Darke Reviews | The Meg (2018)

We bring ourselves here to talk about the August dump slot and how nearly every summer there’s one movie people are anticipating in this place that the studio has no faith in. From it’s first over the top trailer The Meg became that movie this year, with dozens of online reviewers and youtube channels eagerly anticipating a tongue in cheek monster movie. I remember first hearing of this movie back in 2005, when this concept art was released.

Image result for The Meg surfer

Now granted we saw this image in the recent Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s not an original concept idea to see a giant thing eating a puny human and well it is frakkin’ awesome to see. Disney actually was the first studio to option this for production back in the late 90’s – so thats a bullet dodged there. 90’s tech for this would have made an awful movie. In 2005 New Line Cinema took a stab at thee, but cancelled due to budget concerns before it got too far. In 2015 Eli Roth and Warner Bros decided to take a shot at the shark; and the movie was mostly filmed between October of 2016 and January of 2017. A Year and a half later – it’s finally on the screen.

This ladies, gentlemen, and other night stalkers is what we call Development Hell. 

The question is does the movie live up to a decade old piece of concept art or should it have stayed below the surface?

The movie is now directed by Jon Turteltaub, the guy who gave us 3 Ninja’s, National Treasure, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Clearly he is the right man to direct a giant monster movie with this pedigree. He of course needs a script to direct and that is brought by my Three Writer Rule. Sure it’s based on the novel by Steve Alten, but then this most current incarnation was given the screenplay treatment by Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris. This…this is an interesting mix of talent. Dean’s experience includes The Manchurian Candidate (2004 remake), Paycheck (2003 Ben Affleck film), and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). He hasn’t worked much on the movie script front since then. The Hoebers though, gave me the 2009 movie Whiteout, 2010’s action comedy great RED; and then something went wrong and they wrote Battleship and Red 2. Something went very wrong.

Somehow through this listing of B, C, and G (Battleship doesn’t earn an F) movies we get The Meg.

It works.

Surprising isn’t it? I mean you expect a kinda Good Bad movie when you see this one and hear its concept, but you instead just get a good movie. The first act is surprisingly tense and treats the audience with a degree of respect and intelligence and doesn’t over explain anything. The director and script use the power of the movie to both tell AND show without too much exposition dumping hitting you at once. They are relatively clever in most aspects and it holds up with real weight. The second act it doesn’t hold up as well and the third less so, but at that point you don’t care [as] much because they made the characters engaging and overall likable. Sure some of them could have been combined to give us less to juggle, but that is a minor issue as the ones we get are relatively engaging and intelligent. Sometimes they fall into stereotypes (looking at you Page Kennedy), but other stereotypes are somehow avoided in the main cast. It doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel Test or Mako Mori test, but gets pretty close on the latter. I am giving it a pass though due to the actors involved.

Statham is a known entity and gives us everything you expect from him. If anything his character of Jonah..sorry Jonas is a bit reserved for one of his typical action lead roles. Sure he does the things you expect, but its a touch more subdued than you’d expect over all. Also he’s the only one….the ONLY one who gets an objectifying shot in the movie. Bingbing Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Resident Evil Retribution) not only holds her own in the movie against Statham but steals some scenes from him in a way that made my black little heart beat a few times. Her character, Suyin, is strong in all the best ways and balanced well enough that she’s a real character.

Supporting our main stars we have Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super) is the movie Billionare Morris who funds the entire thing; but many will have trouble seeing beyond his turn as Dwight. Ruby Rose plays the tech geek Jaxx, sadly shes not used as much as I wish and I think, agreeing with one of the folks who saw this with me tonight, she could have had her character merged with Page Kennedy’s character DJ and we would have been fine. Ruby Rose was the stronger of the two though Kennedy gets the most lines and honestly his are some of the weakest in the film. Rounding out the supporting cast is Chinese actor Winston Chao (1911) and Cliff Curtis (Push, Sunshine). So for me Cliff Curtis is always a win (to borrow from a youtuber) and while I am not familiar with Chao in his time on screen you can tell he has an aura of someone who can normally command the camera. Ten year old (8 at the time of filming) Shuya Sophia Cal steals the show and hearts as Suyin’s daughter Meiying. She is just the right kind of precocious and absolutely not annoying in the least. American directors, please look to her performance for what children are capable of.

On the technical front, the movie is pretty solid. The Science in the Science Fiction is strong and the movie never violates it’s own rules – nor does it call attention to the other rules it may be violating based on science. As always with me if you give me your movies ground rules and stick them you get a pass on almost anything else. It doesn’t need many. It obeys the laws of physics, nature, and oceanography pretty damn well for the most part. The Digital effects that created the undersea “level” were quite beautiful and I do wish more of the movie was there. The star of course is the Shark and this ain’t no Bruce; but damn if it doesn’t look good.

TL;DR?

The Meg is not nearly as campy as I thought it would be. It’s tongue is not firmly stuck in it’s cheek. It is a much better movie than it had any right to be for these facts. I will compare it to Tremors, one of my favourite modern monster movies. This movie knows what it is and what it isn’t. It takes itself seriously without crossing a line that would make it be ridiculous for taking it too serious. The heart is there in many of the character interactions and it does contain some solid, well placed levity. This is the B monster movie elevated to a solid B+. I think some of the weaker moments are known to the production staff and they don’t really shy away from it, they just acknowledge it and move on.

I really liked the Meg and I think you will too.

Should I see it?

Yeah, you should. This was the first time I had multiple readers of this page join me in the movie and we all really kind of enjoyed ourselves. It’s the perfect popcorn science fiction action movie.

Would you see it again?

Yes. Yes I would

So you’ll be buying it then?

Without a doubt. There’s a lot of rewatch in this one.

But Vampire Princess, its a SHARK movie!

Yes it is, but this is one of the good ones. This isn’t a Deep Blue Sea (a guilty pleasure if I felt guilt on what I liked), Sharknado, Ghost Shark, Two Headed Shark Attack, Three Headed Shark Attack, or Shark Night 3D. It’s also not Jaws. This is to Jaws as Aliens was to Alien.

It has to have something wrong with it!

It does. Plenty in fact. I call out that the third act is pretty weak. It has some logical fails that annoy a bit. Some stereotypes are a bit on the nose to the point of being minorly offensive. It does have some tonal issues at times. Yet with all that it’s actually still a good movie. Better than it had a right to be.

 

Wrapping up next Wednesday should be the next review in a movie you wouldn’t expect from me: Crazy Rich Asians.

 

JAWS Reference Spoiler Corner Goes here. Roll over to read

 

The dog in the trailer is named Pippen – in Jaws – Pippet.

There are musical queues that are reminiscent of Jaws, not quite, but close

The Shark POV swimming through the seaweed before reaching swimmers

The kid begging mom to go play. She of course eventually relents.

I am pretty sure I heard a slightly off the key “roar” from Duel as a shark sank into the depths…

There might be more I’d have to watch Jaws again (oh no the horror)

 

END ROLL OVER

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Darke Reviews | The Darkest Minds (2018)

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie, which I dubbed “X-Men with kids” since the first trailer.

As you may have noticed I am kind of big on the idea of Representation F*n matters; so the idea of a solid looking sci fi / action movie with a young POC girl in the lead; my choices were clear. Now granted, I could tell already this was based on a YA Novel series and it’s getting an August dump slot, the first one of the year so the studio didn’t have faith in it.

But should you?

Based upon the novel series by Arizona native Alexandra Bracken the movie covers the events of the first of the trilogy. Why are you asking if I read the book to yourself? Have you not read my reviews? That said, I am kind of hoping she might be a guest at a local con; I’d love to interview her on the adaptation process and her involvement from book to screen. Her book was adapted for the screen by Chris Hodge, who looks to have mostly been involved in television prior to this, and was the creator of Warward Pines, which seems to be a slightly toned down version of Hemlock Grove and a more supernatural version of Twin Peaks – so take that for what you will. Not being overly familiar with Brackens original work, I cannot speak to how well the adaptation takes it, but Hodge does seem to avoid more than a few of the YA to Movie Pitfalls, but not all of them.

The dialogue is not nearly as clunky as it can be in many adaptations of material like this, but some credit will go to the director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Nelson might be best known to most audiences for her work as director of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3; but prior to that she directed four episodes of the Spawn animated series (talk about dark). Her other background, which explains some aspects to the movie is as an artist, character designer, and story department. She worked on the criminally underrated 2003 Sinbad movie, and the amazing Dark City. This sort of experience lends itself to why the movie looks as good as it does in places, its strong dependence on overall subtle computer effects with a significant majority being done practically or with other visual tricks. She also showed talent in bringing well above average performances from most of her cast.

The absolute powerhouse of the film, figuratively and literally speaking is Amandla Sternberg as our protagonist Ruby. Most folks became familiar with her six yeas ago as Rue in The Hunger Games, and hopefully even wider soon as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give later this year. My partner and I tonight were talking at length about her and why she worked. Obviously script and direction help here as this has undercut other actresses with talent in movies like The 5th Wave, but here Sternberg shines. She is a complex character with real chemistry with her on screen friends and to borrow a line from another movie, She’s a Damsel. She’s in distress. She’s got it handled. Have a nice day. The character may be afraid and uncertain, but they never make her feel weak or simpering. This is a crucial balancing act in a YA or any material that is adapted and quite often fails.

Her main co-star Harris Dickinson (who will be Prince Phillip in Maleficent 2) also delivers. Quite often the male protag/romance interest in these films is completely bland from delivery and have the depth of a half empty kiddie pool. Dickinson as Liam lets the character actually emote and brings good chemistry with Sternberg. Skylan Brrooks as Charles is another solid character; while his opening can grate on some nerves once the movies pacing lets him he grows and you can really buy the friendship between the main three. I would love to say more about Miya Cech as the 11 year old Zu, but she doesn’t get to do more than be sweet and adorable and really a good counterbalance to the others strong persona’s. Unfortunately, no one else really stands out or otherwise borders on detrimental to the movie.

This leans into where the movie has some flaws, traps the director and writer may not have known how to find their way around. I realized watching this the problem with YA movies and am likely to do an entire editorial post on it later, but to sum up for this review – they run so heavy in the exposition, often with voice over that they forgot they are making a movie. When you read a book you need the characters inner monologue and long or detailed descriptions to let your mind paint the scene, the emotions, and to sell the interactions. With film you get to show don’t tell. The opening of the movie is painfully rushed so much so that the rest felt like it came to a screeching halt and part of that is due to the tons of exposition dump that occurred with little need for it. We’re told and shown when a show was enough. Due to this some of the characters would win my newly minted Snidely Whiplash award for hammy villains.

Image result for snidely whiplash

TL:DR?

While I don’t love this one nearly as much as Beautiful Creatures, The Darkest Minds is a very solid YA adaptation. It has good actors, a solid enough script, and good characters. The action beats work and the movie doesn’t pull punches where lesser material would. This surprised me a few times but I was very happy to see material remember the Adult part of Young Adult.

Amandla Sternberg is a gift and needs to be in more movies and I was very happy to support this one, even if it’s slated to be a box office bomb. Unfortunately this movie only made roughly $6 million of its $34 million budget domestically and just under $10 world wide. Unless there’s an international surge or my viewership sky rockets this looks to be one of the weakest openings and hauls of a YA movie.

So should I see it?

Well I would like to change this movies fate, so yes, I do recommend this one.

Would you see it again?

Honestly? The more I think about it yeah yeah I would.

Buying it then?

Without a doubt.

So how bad was that box office?

Well, it will likely do better than Vampire Academy  ($15m ww)so that’s a plus. It’s almost doubled Blood and Chocolate‘s $6 million world wide haul; but thats really faint praise on this one. It does deserve better than it got.

So…Rotten Tomatoes says..

Yeah, Critical 18%. Audience though with 800 ratings, gave it 82%. As a critic and reviewer I can see why Critics *wouldn’t* like it. It has flaws and flaws that I could be harder on if I chose to. I am chosing not to because it tried. The actors tried. The script tried. The director tried. It shows they tried and it wasn’t just another hollow YA cash grab.

But it has so many YA flaws that I shouldn’t ignore, but am choosing to because I believe a movie that tries is worth a dozen or more Pacific Rim Uprisings or Tomb Raiders or Death Wish remakes. We need more like this and less like those.

The Darkest Minds didn’t get a fair deal and that’s sad. If you have a free evening in the next two weeks go see it. I think you will see what I did in it.

Darke Reviews | Ready Player One (2018)

I was born in the 70’s. I am a child of the 80’s. The better part of my teens were the 90’s. I had a friend with an Atari. I had the Nintendo, the robot, the gun. I remember all the Saturday morning cartoons and weekday ones. I remember hundreds of reruns of the cartoons and shows of the 60’s and 70’s. I spent a summer watching all of Lost in Space since it was on syndication when the pool I went to every day was closed. I did plenty of things on my bike, in my neighborhood, and with what few friends I had I consider reckless and can’t explain beyond “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I was unbeaten in my high school at Star Wars trivia (ooh big title I know! shiver in despair *rolls eyes at self*).

I’ve also been riding the pop culture surge like everyone else. So this movie is all but made for me and everyone like me, with its heady dose of pop culture and nostalgia that the trailers promised.

Should you play the game though?

The movie is of course based on the landmark novel by Ernest Cline of the same title. Beyond that Cline is probably best known for his script for the Star Wars buddy road trip movie, Fanboys that was released 2009. Fanboys, like Ready Player One focuses on people who are obsessed with pop culture though that one is specific to Star Wars, RPO goes beyond that….way beyond that. Cline himself was hired for the script, which levies most of the “Its not like the book” arguments mostly null, and Zak Penn was brought on to assist. Penn is a mixed bag for me as a writer. His first script, which is a fan boy view of a film genre, The Last Action Hero gives him good credibility to be here alone. That said, he is also on the script for X Men The Last Stand, Elektra, and Inspector Gadget.

The story is as the trailers promised. Bland Token White Boy with SuperHero origin is an obsessive gamer who absorbs pop culture like most people breathe.  He and millions, if not billions, of others are trying to find the literal keys to the Kingdom of a virtual world; racing against the evil big business IOI (eye oh eye, not one zero one) who wants the kingdom to well monetize people. The movie is a touch prescient in that regard considering recent news stories about data. Along the way he meets and makes friends, rallies the Oasis, …and….well any more I’d be spoiling right?

The movie is absolutely generic in its plot. It’s not quite the heroes journey, as it doesn’t have enough of a fall in it, but it plays out with more than a few beats lifted from A New Hope. It exists. It’s fine. It does no real harm and has no real weight to it. There’s no real risk involved or felt for our main hero and while the movie without question celebrates the history of pop culture from the icons, to the music, to the actual history, it doesn’t put any real gate keeping on it. The phrase I dreaded hearing never came up. “Only true fans” ….Goddess I hate that phrase. The success of the hero isn’t his alone and there are other factors that keep it from being an absolute gatekeeping boys club. It honestly saved the movie for me.

From an acting perspective, Tye Sheridan (X-Men Apocalypse, Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse) as Wade Watts is as bland and forgettable as they come. He is so generic that he makes Kristen Stewart in Twilight look positively animated by comparison. I think this is by design. I hope this is by design. What likely isn’t by design is his total lack of chemistry with Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds, Bates Motel) who plays our female heroine Art3mis. She should have been the lead. We should have followed her. She’s dynamic, she’s engaging, and one of the more interesting characters. I’d watch a movie with her and Aech alone. The actress tried her heart out to do something with him, and nothing. I’ve been looking at photos of them all at press junkets and tours. He looks so bored and unengaged, while she is electric. The same goes for their characters. The epic speech from the trailer? Yeah it’s there. It’s like that.

From the other characters the only real standout I can mention is Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Slow West). I feel like they took all the feedback given about his attempt at villainy in Rogue One and made that a character. It made him easy to be in the role, but he’s otherwise…unremarkable. Others exist, one is slightly above the rest, but they are otherwise also…unremarkable.

Visually. The movie lives up to its hype. It’s Spielberg doing literally what made Spielberg Spielberg (this is such an odd sentence and represents much of what is wrong with the English language). This is literally what a PG-13 version of VR could and probably would look like. The PG-13 is important. I’ve seen Second Life. I know what happens when you get to R. The CG is allowed to look CG there and it works with the lighting choices Spielberg always makes. What impressed me most here in the Oasis action scenes is how busy it all was but you could still follow the action you wanted to. Just when it would edge on too much or too hard to follow they would slow it down and let you get back on the road. This is Spielberg here as we’ve seen lesser directors leave shots like these a mess. That same logic holds true through the rest of the film’s main sequences giving you just enough chaos to look right, but enough room to follow said chaos. It gives you the time to see the cameo (barely) and move on.

Yes, the cameo’s. The trailers didn’t show us everything. Yes, you will still geek out when you see them on the big screen. Also in the technical win department is the music by Alan Silvestri. Composer of easily one of the greatest themes ever, Back to the Future, he channels that skill once again and provides the epic. The soundtrack that accompanies is also appropriate for the film. Beyond that though is a plodding editing that leaves the movie running over two hours and starting to feel it at the 90 minute mark.

TL;DR?

Ready Player One is absolutely harmless pop culture and popcorn fair. It is a bland, unremarkable story of bland unremarkable characters doing things we’ve seen a hundred times before. What keeps it afloat is that love of pop culture with technical masterwork and that’s what will get the butts in the seats for it. It won’t keep them long though. It doesn’t have anything more to it.  It’s a visually arresting film that does everything it can to make up for the deficit the material and acting have.

That’s it. It’s Ok. It’s not bad (again thanks to the FX and Nostaligia Glasses) It’s not great or genre redefining. It’s the first real popcorn movie this year and it’s overall just there. I laughed a few times, I did enjoy myself so it came out better than I was expecting.

Should I go watch it?

Yeah, why not? Grab some popcorn, a coke, relive the nostaligia. Escape for a few hours. The real world will be there, and the movie won’t do any harm.

Will you see it again?

On the big screen probably not. I couldn’t tell if the 3D helped the movie, but it didn’t hurt it either.

On the big screen eh?

Yeah, I am buying it. I like hundreds of others obsessive geeks will buy it. Then rip it. Then go frame by frame to look for all we missed. Ok. I probably WON’T do that, but it crossed my mind. Though when I do buy it, I expect a lot of pausing to go hunting for my own little Easter eggs. I know they are there.

Anything else on the movie?

The product placement. Oof. I should be offended, but somehow I am not. I think just the nature of the movie made the Pizza Hut and Doritos and Tab just…make sense?

Have you read the…

Have we met? of course I haven’t read the book. It’s kinda a thing with me and movies.

So what next?

Next week I plan to see “A Quiet Place”, then Rampage after, a week off, then Avengers Infinity War.

 

There it is folks Ready Player One. It’s OK. Considering the rest of this year so far, that’s pretty good. This could have been a lot worse.

Darke Reviews | Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

I love the original Pacific Rim unapologetically. Giant Robots. Giant Monsters. Fighting each other. Characters told with broad, but immediately recognizable strokes. A new feminist icon and “test” for movies in Mako Mori. Idris Elba. Robots that moved and felt like they were giant robots. Shots that helped you feel how massive these battles were and provided a sense of scale that *this* was bigger than life. It is absolutely ridiculous popcorn fare and few people who love it claim otherwise. It is *FUN*

So why did they get the sequel so wrong?

TL:DR

This movie isn’t worth a thousand word count review. I loathe it. I despise it. It is just bad. You know those Syfy movie of the weeks? This is what would happen if one of those was made with a budget. A needlessly complex film without focus on any of the interesting plot points they bring up. This is two movies, maybe three, put into a blender and spat out at the audience by an angry llama who understands the concept of disdain. It ignores any concepts of focusing on characters like the first did and instead jumps from beat to beat and character to character to the point we don’t care.

They ignored nearly every rule of the characters they had from the first. They also ignored the rules of the world they had set up as well. The fights were BORING. That’s right, the fights were boring. Full stop.

I think this is what it feels like to know that a studio has contempt for the audience. To see it written on screen in every action they take.

Yes, Boyega is fine. He does his best and it almost helps. Almost. Please stop trying to make Scott Eastwood happen, Jai Courtney is more interesting.. I know his Dad seems to have too much of Hollywood under his thumb, he’s almost 90. It’s ok to say no to him.

Actual Picture of Scott Eastwood….thats not fair. This is more interesting.

So should I see it?

NO! Absolutely not. This is a garbage fire sitting on toxic waste trying to be put out by raw sewage, then presented to you as if it were a three course meal.

So uh..not seeing it again?

No. Nor buying it. Don’t even ask the next one.

Really? That bad?

My partner tonight and I spent the entire time on the drive home tearing into this like starved hyena’s. I think we were being too kind.

Tomb Raider tried, got the characters right but was boring. Death Wish was a direct to DVD movie that was tone deaf. Winchester at least tried for atmosphere. This bites is thumb at the audience with how it treats all of its characters.

Ok. SPOILER Roll over section

STARTS HERE

They kill Mako. First 30 minutes. I nearly walked out then, but the young girl Cailee Spaeny looked interesting and was trying; and they may have developed a plot around her and Boyega. Nope. They sidelined, then killed Mako in the least interesting way possible and instead we get nothing from any of the female characters of any note other than weird inconsistent arcs and one that could have been replaced with a lamp because she *literally* exists as an object for the men to desire and serves no other purpose.

ITS OVER

I hate this movie. I feel contempt for this movie. Do not see it please. You deserve better.

Darke Reviews | Annihilation (2018)

We’ve discussed in other reviews, more than a few, my love for Sci Fi. So when I saw the visually arresting trailer for this film I knew I had to see it. It wasn’t a well maybe, it was a must. First you have Natalie Portman who is always engaging and lights up the screen regardless of role since I first saw her in Leon The Professional. I’ve previously said Oscar Isaac needs to be cast in everything. My statement stands. Then you see directed by Alex Garland, whose screenplay I adored for the 2012 Dredd, 28 Days Later deserves its praise, and of course one of my favourite films this decade Ex Machina. The real question is –

How could this movie possibly go wrong?

The film is based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer with screenplay by Alex Garland, who as mentioned before directs. The story surrounds a team of women scientists who explore an extraterrestrial field that no one else has returned from. Inside they confront bizarre and magnificent mutations of both flora and fauna – all in the search of a two very simple questions. What is happening, and why? The answers of course are hardly simple or we wouldn’t have any drama.

Garland is one of the true auteurs in modern film making, and while he doesn’t have Guillermo Del Toro’s distinctive stylings, or Wes Anderson’s quirk, he definitively has a style. He understands, with Cinematographer Rob Hardy, how to move the camera for the right effect. How to get compelling and still subdued performances from his actors. Working with production designer Mark Digby, who gave us a true MetroCity One in Dredd,  they created a unique world that was both ours and alien at the same time. This movie lives up to its visual hype and is driven forward by those visuals which only get more surreal like watching a series of Salvador Dali paintings come to life.

The actors of course are fine, they couldn’t be anything else really. Portman carries the film on her more than capable shoulders as our lead character Lena. Jennifer Jason Leigh is positively subdued as Dr. Ventress. Swedish actress Tuva Novotny makes a surprising mark as she moves through the film as Cass Sheppard. My favourite Valkyrie, Tessa Thompson, delivers her own unique performance showing a range we didn’t get to see in Thor but is no less fascinating to watch as our physicist Josie Radek. They are all fine. The cast is small. The director is good with small casts. He excels at them. I question some of the character names, as the novels characters didn’t have them, to see if they are other sci fi references, such as Asajj Ventress (Star Wars) and me..I mean Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), but that isn’t a fault at all.

What is though I think, is the message of the movie. Science fiction should make you think. Should make you wonder. Should start conversation. While this film does make me want to talk about it, I am not sure how I feel about it or what to say specifically about it beyond the technical components above. Sure it is one of the most visually compelling sci fi movies in awhile, even Arrival was washed out to be nearly black and white at times; which I picked on then. There is contrast here between the outside world and what’s inside and how colour, light, and life interplay with their surroundings, but visuals cannot be everything. I used the Dali reference above intentionally, as the movie felt like I was watching a series of magnificently crafted paintings for two hours, with an occasional drop of dialogue to remind me this isn’t an art gallery. The movie kind of suffers for this as it’s pacing moves seemingly at a crawl so that you can enjoy and appreciate all that you see. There is a lot to appreciate, with creature and set designs unlike anything I’ve seen and ideas introduced that we have never quite seen like this. Another flaw comes in the sound design in act three. You shouldn’t typically notice how sound is done in a movie like this, but there’s a choice in the final act that ejected me from the moment rather than draw me in.

TL;DR?

Annihilation is a solid, technically well crafted film with every dollar spent on production design, sets, and creatures used to the best possible calibre; yet it somehow misses the mark for me.  I am not sure if I didn’t get the message they were trying to sell as this is science fiction – not horror, or they truly failed on delivery.  I really want to like this movie a lot more, but I feel that it trips over its own art and crashes through its delivery leaving me asking questions; but not the ones it wants me to.

Should I see it?

Well…maybe. I think there’s a lot here, but it is a very slow movie that doesn’t really nail the landing.

Would you see it again though?

Maybe at home with some friends this time to talk about it beyond the eye candy that is the design.

So you’re buying it?

The magic 8 ball says, most likely.

Anything else to share on this?

I think I am going to be in the minority on this one. I finished writing my review and broke one of my rules and started skimming other reviews online before publishing my own. I agree it is weird, surreal, again beautiful, but I am missing any exploration of humanity in this or our own world view. If anything I would say it’s a touch nihilistic if the message I did take from it is correct, but in no way did I find it scary even in it’s vast implications throughout.

So again I think I didn’t get what they were selling or others are reading more into this than I saw; which brings me back to the maybe go see it and me watching it again with friends for the discussion vs. a solo run.

Darke Reviews | Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Last movie of January, with a potentially strong February coming with Winchester, Black Panther, and Annihilation coming. This of course marks the third movie in the Maze Runner series and to hear about it (read about it?) is why you are here right now. Shall we recap the first two?

Maze Runner surprisingly solid and a concept we haven’t quite seen before with good production values and actors who are at least giving it their all.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials were more of the same but plodded along with a pace that can only be described as glacial and with three fake out endings that just made me want to scream.

So is does the Death Cure just leave you wanting to die?

It’s been two and a half years since the last movie, there was of course the hiatus forced when Dylan O’Brien severely broke his leg making this to the point I hadn’t heard it had been finished until the trailer dropped. I was a bit unkind to the writer the last time T.S. Nowlin, but after watching this…no I still feel it was somewhat justified.  We don’t introduce any new characters I am expected to care about here, so I don’t know if he has learned his lessons in that regard from the last one. I do know that he either has come to understand or was able to show he does get it when it comes to making certain moments count – most of the time. He also understands all magic comes with a price dearie. More on that in the roll over spoiler corner at the bottom. It will be marked and you can avoid it easily don’t worry.  Nowlin didn’t have to do much here as the groundwork was laid, he just needed to finish the job and that he did.  The plot is coherent with a few reveals handled about as decently as possible without being overwrought, you can follow the train from point A to Z and it logics out. This does not remove my newfound concerns of him being on the screenplay for Pacific Rim Uprising (March 2018) or Godzilla vs Kong (2020)

Director Wes Ball got a lot of flak in the last review and it is also is still mostly justified. He has a style and visual aesthetic. I was glancing at some of the images from his 2011 short film Ruin and see much in the way of similarity. I complained last time of how they got Last of Us in my Maze Runner. This time he gets Fallout in my Maze Runner, more on that in the technicals. While he does understand what to do with the characters this time he hasn’t quite mastered the pacing piece. The movie runs just shy of two and a half hours and it feels it. His eye for visuals is gorgeous which distracts. The opening sequence is positively kinetic and is reminiscent of some early Fast and Furious movies in the best way possible. There’s a director in here folks, but I think he still needs to sit down and get a better feel for how to pace a movie as while I wasn’t checking my watch it was getting close.

The actors are of course the best part, and yes Ball gets credit for that. Dylan O’Brien can do no wrong in my eyes thus far. Little sad to see nothing coming on his IMDB page, but please Hollywood use him. He can emote, he can act, and he can do the action and make it believable. Ki Hong Lee returns as Minho and is a joy to see, even if he gets little to do. Kaya Scodelario has escaped the Pirates franchise to finish this one out and sadly reads a little flat. I can see her trying to do more, but whatever chemistry her and O’Brien had previously seems gone and it leaves her performance a bit weaker as a result. Thankfully we have Rosa Salazar who has all the chemistry this time. They give her far more to do and I am filled with joy for it. They need to cast her in everything. I am truly excited for Alita: Battle Angel as she delivered a solid performance this time and showed me she has the action, the emotion, and an ability to stand out. Personal choice: Please make a Disney’s Gargoyles movie and cast her as Detective Maza. Thanks. There is one other stand out, Thomas Brodie Sangster, our own Jojen Reed as Newt. He gives the best performance I have seen from him to date and absolutely nails each delivery through the movie.

On the technical front, last time I mentioned in my spoiler corner how the infected of the Flare Virus looked a lot like the creatures from Last Of Us. That hasn’t changed much, but we have also added Ghouls from Fallout 4. The make up is an amazing piece of work, but it absolutely will remind anyone who has played the FO franchise recently of Hancock. Bearing in mind this is an observation not a complaint. The visuals in the movie are rather incredible and when you consider the budget was only $62 million they made every dollar count. I have seen hundred and hundred and fifty million dollar movies look far worse than this did. There is an amazing amount of practical work that holds up remarkably well and the CG work that exists is blended near flawlessly. The pacing is still problematic, but I also can’t think right now how I’d edit it differently. I can maybe shave 10 minutes tops without losing something. It’s clear the directors visual style I mentioned earlier affected the production design and maybe he would be good with something like a Fallout or Last of Us movie. It seems thats what he wants to make.

TL;DR?

I was surprised to find out how much I enjoyed the movie. The opening grabbed my attention, the beats played well and the actors on their third film together have gelled in such a way the non verbal communication sells well. There’s some tonal issues in the movie, but they are all within the genre so it isn’t as bad as other movies that run into those tone issues. The biggest problem Death Cure has is it’s length and ok the biggest problem is no one will see it.

The Scorch Trials brought in $81 million domestic, a 20% drop from Maze Runner. With this January dump slot and weak opening to this years movies only die hard Maze Runner fans will go out for this. I think this might be expected considering its release date, but don’t go expecting this to turn around movie goers. You *do* need to see all three to get the experience and not enough saw the second to sell the third to the larger audiences. This is a bit sad because it is a good movie. There’s love and care here and most of the actors continue to give it their all. It was enjoyable and I have no regrets about spending the extra money on the D-Box (moving) seats.

Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the series so far, absolutely. Give it a go and enjoy the ride. They throw everything at the fence with abandon and it sticks and is worth it when they do. Even the lampshades look nice.

If you aren’t engaged in the series, try the first one. If it doesn’t hold you then you won’t get the same experience from the finale.

Will you buy it?

Honestly? Yes. Good visuals. Good acting. Solid entertainment. Salazar, Sangster, and O’Brien knocking it out of the park – no regrets.

Is this the end of the YA series conversions?

Harry Potter started it. Twilight let it explode. Hunger Games rang the dinner bell and everyone came running. Most of them tripped over their own feet. There aren’t nearly as many YA conversions these days because studios wanted to put minimal effort into them and paid the price. They think the audiences are stupid or aren’t worth it. Neither of these things are true and the cinema is paying for it.

If Death Cure is how YA franchises go out I won’t be sad. This was probably the best conclusion to one of these yet.

I am kind of happy that this is how the month goes out, it gives me a bit of hope for the year to come.

 

Um spoiler corner?

I changed my mind. It’ll get a spoiler editorial later. I think this one needs some thought.

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.