Editorials in the Darke | Sequel Bait

From my Facebook Wall:

So I was reading your review for the new Blade Runner (I just love to read your eloquent reviews!) And I was thinking… it seems to me, that it is far easier to make a whole new film then to attempt sequels. But what would you classify as the top ten sequels (any genre) in your opinion ??

This is kinda a loaded question, but one I want to take a stab at. Let me break it down into parts before getting to the meat of the question itself.

Far Easier to make a whole new film than attempt sequels

As a writer, and someone who is familiar with fan fic, it’s easier to work from a framework. Original ideas are hard only because as writers we tend to question ourselves far too often and think we are being too derivative of someone else’s body of work. This only gets harder as time goes on and more products are out there. Ex Machina could be seen as Blade Runner told with a cast of 3, but it isn’t quite that. Of course you also have reboots, in which you take the original narrative and try to modernize it or do something new with it. These have mostly poor reception with only a few actually even equaling the other work from a purely objective much less subjective standpoint. I could probably write a doctorate level thesis on that concept alone.

So then you come to the sequel itself, which has factors that can make it easier or harder when you take them into account:

  • Popularity of the property. This even has a further breakdown when you consider nostalgia.
  • Time between films
  • Budget
  • Success of the property
  • Property framework, or does the original work allow for organic sequels?

Frequently we find sequels being ordered with release dates before even a pen is put to paper to give a good script after a film does well in the box office. Usually this results in a train wreck as the creative process takes more time than is allowed, but the studio wants to get the money while people still care. Which leads into time between films. At 35 years Blade Runner is one of the longest times between actual sequels, but due to that it has built considerable credibility and nostalgia within the film community – yet it effectively bombed on its release. The popularity got it a sequel but also creates harsher judges of its quality on release. Some sequels are given less budget to work with all but damning them, while others are given exhorbitant budgets – which does not equal success as much of what made some things work was how the production had to get scrappy and do more with less, when given keys to the kingdom creativity can actually die.

Many films don’t leave room for sequels but we get them anyway. Carrie, Fright Night, even Star Wars could be considered a movie that had little room at the time for a sequel but here we are 40 years later. Others implicitly set up sequels which will never get made for good or for ill, Push, Jumper, and a lot of Young Adult films tend to fall into this category. Many reviewers (including me) and those in the critique business (Cinema Sins, Honest Trailers, Nostalgia Critic) even make jokes about how its cute they think they will get a sequel.

I could really go into this more, but for now let’s talk my top 10 sequels.

Rules:

  1. These are sequels I have seen both the original film and the sequel. If I haven’t seen it – it will not make the list, so you won’t see the critically acclaimed Godfather II on here.
  2. In many cases I am not stating explicitly that the sequel is better than the original, only that it is really good.
  3. I am including films that are part of series, but will only rate the second film against the first – so yes, you are going to see Empire Strikes Back on this list, but you won’t see Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Back to the Future 3, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or Fury Road
  4. If I am reminded of a film later, I may re order this list.

Ok so here we go. These are in no particular order, currently.

    1. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980) / Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

      Star Wars is an iconic piece of movie history. It defined the lives of tens of thousands of children and rewrote the rules of what summers and blockbusters were. It is, however, flawed. This doesn’t lessen it’s impact, but does give room for its sequel to be better. While it is clear Empire was written to be a continuation where Star Wars was not, despite protests to the contrary, it still holds as it’s own film. It successfully reintroduces the characters with no loss of personality, growth in character, and then expands the universe. The Empire becomes seen as the massive fist that it is vs. a single monstrosity. The sets, threats, and beats all just work better than they do in the first. Much of this can come from Kasdan’s writing, but also having the power of an established universe. You don’t need to explain as much, but have the luxury of using your footing to get more stable.

      Then of course there’s the ending. It would be easy to say no movie made now would have the audacity to end the way Empire does. While you still have some hope it *must* be acknowledged the heroes are playing from the back foot now and their positions are in jeopardy. This is really what gives it such staying power is that the heroes are not always triumphant. If you consistently win without sacrifice then the wins have no value. People, audiences, love to root for the underdog and if the hero is on top you just have a perfunctory win instead of a fight to come out on top in the next film. Empire delivers this and will always be remembered fondly for it.

    2. Color of Money (1986)/ The Hustler (1961)

      This will seem an odd one coming from me and it isn’t really a well known sequel. The original film has both amazing performances from Jackie Gleeson and Paul Newman. What the sequel does so smart is they introduce you to a very young Tom Cruise who seeks out a now aging Newman to show him how to shark. The music, the acting, the personalities all work and shows a logical dramatic evolution of the Newman character. It is actually rare to make a sequel like this where your original young star now plays the elder mentor. Its on this list as I think the formula here has opportunity for usage. It could and should have been used on the recent Flatliners film as Sutherland was in fact playing his prior character and would have been perfect to continue the story and mentor the new scientists on the risks.

    3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) / Blade Runner (1982)

      Just see my recent review and know that these films are amazing pieces of work and the sequel is the best possible sequel you can make from a movie that didn’t have implicit architecture to do so. Already news agencies are talking about how 2049 bombed. As a financial investment it certainly did, but this doesn’t keep it from being amazing film making.I was tempted to throw everyone by putting Kurt Russel’s Soldier on here as the sequel to Blade Runner, but as its merely a spiritual successor/side-quel set in the same Universe I couldn’t. But you should see it and I still consider it an amazing film for what it is.

    4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)/ Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

      The first movie of the remakes here has one of the greatest film surprises in it of all time with a single word uttered. The second capitalizes on the world and the conclusion and takes us a time into the future. The visuals become stronger as does the storytelling. It is great science fiction in that it makes us look at our own humanity and our interactions with each other through the lens of how Ape culture is being built, interacts with itself and the natural divisions that occur – THEN goes and adds humans into the mix to show when opposing cultures meet. Many deride movies like this for showing the evil of “man”, but ask the un-contacted tribe in the Amazon what they think of modern man. Wait, you can’t they were just wiped out by a gold mining company.We do have better angels, but movies like this remind us of what we do all too frequently overtly and unconsciously amongst our own society. This is why it makes my list as the movies put these issues in focus and do it well consecutively.

    5. Aliens (1986) / Alien (1979)

      Alien is one of the definitive horror films of all time. So how do you make a sequel in the genre? Trick question – you don’t. You instead turn it into a pulse pounding yet character driven action movie. Aliens does something that most horror and action films fail to do – let you get to know the characters just enough so that when they die you knew who they were and a basic personality. To borrow from Oceans 11 “He has to like you and forget you.” Modern films in these genres give us the same amount or more of disposable characters, letting you know they will die, but don’t bother to make you care so the stakes never rise. Think about Vasquez, tough as nails, reaching for her partner Drake. Sgt. Apone, Frost, Weirzbowski, Ferro. Most fans of the franchise know each of those names, but they were nothing more than tally marks against the things have gotten bad. Hudson, Vasquez, even Gorman are left with you so that when they die, you see just when it couldn’t get worse it does. Hicks is taken out for the last fifteen minutes of movie, but for a moment you worry he won’t make it because of how all the others were structured. Even Bishop is set up to let you worry and you do. Not bad for a machine. This is why Aliens is a fantastic sequel. It defies convention and sets up structure in a way that others should, but don’t learn from, on how to do horror/action/and or sci fi.

    6. Superman II (1981) / Superman (1978)

      Richard Donner cheated here. Both films were made in 1977 with Donner having filmed an estimated 75% of it prior to being removed from the project by the studio. Richard Lester replaced Donner, but to get the credit had to shoot 51% of the material – which meant much in the way of reshoots. While I do feel the Donner cut is superior and the troubled production does create some very interesting continuity errors in the movies, Superman II is quite likely the most remembered of the two movies. This comes down to Terrence Stamp as Zod and Reeves Superman being so much larger than life. It brings the otherworldly nature of Superman into the focus vs. the weird real estate story of the first. If I asked you to quote a line from either of these films easily 90% of people would say “Kneel before Zod” – and that right there is why it makes the list. The *fond* memories of it and how well it holds up 40 years later.

    7. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) / Star Trek: Generations (1994) AND Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982) / Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

      Ok this one is kinda a cheat as its the same franchise, but different generations. MP allowed for Khan where they reached into the series and pulled one of the iconic villains and resurrected him into one of the most iconic sequels of all time. The battle of wills and the sacrifice of friends to see it through. Sure the sacrifice was short circuited by another film, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of watching Spock die before your eyes.

      First Contact does similar and brings the analogy closer to Moby Dick (as the movie points out), but does so very well. It’s also the first time TNG really goes “Dark”; meanwhile telling two very different stories successfully. Both of these movies tend to top people’s Star Trek film lists and for good reason.

    8. The Dark Knight (2008)/ Batman Begins (2005)

      Batman Begins is the better comic book movie that remains true to its origins and is an overall better Batman film. The Dark Knight deviates keeping only trappings of comic book worlds but tells instead a gritty crime drama with a villain who is on par cinematicaly with Hannibal Lechter. It is better made as a film, where you could watch it and a movie like Heat in a film study of crime films and while there might be a few eyebrows raised the argument is easy to make.The loss of the more comic book aspects and too much of it shot during daylight do take away from the Batman nature of it, but with its billion dollar gross, near universal fan and critical praise The Dark Knight does need to be acknowledged as one of the great sequels of all time.

    9. Terminator 2 Judgement Day (1991) / Terminator (1984)

      What is it with Cameron making superior sequels -ignoring Pirhana II the spawning. In this case he expands on his own universe and gives one of the most financially successful sequels of all time. Terminator 2 largely holds up in every category from then til now even with its early generation CGI effects. There are some that don’t let’s be fair, but it works on a lot of levels in the FX department even now. Much was practical and then we have excellent character development like we saw with Empire Strikes back on how characters changed over time. Terminator gave us a world, a look and a feel. Terminator 2 capitalized on it. The sadness is that none of the sequels gave us John Connor like we were promised from T2’s battlefield shot or even a world as promised by Kyle Reese in the first.

    10. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) / Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

      I have a love for The First Avenger. Of the two movies it is the one I am more likely to watch just because it is a touch more on the feel good components (all things considered) and less on more modern horror shows. It makes me feel in the right ways. That being said, Winter Soldier is without a doubt the best sequel in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers had issues mocking it because much like Dark Knight it is solid film making. What it does better is keep within the strongest parts of its comic book trappings.

That’s my list. While I have a feeling I missed something and didn’t fully explain everything (I’m already at 2500 words) I believe these are the right choices. There were a few who didn’t make the cut. I may get inspired to talk about remakes/reboots in a future post to this. Special thanks to Jessica L. for inspiring this post.

Comment here on AmusedintheDark on Facebook on what you think should be on this list or if you agree or disagree.

Runners Up:

  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) / Pitch Black (2000)
  • The Wolverine (2013) / X Men Origins Wolverine (2009)
  • Hellboy 2 The Golden Army (2008) / Hellboy (2004)
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Darke Reviews | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I would like to ask you some questions.

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

First question: Should Blade Runner have been retired?

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

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Next Question: Should you see it?

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

Seeing it again?

Maybe. Probably.

XD or 3D?

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

I take it then you are buying it?

No question in my mind.

So it made you feel?

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

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

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

Why did you choose that poster for your image?

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

Darke Reviews | Kingsman : The Golden Circle (2017)

I have not seen the movie. I no longer plan to see the movie.

Everyone close to me knows I avoid all other reviews, review sites, production blogs, insider blogs, etc. prior to a movies release. I base everything on my reviews from the trailer to screen only. I do not want to taint my review by production nightmares or amazing productions and horrible final products. I base them on what you promise me via trailer and what I receive when I put down my $11. So when the person closest to me in the world goes: “Hey this article ( https://www.themarysue.com/taron-egerton-kingsman2-scene/ )  has spoilers. I won’t be seeing this or any Matthew Vaughn movies”, an hour or two before I go see the movie; it causes me to take note.

So I read the article. I am both happy and sad I did. I can tell from other reviews I have watched between now and this writing that the overall product is a solid Ok to Good, but at least three have brought up a scene in question without getting into the details found in the article from TheMarySue. I was deeply conflicted for a bit.

The scene/issue: In attempt to plant a bug to track someone Eggsy has to seduce a woman and insert the object into her via her vagina. The shot is done as a point of view following his hand.  The actor who played Eggsy was actually uncomfortable performing the scene (and did not in the end).

Can I tolerate overt, unnecessary sexism in a film that uses it as a punchline for all of 30 seconds?

I mean I have watched plenty of things that are gratuitously sexist. Piranha 3D and 3DD come to mind right out of the gate. I have watched my share of movies with consenting (and even not consenting) adults having sex in them or women in lingerie having sex (Atomic Blonde , The Hunger ). So why does this bother me more than those?

If you are still with me reading this, lets start with Piranha. The sexism there probably kept more than a few women out of the theatres, including me. I have watched them since and realized that while yes it is still sexist that sexism is also the joke and the victim of the joke as well. It is so ridiculously over the top and consistent about it. It is just on the right side of lampoon. There are more than a few people who will enjoy the overt perversion of the film, but they are as much part of the joke as well. The title of the second one even plays into that, even as it earned derision from many. In the case of the Piranha movies they go in with the knowledge, intent, and desire to be comedy horror and the overt sexism is a literal constant part of both narratives. That constant is what makes it different.

Alright so what about films like Atomic Blonde and The Hunger. *sigh* Admittedly this one is a touch harder with these two mentions. Let’s address the Hunger. As a lesbian vampire film you can tell it was filmed by a guy. That said the act itself is treated well, and the seduction and succumbing to it is a functional and necessary part of the narrative with the associated consequences as part of it. Atomic Blonde is slightly different in that regard, but only slightly. It treats the bisexuality of the characters and the act slightly better; while still generally being filmed for the male gaze. Both sequences have a high degree of intimacy and passion that ultimately serve the characters and narrative rather than detract from it. They are naturalistic within the story and it would change the film and characters in a significant way if they were absent.

So why is this different? Because it is unnecessary. Like the Princess Tilde scene from Kingsman – what did it actually serve? Did you *need* to see the scene? Would it have worked had Eggsy closed the door with her smiling on the bed and Merlin looking over and going “Oh my”? Yeah. It would. The problem here with a POV shot of the hand sliding down her stomach and into her panties and then her? It adds to a pattern.

Vaughn is outright juvenile and sexist. He is a shock jock (DJ) like old Howard Stern. He does it because he can and wants to be bold and edgy. He’s a 15 year old with $90 million dollar budgets. Let me clarify.

The Tilde scene was on it’s own? It caused a minor murmur. Some folks didn’t like it, but that was it. Didn’t really hit the radar in reviews or news. Now add this scene with Poppy Delevinge’s character Clara. Most reviews I am coming across are bringing it up with a “why was this needed?” – more on that in a sec. Two isn’t a pattern yet. There’s more. Let’s look at Hit Girl in Kick Ass. I like the movie, love the character, but he has her drop the “C” word just to shock people. Then there’s the teen sex scene, true the actors were 20 and 23 at the time but they were playing high school kids. I am not against teens having sex, not even remotely, I am wondering why it needed to be filmed? There’s the treatment of Roxy in the first film – you know the one who actually became a Kingsman? True the narrative is about Eggsy and Harry, but you lessen the one of two named significant female besides his mother; who is not treated particularly well either, by leaving her off screen for much of the action?

My final point on the why was this needed for the Clara scene? If a script writer gives this scene to you as a director and producer you have the absolute right to change the scene and change how its filmed. You can keep it from being exploitative if you feel you need to include it. This fails here as Vaughn is writer, director, and producer. He wrote the McGuffin for the intent to write this scene and shock. He picked how it would be filmed. It literally only exists in this format to allow him to film it as such. The McGuffin could have worked any number of ways that didn’t require *this*. Yet here we are.

Where does that leave us?

I cannot in good conscience see this movie. I cannot in good conscience recommend it.

If this scene as described doesn’t bother you and you can enjoy the rest of the movie without this being a detractor – props to you. I am not going to judge people who don’t have an issue with it. I hope those that see this truly enjoy it and this doesn’t take away from it.

It would for me enough to taint the rest of the experience. Enough to taint how I think of his other movies, which I enjoy as well.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand for white washing and I have to here for this absolutely unnecessary sexist filming.

Is there anything else you are drawing a line in the sand for in the near future?

Trigger warning for pedophilia on this topic so I am using my spoiler roll over text to discuss. If you wish to see just highlight from here:

Yes. Jeepers Creepers 3. When the first two came out the internet wasn’t nearly as powerful as it is now. Information about people and their misdeeds not nearly as prevalent. I had no idea the director Victor Salva was a convicted pedophile. Not only committing the crime but filming it as well. I cannot support his works now that I know. Do I still enjoy JC/JC2? Yes – for what they are. You can enjoy something still after you find problematic issues with those who made it. It does not mean, however, you have to continue supporting them once you know.

This includes Polanski. I had no idea of his background at first. I know the victim wants the story to die so she can keep moving on. This is does not equate to absolution. Do I like the Ninth Gate? Sure. Can I continue to support him? No. Which means not adding some of his older works to my collection such as the Fearless Vampire Killers to avoid giving him any form of residuals. 

As a reviewer, topics like these do cause conflict. I have an objective role to perform in the watching of film and media and writing about it. I also have my subjective beliefs and values. I have to be true to myself and not support things I find problematic.

I hope you all understand and can join me for the next review.

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

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

Should you avoid this War though?

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should you see it?

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

Will you buy it?

Without question.

 

Is it good Sci Fi?

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

Are you serious on the trilogy thing?

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

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

Darke Reviews | Alien: Covenant (2017)

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

So how was it’s sequel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…should you see it?

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

It didn’t.

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

How do you rank it in the franchise?

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

So not buying it?

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

Wow – you are angry?

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

So what next?

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

Should I see it?

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

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

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

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

End Credits scenes?

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

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

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

Darke Reviews | 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.