Darke Reviews | Mortal Engines (2018)

I have to admit the trailer for this one got me interested. While Steampunk and Dieselpunk are not my preferred Gothic aesthetic, I always appreciate my brothers and sisters in the alternative clothing. Drawing from bygone era’s with a significant fictional embellishment shows a certain passion and commitment that has to be appreciated, even if the mainstream looks down on it or tries to market it and co opt it. The movies trailer hinted at this with gigantic moving cities beyond anything rationally (or physically) being able to be engineered. Without a single image, if I told you that there was a city of a hundred thousand people moving about on tank treads so large that a person could stand between each spoke of the tread and it moves around a post apocalyptic/nature reborn landscape capturing other cities for resources – you have a visual in mind. Immense. Grand in scale and scope and absolutely fantastical. Then I am going to tell you the movie is writen and produced by Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh who gave us the impossible to film Lord of the Rings.

How can this not be amazing to watch?

First, you must understand that this is not an original work, but instead based on a 2001 childrens book by Philip Reeve. Based on the length of the book and the overall content this falls into another YA adaptation in another Hollywood attempt to find their new Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight franchises. That doesn’t stop it from being a passion project for the three writers either, but it must be acknowledged that the studio wouldn’t greenlight something this ambitious unless they think it can sell.  The story is barely more complex than I covered in my preamble to the review, with the character beats missing. The world has been ravaged by a hyper-technology war some hundred years from our now, and a thousand years before the movie starts. We have a young girl (of course), Hester, who is trying to assassinate a high ranking member of the city of London, Valentine, who killed her mother. A young man (of course), Tom, intervenes and they both end up outside the city.  Hester spends her time trying to return to the city to finish her vendetta, Tom tries to return home, meanwhile our mustache twirling Valentine has a much darker plan with lost technology in his bid for power and resources.

As plots go, it’s basic at its core; which is fine when you have YA material. This is not an insult to YA material, which is specifically designed to be basic and accessible and is a good thing. When translating it to a movie, it can also be a good thing, if done well. I cannot say that this was done well. The plot isn’t really the problem, but the script is. There are no less than a dozen characters we’re expected to emotionally attach to at one point or another and the movie gives most of them at best four or five lines; whilst our main characters are rather dull or unlikable. Even worse, our heroine for the movie is ridiculously inconsistent with her logic and actions to the point I was rolling my eyes half way through the movie. I don’t really expect a lot, but consistency would be nice. You literally have a beat at one point in the movie where she looks at Tom and goes “I would have left you.” Not even five minutes later, she risks her life and anothers more than once to save him. Now I could take it as her trying to be strong and aloof and saying one thing, but believing another; but the movie never gave me reason to believe that she would have saved him. Beyond that there’s script beats where I was able to look to my companion tonight and go “Cue scene…” and it would happen. After the movie she went “even I knew it was coming”. This is being stated by someone who until recently didn’t get to see a lot of movies on the regular. The beats are that telegraphed. Then of course there are the braindead moments and even other higher moments of logic fails that I can’t get into for spoiler reasons but someone, somewhere should have went – this is a stupid decision for the character to make/say/do.

From the actors, they do what they can with the material. Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar plays our heroine and she tries. She really really tries, but it just doesn’t work; but I don’t know that I can blame her. Robert Sheehan, (Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Geostorm) is our Tom and again does his best, but there’s nothing in the direction or script to help him. Hugo Weaving is Valentine and I am not sure if he was aware he was on camera or thought he was in rehearsals still because it just was not good for him; he might have been dead at the time and that would explain a lot. (Note: Hugo Weaving is not dead…this is a joke). Jihae, who I’ve never heard of before, is one of our secondary characters and is far more interesting than any of the mains and I’d like a movie about her please. Leila George (Mother May I Sleep with Danger)  is another secondary character, Valentine’s daughter Katherine, who the script and editing did no favours to.

This brings us to our director, Christian Rivers. Rivers worked on the art department as a storyboard artist for all of Jackson’s previous films all the way back to the Frighteners in 96 and Dead Alive in 92; though never credited as such. That concerned me a bit so I had to go find an interview to prove he was real and not a Jackson alias. I admit I am still not sure. He isn’t that good. Sorry but all the performances are barely delivered and that falls on him. The blocking, staging, camera angle choices, weird whip pans, all of it just don’t work. Even JunkieXL on music seemed to be phoning it in with his left overs from Justice League and Catwoman. I know I ripped on Robin Hood a bit a few weeks ago for stealing scenes from other movies shamelessly, but they did it and turned those scenes to an 11. This lifts from some of the Star Wars movies and doesn’t even do anything interesting with it.  The editing is…painful. I think there are 15 to 20 minutes on the cutting room floor and you can feel it.

TL;DR

This movie is bad. It is visually interesting, but very very bad. At an annoying level of bad. You may hear of things called Script Doctors who come in and polish scripts. This movie needed a team of trauma surgeons. Someone should have taken a second or third look, but wait the producers were Jackson, Walsh and Boyens so they had the creative control too. Ugh. Ok…so time to bust out a meme.

Peter Jackson

You gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy and it was magical. Truly changing the face of the fantasy film genre forever. Changing how Hollywood should look at making movies and the importance of well crafted practical effects and the effort put in to make something more than just a movie, but feel like a real lived in world. You reminded us of King Kong, and we forgave you the dinosaur stampede, but let us remember that Beauty Killed the beast and it too was breathtaking. Then, then came the dark times. The Hobbit trilogy where you became obsessed with technology and forgot the practical. You have become what you once fought against. This movie cements your fate, stop now while you still can.

This movie will not satisfy movie goers or fans of the book. It’s a mess.

Should I watch it though?

Go see Spider-Man.  Seriously, My friend was entertained because it was visually interesting and I can’t argue that, but the more I discussed it with her, the more annoyed with the movie she became. It’s that kind of movie.

Would you watch it again?

Go see Spider-Man.

Buying it?

Nope. Seriously folks. I said this movie was going to get destroyed by Spider-Man and I felt bad for Peter Jackson…I don’t now. This movie deserves its demise. I do feel bad for the actors and hope their careers aren’t hurt by this.

Anything else to add?

So I didn’t cover this in the review, because it is not objectively about the movie as given. I also don’t typically touch on the adaptation from the book to screen as I haven’t often read the book to compare; but while researching this review I found an interview that honestly makes me even angrier at Jackson than I was after seeing the movie.

In the book Hester is described as having a prominent, grotesque scar across her face that had also taken an eye and severely damaged her nose; to quote:

“Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump, and her single eye stared at him out of the wreckage, as grey and chill as a winter sea.”

This is what we got:

 

Now, as someone who loves Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister, I know he is not as described in the book facially. This is problematic. I acknowledge this. He also turns out a good performance and still provides representation for a marginalized group.

This change however, less forgivable as this is why it was made from Director Christian Rivers and producer Peter Jackson:

It’s fine in the book for Hester to be described to be ugly, hideous, and have lost a nose ‘cause, even that, you reimagine it in your own mind as, ‘Okay, yeah, she’s ugly, but she’s not really ugly,’” Rivers explained. “Tom falls in love with her… and film is a visual medium. With a book you can take what you want and reimagine it in your head and put together your own picture. But when you put it on film, you are literalizing it. You are making it a literal thing, so it was just finding a balance where we need to believe that Tom and Hester fall in love. And her scar does need to be disfiguring enough that she thinks she’s ugly — it can’t just be a little scratch — and I think we’ve struck a good balance of it.

First off, and I mean this with all professional kindness – Go jump face first into a chipper shredder. Take your ableist BS with you. You are literally saying we couldn’t leave her disfigured as written because then the audience couldn’t buy someone falling in love with her. Have you ever read a book? I mean it seriously. When an author gives you a description, especially one as clear and visceral as Hester’s, you DONT reimagine it to make it more palatable unless you are trash. You imagine what was written and if not clear may think the right eye or the left, but the aesthetic of it remains as a horrifying accident induced scar. Something millions of people have and in this interview you worthless garbage you said they aren’t worthy of love.

Christian Rivers. Go to hell. I’ll give you a map.

 

Darke Reviews | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Greetings True Believers. So a theatre chain did a screening of the new animated Spider-Man movie tonight, needless to say I had my butt in a seat for it. While the trailer left me wondering a bit on the animation style as it wasn’t anything I had quite seen before I knew this movie would be important as it was the first time we got to see Miles Morales on screen. Now those who are not familiar with comics, and truth be told I’ve been out of them for awhile, may not know that in 2011 a new Spider was introduced; and this one happened to be a young Afro-Latino boy.   Needless to say in an age where in post after post I have to say #RepresentationMatters this movie is important. Until this year we have not yet had a person of colour lead a major comic book movie in this Renaissance of the comic movie. Yes, Black Panther was this year – how wild is that? Now obviously we can all name T’challa, Falcon, and even Nick Fury as black Heroes on screen. Now name the number of Latinx ones you’ve seen on screen.

Miles Morales is important.

This movie is important.

But is it good?

Let me cut to the chase and avoid the TL;DR cut – Yes. Yes it is.

First, let’s talk writing, this was written by Phil Lord of the Lego Movie fame (and kicked off of Solo: a Star Wars story fame) with his writing partner Christopher Miller as a producer. The story is an origin story, but damn if it isn’t solid. Not only do we get the origin for Miles to become Spider-Man, they introduce five other Spider’s from alternate universes. So the movie is able to juggle a total of six Spider’s and still keep Miles as our central character, with character conflict, growth, and identity being underlying themes through the movie and it works. Miles remains center stage, but you still get enough time with the other major characters through the story to get it. The movie also retains a beautiful sense of humor through out and is as far from Grimdark and Depressing as you can get.

It’s rare I get to talk about three directors for one movie, but here we go with Rodney Rothman (a Lord & Miller partner and writer on their projects), and two artists. The first is Bob Perischetti, who worked on Mulan, Tarzan, Shrek 2, and Monsters vs Aliens; as well as the acclaimed The Little Prince.  Peter Ramsey is an artist turned director, who worked as a storyboard and illustrator for Bram Stokers Dracula, Tank Girl, and was the director on the painfully underrated Rise of the Guardians.  These men know how to get great voice acting that has the subtle intonations that elevate the performance and also bring a strong visual style to the art team who had their work cut out for them combining cell shaded animation, traditional four colour dot art, CG characters, traditionally animated characters, and more into a single picture.

This movie is absolutely gorgeous. Colour theorists will have a field day with this one and they should with every colour being intentional and also amazingly vibrant. Even in the “dark” scenes in the movie, the contrast of colours against the true blacks just pop off the screen to the point I almost wondered how this would look with 3-D glasses. There is such amazing kineticism to the film as well where your eyes are always watching something and when the fights, chases, and other major beats happen there is a fluidity of motion you just cannot do in live action film making and the movie takes full advantage of it. It is raw, it is dynamic, and the camera always follows the action and keeps pulling you into those action beats so well. The animation also knows when to be still as well. The right moments are held like freeze frames with only minimal motion, but maximum emotion. Even the character designs, while so bloody disparate work when they really shouldn’t.

Credit must be given to Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down) is our Miles Morales, and for a 23 year old knocks it out of the park playing a very young teenager. Because of the complexity of the voice acting Moore brings we have a truly three dimensional portrayal of this character with a fantastic message for our viewers. Jake Johnson (the computer geek guy from Jurassic World) is our Peter Parker and while I wasn’t sure on him at the opening he also brought layers to what otherwise would have been a lesser character. The same can be said for Hailee Steinfield (Ender’s Game, True Grit, and the upcoming Bumblebee) as Spider-Woman/Gwen or Ghost Spider. This movie did her right too and I can think of hundreds and thousands of girls who will see a female hero who isn’t treated sexually in any way shape or form and is absolutely someone who kicks butt, has her own arc, and just is well done. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, This is Us) and Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight) have some emotional burden to carry too and do it admirably.

Even the music in this movie just rocks from beginning to end and …and ..

TL;DR

This movie I could go on and on about. I can tell you the hype for it is real. The positive reviews may not go far enough. I saw yesterday that this movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature and I have no argument that it should win. You haven’t seen a movie animated like this before, and maybe won’t again, but it’s original. It’s vibrant. The characters are good. The story is good. The movie works on every possible level and holds it’s own against some of the best Marvel and Disney have put out.

Not only is it good, but it also reminds us how much Representation DOES Matter and gives us the heroes we really do need right now, and a message we need as well.

So I am taking it I should…

Yes. Yes you should. In theatres. IMAX if you can for the full immersion of colour.

Would you see it aga….

Yes. Next?

Buying it?

This movie is why 4K TV’s exist.

Ok Vampire lady calm down aren’t you a bit too hyped?

Maybe. My best friend and I were talking about this movie the entire ride home and just how GOOD it is. Like capital “G”. It has a positive message for the kiddos, tons of nostalgia for those old enough, is beautiful, and honestly pure. I almost feel bad for Peter Jackson next week when this comes out as Mortal Engines is going to get destroyed by this.

I really do like this movie and I hope you see it and like it too.

 

Darke Reviews | Wreck it Ralph 2 – Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ok so that took longer than I was expecting to decide what to title this. Apparently most of the sources are going by the short title now “Ralph Breaks the Internet” so that’s a thing that happened. Last year I forgot that with the Wednesday pre thanksgiving release, the movie gets its preview night showings on the Tuesday as Wednesday is the full release. Around 6:30 tonight I remembered. So you get your review as usual the day of the release since most of you are reading this in the morning. As the year winds down we always have the big Disney release on this weekend and this year is no different and for the first time in forever its a sequel; something Disney does not do well historically on their own, Pixar being it’s own beast in that vein. Of course I am nervous about my sequel Frozen 2 and what that might look like, but we aren’t here to read about that.

Did they Wreck it or Fix it?

Not that 2012’s Wreck it Ralph needed to be fixed really and it doesn’t surprise too much that it would get a sequel as it made almost half a billion dollars domestically. The story was sweet, the threat was impressive, and the characters weren’t quite like anything we had been given before; which was a breath of fresh air into the Disney sails. Six years later, and five writers (eep) we have our sequel. The story credits here go to Josie Trinidad (head of story, and a Disney story artist on Tangled, Princess and the Frog and Wreck it Ralph), Pamela Ribon (story by on Moana), Jim Reardon (story by on Wreck it Ralph, Zootopia, and WALL-E),  Phil Johnston (Zootopia, and Wreck it Ralph), AND Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck it Ralph). Whew, five writers is usually a bad sign, but not unusual on a major Disney production as there is often a writers room involved. The screenplay was then polished by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon, and directed by Johnston and Moore. So everyone is deeply involved in the production along the way here.

The story is as we see in the trailers, Vanellope von Schweetz game Sugar Rush has a bit of a physical break. Only one place on the Internet has the part needed to fix her game, and it is more pricey than the Arcade owner is willing to spend – which means he may shut down the game forever. In order to get the new part Ralph and Vanellope go to the Internet and attempt to save Sugar Rush and Vanellope’s game. Along the way adventure and hijinks ensue where our characters travel to familiar internet hotspots and meet or run into characters we all know and love.

The story here is basic and sweet guys, do you expect much more? It has all of the very predictable, and to me somewhat annoying, ups and downs of any given Buddy movie ever made. That isn’t a bad thing at all. Sometimes basic is good and here it works. The message within the movie is something the real target audience could use and again this is not a bad thing and honestly its so direct that the message might sink in. So many kids movies try to be subtle in the message or shove in some motivational language or ham fisting their message as a line of dialogue at the end. This one actually uses it as a through line and I appreciate it for that.

John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman carry the movie as one would imagine as our main two protagonists and it really isn’t much effort on their part, but the emotion is there in the performances. Gal Gadot and Taraji P Henson are show stealers as their characters Shank and Yesss. The rest of the voice cast is filled with names you will know and yes, the Disney Princesses are all voiced by their still existing voice actresses when and where possible. A personal favourite voice actress, Jennifer Hale, voices Cinderella of the broken shoe. No she’s nothing “special” within the context of the movie, I just like the actress.

The animation is everything you’d expect from the House of Mouse, no better and no worse. It’s clean. It’s bright. It’s crisp. It’s animated in both the literal and figurative sense. There’s so much motion going on in the film at almost all times there’s something to be said for the work put in there. The Disney Princess scene from the trailer is everything promised and more, even for being as short as it is.

TL;DR?

Look it’s Disney. It’s good. It’s a kids movie coming out on Thanskgiving. It won’t change the world. I can’t say it’s great. It absolutely is the movie you are expecting it to be with nothing more and nothing less given or shown. The scene everyone wants to see from the trailer is absolutely worth the price of admission and the racing scenes promised are pretty awesome to watch when you consider the amount of animation effort that goes into them.

My friends and I had a good time tonight. So take your best friend, your family, whomever and go see it. I bet you wanted to anyway!

Should I see it?

If you wanted to? Absolutely. You will get your moneys worth. If you weren’t all that interested, this movie won’t be change your mind that much one way or the other.

Would you see it again?

Maybe on a matinee. I’d pay full price the first time, but second Matinee is fine

Buying it?

It has Elsa in it. Of course I am buying it. Also its solid enough to be in the collection and has some pretty good rewatch value.

Anything else on it?

It has Elsa in it.

I have a mighty need for her “casual” outfit from this movie.

 

Ultimately folks, the movie is as sweet as it is harmless. It has a good message and is the family film that people have been waiting awhile for this fall. Go see it and enjoy.

Darke Reviews | Robin Hood (2018)

So last year in May we got the King Arthur: Legend of the Sword movie; which was rightfully trounced for being a near unwatchable mess of a film. I mean that literally as in the editing and camera work and the cutting made it nearly unwatchable. It was the start and end of what was supposed to be a “universe” of King Arthur movies. We also received The Mummy last year, another attempt to start a universe with an old property that the studio had rights to. It was buried very quickly as it should have been for well mostly being an unlikable mess. When the first trailer for yet another Robin Hood movie dropped my eyes rolled hard. The last time we had a good Robin Hood movie was roughly 1991 with Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, but lets face it the last Robin Hood movie that most everyone universally loves was in 1973 with the Disney animated classic. Ooh de lally!

 

So does this remake miss the bulls eye?

The story here opens with “This isn’t the history you know” and I am thankful for it as it sets me in the right tone for the rest of the movie. The story is an…original…take on the Robin Hood legend, written by Ben Chandler, who has absolutely no credits I can find. Chandler, and another newcomer David James Kelly, took the story and made a screenplay. Now a more doubting person may think these could be pseudonyms for other people, a version of an Alan Smithee perhaps; or perhaps they are real people. Regardless the script doesn’t have a movie it didn’t like. The best way I can set expectations properly is this is what happens if you put A Knights Tale and the Mask of Zorro (that’s the good one), put them in a Martini shaker and poured out the mixture with a dose of social commentary over a chilled glass with scenes and dialogue from a half dozen other movies. To do all of this successfully in and of itself is a work of art and original – and I love them for it.

Now the director, Otto Bathurst, does exist as I watched an interview with him about the production of this movie. He has won some BAFTA’s in the past for a show called Criminal Justice, he did an episode of Black Mirror, and the pilot episodes of Peaky Blinders; and Translation – he is very British. In making this picture I feel that he just out Guy Ritchie’d Guy Ritchie. This is the most Guy Ritchie movie I’ve seen in years, and I saw King Arthur. Elements that were attempted and failed horribly in that movie are done here and with near ecstatic success. The shots look good, even if there’s some dodgy CG on some of them, there’s also enough practical that the movie is elevated for it. Lars Andersen was brought in to consult to give Taron Egerton the real skills needed to fire a bow and at those speeds with accuracy.

The acting is fine. Taron Egerton is as charming as ever in the title role. He was born for roles like this and Kingsman and he is the action star we need. Jamie Foxx is well Jamie Foxx and looks to be having a good time himself as he delivers probably the most serious role in the movie. That isn’t to say the movie is a comedy or anyone else isn’t taking their roles seriously, but that everyone is so much larger than life, including Foxx, but he delivers the most grounded dialogue of them all. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Ready Player One) knows exactly who he is emulating in his performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham and doesn’t even try to hide it and again I love him for it. The other standout who has to help carry the film is Irish actress, Eve Hewson (Blood Ties, Bridge of Spies) as Marian. In what is becoming common place (yay) she is a character with her own agency and plans and choices to make and Hewson does it all with flawless eyeliner.

Yes, eyeliner. This movie makes no real attempts to hide its costuming influences or to even be remotely historically accurate. The costumes are as bold as the personalities within them. There are leather jackets everywhere. At least one scene with stiletto heels and I am going to tell you it doesn’t matter. The movie made no attempt to try and I am ok with it. Again here is knows what it is and what it is trying to do and be and decided that if it couldn’t be 100% historically accurate it would go to 11 on not. The action scenes are easy to follow and look good on the camera, even if again the CG is a bit dodgy at times. The camera work is also quite intentionally giving close ups, inverted shots, and distorted fish eyes when needed, if you want to poke it may have been a bit on the nose there, but the movie once again is unapologetic for what it does.

TL;DR?

I love this movie so much. It is absolutely popcorn fare and wants you to know that it is too. The earlier reference of A Knights Tale and Mask of Zorro is accurate and really sets the tone for the entire film. Everyone knows the movie they are making and while taking it seriously and putting the effort in also remember to take every aspect of their performances up just that extra notch and we all benefit from it. Robin Hood doesn’t bother putting some of its elements as Subtext, it goes for it and is unapologetic in doing so. It is anachronistic as hell at times, knows it, but doesn’t stop to wink at the audience doing so. It merely asks that you get on the ride and enjoy.

I gotta tell you I did and so did both my companions tonight. I don’t think we’ve giggled like that coming out of a movie in a long time and truly enjoyed it for what it was. Quite honestly this is one of the best Robin Hood movies ever. It knows it’s a legend. It knows it is mythology. It’s a comic book movie without ever being based on a comic book and this movie succeeds where all the others failed and deserves your money and consideration for a sequel.

So should I see it?

Yes. Take your friends. Go to a theatre with a liquor license, get some popcorn and enjoy! Hell it’s even family friendly and pretty PG by 80’s standards.

Would you see it again?

When do you wanna go? That’s a yes by the way.

Will you buy it?

No doubt in my mind.

Anything else on this one?

I thought tonight was just a standard early screener trying to get some money before Wreck it Ralph wrecks the box office the next six days. Nope, we got a free large popcorn and swag in the form of a really nice tumbler glass with the Robin Hood silhouette on it.

Look guys, this movie isn’t a Good Bad movie. This is a Good Good movie that went for the ridiculous and succeeded. Critics will likely rip it a new one, but I think they are missing the mark. Go in with the frame of mind hopefully this review put you in for it and have a good time.

Darke Reviews | The Girl in the Spiders Web (2018)

The past few weeks have been hell on my movie going timelines with vacation and a brief plague; in addition to a number of double or triple releases of films I want to see. This was a last minute viewing for me with no real plan or I would have invited my regular movie going partner with me, who I do owe a movie and a dinner for missing our last showing. Now, I am a fan of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the original Swedish release (2009), not so much the American remake (2011) a few years later. Noomi Rapace defined the role of Lisbeth Salander, and the late Michael Nyqvist introduced me to investigative journalist Mikael Blomvist. While director Niels Arden Oplev may not be the auteur that David Fincher is, I found his (original) film more engaging. Rooney Mara was good, but she just didn’t hit what Rapace did for me in the role. Unfortunately, I have not gotten around to watching the two sequel films in the Millenium series, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the Girl Who Kicked the Hornets nest; but they are on my list. The movies require a certain frame of mind and preparation for solid investigation, mystery, and intensity that we don’t often get here in the states.

Tonight I was in that frame of mind and took a chance. 

The characters were created by late activist and Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson (1954-2004), with whom even the original Millenium trilogy (Tattoo/Fire/Nest) was published posthumously, then converted to movies shortly after. This movie is based on the book of the same name, written by David Lagercrantz, who has another sequel in print The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. That’s a complex origin, but worth noting for future trivia contests if you so wish. Spiders Web was given the screenplay treatment by Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent) with Steven Knight (Allied, Locke, Seventh Son); with on set touch ups by director Fede Alvarez.  As the director is the third writing credit here, my take is that he was doing rewrites on set with his cast. Alvarez worked on 2016’s Don’t Breathe and the acclaimed 2013 remake of Evil Dead.

The story here is a simple one as told in the trailer, Lisbeth Salander, righter of wrongs, is an avenging angel in Stockholm. She is a computer genius and particularly vindictive to those who victimize women – regardless of their social standing. Lisbeth is contacted to steal a scary software MacGuffin, is nearly killed, and must recover the MacGuffin before it’s too late with the help of some friends. She has an on again off again friendship with famous reporter Mikael Blomkvist, who returns in this movie as well. All of the events though tie to a past we have not seen fully explored for Ms Salander and it may come back to bite her in the end. Honestly, the story is Steal the Scary thing. Scary thing stolen from you. Steal it back that we’ve seen in so many spy thrillers and heist movies over the years. What makes this different is the personal touches and ties to the past and sense of self. Trying to identify who you are and remembering your past without letting it consume you.

The acting is fantastic. Claire Foy (The Crown, Unsane) gets the character. She has the rage, the insecurity, the fear, and the cunning of the titular character down. It’s difficult to make a character like Lisbeth sympathetic as she’s relatively anti social and unlikable, but if you have the chops and can pull of the complexity you can show the sensitivity and the need to reach out for human contact in a look, a touch, or even the slight tilt of the head and Foy has that. It isn’t a surprise she won awards for her work on The Crown, I’d personally like to see her nominated again here. Sverrir Gunnason takes over in the role of Mikael and he’s good, but he doesn’t have the edge to him I was feeling with Nyqvists performance. Lakeith Stanfield (Selma, Death Note) plays another party interested in our MacGuffin and brings a physicality to the movie that it might otherwise be missing, but the character doesn’t do him justice beyond that unfortunately. Sylvia Hoeks is our woman in red, and gives an as nuanced performance as she did as Luv in Blade Runner 2049 last year; which is difficult with the make up and prosthetics she has going on. Even with the minor roles and mediocre characters there’s a lot of subtext in the movie the various cast members have to deliver on and they do that effectively.

The on location (Stockholm) really adds the required atmosphere for the movie. The ice and snow (happy Elsa sigh) are as much characters in the movie at times and add a necessary element to the film. The camera work is both stable and kinetic in that you can see everything going on in every sequence, but there’s a motion to the camera for many of them that draws you into the chases and chess moves being laid out before you on screen.

TL;DR

I was excited watching this movie. It’s good. It’s entertaining from beginning to end. Ultimately it is also satisfying. More than once I found myself sitting up in the lounge seat and leaning forward or quietly cheering for whatever actually happened. In addition to this the movie provides multiple types of LGBT representation which is worth calling out.

I really enjoyed The Girl in the Spiders Web and I think you will too.

Should I see it then?

Yes. This one absolutely edges Widows out if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s just the more satisfying film.

Would you see it again?

No question in my mind. also at full price.

Buying it?

Yes. Also likely to get the other films, sight unseen.

Anything else to add?

I am going to try to see Suspiria this weekend at a local theatre if I can.

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.