Darke Reviews | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I would like to ask you some questions.

First there are some disclosures. I have not read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, nor really any of his other works. I suppose this doesn’t surprise my regular readers as me reading books with movie ties is a rare bird indeed. Another important disclosure, I had never watched the 1982 Blade Runner until within the past two years. Sure I had seen parts, but never all the way through. I am not sure how I missed it (aside from being 6 when it came out) until recently, but it happened. I think Blade Runner is a seminal work of science fiction which has inspired an easy fifty percent of film in that genre since then. I think it is a master craft of film making in its art direction, style, acting, and story. I also think it is heavily flawed in it’s pacing and let us not discuss the consent issues. It is easily the pinnacle of Ridley Scott’s directing career, and while films like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven are also going to be long remembered – none of his later works will have such a cultural impact as the Blade Runner (or Alien, which needs to be acknowledged as well).

First question: Should Blade Runner have been retired?

It’s hard to make a sequel 35 years later. Very few have succeeded with such a large gap between films and even fewer have this long of a gap, but there is a lot that can help make it less painful. Start with bringing back an original writer from the first film, in this case Hampton Fancher, who has literally done next to nothing else in the writing realm, so I can’t speak to his style beyond what we know. We do know he has both story and screenplay credits. Beyond that we add Michael Green to our recipe. Green is a mixed bag having given us the Green Lantern movie we do not speak of in polite company, but also Logan, but also again the claptrap that was Alien: Covenant. He leaves me scratching my head to his impact on what is otherwise a nearly flawless execution of story; a story I won’t discuss beyond what you see in the trailer as spoilers duh. It feels like a natural continuation of the world of 2019, city speak, blade runners, and off world colonies. A world of billboards as tall as buildings, neon, concrete, and rain. I see the thirty years of evolution in a world that is dying yet fighting and clawing for its last breath through humanity and machine. Because of this execution, because of how the story played – it evoked emotion and thought.

Things movies forget to do in genre films often enough. Movies like mother! provoke. Movies like High Rise provoke, but they often can leave you feeling confused on how to feel about what you saw. You know it was art, but you can’t quite pin it. The same goes here, but with a defter hand. You know this is art when you watch it, but you can more eloquently describe how it made you feel or think without questioning the artistry in the process or asking “was that necessary?”.

Much of that credit needs to go to Denis Villeneuve (Happy birthday 50!); who gave us one of the best science fiction movies of this decade in Arrival. He is the only man I would want to direct this film, even as I watch it I know the hand on the wheel has precision and intention without being full of himself (*stares at Nolan*). The word that comes to mind to me at times watching how beats play out, how the camera works, how angles, and colour are used is sublime. Villeneuve is a director you need to watch for. He needs to continue making science fiction, I am positively begging him as he is able to blend technical precision, emotion, and thought into film – all the while using cinema for all it can bring to you. His staging is incredibly intentional and I noticed more than once certain patterns and trends in aspects of the film making. In my opinion, there is absolute reason why he choose to have it snow off and on during the running time. Don’t go looking for anything, it is nothing major – just an impression.

Let’s talk acting. I have heard people say this is Harrison Fords best performance. I am not sure if I agree, but it is certainly in his top 5. He does bring all his years of experience to bear and it is an absolutely solid performance, but I have to say he’s upstaged. Ryan Gosling, who I knew was solid after seeing Drive, gives what in my opinion is an Academy Award winning performance. There are people who may say after films like Drive or Only God Forgives this role isn’t a stretch and I would disagree with them. There is a lot of nuance to his role as our Blade Runner but also chemistry with one of his co-stars Ana De Armas. Anna plays Joi; and while I have not seen anything else in her body of work, I hope to see much more. She is engaging in her role and the interactions with Gosling are part of what made me feel so I must give credit where it comes due. Another new comer to western cinema is Sylvia Hoeks who reminds me of someone I can’t quite place. Her character Luv is as complex as any other and uses her time on screen to maximum effect. Other actors worth mentioning in their roles are Robin Wright (Wonder Woman), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), MacKenzie Davis (The Martian and an admitted girl crush), and Carla Juri (Brimstone).

Don’t even get me started on the effects. Villeneuve made the brilliant decision to go as practical as he possibly could. If someone told me he made real holograms for some of the shots I wouldn’t be surprised. Minatures, Bigatures, full sized props and set pieces absolutely litter this film like confetti on New Years Eve. It’s magnificent and grand. The computer effects that do exist are generally seamless and hold tight against the practical. There’s even a few shots I had never quite scene before and amazed me to see now. While some of those may have been done, I don’t think they’ve ever been done that well.

So by now I have heaped the praise. I would love to tell you it is flawless in all facets of execution. It is not. There remain pacing issues, which left me near the two hour mark thinking I had been watching for easily two and a half. Not nearly as prevalent (and with 100% improvement in consent issues) as the first was, it still didn’t quite hold every single shot. There are scenes and beats which could have been trimmed and no loss would have occurred. As my dearest best friend pointed out, if you are thinking about the run time while watching it – they got something wrong. Additionally, there are a handful of nitpicks I could make but it would be pedantic to do so. I have heard the word pretentious thrown around in regards to this and while in large part they are wrong, I did find Leto’s performance little more than that descriptor. The movie struggles to try to be as important or have plays like the first but doesn’t quite reach the shoulder of Orion.

TL;DR?

Blade Runner 2049 is well deserving of the praise it is getting. It is a well crafted, technically masterful, beautifully acted and directed film. It is just shy of me using the word Great when applied to it. I don’t know if it will ever, or could ever , be seen in the same light as the original.  I don’t know that this long after and with the nostalgia for the first and its myriad versions it would have a chance anyway; but then again who does expect it? The movie succeeds in a way that so few do especially in this genre in that it made me have rich emotions watching it. It made me think about what it was trying to do and what it was showing me. I left me thinking about it beyond this review on the drive home.

I have another listing for the spectacular films of 2017 amidst the slurry of releases this year and I will be surprised if anything coming out the rest of the year will reach the heights the films thus far have. Of course other films, such as Thor and Justice League will make lots of money, but will they be this GOOD. Will they make me feel a range of emotions or just turn off the brain for a bit. Even The Last Jedi, which is the only remaining film I am eagerly anticipating in 2017 will no doubt be good, but not this close to Great filmmaking. Great Sci Fi.

Next Question: Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the original, sci fi, curious, or otherwise want to have the potential for rich discussion with me or others around it – yes. Yes you should. This weekend. If you don’t like the original or thinking sci fi (thats ok too ya know) you may want to give it a pass or at least matinee.

Seeing it again?

Maybe. Probably.

XD or 3D?

The XD or other equivalent sound systems and screens do improve the movie from a standard definition and basic Dolby stereo. The 3D might be ok, but it was just fine without.

I take it then you are buying it?

No question in my mind.

So it made you feel?

Yeah and I am really happy about that, even if all the emotions involved weren’t joy themselves.

Last Question – you’re walking through a desert. Kidding. Whats next?

Next week I hope to see The Foreigner and Happy Death Day.

Why did you choose that poster for your image?

Because I am tired of teal and orange….long story. Might post on it.

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Darke Reviews | Life (2017)

If you are not new to my site you know that I love good sci fi. If you are new to my site, you now know I love good Sci-Fi. If you want to make it horror sci-fi then you better hold to your science while telling me your fiction. I think this belief of mine comes from most horror sci-fi being relatively close in period to our own and with our own rules of science, biology, chemistry, and physics. If you want to violate these rules you need to establish you are acting outside of them early on or you risk losing me to wondering how within the confines of known science you are operating.

It’s why I buy phasers, lightsabers, xenomorphs, and flux capacitors. You laid forth rules. You have not violated them within your own fiction. We’re good. Tell me your rules, your world and I will board the suspension of disbelief train and ride it to the end. If you present me my world, my rules (as I understand them) you have established the protocols by which your science will be held standard. Violate them at your own risk or at least the risk of me ripping your movie apart.

So does Life need to find a way or is it worth exploring?

Written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, LIFE is the story of scientists aboard the I.S.S. in a “near future” time that is otherwise undisclosed. During a mission in which samples are being brought back from Mars for study, they find proof of life. Maybe they wish they hadn’t.

Rheese and Wernick who worked on Zombieland and Deadpool together  would seem an odd choice for this movie as their comedy/action and comedy/horror don’t lend themselves to a tension based sci-fi thriller when you first think of them. Yet – somehow they did it. In the vein of Alien nearly 40 years ago they  did a well paced, no forced humor thriller.  The science is good, the fiction is good,  the thrills are solid enough; but within that something is missing. The characters themselves. You don’t get to know them as much so when the movie begins traditional Ten Little Indian’s as it needs to, you don’t feel it as deeply as you could.

Swedish director, Daniel Espinosa (Safehouse), shoots the movie rather well and he apparently knows how to deal with the limited space provided and uses that to add to the innate claustrophobia of having no where to run. Though, much like I feel about the script I don’t think he teases enough out of his actors to elevate the characters and really get their motivations – beyond the one who gets a bit of a monologue. It’s clear though he had a vision along with the writers and I feel that they executed the vision well enough but didn’t quite elevate it. More on that in the TL;DR.

From an acting perspective everyone is absolutely passable. Ryan Reynolds was well Ryan Reynolds in space, but he dialed himself back from an 11 to a 5 and the restraint was to his benefit. Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai, The Wolverine, 47 Ronin) may not be able to turn out a bad performance if he tried. Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya makes a good mission commander despite this being her first American produced film. Ariyon Bakare, mostly a TV character actor, satisfies as our biologist. Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust from Mission Impossible Rogue Nation) plays my favorite character, the CDC specialist; leaving us with Jake Gyllenhaal who is the only one who just has a weird read. Each of the others despite having limited dimension still come off as normal people, Jake’s character just comes off …odd. I don’t know if it is a specific affectation he was directed to do or choose to do but he just was…odd to me.

From an FX standpoint they are 90% solid. The creature is interesting in its design and it’s movements. The overall space scenes and movement through the zero-g environment is beginning to be mastered after films such as Gravity nailed it as well as they did. The best effect though is a subtle one involving one of the characters. While it was an attempt to give one of them more depth (it kinda failed) it did succeed in making you believe the visual trickery before your eyes without looking overt. I would guess it was a mixture of practical and CG and that is often a winning combination.

TL;DR?

Life is good. The movie that is. Maybe the cereal too. I think what frustrates me about it is it could have been more and I think it wanted to be. I just don’t think the director or the script knew how to take it up just one more notch from something good to something great. There’s half-hearted attempts to ask the deeper questions that could come from this, but it’s just that half-hearted. Effort was definitely put into the production; but the net result was a “Good”. I honestly believe this movie could have been great, but it just didn’t know how to get there.

One other thing in it’s favor – the trailer did it’s job and was cut very specifically and rather well.

Should you see it?

It’s not bad sci-fi. So if you enjoy a lil in the Sci-Fi Horror genre give it a go. I’ll be curious to what you think.

Would you see it again?

Matinee maybe? If someone else paid.

How about buying it?

…the magic 8 ball says undecided.

Last thoughts?

Life is a good movie in its genre, well above average but not quite making a mark. Effort was there and it shows and that alone gets merit. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it and if nothing else someone tried and succeeded at a good sci fi horror. There is a lot worse coming this year (*stares at Geostorm*) and I do believe it deserves to make a profit just so we keep getting good pictures in this genre. It just could have been better.

Darke Reviews | The Martian (2015)

This is not part of my October reviews, fortunately or unfortunately, my regular reviews do not get trumped by October. I had every intention of seeing this Thursday night but exhaustion kicked in and a desire for a record 6 hours of sleep ended up winning. Having seen it today and after some rest I can provide you the review you deserve.  I will say this, do not let Matt Damon or Jessica Chastain near the space program. Something goes wrong every time; how is it he is the one always stranded?

Anyway; does the movie hold up to the hype machine?

The film is based on a book by Andy Weir and adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard. I understand from some friends it is an excellent book and will be curious to hear the comparison between the two. Goddard on the other hand was the producer of the much loved (and very awesome) Netflix series Daredevil, The Cabin in the Woods, and Cloverfield. He also wrote one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Conversations with Dead People.” So the source material is very strong, the writer has some solid understanding of characters and tension but do they have a director who can do something with that?

Well lets talk the story for a moment. This is a what you see is what you get. The movie literally is: Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars. NASA tries to figure out how to save him, while he tries to save himself.

Simple story. You need good actors and a good director to make it work. I give you Ridley Scott. I give you the man behind the camera and actors of Blade Runner, Alien, Black Hawk Down, and the list goes on. He doesn’t have a flawless list (Robin Hood, Hannibal, Exodus) but a solid one. He, despite his stumbles, is a brilliant film maker who can do more to create tension with a shot and space than a dozen of the modern horror directors combined. That is what this movie needed. Tension. You don’t know if they will bring him home, you don’t know if they will all survive doing so. Goddard, Weir, and Scott have masterfully crafted a story where you just aren’t sure.

Of course some of the work must go to the actors. Matt Damon by necessity carries the film and he has the chops to do it. I was watching the movie and thought is there another actor who could do this? Short answer I came up with is no. End to end of this movie, there’s not another bankable actor who could do this with such charm and such range.  Then you combine it with the following cast members

  • Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Mama, Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Michael Peña (Shooter, Fury)
  • Jeff Daniels (Newsroom, Speed)
  • Kristen Wiig (Despicable Me 2, Brides Maids)
  • Sean Bean (duh)
  • Kate Mara (House of Cards)
  • Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier, Once Upon a Time)
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, 12 Years a Slave)
  • Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire)
  • Donald Glover  (Community)

This is the literal definition of a powerhouse cast. Each person despite how much or little screen time they are given manages to translate that into a memorable or otherwise engaging character. That’s art folks. This movie would die in the vacuum of space if you didn’t want to root for the characters. If you didn’t want to sit at the edge of your seat or bite your lip. Everyone is understandable in every decision made. Every action. Every consequence.  The movie lives and dies because of the performances these people gave in conjunction with solid directing, and source material.

In other words, this is everything Fantastic Four was not.

It is also not as pretentious as Interstellar, which I wanted to like, but really couldn’t.

As a technical point, the CG enhancement of the landscapes, the background, the skies made me really believe that they could have been on Mars. This is the George Miller lesson folks. Use CG to enhance not dominate. There’s only one slightly jarring, but appropriate effect in the movie. Everything else to me is beautiful. I was commenting the other day how claustrophobic modern movies tend to be. Tight locations, tight camera’s, fear of long range shots or appropriate long range shots. This movie is anything but. It uses distance as a tool as much as it uses sound and lack there of when needed. It really lives by show don’t tell on a lot of points and again is a better movie for it. If there are any other flaws, there’s some pacing issues (a Ridley Scott natural flaw) but otherwise that’s it.

TL;DR?

This is a good movie. This is a damn go0d movie. This isn’t a good sci fi movie. This isn’t a good dramatic movie. This IS a good movie. I watched the movie on the edge of my seat more than a few times.

I came out of the movie inspired.

I came out of the movie wanting to Science!

I came out of the movie satisfied with my experience in a way few movies this year have.

I highly recommend The Martian to anyone.

Darke Reviews | Terminator Genisys (2015)

31 years. It has been 31 years since the line “Come with me if you want to live” was first uttered on the silver screen. Sadly, I was too young to see the original on the big screen, but have watched it dozens upon dozens of times since. Terminator 2 came while I had one of my best summers ever, living in Virginia, and I had the joy of watching it 5 times in the theatre. Watched dozens of times since then. One of my best friends and I planned a judgement day party for August 29, 1997. I even made labels to put on sunblock labeled SPF 2,000,000 – you know so we didn’t have a bad day. I think you can safely assume I am a fan of the mythology and first two movies. I didn’t even hate Edward Furlong.

Then Judgement Day came and went. The party didn’t happen as we had all moved away. Then 2003 came with a promise to give us the Rise of the Machines and it lied to us. It lied so badly. If I thought Furlong was bad, then Nick Stahl was a walking abomination. Then they tried 6 years after with Terminator Salvation, trying to apologize for how bad 3 was…but I fell asleep from boredom through the apology. I couldn’t tell who was more machine the T-800’s or Sam Worthington and Christian Bale. So

6 years after that, what do we get?

Let’s start with a two writer script, though obvious credits are given to Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron for the characters themselves. Laeta Kalogridis, who gave us screenplays for NightWatch (Timur Bembekov’s supernatural thriller) and Shutter Island.  Patrick Lussier, he who gave us Dracula 2000 and Drive Angry. Both of these individuals, while having western films under their belt, also lean towards lower budget European films designed for international audiences. I don’t know that I would have picked them to try to reboot and reinvigorate this franchise considering their previous works; which, while I enjoy, are mostly low end popcorn fare or weak on the script but high on atmosphere. Much of these traits can be found here, the script is kinda weak and some of the dialogue is down right painful.

Sarah is fine, the Terminator is fine, John is fine, Kyle is a walking travesty. Part of that goes to the casting director, Ronna Kress who needs a smack upside the head. I have no idea how a person who could cast Mad Max: Fury Road so perfectly could so screw up here. I have to assume studio interference. It is the only logical choice. The other part goes to the studio and director, Alan Taylor (who is best known for his season 2 Game of Thrones episodes).  A better director may have gotten a better performance, but I doubt it; but perhaps he could have argued to have a better Kyle Reese.

There is no reason to cast Jai Courtney. I recently commented that he needs to find the tree he was carved from, no one is buying him as a real boy. He is without any charm or charisma in Divergent, Die Hard, Jack Reacher, and gives me less hope as Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad. Hollywood STOP TRYING TO FORCE HIM DOWN OUR THROAT. Please. Stop. Aside from being a terrible actor he is horrifically miscast as Kyle. Michael Biehn created the role and despite not being the prettiest belle at the ball had a charm and handsomeness to him that lead us to like him. He was so damn earnest and believable  that I cared that he served in the 132nd under Perry from 21 to 27. When he said, “I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you; I always have…” it is the most romantic thing ever. Courtney and this script can’t pull any of this off. He is positively the worst thing about this film. Every line he uttered comes from a place where I wanted to throat punch him. Aside from being unable to make me care, and in fact look forward to his demise, he just looks bad. He is too damn handsome. Too full. I blame that on the director and casting again. Beihn, and even Anton Yelchin in T4, looked thin, looked worn, and looked like they grew up in a wasteland after Judgement Day. They were lean, he is cut. His physique makes no sense in a world where humans are scrambling to get by like little more than cockroaches in the ruins of the world. He’s just too pretty. You want someone who looks like he could be Kyle? Try this image:

Yes. I am Guy Pearce. You are welcome.

Yes. I am Guy Pearce. You are welcome.

At least we had Jason Clarke and Emilia Clarke – no relation. While Jason Clarke doesn’t quite carry the beat to hell, hardened military commander that Michael Edwards did in T2 (his stare is bloody iconic). He does a good job at least making me believe he is Connor, a boy who knows the future to a certain point. I like Clarke as an actor with excellent performances in Zero Dark Thirty,  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and even The Great Gatsby.

John_Connor_T2

My stare can kill a terminator at 1000 yards.

John_Connor_T5

I at least wear the scars better than Christian Bale.

 

Emilia has probably the toughest role to play of all the cast. Going from the mother of Dragons to the Mother of the Resistance. She has to fill shoes left by the epic Linda Hamilton who gave us two startlingly amazing performances of a character at two different times in her life. Now, having just watched Terminator (1984), just now while writing this she clearly paid attention to Hamilton and her performance. She hit enunciation, body language, and even lip motions from the first film. While there are moments she over reacts and hits too much emotion for someone who is raised the way she is, overall I buy it. I know other reviewers are having trouble with her, but to be honest I think she did well. She didn’t have an easy job or good script, but did very well with what she did. While the writers clearly didn’t get Kyle, they did get Sarah and some of her reactions were spot on.

I can’t finish talking about the cast without talking about Arnie. The role is like an old glove that he slipped into. He was on the mark 100%. He also could tell this film wasn’t great, but makes sure to let you know HE is enjoying himself. Honestly, this is the Arnie I miss. Even as a bloody cyborg he overshadowed almost everyone on screen with the weight and charisma of his performance.

From a technicals standpoint? It suffers as so many movies do these days. It is too clean. Too polished. Their post-apocalypse is all shiny and chrome, with beautiful body armor and fashion models for soldiers.  Even the current timeline they give us has the same problem. There’s no grit, no weight, and no atmosphere to this. Ultimately a  lot of movies in the past decade suffer from this, where there is no atmospheric heart to help sell the movie and the world. It is just meh and you don’t care. The CG work on the Terminators has not improved since 1991. Thats right 24 years later and not only has it not improved – it got worse. The computer effects are just down right awful. Nothing is redeeming about them. Not a thing. There’s also not enough practical effects in the future scenes to make me buy it. Both Terminator and Terminator 2 had just the right amount of practical to let me believe there was an HK rolling into position to kill Kyle. That a flying HK was moving overhead chasing our heroes was there. The only technical effect that works is the de-aged Arnie for the 1984 T-800. I liked it. I looked for flaws and nothing screamed at me, even as the reproduced the original shot from 1984.

TL;DR?

I want to hate this film. I really want to hate it. I can’t. I almost feel like I owe them an apology for lambasting them so badly before the film. It isn’t great. It doesn’t redeem the franchise in any way shape or form, but it is better than the last two laughable attempts at a movie with the Terminator name attached. I did laugh and enjoy all the callbacks to the original two movies, there’s plenty of lines there that will bring out the nostalgia factor, which did make me look more favorably on it. It felt like they were at least trying – even if they failed. I did care about Sarah at least.

  • If you were curious – go in with low expectations. You will probably be entertained.
  • If you need MST3k bait, it’s there if you need it.
  • If you hate that it’s PG13 – you should. It doesn’t have any real power due to the MPAA.

I will say that the 3D is pointless and even the XD sound system was wasted without the original theme playing at epic levels of volume.

All in all – if you don’t want to see Jurassic World again this weekend and aren’t saving up for Ant-Man – go ahead. You probably will find yourself enjoying the nostalgia factor at least. It is at least fun.


 

The movie schedule for July is looking pretty good with such films as

  • Minions
  • Self/Less
  • Ant-Man
  • Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Pixels is also coming out, but I am debating this…will probably boycott to avoid giving Adam Sandler and his problematic productions money.

Darke Reviews – Ex Machina (2015)

This is a little known, but often lauded film, I have been waiting for. In multiple previous reviews I have slammed the films for having a fear of science and more importantly a fear of AI. Transcendence is one the more recent criminals in this vein. I have a near unique perspective where I am just as eager to look at and love the past as I am the future. I am not afraid of science.  I am not afraid of any advances and point in fact I resent those that hold us back from even more. Too many sci fi movies these days seem to be based on a fear response rather than hope or driving us to better ourselves, our world, and our technology.

So please pardon me if I wax a bit philosophical as I write this review, the movie asks some very important questions in the right ways.

Let’s switch things up a bit and get into the acting, this film runs on a minimal cast. While not as small as say Moon, for the better part of the film there are 3 main actors who must do all the work; those being Oscar Isaac as Nathan, Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, and Alicia Vikander as Ava. Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Robin Hood, Drive and soon to be in Age of Apocalypse) plays scientific genius Nathan the man with a compound in a remote area of either Canada or Norway. I appreciate his take on the eccentric billionaire. There’s something roguish and even brutish about his performance yet with a calculating intelligence that drives him and his protege Caleb forward. It is a surprisingly detestable character yet he captures your attention much in the way Tony Stark does. Gleeson (Bill Weasley from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows) is nearly the opposite. For all the extrovert force that Nathan is, Gleeson’s performance as Caleb is almost wall flowerish. It is a well controlled and constructed performance that allows you to buy into his decision making and approach through the film His body language is on point during his Turing test conversations with Ava. Vikander (Seventh Son, Anna Karenina, Man from UNCLE), may have the hardest performance. Where the boys must be equally demanding of the camera during their shots both energetic and quiet; Vikander’s Ava must capture the camera and your attention with something else. Every motion she makes must look as if she is a machine pretending to be human but so human she passes. This is more difficult than it sounds yet she achieves it in her own body language. Her face alone is allowed full expression yet her body tells you as much in how she moves and positions herself. It’s really quite remarkable.

The technical prowess in which the actors performed must get some credit from the writer and director Alex Garland. Garland, who previously gave us the genre redefining 28 Days Later, the lack luster Sunshine, and criminally underrated Dredd, is in top form here. It’s clear the man knows how to shoot a film and get a performance from his cast. The three films I mentioned are clearly watching a man come to understand his gifts behind the camera and with a crew with each one building on the successes and failures of the other. That leaves us with Ex Machina. Nothing is wasted in the film. Not a single shot is without some level of purpose be it literal or metaphorical. Every camera angle is where it should be for maximum effect. It truly is a technically amazing film from a cinematic point of view. While I know there is much that was in the can that hit the editing room floor, as there is with any film, we are given the purest essence of film making. Music, Light, Shadow, Color, Negatives, all interplay perfectly.

Before I talk story and the questions, I do need to say as good as the movie is – it still falls into some traps that I found displeasing. The character of Nathan, while breaking many stereotypes, hits enough of the wrong ones to bother. While the movie does not directly objectify the female cast members there is an overabundance of shots that made me think someone from Game of Thrones was involved. Obviously I have no issue with the female form, as I am in the process of giving myself one, but there’s just something off putting in the delivery here. It is largely clinical if you narrow your eyes at the movie, but a moments though and it becomes uncomfortable again. This is probably the one major flaw of the film. It’s enough of a flaw that if you genderswap any of the characters the film likely may not be made or retain the rating it did under the iron thumb of the MPAA; which is an entirely different problem in how American’s view film, much less those psychotics over at the MPAA.

From a story stand point, Nathan hires Caleb to be a living Turing Test for Ava. For those who don’t know, (though the movie explains), the Turing Test is a method in which a human tests a computerized system to determine if they can tell they are working with a computer. This is normally done as something blind, but the nature of this experiment requires it not to be. Caleb is flown in and brought to a massive remote compound and meets Ava, a fully functional AI. She deliberately looks like a machine in order to see if she can make Caleb (and the audience) forget that fact.

There are so many good questions the movie asks and it spends just a little less time on the topic than I am happy with. This is a minor flaw, as the movie delves into the philosophical topics around AI and Robotics, but doesn’t commit to them lest it lose the audience entirely. I fear that is the issue, the risk of boring the wider audience with a certain amount of techo-babble and philosophy. What it does ask creates powerful questions that we ourselves can look at and have conversations about? Questions about Gender and Sexuality; though the movie does mostly classify under the binary format, the larger conversation could be had. Questions about wants, needs, loves, lies that we tell each other and ourselves. Most importantly the movie asks us if we are human, can we truly define that? Can we define what separates us from a truly advanced AI or what really would pass the Turing Test? The movie wisely and thankfully doesn’t make us fear AI save a throw away line of evolutionary/revolutionary theory, but embraces that it is an inevitable future and what that could mean. This had me excited as the trailers kept their word. here. The trailers however, sell the movie short giving it a horror vibe or perhaps a bit of a sexual objectification vibe. I could go on for hours about the conversations that could be had from watching this film and delving deeper into the questions it literally and metaphorically asks.

TL;DR

This movie is not for everyone. I would love to give the Darke Seal of Approval (I need a seal of approval first) and that everyone should see it, but I can’t.

There is no action here, this truly is a thinking persons film. IF you want to grab a drink and chat with friends in the spring night air after seeing the movie – this is a good film for you. It is both visually stunning and mentally stimulating. For my SciFi, Philosophy, and Psychology lovers, you really need to see this film.

All others, I couldn’t say you would enjoy it. You might and if this review has made you the least bit curious then I say find a matinee and see it; otherwise give it a pass.

The movie satisfied me greatly in that it doesn’t fear AI and the scientific advances that come from it. It deserves to be a critical darling if not a box office one. There is a lot of subtlety and nuance in the film and I hope you feel the same.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Interstellar (2014)

Well, after some dental surgery I can’t talk but I can at least type. Good thing I don’t do podcasts or video reviews yet. I went to this half expecting to fall asleep from the medication or exhaustion and general apathy. I went into Interstellar thinking it has been overhyped to hell and back. So one thing I need to explain right at the start here, which is there are different kind of films. There are bad films, good films, indie films, art house films, tentpoles, and entertaining films. You may mix and match these to your hearts desire. For example The Room qualifies as Indie, Bad, and Art House. Big Hero 6 is both good and entertaining, while Starship Troopers is bad and entertaining. So where does Interstellar land on this weird venn diagram?

Well to be honest, Art House and Good. I normally wouldn’t start with that, but you may have noticed one of the optional traits missing. Let me explain.

The director is Christopher Nolan, of Batman and Inception fame, which I am on record as having no love for. I feel he is a bit too egotistical and wants to show just how “artsy” he can be at the sacrifice of good story, logic, or deformation of otherwise good characters. I honestly think he buys his own press about how “brilliant” a director he is and has gone beyond visionary into pretentious. I don’t feel that this movie is any different. It was hard not to watch the movie without imagining Christopher Nolan hopping around behind me going “see how visionary I am…you haven’t seen that before!” The problem is I have. So much of this movie I have seen before, not always better, but before. I saw Star Trek II, 2001, 2010, Alien, and Aliens.  I saw Red Planet, Mission to Mars, Event Horizon, and oh did I mention 2001? Yes. I think Nolan looked at the great films of sci fi, the truly great masterworks and wanted to try his turn at the helm, and from that I can say he …is ok. But because of his style, and partially my bias, I don’t think thats a pass, just a neutral.

The story of course is by his brother Jonathan. Jonathan I think is overly influenced by his brother, but its hard to prove where the flaw is. Having written Memento, the Prestige, and The Dark Knight shows talent, but then Dark Knight Rises shows he doesn’t know how to get himself out of a corner and doesn’t logic it out. It shows that he doesn’t truly and fully understand the characters he is writing at all times. Obviously, he too was a fan of all those movies I referenced and for his part in combining them did well enough. There are sci fi elements I have not quite seen, but was able to predict, but most of the story beats themselves are pure paint by numbers.

Thankfully the actors in the film redeem most of the directorial and writing flubs. McConaughey isn’t my favourite actor, but I don’t hate him. He’s fairly solid here, but becomes too reserved for reasons I would welcome to someone to explain to me. Hathaway is remarkable in her role and I do buy her role as a scientist, which isn’t a slight on female scientists, but actresses playing BAD scientists. Remember Hollywood thought we should by Tara Reid as an archaeologist (Alone in the Dark) and Denise Richards as a Nuclear physicist. Hathaway comes across sound and intelligent and is fairly strong and inspiring. The most inspiring for me is Jessica Chastain. Her role as Murp(y’s Law) is strong, determined, and highly intelligent. She’s one of the brightest points to the film along with the actress that plays the young version of her Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring, Twilight: Breaking Dawn). It was creepy how easy I could see one growing into the other, not like the garbage that was Looper with Joseph Gordon Levitt becoming Bruce Willis. The rest of the cast is filled with familiar faces doing unfamiliar things and are all turning out some of their better performances. Even the voices of the AI’s are good.

Now visually – the movie is stunning at times and repetitive at others. Their take on the black hole is breathtaking to the point I almost wish I had seen it in IMAX. Honestly, I can’t go too deep into discussing the visual artistry without speaking to scenes so need to stop there to avoid spoilers. The film is really well done from a technical perspective – until the end. Dear Selene above, the Return of the King had less endings and was less long winded! The music is good and used to the right effect to the point I am debating trying to get my hands on the score.

TL:DR

The movie is a beauty. It is cinematic, art inspired, and yes Good. But I don’t know that I can send anyone to the theatre expecting to be entertained. It is a strong movie, but not always entertaining. I did find myself sitting up once or twice, but overall it was just Good and OK.

Christopher Nolan’s pretentiousness is in high form and only mitigated by the actors and sometimes by the visuals.

So – if you are in the mood for a 3 hour long Sci Fi space opera? Sure go see this.  Otherwise, sorry folks give this one a pass and go see Big Hero 6 this weekend or save your money for Hunger Games in two weeks.

 

Darke Reviews | Alien (1979)

Some movies have good posters. Some movies have good trailers. Then there are the taglines.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

“Who ya gonna call?”

“Houston, we have a problem.”

“They’re here”

Each of those evoke a memory of a film or a moment in time. They are all you needed to know what you were getting into. Now, imagine if you will (a place beyond sight and sound?), the concept of a horror movie in space is all but unknown. Sci Fi horror and truly gruesome alien monsters don’t exist. You walk into your local cineplex and see the image above with this tagline:

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

At the bare minimum you might be curious, but what would you be getting if you paid money for a ticket?

The very definition of gothic horror actually.  Written by Dan O’Bannon, inspired by his earlier work Dark Star, and co written by Ronald Shusett. Both of the men would go on to have little success beyond this with Total Recall being one of the few non-Alien based movies of any notoriety.  It’s a shame since they did such a fantastic job in making relatable working class characters that you bother to care about. If that seems a trend in some of my reviews, it is. It is important to me that I care about the characters and create investment in their well being. If I don’t care if they live or die, then where is the tension? There’s no reason to care, then I am only watching for the psychotic glee of witnessing horrific deaths. That has its purpose from time to time, but to be truly great – you need to care. It’s also worth mentioning many of the tropes and cliches of modern cinema started with movies like this. Not only that, but they created a universe here. One we keep dipping our toes back into year after year – Books, Comics, Sequels, Video Games…all of it.

The story here, for those uninitiated, focuses on a group of blue collar miners on a massive space ship and refinery called the Nostromo. They are woken from cryosleep by a mysterious signal from a nearby planet LV-426.  A small recon team is sent to explore the source of the signal and uncovers an ancient ship with secrets within. A specimen is brought back to the ship which begins its return voyage home; only for things to go  wrong. Claustrophobia, fear of an unknown creature, fear of each other, and an ever increasing body count ramp the tension to a climax unlike most others.

The acting cast reads almost as a who’s who of 70’s and 80’s films. Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ellen Ripley (in one of her first screen appearances),  Veronica Cartwright as Lambert, Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, John Hurt as Kane, and Ian Holm as Ash. Every aspect of their characters works. They feel real. Their reactions are honest (in some cases very honest). Special recognition of course must go to Weaver. She has the unenviable task of carrying the film when it initially appears Skerritt – the veteran – would do so. She is outmatched in nearly every capacity by the creature that is stalking them except her will to survive. That is a thing of beauty to watch.

Director Ridley Scott, who has done more famous films than I can list reasonably, made this his opening to Hollywood as a director. He did it remarkably. Every aspect of this after the script came down to his raw direction. Tight claustrophobic tunnels, steam, poor lighting, uneven camera angles, and practical effects all from his hand and eye. Granted all the beautiful atmosphere that makes it the gothic classic that it is wouldn’t do well if the villain was Pennywise.

AlienPennywise

Beep Beep Ripley. Beep Beep

 

For that we went to the mad genius H.R. Giger. His brain had a thing for the blending of man, machine, and monster. This isn’t to say he made cyborgs or robots, but rather things that seemed to defy both in their surrealist organic nature. Thankfully, he won an Academy Award for this. The creature design is iconic and alone may be the reason this franchise has spawned so many sequels and stories over the decades.

TL;DR

This movie is definitive. It is the work you need to go back to if you want to do horror in space. No one, arguably, has done it better since.

It has some gore to it, but most of the horror comes from what you can’t see and what you aren’t being shown. This movie successfully combines psychological horror, science fiction, and monster movies.

It’s an absolute film.

This is Jessica Darke, with the last review of the night. Signing off.