Darke Reviews | Widows (2018)

To borrow from the YouTube channel CinemaWins, Viola Davis is always a win. The first trailer for this movie grabbed me. Liam Neeson on a failed heist, the wives of his crew having to pull off his last job or be killed by the people he robbed from. Michelle Rodriguez (who I still haven’t forgiven for The Assignment) as a working mom, Viola, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, this movie had star power; oh and thats without even mentioning the amazing Daniel Kaluuya who has been on fire since Get Out last year. I also happen to love a good Heist film, especially well layered and nuanced ones.

Should Widows have given up the score?

The movie is based on a previous British TV movie from the early 80s, by Lynda LaPlante, who has mostly been doing TV writing since the 70s and is still active today. It was adapted for this story by mystery novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects), and the director himself Steve McQueen. This was a passion project for McQueen, who must have been influenced by the original tv movie, and he apparently has really wanted to do this project for awhile.  McQueens name became big in Hollywood with his Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave back in 2014 (and nomination for best director). Widows is his first major project since that Win and I can tell you that it wasn’t a fluke that he won. There is a well crafted, nuanced, performance guiding director at the helm here. He knows what he wants his camera to be doing and knew how to layer his story appropriately. He also has an absolute right to insert some material into the movie that I was not expecting, but is unfortunately very timely. If anything the flaw in the scripting left little time to truly explore the number of characters and plotlines, even with the films two hour plus running time. Ideas, threads, and other beats are introduced but never fully resolved, or are brought in in the 11th hour to such a degree that I feel like we have a good fifteen minutes or more of movie missing; and I wouldn’t mind seeing that footage.

Viola Davis, again is always a win, as Veronica Rawlings, wife to Liam Neeson’s Harry. She largely has to carry the movie and can do so with ease, shifting between fear, determination, and pain with all the grace and skill of an actress of her calibre ( 1 Academy Award, and 2 additional nominations). Michelle Rodriguez surprised me a bit, I had a feeling she could do it, but she subdued herself well for this one. The two standouts for me out of the cast beyond Ms. Davis and her screen presence were the two who stood up and made their presences known in equal measure. Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, The Cloverfield Paradox) has always played background or tertiary roles, in this one she steps it up, and due to her performance you can see a literal evolution of her character Alice before your eyes and it is one of the more compelling subplots. Our second supporting star is Cynthia Erivo who I praised in the under performing Bad Times at the El Royale. She has charisma, she had a singing voice, and here she shows she’s quite the physical actress as well. I really hope we get to see more of both of these women. The other names I mentioned during the intro are of course solid for the screen time they are given. Kaluuya is a stand out performance as he has brought us charm and politeness, balance and rage, and this time he brought menace. It worked. Duvall and Farrell of course are good, but I can’t speak to either of their Chicago accents, it’s not one I can mimic myself well enough to say they nailed it or not.

Beyond the cast there is a strong technical proficiency to the movie; with one particular long take from the hood of a car during a conversation telling two different stories that you can follow simultaneously and very effectively. Almost every shot in the movie shows an understanding of the camera, framing, colour and energy; matched with effective production design to highlight the stark contrasts displayed the movie just sails away and brings you with it. It does suffer from some scene cutting, dropped plots, and jerky pacing, but the sum of the parts overall out weigh this

TL;DR?

Widows is a very good film. There is a compelling cast, with an at its core simple story, that contains layers of storytelling involving corruption, debts, self-identity, and sense of self. Steve McQueen is a director to watch out for and he really knows how to control the camera and bring out the best in his cast. This is a movie that in another directors hands would have been a hot mess, but because of his passion for the project and his skill it turns out to be just shy of what I would call an excellent film

Should I see it?

If you are joining me on the boycott of Fantastic Beasts, this is your film this weekend. If you aren’t joining me on it, and enjoy a good heist this is a good heist film.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Full price even!

Are you buying it?

Absolutely

Any other thoughts?

This movie won’t make the money it deserves unless FB bombs. It is stuck in a bad position and with the next several weeks doesn’t have a great shot and showing its legs. It has just 2/3 of the screens FB s getting, and 400 less screens than Instant Family, Wahlbergs new one.  This feels like alternative programming, with not as much faith. I’d at least have fought for 3,300 screens instead of the 2,800 it’s getting.

Next week Creed 2 will probably peel off any audience this would get and Ralph Breaks the Internet will try to take down the Harry Potter franchise. After that Widows might hold on, but the December crunch begins and the winter Blockbusters will come to destroy all that have come before.

I think this is sad for Widows and it deserved a better slot.

Darke Reviews | Overlord (2018)

JJ Abrams name? Check. World War II? Check. Something that looks like Bernie Wrightson drew it in a fever dream? Check. A potential extended variation from Heavy Metal? Check. See also Fever Dream. Potential DOOM movie accurately made as told by the trailer? Check. Cool title based on the actual Operation Overlord (aka Battle of Normandy)? Check. An opening title sequence straight from a early Hollywood war movie? Check.

Is any of the speculation on this true?

The story of the movie Overlord was written by Billy Ray, who also worked on projects like Volcano, The Hunger Games, and Captain Phillips. The screenplay was done by Mr. Ray and Mark L. Smith, who worked on the 2015 remake of the French film Martyrs (reliable sources say the original is a hard watch), The Revenant,  and the Vacancy franchise. So we have someone who understands epic tales of heroism and someone who gets splatter horror. This seems like an ideal pairing. Second time Australian director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) takes the helm, with Abrams name as a Producer credit and not a lens flare to be seen.

From a storytelling aspect, they deliver on much of what the trailer for this movie promised. You have a crew going in ahead of the the D-Day invasion in June of 1944. The Nazi’s shoot down most of the squadron and the survivors band together to finish the mission – destroy a radio tower that will make it easy for the Nazi army to defend the beachhead. They work their way through hostile territory and find the French village with the tower, a potential ally, and something far worse. Now me personally, this does hearken back to stories of “Weird War II” and could easily have fit in the same universe as an Indiana Jones, Dead Snow, or Frankenstein’s Army. Weird, occult experiments that involve the profane in an attempt to build a 1,000 year empire. There’s all sorts of anecdotal stories of such things happening during World War II, and those with imaginations take them to wild extremes. This movie being one such extreme.

It looses some internal consistency as the movie develops though that felt a bit jarring to me, but that could be expectations I placed upon character more than writer intent. I’ll let that one go (mostly), as there’s other nice attention to detail that was worth noting such as regional accents with people speaking French. Jovan Adepo (Fences, The Leftovers, The Central Park Five) has some serious chops and carries the movie as our main protagonist Private Ed Boyce. The film is his characters crucible and he does well in both the quiet moments and the loud. The slow fear of waiting on the plane to the panic of being ripped out of it and so much more. Kurt Russel’s son Wyatt, plays our other main protagonist Corporal Ford. He doesn’t have his fathers charm or screen presence, but he tries and delivers what he needs for the movie. French actress Mathilde Ollivier, on the other hand does have some presence even if her character more or less is our standard strong female lead in what is otherwise as a sausage fest.  Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy) is almost unrecognizable as an SS officer and one of the chief protagonists of the film, and not surprisingly he makes it work.

The technicals on the movie are a mixed bag. We have CG Blood instead of squibs for some of our gunshots, but then squibs in others or better cg at least. Directors. Hollywood. You have not yet gotten CG blood to look nearly as good as a squib and stage blood. I promise you. Keep trying, but leave it for TV, we’ll let you know when you get there. The Gore when it gets there is solid, but I wanted more, bearing in mind I saw this when I was 6 and it was rated PG.

 

The gore is enough for an R, but really this is a soft R in my opinion. There’s beautiful attention to detail in the opening shots and really hits home what many of the stories of the early air raids and paradrops ended up like. They weren’t going for Band of Brothers here, so much is glossed over and left in the wings respectfully. I appreciated it being there though. There’s more things like both these stories through out where there’s beautiful details that most may overlook or beautiful shots, but then something that just doesn’t quite deliver the punch it could.

TL;DR?

It was fun. I was entertained. The actors were engaging. The movie is shot well. I just don’t think it delivered on what it promised enough. This could be a result of me having seen so many other movies, especially more nightmare fuel style that this just didn’t have an impact. I never really got the tension I wanted or the thrills.

The problem I think, is it doesn’t go extreme enough. The movie carries an R Rating, but with movies like Dead Snow and it’s Sequel already touching on this subject and Frakenstein’s Army taking it to the most Holy Hell what in <Dieties Name> was that? If Dead Snow is the Dawn of the Dead Remake, Frankenstein’s Army is Hellraiser, and this….rates as a well made, well executed, The Fog or …maybe Videodrome. This is to say it is a competently made movie with some solid practicals in places, some decent tension in others, oodles of atmosphere, but not nearly as much Gore or “WTF” as they writers think they achieved.

Great built up, just not quite sticking the landing I thought I would get.

Should I see it?

If this is your type of movie. Sure thing. In theatres. The opening sequence with theatre quality size screen and sound is totally worth it.

Would you see it again?

Honestly, if someone took me to see it, I have no problems with that.

Buying it?

Odds are in it’s favor.

Ok, but I am a HORROR FAN!

Horror fans should get a kick out of this as we don’t get movies like this in theatres often enough that are well made, well acted, engaging, and deliver at least on some of our horror needs.

Anything else?

There’s a hard R horror movie waiting here, maybe on the editing room floor, but Overlord just didn’t give me what I hoped it would.

Darke Reviews | Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Another late to the line review, due to my lovely vacation in the Seattle area. It snowed on me on Mt. Ranier. I was a happy vampire princess. Today is my first full day back and I spent the better part of 5 hours at the theatre watching movies to catch up on reviews and have even more to do tomorrow night with The Girl in the Spiders Web and Overlord releasing then. This is probably one of the most broadly appealing movies of the fall season with anticipation of it building since the first trailer dropped months ago. There was of course potential controversy as to whether or not they would deal with Mercury’s sexuality, something he kept hidden from most the better part of his life and career. Fans were ecstatic at the casting of fellow middle easterner Rami Malek in the role as the Persian lead singer. Every review I’ve come across the title of (haven’t read or watched anyones yet), has indicated this film is nothing short of amazing.

I am not going to argue with them.

For our credits we have writer Anthony McCarten (story by/screenplay by) who delivered Theory of Everything and Darkest Hour to us over the past few years; which makes him almost a specialist in the biopic field for the cinema. We also have screenplay credit going to Peter Morgan, also a biopic specialist with such films as Rush, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, and Frost/Nixon. These guys know their stuff and it shows in every bit of dialogue, every scene, and every bit of emotion delivered in the recommended direction given by their screenplay. They don’t shy away from controversy here or the darker elements of Mercury’s life. They make him neither hero nor villain, but a man who eventually became a legend and a Queer icon to this day.

*sigh* Ok, so I have to talk about Bryan Singer, who is our listed director here. We’ve known Singer can direct since The Usual Suspects and I have been a fan of almost every movie of his I have watched. In light of the #MeToo movement, I would be remiss to ignore his off screen antics and the accusations which go back to the early 90s. Let me make it clear, I believe the accusers. Fox must as well for they fired him from the picture back in December of last year and brought in Dexter Fletcher, an actor turned director to finish the film. The official story is Singer was erratic on set and had a fight with Malek, but Fletchers hiring was on the heels of the news breaking of the accusations about Singer coming to the public eye.  I’ll have more commentary below in the TL:DR section but suffice to say the movie was well directed.

Malek for his part as Mercury nailed it. In every capacity. He brought the charm, the body language, the wit, and the voice. He also brought the pain in the final act that cannot be ignored. Rami was a perfect casting. I first saw him in the Twilight series as an Egyptian Vampire, followed by Mr. Robot, and then his epic mo-cap performance in the video game Until Dawn. He is amazing actor that deserves more parts and hopefully he is on the Best Actor considerations lists as he rightfully earns it.  Recognition must go to the rest of “The Band” as Gwilym Lee has to take on the role of Brian May, Ben Hardy (Angel from X-Men Apocalypse), has to nail Roger Taylor, and Joseph Mazzello (Tim from Jurassic Park) has to cover John Deacon. For every bit that Malek has to carry the film as Mercury, these three men must make it feel like they are the rest of Queen and bring their own acting talents to full weight to keep up with Rami. They succeed in such a way that I forgot they were actors. When you consider how much weight the real May, Taylor, and Deacon had in the film with effort put to making sure that everything was to spec for the casting of Rami and that his performance did Freddie justice, you know they had their own thoughts on their counterparts.

The production design was top notch with a fantastic series of opening shots that bookend the film with the Live Aid performance in 1985. There is an almost surreal quality put to the film during that sequence that needs to be called out. There are other fantastic framing devices done throughout the film that would invoke my spoiler rule, but many of them just hit hard when they are done.

TL;DR

If you have been waiting for my review of this movie, you have it. That is to say go see it. It is well shot, well acted, and powerful. It doesn’t shy away from any aspect of Freddie Mercury’s life that I am aware of and is all the better for it.  The movie is amazing and left me in tears when the soft lyrics of “Who Wants to Live Forever” begin to play at one point in the movie.

Would you see it again?

Yes, with the best sound system possible. It deserves it.

Buying it?

Of course.

So…extra commentary?

Alright – if you don’t care about the behind the scenes of the movie industry, please stop here. If you want to know more about that sort of thing continue on

Singer is being put forth for a “For Your Consideration” by Fox for the Academy Award. This is a loaded gun, but I am not sure what it’s loaded with to be honest. Fox fired him from the picture, yet he has sole directing credit. Do they have a choice? Well maybe, maybe not. There might be contract information between Fox and Singer that makes this non negotiable. I know from previous films I’ve reviewed a director cannot be removed from credit unless a substantial (roughly 70% of the movie) is reshot/redone; which is how Lord and Miller were able to be removed from Solo, but Gareth Edwards remained on for Rogue One, even though Tony Gilroy came in later. So they have to keep him on the credit, which means Fletcher only did some minor work on the film. Singer didn’t remove himself or release them, which is an interesting move on his part as well.

The play by Fox here isn’t as black and white as one would think and I have a feeling there is more in the background we don’t know. So what happens if he wins? Oof.  That is an interesting question. Would the Academy even let it go up for a best director or best picture because of this and take the risks in light of #MeToo? Should or could it get a Best Picture or Best Director nod from the Academy? Objectively yes. Subjectively….no. I hate to say it but as this is a new release not something out for years, we cannot separate the art from the artist here and even as Hollywood continues to praise the likes of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, a line must be drawn. Here is a good place to do it.

While the movie is put forward for Best Director/Picture, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts should not move it forward in these categories. Writing sure. Acting, absolutely. Cinematography – without a doubt. Just…not the other two. If it wins Best Picture, Singer would have to walk to the stage as traditionally the director accepts this.

You can see why this is a problem?

I don’t know that I will do an editorial, but there will be a lot of judging eyes on the Academy in the weeks to come as this unfolds.

Darke Reviews | The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

I admit to curiosity upon the trailer for this one being dropped. Visually it did look derivative of the Alice in Wonderland movies, which unfortunately I am not a fan, but there was some sense of wonder instilled and a sense of magic to the trailer. I am a bit late to the game on this one and the other review going up today due to a vacation so really the final tally is set for this film, but

Did audiences and critics miss the mark on The Nutcracker?

This film probably gets one of the more accurate credits in the “Suggested by the short story”, versus based on, inspired by, etc, of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Screenplay and Screen Story credit goes to first timer Ashleigh Powell. She’s been working in Hollywood as a production assistant for years and submitting screenplays and scripts since at least 2012, but this is the first one to make it to the screen. I can’t really get a feel for her off this script, as it feels like a watered down version of Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and a touch of Hugo.  We have the story of a girl out of place in her home since the death of her mother, she does have a loving father, brother, and sister which is a breath of fresh air. She is clever and an inventor, showing off her understanding with a Rube Goldberg machine in the opening tracking shot. Of course this puts her even more out of place in classic Victorian London. She inexplicably finds her way into a fantasy world and must save it from dark forces who seek to rule it all. The plot is basic. Discover who you are and you can do anything. Make some friends along the way. Come back to the world at the end with some important life lessons.

If this sounds very much like Alice in Wonderland and it’s sequel you are 100% correct. If this looks at all like it and the other films mentioned, you are also 100% correct. I just don’t know why though. You have Joe Johnston at the helm who gave us Captain America: The First Avenger and The Rocketeer. He has such a sense for evocation in his films, yet there’s none of that here. Maybe the other director Lasse Hallstrom is behind that? Yet he is a multiple award nominee with such films like The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Either of these two should have been able to evoke emotion in the style of the film. Awe, Wonder should have been easy, not to mention a sense of triumph or joy, or even risk and threat. The movie contains none of that and I am profoundly surprised and disappointed, and have to look to the producers perhaps? Some of the producers here go back to movies such as The Thing (1982 version), or Saving Private Ryan, others are first timers.

I could talk about the acting here, but MacKenzie Foy tries, but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot to work with. The script, the direction, even the background production design seems to be fighting her; literally in one scene Helen Mirren is wasted as is Kierra Knightley. Morgan Freeman seems to have just walked on set, got dressed, put on an eye patch and collected his check. Speaking of the production design I think it was left overs from all the other movies I’ve mentioned combined as nothing is striking or evoking here.

TL:DR?

This movie is a hot mess. It has all the elements behind the scenes to make it work, but nothing in it quite does. There’s no strong sense of visual style, direction, or music in the movie. I mean music beyond the Nutcracker Suite of course. Something is wrong in the House of Mouse here; as nothing in this movie feels like what anyone in this movie is capable of. The script needed a few rewrites. The editing was…a thing that happened badly. I am not sure what went on in pre-production or post production here, but something did. Something not good.

The Nutcracker is a bloody mess from start to finish and I could tell you a half dozen ways to fix it but no one did. This feels like contractual obligation the movie and it just doesn’t care beyond that. There are tonal issues, where the movie screeches to a halt for an actual balet in it, and I wonder who this movie is for? At best I can say it was an obligation and it was for no one in particular.

So would you see it again?

No. No I wouldn’t.

What about buying it?

Probably not.

Anything about it good?

There are beautiful elements to the production design, but thats about it.

Are you being harsher because you saw a better movie first?

I weighed that and unfortunately that isn’t the case.

This one just isn’t that good.

Darke Reviews | Halloween (2018)

The most anticipated horror movie of the year, coming out two weeks prior to one of the most anticipated days of the year for a certain crowd. Halloween has a lot to live up to and a lot to make up for. A brief history for those who don’t fully understand where this movie is coming from; which considering the track record of the series makes sense.

Halloween was originally conceived back in the late 70’s to be a serial style movie with a different horror story each and every Halloween. When the original 1978 version made 144 times its budget back the studio insisted on a sequel and effectively dumped money in John Carpenters lap to do something he really didn’t want to; a sequel. Thus Halloween 2 in 1981 and why Michael and Loomis die at the end of it, with Carpenter having the vain hope of ending that story. In 1982, yeah, barely a year later, Halloween III: Season of the Witch came out. This was more akin to what Carpenter envisioned and tells an entirely different horror event on Halloween. It was too weird for audiences who were in slasher heaven and the title confused them expecting more Michael. So 6 years later as the horror and slasher craze grew with Jason, Freddy, and Pinhead, we get the Return of Michael Myers (1988). This is the start of the late Moustafa Akkad reign on the series, as a producer since the ’78 version he began to have more influence on the series along with other producers such as …the Weinsteins. This was the start of the story getting really convoluted and barely following its own continuity. Michael was back, Loomis was back. Now they introduced over the next three movies a cult that gave him supernatural resiliency and more. It’s so much worse than this, but trying to keep it simple here. After Halloween 5 (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), there is a slight break before Halloween H20. H20 was supposed to be a clean return to form on the 20th anniversary of the original. It returned to basics with Laurie and Michael, but just didn’t quite grab audiences as much as it probably should; even though it has possibly the second most satisfying ending in the series. The last of the original Myers series is Halloween: Resurrection and the less said about this the better. I will not discuss Rob Zombies Halloween movies – except to say I hate them. I’d rather watch the Cult of Thorn run (4,5,6) more than those.

With me so far?

So the writers were in a bind here. How do you tell a Halloween story respecting the lore, the history, and the icon that is Michael Myers but deal with the mess left by the sequels AND remakes? Simple solution reboot the series, but not from scratch. From the original. Ignore everything that has come since 1978 and go. Get Carpenter onboard for the first time in forever and see what you can do. I don’t envy the task Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Alien: Covenant), his friend Jeff Fradley (writer for the HBO show Vice Principals), and David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, and the critical darling “Joe”) had on this one. Ignoring the content of the other movies is easy, but really remaining true to what the original film delivered character wise and bringing that back 40 years later – thats hard. They are putting themselves, Green especially as a director and writer here, up for target practice.

They need not have worried if they did at all. They did craft an honest sequel to 1978, which has several references that make the necessary callbacks without reminding us of a better movie. With few exceptions no one here in the script does anything dumb or illogical. The characters make sense. They feel like they would make these decisions based on everything you know and it propels the plot forward; if anything aside from Laurie the script lacks care for some of the fodder leaving you to not really care as much when they die which removes some of the tension that could have added to the film. The kills, which are important in this genre are well executed and tastefully done and yes brutal; rather than gore porn or splatterhouse style. The camera remains as still as Michael letting you savor what you both see and don’t see in frame. There are so many shots in this movie that are perfect for a wallpaper for your phone or computer because of how they were filmed; which means credit needs to go to cinematographer Michael Simmonds.

The acting is fantastic from the majority, with Jamie Lee Curtis giving us the same sort of transformed character that Linda Hamilton did between Terminator and Judgement Day. Laurie Strode is damaged, but focused, she is brave yet so afraid. Curtis more than capable of delivering the nuance; while the script and shooting let her as well. Andi Matichak gives a very human turn as Laurie’s grand daughter Allyson, and importantly she feels like she’s part of this family. I’d like to enjoy Judy Greer more as Karen Strode, the daughter to Laurie, but the script and character do her no favors, nor do they give Toby Huss much to work with. I was curious how Nick Castle would be returning to play The Shape once more as he did a majority of the motion and body work in the 78 version; while three other actors did other takes including the one face shot. He nailed it. He and the Mask are a presence and malevolent.

TL;DR?

Cutting the meat a bit short here, but its coming up on 2:30 and I do need sleep and really I just think you should see the movie. With a lean runtime of 106 minutes, John Carpenter back on the score, and some of the best horror cinematography I’ve seen in awhile Halloween is the return to form we’ve been waiting 40 years for. It isn’t perfect and suffers from some character issues and isn’t as tense as it could be Halloween was well worth the sleep deprivation for me and definitely worth it for fans of the franchise.

Should I see it though?

Yes. XD would be lovely to hear the music in admittedly and I did miss that opportunity.

Would you see it again?

Yes.

Buying it?

Yes. No doubts.

Are you overselling it at all? There’s a lot of hype on this one.

Manage your expectations. This movie isn’t the second coming of Michael, but it’s close.

It has some flaws and there is a kind of hollowness to it in some respects; yet I can’t blame those on the movie entirely.  The 1978 version is one of the first of it’s kind and without a doubt the most well known of its kind. John Carpenter and Debra Hill gave us something new and visceral then that Black Christmas (74), The Hills Have Eyes (77), The Town that Dreaded Sundown (76) and even Texas Chainsaw (74) just didn’t quite hit. Since then we have had 40 years of horror, with a majority of them being slasher flicks. There is next to nothing we haven’t seen before you can do in this genre and we all are a bit jaded here in 2018.

That didn’t stop McBride, Fradley, and Gordon Green from doing their best.

Personally, I think their best is good enough and this is the Halloween movie we need right now.

 

Edit: Because I included the original theme in the original review here is Carpenters take on it 40 years later

Darke Reviews | Bad Times at the El Royale

I love a good trailer. How do you know if you have a good one you might ask me. Well it should intrigue you for one. It’s meant to gain interest in the film. It should tell you just enough about the story to get you hooked and wanting to see more. Let you know the major players, the general beats, and tone of the movie. It shouldn’t spoil too much, if anything. It should in essence make you want to see the film merely by existing. There are dozens of bad trailers for good movies, good trailers for bad movies, trailers that lie, trailers that show the end, and then there’s Bad Times at the El Royale

 

Did the trailer lie to us?

Let’s start as we always do, with the writer which in this case is Drew Goddard; who also directed which makes this very clean. Goddard is best known for his time on TV shows such as Buffy, Angel, Lost, and Alias, then writing movies of various quality such as Cloverfield, Cabin in the Woods, World War Z, and The Martian. Directing, he only has Cabin in the Woods – until now. His TV work lets me know he can handle an ensemble, while his movie work tells me great set up but only so so on the execution and not always able to stick the landing; but that may come to others on the special hell that is WWZ. Here he attempts to spin a tale of interwoven lives on a single night in a single place of dubious history and perhaps even more dubious present. What happens when a Priest, a Singer, a Man not on his Honeymoon, and a girl clearly with something to hide convene on a poor innocent hotel employee; and as promised in the trailer who makes it through the bad times at the El Royale?

Honestly, Goddard does a good job here. The characters are mostly three dimensional archetypes of the early 70’s and each has their reasons for being there be it bad timing, bad choice, good choice, or just no where else to go. The shooting brings good tension to the film leaving you wondering just what the next thing to happen will be and while everything remains plausible you just can’t be 100% sure of what is going to happen next; and that in 2018 my friends is hard to do with an original work. The movie has some very intentional camera work and good control over it providing some dynamic shots that fit the movie. There are no tonal issues as the movie knows what it and sticks to it.

The acting of course has to carry the script and Jeff Bridges as Father Daniel Flynn (I am betting Goddard wrote the part for him…Flynn – really?) who of course has the chops to go through anything if given good material and competent direction. Thankfully he gets both here and we get a treat to see Bridges deliver like he did in 2010 with True Grit. Jon Hamm (Mad Men, Baby Driver) rarely is capable of disappointing, and proves that again here as the multiple layers to his character show. This is Chris Hemsworth I haven’t seen before and honestly want to see more of. Gone is the comedy and in it’s place is an interesting intensity I had no idea he was capable of. Dakota Johnson (50 Shades) is passable, but there are two who deserve just a bit more credit than I think they will get. Lewis Pullman, as our beleaguered hotel employee Miles, gives a nuanced performance that surprised me for someone I hadn’t heard of before. The absolute scene stealer is Cynthia Erivo in her first film role, but we will get to see her again next month in Widows. Erivo is our singer, but that’s understating her a bit. She won a Tony in 2016 for The Color Purple, so this woman is more than capable of both vocals and acting and she gets to do both here. She has absolute confidence in her role and her character and you can’t help but love her.

TL;DR?

Short meat and potatoes on the review here as with Gone Girl, I don’t want to discuss too much as this is a movie to be experienced. I am still having a hard time answering for myself if I liked it or not, but I can tell you it is a well made, well shot, well acted movie that has but one real flaw in its pacing. Running just over 2 hours it does feel it at times and can best be described as watching a distant train barrelling down the tracks to a broken bridge. You can see it coming, you know its going to be bad, but once it gets going nothing is going to stop it and that finish should be a thing to see.

Should I watch it?

This movie is going to be under appreciated for everything it does, so yes, I think you should. Then you need to come back here and tell me what you think.

Would you see it again?

Matinee probably if the right girl asks me? It was worth full price the first time. You don’t need XD or anything special here unless you really like the style of music then by all means.

How about buying it?

Hard to say really. I am trying to judge its rewatch value and I just don’t know. Like it’s good, but would I, could I watch it three or four more times? I don’t know

Did the trailer lie?

90% No. You’ll have to see it or asks for spoilers for the 10%

So where’s the Venom review?

With my will to see it? Eh I just didn’t think it looked that good. Might try this weekend though.

And next week?

HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN!!!

 

Darke Reviews | The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

So aside from the animated variety you won’t get many movies from me that would be considered kids movies, but the trailer for this one grabbed me somehow. Honestly, I’d have to say it was Jack Blacks performance in those trailers and the atmosphere of the movie that got me. Then I looked into it, and of course its based on a book I haven’t read or even heard of. Turns out the book was published three years before I was born, but I swear I never heard of it or anyone in my elementary school reading it or it being at a scholastic book fair (I miss those) even once. I’ll ask any of my old grade school mates that read my reviews (all 3 of you) if you can recall seeing it.

In the meanwhile, should you see the movie?

So the book was adapted for the screen by Eric Kripke. If you’ve watched the CW channel in the past thirteen years you’ve seen his name on a little show that much like its main characters refuses to die, Supernatural. As the creator of the show he will always be on the credits, he also happened to write eleven episodes himself. He was also behind such shows as Revolution and Timeless. This tells me he is good at making a product that does have mass market appeal, but also can have issues sticking the landing. He has a grasp of charm, pacing, mystery, and banter; all of which are necessary in a “haunted house” story that has a child, his eccentric uncle, and purple clad neighbor investigating the house for a mysterious clock. Quite honestly, there’s only a slight roll of the ankle on the landing here the movie is quite solid. There’s a bit much exposition here and there but its told as innovatively as they can and it does succeed in telling a coherent, charming, even quaint little story that is engaging.

Coming out of left field to direct is the gorehound himself Eli Roth. Roth is best known for his work on things like Cabin Fever, Hostel, and the Green Inferno, so of course this man is tapped to do a movie for a kids book. Without looking into it, I would guess this is something he asked for and fought for to get made vs being handed a script by a studio. This has the fingerprints of a passion project on it and sometimes that can be dangerous, yet here it wasn’t. You can tell by the darkness and atmosphere this is an Eli Roth production, but it never crosses the line on being too dark even if it dances on the razors edge with one or two shots. His overall composition is basic without any significant style to the shots, but each shot is still framed beautifully. You don’t always have to have a dutch angle or an inverted camera to make it good and Roth and his cinematographer Rogier Stoffers stick to the basics, but make it count. No one will be talking about it (but me probably) but the simplicity and cleanness of it was noticeable and worked for the movie.

From an acting perspective, this was Jack Black at his best. All of his usual schtick and overt goofiness is entirely subdued here giving a performance still fit for a kids movie, but still mature. I haven’t seen anything like this from him since King Kong with Peter Jackson (2005). I might actually go see more Jack Black movies if this is the direction he chooses to go. Aside from *one* scene it was nearly a perfect performance for my humor tastes and with just the right amount of drama to it that the movie needed.  Cate Blanchett is a goddess and can do no wrong. Much like Black here she has a subdued performance for a kids movie and there’s a single beat that had my eyebrows go up which I would believe was Roth’s choice, but damn if she didn’t sell it (again with a kids movie in mind here). Owen Vaccaro is our principle child actor here and he has a few beats that don’t work, but I am going to cut him some slack because they weren’t bad takes just not the best I think he could do. Overall his performance felt earnest and honest and he sold me on the character he was playing.

Visually the movie is a treat. It has atmosphere dripping from the walls almost literally and I want that house. All of it. The creature animations there are are bright and colourful but still are within the darker tones of the film. There’s only one real shot that could and should have been given a second look and I think Jack may have asked for it as its closer to his style, and the movie could do without. It just gels otherwise. This isn’t to say the movie doesn’t have some flaws as well. There’s some pacing issues that come hand in hand with the exposition dumps mid movie that may bore some children but otherwise the pace moves decently through the plot briskly enough you won’t find yourself checking your watch.

TL;DR

This is a cute, fun, little movie. It’s timing just at the start of fall is no accident as this movie feels like it should be a fall or halloween movie.  The only real complaint I have is asking myself and my partner tonight who is this movie for? It didn’t feel like a Young Adult demographic in its style or story. It might be a bit too dark for kids too young, so the best I can figure is the 8-12 range?  The performances are good, the plot is good, its just a good movie that families, including the adults, will be able to enjoy.

Should I see it?

It’s got my vote.  With a lackluster September overall and no real offerings for the families yet this should be able to make a decent amount this weekend and is worth that. You can pay full price here and not feel cheated.

Would you see it again?

Maybe. You buyin?

So you going to buy this family friendly movie?

If I am being honest, probably not. When it comes out on disc and if I see it I might.  It does have rewatch value and I am always for good atmosphere.

Final thoughts?

I was surprised how much I was entertained. From the 80’s throwback Universal Logo, to the old Amblin Logo, I can’t help but think of something like Monster Squad or some of the movies I saw when I was a little girl and this would fit right in. I am happy I saw it and I think, most people will be as well.