Darke Reviews | Ad Astra (2019)

Three movies in three days. Felt I owed my readers something, along with my own curiosity about the movies in question. We know how I felt about the pure sweetness of Abominable, while Rambo Last Blood the less I say at this point the better. That leaves us with Ad Astra. The trailer looks promising with a mystery to be solved, a potential twist or three. It sets up for a Science Fiction or Science Action piece pretty well.

Is it any of those things?

The movie being written and Directed by James Gray (Lost City of Z), with a cowriting credit from Ethan Gross (Fringe), explains much of my issues. Almost every complaint I had with Lost City I have here. There’s no connective tissue in the movie. It thinks it is asking big questions, but it never does. It thinks that giving us a dissassociative Brad Pitt that its touching on the human nature and it doesn’t. It thinks that every idea even briefly introduced then abandoned is something interesting and they end up being more interesting than the whole.

The only interesting of note in the movie is the visuals. I am hard pressed to be impressed though after movies like Interstellar or Gravity. It is pretty, it may even be accurate, but none of that makes it interesting. This movie is not science fiction, this is not science action, nor even science fantasy. It’s a family drama with deep space as a backdrop and not even a good family drama at that.

I am skipping the usual TL;DR on this one because I am just so done with this movie and how pretentious it is.  “The answers we seek may be just out of our reach” that is the tagline. Nothing in this film delivers on it.

No you shouldn’t watch it. I will never watch it again or recommend it be purchased. I was either bored or irritated through this 100 million dollar film. That isn’t a good thing.

You can’t claim to ask the big questions and have absolutely no point to any of it.

Darke Reviews | Men in Black: International (2019)

I really had no interest in the Men in Black films after the second one, so I missed the third one (apparently a good thing?) and I even missed the animated series (yes it’s a thing). Will Smith lost his charm with me a very long time ago and so did the franchise. I was very dubious when I heard there was a new Men in Black movie coming out, but then I heard the cast; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. I have a serious girl crush on Thompson and Hemsworth isn’t exactly what one calls something bad to add to a movie. Seven years since the last film put a nail in the series coffin and twenty two years since the original. The trailers showed some promise and gave us a heroine to get behind, so I went and watched it with the two members of my Dark Court.

Should we be neuralized to forget?

There are two writing credits on the movie, which is not across my writer threshold making it a good thing. Art Marcum and Matt Holloway who have screenplay credits on Iron Man, Punisher War Zone, and Transformers the Last Knight. Talk about hit or miss? It does, however, inform some of what I saw in the movie. A script that doesn’t do anything particularly original and follows the Men in Black formula pretty well. There are some clear bits of dialogue that represent expected plot points that got dropped as the production went on. The story is what was promised on the trailer, girl finds the MiB, gets recruited, gets sent to London office. Threat to the planet ensues.  They look good a long the way.

So not original? No. Formulaic? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. Not always. I hear in critics circles and some regular movie goers saying “its sooo formulaic” as if its a bad thing. Every movie is a formula. Some are more recognizable than others. They get reused for a reason – they work. When you go to a bar do you complain that your drink is formulaic? You just paid the same amount you did for a movie ticket. All it means is that the pattern and structure follow something you’ve seen before, but with the content being adjusted for this particular narrative. The adjustments work here and I really didn’t have any major complaints. I don’t have much in the way of major praises either. It simply works at the baseline and in some cases, like this one, that really is not the worst thing in the world.

A good director helps though and fortunately F. Gary Gray is a good director. I like his work on Set It Off, The Italian Job, and the Negotiator. I hear that Straight Outta Compton was good. The framing of shots is good. The direction and required mystery components are handled well. He had two of the most charismatic modern actors in Thompson and Hemsworth. He used his Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson well, something frequently not done.  Side characters like Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber) and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible) work well and suit the narrative and even add to it, which makes a pleasant change from previous films.

If anything the biggest weakness on the movie is an over-reliance on CG. More than a few of the shots and creatures would have looked even more amazing in the practical with make up, puppets, and the like. That said, the vast majority of the CG creatures and world looked good. The studios involved clearly spent their money well here and created that same lived in world of MiB with always some little thing in the background, which is a very Mos Eisley Cantina trick and I appreciate it. While some looked good, there’s two or three effects that just look exceptional and are definitely worth seeing.

TL;DR

I love that the writers and director went with the female lead on this one and that she is confident and capable. Not to say that she doesn’t make mistakes, but the humor in this movie is elevated even over the first one. All the jokes land and really for once don’t depend upon the embarrassment of someone to be funny. I *hate* that kind of humor and the movie didn’t have it. Thompson is a more than capable lead character and the charisma between her and her co-star in Thor is more than enough to light up any screen.

The movie much to my surprise works. It isn’t great, it doesn’t redefine the genre, but if you want to start off a new franchise you could do a lot worse than this. Point in fact this is one of the first times in a long time I actively want a reboot of the franchise with these two characters at the helm. Not only are the actors magnificently charming, I *like* both the characters for what they bring to the table. Men in Black International surprised me a bit. I knew I enjoyed it and was able to unwind watching it, but as I write I am finding how much I enjoyed it.

Granted, maybe its just me comparing it to last weeks movie? Either way…

Should I see it?

Yeah if you were dubious I think you will be ok. Like I’ve said, it doesn’t tread any new ground plot wise, is pretty basic but makes that work in its favor. Matinee minimum, super sound systems optional.

Would you see it again?

The Dark Court and I agree – probably not in theatres. Not a bad thing, just it doesn’t require that screen to enjoy

So you’re buying it then?

Honestly, yeah. I liked it.

Anything else to add?

This movie didn’t help with my crush. It might have made it worse? 

In all seriousness, the humor in the movie works and doesn’t do it at the expense of anyone, beyond some decent physical comedy from Hemsworth. I would recommend he talk to Brendan Frasier before he plays that card too much.

Ok so Next week?

Toy Story 4 – Probably not. I never fell in love with that franchise. I honestly didn’t particularly like the first one, don’t even remember the second, and didn’t watch the third.

Childs Play – I am curious. Pretty likely. No members of the Dark Court with me though. Maybe a Dark Princess will brave it?

Anna – maybe, for some mindless action fare? Still undecided there.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Ah it feels like only yesterday sometimes when I was introduced to anime. Sometimes it feels like about a quarter of a century ago. Sadly the latter is more accurate. I’m not talking about things like Voltron, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z (aka Mazinger Z), or Robotech. I mean Vampire Hunter D, Nausica Valley of the Wind, Akira, Ninja Scroll, and yes, Battle Angel Alita. Anime at the time was unlike anything we had animation wise in the States with the primary sources being your toy commercials, I mean afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons, Disney, Bluth and Bakshi. Not only was the animation something new and amazing, but the storytelling was beyond the pale with complexity of character, depth of story, and a level of maturity we weren’t treated to in America. To be clear Anime wasn’t just cartoons – but boy did we use that as an excuse to watch them, it was adult storytelling with animation. This isn’t to say there wasn’t anime for kids, but many of the movie releases were certainly not and that doesn’t even touch the hentai material out there.

Since that time we have been treated to more and more anime and it’s influences coming into the west and changing the landscape of well everything. Sailor Moon? Dragonball? How about a little thing called Pokemon? Every now and then someone in the US tries to make a live action version; and we end up with Dragonball Evolution (2009) or the thoroughly and literally white-washed Ghost in the Shell (2017), or the Netflix remake of Death Note. Sometimes you get…wait I don’t think there is one. Make sure to comment over on Facebook if you think there is a WESTERN Live Action Adaptation that is good.

Where does that leave Alita?

Credit must first be given to Yukito Kishiro, writer of the original Manga series “Gunnm” that ran from 1990 to 1995. Laeta Kalogridis, James Cameron, and Robert Rodriguez adapted the Manga and 1993 anime for the screen with Rodriguez as the director. Cameron is well known for pushing technology to its limits and when it doesn’t exist inventing new technology so a movie like this feels right up his alley. What is interesting here is this is a movie he has held the rights to for almost a decade and even his show Dark Angel (2000-2002) was inspired by it. Rodriguez appeared on the scene in 1992 with his low budget El Mariachi and exploded into American audiences with Desperado in 1995. He is a visionary in the truest sense taking smaller budgets and doing amazing things as well as throwbacks to grindhouse cinema and other eras. Kalogridis was the creator of the amazing Altered Carbon series for Netflix, Shutter Island; but also Terminator Genisys and Alexander as well. This is a mix of talent that feels remarkably odd and shouldn’t work as well together as they did. There is a wild mix of artistic vision, cinematic style, and appreciation for the source material.

Producer James Cameron and Director Robert Rodriguez on the set of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Rico Torres.

The story, set in the 26th century, of a full bodied cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar), found in the scrap heap beneath the last of the floating cities Zalem by cybernetic genius Dr. Dyson Ido. She has no memory of who or what she is, but with her new body and a natural instinct for the fight, she works her way through Scrap Iron City with Ido and local boy Yugo against all comers and odds. Will she discover the truth and is it a truth she wants? What will the price be for that knowledge?

This is an amazingly solid lift from the source material. As I watch the original 1993 OVA writing this review I can’t help but be impressed with the number of scenes and lines of dialogue lifted frame for frame. It isn’t a perfect adaptation of course as they must pad out the run time, alter the story to fit, and make their own changes for audiences. Many characters though are 100% true to their original material even with this padding, others are significantly different.  Alita, for me, also avoids the “Born Sexy Yesterday” trope as this character truly is about and for her own agency so that is a win that shouldn’t be discounted. The problem comes in with the clashing styles of the material, modern filmmakers, and almost being too true to the story – which is a really odd flaw. Scenes that were included from the Anime and Manga feel jarring at times as they don’t mesh as well as they could with the film adaptation of the story. This can create an emotionally disjointed film with some odd rises and falls that leave you more uncertain than brought along on the ride. I am impressed how they avoid westernizing and well to be clear Americanizing the movie, but that does run the risk of alienating some audiences.

This isn’t to say the actors, with Rodriguez in the directors chair, don’t give it their all. Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner) owns the necessary complexity to play the titular character. She plays fragile, she plays innocent, she plays bad ass and makes it all work. True some of the dialogue (with corresponding music) doesn’t work but she tries and within the context of the story had it been placed elsewhere would have worked amazingly. I said it with Death Cure and I say it again Salazar is a talent to keep an eye on and deserves more roles.  Christoph Waltz, is somewhere between phoning it in and not knowing what kind of movie he is in. Waltz phoning it in is still better than many actors best days so it worked even when it shouldn’t.  I wish that Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly had been given more screen time as they own the camera when they are present.

Visually this movie is aces. I expect nothing less with Cameron in the producers chair but it cannot be understated how amazingly detailed the work in this movie is. Yes, the eyes are odd; but you need to appreciate that it is consistent throughout the movie and feels true to the alien, cybernetic nature that marks Alita as other. That doll like look is part of what makes her who she is and I kind of like it.  The Motorball scenes and other cyborg combat are just flat out amazing and remind me this is in fact live action anime.

I wish I could say it was all good here, but it’s not. The movie alternates between dragging and flitting from scene to scene just so they can cover some beats that really just dont need to be there. I think another pass on the script or another walk through the editing room could have done the movie a favor or two. I would need to watch it again, but the other lackluster thing was the music by Junkie XL. I can’t think of who else I would have gotten for the music, but it just was not inspiring.

TL:DR?

I like this movie. I am just sad I can’t say I love this movie. There is so much going for it from the visuals to the acting, that the editing and compressed story hurt due to how they were put together. As I was watching I felt like this should have been a new experiment for Cameron where he does a “theatrical mini series”; in which he releases multiple 75 minute chunks of a movie that deserves to be told and witnesses on the big screen. With such a packed slate of movies coming later this year, I am terribly afraid Alita Battle Angel will fall.

Should I see it?

Are you a fan of anime, this particular anime, manga in general? Yes. Go. Go now. If you were curious about the movie put down the money for the nice seats and enjoy a visual spectacle. If you were weirded out by the eyes and going what is this thing? Yeah…probably a safe skip.

Is 3-D needed?

No.

Would you see it again though?

Probably. Might even do it this weekend. Still need to see Happy Death Day 2U though, that comes first. Then Alita again.

Ok so buying it?

Yeah this is absolutely worthy of the collection. It has enough great moments and more than enough good moments and no real ‘bad’ moments to make me enjoy it on multiple viewings

That was a weird sentence.

Yes. Yes it was. This is not a bad movie, this is a good movie with great people behind it trying to be a very good movie. I don’t know what the secret ingredient here is precisely, I just know that it was absent and that is kinda sad. Unlike other movies (Glass) not anger inducing or frustrating, just …sad. I had a good time with Alita: Battle Angel, but I kept wanting and hoping for a bit more. I think with the people behind it that was reasonable.

Worth the money. Worth the rewatch for me. Who knows maybe I’ll enjoy it more the second time.

 

Special Edit Note: I didn’t mention this is the best western made live action Anime by leagues. It is. The bar is just so low it’s not fair to Alita to mention it.

Darke Reviews | The Predator (2018)

The original Predator was one of the first R rated movies I have recollection of seeing end to end as a little girl, without sneaking it in after bedtime. I think A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first one I snuck in. This may explain many many things about me as an adult in retrospect. The 1987 Predator is a near perfect snapshot of the 80’s action film, right at the peak of all that was good in that time. It’s sequel in 1990 was solid and deeply added to the mythos of the Predators and added new weapons to their arsenal; and I still want a Combi Stick. I read most of the early novels which explored the Yautja (their species name) which introduced us to Aliens vs Predator back in 1994 and the awesome Machiko Noguchi. When in 2004 I heard we were getting an AvP movie I got excited. I watched it. I was less excited, but still enjoy it more than most. We don’t discuss Alien vs Predator Requiem (2007)

 

Not really, but if you've seen it, you are probably laughing right now.

Actual Screen shot from Requiem.

Then in 2010 after the dismal performance of Requiem, we were given the gift of Predators. They brilliantly took the story away from Earth and gave us the first Predator movie since 1990 to really feel at its core like the first one.  It actually deserves its own review. That being said people couldn’t tell if it was a reboot, remake, or sequel and after being burned multiple times this century gave it a pass; it is a sequel by the way. Eight years later Shane Black and 20th Century Fox return to the franchise.

Should they have hunted other game?

So the most common piece of trivia around this movie is that Shane Black, the director, was in the original Predator as Hawkins. For those that don’t remember he’s the first one of Dutch’s unit to die while he is guarding Anna. More people know him from his other directorial work in Iron Man 3, or as the writer of Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad, The Last Action here, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. The man has a weird obsession with movies set at Christmas. So as he is talented with the pen as well as the directors chair, he was one of the writers on this film, along with Fred Dekker who also wrote for Monster Squad. Dekker is additionally known for the cult classic Night of the Creeps and the cinematic garbage fire that is Robocop 3.

These two are a hot mess, as is the script and feel of the movie. Yes, you will spend quite a bit of time laughing at the jokes and gags that pepper this movie like buckshot. That isn’t Predator though. It’s not a buddy cop movie and shouldn’t be. As a Director and writer he absolutely can do with the material what he wishes, but you also have to expect the backlash from both critics and fans of the franchise when you go off the reservation this much. It is a continuation of the franchise acknowledging the events of Predator in 1987 and Predator 2 (which canonically occurred in 1997); and alluding to other “visits”; but it doesn’t feel like any of the other movies except sadly Requiem. It lacks the genie in the bottle aspect of the first movie, the pressure cooker feel and expansion of the lore that the second brought, the finesse and style of AVP, but has the same shooting feel as Requiem – but hey you can actually see everything this time. It doesn’t have a feel of it’s own beyond buddy cop style action movie, this time with Halloween as a backdrop. Character motivations are thin at best and the direction of two of them leaves me scratching my head more than a few times as they seem to shift in tone as much as the movie does.

That being said, the action is kinetic. A scene in a high school stadium has some great fluidity of motion and build up that you don’t really get to see these days. You can follow the combat pretty clearly even with one thing being invisible and it being night; with one clear exception in the film you know where everyone is at any given point in relation to the surroundings. That exception is both immediately noticeable then…not. The creature effects are…well when they are practical they look fantastic. Do not ask me how often they are practical, the answer will do nothing but disappoint.

What really saves the movie is the actors. Boyd Holbrook (Logan) is our main protagonist and he really has the charm to make it work. He exudes the charisma needed to let you believe he can take the group he is with and get them to follow. Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight,  12 Strong) doesn’t quite have the same caliber of personality but pairs well with Holbrook as his character Nebraska. He feels like a believable character in an unbelievable situation. Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther, Marshall) plays Traeger and the faults I have here are not Brown’s, he’s solid the character and direction are…a choice. The same can be said of Olivia Munn (X-Men Apocalypse, Attack of the Show!); and while I like her performance and the character she’s playing there are some inconsistencies I have some issues reconciling.

TL;DR?

First let me be clear, I had fun at the movie tonight. That doesn’t keep it from being a hot mess. It feels like every idea they had for the movie got filmed. Some were edited out to varying degrees of success while others should have been edited out entirely. Everything is just above serviceable, but none of it feels like an actual Predator movie. All the toys are there, and Henry Jackman sure as hell used the music from the original, but this doesn’t make it good. Nor does toying with some of the original lines in act one. Ha ha, we get it, its a reference to the original movie. You see  you see! *eye roll* There’s ways to do callbacks, but this was not it.

The movie is an old wooden roller coaster from your childhood that’s just a bit smaller than you remember and not quite as thrilling as you want it to be. It looks similar, has a few new coats of paint, but the feeling just ain’t there anymore. The magic is gone.

Should I see it?

At a theatre with beer and popcorn. If your still watch the NFL and your team is losing this would be a good substitute. It is less painful than that and overall still better than Requiem.

Would you see it again?

In theatres? Unlikely.

But, you’ll buy it?

Time will tell. My magic 8 ball says likely, but not 100% sure yet. I think there’s rewatch value for the fun, but I may be more inclined to put in the first two instead.

Ok, it has an R rating – hows the gore.

I can’t decide if this is a spoiler or not, but um…the R rating is for language.

So there’s some controversy on this film – do you want to address that?

Yes and no. Most people who read reviews just want the review not the drama behind the camera. So if that’s you stop now. Like, Comment, or Share please! I am almost to 200 subs on Facebook.

If you want to know more keep reading.

The situation: Shane Black brought a friend of his on set and cast him in a role in which he would be a stalkery jogger going after Munn’s character during her introduction. This friend is a registered sex offender for assaulting a minor female. Black did not tell his actress the literal predator was playing a little too on the nose during his scenes. When Munn found out about it, she went to Fox and asked them to cut the scene – and they did without hesitation; as in within 48 hours of it coming to light. This lead to stories of Munn being isolated at the Toronto premier, as the cast that was there gave standing ovation to Black. This feeling of isolation was corrected by the time of the later LA premier. The entire cast of major players all have been in support of her and their comments (available here on THR) make it clear they do support her and her decision to come forward and Fox’s to cut the scene. In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, which are both long over due Fox responded the only way they could. The cast are responding the only reasonable way they can to maintain continued employment in that environment and yet in many cases it does truly feel sincere; which doesn’t surprise me too much considering the nature of the actors involved.

The problem I feel that needs to be addressed is Shane Black himself. While he has come out and supports the Fox decision (of course he does), bowed out of interviews at the Toronto International Film festival as this would be the only real story he would be asked, and has since apologized publicly and stated he didn’t know the severity of the crime of his friend; he’s not off the hook. He and Munn are both seemingly committed to hashing this out privately and that needs to happen too, but there is a conversation to be had in what gave him the right?

What gave him the right to cast someone he knew was a sex offender in a role that that was literally an individual harassing a woman and NOT tell his actress? When Olivia Munn found out (I haven’t figured out the when/where) but when she found out – he should have acted immediately. It should not have been her to ask Fox – it should have been him. He should have had the first public statement out of the gate (crafted by Fox of course) addressing it and neutering the entire issue there.

Instead, yet again, a woman must be the one to raise her voice, put her career at risk, put the release of her movie at risk because he – and the rest who knew – were complicit in not doing anything. James Gunn was fired for comments from a decade ago, that he long since apologized for and taken action to be better about – yet here’s Shane Black and…nothing.

It was very difficult to watch the movie and not think of this and had the scene not been cut – I wouldn’t have watched it at all. Shane Black needs to do a lot more penance than making up and apologizing to Munn, I don’t know what it should be, but I truly don’t think he’s learned from this. I read his statement a few times, but it just rings hollow. He takes the responsibility for the poor decision, but in the same breath says ‘we cut the scene’. No – you were told to cut it. There is a difference Mr. Black.

The conversation has been started yet again on this and I am hoping other directors learn from it and that Shane Black truly truly comes to understand and addresses his failing here.

 

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

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 | Upgrade (2018)

I was debating whether or not to see this due to its ableist look and literally basing all the action off of that and a woman in a fridge moment. I am not one to say if it is or isn’t for sure and I leave that to people in a better place to judge, but if you were to ask me? Yeah it is. How so?

The plot is summed up as thus. The story takes place in some not too distant future where technology is at once familiar and not and is fully integrated into most peoples lives. You can see a tenth generation Alexa, third generation self driving cars, police drones that patrol the sky, and of course everyone is tagged to be able to be detected by the drones (of course there’s a way around that too). A working class mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) who is some form of executive for a cybernetic company run afoul of some bad people aiming to do bad things. They kill Asha and leave Grey a quadriplegic who has no choice but to watch her die inches from his fingers.  Several months later after he’s released from the hospital, and an appropriately long sequence showing what his life is like this, he begins to sink into a depression. This of course is when one of his former clients makes him an offer he can’t refuse – a chip that can be inserted into his body that would take over for the interrupt from brain to spine. With the computer chips help, that conveniently comes with an AI named STEM (Simon Maiden), Grey goes on the hunt for those who killed his wife.

There we go, everything from the trailer summed up and not a single spoiler, yet I still covered the entire setup for the movie. It cannot be denied that the movie leads in with a women in fridge moment, but so does something like The Crow. It’s worth bringing that film up since at the core there’s an element of origin stories there brought to bear, and yes, this pales in comparison to that one. But we have a mechanic and his female companion who come to cross a group of bad guys who do something horrific to both; which leads to the man coming back from the brink of death to avenge her. Pretty familiar?

As for the trope of women in fridges. Is the trope tired? Yeah, its why it is generally looked down on and writers (looking at Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick here) don’t get a by for saying they don’t know about it. Now I don’t know if Leigh Whannel the writer and director of Upgrade knows of it. After writing SAW way back in 2004 and the decade and half of films and media that have followed I can’t say for sure.  I can say in my opinion (though correct me otherwise readers) having someone else die to cause him pain is somehow psychologically less Ableist as its not the grief of his own situation that drives him but the loss of wife. Could it have been a child (see Crow 2), parents – maybe? Dog…no. John Wick did that and you are no John Wick.

So the story is problematic perhaps on a few levels. The acting is nothing really to write home about. The actors are fine, but don’t really stand out. What does stand out is the fact you can tell this was made by Blumhouse. They don’t shy away from visceral imagery when it suits the purpose of the camera. There were multiple reactions in my showing to some of the character ends.  The world the characters live in is an interesting mix of familiar and not as I mentioned before; but doesn’t quite deliver on any single aspect of it. Players of Shadowrun and Cyberpunk who see this will simply want a real SR or CB movie to come  and after Bright and Altered Carbon and now this – we need one. Badly. With someone like Fuqua at the helm, but that’s a conversation for a different post.

TL;DR?

Upgrade was a sufficient enough action film. It is far more Science Action than Science Fiction as it has no real message and the technologies presented don’t feel too unreasonable within the next 50 years. The action scenes are shot well and aren’t quite like anything we’ve seen before due to the jerky motions required for the narrative. I was entertained for its very 80’s ninety-five minute running time as was the rest of the audience.

Should I see it?

It’s too quick to ever become boring and doesn’t really suffer any editorial flaws, but as discussed above there are some problematic elements to its architecture that shouldn’t be ignored. That said if you don’t care about such things you won’t hate the thing; those who do I can say just give it a pass.

If you do plan to see it – matinee only.

Would you see it again?

In theatres? No.

Buying it then?

Undecided. It has some cool tech and sci fi elements I would use for gaming, but I don’t know if its worth the $20 for that. Maybe…ask again in September when it’s released for the home.

Not a lot of praise for this. It sounds kinda meh?

I *was* entertained and there’s some stuff worth talking about, but I can’t without spoilers. It’s above a Meh but just barely into the good category. I can tell it was shot on a tight budget and they were judicious with it so points there…I guess?

What’s next?

Well next Thursday I am travelling for work so there may not be a review; I’ll have a choice between Hotel Artemis or Ocean’s 8 if I do see something. I would probably pick Artemis and wait til the week to see 8 with some friends.