Darke Reviews | Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

It actually took me almost two hours to decide what to write about this one. Most of us are familiar with the abomination that was the original trailer. Just in case you wanted nightmares tonight here you go:

 

This trailer formed one of the few universal truths on the internet, that being Sonic was a horrifying CG mess. The studio all but immediately vowed to fix it without changing the release date. Now if you don’t know much about the industry you’d think “so whats the big deal, its just CG.” I wish that were the case. As it stands most studios are dealing with 11th hour production changes, after already burning the midnight oil and their staff, and are also generally the lowest bid to complete the effects. A not insignificant number of smaller studios go out of business after some productions. So when we complain about horrific CG, like say the Black Panther final fight, that would be an 11th hour (read weeks/days before the release to get it fixed). CATS, which I refused to see even on curiosity (irony?) was in editing up until hours before the premier.

I told you that to tell you this. The studio who picked up fixing Sonic, “Moving Pictures Company” (MPC) and turned THAT into this…shut down its entire studio in Vancouver this December. That’s after the redesign work and the positive comments from the internet from their work. (source: CinemaBlend). Why? Because they barely made a profit from the work.

Image result for sonic before and after

 

All of this is important to understand when you consider the movie as a whole. It means that one of two things happened with the production. Someone at the head of the studio thought original design was perfect and didn’t need any updates; which implies they didn’t listen to anyone with an inkling of sense or they really didn’t care. Option 2, less likely, but far more insidious, is that they dropped a horrific trailer and knew it was bad but wanted the press. Then spent the money to fix it. The first is more likely and quite honestly more expected. We’ve seen it time and time again and will continue to do so.

What I don’t get is why? Paramount, the studio who is the lead on this production, barely has a leg to stand on box office wise. Not a single movie last year of their eleven broke $100 million. Rocketman was closest at $96 million and is in 32nd place in total gross.. They completely have destroyed any faith in most of their major IPs, like Transformers and Star Trek. This years bets aren’t looking so hot for them either with The Rhythm Section being a massive bomb (still disagree, but facts are facts) and only pulling in 5 million so far (ouch). Like a Boss with a whopping 22 million isn’t exactly stellar when a movie like Knives Out, in its 5th week by New Years, has pulled in 29 million this year. They have 16 movies this year and they have to be banking on the fact that A Quiet Place II does something and Top Gun: Maverick does as well. I mean one of their productions is a new GI Joe movie?

I am talking about all of this to try to help you and myself make sense of what myself and one of my Dark Court watched today. I thought the first twenty minutes or so were actually pretty solid. Good intro for Sonic. Good intro for James Marsden, who this movie owes it’s life to. Comical introduction of Robotnik was ok until he spoke. I leaned over to the member of my Court and was like “ok this movie knows what it is” with a Leslie Neilsen esque Airplane style joint chiefs meeting that checked off more cliches in two minutes than some movies do in two hours. I was wrong. I was so so wrong.  Marsden is the most charming thing in the movie. Sonic is entirely puntable 90% of the time, and the 10% is actually very bearable. If it weren’t for the new look this would be even more of a train wreck than it is.

I am not sure what writers Josh Miller and Patrick Casey (writers of Transylmania, a vampire movie I won’t even watch) were going for. Buddy Cop? Family Road Trip? Pure Kids stuff? A plot? They achieved none of these things. Writing is hard. Trust me I get that, but you have friends, you have others look at it. Hopefully someone goes “so …..I have some questions” and you take that and go. This did not happen. I could maybe fault Jeff Fowler the director in his first cinematic picture, but something tells me he had studio notes, a horrible script, and no one who could help him. Like the direction in the movie is not the worst and Jim Carey when told to combine all his various previous life personalities has to be hard to direct, especially if starstruck, but…yeah.

TL;DR

This movie is a bleeding hot mess. It is not a good movie. It’s not even an adequate movie. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t entertained. There are a few moments of joy and smiles to be found sure, but when those moments are gone the movie is pure cringe. I wish I knew why studios had no faith in Video Game movies. Many popular games in the past few decades have quite a bit of lore and story to them and studios want to ignore it. Yeah there’s actually a story to sonic beyond running and collecting rings.

Instead we’re given yet another “Masters of the Universe” where we put our character on Earth, ignore anything of interest from the original material and create…this.

I was told by the Manager of the theatre he is hearing good things. Maybe if it was from kids, who were having a good time in this. There is just not enough meat here for an adult to enjoy so I am asking who is this movie for?

Should I see it?

If I thought the animators would see even a penny for their work – I would say yes. Since I am not sure – thats a no from me

Would you see it again?

I barely want to remember seeing it now.

So…not buying it.

That would be correct.

Is it really that bad?

It didn’t anger me. It’s just badly put together. I am more annoyed and confused by it than hating it. It exists. It’s on the same caliber as Super Marios Bros and He-Man, but still better than anything Uwe Boll did.

Here – the trailer for the good cartoon. I am going to find my happy place in my crypt.

 

 

 

 

BIrdsofPrey

Darke Reviews | Birds of Prey (2020)

Ahem, the full title: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). 1992 was a good year for the comic industry, a brand new character was introduced that would rehape an entire mythos simply by existing. Batman the Animated Series was on air, was impressive in its style and decades ahead of its time. It became the definitive Batman for many of us with his rules and his choices, and the voice of Kevin Conroy. Then Paul Dini and Bruce Timm went “let’s give Joker a proper side kick.” – and we got Harley Quinn. She was popular on the show and continued to become a recurring character and a character in her own right with motivations and growth. Then the comics got a hold of her, then toxic fan boys, then somewhere along the line someone somewhere realized Joker x Harley is not a good thing and she once again came into her own. Now she has her own movie after a blow out performance in Suicide Squad. I still stand by my review on that one. It’s not as bad as people say. I still rate it above most of the DC collection

Would you be crazy to see this DC movie?

Let us for a moment and pause to appreciate that we have Christina Hodson (Bumblebee, Shut In) on script and producer credit and Cathy Yan as the director in her first major cinematic work. That’s right folks, a woman on script, a woman in the directors chair, and all of your protagonists are women. This is important. This is rare. You don’t see this in most genre’s especially action or superhero movies that have major theatrical releases. Since 1977 there have been four. Four out of over a hundred films and only one of them previously had women on the script (Captain Marvel). Here’s the list by the way.

  • Rachel Talalay – Tank Girl (1995)
  • Lexi Alexander – Punisher War Zone (2008)
  • Patty Jenkins – Wonder Woman (2017)
  • Anna Boden – Captain Marvel (2019)

That’s it. Now I liked Hodson’s work on Bumblebee, which gave us probably the most faithful Transformers movie since 1986. Then with Yan in the directors chair you get something different working with a script about women directed by a woman. This is a hard topic to explain, so bear with me as this is important for the context of the movie. Harley is a highly sexualized character, like ridiculously so. So when you think of how you’ve seen her in movies, you have her in tight hot pants bending at the waist to show off her butt – to who exactly? That is sexualization. Now compare that to this movie where in one sequence, while wearing a white shirt sprinklers go off. Many of my readers are rolling their eyes now going “oh god…”. Except what you are expecting doesn’t happen. It *doesn’t* turn into a wet T shirt contest with Margot Robbie. It actually becomes one of the more interesting fight scenes in the film. It’s all in the how the camera moves and follows her and the action. It’s centered on frame or on her face, or goddess forbid, the action.

Another example, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary. Her first appearance in the film is on stage singing in a seedy nightclub. Let’s play direct this scene. Do you

A: Do a long slow pan up from her heels, over the back of her legs, turning the camera at her hips to accentuate the hips and butt, staying on side angle as you raise to her chest, turning again after those curves are shown and then maybe show her face in some beauty make up, holding the microphone to her mouth seductively as she sings.

or

B. Silohuette at first. Then an over the shoulder from the back looking at the room, then cut to her from the shoulders up singing.

If you picked B, then you went the Cathy Yan route. 96 times out of a hundred you get option A. Option A also includes extended shot of her walking if you are Joss Whedon. Don’t ask just trust me.

This particular segue is important to the discussion of the movie because in it the characters ARE beautiful, they are sexy, but it isn’t sexualized. They feel like this is what they WOULD wear and its empowering to them. It does all of the above and more through the movie without once literally saying “Girl power”.  It’s overt sure, but it’s never once stated and that matters.

Our main cast of characters are women of all ages and colors, another thing different from literally every other comic book movie out there. Again, this is important. REPRESENTATION MATTERS. You have Margot Robbie reprising her iconic turn as Harley Quinn and getting to run the show full Deadpool style. Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Underground, True Blood) as Black Canary reminding us that Canary is a street fighter first, super powered voice second.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Gemini Man) as The Huntress, possibly the least developed of the characters, but making that work to her advantage. Rosie Perez (Untamed Heart, White Men Can’t Jump) comes out swinging as Detective Renee Montoya and Ella Jay Basco (goddaughter to Dante Basco!) in her first cinematic role as Cassandra Cain. Every single one of these wonderful women own their roles, the screen, and perform. It’s fantastic that each gets their time on screen and gives definition to the characters.  Of course there is also Ewan McGregor as Black Mask deciding that the scenery needed to be chewed. He would not be one upped by the manic Harley Quinn and boy did he take it to Jeremy Irons levels and you will hate his character for it. Chris Messina (Argo, Devil) also decided this was the direction to go with his take on Victor Zsasz. This is not a Zsasz I have seen before and it was …perfect for this movie.

We can also take a moment, but just a moment to talk about the fight choreography. Have you ever complained about not knowing what is going on in the fight because of quick cuts or weird angles or shaky cam? Watch this movie. It has none of those problems. They put our heroines (..and Harley) front and center in the action and they do a lot of in frame in camera stunt work and fighting with a single focused camera. Its a thing of beauty to watch multiple fights like that. The music is on point, with a special nod to a cover of Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Adona. It’s not perfect though. There are some pacing issues at times and maybe five total minutes could have been paired down. Atmosphere is hit or miss depending on the scene, mostly hit.

TL;DR?

I had my entire Dark Court with me tonight. We were highly entertained. We sat after the movie talking about our favourite scenes and all the things that really made the movie for us. I will warn there’s a trigger warning I need to give around two scenes that may be difficult for those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. I can say the way in which they are shot does not translate to a male power fantasy or helpless woman who needs to be saved/can’t save herself, the trauma of the victim. Both are uncomfortable scenes and made show this is not acceptable without being exploitative of the victim. Another touch you wouldn’t have gotten without Yan at the helm.

Birds of Prey, as launched by Harley Quinn is a very good movie and also happens to have characters from comics in it. Good fight sequences, no blue beams from the sky, low key, street level film and it was a breath of fresh air. I still want my Gotham City Sirens with Harley and Ivy , but this…this is a good start and I want it to do well.

Should I see it then?

You’d be crazy not to. Seriously, its good and entertaining. Again there are flaws, but nothing the whole of the movie doesn’t overcome.

Would you see it again?

Full price even.

Buying it?

Do you have to ask?

I always do.

Then yes. Yes I am

Anything else to add on this one?

These are not spoilers, but things that will please fans of Harley and her comic runs

“Babies!” (ok there’s only one but you just wanna snuffle Bruce)

Bernie the Beaver.

Carnival Hammer

So much..more.

 

RhythmSection

Darke Reviews | The Rhythm Section (2020)

An interesting trailer. Noted girl crush Blake Lively. The Sleigh Bells covering Lead Belly “In the Pines” aka “Where did you Sleep last night” with a modern pulsing beat. I admit I was hooked from shot one. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get from it.

Sure, it looks to be a pulse pounding action thriller like a Jason Bourne movie. Perhaps something like American Assassin a few years ago? Barbara Broccoli is a producer and the Broccoli estate *IS* the James Bond film franchise.

So what’s under the surface?

Begin as we often do with written by, screenplay, and executive produced by Mark Burnell. Burnell is taking his novels to the big screen in a way few authors actually do with direct script control making the movie *his*. The film is based on his own book series around our central character Stephanie Patrick (Lively). An truly ordinary woman on a path of self-destruction after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash. When Stephanie discovers that the crash was not an accident, she enters a dark, complex world to seek revenge on those responsible and find her own redemption. This is not a super woman, she has no special set of skills, nothing that makes her more than an above average college student consumed by her grief after the loss of her family. A line in the movie calls her a cliche, which to some extent she is. She’s so wholly been destroyed by her depression and guilt she’s at the bottom when the story begins. I am torn on this portrayal, but it’s only part of the movie. The rest is a spiral and its hard to tell if its up or down for her as she enters the world of espionage.

If anything, this is not Bourne, Bond, or even Atomic Blonde. This is La Femme Nikita without the glitz and glamour. It reminded me of both the original Nikita (1990) and Point of No Return (1993), watching as a true nobody gets deeper and deeper into a world she isn’t ready for by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the feel comes from director Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale, I Think we’re alone now) and her knowledge of how to get intensity with both camera and actor. Morano has over 50 credits as a cinematogrpaher since 1999 and it shows with her choices to use natural(ish) lighting in more than few scenes, how to use her angles, and fish eyes to maximum effort through the movie, even as it slowly transitions to stable and clean as the movie progresses. It’s hard not to feel in the moment when the camera operator is in the passenger seat of a car during a chase sequence with constant pans and very clever cuts between driver, the road, and what chases the driver. Much like last nights Gretel & Hansel distortion is the name of the game and the game is played well here.

Blake Lively is absolutely amazing in this. I missed Gossip Girl with her, not my thing, but she came to my attention with Green Lantern and her strong desire to play Star Sapphire in the sequel that will never happen. Her first truly memorable turn was in the supernatural romance Age of Adeline (which I owe a review to), then The Shallows where she has to carry a movie alone. A Simple Favor was damn near perfection from her, and the contrasts in camera work and director are clear between the two. Some might say her performance is flat, but I would argue that as subdued and relying on more body language than dialogue. There is a lot going on there. I’d love to talk more about Jude Law or Sterling K Brown in this, but in a movie of spy vs spy….where they are the spies and the support for our star I wish to reveal nothing. They are fantastic actors and do their jobs and do it well.

TL;DR

I didn’t expect La Femme Nikita. I expected American Assassin. I am pleased in my disappointment. This is a well paced, well shot, well acted spy thriller with a fully developed lead character. While I am aware that there are more books in the series the movies doesn’t end on an obvious cliffhanger or stinger for a sequel. Bold move from the filmmakers and I support it. I can’t say there’s a deeper message to the movie, I can’t even say it’s not cliche in its own ways checking off tropes left and right as it does.

What I can say it was gritty in the right ways. This felt, for Hollywood, what a raw amateur with some training from a competent teacher might look like. There’s nuance and weight to it. Is it realistic? Of course not. That wouldn’t be entertaining. It is however entertaining and delivers on promises it didn’t know it made. It also delivered on good fight choreography in a way that you may not even notice at first, but there’s a oner hidden in the movie and I was pleased to realize it AFTER the fact.

So should I see it?

In the drought that is January for movies? Yes. If the genre you like is portrayed here – then yes. Even at full price. I think even the big screen helps with the camera work.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

So whats with the title?

It’s related to some in movie dialogue comparing your own pulse and breathing to parts of a band. It’s weird yes, but it works in context. It’s also the novel title so that’s a thing.

 

Darke Reviews | Gretel & Hansel (2020)

I had secretly been asking for this of any power that be that would listen. While I am still awaiting a new vampire renaissance, I still have enough material coming out of various and often dubious quality. I watch as the zombie era desiccates as it should after a time. I see the Werewolves still awaiting their due, I am sure it will come at some point. The one I have been missing for some time and longing for in the dark was The Witches. I am not sure what happened with them after a brief surge in the 80’s. The Craft and Practical Magic did what they could, but alas it was not enough.  I am not talking a movie that is vaguely about Witches (sorry Blair Witch) either, I am talking about movies definitively about the Hollywood and Fairy Tale witch. Perhaps my timelines are blurring a bit where the space between is not as noticed, but since 2016 we have the superlative VVitch, then we had the rise of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina  now in its 3rd season; and now in the beginning of 2020 we get Gretel & Hansel. I could be hopeful in believing this, but I will take what I can as this is a painfully under served genre.

NOTE: The genre with few exceptions has little to nothing to do with any actual practicing witches. These films should never been conflated with any sense of realism so my term of Hollywood and Fairy Tale witches is important to consider.

With that out of the way should you fall under Gretel’s spell?

The movie was written by Rob Hayes in his first long form and theatrical turn. He has some shorts credited as well as some TV, but this is that first foray into the bigger machine. From a story perspective it is at its simplest a fairy tale with a modern storyteller. Gretel and Hansel are left to their own devices in a time not quite defined, but clearly intended to be 1600-1700’s. In an attempt to find food, shelter, and perhaps a permanent home they end up off the path and in the care of Holda and within her house in the woods. Holda has much to offer both of the children, but all things have a price. Who will pay it and how steep will it be?

You know how from time to time two movies come along that make you think the script was shopped around and while one studio officially turned it down they then had someone else write something similar? Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Normally that happens in the same year, this happened three years apart. This attempts to invoke the VVitch and could very well be a distant cousin to that film as the ties are close. Perhaps too close? I don’t mind it as much because the stories themselves are different and the temptations offered are more or less real to each other. I suppose my confusion with this one is – what is the message Hayes is trying to tell?

The visual style and direction of Ozgood “Oz” Perkins started as an actor in a variety of films from different genre’s before taking the directors chair in 2015 with The Blackcoats Daughter. It’s clear to me he has seen the VVitch, but has also seen The Neon Demon. There is a real love here shown for Giallo style movies and high art, style over substance film making. Clear intent is made with distorted focuses, abnormal perspectives, colour palettes both muted and vibrant, and a synthwave soundtrack (by Robin “Rob” Coudert) straight from a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. There is a very real pulse from the music that drives the movie as much as the actors do with it’s own dissonant chords that aren’t done by sharp notes across the strings. The entire aesthetic leaves you just enough off balance that with the stilted dialogue and harsh performances a viewer begins to question dream, reality, or both? Sadly, the questions are answered by modernism. The veritable green curtain is pulled too far and we don’t get to savor some of the key moments because the final cut of the movie was perhaps too direct.

Now I mentioned above harsh acting. This is not bad acting. Quite the contrary, Sophia Lillis (IT, Nancy Drew) has a lot to do here as Gretel. She has to be controlled and controlling. She has to go to what is trying to be unnatural dialogue from that mysterious period and on top of that still be someone we wish to see victorious – however that victory may look. Samuel Leakey, roughly age 8, doesn’t have an easy time of it either. Equally challenging dialogue and a need to be both childish and quiet isn’t easy. The amazing Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Silent Hill) was made to be the Witch o the Wood. Her presence and experience clearly helped here with both young actors and also bringing a level of menace from moment one that cannot be denied. These performances were harsh but its by design and good acting that they succeeded.

TL;DR

I found Gretel & Hansel a satisfying film. It was the film I was looking for and hoped it would be from the trailer. I also know this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. There is severe style over substance here despite this quote from (Ozgood) Perkins:

“It’s awfully faithful to the original story. It’s got really only three principal characters: Hansel, Gretel, and the Witch. We tried to find a way to make it more of a coming of age story. I wanted Gretel to be somewhat older than Hansel, so it didn’t feel like two twelve-year-olds – rather a sixteen-year-old and an eight-year-old. There was more of a feeling like Gretel having to take Hansel around everywhere she goes, and how that can impede one’s own evolution, how our attachments and the things that we love can sometimes get in the way of our growth.”[Ew.com]

This theme is spelled out too much. The underlying currents within the movie are at odds with one another, despite the metaphor for puberty and finding ones own place in the world. Maybe they intended to leave it to discussion, but with a movie like this I don’t advise it. It will leave most audiences going “ok and?” where they should be going “ok more..”

I want more of this and more like it. I haven’t felt the way I did on the drive home in some time and the charge I felt was good. It only comes when a genre movie hits me right and this one did, but I promise it will miss the mark for most.

Should I see it then?

If this looked of interest to you? Yes. If you enjoy Witch movies ala Hollywood? Yes. Want atmosphere for days and some rather nice visuals? Onward to the Matinee you go.

Would you watch it again?

In theatres? Perhaps with friends who would wander into the woods and wish to stay.

That was cryptic. Are you going to buy it?

Yes.  Yes I am. My shelf of magic movies is too small and this will go nicely.

Were you scared? I mean this looks to be a horror movie.

No. It was far too tame to scare me or disturb me. Others might find some aspects a bit more on the squeamish side. Thematically it’s more dark fantasy than horror to me, but much like with the cold I am hard to impress. I’d love to get some time with the director and discuss with him the authorial intent.

All in all this was a satisfactory outing for me, but won’t do it for far too many to be considered a success story. There are too few jumps and oohs and ahs, and that message just leaves everything too murky despite its visual appeal.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Dolittle (2020)

I think as a child I knew *of* Dr. Dolittle, but I really cannot remember anything with the character itself. I mean I know I knew the Rex Harrison movie from 1967, which apparently was written by the lyrcisist (Leslie Bricusse) for one my favourite musicals ever and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good one). I don’t think I ever read, and I know they were never read to me,  the original stories from the 1920’s, but the concept of people talking to animals was always tied to this character “Doctor Dolittle”. We are not discussing the 1998 Eddie Murphy movie or its four sequels. Ever.  That said, the concept of this character does seem pretty eternal and I don’t think there’s a child alive, or child at heart, who didn’t wonder about talking to animals. So when this trailer dropped, I was curious to say the least.

So should you go on a journey?

As mentioned, this character is based on a series of shorts by Hugh Lofting in the 1920’s and this particular iteration has a screenstory credit, and three screenplay credits. Usually a dangerous thing. The screenstory is by Thomas Shepherd, in his first cinematic body of work, and I don’t know the character or stories well enough to tell how his work is there. Two of the other credits go to Doug Mand and Dan Gregor (How I Met your Mother), who based on that shows success have a knack for comedy bits. Then we have our third screenplay credit, which is also our director, Stephen Gaghan, who worked on films like Traffic, Abandon, and Syriana. Clearly an obvious choice for a children’s movie about a man who talks to animals. Yet it worked. If you were to ask me to get technical, the movie is both rushed and slow in its script and pacing. It feels as if it rushes to get to the moment of wonder – and there are many – and then languishes between them before you are given the next. Despite it’s “period-ish” set pieces and existence, the dialogue from many in the cast is rather modern and may date the movie some in coming years. I have a feeling these were more adlibs than actual script. I hope they were anyway.

What amazed me most wasn’t the animals or even the adventure, but the setup. In an opening reminiscent of UP we are introduced to the character and his past deeds for Queen, Country, and Animals alike. THEN the movie begins. A fetch quest to get the McGuffin, to do the thing, against impossible odds, and enemies abound. A heroes journey that you see one beginning and the bottom of another. The movie checks most of the fantasy boxes and is proud of itself in doing so. It does have a right to be. True, its a mixed bag of characterizations and odd choices, but the emotional core of the movie never falters and I will take what is offered.

Characters themselves? The actors behind them. So bloody many. You have Robert Downey Jr. acting his heart out and reminding us he can be so much more than a man in a suit of iron. Sure everyone else I am about to list is fine, but RDJ and the accent he affects have to carry the movie. We count ourselves lucky he can do it and then some. I want to re-title this character “The Anti Toxic Masuclinity Hero” because it’s there and he does it so well. Michael Sheen is a hoot as the blatantly cartoonish Dr. Blair Müdfly, with the umlaut. I always like this man when he is having fun and it appears the direction he was given was to have fun. Then we have the last of our live actors of significance, with Harry Collett as Stubbins who does his best to shine with RDJ and the voice cast and doesn’t do too shabby a job. This isn’t to say he’s successful really, because the voice cast of animals of like a who’s who of personalities, with Emma Thompson (Brave, Harry Potter), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Robot) , John Cena (Bumblebee) , Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber, Silicon Valley), Octavia Spence (The Help, Hidden Figures), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindlers List), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, Hotel Transylvania), Marion Cotilliard (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), and more. If I was having to say this outloud on my new Youtube channel, I’d be out of breath. It is awesome that we have all these talented actors in this movie, but they are all vying for their moment and thankfully it works out mostly. This is part of what I am sure other reviewers will complain about. This is a very busy movie with characters and it doesn’t work to the movies credit as much as it could or should. It almost, almost detracts for me, but what keeps that from happening is its, to use modern meme language, Pure.

Technically it’s fine. The CG work on the animals works well enough and is A grade, but still CGI. It’s so present though you forget about it and just see another character. I will also give technical props for what I can only see as a jab at 2019 Lion King and emotionless lion cubs. I looked to the member of my Dark Court with me tonight and we both giggled when the little lion cub emoted better than all the animals in that other movie combined. The editing is…a choice. It’s not something I was particularly fond of and again will be a detractor for many.

TL;DR?

The trailer grabbed my attention and I don’t want to say the trailer lied, but it did – a bit. It showed something a bit more dramatic and intense then what was actually delivered. This is truly the first family movie of the year. I mentioned in the full review how the movie felt pure, or genuine and it does. Whether it is or not is another story, but this doesn’t feel like a cash grab. I couldn’t help but feel good watching this movie. I laughed quite a bit and that felt good too.

So I suppose this isn’t just the first family movie of the year, but the first movie that makes you feel good watching it. It’s a sense of escapism at its best, where for just over 90 minutes you are transported to a world where we can talk to animals if we listen and we can solve problems without hurting people. Surprising coming from the Vampire Princess, but even I like to feel good from time to time and don’t need everything to be explosions and darkness. This movie is a very strong response to Toxic Masculinity and we need that. Need it more than ever.

Should I see it then?

Yeah I think you should. Take the partner, take the kids, take other people’s kids. People you know sheesh! This is a good little romp for really all ages.

Would you see it again then?

As always, you buying.

Unlikely, but I will assume you are buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. This is one of those soft movies I can put on when the spoons run out and I can’t even muscle the knives. This is The Great British Bake Off of movies. This is going to be a helluva year and having this in my collection will give me a bit of good to watch from time to time come May.

But is it good?

Ok trying to pin me down I see. I don’t necessarily think so. I do think it hit my Three Writer Rule, I think the adlibs were clear, I do think its a bit slap dash with the editing. Not everything enjoyable has to be good. This isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure, this just is fun and warm. Its comfort food. I think it, without seeing the other here, will be a better film than Bad Boys 3. No I won’t be seeing Bad Boys 3, it just didn’t look good and the humor looked as if it should have died with the franchise a seventeen years ago.

Alright, so January. Bad releases normally…got anything else coming?

I love Mackenzie Davis, but I am not sold on The Turning, so unlikely something next week.

The following week you may get two movies with The Rhythm Section and Gretel & Hansel.

 

Underwater 2020 Poster

Darke Reviews | Underwater (2020)

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

So is this a dump slot movie?

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

Example: The trailer

 

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

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

Should I see it?

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

 

Would you see it again?

Yes. Even at full price.

Buying it then I guess?

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

Alien huh?

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

What’s next?

Why Doolittle of course!

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I not talking about Rise of Skywalker yet?

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

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

Does The Rise of Skywalker meet my criteria?

The short answer is Yes.

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

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

Thankfully, there is a lot that does work.

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

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

TL;DR?

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

So should I see it?

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

Would you watch it again?

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

I guess you are buying it?

You would be guessing correctly.

So you kinda sounded negative on it overall?

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

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

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

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

May the Force be with you, always.

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