Darke Reviews | The Equalizer 2 (2018)

First thing out  of the gate, there is absolutely no reason to see The Equalizer before seeing this. I had to go deep into the tomb to find that review, it’s one of my earlier ones. That aside, the first film is ultimately still very watchable and my feelings for Mr. Washington really haven’t changed in the four years since. The first movie introduces us to the character, his ticks, and his friends; yet you do not need it for this one. It trusts the audience from the cold open to follow along and be smart enough to figure out between the trailers and the opening that he is a former assassin turned maker of wrong things right – an Equalizer.  Shocking I know.

Did we really need the sequel though?

Richard Wenk, who in the years since the first provided us the screenplay for The Magnificent Seven and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, returns to his script duties. At this point, I have literally seen almost every movie he has ever written. I still love Vamp despite the hardcore 80’s cheese, I found 16 Blocks boring, the 2011 remake of the Mechanic was uninspired, The Expendables 2 was…a movie that can’t be argued. The Equalizer has been covered, as have the other two films mentioned. Suffice to say I can see his style now, understand his writing to a point, and know his quirks. He really is just an OK writer that Antoine Fuqua likes working with. Wenk has both pacing issues and a sense of being overwrought in every single script. He wants to be writing deep, cerebral, emotionally centered movies with men beyond their prime going for one last job, regardless of the job; but then he also likes damn near schlocky action against it. He is trying but he never quite rings the bell and the scripts fall apart with any real scrutiny. If you don’t think too hard here, it all works; there is a combination of intelligence to the story, but it then requires the dumbest of actions from some characters to survive. It doesn’t follow through on some components that you realize (again if you think) should have impact.

Wenk is saved though by Fuqua at the helm. In his first feature film since 2016 Fuqua remains true to form in providing us clean action beats along with knowing how to film the more emotional and tense beats provided by the script elevating them as much as they can be in the process. The problem I think here is that he was not as thoroughly invested as he was in other projects. The first movie was just shy of doubling it’s estimated $55 million production budget barely topping over $100 at the domestic box office. While this sequel feels like something Wenk, Fuqua, and Washington wanted to do, I keep thinking (dangerous here) that they also wanted to do something else. There’s an attention to detail strangely missing from multiple components of the movie and an emotional weight that is never fully realized.

Washington is actually better in this film than he was the first; giving a far more nuanced performance with the slower pace of the film and less action beats to break up those cerebral moments I mentioned before. He avoids many of his usual ticks in acting which certainly improve the movie; but it is still Denzel.  Game of Thrones Pedro Pascal is nearly unrecognizable without a facial hair and serves up a solid character for the movie. The rest of the cast is sufficient but not worth calling out.

On the technical side of things, the movie is paced slowly and methodically allowing the momentum of events to build along with the backdrop. I liked that the pacing was slower and the action beats less frequent here as it let us get to understand McCall as a character more. Act I is entirely set establishing his routine and world; while still advancing the plot because the world moves with or without you. I’ve criminalized movies for doing this poorly before, but even if Fuqua was asleep at the wheel it still is better than some directors fully coherent.

What I can’t forgive though is bad effects and a lack of attention to detail from someone like Fuqua. The digital effects in the third act of the film are nothing short of awful; while many of the practical ones stand out because of how bad the digital touch ups are. It is impossible to NOT notice. My partner tonight noticed and they don’t hyper analyze films like I do – so it’s kinda obvious. That makes this even more sinful as the movie has $7 million more to the budget than the first; yet feels as if it was made for half that. If Blumhouse productions look better, you are in trouble guys. Do better next time.

TL;DR

The Equalizer 2 was the sequel no one really was clamoring for, but is utterly harmless in its final execution. I may have beaten it up a bit in the top half of the review, but that is strictly because I expect better of the cast and crew of this movie. It was overall a fun little film, even got me emotional a few times; and wincing a few others. Running just over the two hour mark it just barely keeps you from checking your watch while sitting in the theatre. Had it been too much longer with it’s pace then it would have been more problematic.

This is a harmless, good ride of an action film. Take that for what you will.

Should I see it?

Well if you like the first one; sure. If you were curious or like Denzel, you will have a good time. As I said before you don’t need to see the first to watch and understand this, which is interesting. I do not think you need DBox, XD, or anything fancy. I wouldn’t go above matinee pricing unless you are a die hard Denzel or Fuqua fan.

Would you see it again?

In theatre’s its highly unlikely. It’s an Ok action film; but it lacks the fun of last weeks Skyscraper or the rawness of something like Sicario.

How about buying it?

I won’t mind owning it. It was passable. It wasn’t a “Meh”. I had reactions and did enjoy it. I just shouldn’t think too hard on it.

Any final thoughts on the movie?

It does hit a point where I think it is too smart for it’s own good. I just shy of accused the movie of being kind of basic before with aspirations to be more. During one of those reaching for the gold ring moments it could fail for, again, anyone who pauses a moment to think about it. It isn’t *bad* per se, but it might leave some heads scratching. The bad guys of the movie make some terrible decisions as well that in combination with the reach which leaves you asking questions that the answer is not kind to.

I’m torn on how much to penalize the movie for it though. I often write about how movies tell more than show or how they dumb down and explain everything to the audience. This doesn’t quite do that, but it also kind of goes the other way and doesn’t make sense as a result. So yay for not dumbing down, but boo for trying to be too clever.

Next week?

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE FALL OUT!!! Yes, I am an unapologetic fan of everything in the Mission Impossible franchise, except the second one. The last films have been amazing and I look forward to seeing how this literal sequel to the Rogue Nation goes.

Also, I will be posting an Event on the Facebook page for my local readers to come see The Meg with me on August 9th!

 

Advertisements

Darke Reviews | Skyscraper (2018)

So I kinda had to talk myself into seeing this one. I had a few of my readers on Facebook support my decision and thus we have a review. You need to understand though I missed part of a monsoon here in Arizona to do this; and if you know anything about me that usually wins out. Being in a storm is one of the few times most people see me actually relax and be at peace. The other time is the ocean. So against instinct and what looked to be a mediocre Die Hard rip off with Captain Charisma at the helm I saw Skyscraper tonight.

The first and most important question everyone is asking is:

Is this a Die Hard rip off; and by how much?

A lot; yet not. So what does it have in common? Well you have a man trying to get to his wife (and kids this time) in a building taken over by terrorists who have the apparent aim to get something only a ridiculously wealthy man has hidden in a secure room. There are action set pieces with him going through windows. There are exploding helicopters. There’s the media. There’s “one good cop”. All of this is in the trailers and it is all there but that is mostly where the similarities end between this and Die Hard.  Oh…there is one other similarity only geeks, movie nerds, and semi obsessive movie reviewers will notice. (I kinda hope I am the first one to point it out to be honest). This is coming out literally on the 30th anniversary of Die Hards release, July 12, 1988. So…points to the filmmakers and whoever made that decision. I tip my hat to you

What’s kind of interesting is that the current millennial and younger generation of movie goers by and large don’t know about a movie that predates Die Hard by 14 years and this one by 44. It also starred someone who was probably the most charismatic action star of his generation. It also has something in common with this one. At it was one of the highest grossing movies of 1974 as well; behind only Blazing Saddles $119 million, with its $116 million box office haul. This is equivalent to roughly $564 million in 2018. Of course some of you are already looking this up so I will stop teasing, but the movie is the three Oscar winning pictured called The Towering Inferno and starred Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. This movie is about a fire in the worlds tallest building that continues to go up and has people trapped; while someone tries to get in and save them from the fire.

So plot wise writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber; director of…We’re the Millers and Dodgeball?…..decided to try an action set piece and merged two amazing movies into one. Did he do it successfully? Mostly. Anyone watching this will see echoes of Die Hard in it. It’s impossible not to as it is one of the most recognizable, well crafted, and widely loved action films in the past thirty years. It is impossible to make a Person in Danger in a skyscraper movie without being compared to Die Hard since 1988. That being said, this is also the best Die Hard movie SINCE 1988.

The story is as you see it. The Rock is a former FBI agent, Will Sawyer, who is now working as part of his own private security firm. He is invited to review the security of the “tallest building in the world” and assess it so that the insurance company will underwrite it. During his review at an external location, the building is taken by a group with intent to obtain something held by its owner; and to add to their desired effect they set fire to the middle of the building trapping them, the owner, and The Rock’s family above the fire line. The Rock must now find a way to get  back into the building and rescue his family.

It’s basic, but it works. There are plenty of action set pieces, but much like the two films clearly influencing this one they rely more on the tension of the moment than the big hero moments we’ve gotten used to with action movies. This is very similar to its predecessors in that the physicality of its star and the action around him is one of vulnerability and drive rather than what we received in say Rampage or a Fast and the Furious movie. This feels closer to the under appreciated San Andreas in Mr. Johnsons performance and that’s a good thing. Also much like San Andreas, he continues to have his big action star character already have a family rather than be flirting with the damsel and get the girl. The family this time comes in the form of Neve Campbell, who is used very well here, as his Navy Doctor wife and the two children played rather well by McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell. They work, they felt right. That’s all I needed there. The director didn’t forget Ms Campbell is a survivor of the Scream franchise and not helpless.

The supporting cast holds their own with Atomic Blonde’s Roland Moller being our big bad and continuing to impress. I’d love to see him get more meaty roles in this vein, but while lacking in the raw Rickman charm, he does have a certain something to him that makes him engaging. Altered Carbon’s  Byron Mann (he was Kovac’s first sleeve you meet) is almost under used, but due to script, directing, and ability is able to avoid being a a stereotype. They let him be smart and cunning and still professional and follow the rules. Imagine that?! Hannah Quinlivan, plays a  member of the bad guy crew and is absolutely a heavy despite her normally sweet look.  I feel like I need to see her and Ruby Rose square off in a movie. Maybe it was the hair cut. Regardless, the cast was fine and so was the acting.

Yes, some of the plot points are absolutely Chekovs’ Guns and quite honestly. I don’t care. They worked. I saw the set up and recognized the pay off and was not displeased with it.

TL:DR?

Skyscraper was a far better time than I was expecting. It will never quite be the classic that Die Hard is. Sometimes you need to be first to the gate to do that. It was a solid little movie with good acting, good tension, and solid characters that made logical decisions. This was proof to me that you can make a “basic summer action film” and not have to make people turn their brains off. I suppose if I hyper analyze it I may come across a few fallacies in logic or plotholes, but it didn’t deserve that. It never once annoyed me with a character or decision made.

Dwayne Johnson retains his title, though maybe it should be Major Charisma. He is as always absolutely charming, but in this one he lets it come through in the interactions with the family rather than being an over the top action star.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yeah. It’s kinda good. It’s pop corn fare without a doubt, but I don’t regret the 95 minutes I spent with it.

Would you see it again?

Probably? I dunno. If someone asked, I would probably go with them and try to look for actual flaws, but more than likely would just be content to enjoy myself again.

Buying it?

The odds are in it’s favour.

Anything else to share?

This may be a bit spoilerish, so forgive me. I don’t think it is as the trailers show quite a bit of what I am talking about. The film has one other comparison with Die Hard and comes as a counter to the usual performances we see from an action star of this caliber. He gets hurt. It adds up. Sure there’s some level of hero immunity shown, but not like we’ve gotten used to. It’s very John McClane in this aspect and I was really happy to see that.

So…the leg?

Alright, so there’s an elephant in the room and you may want to stop here, but I can’t ignore it consider how I have been dragging someone for the past week.

I am not the right person to address this one and will take correction justifiably if required. Yes, Sawyer has a prosthetic leg below the knee. A phrase that was introduced to me on my FB wall  recently was “Not about me without me”. This is used by disability activists to express you can’t make a piece of media (movie, tv, etc) about us without including us. So knowing Dwayne Johnsons reputation for charity and consideration I did a bit of research and was able to find this little gem of an article: (source: http://989theanswer.com/news/entertainment/dwayne-johnson-honors-amputee-community-with-skyscraper )

“I was honored to play an amputee, and to make sure that I did right by them,” Johnson said on the red carpet for the film’s US premiere Tuesday night. “The research was very extensive. I spent a lot of time with amputees.”

One of those he consulted joined Johnson at the premiere: Jeff Glasbrenner, a Paralympian who became the first American amputee to successfully climb Mount Everest in 2016. Johnson called him “an amazing man.”

Of the film, he added: “There’s two sides to this. One is a big spectacle, big summer fun. The other side is making sure that we paid homage and respect to amputees around the world.”

The film’s writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber called it “incredibly important” to represent the amputee community.

“There hasn’t been an amputee as the lead of an action film, ever, as far as I know. And I thought it was high time and I hope we’re not the last. I think Dwayne worked really, really hard to represent that community and honor that community. And I think he did a fantastic job,” Thurber said.

I cannot say if this is right, if this is enough. I can say I believe they made every intent to do right. This isn’t erasure as it appears to be the first real attempt I’ve seen at a hero in a live action movie who is an amputee. Technically Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon beats this by a few years, so I clarified with live action. This however is again, up to the community to decide if it was done well. Not me; but I do have a responsibility to address it in the best way I can.

The other debacle..well that is my community and the dragging will continue.

 

Alright folks that concludes this review. Sorry for getting so heavy at the end there, but it was needed.

Next week should be Equalizer 2.

Darke Reviews | Ant-Man and The Wasp

I was not a fan of the first Ant-Man film when it came out almost 3 years ago to the day. Largely this comes from the epic battle between comedy and my sensibilities. Many co-workers and friends still ply me with things they think I believe will be funny. Few succeed. It’s a tragic tale of woe, but yet some do succeed. There’s a narrow margin where it can just work. Not everything will be The Cornetto Trilogy, early Mel Brooks, or Twilight. Sorry. I have just been informed Twilight was not intentionally funny. Also cheap shot its an easy target I plan to look at later critically. In the meanwhile we’re here for the update on what I thought about Ant-Man and Wasp.

Does it work better than Ant-Man did?

Well… short answer is yes. I know I am not waiting for the TL;DR, but I’ve been breaking the habit on that where appropriate. As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

That isn’t bad. Movies can be escapism as much as anything else in their art form. Ant-Man and The Wasp threads a difficult needle in storytelling where the movie has weight, but isn’t too heavy for audiences who need a brain break from a world that really could use some balance right now.

This isn’t to say there isn’t good plot here. Oh no. There is. Set two years and change after the events of Civil War (and two years and change after the movie release so there’s that) it picks up with Scott Lang under house arrest for his ‘crimes’ in Germany. He has completely reconnected with his daughter (played adorably by Abby Ryder Fortson) who despite her age really seems to get it with her Dad and loves him unequivocally. He and his ex and her new husband have found their middle ground and feel more like a functional family than anyone else shown in the MCU to date. He’s trying to put what he can of his life back together with his friends who are trying to start up a security system business when he gets a flash of the Quantum Realm; which gives him visions of a long since lost Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. This causes Hank and Hope to seek him out to help find their missing family member, while trying to stay a few steps ahead of black marketeers who want Hanks tech, a mysterious new villain appropriately named “Ghost” for her ability to walk through solid objects at will, and the FBI who want to arrest Hank and Hope and will throw Scott in Jail for 20 years if he’s caught outside his house.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this movie. It works. Despite violating my three writer rule by having five on the written by credit, it doesn’t feel like it was written by that many people. The stories, tone, and everything else carries through the movie nearly seamlessly. Peyton Reed back in the directors chair really does have a grasp now of what to do, how to frame, and how to get the right performances out of his actors. This doesn’t feel like the same director, yet it is. What also works is the aforementioned weight in the movie. Germany (Civil War) had consequences that carry over through the entirety of the movie. Consequences. In a comic book movie. I never thought I’d see it (in a way that logically makes sense) and it works. On top of that the primary villain Ghost (played expertly by Hannah John-Kamen (Ready Player One, Kill Joys) was masterful.  I never thought I would say this but Ant-Man and The Wasp gave us our first female POC villain in a modern comic movie. On top of that, its a GOOD Villain too. I won’t go into details because spoilers, but I really liked her character and its motivations. The movie also provided stakes if our heroes lost. Lots of them and truth be told I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with those stakes until the final credits rolled. That is very rare. Please give me some more

I could talk about the effects, but overall they are superior to the first film and its just a better movie. Also the effects team and director like Tardigrades, which is kinda awesome.  The fight sequences are really good. easy to follow and come in both large and small scales, but work within the movie so well.

I should probably talk about Evangeline Lilly here. She’s awesome. Thank you. She is bad ass. She has her own agency and goals. While the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, I think it passes the Mako Mori one.

TL:DR

This is a well paced, light, enjoyable superhero film. It has a lot going on so you don’t feel its two hour run time in the least. I had a good time and I think you will too. Also cheating here, but copying from above for more of the TL:DR

As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

Should I see it?

I think so. If you were remotely interested it is going to be a good time. If you weren’t you won’t miss much, but I gotta tell you the rest of July isn’t looking like a major movie going month for most folks.

Would you see it again?

Yeah. The D-Box seats I bought for my partner and I tonight really did add something, but standard or XD is good for this one.

Going to buy it?

The odds are in its favour.

So what about Avengers Infinity War and this one’s continuity?

They line up without flaw. Thats all I will say.

Alright, so what’s wrong with the rest of July?

I have zero interest in Hotel Transylvannia 3. I refuse to give Adam Sandler money. I don’t care if it has Vampires in it. I have a line I draw.

Skyscraper is still on my maybe pile.

Equalizer 2 I’ll see, but the first had a small audience and I don’t think this one will fare better. I haven’t seen a lot of marketing for it.

At the end of the month we get Mission Impossible: Fallout, which based on conversations I’ve had; I am the only one excited for.

 

Final Note: Special thanks to my movie going partner. It’s nice to chat with someone immediately after the movie.

 

Darke Reviews | Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Special thanks to my movie going partner tonight for the summation on the TL;DR on this review. I can surely say you make the movie going experience better. Thank you.

Now onto the review itself.

Hooboy. Despite appearances this is spoiler free thanks to the trailers.

Set three years after the incident at Jurassic Park, a group of conservationists and scientists, plus survivors of the first incident at the park return to Isla Nublar to take what action they can to save the dinosaurs. What they find there is treachery by the very company who sent them as a great white hunter betrays them and a weaselly white man in a suit working for the older gentleman has his sights set on pure greed. Instead of wanting to preserve the formerly extinct animals, he wants to profit off of them. Our heroes must find a way to save the dinosaurs from the machinations of corporate greed without getting anyone else killed in the process.

Wait sorry that was the plot of Jurassic Park 2. Or was it Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom? I think…I think they are the same. They pasted over the paint with fresh wallpaper and some new modern furniture, but the house, the frame, the wiring are all the same. I blame Colin Treverrow, who proved with Jurassic World he wasn’t quite up to the task based on the audience and critical mixture that happened with it. Yes, it made oodles of money, but not nearly as much as the studio wanted when you consider it remained uncontested in theatres for weeks but saw consistent 50% box office sale drop offs week after week. Anything that might have contested it was even worse so it reminded us of 1993 when dinosaurs ruled the earth. This got him yanked from Star Wars Episode IX direction and after the laughable book of Henry it may be awhile before we see him in the directors chair again. He gets the blame for this as he was originally to script and direct, but was yanked from this one as well. Derek Connolly the other writer on this one was also the writer for Jurassic World and Kong Skull Island ….and Star Wars Episode IX, so hold on to your butts for that one.

*pulls up a chair and sits across from the two men* Look I get it it. You may have been given a raw deal from the studio. You didn’t have any great new ideas for a sequel to a reboot, which in itself is a sequel. So you went back to the well. Literally. You lifted the major beats and plot points from what is arguably the second best Jurassic Park film, then doubled down on all the beats you really loved from your last movie. The problem, gentle sirs, is that you crossed a line here. It’s a fine line in any reboot or sequel, of which you are dealing with both; but it is the line where you draw parallels to earlier works. You rehash scenes, beats, and locations from earlier – better works and all it makes us do is think of the better film or at least the scene where it was done better. I mean I will give you points for not having gymnastics beat a velociraptor, but that’s narrow praise.

Your main antagonist is near identical to the crib sheet you used. The secondary antagonist lacks any of the charm, wit, or sublime caliber of the original model – which makes him a comical parody of what was already a parody character. Did you not realize he was this thing? Then, oh…I just ….you expect J.A. Bayona, a horror director to shoot a scene that looks lifted right from a bloody Loony Toons cartoon. This is a mistake. This script was a mistake. It has moments which work, but they are but brief glimmers of something better that never arrived. Unless there was a contractual obligation the studio made a mistake here not bringing in another writer to tweak the script.

J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, Penny Dreadful – 2 eps), is clearly a talented director. There are very intentional costume changes that I noticed. He was able to get the actors to do more than phone it in which I think they were trying to do more than a few times. I get it the script hindered you, like a lot. I imagine the studio did as well. You had no easy task here. You did everything you could to tell a visual story that conflicted itself every twenty minutes or so and was plagued with such laughably bad decisions that Speilberg couldn’t have saved it. You too though have some things to learn. You have to earn your musical score. The music by Michael Giacchino was wonderful but did not belong in a movie about dinosaurs, volcanos, and evil corporations. It belonged in Middle Earth or some other middle fantasy setting. Your big bad dino’s theme cannot be at the levels of Sauron, or any other of the epic baddies, it wasn’t earned. I could tell you and your visual effects artists had the idea for one shot being awesome, and they tried so hard…but you beat it a minute later with a much better one. Then you beat it again five minutes before with one of the best. If the script didn’t go back to the well, you did too and too much of it and its sour.

I haven’t talked about the actors yet, besides mentioning almost phoning it in. Chris Pratt is Chris Pratt, though he largely looked bored here. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire learned from the last movie and was wearing sensible hiking boots going back to the island. The movie makes sure you notice. No I am not joking. She’s fine otherwise. Justice Smith as the high pitched screaming kid from the trailer is fine; even if he has to utter the line every hacker in every movie says “I’m in.”  Daniella Pineda (The Originals) gives one of the most entertaining performances but I have a weakness for sarcastic smart feminists in STEM fields. It’s a thing. There is literally no one else worth mentioning, sorry James Cromwell, not even you.

I could spend another hundred or two words going over some not good CG work, really really bad science (I have rage), and ranting about this is a movie in search of an identity between action and horror and never quite hitting it.

TL;DR

Turn your brain off for two hours. You might have a good time.

I don’t actively hate this movie, its just another hollow high budget production that has a few moments that made me laugh or smile, but not enough for me to actually like it or feel anything about it at all. If any emotion I have towards the movie its a high level of irritation. I can’t even say this is a well made bad movies. Its a high budget mediocre movie that many will enjoy. I am so bloody happy for them I could cry. The biggest win is that the movie didn’t bore me and kept me engaged enough to want to see which plot point from previous movie they would lift next.

Should I see it?

After my dismal reviews on Avengers Infinity War and Incredibles 2, my overwhelmingly positive review of Solo, and less than stellar review of this one you decide. Personally I would say Matinee if you must see it. This is not worth full price, 3D or even XD.

So…won’t be seeing it again?

Nope.

Buying i..

Nope.

Ok what about Goldblum?

He is actually in the movie as a bookend. We needed more of him.

Is it really that bad?

Look I love the T-Rex. It’s amazing. It’s also a bloody apex predator. Stop giving it hero moments. Please.

 

Darke Reviews | Hereditary (2018)

Having come from a dysfunctional family dynamic made this movie all the more interesting for me as the story unfolded.

Wait, you want a better lead in than that cold open? Sorry the movie has me going on a “Whiskey tango foxtrot” opening. Ok so this review is obviously late to the train be it hype or damnation, you decide.

I had been hemming and hawing on seeing it until my friend Grim D. Reaper over on MovieCrypt.com gave it the first zero skull review I remember seeing from him in a very long time. As Grim got this Vampire Princess into writing reviews in the first place over 20 years ago I trust his judgement. He and I don’t always see eye to socket, with me being the harsher critic, but I always respect his views. This was enough to turn me away from the film. A week later another dear friend, a true love, and moonlight in my life went the complete other direction on it. She was thrilled with the production and the movie. This left me in an odd spot, two people I trust and value the opinions of have opposite reviews of the film – thus I must see and decide who is right and who is dead. Wait, wrong movie.

From studio A24, which also brought us The VVItch, Ex Machina, and FreeFire; not to mention critical darlings like Lady Bird, Room, and Moonlight; you expect a certain style. This is a studio that has only been around for 5 years and has received 24 Academy Award nominations; and has several wins under its belt. A true indie studio but with a budget they use to make some of the most eclectic sets of films you will find in anyone’s catalogue. It would be dangerous to say they all have a certain vibe as the three mentioned I reviewed couldn’t be more apart in tone, style, or format; yet still there’s something familiar about them that is similar. There is a tight closeness, a sense of risk, and passion behind and on the camera you don’t see in many big budget productions from the major studios. I could tell you there is heart, charm, fear; but you could find those in any studio.

Hereditary does belong amongst the ranks here. You can tell that writer/director Ari Aster had a story in his head and heart he wanted to put on screen. He had a very clear vision on how and what he wanted to shoot which translates to every cell on screen. It is also transparent to me that he is a very talented director who brought out the best performance I have ever seen from Toni Collette. Playing Annie, she is a mother clutching with both fists to try to hold on to a family so damaged by past trauma you have to wonder if there is really anything to save. She is absolutely a powerhouse of acting through the film from sedate to on the edge to well  she covers the ranges. If anything her performance is so bold that it completely overshadows Gabriel Byrne who turns in a very subdued performance as Annie’s husband Steve. This turn down, which I find common in indie films like this where the actors energies are just a bit off from usual; turned down from 11 to a nice 7. It works here and gives the necessary balance to Collette’s role. The family is rounded out by Peter, played by Alex Wolff, and Charlie, played by Millie Shapiro. Both actors give a wonderful performance under Aster’s direction and their own abilities do shine be they subdued or manic.

The problem with the movie, despite its technical and artistic proficiency is the story and the characters. For the tension of this supernatural family drama to work, you need to invest yourself. Few of the characters present themselves as likable to me enough for me to care about their fate. This isn’t to say they don’t feel real, because most of their in character actions, dialogue, and beats make sense within the context of the film, the history hinted at, and other points of the movie that paint a mosaic of trauma that can only lead the direction it goes. Yet; if you don’t invest, you don’t let the movie in or let yourself into the movie it could come across almost comical at times; which I know is not the intent. There comes a point where the art gives in to itself and seemingly goes off its own rails and no vision or amazing performance can keep you on the ride.

Now this could be because I watch so many movies. I’ve discussed this before that seeing too many films can actually be detrimental to the movie going experience. You see things, you notice things. It’s hard to avoid words in titles on peoples YouTube videos or reviews; which if you see them and have a certain level of insight into film give away all too much. I remember back in 99 when I read a three sentence review of the Sixth Sense and the last one said “with a twist you won’t see coming.” In that moment I called what it was. It took away a bit of the experience for me and that was 20 years and a thousand or so movies ago – its’s why I promise you all to be spoiler free even in my descriptions of the films.

TL;DR?

Hereditary’s hype train is amazing, with a marketing campaign you don’t see much anymore that hearkens back to old 50’s and 60’s movie going experiences with stories of nurses in the theatre for when people faint. I can’t say it lives up to the hype. I wish I could. I think that Grim may have been too harsh on it, but he might be in the same boat I am with so many movies under his belt, certain beats feel almost telegraphed to us; a skill we cannot separate from our experience as we watch the movies we do – especially when people rave about it the way the critics did on this one.

Hereditary does not live up to its marketing campaign; but it is also not bad either. It is a very artistic look at the horror genre in a way I haven’t quite seen before. While sure, I saw many things coming a mile away, the overall structure, camera work, acting, and tight feel to the production are without a doubt to me solid.

Many folks rave on the ending and I can see why. It just didn’t land for me at that level.

What would you rate it?

If I had to give a fang count on this one, it would net maybe a 3.5 out of 5. It is solid, well made in every aspect, but even with my connection of dysfunctional family I didn’t get as invested as I needed to feel the impact of it’s summation. I think this is a good movie and I was intrigued and entertained, but you have to want it. You have to put effort in. I wasn’t all the way there so it only goes just the right side of good.

Should I see it?

If you haven’t already, I can say give it a shot on matinee. I think the atmosphere of a big theatre, dark, and quiet will help the movie for most people. Watching at home, in the light, with all the distractions will certainly take away from the experience.

Would you see it again?

With the right friends? Yes. I think there’s a lot of discussion material to be had about intent, artistry, execution, and of course meaning.

How about buying it?

I’m torn. Without the friend component I don’t think I would watch it again and to spend $20 on it for a physical or digital copy seems off; yet again it’s something to be studied for what it did do.

That was an interesting turn of phrase…

Yeah, wasn’t it? I think this is the perfect film school or art house movie. Not that it looks like a movie from a film school project, but that there’s a lot to analyze here that can and should be. There’s a strong discussion to be had as I said before.

You can easily go either direction on this film which is why I am (perhaps cheaply) landing in the middle; but in a time when we say we want original films – we can’t turn down our nose when we get one that is this well made.

 

Darke Reviews | The Incredibles 2 (2018)

In 1999 we were introduced to Hogarth Hughes and an Iron Giant. The world, as I remember it fell in love with Brad Birds creation. It absolutely flopped theatrically with a $23 million haul on a $70 million budget. It seemed (again recollection here) to gain life once released for the home market. I may be one of the few who haven’t seen it, or heard Vin Diesel in one of his earliest roles, but most of the people I talk to have very fond memories and feelings from the film. 5 years later, 20 million more in budget and the power of the mouse house, Brad Bird showed he had something special when he delivered us The Incredibles. It brought in over $260 million on a $92 million budget and is still considered by many to be a top notch, top ten super hero movie long before the rise of The Marvel Juggernaut we know and fear today. This was still the dark times, the times of Spawn and …Catwoman, and Ang Lee’s Hulk. Superheroes, super-villains, flashy costumes, a villain you could understand, and it wasn’t dark, broody, or edgy; unlike everything else in the hero market at the time. It gave us hope of a better world for our heroes; and a resounding ending  that left audiences clamoring to see more.

For 14 years.

Now, Brad Bird wasn’t idle during this time. He put out Ratatouille in 2007; which more than a few people love, but that’s a 3 year hiatus for an up and coming director in demand. Then 4 years after that, just when people were asking “whatever happened to” we get Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol; which breathed new life into the franchise and is generally loved. Here we go Brad Bird is back! We hear then he is going to work on Tomorrowland, inspired by the ride at Disney. Awesome right? Sci Fi, future tech, hope for the future?! This is our guy. Remember what he did with Incredibles?!

Then it came. We were left lost, confused, and even worse bored. While my review is overall positive on it, there are pacing issues and looking back I may have been trying to see more good in it than it deserved. Maybe not. Most folks couldn’t even manage a “whelmed” and went for under it. It didn’t even make back half its budget, which is rough on a Disney feature on a holiday weekend. In the Year of Fan4stic, it is considered (Box Office Mojo 2015 showdown) one of the most disappointing films of 2015. This is also the year of Jupiter Ascending and Terminator Genisys. Yeah like that.

Upon leaving the theatre tonight I have but one question:

Brad Bird – who hurt you?

You come back and write and direct this film, but it is missing …well everything.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie is perfectly adequate. I can tell where the money went for the cast and crew who made it. The movie looks beautiful. The camera work (yes there’s camera work in animation folks) is excellent. The actors all do the best they can with what they have.

What happened to you? The movie has no heart, no soul, no message. Before anyone goes off “its just a kids movie” – a majority of them actually do have a message for the kids even if they don’t see it. The first Incredibles is about being true to yourself and the importance of family in your life. It’s there. This movie doesn’t have any of that. There’s no growth to the characters, no change, nothing effectively learned.

The choice to pick up the movie where the last one left off was a bold one. It didn’t inherently hurt the movie, but it didn’t help it either. I feel as if our writer and director, Mr. Bird lost his inspiration somewhere. Lost his hope, because the movie is just pock marked with insecurity and cynicism. The lines of dialogue given just show over and over someone who has lost faith in the system and the world. They aren’t looking for the good anymore and just put out something with a fine shine of nostalgia and polished heroisim; it doesn’t take someone squinting to see just past the shine and see how dark the writer feels.

The movie commits one of the other gravest sins possible – it’s actually kind of boring. It has high moments, but the lull between them just goes too far. Even the action scenes just go…too long.

TL;DR?

The Incredibles 2 is a passable movie. It’s cute at times, but has significant pacing issues and runs the full two hours. You feel the run time, but the colours are pretty and will probably keep the kids from getting too restless. It relies on old tropes too much and doesn’t deliver a fraction of the heart of the first one. This isn’t to say it doesn’t try or even succeed once in awhile, but there just isn’t enough good or hope here to bring it all home

Should I see it?

Matinee at best. XD sound is good and I don’t know if they have 3-D showings or D-Box, but both might be an add if you have the excess funds to spare.

Would you see it again?

Not likely in the theatre, even with a movie pass.

What about buying it?

Maybe. Just maybe. Like I said, its cute, it’s pretty, it’s passable. That might be enough for a purchase. Ask me again in October when it comes out.

Any other thoughts on it?

It? No. The experience – yes. People lets chat. Pickles while nice at home are not theatre food. You can smell them three full luxury loungers away. I don’t know who thought these were a good idea.

Also ETIQUETTE.

We like the luxury loungers right? I know I do. You aren’t at home though. Don’t put your stank feet on the arm of the chair while you curl up and chat with your boy. Don’t be constantly shifting and kicking the chair. You aren’t at home. Other people are watching the movie too. Sit like a normal person, curl up if you want, but it’s an arm rest, not a foot rest, K? I felt bad for my movie going partner tonight. Not cool.

Now get off my lawn. (thats how I felt writing that)

 

Darke Reviews | Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Continuing to try the new format, which is to say going to get to the point early and go into detail in a bit.

I think I am going to be in the minority again like I was with Avengers: Infinity War, except this time it’s reverse. I really found myself enjoying this movie. It felt like the space fantasy I wanted to see with a heist movie thrown in as the plot. I don’t think there’s any real character growth to be had, but sometimes that isn’t the point. It’s sometimes worth it to see the character learning the tricks of the trade even if his core nature never really changes or evolves. Seriously, its ok from time to time to use this as a narrative trick and overall they were successful here with Solo.

I know a lot of people were concerned that Alden Ehrenreich would be directed to emulate Harrison Ford and I did not find that to be true. He was directed to be his usual charming self, while playing Han Solo. Some folks may think I am biased because I really liked the kid in Beautiful Creatures, and that may be true, but it doesn’t make it less true that I felt I was seeing a young Han Solo. He came across as the hustler always just in over his head but with the skills to get himself out of it, but still always trying to play an angle. Taking the movies as the only source for him, this is part of his essential nature and they delivered on that.

Folks are already praising Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and the praise is worthy. When you consider there’s maybe a total of 30 minutes between two films with the character of Lando they don’t have a lot to work with to deliver a younger version of the man you meet on Bespin in Empire Strikes back. Glover, unsurprisingly, delivers enough charm to light the screen for some of the weaker performances in the movie – which thankfully there aren’t many. Sadly, Emilia Clarke is one of them. The more I watch of her outside of Game of Thrones the more I find her range limited. This isn’t to say she’s bad in the film, but against Ehrenreich and Glover she’s a shadow. Woody Harrelson continues to enjoy the resurgence of his career since Hunger Games and I don’t mind one bit, he fit this world and melded with it like any smuggler I would see from the Star Wars games. Paul Bettany gets to chew some scenery and this is always a pleasing thing, especially when he gets to be intimidating and it works.

From a story telling perspective the movie does run into some pacing issues, but otherwise holds together and plays well with the universe. It helps expand the Meta of the new Disney Canon universe but doesn’t tromp all over the things that we consider Legends now. There were a few moments that made me giggle like a little girl when I saw things that were little more than trivia in 1994 when I committed the entire layout of a very special YT-1300 to memory. Yes, that was geek speak.

It is not shot like a Star Wars movie that we’re used to and that’s actually good. It expands the tricks future directors get to use and helped create some interesting dynamic action scenes that we haven’t quite seen before. It’s lit well and the effects are very well done. The downside on the technical aspects is you can tell there was another director on this before Ron Howard was brought in to pinch hit and try to knock this one home. There’s some pacing issues and some disconnects in the shots. What makes it work so well is that there is a lot of practical work here and lack of hyper saturation. It felt like a lived in world.

TL;DR (not getting rid of this, it’s almost a trademark)

Solo is a good movie. I think there are going to be people who don’t think it works and don’t find it as enjoyable. I don’t think it’s going to be as divisive as The Last Jedi was, but I think reactions will be split.

Honestly, I don’t give a damn. I enjoyed the movie. I had fun. I bounced in my chair (D-Box notwithstanding) and felt excitement watching a movie again.

Would you see it again?

Yes. The D Box was fun for it, but not necessary. XD is almost a must. 3-D probably not. Big screen though? Absolutely.

So you are buying it?

Yes. No Question

Why didn’t you use the Science Fiction hashtag you use?

Because Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It’s a fantasy movie in space. Princesses, Wizards, Rogues, daring chases and wild escapes. That hasn’t changed here.

 

Folks, the movie was a good time. This was Oceans 11, The Italian Job, or Thomas Crowne Affair in space. It gave me what I wanted to see. The cast was charming. The visuals were good. The directors slowed down enough to let moments that needed to go a bit go a bit and kept the action in a way you could understand everything going on.

I enjoyed Solo.

I hope you do too.

 

Goddess I have things I want to talk about with it too, but even with the new format – NO SPOILERS