Darke Reviews | Alien: Covenant (2017)

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

So how was it’s sequel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…should you see it?

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

It didn’t.

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

How do you rank it in the franchise?

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

So not buying it?

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

Wow – you are angry?

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

So what next?

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

Should I see it?

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

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

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

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

End Credits scenes?

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

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

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

Darke Reviews | Fate of the Furious (2017)

I can do my usual lead in paragraph if you want? I mean I said it with my Furious 7 review – you’ve already made up your mind to watch this one or not. You are invested in the series or not. This series which started out at least somewhat serious in tone (it has a flippin drive by) has become the beer and pretzels franchise. It doesn’t claim to be more than that – it stopped trying to be more than that a very long time ago. So I suppose the real question is should you see yet another film in this franchise after you thought they had nothing more to tell? Should you see a Fast movie without Paul Walker? Should you get behind the wheel to go see this?

or more importantly – should they have? 

The 8th…yes…8th installment of the series is directed by F. Gary Gary who has in his career since 1995 given us Friday, Set it Off, The Negotiator, and recently Straight Outta Compton. He worked with Deisel in A Man Apart (2003); which has some of that mans best acting. He is reuniting with Theron and Statham from when he ddirected them both in The Italian Job (also 2003); which had some pretty decent car stunts as well. It seems he is a perfect choice for this film series – and you’d be right mostly. The problem is the series has fully devolved into its beer and pretzels and cannot decide what tonal quality it wants to go for.

Will I be a serious film with real intensity and some brutality – well when Vin Deisel is the main focus? Yes.

Will I be a 7 layers of cheese dip with all the corny lines to go with it – well when Vin isn’t on screeen? Yes

Will I be somewhere in the middle, even briefly, when the group as a whole is on screen with him? Of course.

Yes he directs them all fine. I honestly think these guys could do a movie without a director at this point. ….I might even pay to see that. Yes the action scenes are fun and new (more later); but the character pieces never linger long enough to care about the stakes beyond your initial investment in the characters, which likely has been dwindling alongside the franchises respect for the laws of physics.

I think I have to blame someone I praised previously though. Chris Morgan has been on the franchise since Tokyo Drift. I think he is chained in a cage somewhere with nothing but a word processor and a printer being forced to write these at this point.  It is entirely possible he is using one of these to come up with the concept, plot, and events of the movie:

Admit it – you’re now thinking you should try it!

 

Nothing in the movie lasts long enough to care. The motivations are as foggy as a San Francisco morning (with one exception). The dialogue is just lazy. They didn’t even bother with having the two cyber specialists try to talk Hacker at the camera. A few vague words, lots of typing without actually see them doing anything. I kind applaud them for that one. Overall though its phoned in to the nth degree.

And it doesn’t actually matter.

You are paying to watch the actors do things with cars (usually). So how are they? Let’s bullet it as there are a lot of them.

  • Vin Diesel looks stern, talks about family, is generally bad ass. I honestly don’t know how much different the actor and character are at this point.
  • Jason Statham has some of the most fun I have seen from him since Crank?
  • Dwayne Johnson mugs for the camera. He flexes for us who go that way. He chews scenery. We love him for it.
  • Michelle Rodriguez is underused.
  • Tyrese earns that paycheck (credit CinemaSins) and mostly tries to be funny and fails – which I think is the joke. Humor and I don’t speak to each other often.
  • Charlize Theron is actually pretty solid when she wants to do a villain in a film like this. Nicely done.
  • Kurt Russell in this mode needs to be in all the things. There is a real possibility he ad libbed every line and I am 100% ok with that.
  • Scott Eastwood shows unlike in Suicide Squad he does have a personality.

Ok – so thats that.

How are the stunts and effects you ask? 

This gif is my answer.

Shark Jumping Duh

If you know this image – you are old. You also very clearly get the message.

 

Most of the stunts with the cars are fantastic. The others are  “fantastic”. When they go practical you will wince, when they go CG you will probably wince for other reasons. It’s pretty typical for this franchise, but they do take it to 11 this time. Its true the series jumped the shark long long ago – but now they have forgone any pretense.  What absolutely kills me is the shaky cam in the non-car fights. You have quick, powerful, or agile actors – we don’t need the camera looking like its sitting on the San Andreas during  an earthquake to add ‘dynamism’ to the fight. If you need that to add energy – rechoreograph the fight. Please. No more shaky cam especially when you have talent.

TL;DR?

It is absolutely fun. It is absolutely stakeless on an emotional level.  Yes it has stakes and a threat, but I couldn’t care less. In other movies I would probably rip them a new one for such behavior, but Fast and the Furious has earned its stripes and there is real effort and love in the movie.  In an era of unnecessary grit and hyper realistic action Fate of the Furious is a glass of cool lemonade on a hot summer day.

Should you see it?

I have no regrets. I doubt you will.

Would you see it again?

At home with a few beers, pizza, and friends? Yes

So you buying it?

No question about it. Yes.

The magic 8 ball is leaving me confused did you like it or not?

Yes, I liked it. It gave me everything I wanted it to be and didn’t disappoint on any of the facets I cared about for a Fast and Furious movie. This is the 8th movie in a franchise not based on anything but itself. That doesn’t happen in Hollywood anymore – maybe ever. I am happy to celebrate that.

Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I still fondly remember seeing the first one on a lark. “Ah what the heck…I don’t mind Keanu.” What I then received, despite the theatre being empty was one of the best action movies of that year and arguably the next. Of course, everyone who did see it got others to see it and word of mouth of this diamond in the rough spread and a cult phenomenon formed around the little movie that could. It deserved the attention. It stands out amongst action movies with a very low end, for Hollywood, budget of $20 million – which it went and doubled domestic and quadrupled world wide. That isn’t counting after market sales once it left theatres. Again – it is right to have this praise. I ended the last review saying we need Hollywood to pay attention to it and learn from it.

Well they got it half right. They paid attention and gave us a sequel. Sadly I cannot think of a movie since 2014 that is such a magnificently choreographed ballet of bullets and blood. Sure we’ve had good action movies, I’ve seen most of them, but most of the time I am complaining about the camera work or editing.

The question is – Is the magic that made John Wick back or should it have stayed in retirement?

The pen of Derek Kolstad returns to the script, not really having worked on anything since the last film. He had a task I have seen many fail at before. Write a script for a sequel to a movie a lot of people liked, but closed its ending quite nicely. How do you bring your principle character out of retirement – twice. How do you get people to care about the story? How do you avoid rehashing the literal same story or other story again? Time and time again people fail at this when going to sequels. Usually they are rushed, but he had at least a year to write and they had a year to film before this release.  The time helped. Kolstad told the story that we came out of the last one wanting more of. He brought us more into the world of Hitmen, Coins, and The Continental. I do admit I want more of that world, and it delivered. For those familiar with the World of Darkness, take notes – you have good source material here. Is the plot complex? No. Is it more than avenging the death of his dog. Yes. What you should take away from it  is that he bothered with a plot rather than a thinly veiled way to string together gunfights. Thank you Derek. We mean it.

At the helm is previous director Chad Staheleski, minus previous director David Leitch; though Leitch does have an executive producer credit. He does as well as he did in the first one and it is very clear that he paid a lot of attention over the years on the films he worked as a Stuntman and coordinator on. The beats, the blocking, the  shots were gorgeous. There is one in Rome, near a large bathtub that is one of the most gorgeous shots I have ever seen on screen. He and cinematographer Dan Lausten (Crimson Peak, Brotherhood of the Wolf), do some really amazing shots and made some otherwise risky shooting choices all of which paid off. Shooting in a mirror maze is difficult enough. Shooting with a moving camera in a mirror maze with moving panels must have been a nightmare. They did it.

My only complaint on the technical facet of the film is that there’s a bit of shaky cam on a handful of sequences; and overall most of the gunfights could have been shaved by a few seconds or beats. One in particular could have lost two minutes and we would have been ok. There’s a touch more CG enhancement to shots that really didn’t need it when a composite shot could have done better. That said, on the flip side – the practical in camera effects are just damn good. They are as visceral and brutal as you would think. Also – that bathtub sequence. I don’t want to know what it took to get that – but it was perfect. They really, as a pair, grasped when to use the different lenses and how to do different depths, angles, and movement with the cameras.  There’s no shot I found off putting and they flow well to the credit of editor Evan Schiff (Pans Labrynth…huh thats two who worked with Del Toro).

So yes, the technicals are really solid here – a little more flawed but nothing game breaking or even really detrimental to the movie. I think I am more trying to show it can still be critiqued; because otherwise the stunts are FANTASTIC. This is a love letter to so many stunt performers over the year (including an intro shot with Buster Keaton on a wall). The stunts are not over the top. They are very human very real and require high degrees of skill.So much is done in the frame you can see the actors doing their work and the movie always benefits from it. They also give you time to breath, they let the plot breathe. They let you see the injuries without being gratuitous. They let fatigue set in.

From an acting perspective Keanu does a excellent job of showing John’s state both mentally and physically as the movie progresses.  This man is 50+ years old and his own stunt work is just incredible.  Ricardo Scamarcio (Burnt) does well as our antagonist. Ian McShane is still  Ian McShane and we all love the movie a bit more for him end to end. Ruby Rose, as Ares, in her third performance this year does well with little. She does have weight and does well with it. I am unsure why they made one of the choices about her character – it didn’t hurt that it was made, but still wondering why.  Common (Smokin’ Aces, Selma) continues to impress me with both his delivery of what he must and his action capabilities. Claudia Gerini (nothing stateside) is a stand out performance in the movie and for what time she had made an impact.

TL:DR?

This is a very good sequel. Again I want the movers and shakers in L.A. to pay attention to the movie and learn the right lessons. You will be hard pressed in this genre (sorry Godfather fans) to find a sequel that is as good a follow up to it’s close ended predecessor.  While it isn’t quite as good as the first, it is still bloody awesome.

Should you see it?

Do you like action? Gunplay? Keanu? The First movie? If the answer to any of these is Yes. Stop reading my review and go. Seriously…

Go.

Are you still reading? This movie is that good. Just go.

Will you buy it?

Without a doubt.

Anything else?

Yes, the music. The music was fantastic. I am trying to hunt down the soundtrack.

Darke Reviews | xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Do we have a January that isn’t complete garbage; for the movie industry anyway. I mean Underworld was very fun, with some return to the 90’s and early 2000’s gothic vampires. Next week we get the ever ridiculous franchise capper for Resident Evil, and tonight we have another long running franchise returning to us. Much like the other two films, I didn’t/won’t go into this expecting much. My exact quote was “I expect this to be ridiculous action, if it delivers that I will be happy.”

So the question is did it deliver?

Written by F. Scott Frazier, writer for the conceptually interesting but underwhelming Numbers Station and former QA for video games, he returns us to the world of the xXx program. A secret arm of the NSA designed to blend in with groups and people that trained spies and hardened military cannot – and look dope doing it. The last part was their words, not mine.  He snaps us back into the world of spy vs spy vs the street that we haven’t seen since 2005’s horrific sequel xXx: State of the Union. I am guessing Vin Diesel is looking for any franchise he can keep going now that he’s matured a bit and likes the steady paychecks. He’s not wrong to come back to this one. Fraziers story feels right at home with the world the previous two created. The parts that don’t – we will get to in a minute.

D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four, Eagle Eye) is at the helm on this and seems to have a decent vision for how to make this part of the world and look good doing it. Decent, but not great. I think he, cinematographer Russell Carpenter, and the film editors Vince Filippone and Jim Page have some explaining to do. They need to explain to me and you why when you have Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen you need to shoot them in extreme close up,  hand held cameras, with snap and sharp edits. You have two of the most amazing martial artists on screen and we can’t watch them because your combat scenes are a chaotic mess. Sure you can make out some of it and enough to know what’s going on but it is all so very bad American filmmaking on this part.  It is just awful to not be able to really enjoy the fights the way that should have been possible with the cast assembled.

Secondarily, and creepily, Diesel is turning 50 years old this year. Out of context that’s awesome for him to be in such great shape, still fun to watch, and charming. What is not ideal is pairing his character with female characters who are almost literally half his age and look it or even younger. Look people can fall for who they want to fall for, but its still a bit unnerving and on top of it very Hollywood to put the leading man with a significantly younger woman rather than someone even remotely close to their own age. It’s not a major sin of the movie, but its still a sin that I can’t not comment on.

From an acting perspective – oh come on this is xXx, everyone is here for the paycheck, the title, and the fun. It shows. I told a coworker this movie better have its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. I think it had it planted in mine. Literally everyone looked like they were just having fun with their role. Diesel was as solid as you’d expect and made a good on screen partner (and ship) to Donnie Yen (Rogue One, Ip Man). Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, John Wick: Chapter 2) made her presence known and stands out amongst the crowd. Apparently I get to see her in Resident Evil next week. I also may have a slight crush on her character (or her) who was a sniper and again made it fun. Indian actress Deepika Padukone steals the show and eats scenery almost as much as Ruby Rose. Both these women easily upstaged the action sequences and most of the movie any time they were on screen. This looks to be her first Hollywood production and I can only hope we get more of her. Her and Rose have some serious charisma and even if a script isn’t that hot can make you not care with pure charm. Game of Thrones fans will have a laugh at their favorite Hound (Rory McCann) in his role as what amounts to be a stunt driver who may have taken too many blows to the head; just as Vampire Diaries fans may enjoy seeing their Elena take a completely different role. She plays the adorkable, excitable, Tech Support for the group and fits right in with the crowd. Tony Jaa is…well Tony Jaa is fun mode.

I find this important to call out – there’s almost a perfect balance of male and female actors in prominent roles in this movie and those roles aren’t just eye candy (mostly). In addition the cast diversity is through the roof. So props to the casting department here.

I talked a bit about the action – which was good but should have been better. Some shots are slowed down to let you savor the moment and this is done well and done for effect on more than one case. What killed me is shots that were so painfully CGI backdrops they kicked me out of the movie. Even accounting for inflation the budget here was $15 million more than the original movie in 2002. With the exception of a few shots and props the first one holds up fifteen years later. This one won’t hold up fifteen seconds later. I get sometimes CGI is needed to make a shot work because its just that insane. No issues there with this franchise, but if you find you can’t afford a specific locale or set piece – don’t use it. Don’t use a matte back drop that isn’t clean. Not a major sin, but sin none the less; especially when there are a lot of practical effects. There are also some interesting trailer shots missing or altered, but I am getting used to that; and it is very clear there’s some additional elements added thanks to Suicide Squad’s success.

TL;DR?

This movie delivered like Domino’s. Everything that was promised in the trailer is delivered. Everything I expected of it was given. There was only a little more I wanted. Cleaner fight sequences, less painful CG when used.

I like it, I like it a lot. It’s fun and doesn’t deserve the January dump slot. It is as ridiculous as I wanted it to be and needed it to be.

Should you see it?

Do you want fun action with not a care in the world? Yes. Yes you should. I don’t know that 3D will add anything, but XD is worth it and even full price would be.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Not even a question really. Absolutely.

Any parting thoughts?

The trailer said it: “Guns, Girls, Global Domination; Xander Cage is back….”. I am thankful for it and want to see more of this franchise.

Darke Reviews | Underworld – Blood Wars (2017)

I’ve spoken of this before, but for the new readers please know I am the Vampire Queen of Tucson. It may be a type of prison for a vampire lover like myself, but it is where I am. I love Vampires. The first book I ever read on my own (and by choice) was one on vampires. I have a room in my house dedicated to vampires and general gothicness; working on a second even. I believe I have every book published by White Wolf on Vampire the Masquerade as well. I will consume almost anything Vampire related. So what does that have to do with Underworld?

When the first one came out in 2003, I think I watched my DVD copy of it once a week for 3 months. I *like* this franchise unironically. It has entertained me end to end. Sure some of the installments can be classified as

 

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. Even the weakest of the franchise tends to put a smile on my face.

So should part 5 be left in the sun or does it continue to entertain?

First, unlike last film the rule of 3 is not invoked – technically. We have the based on characters by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, and Danny McBride credit, which is required. Then we have a story by Cory Goodman and Kyle Ward, screenplay (comes after the story) by Cory Goodman. Kyle Ward was writer on Machete Kills, which I hear was a blast and this project; while Cory Goodman is responsible for The Last Witch Hunter and Priest. As I said in the LWH review Goodman isn’t known for complexity in his plots, but he does have a taste for atmosphere and a certain air about the project with always a strong touch of the supernatural.

As with all Underworld films,  time is subjective. We’re not sure when the year is, how long between films has actually occurred and it really doesn’t matter. The story so far is recapped again bringing anyone new to the franchise up to speed, then jumps in head first. It plays on one of the more annoying conceits to give the set up, by if you can swallow that pill you can move on. Selene is on the run from well everyone, but is still a level of wicked in a fight that it rarely pans out for the hunters. Now they hunt for her in a bid to find her daughter, the pure blood hybrid of what should be incredible power. Who is they? The Lycans lead by a new mysteriously powerful leader Marius and the vampire council who really just want her dead – save one member of the new vampire council Semira.  Selene must avoid capture and find a new way to survive against the threats from all sides for the purpose of….something. Yeah, ok so much like the others this won’t win any awards for depth or meaning. Power for the sake of Power is the theme of the day and Selene is mostly on the defensive trying to survive against all-comers; which thankfully she is skilled to do. The question you need to see the movie to answer is “for how long?”

Kate Becksinale returns 13 years later from the origin of Selene and full disclosure – I have a massive girl crush on her so I could be more forgiving. She goes for a more weary, battle fatigued Selene; one who has loved and lost and in that she nailed it. Theo James (Divergent) returns as David. He is still trying, but his performance is so wooden I could use him as a stake. I give him credit for trying and there are so many hints of someone who can act and can emote I think he might be fine in the next one….maybe? Conversely Lara Pulver (Edge of Tomorrow, True Blood) as Semira is a joy to behold. This woman went all out for her vampire and while her performance dances a needles line on campy and sexy she brings it all together. Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully on Game of Thrones, Outlander) playing Marius is one of the more credible villains the movies have had since we lost Michael Sheen. I have to also acknowledge Daisy Head (Fallen later this year) and Bradley James (Damien and Merlin TV series) both turn what I thought would be unremarkable, forgettable characters into something just a bit more. They are still largely a third class character in the hierarchy, but at least these two made it interesting.

Director Anna Foerster (Second Unit director on 10,000 BC, Aeon Flux, Day after Tomorrow) does a good job with her ideas being executed. The actors turn out decent(ish) performances. She (or Cory) made the decision to give both Vampires and Lycans a few new tricks in their arsenal. She introduces some interesting new concepts and unique visuals. Though her combat sequences and cut choices will need some work before the next movie as  the further these movies progress the worse the combat gets – save one scene. It may be reminiscent of other scenes from better movies, but they made it their own under a beautiful (even if it was CG) sky. It also evokes a gothic, sexy vampire feel I’ve been missing.

TL;DR

Underworld Blood Wars is a solid continuation of the franchise. It brings in new ideas, new concepts, while tying up some loose ends and per usual Underworld films sets up a next one. I am not tired of the series and really was entertained for the majority of the film. It has some pacing, continuity, and editing issues but I have seen worse in higher budget films. It won’t likely make its budget ($35 million) back here in the States, but it’s combined worldwide gross should probably double it by the end of its run in a few weeks.

I may have to sit down with some like minded friends to ask why this franchise has such staying power when others of its ilk fail. Kate Beckinsale’s physique not withstanding.

Should you see it?

If you like this series or Vampires? Yes, yes you should. We get precious few GOOD Vampire movies, much less entertaining ones and this fits at least in the latter category.

You talk as if you don’t like it, but say its good?

No. I am commenting on its flaws of which there are many which I can’t in good conscience ignore for the purposes of the review. I still think its OK and I am still entertained by it. I still continue to enjoy these movies without a hint of guilt or irony about it.

I do like this movie. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

Yeah, but you’re biased.

Maybe, but I also do like movies that entertain me. Last year had so much mediocrity I am not particularly hopeful for this year. At least I felt something as I watched it.

Will you watch it again?

Sure if someone wants to take me out on a date to watch it. Or hell just take me out to watch it.

Buying it?

Without a doubt it will be mine.

Darke Reviews | Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

There are times I know I am glad I almost never read the books for the movies I watch. Take for instance Jack Reacher, the 2012 movie I consider a near perfect film in its craft. The mystery is solid, well paced, the action while limited is view able and visceral. The acting is top notch and it has one of the best openings to a film probably in the last decade. It probably deserves a review of it’s own and I may have to get to that; actually a little sad I didn’t have one already. But that’s the movie. People RAGED over the casting of Tom Cruise as someone who is by the book supposed to be a mountain of a man. I suppose if I was a fan of the character in that way I might be upset, actually I know I was when Vampire Diaries came out and some of the characters I liked were changed. So I get it, but without that baggage I went in to an unknown property that I didn’t know was based on a book at the time and really enjoyed it.

The question is does the Hollywood mandated sequel meet the bar?

The movie of course is based on the book Never Go Back by Lee Childs, to which I have no idea the accuracy of said material (beyond his size). It was then adapted under my three writer rule by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz. Wenk has shown up in my reviews before as the writer of The Magnificent Seven and the Equalizer. He also was the writer on one of my favourite guilty pleasure vampire movies, Vamp. Herskovitz was a producer on the amazingly underrated The Last Samurai (also with Tom Cruise) and additionally working on the screenplay there. Leaving us with Edward Zwick, who was a writer on The Last Samurai, but also directed this movie. His directorial credits also include little films no one ever heard of such as the Civil War movie “Glory”, a little movie with Brad Pitt called Legends of the Fall, oh yeah and director of Blood Diamond and Last Samurai.

You may wonder why I go into this much detail on their prior works. I find it important as you can begin to see patterns in behaviors, styles of shots, dialogue, lighting, blocking everything. These guys have a pretty good pedigree. Which leaves me wondering what happened here? It has moments where the brilliance wants to shine. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is Ok. Good even, but its like diet low salt popcorn. Ultimately unsatisfying when it could have been so much more. The camera work, including some interestingly used Dutch angles, is ok. The mystery is ok. The…everything is ok. Why? Why is it just this? These guys have the skills to elevate it. Cruise is a producer, Christopher McQuarrie director of the superior first movie is a producer. There’s no excuse.

The story picks up with Jack Reacher (Cruise), former Military Police Major, doing his best A-Team impression drifting in and out of towns and uncovering things that offend his sense of justice and morals. He begins phone flirting with Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) and is intent on meeting her. When he arrives he finds she’s been arrested on espionage charges. He also finds, that someone has filed a paternity suit against him while he’s been doing the drifting thing, and that he may have a 15 year old daughter (Danika Yarosh). She of course is drawn into the plot of murder, betrayal, and corruption as a potential pawn to use against Reacher.

This is just lazy. I mean I went to see an action crime thriller and ended up with what, the most awkward family outing? I mean it was a joy to see Reachers misogyny. I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to see him be “a mans man” a few times and just try to blunt force trauma his way through social situations. Every beat is neatly telegraphed or otherwise rehashed from the first movie. There’s flat out lazy filmmaking choices to ‘show us’ that Reacher has a good memory. Directorial choices make it so painfully obvious how he’s observing everything around him. It was absolutely aggravating because it should have been better.

The actors are fine, though it appears unlike the first movie someone added leg day back into Tom’s contract. I counted three scenes of him running, maybe 4. I stopped caring. This isn’t to say Cruise did a bad job. Quite the contrary, and despite my earlier protests, he’s fantastic. It is GOOD to see your hero has flaws. It is good to see your hero can be wounded. Even little things like his fingers twitching after the in media res diner scene. That’s what happens as you come down from a fight. It’s again what makes me think there’s a better movie that wanted to come out. Cobie Smulders (Avengers, How I Met Your Mother) is excellent. She matches Tom Cruise quite well and is absolutely believable in her role. I think there’s a long term action star here if she wants it. She did all she could do with the script she was given and more, which puts her a leg up on a lot of other actors as she was able to elevate a few scenes beyond how basic they were. She has good chemistry with Cruise as an actor even if the characters are in conflict. Danika Yarosh (Heroes Reborn) is also good. She’s honestly believable as kid who has been in and out of the system a few times and treads carefully the line of the stupid teenager by both script and directing. I repeat myself, the fact that her performance and character is as good as it is is in direct opposition to the overall emotion I felt at the end.

The fight sequences up to the climactic one are a hair too dependent on cuts and camera motion; a detractor. Just a few seconds longer, just a bit more stability and Just Ok fight sequence would have been good ones. The climactic one was pleasing even if the beat leading up to it was…*sigh* The action was GOOD, if you could see it. The fights were visceral and brutal and seeing the hero hurt was good, but they lacked something – at least until the climax. That one felt Excellent. Again…annoyance at what should and was trying to be better.

TL;DR

I had my hopes up for this one. That may have been a mistake. It was a simple paint by numbers action mover, with a lackluster mystery. Everything was just a few shades, a few beats, or few cuts from being really incredible but just ended up on the right side of mediocre.

I don’t hate the movie, I am just disappointed in it. I am disappointed in the director and writers who I’ve seen enough body of work to know what they are capable of and could have given something richer. I am annoyed by some very lazy choices in film making that are undeserving of what this should have been.

So what would you rate it?

Somewhere between an Ok and a Good. It’s serviceable and has enough moments of entertainment that it is absolutely watchable. I just found that there’s enough detractors that I couldn’t ignore despite wanting to. Audiences will find it ok and a lot of dudes will be going Reacher is a bad ass.

Should you see it?

If you’ve got a spare ten bucks and aren’t seeing the superior film The Accountant? Sure. Just matinee…or with Beer or something. But really go see The Accountant.

Will you buy it?

Eh probably? I just won’t be rushing out to get it or pre order it.

So you didn’t do the review a day after all?

No. Heart wasn’t in it. It’s also tiring. If you watch web reviewers, they generally limit themselves to once a week. It’s harder than it looks to do these and do them well. Giving every review for 31 days the right attention and credit is draining. I might do another run in the future. Maybe random ones. I do owe someone a review of either Dungeons and Dragons or the Core.

Next week, Inferno. Because I hate myself, but mostly so I can get a sense of Felicity Jones before Rogue One.