Darke Reviews | Alien: Covenant (2017)

I have many fandoms. So once again I will say these words, “I am a fan of this”. I have read quite a few of the Alien books, comics, and other media over the years; at least until the late 90’s. I could, and can still, recite to you from memory the names of every member of the crew of the Sulaco and the Nostromo. I called one of my ex girlfriends Ripley as a nickname. I have literally watched every Alien movie more than once, multiple cuts of them, directors cuts, “assembly cuts”, I’ve collected deleted scenes and for awhile I kept trying to hunt down the laser disc (ask your parents kids) of Aliens just so I could see the extended death scene of Burke, Carter J.  I also don’t think Prometheus is a bad film. I see what the director was trying to do and have a feeling that he may have seen the death of his brother Tony coming and was trying to cope with it in his question for whats next, life and death, and being angry at your makers. I also get why this movie divided the fans, some forgive it (I don’t), some hate it (I also don’t).

So how was it’s sequel?

Four writing credits. That’s never a good sign right? Right. The movie has a story by Jack Paglen (Transcendence) and Michael Green (Logan, Green Lantern); which was converted to screenplay by John Logan (Skyfall, Last Samurai) and Dante Harper (first writing credit). So we have a mix of good, bad, and holy hell this is bad – which explains much. The movie decides to lift from Percy Bysshe Shelley and so shall I in excerpt:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

It’s ironic really that a friend of mine and someone I look up to Satyros Phil Brucato posted today on Facebook about the responsibility of IP holders and writers in relation to their products; his is specifically about the dumpster fire that is Marvel comics right now. I find that both Ozymandias and Satyros hit the problems I have with this movie.

*pulls up a chair and stares at the Hollywood writing room*

I am a writer. I know what you do is very difficult. I have yet to finish a novel. I have yet to finish a script. You have done these things. I applaud you. BUT – when you are making a thing, based on a previous thing…there are dangers. The waters are not uncharted, many have navigated them successfully, far more have crashed upon the rocks of fandom. As Satyros pointed out,

When you work with legends… even, perhaps, create them… those legends are bigger than you are. You might legally own the intellectual property rights to a given legend, but the power of that legend belongs to its audience. A legend holds that power because it speaks to human needs, fears, aspirations and dreams.

The Alien series, the creature, the world it is legend. You, even its creators such as Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and the original director Ridley Scott – have a responsibility to the fans. Yes, you as owner and creator can do anything you want with it. I do not argue that. Your changes do not devalue my love of the original works, such as Alien and Aliens – both of which can easily be classified as near perfect films. What you do though when you try to retcon (Retro-Active-Continuity …ie changing the history you already wrote to …do something) your own world is leave us confused to the status of your world.  When you ignore literally every work that has come since the original you take a huge risk of alienating the fans. Jurassic World took the risk and didn’t do so badly with it – but the sequels of Jurassic Park are not looked upon with legendary eyes.

Alien and Aliens are. The links between the universes of Alien and Predator are. The comics, the books, all of it – people have passion about. There are people who have done full blown physiological studies of both the Xenomorph and it’s cycles as well as the Yautja (Predators).  You had a chance, you choose to do something …else with it; you changed your own history, science and so much else. Something you had a right to do.

 

The point is, this product in my opinion is nothing more than a disappointment. You told nothing new. You didn’t scare us. You didn’t make me care if the characters lived or died. You changed so many of your own rules and so much of the backstory people know and care about – nothing ends up mattering.

This is what brings us back to Ozymandias – look upon your work and despair.  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay.

I can talk about the acting – its fine. No one stands out to me. Fassbender can act we know this. Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) can have a range of emotions, but I never saw her evolve. The character I was introduced to is the character I ended with. There was no metamorphosis of the character – she is a shadow of Ripley and that is not the fault of the actress. I have a new respect for Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and want to see him act in more straight roles like this one. They are fine. They are all fine.

The effects are…good. Mostly. Every effect is very clean and looks in frame. I appreciate the effort there. It should be noticed and applauded by anyone in that industry and looked to for guidance in the future. There’s a lovely mix of practical and CG that works very very well. However, some puppetry looks…wrong to the point of being nearly silly.

Production value? Yes. Very high. Very well framed, crafted etc. The biggest complaint is the film is too dark. It’s been colour corrected to be darker but is also washed out because of it bluring the lines of contrast at times making it difficult to see what, if anything, is going on – but not in a way that illicits fear.

TL;DR

This should be the last of the Alien franchise for awhile. Mr. Scott, please leave it alone. Fox. Please leave it alone.

If your intent was to make a movie that was gothic horror, or horror at all like the original – you failed.

If your intent was to touch on the action and sci fi horror/action of the sequel – you failed to deliver.

If your intent was to create a science fiction movie that raised questions and could allow for debate or good conversation – you missed your mark.

Hell, you even failed at making a continuous sequel that makes sense. You had no set tone. You had nothing compelling. The characters were erasable.

You created instead bland mediocrity that served no purpose and delivered no meaning or subtext – or entertainment value.

So…should you see it?

Look, yes, I am a fan girl. But I do my best to judge a movie on it’s own merits. It does a few things interesting but fails in every other regard to make me care or invest myself in the story. Guardians of the Galaxy with a terribly weak story pulled that off, so something like this should have been able to without trying.

It didn’t.

So no – don’t see it. It is in a word: Disappointing on every level.

How do you rank it in the franchise?

Well…I’d watch it before the theatrical cut of Alien 3? At least the AVP movies and Alien 4 were enjoyable in their badness. This is just bland.

So not buying it?

No. Not even on a dare. It just would anger me more.

Wow – you are angry?

Yes, because I went in with no expectations after the last one. I went in with a gleam of hope it could be better. I was upset by how little this left me caring.

So what next?

I am not reviewing Pirates 5. Didn’t see the 4th. don’t want to see the 5th (who asked for a 5th?). Wonder Woman on June 2nd is my hope now…I must be crazy.

 

This is Jessica Darke, last survivor of Alien Covenant signing off.

 

Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)

So nearly 3 years later and we have moved from the late summer “Oh I hope it does well but oh well if it doesn’t” dump slot to the first of the May blockbuster releases. Guardians of the Galaxy practically minted money for Disney and Marvel then, surprising everyone from the fans to the critics to the execs. I mean sure the cast and crew may have known what they had, and I know how carefully cultivated the Marvel Cinematic Universe is – but this one felt like a “think we can do it?”, “Have we built up enough good will to try this?” “Well no harm if it doesn’t work, its not on earth right? *insert weak laugh*”

  • Budget: $170 Million
  • US Gross: $333,176,600
  • Non-US Gross: $440,152,029
  • 3rd highest grossing movie in 2014 (beating out The Hobbit, Captain America The Winter Soldier, and Transformers by no less than 70 million dollars)

So it’s safe to say they did well that year. That a sequel order was in the mail on release day. Like suddenly they knew they had something and ran with it before the final numbers even came in for the opening weekend. 3 years and a $200 million dollar budget later we return to the wider galaxy and the adventures of its guardians with their quirky personalities, and early 80’s theme music?

But should they have been ignored like the B sides of a tape?

James Gunn returns with pen in hand for both writer credit and gets the oh so comfy director chair as well. If you had told me the guy who wrote the two Scooby Doo movies and Lollipop Chainsaw (video game) would be directing not just one but two movies in a film series that’s profits exceed the GDP of several countries combined – I would laugh. I mean He wrote Tromeo and Juliet (a classic for Troma lovers) – now he writes the story of a gaggle of guardians gallivanting gregariously about the galaxy. What? I had to try anyway….The story picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the last movie in media res with the heroes defending a McGuffin from a thing. Which leads to another event and then another. Things look up. Things look down. Things go wrong. Things go right. Secrets are revealed!

This is a no spoiler review. I am not giving you more than the trailers do.

What I will say is that the movie shifts tones a few times. There are parts of humor that for me largely fell flat, but the audience around me laughed at most of the jokes. Most. The problem with some of these is that they jump from a scene that is emotionally compromising or otherwise somber to a moment of near slapstick humor. It can eject some movie goers from the moment – especially as not all the jokes work. A majority didn’t work on me, but if you are a frequent reader you know I have a lot of issues with humor and me not getting it. Thankfully humor isn’t everything the movie is based on. It also bothered, unlike so many other films, to stop and let you breathe. Let you have character moments and get a little closer to them so you are feeling with them. Would these moments have worked without the first movie? No. They require you to know the barebones you were given before so when more is revealed about them you form a deeper connection with them.

Tonal quality shifts are not the films only area of flux. Visually the film goes from amazing make up and computer effects to something I would have expected from the late 90’s or early 20’s. There is one part that I swear the movie goes full cartoon and it absolutely ejected me from the film; which was then re entered by the next beats character moment. Granted for some of the effects I feel nothing but pity for the animation studios called upon. Having to create rich visual effects that are believable for this is a daunting task. They largely succeeded.

What didn’t succeed in the flux category beyond some of the visuals, some of the characters, and some of the story beats? The music. Hold on! Hold on! I know I loathed the soundtrack of the last one. Not so here. Volume 2 Awesome Mix is a much better tape, not one I’d listen to regularly, but it doesn’t have songs I despise. In fact Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is easily in my top 100 songs of all time. No, the accompanying soundtrack is fine and works within the movies diagetic sound as much as it does non-diagetic to the point where you aren’t sure and it doesn’t matter.  The part of the soundtrack that doesn’t work is the score. Its recycled. You will hear the Avengers theme…a few times. It is disappointing when so much care is put into it that they are recycling their musical queues from other films.

If you are curious about what I mean – check this video from the awesome Every Frame a Painting

 

Do I believe most people notice or care? Fair question and I would say no – but that doesn’t earn my forgiveness or the fact it needs to be called out.

At this point I normally talk about the actors, but everyone is absolutely fine. New comer to the series Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Ingrid Goes West) merges amazingly well with the existing party as Mantis. As I mentioned in my recent Fast and Furious review. I want Kurt Russel in all the things ever. This has only reaffirmed that.

I’ve avoided talking about the action because I found it…wanting. It’s there; just not as visually compelling or character driven as it could be. Marvel – please note – swarms and masses of faceless attackers does not make your combat more interesting or the stakes any higher. It was just very very safe.

TL;DR?

I would hit play on the Volume 2. Despite the flaws I perceived in the movie, of which there were many, I had a good time. It wasn’t great, but it was solid good pop corn fun. It got me emotionally invested in the stories of the characters and that is hard to do. It succeeded on a personal level where some of the production failed on an intellectual level. Audiences will love it and no one left the theatre until the last of the credits rolled. Again its flaws need to be called out in that the action is kinda bland and safe, the story and scenes have some amazingly jarring tonal shifts – but beyond that its absolutely serviceable and watchable.

Should I see it?

I don’t believe you will regret it. It’s a good time to be had by most.

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

Ok serviceable and watchable don’t sound like high praise though?

In this day and age it is still praise. It is also not the best Marvel feature but it is far from the worst.

End Credits scenes?

Three of them cut throughout the credits. It’s also worth *watching* the credits as there’s some easter eggs, jokes, and other cute things in them. I rather enjoyed those.

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

Brace yourselves. Summer movie season is coming. Next week King Arthur.

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 | Passengers (2016)

I like good sci-fi. I think my review of Arrival and The Martian show that. Hell I even like some bad Sci Fi (5th Wave) and Mediocre Sci Fi (Morgan , Transcendence) so long as I am entertained.  Though as 10 Cloverfield Lane found out – if you keep beating me over the head with a specific trope I will be unforgiving. I want to expect more. You as a viewing audience should expect more.

What’s the point I am getting to?

First a warning. I have to violate the No Spoiler Rule here. You can click here to skip to the TL;DR

Spoiler-Warning
spoilers

Still reading?

Ok.

I wish this movie had a face so I could punch it.

The entire contrivance of the movie after the system error that wakes *him* up is that he is the one that wakes her up. Why? Because she’s beautiful. Because he has cyber-stalked her sleeping beauty. Because he thinks she’s perfect and he loves the idea of her. So he wakes her up knowing this will be a death sentence for her as much as the one he is already subjected to. There’s no consent. No permission. No anything, but his man guilt. Him wrestling with the decision for 5 minutes of screen time is enough apparently.

Of course she finds out about the 2/3 mark of the movie, long after they’ve become a thing through their isolation and his charm. He doesn’t even tell her himself, but she finds out by accident. Oh sure he kept saying he was going to tell her, but he never did.

They do allow her to be rightfully angry. Justifiably so, as he has all but murdered her by waking her up nearly 90 years prior to the time she should have been. She goes to lengths to avoid him, but he uses the ship wide communicator to try to make an apology for it so she can’t even actually escape him. Then at least two other sources in the film tell her “…you just have to deal with it and him”; which she finally does and forgives him in a scene that had me clenching my jaw where she after being angry at him was willing to let everyone on the ship die so he could live.

I really hate this movie. I really hate that the producers allowed it.

ITS CREEPY. I don’t care anything else that happens, the premise from the time he woke her up is WRONG.

This is rape culture the movie. “It’s ok because he was alone. We have to think of HIS life. His sanity. Her life and her agency doesn’t matter next to his.”

The movie was written by Jon Spaihts, who also has an executive producer credit which explains why the producers allowed it. He has writing credits on the abysmal bomb The Darkest Hour, Prometheus, and Doctor Strange. He is the writer on the upcoming Mummy movie with Tom Cruise. Oscar nominated director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) was at the helm on this.  Gee, two guys write a space Sleeping Beauty movie where the Prince is a handsome ‘every man’ that of course she’d fall in love with despite you know stalking her and committing one of the universes slowest murders. They use consistent and constant plot contrivances and writing to make it so she does forgive him and they die happily ever after.

When your biggest plot point is similar to parts of Fatal Attraction, Captivity but you are going for actual romance – you failed. I suppose if you want to see Stockholm syndrome the movie this would suffice.

Ok, beyond my rage at that. There are other components to the movie that are a colossal mediocre. I mean if you want to see what life is like trapped in an ever refilling shopping mall you’ve got something to watch here. If you want to watch your typical just in the nick of time save the ship from disaster with no actual tension or risk because you know they won’t kill your lead actor as they spent the previous 80% of the movie man-splaining him for you. Also – the heroic save – doesn’t redeem the bad act. Sorry it doesn’t.

What really kills me is the opening was good. His waking up and handling it was good. How he tried to deal with things was good. Then the bridge between Act I and Act II comes along and poof. Rage. I mean would you REALLY root for Tom Hanks in Castaway if he had intentionally pulled someone from a peaceful happy life and potential just so he wouldn’t be alone? If you said yes – I am a little worried.

*sigh* I really could keep going. I really *SHOULD* keep going, but if you don’t have the idea by now I am not sure what else I could say.

Actors? Pratt and Lawrence are fine. This should surprise no one. She has three Oscar nominations and a win. She can act circles around people. Chris Pratt is charming as ever and we know he can bring intensity when he wants to thanks to Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World,  and Guardians of the Galaxy. They are FINE. She handles the bits of rage and avoidance as well as anyone can, probably better.

Effects? Solid. Nothing to write home about. Nothing particularly new. Definitely very clean and top of the line don’t get me wrong but there was nothing we haven’t seen before.

 

Spoiler-Warning

spoilers

Technically the spoilers are above this, but I am hiding them above the fold with the image…

TL;DR

Do not see this movie. I spent money on it so I could confirm the stories I had heard. They aren’t too far off the mark.

I spent money so I can ask you not to.

If you want to watch a better movie about people waking up from hibernation? Pandorum. It’s good sci-fi horror. That’s what this should have been. If you want a decent stalking movie – there’s always Fatal Attraction. I heard The Resident was pretty good too.

Seriously readers – don’t give this money. Don’t let Hollywood think this is alright. Let it bomb for the controversy it rightfully deserves.

I understand some folks will see this because they just love Pratt. I get it. He’s cute. He’s charming. Just spend the $20 (Ticket+Concessions) to buy Jurassic World or Magnificent Seven. If you like Jennifer Lawrence and want to see her vamping it up, there’s American Hustle.

Just don’t see this.

Please.

Thank you.

~The Management of Amused in the Dark

Darke Reviews | Arrival (2016)

If you’ve been paying attention to me over the past few years I have been running this site, you will know I love Sci Fi and Science in general. I was raised on Sci Fi movies, with some of my favourites from childhood being things like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Aliens, The Blackhole, 2010, The Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine, Dune, The Abyss, Tron…ok so the list goes on. Alright the list does go on *deep breath* Flash Gordon, Altered States, Flight of the Navigator, My Science Project, Explorers, Lifeforce, Night of the Comet…ok ok I will stop now. That’s still but a fraction of what I grew up with and love. Some holds up better than others, others such as 2001 and Blade Runner I didn’t appreciate as a kid but do now.

When it comes to sciences, Chemistry, Archaeology, Linguistics, Physics, History, Astronomy, and Psychology are but a tip of an iceberg of things that fascinate me to no end. Put an article in front of me around some of these fields I will read it and do my best to understand it. Give me someone in these fields to talk to and I will probably pick their brain and ask questions, even if I only understand about a third of what they are saying. There was a time in my living room two linguists started speaking about various complexities of language and the breakdown of components of language and language groups. I comprehended a fraction, but still found it fascinating and had I chosen could have studied more to understand the rest. With this combination of fascination it should be no surprise that on Stargate and SG-1 my favourite character is Daniel Jackson. That I spent time making a character for a game who had a journal and was deciphering Goa’uld. That I love studying how Dothraki and High Valyrian work; which by the by enabled the creation wonderful relationship with someone, simply by speaking just a little Dothraki and sharing the geekness.

So whats the point and how does this apply to the movie?

Well let’s talk about that then. The film deals with the arrival (roll credits, ding), of an alien race and our protagonist is brought in to help decipher their language. So we have the marriage of Sci Fi and Linguistics. Ok so that’s technically repeating myself as it is SCIENCE Fiction, but for so long we have been moving away from the science part of science fiction relegating it’s existence to that of technobabble and gimmicks, without asking the important questions. Like The Martian, this movie goes back and puts the Science back with gleeful abandon and still manages to make it accessible to most any film goer who chooses to watch this.

This is not entirely an original work as it is based on the book Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. It was adapted for the screen by Eric Heisserer who also penned The Thing (2011), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and this years Lights Out.  As I’ve started recently, this tells me he either has been offered projects that have ties to classic 80s or he has a passion for it. Success rate of the film notwithstanding. He also seems to understand and appreciate dramatic tension, or strives to do so. With this, while still unfamiliar with the original material, I feel he succeeded as the dialogue choices and plot points either hit or tropes avoided brought me great joy. He also managed to make it accessible to people who don’t have a passion for science. While not as open as the Martian was, there’s a lot here that they do explain and it works. The rest of the time you can follow along and it works with little explanation.

That means a credit must go to director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). You see a script can tell you one thing, but your decision to show not tell makes all the difference. What makes this movie work is a combination of showing and telling, ironically a plot point of the film. In combination with the script he is able to weave a cohesive story that tells you what you need to know, asks questions to keep you engaged, and delivers an ending that was surprisingly well handled. The direction of his actors was good as was his blocking and choice of camera angles. There are a few scenes where very intentional tricks of the camera are used if you are watching. That is the best term to apply to the direction here. Intentional. This is well thought out and I believe there is very little deviation from the plan as the scenes unfold in practice vs on paper.

Of course you need your stars to deliver as well. Amy Adams (Enchanted, American Hustle) delivers a fantastic performance as our Linguist – turned Xenolinguist  – who must carry the film. She brings the appropriate levels of shock, scientific methods, and inquiry that I wanted to see in this. Jeremy Renner (Avengers, American Hustle) is a ‘hard scientist’, physicist I believe, who works for the government and is brought in with Adams to help uncover the purpose of the aliens. What I absolutely love is the chemistry and partnership between both actor and character as the film progresses with good delivery and solid execution on his own sciences while they unravel the mystery of the aliens.

But….

There are flaws, I really wish directors would stop adjusting the contrast and colour balance of their work. While it’s clear it’s an intentional choice, I don’t know that it was a necessary one. Retaining your normal palette here would have been sufficient and forced other techniques to come into play to show other components of the story. That’s it. That’s my big flaw. OK there are a few minor tropes they hit which were…able to be dealt with and quickly which made them bearable in an otherwise near perfect product of science fiction.

TL:DR?

As Passengers has not come out yet, Morgan was disappointing, I am the lone dissenting voice on 10 Cloverfield Lane; this is hands down the best Science Fiction movie of the year. I will easily put this up there with films such as Contact, The Martian, Ex Machina, and others of their ilk. It proves we haven’t lost how to do good Sci-Fi just that people may be afraid to. Without trying to sound too elitist, this is Sci Fi, the rest is space action or space fantasy. Let’s face it Star Wars is a space fantasy, we can all accept this and love it as much as we all do anyway.

The performances are good. The camera work is good. The script and direction are good. The movie had a very tight (by Hollywood standards) budget of $47 million and you can see the amount of control they had in making this and we all benefit for it. This is the kind of movie, like The Martian, that lets you and your friends have good intelligent conversation coming out of the movie about what you just watched.

My recommendation? Help them make their money back and then some.

Should you see it?

See immediate sentence above.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Yes. No doubt.

Any warnings?

It’s appropriately slow, but methodical. This has the pace of a good drama. It is NOT an action set piece.

Folks that’s it for this one. We have a really good movie here that was really enjoyable.

If you are a reader of my reviews and have a passion for Linguistics, see it and come back and tell me what you think of the science.

Darke Reviews | Morgan (2016)

Yes, I saw this last night and am just writing the review now. Based on the fact no one I talked to at work today even knew this movie was coming out tells me a lot about it’s marketing. The poster (see title image) was entirely uninspired and did little to tell you what the story was. The official trailer did not really tell you much more and I am unsure now if it was a trailer that lied or aspects of the movie that were cut. Possibly both? The trailer of course, is here for your perusal if you should wish to see what the bill of goods we were sold on this was.

 

Sure we see the Scott Free Logo, which means of course the master of Replicants and Xenomorphs, Ridley Scott. He too has stumbled in recent years with projects such as Exodus: Gods and Kings (Prometheus is up for debate), and even in the past (1492: Conquest of Paradise). Though this time he sits in the producer’s chair not director…but does it matter?

Should they not have let Morgan out of the editing room?

Well to the first question – not really. The film is directed by his son Luke Scott with this as his debut to the general public. He did work as Second Unit Director on Exodus, but never the big chair himself. I can see the inspiration he has gained from his father. There are a lot of brilliantly directed shots in this movie where the blocking, camera work, and imagery tells a story all on its own. He also has a flaw of his father where sometimes a scene goes just a hair too long, but has also a flaw of his own in which scenes that really should be longer are broken by a cut or another event. Something that I feel took away from the effectiveness of the storytelling going on. There were so many very clear intentional choices being made in so many aspects of the film that I know there’s a good director there. He just didn’t really communicate some of the decisions well enough in action or word to let you know why it was made.

I have to blame the script for some of this though with only the indy film Peepers to his writing credit  back in 2010, there’s not a lot to discern his choices. I think, but I cannot prove, that he watched Ex Machina and got an idea. The problem is he didn’t know how to execute on the idea. He wanted to do a story about synthetic life (Replicant prototypes?) and make it an American-ized thriller. The problem with this is you have to have the dialogue to support it. You have to have the flow of logic to reach ideas and to understand the underlying objective of the science. Ex-Machina is a Turing test to the next level. This lacked that. They went for an almost slasher vibe by the trailer, which the movie doesn’t support. It also requires more bad science and scientists than I can bear. I don’t mean the scientific aspects itself, they work within the context as the movie follows it’s own rules fairly well. I mean the scientific and lab procedures themselves were bad. This wasn’t a lab. It was a daycare center with an observation window.

So while the script and overall plot required stupidity to function, the actors themselves played their parts as best they could. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a fantastic muted performance, which I am starting to wonder if they are getting too easy to play? Her work in The Witch was one of passion and emotion, while this required the reverse and again I blame the script for not giving her all the room to explore that. I really want to see more work from her in the future as this was a solid performance that sadly the request of the role is quickly becoming typical enough to have a checklist.

  • Thousand yard stare – ✔
  • Stilted communication – ✔
  • Quirky and alienesque body language – ✔
  • Muted or Manic Emotional Responses – ✔

The role itself is uninspired, even if the actor in its place acts their butt off. I think of Soldier with Kurt Russell – which is an amazing performance and more rare then than it is now. This just comes across as another creepy child and there is little Taylor-Joy can do to make it more with what she has. Kate Mara (Shooter, The Martian, Fan4stic) has a similar problem. She is quite literally asked to do little with her performance, which she does marvelously. I suppose that is the sign of talent. To have someone who can deliver complex emotions and is good at it and ask them to deliver little and be stoic despite their urges to want to deliver more.

I would talk about the rest of the cast, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Hateful Eight), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, The Last Witch Hunter), Toby Jones (Captain America), Paul Giamatti (San Andreas, Sideways), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), who all try to bring their characters to life. Try, but the characters were stillborn. The actors do what they can with characters told with so broad a stroke the brush is the size of an aircraft carrier. They don’t even reach caricature status and are so plagued by inherent stupidity that I wonder how they got their jobs. The actors are fine. The role itself – not so much.

From a technical aspect, I wish I could talk about something innovative here, but the movie was shot on the very cheap with an 8 million dollar budget (of which it made back only $2.5). With that understanding it seems to me the studio itself wanted to try the current trend of low budget supernatural horror with sci fi; again inspired by the masterpiece of Ex Machina.

TL;DR

It’s…ok. It’s not bad, but it is annoying with the scientists. I’d like to say it was good. I’d like to say I cared. I just can’t. I have to lay the blame entirely on the script as I can see everyone and their mother trying to do more with what they have and not being able to do much. I really wish someone had taken another pass at this and made a decision on the tone of the movie. Do you want horror? Do you want thriller? Do you want slasher? Do you want sci fi? I really don’t care, but pick one. Not all of them.

I wish they had gone further. I wish they had explored some of the ideas…any of the ideas. I wish they had done something…at all.

In the end there’s a lot of neat concepts and half hearted ideas but none of them click. It isn’t thought provoking at all.

I wish it had been. This could have been so much better than an “ok”.

Should you see it?

Y…no. Not really.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Nope.

Are you seeing Sully this weekend?

No. I am tired of movies about events I watched on the news within the past decade and a half. They are well made films no doubt, but I just am tired of Tom Hanks playing captain savior and survivor. He’s good at it. The movie is good I am sure, but I cannot bring myself to care when we had 24/7 news coverage of Captain Phillips and Captain Sully.

Darke Reviews | Star Trek Beyond (2016)

I was asked today are you a Trekkie or Star Wars fan. The immediate response “I have the blueprints for the NCC 1701 D, but I also have the blue prints for a YT-1300 freighter and an X Wing.”  Yes, it is allowed to love both series. Screw anyone who says otherwise. I watched the original series in syndication, the original animated series, I was the perfect age for Next Gen when it premiered and watched every last episode on its first run appearance. I’ve seen, and own, every Star Trek movie – which is more than I can say for Star Wars. I was in love with the first movie of the reboot, and overly kind in my review of the second one. I looked back on that one the other day and wondered what I was thinking when I wrote it.

So where does that leave us with Star Trek Beyond? Should it have stopped before the final frontier?

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Director Justin Lin (Fast and Furious 6, 5, 4, and 3)  is a good director. He does ensemble well and when I heard he was picked for the chair I was happy despite the haters. He made a very entertaining and profitable franchise that focuses on the story of multiple characters with a few in central focus. This is his “thing” as a director. He does it well again as the crew is separated and each get their own mini arc and he services each intelligently.

Writing. Rule of Three violation inbound. Simon Pegg (yes…) and Doug Jung (Dark Blue) have official writing credits. Uncredited are Roberto Orci (Transformers 3, Star Trek Into Darkness), Patrick McKay (absolutely nothing -alias maybe?), and John D. Payne (also nothing). Five writers, one of which is an accomplished comedian, one of which has only done TV, one who may have sold his soul for profit and production, and two who may or may not exist. In my perception this has created a hot mess. Knowing about 11th hour reshoots and the insertion of a new member of the cast back in March probably left me with a nice quiet dread.  Simon Pegg tried to pass them off as common place, but normally this indicates the movie is missing something or audiences/producers didn’t like something and a change was needed. Adding a full character just doesn’t happen. Seeing the scenes with the new character makes me wonder what else was added as part of these, how the story flowed otherwise? There were other technical flaws that made it feel disjointed as some characters inexplicably vanished during parts and some wardrobe adjustments between beats that told me we missed something.

I want you to focus on the next paragraph…really.

That said they do one thing right. The crew. They are a family. They make this work! They care about each other and aren’t afraid to show it. Every last one of them is family to the others and have absolute faith in that relationship. It was really really pleasing after some of what we saw in Into Darkness and so many other movies with forced conflicts. They also show that multiple races (literally) regardless of skin, sex, orientation, eye socket placement, appendages do come together and truly show the ideals of Roddenberry’s Trek. We haven’t had that in so many many years. I rather despised what happened with many of the TV series as they grew darker and more like something that Alan Moore would write to highlight the flaws of government. They did it right here. While George Takei may have (legitimate) issues with making Hikaru Sulu gay, John Cho had his own, knowing a friend who saw it tonight about cried seeing non straight orientation in such a big budget film in a known verse. Representation is important folks and I could do a huge post on that alone…I probably will another day.

Overall the writing was very disjointed to me and I can see why now as there are full on beats that I didn’t care about or have any emotional response to, yet others did make me smile.

From an acting perspective, there isn’t a lot to say. It’s movie three and the crew is the crew. Pine is Kirk. Quinto is Spock. Urban is Bones. These are facts, nothing more nothing less. When they are in frame you know who they are and the idea of it being someone else doesn’t cross your mind. I about cried when I saw Anton Yelchin. He is going to be missed and I am happy they announced they will not recast Pavel Andreievich Chekov. Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Jungle Book) was given bad direction and so so make up, and doesn’t really work as the villain for me. Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, upcoming The Mummy reboot) is a gem as Jaylah. They do everything right with the character and absolutely nothing wrong…except one thing.

They don’t let you see her actually fight. Oh she fights, but the cinematographer needs his camera privileges taken from him. The camera work was absolutely abysmal for most scenes either panning and zooming without a point of focus or unnecessarily shaky. I would have loved to watch a lot of the physical combat, I think it looked interesting from the few frames I saw. Other shots were so derivative as to be distracting and I am almost sure I got someone nauseous from the work. The make up effects were mostly solid. Some creatures were new, original, and others just looked good with smart designs. Others….not so much.  The other FX are ..ok. I mean well well above average; so I guess they were good. Though I really really want to ask if Simon Pegg or the production designer play Mass Effect, if you watch it you will see why.

TL;DR?

*sigh* I didn’t like it.

Wait wait wait!!

The audience around me applauded. The friend I saw it with really liked it too. They acknowledged the flaws but were able to move past them and enjoy the film. Unlike last week with Ghostbusters, I couldn’t. It has points I clearly do like, aspects of Act III that made me give a damn, and is solid. It just doesn’t work for me. It didn’t resonate and that kind of makes me sad. It is absolutely better than Into Darkness. It is ORIGINAL. not the plot so much, but it’s not a rehashed episode or plot from a previous movie.

Should you see it?

Yes, yes  I think so. I mean there were overall applause from the audience and that means something. A movie like this not resonating with me doesn’t make it bad or unwatchable, or even un-recommendable. It’s very clear that there’s good here and good should be celebrated.

I think a lot of people should and will enjoy this.

My friend said it best, “it’s like an episode with a bigger budget!”

Will you buy it?

Probably? I mean I can give it a second chance in the comfort of my own home. I know my friend is and they never buy movies.

What about? You know…

They handle the legendary Mr. Nimoy’s death in a way that had me tear up. Both he and Anton are acknowledged in the credits.

What’s next?

Suicide Squad!