Darke Reviews | Kong: Skull Island (2017)

I had two movie experiences tonight. Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Kong: Skull Island. These experiences were diametrically opposed with SAO being with friends and an audience who was clapping, laughing, crying with the beats of the movie. I haven’t seen an audience as passionate about a film and reacting so strongly in many many years. I was among those feeling with the movie and cried quietly after my friends had to head home.

It’s been a long time since I remember seeing a movie that made me feel like that and with friends and fans who were as engaged. I miss it and I cherish tonight’s experience.

Then there is Skull Island. There were maybe 15 people in the theatre, but two men behind me who may or may not have snuck in, were quite obnoxious and very very drunk. Kept calling me bro. As I was not in the mood to be assaulted tonight I said nothing. Do I think it may cloud my review of the movie? Perhaps.

The real question is should Kong have stayed on the island?

First, let me make one thing very clear, this *is* in fact tied to the same universe as 2014 Godzilla movie. The studio in it’s…vain… attempt to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is trying to create one with it’s own properties (or Toho’s I guess?). This isn’t a spoiler as it actually has no bearing on the film, but the company Monarch from the first one is present here and it is no accident. There will be a roll over spoiler at the bottom though for those who want it.

The story credit goes to John Gatins (Flight, Real Steel, Need for Speed and Power Rangers later this month). Suffice to say his style of story is all over the place in his work history as much as it is in the movie. Though his story was adapted to screenplay by Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World), Max Borenstein (Godzilla 2014), and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Real Steel, Bourne Legacy). The people behind the pen and on the paper of this movie have left me a mixed bag of emotions as to how I feel about the work they produce individually and collectively – much like the movie. I feel that the people of the pen paid attention to the feedback from Godzilla being too slow, focusing too much on boring non dimensional characters, killing off your most interesting actor. I also believe that they overcompensated the other direction; but still never quite nailed the characters.

Just as I feared from the trailers the movie isn’t quite sure of the tone. It very obviously moved away from the sedate, dry, and washed out tones of Godzilla; but in it’s quest to be different didn’t stake a claim as to what it wanted to be. It knew it just HAD to be different than it’s predecessor so it tried everything! A bit of horror, bit of adventure, bit of action, bit of war, bit of comedy, and bit of Oh god look at the size of that thing – and little of it worked. I may have to send their agent a small booklet on the word subtlety and how to write  a script with it. None of the characters are particularly compelling and you spend the time wondering when most of them will be picked off by the denizens of the island. The amount of stupidity shown as nearly as big as Kong himself; while the broad strokes used to paint the near caricatures of human beings is wide enough to paint the deck of an aircraft carrier. You just won’t care, and the only reason you might is the raw charm of a handful of the actors.

Oh the actors. Hiddleston is doing his best to be the adventure movie lead despite the flaws in the script, directing, and just the movie itself. He tries and I care simply because he is Tom Hiddleston. Samuel L Jackson phones in a performance of Colonel Kurtz, I mean Preston Packard. Brie Larson does little, but tried to do more than look pretty. Not her fault either. More on that in a bit. John C Reilly is absolutely fine. He was not in full comedy mode, in fact he’s a touch tragic but due to the script and directing you don’t get that 100%.  There isn’t much else to mention here; which means I can begin the ritual execution.

What. Was. Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Thinking? Also what was the studio thinking? They want this to be a tentpole level feature that can help continue to drive interest in their plan for a Giant Monster Cinematic Universe, so lets hire the guy who did a few episodes of Funny or Die and some other comedy work. The direction in this movie is nearly as bad as the editing. I can think of nothing good to say here. The contrivances were god awful while the shot choices laughable in their forced attempt to be ‘epic’.  The pacing is all over the place, the characters have hints of being more and are flatter than the ground under a giant gorilla’s foot.

What does work are the visuals. Kong is amazing. The creatures are…ok, but Kong is amazing. There are fights with him, more than Godzilla offered and far more clear than the previous film. That is one of the movies few credits in which the fighting of Kong vs Monsters is very clear and easy to understand. I think they used music when they couldn’t figure out how to test the speakers or the dialogue may have been even worse.

TL;DR?

It’s not good. I am away from the experience and the movie just isn’t good. The visuals are good and they waste no time on the reveal of the big guy. So thats the positive column. It does try, and mostly succeed at giving us a King Kong story we haven’t seen before, but that isn’t much praise. The money shots of him standing and his size are there and worth it, but they do not carry a film.

Thats all I can say – I really believe it’s bad.

Should you see it?

If you are a Kong fan? Sure. Otherwise see Logan again or save the money.

What if I really must see it? I mean Hiddleston.

If you must, the 3D does add something. Mostly digital embers, but the depth of field is nice and the XD speakers were amazing in more than a few shots.

Are you sure the jerks that were behind you didn’t sway your opinion?

Yeah pretty sure. Its why i still write these vs impromptu videos.  It gives me time away to think. Honestly, the review is kinder than I thought it would be.

But Jess – it’s a giant monkey fighting weird reptiles movie. Isn’t it just good for popcorn?

Honestly. No, not really. Sure the big guy should be the focus, but the movie is just badly done.

Anything else?

Next week is Beauty and the Beast and The Belko Experiment, but I will be traveling for work so may not get to see B&B before Friday.

 

 

Rollover begins

Ok if you do see it stay for the end credits. I noticed it said “Rodan”, “Mothra”, “King Ghidorah”  are trademarks of Toho. Then we get an end credit scene where they absolutely set up King of the Monsters.

 

Rollover Ends

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Darke Reviews | The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is a masterpiece. There are people who may try to argue this, but they are simply wrong. Kurosawa painted a tale of modern mythology that all others would try to follow. Then they did six years later in 1960 with an American version of it, a western of course as was the course for the day, with an established director John Sturges at the helm. He put together a cast of what we think of now as legends of the industry Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Eli Wallach. The story is the same, the beats are the same, the setting is different. While it is a silver age representation of how we take great films from other countries and remake them (I am looking at you Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In), in and of itself it is just as iconic. Needless to say when the first trailer released only a few months ago for this version some 50+ years later many were dubious of someone messing with a classic.

So do we need to have a showdown at high noon?

The movie appropriately gives credit to the original with screenplay credits for Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni; but then gives us screenplay credits for Richard Wenk and  Nic Pizzolatto. Wenk has shown up in my reviews before for his work on Vamp and The Equalizer. We will also see him behind the ben on the Jack Reacher sequel. Pizzolatto comes from the world of TV where he worked on the critically acclaimed True Detective and a few episodes of The Killing. They make the required changes for what we know now and do little more to enhance the story or alter it in any significant way. Some of the alterations seem to be detractors from otherwise solid but simply ok material. Once again the story changes little, with a town in peril paying for seven drifters with pasts …and presents as warriors to defend them. This is not just the last stand for the town, but the last chance for …peace, redemption, revenge, or mayhaps even to be legendary themselves.

Director Antoine Fuqua was the right man for this role. I saw his name on the original trailer and was pleased, despite the musical choices. There is absolutely not a single film of Fuqua’s I don’t like (that I’ve seen). King Arthur (2004), Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer, and most would call out Training Day. The man can shoot a film. He has an excellent sense for blocking, pacing, and how to get the most from his actors. His action scenes are visceral in their brutality yet tame enough and safe enough for easy consumption. The same holds true here. The tension as one of the gunfights prepares to break out is palpable. When the cord snaps, we are treated to a fast moving but accessible, more importantly, watchable series of events that tell you everything you need to know about who you are dealing with.

The actors are great. Denzel doesn’t Denzel too much and does well as Chisolm. Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday our Gambler shows he can do a special intensity that was appropriate but sadly lacks some, but not all, of his usual charm. Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux is amazing and it is a bit weird to think of Ethan Hawke being one of the older men in the group. His companion Billy Rocks played fantastically by the criminally under used (in other projects) Byung-hun Lee (Red 2, both GI Joe Movie) has such wonderful chemistry with Hawke, I buy these two as good friends. Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World, Daredevil) completely vanishes into Jack Horne, the old tracker brought along. Haley Bennett plays our woman seeking revenge on the man (Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue) who killed her husband and delivers as well as everyone else. It’s nice when a competent director gets all good actors! Manuel Garcia Rulfo (born in Mexico) and Martin Sensmeier (Heritage: Tlingit and Koyukon-Athabascan) round out our unlikely group. Now you might be asking why I don’t list their credits, but their heritage. It’s a fair question, but in my small war against white washing, it’s important to call out when the right people are cast for the right roles, as in this case both men are cast to play a Mexican and a Native American. It is that rare that it deserves mention – Representation is important!!!  Cast diversity is some of the widest non token characters I have seen in some time.

Sadly, the movie does have flaws that need to be called out. Bennett’s a single stumble or trip away from a wardrobe malfunction for reasons we cannot fathom and sporting a shade of red hair that doesn’t come naturally from roots. It’s a lovely shade but jarringly noticeable as they keep calling attention to it with the light. The normally on point James Horner, working with Simon Franglen, fails the movie musically. This isn’t to say the music is bad. It’s just generic western. There are several beats of the movie where you would want or expect the music to take a different tone or just be different, but it’s a little too loud, little too wrong, and just not right. Again, it isn’t bad! It just is wrong for the movie and doesn’t resonate as well as it should. The music should bring you in more and tell a story its own and tell you what to feel. Sometimes it does, but too many noticable times it breaks the mood in a wrong direction.

I wish I could say that the costuming on Haley and Horner’s music were the only flaws.

I want to know what…no I demand to know what is going on in Hollywood. The movie editing on some of these pictures this year is horrendous. Some of it is the studio (Batman V Superman) others are totally inexplicable. Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad come to mind. There’s a better film on the editing room floor. Too many scenes cut short. Too many scenes that needed 3o seconds more of dialogue or a minute longer of the right people connecting and talking. The actors did well, but the editor didn’t do them any favours. It made it hard at times to connect to them the way you are intended, and while many moments are earned by inference they are not earned on the lens and in the frame. Conversations between old soldiers, old friends, and even old enemies could have happened and were missed or otherwise cut. This is why I say the actors did well, but I think they could have been even better (as good as they were!). That is disappointing.

TL;DR

The Magnificent Seven is a solid good. It will never be the classic that either of the films it drew from are. It didn’t earn that, but it could have. There’s a better movie somewhere in here. Somewhere on an editing room floor and I want to see that movie. It might be three hours, but it would be a worthy three hours. There’s intensity here that works in a lot of scenes, but other parts just are off enough that what should be important isn’t. Others are something that could be studied by other lesser directors.

I have a sense some studio interference happened here. I can’t say why, but I am 99% sure it did. The film could have been so much better and I regret we may never see that movie.

Should I see it?

The movie is good. It’s watchable. I enjoyed it. There are a lot of people who will and should see it this weekend. I can easily recommend it to them without doubting it.

Do not dare compare it to the original (either of them). It will disappoint.

Will you watch it again?

Matinee maybe? Not full price.

How about BluRay?

Absolutely.

What’s next?

I am on vacation and it will span over the next two thursdays. Which means I may not get to Miss Peregrine for a bit and that makes me sad I am looking forward to it, but it feels weird to go on vacation and sit in a theatre when I could be out “doing”

That also means I may not do a review a day this October as the first 8 days I won’t be home and at times won’t have internet. Yes, I am going to a place without net. I am not sure if you should cheer or weep.

We will see what happens. Don’t begrudge me the vacation…please?

Darke Reviews | The Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

I checked in on my phone at the theatre a few hours before seeing this one as I did a double feature tonight. On my facebook page, I asked “why does this exist?” In the realm of sequels out there, there are ones we deserve, ones we want, ones we earn, and ones we go – how did this even happen? The remake of the Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent classic hitman caper debuted in January of 2011; with a production budget of $40 million and a total domestic haul of $29 million ($62 worldwide). It didn’t do much better in DVD sails with a mediocre $17 million total. Yet…here we have a sequel. We have a sequel to this thing when Ghostbusters (2016); which has earned $208 million on it’s $144 million budget and is still showing is being lambasted as a “flop” and sequel plans cancelled.  So 5 years later, we get this film, but Jason Statham is usually good for an action sequence.

The question is should the Mechanic have been resurrected?

The story and screenplay are brought to you by Philip Shelby (Survivor)  and Brian Pittman (A Haunting At Silver Falls, Dawn Patrol), with screenplay by Shelby and Tony Mosher (just this..); I am left wondering if they know how to tell a cohesive narrative. They introduce points that mean nothing, jump locations as if they are nothing, fail to create dramatic tension, and quite honestly just get to the edge of farcical but take themselves too seriously to let the audience feel comfortable to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. I feel like there may have been a man with a gun in the writing room waiting for the first draft and taking that as the final copy despite protests to the contrary. There are leaps of logic, decision making, and plot points that left me scratching my head and scrunching my face in confusion.

Some of that blame might go to director Dennis Gansel, who provided me one of my favourite vampire films in the past few years We Are The Night (look for a review in October). He failed on this one and failed big, I can see all the marks of the European shooting style and sensibilities in how many of the shots were blocked, how the camera was used, and actors positioned. But he, or someone in the production, should have watched the dailies and realized something wasn’t working. Ok…nothing was working. Chemistry, the Camera, the action, none of it worked.

Jason Statham clearly was in it for a paycheck and must have been doing this while rehearsing for Fast 8. His attention isn’t here nor is any of the charm he can manage. This is just generic Statham. A generic movie with him that I think they rewrote to make it a sequel to the Mechanic because they couldn’t do anything else with the concept to make an attempt to sell it. I spoke of chemistry and there is none. If someone buys the relationship and so called emotions between Jessica Alba’s Gina, and his Arthur Bishop tell me what I missed. There’s precisely one scene where they are drinking beer together that I bought and I think it’s because both actors realized the mistake they made signing this and needed the drink. Alba emotes with all the force of Jai Courtney in this movie. The writers didn’t do her any favors when they tell me she’s supposed to be ex-military and she’s entirely relegated to damsel. I am not even bothering to talk about the villains; there isn’t a point – much like this movie.

I may have cared more if I could see a shot. Some shots linger too long or have no point. I mean Jessica has a lovely body, always has, but there’s really no point to watching her dolphin kick in the lovely blue waters of Thailand for 30 seconds. Other shots cut so quickly from one angle to the other I think there may have been two editors playing a nasty game of tug of war with the audiences attention span as the flag in the middle of the rope; and we suffer for it. It’s so choppy and bouncing (not quite shaky) that a love scene in the film comes across as two blocks of wood trying to figure out how this kissing thing and sex thing work. They even kept a shot of Alba laughing in the scene, not a smile, I mean a laugh. It is not good to have the lady love laugh during sex. Just sayin’. The kills are patently ridiculous…beyond the pale.

Oh and I get you are on a budget. I totally do. You could try just a bit…bit harder to make me not realize you are on a set and the image is composite. Maybe make the lighting look less like a studio? Maybe not use something that’s obviously a miniature. There’s even a scene near the beginning where Statham is in a small boat and you can *tell* it isn’t on the water. It looks like a students first film and I expected to see someone’s hand moving the underside of the boat. You can almost..almost see someone throw water in the air as he ‘jumps in’. It’s THAT bad.

TL;DR?

This is bad.

That’s it. Just bad. You can’t even MST3K it because it’s that bad. There are absolutely no stakes. No concern. No real threat. Plot armor of the gods.  The action is mediocre and nothing new. This is like bad fanfic (and there’s a lot of good fanfic, this isn’t it!)

Should you see it?

Really, you need to ask? No. No you shouldn’t. I shouldn’t have either, but I have to live with that choice. You don’t.

Will you buy it on…?

Stop. I am done writing about this. It isn’t worth a single other word.

Fin.

Darke Reviews | Ghostbusters (2016)

The original Ghostbusters, released in 1984, is iconic. It is a staple of comedy and a near perfect film in many of its respects. As the aforementioned link indicates the movie holds up decades later from a raw filmmaking standpoint, much less fond memories. So when Sony announced, not only an all female Ghostbusters and on top of that a Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe I was of mixed opinions. The move felt like a money grab on the cultural zeitgeist of nostalgia; adding the cinematic universe aspect to it added to the cash grab feeling after Sony continued to watch Marvel/Disney continue to mint their own money with the MCU. Now…it must be said the response to the all female part was….visceral from a certain demographic I would happily see wander into a ghost trap ne’er to return. I was cautiously optimistic, but then I heard the casting and was less so. I am not a fan of the movies around Melissa McCarthy. Until tonight, I have never watched a Paul Feig …anything. Not Bridesmaids, not The Heat, not even The Office when he was directing. I watched 10 minutes of Spy (also with McCarthy) and couldn’t stand it – though not because of her, but the movie around her.

Then the trailer for this came out. I was not pleased. I didn’t like the look of the ghosts. I didn’t like the humor they showed. Didn’t like Leslie Jones character…sorry caricature. Didn’t like how they implied it was part of the same universe as the original. Yes, the “30 years ago….” makes a strong implication it was a shared ‘verse. I am not the only one who didn’t like it as it quickly became the most hated trailer …ever. Then more trailers came out and I got used to the ghost design. I ended up finding the beauty in it. I was still nervous about Jones, the trailer joke was a bit meta. But I gained hope overall. Then…Fallout Boy happened. I *LIKE* Fallout Boy, quite a bit. Immortals, Centuries, My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark, etc; but the song sounds over produced and doesn’t have an original beat or bone in it’s body and is just hollow. Now, the original song while iconic – is not *great*, but Fallout Boy has talent and this didn’t do the movie any favors for me. Nor apparently the people who were dying to hate it.

I have been waiting all this week, anticipation building in me like the psychokinetic energy of New York City. People keep asking – have you seen it yet…

Now I have, but should you eat the twinkie?

From here on out I judge the movie on it’s own merits, it’s own flaws. No comparison to the original will be made.

Written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Rec), and directed by Fieg the movie tells the story of four women who come together to bust ghosts. Simple right? At it’s core sure, if you don’t want to care about anything or anyone in the movie. You have to give the women depth. Make them relatable, and more importantly likeable. You have to decide if you are going for a horror vibe, comedy vibe, somewhere in between, and where on that needle you want to move. While the review won’t compare, the writers/director must keep the original in mind so that they can at least try to be faithful to the balance, the story, the characters, the world, and the science. You have to put the science in the front. Yes, this adds another factor in the horror/comedy – science fiction. It’s easy to overlook the science and focus on the supernatural. What I am trying to say here, before I ramble too much more is that they did not have an easy job on this reboot. No one would have. There’s a reason they haven’t been able to get Ghostbusters 3 off the ground for the past thirty years (video game notwithstanding).

I don’t think they fully succeeded in the balance factor. The four mains are *excellent*; they feel real, but in a just exaggerated enough factor to be larger than life and to be something that could one day be iconic. Every other character, and I mean every other character is so beyond real they are a walking farce. Because of that the movie suffers in the humor beats that do not involve the four interacting directly with each other and their environment. It’s like looking at a balloon that is overinflated and starting to distort. It just separates you from the otherwise enchanting characters and breaks the moment. The plot itself is sufficient, works, and is absolutely serviceable.

What brings more to the party is Kristen Wiig (Despicable Me 2, How to Train your Dragon) as Erin Gilbert, McCarthy as Abby Yates, Leslie Jones (SNL)  as Patty Tolan, and Kate McKinnon (SNL, The Venture Bros) as Jillian Holtzmann. McKinnon absolutely steals every single scene she is in. Even in the background you cannot take your eyes off of her. Holtzmann is hands down the *best* character in the film. You can try to argue, but you’d be wrong. Wiig and McCarthy are clearly a best in class combo for comedy and they work so well together playing off of each other with a natural charisma that makes them really likeable. Jones was screwed by the trailer. This also cannot be argued. Patty fits with the other three very well and while playing the everyman role, still adds to the group and its needs as the plot moves on. All four were clearly on their A game and it shows, that even the jokes that fall flat we’re close to not doing so because of their talent. I really don’t want to talk about the other characters, they are either flat, annoying, or otherwise so unrealistic as to break the world view the crew tried to create.

That said, lets talk production.  This movie is *deeply* flawed. I could talk for hours about all the flaws. Mediocre or bad music set at the wrong times, bad editing, bad jokes, lousy camera work…the list goes on. Fieg is a comedy director so the idea of an establishing shot may be lost on him. Equal blame goes to Director of Photography, Robert Yeoman on that one. The movie cuts too often and doesn’t transition between scenes in any intelligent way that could have been creative and enhanced the mood or moments. From an editing perspective you can tell there is *a lot* of this movie on the cutting room floor. I estimated at least one five minute long scene is gone and you can tell it’s gone – that isn’t good. References are made to something you never saw and a beat you would expect to happen and didn’t. The downside, the ramifications of the beat are still on screen and it leaves you wondering – if even for a moment. I *really* didn’t like the treatment of Chris Hemsworth’s character to the point that the joke with the character wears out quickly and too much time is spent on him when it should be spent on either the story or the mains.

Lets talk part of the title.

The Ghosts. I like them. Seeing them on the big screen. I liked them. They made me smile and some of them were quite original looking.

The Busting was fun. The ideas and engineering, the build up, and the testing was actually kinda fun and really added something to the movie.

The lack of practical effects, flaws in how the plot was executed however did lead to less investment in the overall movie, which was only saved by the mains. There’s more I want to say here, but it delves into spoiler territory, but there’s some beats that flat out annoy. There are some elements so painfully telegraphed I sighed deeply when I noticed.

TL;DR?

This review is kinda long for me already, so let’s cut right to it.

I liked it.

Despite its myriad flaws, I enjoyed myself. All of the responsibility on that falls on the four stars of the film and they do deliver. All of the flaws I firmly put on the director and a lack of skill with this type of movie.

I love that girls out there can look at these characters and go “I wanna be a scientist” because of this. Not a paranormal researcher, but a scientist. They made science such a focus that these characters *can* be looked up to. They give a message of not giving up on your dream. That’s important. That representation is needed. Movies like The Martian, and others are bringing more women into leadership and scientific roles; which girls can see and realize they can live their dreams as well.

Should you see it?

Yeah. Yeah you should. This movie doesn’t do anything to the original. Absolutely nothing is taken away if you prefer the 1984 version. You still have it, you can still prefer it. You should give this a chance. If you let yourself enjoy it you may even laugh. I did.

What about 3D?

3D enhances this one. Thanks Malcolm.

Will you buy it Jess?

Yes. BluRay. Heck I might go see it again. Not just to tick off the MRA’s who are determined to see it ruined.

Anything else?

The cameo’s are applaud worthy. Stay to the end of the credits.

Shameless plug for an awesome charity group: The Arizona Ghostbusters

http://www.arizonaghostbusters.com/

No event too big.  No charity too small. Proudly serving Arizona communities since 2007

 

My final thought is, yes I enjoyed it beyond its flaws. I want to see more of these characters and I want a sequel, with a director more skilled to this type of film. I am ok with a Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

Darke Reviews – House on Haunted Hill (1999)

I regret missing this one in theatres back in 99. It took me until video release and a friend recommendation to get a shot at it. Now to be clear I was working roughly from 4pm to 2am at that time and we watched movie after work. The lights were completely off, leaving us with the TV as our only source of illumination. I have come to find atmosphere truly does help with how one thinks of a movie. So I admit going in my memories are fonder due to that atmosphere. Had I watched it at noon on a Sunday with  lovely blue skies (*shudders*)? Less likely to care or be impressed.

Does it work?

Well, let’s talk story. It’s classic haunted house meets slaughterhouse. The actual story credit here goes to Robb White, who passed away 9 years before the film, a frequent collaborator of William Castle. Castle, like Hammer, was a master of low budget horror in the 50’s and 60’s creating films we now revere as classics such as 13 Ghosts and the original House on Haunted Hill. This is important because this is the first film from Dark Castle productions, named in honor of William. The movie was given the screenplay treatment for the millennium by Dick Beebe. Beebe would later write Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and little else. Without comparing it to the original work I think the writer did a good job of setting up a good story, interesting characters, and good dialogue.

The director William Malone, another who sadly did not give us more, did a really good job with the atmosphere, blocking, and direction of the actors. The house is supposed to be a living, breathing entity here and they are 100% successful in that.  There are some very intelligent design choices in how and where they put the camera, lighting, and music. Under his direction and with the good script the characters avoid the stupid. They all hold, with one notable exception, skepticism for the supernatural like normal people. They react to the situation as normal people; you know…poorly.

Cast wise the film is fairly incredible for its time. Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) delivers his best possible Vincent Price impression. While Rush doesn’t try to emulate the great horror icon, he does attempt the style; even his character is named Price. There’s also Famke Janssen (X-Men), Taye Diggs (Rent), Chris Kattan (SNL), Ali Larter (Heroes, Resident Evil 3 & 4), and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Mortal Kombat). The Re-animator himself, Jeffrey Combs, makes a small cameo appearance as well. So the cast is small and packed with some rather decent actors. That explains why they can rely on quiet moments when they do and why there feels like the right levels of chemistry and performance from them as the movie progresses.  Rush of course dominates any scene he is in and is a fantastic enough actor to pull back when he needs to let the others have a moment. Kattan is actually funny in the right ways. Diggs and Larter are beautiful together. Explains why I like them so much in any other project, they just have something.

From an FX perspective the movie has two sides. Like Phantoms yesterday when they go practical every single beat works. KNB once again gives us the blood, gore, and prosthetics. It’s when they go digital that the movie doesn’t work as well. Even a few of the CG enhanced practical effects tend to be pretty weak. A few of the jump scares come across as ridiculous when the music doesn’t sync right and is just a hair too loud. Though when it goes practical it works so beautifully well. There’s um one glaring intensively massive effects flaw with the film in the final beat as the sun rises over the Pacific….

Just let that sink in.

TL;DR

The movie works. It’s just smart enough and holds up relatively well fifteen years later. I like its atmosphere. I like it’s overall logic. The acting. The script. The house. The Marilyn Manson cover of Sweet Dreams.

Really, I have to recommend this for any horror fans as a standalone film. Do not try to compare to the original (I am likely to do that this month). Judging on it’s own merits it is a rather good horror film. Hell I can chase my best friend out of the house by putting it on.

Funky ol movie, ain’t it?

 

Darke Reviews – Cinderella (2015)

I apologize to all my readers for the hiatus, we’ve had a bit of a dry spell with movies and my 9-5 ( 6 to 5?) takes dominance in this time of year. Have to afford all these movie tickets somehow neh? I remember my reaction for this particular films teaser with just a long tracking shot of the glass slipper and hearing that Kenneth Branagh was expected to direct. Overall though I did not have a lot of faith in the live action version of the film as Disney is hit and miss with me on their conversions. Alice in Wonderland was garbage and I enjoyed Maleficent as examples. I was cautious about this film and have made an active choice to avoid reading anything about its production including casting. I find out in the 11th hour that Helena Bonham Carter is in the role of the fairy godmother and my heart sinks a bit.

So where does Cinderella fall? Does the slipper fit and is it magic?

This might be one of the most adapted stories ever (Dracula holds the title last I checked) and has been made and remade ad nauseum for decades with varying degrees of success. In America the concept of a “Cinderella story” is a cultural norm that nearly everyone knows regardless of seeing the original animated. This is one of the Disney flagships with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The original three princesses that in my opinion have defined the studio as much as the Mouse has. Who does Disney hand the reigns to adapt the story for the big screen to? Chris Weitz, the man behind the box office bomb The Golden Compass and the direct of the Twilight sequel New Moon. Excuse me while I examine the water in the Mouse House and wonder what the production team was thinking. Alright, it’s been eight years since his last script, he could have gotten better right? I am not sure. The story does next to nothing new, it almost does less than nothing new and that is a feat in and of itself. Should I blame the writer if he was told to just make the original film over again?

Does blame fall on the directors chair instead? Kenneth Branagh’s career began to boost to life with Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (a veritable catapult to the mainstream), Othello, and Hamlet. With that pedigree the man should easily be able to take a fairy tale and bring it to life. He is a near expert at the period piece conversion from writing to screen with the Bard being his go to guy. Yet, these are the drama’s of Shakespeare. Not his fantasies, not his comedies.  So instead of giving the writer the brunt of my disdain I send it Branagh’s way. Sure he has been nominated for the Oscar and Golden Globe a combined 8 times, but not every director is successful on every film. Again I feel the studio had some pretty tight reigns on him, yet within those constraints he still failed.

Let me be clear, had I not been seeing it with someone I may have walked out during the first act from pure boredom. I was bored and even mildly annoyed by what I was being given for too much of the movie. It was unnecessary, bloated, and significantly weaker than many of its cheaper counterparts over the decades. I know the actors here are better than they gave us and that allows me to blame the director for the greatest flaws within the film. How Blanchet moves as Lady Tremaine is right out of a stage production or comedy it is so exaggerated and over the top, but when you compare that to the others around here who are not performing the same way it sets her apart. This weakens one of Disneys greatest villains. The woman is evil. Maleficent is bad, but this woman is supposed to be a tangible evil that makes your skin crawl with only the great Tchernabog to beat her as the most evil. Did we get that? No. Blame I can lay solely at Branagh’s chair.

I am sure someone is reading this and thinking of other reviews they’ve heard or read. I am sure they think I might not like fantasy, fairy tales, or stories like this. Quite the contrary. I *love* a good fairy tale. I love the idea of a fairy godmother. I want to be the fairy tale princess. I need fairy tales in my life and they count among my favorite films. That is why this movie is such a sin to me. For the better part of the movie it is just dull. It has no magic and no life. It just seems to be for no other reason than it can be.

Surely something is good? Yes. Cinderella herself, as played by Downton Abbey’s Lily James and The King in the North – Richard Madden (thats a game of thrones reference). Madden’s smile, sans Stark beard, can light up a room. He defines a prince charming here and is hands down the best character in the movie. James for her part isn’t given a lot of actual interaction with others, but is able to move herself through the picture in a way that allows her to steal the scene most of the time she is on screen. She does have one scene where my eyebrows went up wondering what direction she was being given but she gave whatever it was her all. Blanchet is entirely wasted here. Lady bloody Tremaine and she gets to do nothing. In his supporting role Nonso Anozie (Xaro Xhoan Dazos from Qarth – another Game of Thrones alumni) is another character who is just comfortably enjoyable on screen; while Helena Bonham Carter seemed to channel Jack Sparrow as her role model for the fairy godmother, right down to eye and body motions. It was actually a bit distracting.

Along the distracting lines – the CG work. I expect better. Some was not too bad, but when it was bad it was distractingly so. Places where practical effects would have come across a thousand times better had CG used to their detriment. It doesn’t give me hope for Beauty and the Beast.

TL;DR?

I was nervous about the film. Sure. Sadly the film met those expectations and left me bored or annoyed for the better part of its running time. I have seen many review headlines that are contrary to my opinion and I am glad that they took something from it I didn’t. Neither I nor my partner for this viewing particularly enjoyed it. We found it lacking in many respects with out enough to bring it back up to a pass. It doesn’t do anything interesting or particularly new with the story and that works against it.

If you have kids that want to see it or are curious, matinee it at best. I think the kids may be a bit antsy in all the set up in Act I.

If you were on the fence about it, I have to advise against this movie. If you need a good Cinderella story watch the film Ever After. Drew Barrymore and Angelica Huston are incredible in that movie and it works end to end.

I as always am open to understand what I didn’t see. If you do see this and don’t agree with me – tell me please. I am curious to what you saw that I didn’t. In the meanwhile, I have two more reviews to write from films this week and hopefully some more reviews in the coming weeks as we ramp up once again towards summer blockbuster season.

 

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.