The rest of the movie focuses on lead singer Johnny Faust trying to decide who he wants to be in the dark side of the music industry you hear about, movies talk about, but no one ever has the fortitude to show.

This movie does. It gets so much credit with me for actually bothering to show up to a movie about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with those same three things. You always hear these things like a mantra from musicians, the media, and magazines, but you only hear the aftermath of wrecked rooms and wrecked lives. American Satan doesn’t shy away from any of it and to it’s further credit doesn’t glorify it either – which was a fine line to walk.

On the acting front Andy has a lot to carry as the front man for the band and the target of attention by the powers that be. Damn if he didn’t try. He put his heart into his performance and when he’s on stage, when he’s in the studio he absolutely nails it. The scenes with Olivia Culpo (Miss USA 2012, Miss Universe 2012), as Johnny’s girlfriend,  just don’t quite have the chemistry or dialogue to work as strong as they could. Like I can see them both working their butts off to make the dialogue, blocking, and scene work but it doesn’t quite land for me; and I have to wonder why they didn’t cast his actual wife Juliet Simms as his girlfriend. Conversely the scenes with Jesse Sullivan, who plays the band bassist Lily Mayflower, work. I don’t want to call it chemistry between them, but there is something there. She does capture the eye and the camera when on screen. It was good to see the Mayflower character be a confirmed bi sexual with only a little pandering – but she was never shamed so again credit. I think I want to see more of Sullivan in the future.

Ben Bruce who is the lead guitarist of Asking Alexandria acts his living heart out. He has not one, but two great emotional scenes I think other Hollywood productions should take a look at and get an idea of what such scenes look like. Booboo Stewart (X-Men Days of Future Past, Twilight, He Never Died) is good and has screen presence,  but the camera forgets him during the bridge between Act I and Act II.  John Bradley (Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones) as Ricky is delightful. Then the movies goes and gives us Bill Goldberg of WWE fame, Bill Duke (Predator, Commando, Payback) and Denise Richards (Wild Things, Starship Troopers) in small parts; which was surprising but adds something to the movie I will talk about later. Mark Boone Junior (30 Days of Night, Batman Begins, Sons of Anarchy) was fantastic as Elias, the executive of Akkadian Records. The one you need to hear about is Malcolm McDowell – there is no piece of celluloid that went undevoured. He chews scenery in in the role like he is a starving man and the movie is even more glorious for it. He’s an absolute delight as he helps drive the movie forward.

What matters most is every actor and every singer tries their best. You can absolutely tell they are putting heart and soul to make this work. The movie may not be their comfort zone but again effort counts and not one performance – not one was wasted. Every last one was enjoyable to watch.

That said, as the youtube channel Cinema Sins comments, no movie is without sin. This has them but the truckload. I appreciate this is a passion project between friends, coworkers, and family with fans who support it. I appreciate Avildsen and Beckerman haven’t officially dipped their toes in this space before. You boys really needed to let someone else take a pass at the script. You have a lot of great concepts but you never quite nail any of them to the wall. They are close don’t get me wrong, but the ideas introduced never quite form the way they could. The movie isn’t subtle in either dialogue or metaphor which could be intentional, but the editing chopped just a bit too much in all the wrong points which almost left the movie a bit of a mess. Ok it did leave it a bit of one. No almost.  The editing was nothing short of a train wreck as it cuts from disjointed scene to disjointed scene some running too long, others running too short; and others still with things left in frame that take away from the moment.

Even with the sometimes cringey dialogue, tonal shifts, the bad edits, bizarre camera work (like seriously black and white in one scene? Why?); I still find myself enjoy it. The music was nearly a list of some of my favourite current tracks or covers of my old ones. The production designer (Tracy Dishman) worked her butt off and gave us very visually interesting sets which almost kept me from realizing how many of them were reused. Even with the realization I don’t care! She did great work.

TL;DR?

I really enjoyed it.

I am still smiling a bit as I listen to the soundtrack thinking on what I watched. I laughed, intentionally, more than a few times and lost myself in a few moments of the film and forgot about the world for a bit. It is however flawed on a structural level and I have crucified movies for less than this movies flaws. There are so many mediocre films with no heart, no passion, that give the appearance of trying that don’t even have a tenth of the effort this one put forth. In the main body above I keep talking about credit where its due. I will praise an indy movie on just the right side of bad when it tried its damnedest with everyone giving it their all and in the same breath condemn a studio production that I know someone cared about but clearly not the studio itself.

I keep thinking of Flatliners as an example. It has one of the major flaws this did. It introduced ideas but never really explores or realizes their full potential. Flatliners sucked. This does not. I can’t really put my finger on it beyond the fact I was engaged here. I saw a movie doing something others only tease about when it comes to the dark side of music (real or fanciful).

American Satan goes where few others are brave enough and for that succeeds despite its flaws. The actors do a great job letting me care even when the movie sometimes forgets about them. I can’t quite call it original since it is all but literally a rock and roll version of The Devils Advocate and well….Faust, but its original enough.

Should you see it?

If you like movies that are literally about sex, drugs, rock and roll? Yes. Do you like edgy indy movies? Yes. It has a great soundtrack and for the nth time during this review – IT TRIES! A movie done on the cheap that tries its hardest despite its limitations

Would you see it again?

I think so. I know I am buying it when it comes out for purchase.

So I like Andy Biersack too, how does he sound?

*sigh* Sadly, due to conflicting contracts we never actually get to hear his vocals. It’s a shame to cast such a talented voice and not get to hear him. Also this is not a musical. It is about music, but this isn’t like Rock of Ages.

Anything else?

I am perplexed at how much I find myself really enjoying this movie. It just kind of clicked with me and in a year of mediocre and meh beating me up one side and down the others. I will take a hundred American Satans.

 

My final words are a Thank You to the social media team of American Satan for getting the word out there and whoever got us a showing in Tucson. I am glad I saw this tonight.

Darke Reviews – Into the Woods (2014)

If you know me personally, you know I love musicals. I’ve seen a fair share on Broadway in NY, and a few at other venues not in the City that Never Sleeps. Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom top my list of performances. When it comes to Hollywood adaptations of musicals where do I land? Honestly in the positive. Chicago, Phantom of the Opera (I like it, bite me), Rent, Les Mis, Rock of Ages, the list goes on. Now we have the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Where do I land here?

Well, surprisingly I have not seen the original source material, heard it, or otherwise been entertained by it. Rather unusual for this drama club girl. The story and screenplay were handled, rather than manhandled by the original writer James Lapine. The music of course is by Stephen Sondheim, who also gave us Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which was also adapted for film by Tim Burton). The music itself, which is as much a star as anything else has Sondheim’s usual quality to it; which is to say a bit all over the place. It isn’t bad, but has a rather odd lyrical range that doesn’t quite seem to flow – but it works still. If you aren’t familiar with musicals it may strike you odd when you hear the lyrics. Musically the composition is quite beautiful and one of the better arrangements I have heard, but it lacks some energy that other musicals have; I am missing some of the crescendos that I was expecting. A few of the pieces did sound like something from Sweeney Todd in how they built, rose, and fell. Perhaps it was just how Depp was singing that reminded me of his singing of Pretty Women in Sweeney Todd. There are songs (Agony) that were worth the price of admission though, and the rest are all very well done, but Agony is the best.

That comes down to the performances. I didn’t know Chris Pine could sing, but he really can and has a sense of comedic timing and placement that should only be classified as praise worthy. I offer the same compliment to Emily Blunt, who has impressed me twice this year with her performance in Edge of Tomorrow and now her turn as the Bakers Wife here. Both her acting and singing were where they needed to be and allowed her to play off of James Corden as the Baker. Corden is the heart of the movie and so I shall put him in the center of praise for the acting. I am looking over his IMDB page and have seen absolutely nothing he has done, which is surprising considering the billing he received in the trailer was equal to many of the more known stars of the film. I will have to keep an eye out for him as he really did well and pulled off a few difficult moves during the dance numbers. We also have young broadway star Lilla Crawford fresh from the 2012 stage reboot of Annie as Little Red Riding Hood. She reminded me a bit of Maisie Williams at times, which is good; but sadly doesn’t get as much screen or vocal time as I wish. Another performer from the stage is Daniel Huttlestone, who has previously played Gavroche in Les Miserables on stage and in the film (knew he looked familiar). Wrapping up our amazing performers is Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick. Streep is no stranger to musicals and is just as powerful here as she ever is. Kendrick is pure magic as always. I may have some bias towards here, but she has yet to disappoint me with her performances in straight up acting or her singing (Pitch Perfect). This movie is no exception.

The story for those who are not familiar with it involves the blending of several fairy tales into one cohesive story. To say much more would verge into spoiler territory, but these are very classical retellings of these stories and I was happy to see them. From a technical standpoint, there really isn’t much in the movie that doesn’t hold up. Most shots are clearly a soundstage, but within the context of this film it works as you are taking a stage play and putting it on screen. A few effects here and there, but ultimately it’s really solid. It feels a little long at times, but only clocks in at 2 hours.

TL;DR

The movie is good. I was entertained and in at least one scene laughed rather hard (along with the entire row behind me). That row, who has performed this particular show 3 times, said it was a good adaptation – in fact one of the best. They were laughing and singing and otherwise enjoying themselves. That speaks volumes for the movie in a way no review really can.

So with that, if you enjoy musicals I think you will enjoy Into the Woods.

If these films or plays are not your thing, I would warn you to stay away or stick to a matinee.

At least the year goes out on top after a month of rather disappointing films. Now…should I join the rest of the reviewers out there and do a best and worst films?

Darke Reviews | Annie (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR

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

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