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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should you see it?

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

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

Will you buy it?

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

Is this the end of the YA series conversions?

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

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

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

 

Um spoiler corner?

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

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Darke Reviews | Geostorm (2017)

There were no Thursday night screenings of this one. That’s probably a good thing. Regardless since I heard MovieBob discuss it in his movies no one asked for/worst movies prediction at the beginning of the year I had to admit curiosity. I do love a good disaster flick, I love a bad one too as long as I am entertained. They are flat out a guilty pleasure and no one does them better than Roland Emmerich who gave us such amazing classics like Independence Day, Godzilla 98, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. So when I heard about this I knew I was in for a ride like those.

What?

What do you mean he’s not involved? It’s just Dean Devlin? But you don’t get one without the other on these….well that’s odd. Guessing he was busy, but it is odd. Let’s not kid ourselves on this one, it’s not a movie you are asking if you will see or not. It’s a movie you are asking:

Just how bad is it?

It looks like we have an original script by Paul Guyot, who has mostly written and produced for TV with shows like Leverage and the Librarians; which has Dean Devlin as a producer. That explains the joint writing credit. So here’s how I imagine the pitch went.

It’s late after shooting an episode of Leverage in 2012. The writers room is dark save a single burning bulb shining through a half emptied bottle of Jack. Paul and Dean have just finished watching the dailies for the episode and one of them, probably Dean goes. “You know what Paul…I’ve been working with Roland for years. I know how to do a disaster movie. He didn’t have me involved in his movie 2012, but I bet we could do better.”

“Oh, what do you have in mind?”

“What if…” takes another shot of Jack then holds out his hands, “hear me out, but what if we learned to control global warming.”

“Why not just fix it?”

“Bah too ridiculous. Let’s just control it. That’s how we do things; but then! THEN someone goes and turns it into a weapon and only one man can stop it.”

“I am not drunk enough yet. Pour me another and I will start writing…”

Then Devlin because of his track record is able to get a budget. a greenlight, and a cast and starts shooting. No, there’s nothing more complex to the plot. It literally is as the trailer delivered where the man who oversaw construction of the satellite is sent back for one last mission after it starts doing things it shouldn’t. It has all the markings of previous films of it’s ilk that were mentioned above and add the Core for more benefit too. The plot is paper thin and motivations are even thinner. The script is as predictable as they come and the destruction is not nearly as prevalent as the trailer would lead you to believe. I was hoping for good disaster porn but alas no.

This movie was supposed to come out around 2014, but initial screenings indicated it was so bad it was literally unwatchable. It looks like Devlin was in over his head on this one, in my head canon we can blame the Jack. It’s as good a theory as any. The more likely one is that with full control he didn’t know what to do with himself. The best directors either have clear vision or a sounding board who tells them no. My best friend and I plot ideas for games and stories all the time and it usually has the following words at least twice, “That’s good, but I don’t think it will work, what if we did this…”

I don’t think that happened here. Jerry Bruckheimer (National Treasure, Armageddon..heyyyy wait a minute), or at least his company, was brought in for re-shoots, editing, and some supplementary direction as near as I can tell; but he has no credits on this.

I could talk about Gerard Butler (Olympus has Fallen, 300) and Jim Sturgess (Stonehearst Asylum, Cloud Atlas) acted as brothers. This would imply there was acting. They mostly sleep walk through the movie. Andy Garcia as the president mugs for the camera in competition with Ed Harris. I think Garcia won. What surprised me amdist the dull acting, horrific dialogue, and predictable beats was the women. I mean surprise isn’t the right word, but I guess pleased to see someone tried? Talitha Eliana Bateman was probably the first person in the movie that made me realize at least someone was trying. It’s sad when the 13 year old (at the time) was the best actress in the movie. Zazie Beetz (soon to be seen as Domino in Deadpool 2) had more personality than most as a hacker, while Abbie Cornish (Robocop, Sucker Punch) can’t catch a cinematic break is honestly the most bad ass.

Technicals I guess? The destruction is…ah no it’s really not that good. It has its age and while they could have been more interesting they largely recycled ideas shown in ‘better’ movies. The editing is laughable, the blocking worse. There’s nothing good here. It is watchable, but the reshoots and editing somehow barely made it so.

TL;DR

It is bad. It is worthy of MST3K. It is worthy of beer and pretzels. It is worthy of  drinking game.

It is not worth your money.

I have to admit though I was entertained but only at how bad it was and by Abbie Cornish and Zazie Beetz.

So should I see it?

If you have HBO or the like when it comes out and nothing better to do with 2 hours and a bottle of Jack (or other) of your own? Maybe.

Will you buy it?

HAhah…no.

Anything else this week?

No. I have a vacation coming for my birthday and won’t be near a movie theatre. Wellllll I might have a surprise later tonight, nothing new though.

EDIT UPDATE: In light of the death of Robert Guillaume, who I watched a lot as a little girl on Benson, I won’t be doing the review of The Core I had planned to do tonight. Doesn’t feel right.

Review Trivia?

When I was writing Olympus Has Fallen, I had to retype it 5 times. I kept combining other bad Butler movies, like Gods of Egypt and London has Fallen.

Darke Reviews | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I would like to ask you some questions.

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

First question: Should Blade Runner have been retired?

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

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Next Question: Should you see it?

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

Seeing it again?

Maybe. Probably.

XD or 3D?

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

I take it then you are buying it?

No question in my mind.

So it made you feel?

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

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

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

Why did you choose that poster for your image?

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

Darke Reviews | Flatliners (2017)

It’s generally not a good sign for a movie when I don’t have any Thursday night screenings available, so alas the review comes tonight a few hours after the last show. Obviously I have seen the original a couple of times when it first came out and on VHS. It was beautifully atmospheric and though it came out in 1990 it still was riding that wave of 80’s that will mark it forever. I can’t say I have any particular fondness for it one way or another, I thought it was good and had a lot of stars of the day headlining it. Obviously I was curious when this one started dropping trailers a few weeks ago. I thought they were interesting and there’s always a glimmer of hope for a remake. So I threw on one of my favourite shirts, not realizing the irony and headed off to the theatre.

Oh the irony

You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime

So should they have resuscitated this film or left it for dead?

The story credit here goes to Peter Filardi, original writer of the 1990 film as well as The Craft. Which largely means this was brought to you by the writer of Source Code, which was interesting in concept if not execution, Ben Ripley has the screenplay credit. I cannot say if Filardi had any work on this one or not, but the core story he wrote remains intact with names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. In the 80’s and 90’s we didn’t expect a lot of our sci fi or horror films, not really. As an audience we’ve come to expect more because we have literally seen it all before. Which makes Ripley’s choices on script so problematic for me.

Flatliners has at least a half dozen different ideas, concepts, and notes of interest. Every last one of them is dropped in favor of keeping the beats of the original. With almost 30 years of separation between films and some seriously interesting plot threads introduced the movie fails to embrace those more interesting ideas and instead treads the already worn path to mediocrity. With so many advances in science and medical technology since then and the story premise presented by the characters it could have been explored. The reactions and results could have been explored. A characters existence in the story could have been explored. New consequences, new risks could and should have been taken. The movie took one, but it was the safest to take.

With remakes, and some sequels, writers can be condemned for violating the source material. Deviating too far from it. Conversely they can be criticized for not doing something new or original. What gets missed is the middle ground. You can be faithful to the original story, original concept, and original ideas; but also tell something new and explore new ideas separated by the times in production. From 1951 to 1982 – 30 years right? Compare The Thing/The Thing from Another World. The concepts are the same. There’s beats that are the same but these are vastly different films and both are applauded for what they did. The same could be said for The Fly (28 years), Dracula (1930s, 70s, 90s), Nosferatu (50 years). Outside of this genre, we have 3:10 to Yuma, Thomas Crown Affair, The Seven Samurai to Magnificent Seven, Oceans Eleven, True Grit. These films are all proof that you can tell the near exact same story and improve on it or at least make it different enough to be fresh without losing the heart of the material itself.

Flatliners, like most remakes in this decade, plays it safe. It stays in the lines and takes very few risks. As I said, it does take one or two, but they aren’t entirely successful. One I feel was a studio add to “amp the tension” but just looks ridiculous because I know they don’t have the fortitude to see it through.

This leaves me disappointed as a whole. Neils Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) is capable of more. The shots are pretty. The acting is sufficient, but there’s nothing new or unpredictable in those shots. Just adding to how safe and milquetoast the movie ends up being. Again I think he may have had some hamstringing from the studio on this, as well as being saddled with a PG-13 rating. Who do they think is going to see this? Go for the R and commit.

The acting is fine, by the by. Ellen Page is always a joy, even with a joyless character like Courtney. She has enough charisma to make the character likable as she convinces others to join her crusade. Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev have wonderful chemistry and are probably two of the most heartfelt performances in the movie. James Norton, largely known for his work across the pond and the voice of Dragon Age Inquistions Cole, turns a character that I should have hated and gives him something to work with. Kiersey Clemons rounds out our medical students with poor judgement. She has a decent body of TV work and will be the Iris West to Barry Allen in the upcoming DCEU films. She, like the others was cast well and holds her own. There’s absolutely no fault on acting here.

The fault lies with script and production. We’ve talked about how safe the script is. The remainder of the production isn’t nearly as risky, probably to keep that rating.

TL;DR?

Flatliners should have had a DNR signed if this was going to be the result. This is a bland, mediocre film that does nothing particularly new or interesting with the original story to warrant it’s existence. It tries to introduce stuff, but drops it a hot ten minutes later. I think at some stage of the production someone suffered partial amnesia to forget so many things; especially in a film about being haunted by the past.

Which I guess comes to the final statement on the movie. When you consider the subject is guilt over past sins, the weight of them on you and how they can kill you – I think that’s what happened here. No one involved had either the power or ability to say no. No one had the power to go could we do better. So they didn’t try and because of that – this movie will die.

Should you see it?

No. Its not badly shot or badly acted. It’s just irritatingly droll.

Huh?

I wanted more from this movie only because it kept showing me it was capable of it. It kept showing me things that were far more interesting than the final result and those things were never actually explored.

Ok so you aren’t seeing it again. How about buy?

Newp. There’s nothing here for me to both trying to remember.

So you hate it?

Not really. Just disappointed by the wasted potential.

So what’s next?

Image result for origami unicorn blade runner

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.