Darke Reviews | Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

The number one question I was asked about this movie today: “What’s it about?”

My best answer: “Two soldiers in space fighting against some big evil that threatens to destroy everything. It’s by Luc Besson, the guy who did Leon the Professional, Lucy, and The Fifth Element based on a french comic from the 60s”. I like Besson’s work. I really do. He has a list of films and inspirational works that change how other works are done or are otherwise remade. From La Femme Nikita, the films mentioned above, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, and writing projects such as The Transporters, District B13, and Lockout. A lot of his films take place in his home country (duh) so the idea of him adapting a French comic for the big screen – especially one that clearly inspired as much of modern sci fi as Flash Gordon and John Carter did makes sense.

So the real question is did it work?

We’ve talked a lot about the Writer and director – Luc Besson. Credit where its due must go to Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières the original writers of the comic back in 1967. It seems that from a story and plot element that Besson took inspiration from the material but is trying to tell an original story within it. If you look at covers of the comics ( which I have not read) you can tell how much the source material inspired his own work with one cover literally showing a scene from the 5th Element with people on the edge of a building, a floating taxi and a floating semi with very specific and familiar designs. Hell, Jean-Claude Mézières was brought in while he worked on the 5th Element who asked him why he was making that and not Valerian. He has easily lifted some of the dialogue and personalities, based on some research into the history of the comic and one of its animated adaptations from 2007 (it aired in France). So why…don’t I care?

Yep. There’s the first hint how this will go.

It is absolutely evident this should have been a passion project for Besson, capitalizing on the advances in technology thanks to James Cameron to make the aliens come to life in ways we hadn’t seen; but even with that in mind the movie is hollow. I think going totally original was a mistake. There are no clear or present stakes that mean anything, the character of Valerian (yes its his name) are not serviced by the script and is generally unlikable. I figured out early on what was going on, as Besson couldn’t do subtle if a Agatha Christie wrote for him. There is no subtext with him, only text and a strong sense of visual style. There is no ticking clock, no sense of tension; just a moment to moment – event to event beat through the film that has our characters going after each other and the McGuffin with no stakes at play that you can take seriously. Death doesn’t hold any weight with others who die because you don’t know them or only know them in so little passing that it renders it emotionless.

The actors really do try their best, but cannot overcome the script or their own drawbacks as actors. Dane DeHaan tries, he really does; but his character is just shy of being an insufferably chauvinist and egotistical. Additionally you cannot buy him as a top notch high ranking special operations soldier; even though he is thirty he just doesn’t play it or carry the weight. He moves well and pulls off the action he gets to do, but he never quite sells it and the nature of his character comes across in his young 20’s not 30s. This same flaw affects Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad’s Enchantress) either, who comes across younger, but more mature. She seems the more seasoned soldier, if less experienced, while he is the hot headed rookie but….isn’t as he out ranks her by quite a bit. It’s rather dissonant and confusing to watch and parse out. She by far is the more likable of the two.

Literally no one else is worth discussing as they have so little screen time or overall impact on the story. Aside from the McGuffin. I want one, it was adorable.

The elephant in the room here is the visuals. Dear powers that be is this movie gorgeous. It’s clear a lot of effort and a significant portion of the $180mm budget went into merging practical and visual effects. It is about the same level as what we got in James Cameron’s Avatar, including I think using the models as a base with minor adjustments to the skins to keep them different. Graphic quality is both as good and bad as the scene needs; with the one exception being the transitions in Rhianna’s highly fetishistic and male gaze rewarding dance sequence. The transformations look amazing. The aliens in this movie do look amazing. There are plenty of designs I haven’t seen before and a lot of craftsman ship in key places.

The editing is rough and I am pretty sure there’s a few scenes on the editing room floor as some jokes feel like there’s a setup missing and most of the emotional beats are missing the reminder before the not so payoff. Additionally since I know there’s a lot of chatter on this topic; yes I can see where Mass Effect influenced this movie but also where it was influenced by the material; but overall the movie gets top marks on visuals and I would bet the 3-D looks amazing.

TL:DR

While the 3-D may look amazing, no one will see it. The movie really isn’t that good. Its light, its fluffy, but it isnt good popcorn as I was bored quite often. It held no surprises and was lifeless which if nothing else disappoints me. I wanted it to be good, but didn’t have the bar raised too high. I think it may do well internationally, but within the U.S. it is going to flop harder than a Magikarp. Ok the opening scenes on Mul were amazingly beautiful, but that doesn’t save the other 2 hours of the movie.

It does succeed at one thematic component – the science fiction. It has technology and idealolgy that we are missing from a lot of sci fi; but some of the negative tropes too so there’s that. It is still good science fiction despite the flaws.

Should you see it?

No…sadly.

Will you see it again? Maybe it needs a second viewing?

Eh…I don’t think so.

Buying it?

Maybe for clips for some future video project that might happen, but out of the bargain bin if I do.

Are you going to see or review Dunkirk?

Probably not. I am not a huge fan of Nolan and find that he has an inflated sense of his own importance that too many people support. He is technically a master of his craft; but if I only wanted technical proficiency from films I would watch Kurosawa or other classics that may be dated by show the artistry of the director. I need both some form of emotional connection and some level of technical accumen for me to have interest in the film. Nolan  succeeds at one so well the other is sacrifced; where the movie I just watched didn’t nail either well beyond visual delight.

So what’s next week then?

Atomic Blonde.

Darke Reviews | War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In preparation for this movie I did a double feature in my own home last night watching both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – worth noting it was almost 3 years to the day on release from the last film.  I remembered they were good, with computer animation that defies so many other films we see, most of it focused on amazing motion capture work with Andy Serkis. The first movie is classic science fiction with a morality tale built in as it should be, but in my opinion doesn’t warn us away from the science. Granted it does require the stupidity and bad lab procedures to survive itself, but its a conceit I allow for the sake of the whole. The second movie is more of what we have become used to in our science fiction with a dystopian world with nature taking control and humanity on the brink. The question asked is can we peacefully co-exist? The answer is not when prejudice and hatred continue to reside within either side; which leads us to War.

Should you avoid this War though?

Matt Reeves returns to the directors chair after successfully helming the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, in my opinion is proving Cloverfield wasn’t a fluke of directing and that Let Me In was as well done as it was for a remake due to finite control of his camera and his actors. He with director of photography Michael Seresin (Dawn, Prisoner of Azkaban) go for some interesting camera shots. While most of them are not as evocative as those in Rise or Dawn, they are still appropriate. There are a few Dutch angles in the film for those who look for them and I believe you will find them appropriately used.  Intelligent use of wide shots as well as the close up.  He brings out the right performances from his actors and in scenes where I thought I might get annoyed I was surprised that I wasn’t. He, along with the story he co-wrote, know how to ease down the tension without letting it go away; allowing for laughter in the right times and right beats so as to not take away the dramatic moments that happened only minutes before. He ramps and lets go very well throughout the film with only one or two stumbles

The supporting story allows for it with Reeves and Mark Bomback on the pen. Bomback having screenplay credits on the last film, The Wolverine (Wolverine in Japan, aka the other good one); but also the less than stellar Insurgent and Live Free or Die Hard. The story is what it advertises itself to be – a war movie; but more akin to ones like The Longest Day (1962) or Battle of the Bulge (1965).  What does that mean? Well war is the backdrop to personal stories. Sure there is action but the action is in service to the plot rather than the plot and the story being in service to the action. They let beats linger long, they use the lack of actual dialogue to their benefit, and the dialogue they choose to use is used well; while the sign language of the apes continues to be very effective in this medium. They are able to introduce new characters both heroes and villains, human and ape – who manage to have their own arcs and finality to them as well. There are a few moments that while set up if you were looking close that may have some folks rolling their eyes, but it is not a major sin.

I said it before and will say it again, please just acknowledge Andy Serkis is deserving of an Oscar and punch anyone in their lying mouth if they say you can’t act or emote through Motion Capture. His Ceasar is a tired leader in this one and the weight of everything on his shoulders and it plays perfectly through the film. Karin Konoval’s Maurice, the orangutan, continues to plug the heartstrings of ape and audience while being the films conscience. Steve Zahn surprised me with how charming his performance was; which made a brilliant counterpoint to Woody Harrelson as The Colonel. He is just the right kind of monster that you can almost get for a few moments then come to your senses (I hope). Twelve year old Amiah Miller does not annoy and in fact endears through the movie as the little girl. All in all every performance was good and adds to the effort of script and camera.

Technically – yes the Apes and motion capture are even better than Disney did with Rogue One. They are improved over the last 6 years and almost…almost flawless especially in their weight on screen against living actors. Granted some of that comes from the mo-cap work, but the CG artists have to deliver on it. I want to say it’s perfect on this front, but I can’t. There’s a few shots that don’t work with the Apes, but they are rare. What is sad that some of the environmental, technological, and background effects are missing that same level of quality. While not “bad” they just aren’t quite good and temporarily ejected me from a scene, but most audiences will give it a pass. I think there are a handful of editing mistakes in the film, most of which are forgivable. At 140 minutes the movie does run a bit long and probably could have had 10-15 minutes shaved here and there with negligible impact, but improved the pacing.

TL;DR?

During my last review for this series I invoked Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II and I stand by it. War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the trilogy of films perfectly. This is arguably one of the best cinematic trilogies of all time up there with the original Star Wars arc, Godfather, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are other trilogies sure, but they have a weak film in their series, where this franchise really doesn’t; only getting stronger as time goes on.

My only fear is Hollywood will foolishly try to make another and I hope Matt Reeves and others say no. You have as good as you are going to get and it would be wise to let the series end on the high note.

Should you see it?

Yes. War for the Planet of the Apes is an very good movie worth watching. I can’t say reasonably that 3-D would make it better, but XD probably would.

Will you buy it?

Without question.

 

Is it good Sci Fi?

Yes. yes it is. It gives you option for conversation. It gives you something to think about. It also gives both text and subtextual plots that are worth discussing. The movie defies tropes that other lesser films would have gone for. It takes risks and is intelligent about them.

Are you serious on the trilogy thing?

Absolutely. Look there’s a lot of trilogies out there and some good, some bad. It’s hard to find one that keeps getting better as it goes or ends as well.

This is a well made, well shot, well executed film deserving of praise and funding via ticket sales. I absolutely encourage people to watch this.

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.