Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Si vis pacem, para bellum. I actually have this on a whiteboard at my job. The Latin phrase translates basically to “If you want peace, prepare for war”; thus the title being Prepare for War. John Wick is one of those movies that kinda snuck in the backdoor back in 2014 with no one giving it much attention at the initial release. It came in second to Ouija by over $5 million, alright? It barely did better than a Brad Pitt movie (Fury) in it’s second week and Gone Girl in its 4th week and that had already made over $100 at that point. So yeah it’s safe to say John Wick was not exactly a popular film on it’s release weekend. It did however double its $20 million budget, but was pretty much gone in four weeks. It found life however in the after market and people realized what they were missing (but you know if more people read my reviews they would know to go see it!).   Two and a half years later John Wick: Chapter 2 doubled the domestic gross of it’s predecessor with $92 million; but also doubled the budget. $15 million more was thrown at the third chapter.

Did they prepare for war though?

The story was written by the original writer, Derek Kolstad, who literally just makes assassin projects, with his next two being a TV series for The Continental and Hitman. The screenplay then gets three additional writers, thus violating the writing rule of Darke. Marc Abrams (The Bernie Mac Show), Chris Collins (Sons of Anarchy, The Wire), and Shay Hatten in their first major writing project. I have to admit confusion here as one of the driving forces of a John Wick movie have been relatively simplistic plots that rely on a minimum of dialogue. This one is not that different in that regard. Kolstad was the sole story/screenplay credit on the last two so I cannot fathom what the others brought to the work.

The story is as simple as what’s on the tin and picks up where the last left off more or less. John having killed someone within the Continental has been declared Excommunicado by the surprisingly large network of assassins and support staff. He loses all rights to services and is now himself the hunted. What will he do? Where will he go?

That’s it. Even as we get a deeper look at the world of killers beneath the surface of our own, which is a lovely conceit still, there is a simplicity to it all. They do of course add layers and some complexity as we visit new locations and meet new personalities, but all of that is handled well by Stunt Performer turned director Chad Stahelski. As with the first two films having someone with his kind of experience in knowing what it takes to make a good shot for the camera (and guns) lets us really enjoy the kineticism of the fight sequences. Again this is no different, except now we have added animals to the stunts using horses and dogs – which anyone can tell you adds even more risk. You don’t want the animal getting hurt, the animal has to be trained, and you have to be careful the animal doesn’t hurt any of the performers when it’s all in camera like this. I am pleased to say the addition of the animals definitely added to the action.

We can talk about performances, but we are dealing with Keanu Reeves in the role that revitalized his career and the action movie industry. He gets to spend most of the time just being tired, broken, and still the Baba Yaga we know and love.  Ian McShane (please narrate my life) and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon of the Continental, with Laurence Fishburne also coming back to work with his friends from the Matrix.  Two of the new stand outs are of course Angelica Houston as The Director and Halle Berry reminding us she exists and has action chops. Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black, Billions) gives us to my knowledge our first Non-binary actor (pronouns are They/Them) with a major role in a major Hollywood production. They do exude a helluva presence on screen and I am interested to see them in more projects. A special call out to Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, The Raid 2) and Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2) for one of the more memorable fight sequences and showing just how scary Silat can be as a martial art. The show stealer, that isn’t four legged, is absolutely Mark Dacascos (The Chairman of Iron Chef America, Brotherhood of the Wolf), who just is a joy to watch and clearly was having the time of his life as our John Wick antithesis for the film.

TL;DR?

John Wick is back. They were prepared. 11/10 would go into battle with the dogs from this movie. The movie runs a bit long at 2 hours and 10 minutes and at times feels it, it still turns out a solid bit of entertainment. Yes, this is still a world turned to eleven and no you cannot possibly be expected to take it seriously. That isn’t the point here. The point is to enjoy 2 hours and 10 minutes of Keanu Reeves moving from action set piece to action set piece and wondering how they will continue to ratchet it up as the movie goes on. For that it succeeds dramatically. I am confused by the number of writers still, but I got what I wanted from the movie and could still see every action piece and every stunt.

My only glaring flaw is that the first one shone for the raw amount of practical. As the stunts ratchet, they did hit some of the CG and compositing a bit harder than I like and my eyes were easily able to pick out more than a few. Granted safety first, but if it’s going to have to be that digital, look for a different stunt.

Should I see it?

You’re invested already. So yes.

Would you see it again?

Officially the answer is yes, but the likelihood of it happening is low.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No regrets on that front.

Are the dogs adorable?

They are the bestest boys. Would pet. Would also likely lose a hand.

 

Wrapping up I had two new Dark Princesses tonight with me and I enjoyed the movie and it was very cathartic after a rough week. It’s that kind of movie and I am glad for it.

 

Next week: Brightburn and Aladdin. I am honestly not sure which I will see first.

 

WAIT! before you go – what’s a Dark Princess?

If you join me for the movies. You are a Dark Princess. Male or Female. Those are the rules. Those are the results of the vote on the AmusedintheDark Facebook page.

My original two Dark Princesses might get special titles, I haven’t decided yet.

 

Welcome to the Continental.

Darke Reviews | How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

So I realized after the movie tonight why in the past few months there have been so many of these early audience screenings published through sources like Amazon Prime, Fandango, and Cinemark. If you are in this industry (movie reviews) you may have noticed a lot of conversation late summer and last fall around backlash on the critic scores, RottenTomatoes, and audience scores. The studios are convinced that critics  (RT was a target) are keeping people away from their movies, many critics and reviewers such as myself are saying “Make better movies”. This is how the studios are retaliating by giving audiences some of their tent-pole movies and let the audience voice take over vs the critical early. I for one welcome this change as if you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I encourage people to enjoy movies I don’t – its fine. I often disagree with critical and or audience reception of movies as well. This is what the experience *should* be. As a critic (yes I am moving myself from reviewer to critic), I can usually articulate why something does or doesn’t work – or more to the point shouldn’t. I can appreciate, and have many, so called guilty pleasure movies.

This franchise is not one of them. This franchise, which I was able to get to watch the finale of with some good and close friends tonight, is something that has been good and solid throughout.

How did the finale fair?

The movie is based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, adapted for the screen and directed by Dean DeBlois. Dean is responsible for the two prior movies and Lilo and Stitch in the same role (writer/director). This means for a franchise that the movie keeps the same narrative style, look, and feel as the others. That the voice direction, music, editing, and action all feel like the others – and while in some cases this can be bad (ie: Zack Snyder); the work DeBlois does has a certain almost universal accessibility to it and while I am hesitant to use the word purity to it that hold through the series that bear little critique. He reminds me in a way of George Miller, who gave us the entirety of the Mad Max series…and Happy Feet as his only entries. All of these have a specific style and vision to them and remain with a solid through line on them that works – even if continuity doesn’t always.

In this case, the continuity does match and holds through the franchise. The characters remain who they are even as they age and growing naturally, physically and emotionally, as they do. If anything in the plot of The Hidden World I expect others to critique the lack of meat to the villain, but he isn’t the point here. Capturing our main characters, Hiccup, Astrid, and Toothless growing is the real line of the movie and it does it amazingly; with an interesting line up between hiccup and the bad guy. For those worried about the new dragon, our Light Fury being subject to Hollywood ‘Girls have spechul powerz” – trust me you don’t have to worry. Moving onto the threat, while not meaty, does feel real and impactful. After the death of Stoic in the sequel you really can’t be sure who or what is on the table for this one and that helps a lot.

What also helps is the solid voice cast, Almost everyone returns to their roles, with Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, etc. Everyones favourite King of the North reprises his role as sideline character Eret that appeared in the sequel. The only, mildly, notable voice actor that doesn’t return is TJ Miller as Tuffnut, who is replaced by Justin Rupple. In January of last year the studio hadn’t commented on his (rightful) removal, and I can’t find any articles officially noting it; but good on Dreamworks. Continuing to focus on the positive here, Ferrera and Baruchel shine here with a lot of nuance to their voice acting which is only accentuated by the animation.

One thing everyone could say about these movies since the first one nine years ago is that they are gorgeous. The animation department at Dreamworks has always been top notch on these projects and they continue to push themselves from the lighting, the colour, and little details such as hair and microexpressions. None of this is ignored and makes the experience so much richer for it. The flight sequences absolutely are some of the best in the franchise and this movie doesn’t disappoint on that front either.  There is a sense of scale that the animators provided when displaying the hidden world that lets it feel as large and small as it should be simultaneously and giving you an opportunity to take it all in. The opening fight sequence should be required watching for action movie directors in how to control your camera and let your audience enjoy and view the fight – even with it being dark. You can follow everything in every sequence and understand the geography of where every character is and how they are interacting with each other; all while the camera maintains it’s own fluidity of motion to match the dialogue. Some might say this is easy because it is animation, but there are so many movies now where you get this kind of camera work on an action sequence and you see it *can* be done – people are just choosing not to.

Last special nod to John Powells score. Test Drive from the original is one of my favourite scored musics and I use it regularly for one of my 7th Sea characters, and here he outdoes himself with the callbacks to the prior two scores but some new ones that are just as powerful.

TL;DR?

This movie is the goods. It is good, it is pure, it is how you do the end of a trilogy right AND stick the landing. I honestly have little critique for it and just thoroughly enjoyed my time. The audience I was with, mixed with children as young as 4 to people in their 70’s did too. There was laughter, there were tears, there was applause all at the moments there should be those beats and when you get that from an entire theatre along side you the experience is so much better for it.

What you have is a great finale to a truly family friendly movie franchise and a good reminder this is entirely possible to make as a movie even as we wind down this decade.

Should I see it?

Yes. Go when it opens in a few weeks. Go and see and enjoy. Bring tissues.

Would you watch it again?

Friday February 22, 2019. You will find me at the theatre. Besides nothing else coming out that week, this one is worth seeing again. I honestly want to see it in 3-D if that release happens as the flight moments would be spectacular.

Buying it?

No doubt in my mind what so ever that I will have a 4K version of this the day I can get it in my icy little hands.

Are you perhaps overselling this movie?

No. I really am not. I am a fan of the franchise, but guys it’s that good. It may not be the greatest thing, but it is that good.

The year has started rough, but we have our first real entry and I am glad for it. I think you will be too.

 

Darke Reviews | Glass (2019)

I got the year right on the title! Go me. Seriously, it took three release weeks into the year before there was a movie that was even half interesting to review came out. I had zero interest in Escape Room beyond it’s concept, Replicas is a movie that sat on the shelf for two years – which tells you a lot. A Dogs Way Home isn’t my genre nor is The Upside. Glass is the *only* release this week; and next week is The Kid Who Would Be King and Serenity ..no not that one. I miss the years when I could at least count on an Underworld movie coming out in January to liven things up. This really is one of the worst months of the year for movies and the absolute dump slot for studios to put movies that they have no faith in and just hope they break even on.

Did they catch a break with Glass?

Ok my teaser question was spur of the moment forgive me. In all seriousness, I had interest in this film from the moment I heard about the stinger during Split back during it’s release in January of 2017. I never got around to watching that one as M Night Shyamalan has never personally apologized to me for his Avatar The Last Airbender movie and honestly thinks he did nothing wrong with it. Yes, I am that petty. I already know James McAvoy can act circles around people in his sleep and Anya Taylor-Joy is a fantastic young actress. Shyamalan though, he can suck the life out of any performance and remove all joy from the film going experience. He *is* actually a talented director, but I believe he has bought too much of his own hype and when he released The Visit people began to forgive him, then Split made $130 million for a January release making it one of the top January releases ever.  I am thinking that people have once again forgiven too much.

Glass was written and directed by Shyamalan, per usual, and while I must applaud the effectiveness of linking two different, disparate movies into a third film; it rings…hollow. The concept of a truly downplayed superhero/supervillain origin story and meet up in the age of the Superhero movie is actually inspired so please don’t get me wrong here; but this was too downplayed. Shyamalan’s direction is still soul sucking from otherwise talented actors with only McAvoy being able to rise above it due to the nature of the character. Everyone is so dispassionate, so inhuman in their performances I cannot believe for a moment any of them are real people or even facsimile’s of real people. They feel more like twisted analogues of a perception of normal human behavior – even with extraordinary circumstances. It most certainly is his style, it’s just not one I can find appealing.

From a script perspective; there really isn’t anything here either. No one person gets enough time to really be -except McAvoy. He is, still, amazing and honestly deserves better; but if this pays the bills until his next movie so be it. Samuel L Jackson spends a third of the movie twitching, a third absent, and a third just…holding back his natural presence. That’s fine I guess, but again with the script that’s present nothing comes as a surprise to anyone – I mean anyone – paying attention. Bruce Willis continues to try to remember to be human and what joy is, I am sure one day he will, but until then there is Shyamalan movies. Anya Taylor-Joy tries to overcome the script and lack of dialogue of any meaning – when she’s given dialogue; but cannot quite do it. Sarah Paulson, whom I am told everyone loves on American Horror Story, is literally the worst. Based on everyone’s reaction to her and what we know about Shyamalan’s directing and writing skills, I blame him for everything. On the upside her character elicits an emotion from me and that emotion is her character is hair pullingly aggrivating. Her line reads are what you’d expect from table read where the actors are first getting together. The dialogue itself sounds like bad two am self help infomercials. Nothing about her or this script works for me.

TL:DR?

Yeah I guess we’re at the TL;DR already here. Glass is an exercise in frustration. Nuggets of interesting concepts handled by a distracted squirrel on ketamine. As I write my first review of the year, instead of the general ambivalence I felt leaving the theatre, I find myself getting agitated by the wasted effort, acting, and story beats that worked. Looking forward to the rest of the movies this year, I will be surprised if Glass doesn’t make my worst of list.

Not because it’s badly made, because it isn’t. Because I can tell effort was put in, I can tell people tried to overcome Shyamalan and it failed. The movie is bad because effort was put in and this was the final result.

Should I see it?

Go watch Bumblebee if you haven’t or Spider-Man. I can’t tell anyone in good conscience to see this

Would you see it again?

Making me watch this again should be a war crime or would trigger violence. I am not sure which.

Buying it?

Please see above. I am still getting aggravated thinking this much about it

Aren’t you being kind of harsh?

There are many types of bad movies out there.

There are bad movies because no one tried, or they are a clear cash grab that has no soul. There are bad movies because they had a vision, but not a budget and not the skill to overcome it. There are bad movies because they thought they were good; and so on…

This is actually one of the worst types. This is a movie that is bad that has a lot of effort put in by cast and crew. This is movie that had little to no studio interference to make it so. This is a movie with one man at the helm who has a vision and that vision….isn’t a good one. He has talent, but the vision and style has corrupted it. It’s his vision and we should respect that, but to put all this effort in for a final product like this? It’s just frustrating to endure. So please don’t.

I will see you all in a few weeks when the February releases start.

 

Darke Reviews | Bumblebee (2018)

In September 8, 1984 the world had changed for children everywhere with Challenge of the GoBots, …what you thought Transformers was first out of the gate? Nay my friends that didn’t happen until September 17th, but we can see now which one is remembered. Robots that were more than meets the eye filled the airwaves, and Christmas mornings that year as we met characters evocative names such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Iron Hide, and Bumblebee. For the next two years these cartoons were a staple in many American households, and those around the world, as new Robots were introduced on both the Heroic Autobots and Evil Decepticons side…all to sell us the toys. In 1986 the world for these children changed again when Transformers the Movie hit theatres everywhere. An updated edgier theme song, a more traditional Japanese animation style, with new characters introduced that looked less like the cars, trucks, and military aircraft we knew and more space aged. That movie also did something no other series dared to do and killed off, KILLED off major characters from the original line. This was so traumatic at the time every child in the theatre I saw it in, myself included, was in tears as you heard the words “Prime, you can’t die…”. It was so traumatic that it also killed the prospects of G.I. Joe the movie from going to the theatre and forced a rewrite of it where they had intended to kill some of its original line of heroes and villains.

For years to come since there has almost always been a version of Transformers on the air, from Beast Wars, to Armada, to Prime, to Cyberverse; all catering to different ages and demographics with different levels of storytelling. In 2007 Michael Bay (stop hissing at his name…yes he earned it, but c’mon), provided us a “Live Action” Transformers the Movie. They solicited the fans for lines to use which gave us hope, as we heard Peter Cullen, the eternal voice of Prime, say “Autobots Transform and roll out”. That may have been the last time the audience as a near collective enjoyed the movie franchise. This was the start of a schism which has infected most of our beloved series to this day where some people don’t mind, the fan boys cry you ruined my childhod, and others wonder what the fuss is about; and even others like them. For my part, the quality degraded sharply with the second film and never recovered and was so bad I couldn’t even watch the last one. Apparently neither could audiences as The Last Knight barely scratched making half its budget back domestically with a mere 130 million dollars, against a 217 million dollar budget.

All of this was an albatross around Michael Bay’s neck to many movie goers who were just tired of the explosions, racism, impossible to understand action sequences, and raw stupidity of the plots. That, was just last year. So when we, as an audience, heard there was a Bumblebee spin off movie we were justifiably nervous, and really just asking

“Why?”

Money of course. Paramount likes money. The franchise, despite critical reception has been profitable. Could they turn it around though after the Bay-formers were losing more and more audience goers? They went to their writers room and found Christina Hodson, who had just worked on the mediocre film Shut In, and the absolutely forgetable Unforgettable. This is cynical me talking, as I think the execs went “Female writers are all the rage, lets get one to write a Transformers movie, how much worse can it get?” The more hopeful me says Hodson had a story pitch and they listened. I know that she was involved before the director was picked which is a really good sign. She put herself into this script and that makes me happy, she wanted to see a girl on screen in this kind of movie, she’s always wanted that and I’m glad because we need that. The movie is a lot slower than the other films and is a soft reboot of the series that I think it needed. The script actually bothers to let the moments breathe and let Bumblebee become the character we, as kids, kinda knew and loved. The studio somehow made a character piece between a Girl and her Robot and I have to tell you folks it works.

Hodsons script and emotional heart to the story is an amazing start, and I can’t wait now to see what she does with the Harley Quinn movie. Travis Knight, our director I think is the other major part that makes this work. Knight is the CEO of Laika entertainment who gave us Paranorman, Coraline, and Kubo and the Two Strings, which Travis also directed. If you have watched any of those movies, you understand that they get what characters mean, they know how to do near perfect emotional beats. His capabilities as a stop motion animator also make him ideal for directing a GIANT ROBOT movie as he can not only visualize the scene but be able to describe and communicate it to his team.  Between Hodson’s story and script and Knights skills, all you need is actors to make a good movie regardless of genre.

Enter Hailee Steinfeld, who exploded into the cinematic scene as Mattie Ross in True Grit, is a singer, and is our Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man. She makes her character of Charlie Watson something few of the humans in any other Transformers film before it did, likable. Charlie is in a rough spot in her life as she turns 18 and is dealing with the unexpected loss of her Dad, her family moving on, and not sure who or what she is. Steinfeld is able to bring the complexity of the character (even if it is a bit tropish) to life and does so against a 12 foot yellow robot. Between the performance of Steinfeld, and the performance given to Bumblebee by the director and animation department, they have humanized this franchise in a way I didn’t think possible at this point.

Speaking of animation department; do you remember when you could watch the fights in movies and understand what was going on? So do I. They were good times. This movie brings those times back. The fights avoid quick cuts and shaky cam instead going for more flowing animation and traditional medium or wide takes to let you appreciate what is going on. The return to the Generation 1 (original) looks for some of the characters doesn’t hurt either. There are even some other 1986 movie references hidden in some of the sequences that made me bounce when I saw them. On top of that rather than fully acting against green screen Hailee was actually able to act against a model of Bee on set so she had something to work with – novel idea. The soundtrack is a best of 80’s alternative and a few others, with one lovely easter egg for Transformers 1986 fans.

TL;DR?

Guys, I never thought I would sat this. It is a good movie. A really good movie. It doesn’t fully divorce itself from the Bay run as much as we might wish it and there are elements such as Sector 7, the Hoover Dam, etc; but it more or less ignores the metaplot that was given to the first five films entirely. Transformers fans, especially G1, will geek out over all the nods from the classic designs to the Transformer sound effect being used through the movie. Caution flag on this though folks, a lot of the G1 stuff is in the opening but its so worth it. The rest of the movie is a much slower and better Transformers movie than we deserve, but definitely needed. The cast is small and you actually do give a damn what happens to them. This isn’t to say they disappoint on the action, when they give you the beats they are good ones and while not nearly as over the top as Bay, are just good.

Bay is an interesting director who has his own style which some may like more than others, but I have to say if this is what Travis Knight can do with a real camera and more than a voice cast, we need to get him in live action more than ever. Also – watching Optimus Prime fight on Cybertron in the opening is fantastic.

Bumblebee is a wonderful nostalgic ride that has a lot of movie baggage to overcome and truly deserves to.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yes. I want this movie to succeed so badly so we can continue to get QUALITY Transformers movies like this. So we can get other 80’s franchises with the right treatment and right care.

Would you see it again?

Maybe not in 3-D, but absolutely even at full price.

How about buying it?

4K baby. In 4K

Alright, which of the releases this month would you see and in what order now that everything is out?

  1. Spider-Man into the Spiderverse
  2. Anna and the Apocalypse – this one gets me alright?
  3. Bumblebee – only in spot 3 because Spider-Man is that amazing and I have a truly weird affection for Anna, or it would be in second place
  4. Mary Poppin’s Returns
  5. Aquaman
  6. I would never see Mortal Engines again. why do you even ask?

My partner and I tonight really liked this movie, it is easily the best live action Transformers movie we have received and handled both the human and robotic characters well; and avoided juvenile humor along the way.

I don’t know what else to tell you, someone, somewhere may have listened and given us what we wanted. We should do them the favour and see this movie.

 

Darke Reviews | Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Chim Chim-in-ey, Chim Chim-in-ey, Chim Chim cher-ee! Lyrics I sing at random to this day. I am sure for others it’s a Spoonful of Sugar, and even others still want to go Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I suppose even some may go dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes, but thats going a bit far don’t you think? So with children from the late 50s and early 60’s coming into contact with dear Ol Mary Poppins, to those of us in the 70’s and 80’s thanks to the Wonderful World of Disney, and the advent of VHS its safe to say the original movie has earned its reputation as a beloved classic. We all have the nostalgia glasses on for the original regardless of our feelings now, so the concept of a sequel coming out 54 years after the original is a bit jarring, wouldn’t you say?

Does it still have the magic though?

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods, Memoirs of a Geisha) , along with his partner John Deluca (Choroegrapher on Chicago and Nine), provided us the screenstory for this and David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland) wrapped that work up and converted it to a screenplay. They remembered what it was like to have a sense of wonder again, to turn things upside down and look at the world as if it had magic again. The story at times may be a little (a lot) on the nose with some more current trends; there is almost always a sense of the fantastical as the story unfolds. Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family, roughly 20 years after the events of the last film. The Banks family is out of money and time before they lose their home, but our wonderous Nanny comes in to provide some much needed lesson and perhaps a sense of adventure as well. If anything the flaws in the story are that it is just a bit too straight forward in its symbolism and meanings; but when making a movie for children of all ages great and small – is that really a bad thing?

The unfortunate bad thing is that the songs just do not work nearly as well. They aren’t bad by any stretch, but I can’t forsee anyone remembering these fifty years down the line. The movie does go full musical and there are far more songs than I remember in the original, but everyone puts on a good show and I can’t fault that at all. I just wish the dance routines, the songs themselves had just that little something extra to make their magic come alive in the same way the visuals did. You can see the songs that Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Smash) was going for when he worked out the lyrics and beats for the music and while they are lovely homages to 1964, I can barely tell you any of the lyrics now as I write this review. This isn’t a matter of repetition either, most of us may have only watched Mary Poppins a few times as children but we remember those songs to this day, none of these truly hit that and its a bit saddening.

Emily Blunt of course is practically perfect in every way and was the only real choice for the role. We knew she could sing and dance thanks to Into the Woods, and her class and charm are without question – who else could be Mary Poppins now? She brought the same type of personality that Dame Andrews did, and also remembered how to bring the more subtle, quiet moments as well. Rather than a sweep, we have Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamp lighter named Jack, who fills the exact same niche that Dick Van Dyke did all those years ago. Miranda has fantastic screen presence and anyone who thinks the man can’t sing or dance should be flogged accordingly; and thankfully he does not try for a cockney accent. Ben Wishaw (Q in the recent James Bond movies) as our grown up Michael (the child from the first film) despite being 38 doesn’t look old enough to be the part of a father of three. It might be a combination of his clothing and his natural youthful appearance but he really does look like a boy trying to be a man. Perhaps that’s the point though? The three children Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson ride that edge of being too much at times, but really do have what it takes to keep the audience endeared to them.  It was nice to see Julie Walters (Molly Weasley you muggle) again, even in the bit role she had; which can also be said for perennial villain David Warner (Tron, Titanic) in a far more pleasant and amusing role as Admiral Boom.

The costuming was amazing. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. When we get into our second animated-live-action hybrid sequence the look and style of the costumes are just so perfect. Overall the entire production design was spot on and let me feel like I was in that early London period. If anything there is a flaw in that it doesn’t feel like sets this time and is more real. Odd thing to call as a flaw. At 2 hours and 10 minutes though it does feel a bit long, but I checked and the original runs 2 hours and 19 so…improvements?

TL;DR

Mary Poppins Returned. From an opening credits of chalk art and matte paintings that reminded me and my partner tonight of vintage Disney, to the time of CINEMA and Audrey and the classics, to the true sense of joy of being a child again (if only for 2 hours and 10 minutes); the movie is absolutely cute. It is charming and nostalgic at the same time without being condescending or manipulative about it. While none of the musical sequences themselves made me want to sing along, coming out of the movie I was light on my feet and was dancing through the parking lot of the theatre.

The movie does lack some of the quieter beats the original held and has some more modern film making flaws cooked into it that would be inescapable, it really is a solid work. It’s a project born of love for the stories of Mary Poppins and a movie from 1964 and it does show in every frame. This is the definition of a family film that could satiate multiple generations and could become a holiday classic at home for some families.

Should I see it?

If what you want is that sense of child like wonder again and a sense of the nostalgic beyond pop culture, you would be well served to see this. I do really believe this is an excellent family film for all.

Would you see it again?

Quite likely, but that would be after seeing Anna and the Apocalypse or Spider-Man again. Still worth a rewatch though.

So you are buying it?

No doubt in my mind.

Anything else on the movie?

I think my estimates on its weekend take are about right, but I do wish people would see this instead of Aquaman. I will also say that the cameo’s by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury brought me to tears, especially Lansbury. Not all of the songs worked for me, but the magic did. This is nostalgia worth experiencing and hit the spot for that sense of wonder.

Also Mary Poppins is a Time Lord. Fight me.

Darke Reviews | Halloween (2018)

The most anticipated horror movie of the year, coming out two weeks prior to one of the most anticipated days of the year for a certain crowd. Halloween has a lot to live up to and a lot to make up for. A brief history for those who don’t fully understand where this movie is coming from; which considering the track record of the series makes sense.

Halloween was originally conceived back in the late 70’s to be a serial style movie with a different horror story each and every Halloween. When the original 1978 version made 144 times its budget back the studio insisted on a sequel and effectively dumped money in John Carpenters lap to do something he really didn’t want to; a sequel. Thus Halloween 2 in 1981 and why Michael and Loomis die at the end of it, with Carpenter having the vain hope of ending that story. In 1982, yeah, barely a year later, Halloween III: Season of the Witch came out. This was more akin to what Carpenter envisioned and tells an entirely different horror event on Halloween. It was too weird for audiences who were in slasher heaven and the title confused them expecting more Michael. So 6 years later as the horror and slasher craze grew with Jason, Freddy, and Pinhead, we get the Return of Michael Myers (1988). This is the start of the late Moustafa Akkad reign on the series, as a producer since the ’78 version he began to have more influence on the series along with other producers such as …the Weinsteins. This was the start of the story getting really convoluted and barely following its own continuity. Michael was back, Loomis was back. Now they introduced over the next three movies a cult that gave him supernatural resiliency and more. It’s so much worse than this, but trying to keep it simple here. After Halloween 5 (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), there is a slight break before Halloween H20. H20 was supposed to be a clean return to form on the 20th anniversary of the original. It returned to basics with Laurie and Michael, but just didn’t quite grab audiences as much as it probably should; even though it has possibly the second most satisfying ending in the series. The last of the original Myers series is Halloween: Resurrection and the less said about this the better. I will not discuss Rob Zombies Halloween movies – except to say I hate them. I’d rather watch the Cult of Thorn run (4,5,6) more than those.

With me so far?

So the writers were in a bind here. How do you tell a Halloween story respecting the lore, the history, and the icon that is Michael Myers but deal with the mess left by the sequels AND remakes? Simple solution reboot the series, but not from scratch. From the original. Ignore everything that has come since 1978 and go. Get Carpenter onboard for the first time in forever and see what you can do. I don’t envy the task Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Alien: Covenant), his friend Jeff Fradley (writer for the HBO show Vice Principals), and David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, and the critical darling “Joe”) had on this one. Ignoring the content of the other movies is easy, but really remaining true to what the original film delivered character wise and bringing that back 40 years later – thats hard. They are putting themselves, Green especially as a director and writer here, up for target practice.

They need not have worried if they did at all. They did craft an honest sequel to 1978, which has several references that make the necessary callbacks without reminding us of a better movie. With few exceptions no one here in the script does anything dumb or illogical. The characters make sense. They feel like they would make these decisions based on everything you know and it propels the plot forward; if anything aside from Laurie the script lacks care for some of the fodder leaving you to not really care as much when they die which removes some of the tension that could have added to the film. The kills, which are important in this genre are well executed and tastefully done and yes brutal; rather than gore porn or splatterhouse style. The camera remains as still as Michael letting you savor what you both see and don’t see in frame. There are so many shots in this movie that are perfect for a wallpaper for your phone or computer because of how they were filmed; which means credit needs to go to cinematographer Michael Simmonds.

The acting is fantastic from the majority, with Jamie Lee Curtis giving us the same sort of transformed character that Linda Hamilton did between Terminator and Judgement Day. Laurie Strode is damaged, but focused, she is brave yet so afraid. Curtis more than capable of delivering the nuance; while the script and shooting let her as well. Andi Matichak gives a very human turn as Laurie’s grand daughter Allyson, and importantly she feels like she’s part of this family. I’d like to enjoy Judy Greer more as Karen Strode, the daughter to Laurie, but the script and character do her no favors, nor do they give Toby Huss much to work with. I was curious how Nick Castle would be returning to play The Shape once more as he did a majority of the motion and body work in the 78 version; while three other actors did other takes including the one face shot. He nailed it. He and the Mask are a presence and malevolent.

TL;DR?

Cutting the meat a bit short here, but its coming up on 2:30 and I do need sleep and really I just think you should see the movie. With a lean runtime of 106 minutes, John Carpenter back on the score, and some of the best horror cinematography I’ve seen in awhile Halloween is the return to form we’ve been waiting 40 years for. It isn’t perfect and suffers from some character issues and isn’t as tense as it could be Halloween was well worth the sleep deprivation for me and definitely worth it for fans of the franchise.

Should I see it though?

Yes. XD would be lovely to hear the music in admittedly and I did miss that opportunity.

Would you see it again?

Yes.

Buying it?

Yes. No doubts.

Are you overselling it at all? There’s a lot of hype on this one.

Manage your expectations. This movie isn’t the second coming of Michael, but it’s close.

It has some flaws and there is a kind of hollowness to it in some respects; yet I can’t blame those on the movie entirely.  The 1978 version is one of the first of it’s kind and without a doubt the most well known of its kind. John Carpenter and Debra Hill gave us something new and visceral then that Black Christmas (74), The Hills Have Eyes (77), The Town that Dreaded Sundown (76) and even Texas Chainsaw (74) just didn’t quite hit. Since then we have had 40 years of horror, with a majority of them being slasher flicks. There is next to nothing we haven’t seen before you can do in this genre and we all are a bit jaded here in 2018.

That didn’t stop McBride, Fradley, and Gordon Green from doing their best.

Personally, I think their best is good enough and this is the Halloween movie we need right now.

 

Edit: Because I included the original theme in the original review here is Carpenters take on it 40 years later

Darke Reviews | Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

This marks the first true sequel in the series. There are little to no references between movies one and four. Yes, a character or two comes back, but the events of the films don’t. Not until Ghost Protocol returns Michelle Monaghan as Julia who Ethan must stay away from bringing continuity between movies three and four. Ghost Protocol is often considered the reboot of the franchise and marks the first time the movies get a subtitle. Before it was just Mission: Impossible, MI: 2, then MI:3. Rogue Nation picks up with the aftermath of the events of Ghost Protocol, but doesn’t really count as a sequel in that the binding story and events of that film do not carry over. Fallout breaks that in that the actual events of Rogue Nation are the catalyst and driving force behind the events of Fallout.  Too nerdy or convoluted? Yeah it kinda is, but after 6 movies over 22 years with little continuity between them beyond Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames? This is also the first time that the movies share a director and principle screenwriter.

Done with the movie trivia? Ok good. I have more, but I will hold it off.

The question of course is should you choose to accept Fallout?

As stated above, this is the return of Christopher McQuarrie to the directors chair, it also marks his return to the script; this time as a solo act. That’s right, Writer Director combo. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes good. Since McQuarrie and Cruise have a good working relationship for about a decade it makes sense that Cruise would want him back on the chair.  They worked the first time with Christopher as the writer and producer of 2008’s Valkyrie, then again in 2012 for the underrated Jack Reacher with CM in the directors chair. Then yet again in 2014 with CM scripting the criminally underviewed Edge of Tomorrow, and of course 2015’s Rogue Nation. McQuarrie also has a writing credit on last years The Mummy, but they can’t all be good. Based on my viewing of that particular abomination I think some of the high points might be his work.

Now that we have a feel for McQuarrie I can confidently say that his direction is solid as it gets. He isn’t what one would call a visionary director, he isn’t a Speilberg but they all shouldn’t be. He’s leaps and bounds above a dozen other directors this year and they should take notes from him. He has very interesting camera control and knows how to frame shots to their fullest advantage. In a movie with three women only one truly gets a “sexy” shot and its while she’s drawing a butterfly knife and is about to use it effectively. He draws out solid performances from his actors, no one is going home with an Oscar here but that isn’t what a Mission: Impossible movie is about. Ok, maybe Cavill should get one for giving us a thousand times more range with his character than we’ve seen of him as Superman. Also worth noting, the Mustache should be nominated for an award as well.

The downside here of course is in the last movie I called out some pacing issues and a bit of formulaic elements to the structure and the villains. The villains of the piece were passable, but there was a lot of tell not show vs. say …Phillip Seymour Hoffman in MI: 3; who just exuded menace. Michael Nyqvist in Ghost Protocol was also formidable, but we just don’t get that here. That isn’t to say the Villain is MCU bland, – yes I will continue to jab at the majority of MCU villains – just that we don’t feel their weight on screen the way we could. I don’t fault Sean Harris for that in his reprise of Solomon Lane, He’s “fine”. They actually give him more to do in this one and I don’t mind him, yet he is still lacking something.

The plot remains very spy vs spy vs spy; which if you aren’t fully engaged could leave you scratching your head at some of the twists, turns, crosses, and loop de loops the movie puts you through. How could someone not be engaged though? Well that’s that pacing problem again. The movie runs a full two hours and twenty minutes when the credits begin to roll and it absolutely feels it. Nearly every scene lasts about a minute longer than it needs, but they do give you the much required moments to breathe and let a beat go on long enough too. It’s just a bit too long sometimes.

The real crime is the action beats. They are fun until they are boring. Look, we get it. Tom Cruise likes to run on screen. Tom Cruise likes to ride motorcycles on screen. Nearly every action set piece the movie has goes too long without any real tension to them, and most of them are chase sequences involving, Cars, Motorcycles, or Helicopters. You could trim a solid 15 minutes of the movie from these action scenes and it wouldn’t be detrimental to the movie. It is that noticable, it can be forgivable depending on your tolerances and attention to the length of the scenes; but it is a real problem for the film.

The Bathroom fight though? Yes. yes please. The physicality of Cruise and his stunts? Absolutely.

There are also points in the positive that this movie has such amazing continuity within itself. While there are some logical failings if you squint, it does hold true to itself and gives some decent audience misdirects that I am assuming are intentional ones. There are details however that are given their due course and hold up to any scrutiny given.

TL:DR

If you’ve enjoyed the franchise so far, this is a must see. Tom Cruise is in good form and Rebecca Ferguson shines when she’s on screen. Ving and Simon are perfect and you can feel the camaraderie between the characters and I believe the cast at this point. Cavill could use some work, but he is leaps and bounds above most things we’ve gotten with him in he past few years. Also, please give an award to the ‘Stache. They had to CGI that sucker for Justice League.

I think that Fallout is a very solid, good movie. It hearkens back more to traditional spy thrillers than a Mission: Impossible movie; but still is able to keep its tongue planted in its cheek for the moments it needs to where you have no choice but to go “really?”

So should I see it?

I think so. It does have some serious and unignorable pacing issues, but overall its a good ride. I don’t think you’ll regret full price, but XD or DBox would be wasted on this one.

Would you see it again?

You taking me?

Buying it?

Absolutely. I realized my collection is missing some of the others, which I plan to fix soon, but this one will be on my shelf.

Anything else?

Of my two companions tonight, one pretty much didn’t like it. The other thought it was ok. Neither are big on the spy thrillers of yore so I can’t ignore that call out that I made above. It was a servicable action piece in an otherwise mediocre year for those.

So what’s next?

Next week no review. Travelling for work, but the week after….The Meg! Don’t forget to sign up if you want to see it with me.