Darke Reviews | Charlie’s Angels (2019)

I have missed you my readers. Have you missed me? There are a few reviews coming that I owe you, but first the viewing tonight. I had hoped to get this one to you last night, but there was a plague upon my house which kept me more or less incapacitated for several days. After some blood letting, no I am not saying whose blood, I am almost fully operational again. The members of my Dark Court went last night to the preview screening and all assured me I would enjoy this film. They gave me no spoilers, they know better. Now of course I remember watching reruns of the series as a little girl, Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Lad, Kate Jackson, Tanya Roberts, Farrah Fawcett. That…might explain a few things. I have also watched both the 2000 and 2003 movies, not particularly fond of the camp surprising no one. I did miss the 2011 series. Near as I can tell so did everyone else.

I suppose the real question then is, should you say Good Evening Angels?

The story for this film was written by David Auburn ( The Lake House) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (Hercules, Beauty and the Beast 2017), which creates an interesting mix of a Tony award winning writer who also did a romantic drama and a guy who has mostly made a lot of the Disney animated sequels. Not sure what to make of that mix in styles, but when you add Elizabeth Banks (Power Rangers, Brightburn) on the screenplay and in the directors chair it begins to take shape. Banks went mostly under the radar for me for years until I saw her in Hunger Games as Effie, then appearing as Gail in Pitch Perfect. I admit, I discounted her. I would say around Mockingjay I saw what was there all along (I have a bias against comedy you know this), then as Rita Repulsa in Power Rangers. She cemented her chops with me in Brightburn, but thats in front of the camera. What about behind? I am not a fan of her directorial debut Pitch Perfect 2, its fine, but didn’t resonate nearly as well as the first. She hasn’t gone behind the camera in 4 years and she’s been learning. More on that in a second.

The story presented is a long episode of the show. Someone has a secret, someone doesn’t want that secret shared. Spy games and spy vs spy ensue. Pretty clothes, disguises, and nifty gadgets follow. Women power in all the best ways. Basic works here. To embrace the premise of the show and take it seriously, which the movie does, you do not need overly dramatic complex or overwrought plots. You need a McGuffin, multiple locations, and some highly skilled Angels with just an air of mystery to the plot enough to satisfy the casual movie goer. It does that. While the movie does take itself seriously, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows where to poke, it knows where to have fun even at itself. This is what separates this particular remake of a 70’s series from so many of the others. Others go for the hard over the top ridiculous comedy, this is far far more restrained. Granted it is over the top in its own ways, but the humor in the movie is pure and good natured and charming.  Thats screenplay and directing done right Mrs. Banks

That also comes from the performers, Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper, American Ultra), Naomi Scott (Power Rangers, Aladdin), and Ella Balinska (first major theatrical role) as our Angels. They have to carry this movie not “just by being pretty” (but they are three of the most beautiful women on the planet imo), but they have to have the acting and action chops as well. They do. I know a lot of people still write off K-Stew and well…in my opinion they are wrong. She isn’t the performer she was in 2008. She knows who and what she is now and as the saying goes “brings her whole self to work” and I can tell you that it shows. She’s both charming and funny in this role, while still pulling off a number of decent action pieces with her in frame. Scott continues to hold her own and shows she can and should continue to be trusted as her career continues to grow. I will admit Balinska almost steals the show from both of them a number of times, including one particularly adorable scene with Noah Centino. I could go on to list all the co-stars and cameo appearances in this movie but we’d be here all night.

TL:DR?

The movie is fantastically well paced and trimmed to cut all the fat away giving you the bare necessities and deliver on everything the trailer promised. Just shy of 2 hours there’s very little to cut from this movie without sacrificing some element that keeps it all working. It also keeps an interesting sense of permanency with some aspects to the movie where certain things are not undone and I am pleased for it. There are dozens of nods and winks to the original series and the early 2000 movies without being too overt or fanservicy. Movies risk with that going “remember this better thing?” yeah they avoid all of that. All of it.

I really enjoyed the hell out of this adorable picture. This will likely make my top list this year.  Yes, I am serious.

Should you see it?

If you had any interest in it I can confirm you will get your monies worth. If you were waiting for confirmation from the anti comedy girl that its palatable, you got it. If you weren’t sure – I can comfortably recommend this for a beautiful popcorn bit of fun.

Would you see it again?

My Dark Court wanted to. One of them was able to tonight (the others had prior commitments) I stand by them on this and would.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely.

Are there any problems with it, like at all?

Sure. Its a bit shallow. If you know the genre there’s not a lot to the movie, but it doesn’t matter. There’s not a lot to the characters themselves, backstory or development wise, but if you wanted to kick off a franchise this wouldn’t be a bad way to do it.

Of course I am all for the pro feminism aspect of the movie. It does not even remotely shy away from it and a few times beats you over the head with it. You know what? GOOD. Let girls who come see this see themselves as bad ass action stars. Let them see they can wear pretty dresses, kick ass and save the world – and have fun doing it. We don’t need every movie like this to be Atomic Blonde, this is a nice accessible and fun balance to the mix and I encourage people to take their families to it.

Not…too young though. It is PG-13

Oh and yes it passes the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests by an order of magnitude.

Darke Reviews | Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Yeah I know this one has been out a bit, sadly travel prevented me from seeing it on release. I was tempted to see it last weekend, but I wasn’t up for writing three reviews. Where’s the Zombieland Double Tap review? I’ll get to it…eventually. The other deciding factor on this one was having my Dark Court with me, who always make movies better.  They weren’t able to attend on the weekend so instead of either of this weeks releases, Black and Blue (not at my theatre :( ) or Countdown which may still be on the docket, we see Maleficent Mistress of Evil. Now when Maleficent came out in 2014 I was one of the voices saying this is good. This is better than folks are giving it credit for. I stand by that even now, where while it may not have been the box office success of some of the later remakes, I still think it was one of the more successful ones as it went and changed the story so dramatically and dared to be different from the formula. Just like the high points in Aladdin were where they did something new, the entirety of Maleficent was a new take. So five years later we get a sequel, because Disney really can’t help themselves.

Should you see it or prick your finger on a spindle and take a nap?

Linda Woolverton (The Lion King 1994, Beauty and the Beast) returns as a story and screenplay writer for the Mistress of Evil. Joining her on screenplay duty is Noah Harpster (Transparent, the upcoming Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Transparent, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). The story is not nearly as complex or fascinating as the original here. Everything the trailer showed you is the basic premise and there is very little else to expect beyond that. Philip proposes to Aurora, Maleficent disapproves, they go to dinner with Philip’s parents, things go bad, things get worse,….then get better. Happily ever after maybe? I mean it is Disney so it’s hard to say that’s a spoiler. If anything the screenplay is the weakest element of this movie, the dialogue is about as upfront and in your face as it is going to get without a bullhorn screaming at you going “Do you see what we are doing here?” There are some significant flaws in the screenplay and story that would require me to hit actual spoiler territory, but after some of the elegance of the original one this one pales in comparison.

Thankfully director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Carribean: Deadmen Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki) is able to salvage most of it. While here some of the choices don’t work, the majority do and he does treat the audience to some wonderful set ups and payoffs as well as far more subtle acting and nuance than you typically get in a film like this. What seems odd is Rønning  as a directorial choice. I feel, and I could be wrong, that Disney has him in a three movie contract since Pirates 4 and there’s a better director inside trying to get out. There’s an attempt at a vision in here that holds and does it’s best to elevate the movie, but hampered either by screenplay or producers I can’t say it never quite lands where it needs to. That isn’t to say he doesn’t salvage it, because he absolutely does as this would have been a straight to DVD or straight to the bin with a lesser director. Even here though there are some choices made that left me feeling sour with the movie and only mostly redeemed by other moments.

Acting wise? Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning are still some of the top tier actors of the decade, they could have done this movie in their sleep and didn’t. They put the effort in and this is where some of the real positive directorial choices happen as well. Rønning, Jolie, and Fanning know enough about their craft to make moments work that bring you back into the world of the movie and invest you in the outcome. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) makes Philip more than one note, barely, but he does. Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Free Fire) returns as Diaval and puts heart in where its needed and good characterization.  Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejiofor are wasted, but do what they can with what they have. Michelle Pfeiffer on the other hand has decided that she is hungry for scenery. She didn’t quite hit Jeremy Irons levels of over the top, but she was reaching for it.

Visually the movie is a treat. It brings the magic back from the first and generally speaking looks great through out with only a handful of shots not quite holding up. There’s a magnificent shot of Maleficent at one point in the film where you get to see her wings as they attach to her body and there’s a level of detail to it you cannot deny.

TL;DR?

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a Disney sequel. While I did enjoy myself and was engaged in the story, there are enough elements into it that detract that I can’t say it’s of the same quality as the first. When I consider the writers on the movie I think I can see the problem at its core.  There is something just ultimately unsatisfying through the movie. It’s not that it was cheap, that no one tried, or anything like that. There’s just a lack of clear vision on the movie, it does tell a coherent story but takes no action to elevate it or the characters.

Should I see it?

Well if you haven’t already you have about a week or two to try. Matinee at best.

Would you see it again?

Not in theatres no.

Buying it?

Yeah I am pretty sure I am. I know I really talked the movie down, but I was expecting and wanting more than I got from it. That’s on me I suppose.

You do seem conflicted on this one…

Not so much conflicted. I am calling out the flaws in a work that I still enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I could have. There’s real effort put into it, but it doesn’t amount as high or as much as it could have. It’s visually very pretty, the characters are fine if a bit over the top at times, but there’s all this build up and so little pay off through the various stages of the movie. It could have used another pass on the script maybe or another trip through the editing room. There was a lack of fang to the movie I suppose.

The movie DID make me feel though. That alone keeps it from being purely mediocre or meh and into the solidly Ok category.

So it’s good…I guess?

Not much of a conclusion there I know. Next week though you will get to see if we get the rug pulled out from under us again with Terminator Dark Fate.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

I am a fan of the Rambo franchise overall. I think First Blood was overlooked for a very long time as just an early 80’s action film and while it checks a lot of those boxes there is a surprising depth to it. In the past decade with the rise of the Blog and Vlog more and more film critics and film fans have gone back to some of those films and have commented and opined at length about the gravitas that the film holds within it. That isn’t even getting into the once “secret” ending that the movie had which ended in the death of John Rambo. The studio couldn’t have that of course and the ending was altered to what we know today. Then in 1985 we get Rambo First Blood Part II, where in an attempt to capitalize on the character, the Missing in Action franchise and the rise of the action superstar John Rambo goes back to Vietnam to save lost soldiers. This one *is* 80’s action schlock, but not nearly as much as Rambo III in 1988 where he goes to fight our cold war enemies the evil evil Russians with the aid of the *checks notes* Mujahideen Afghani Rebels who would later have a faction become the Taliban.

Awkward.

The franchise remained dormant for 20 years until 2008 with the release of Rambo (or John Rambo in other locales), where we find John having remained in Southeast Asia arguably more home to him than anywhere else in his life at this point. This movie deserves a review of it’s own I may get to at another point, but it is a bit bleak and opens with some intense not for everyone *real* footage of actions being taken in the genocides in Burma/Myanmar. This film, despite its outright darkness, goes back to the roots of Rambo of a man haunted by his past and trying to avoid it even if it keeps pulling him back in. The action is intense, the psychology of the character is explored, and the violence is almost in it’s own genre and rarely seen outside of Horror films.

At this point I have spent 360 words discussing the entire franchise until 2019. Why haven’t I posed my question yet? Why haven’t I talked about the film yet?

Fine. Here you go.

Should John Rambo have stayed in retirement?

This is a movie that has been in development since 2009 with the success of the fourth Rambo film. I have to tell you the wiki on this one took me on an unexpected rollercoaster, including one plot that looks like they forgot how Predator came to be. The Mexican Cartel story has been and out of the plot since that time, with Stallone himself in and out of making the movie since then as well. He even went back to the well as it were with the creator David Morrell to try to bring it back to an emotionally powerful story to capstone the series. The other producers disagreed and we got ..this. Now Morrell has his own opinions on this movie which I haven’t read but will share here for you. All sources indicate it is not flattering.

They aren’t wrong. The story by Stallone himself, as well as Dan Gordon (Wyatt Earp, Passenger 57) and screenplay by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick (Absentia), is a dark thing devoid of any real humanity. It is racist, xenophobic, and dated. It is little more than Taken with John Rambo instead of Liam Neeson with a touch of Saw levels of gore for…flavor? Seriously this movie plays on the worst stereotypes of living on the border and what Mexico is like in a way I haven’t seen in some time – and for good reason. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – girl goes across the border, is kidnapped, drugged, forced into prostitution, big strong white man comes and saves her from the evil brown people? There is nothing redeemable about this movies story. There is nothing of merit to it. Sure it tries to insert a bit of flashbacks at the beginning and some voice over here and there – but it feels tacked on by Stallone more than being designed for the movie itself.

Now the last one is a modern visceral action film right? This one…that energy and kinetcism are gone. Sure 73 year old Stallone can’t be expected to do things he did fourty years ago. Even if you want to say it tries to parallel the type of action from First Blood you’d be wrong because in that there is still a sense of motion and tension in the hunt. There’s nothing here. Nothing. Not even good CG. Oh oh the CG work  is awful. Now I get you can’t dig a quarter mile of tunnels beneath some property, then detonate them …oh wait, you can. Its why some action movies look better than others. This …this did not. Also the movie was so cheap they had to CG the laser pointers on some of the rifles,….but they don’t line up. Like with the gun. Yes. its that bad.

Adrian Grunbergs directing here is nothing short of hamfisted. Granted this is his first major film since Get the Gringo in 2012 as director, but having worked on films like Traffic, Collateral Damage, Man On Fire, and Narcos you’d think he’d have a better idea. Wait…what were those films again. Mexican Cartel. Mexican Cartel. Mexican Cartel. Mexican Cartel. I had this realization as I was typing the movies, so I share it with you now. This is clearly the man Hollywood goes to for pick up shots on Cartel movies and thought we can give him a full movie. They were wrong.

TL;DR

This is a hateful, spiteful movie. There is no joy in it. There is no philosophy to it. There’s no depth to it. It’s just a two hour train of plodding misery, suffering, and racism without a single redeeming quality. This is the movie certain parties would trot out and go “see this is why we need a wall.” I want to actively hate this movie, but that would take more energy than it’s worth.

This review has already gone on longer than this movie is worth.

Should I watch it though?

No. It shouldn’t have been made or released with this story.

Would you watch it again?

Win a significant sized lottery. Give me half tax free. I will consider it.

So thats a no on buying it?

If arson wasn’t a crime I’d destroy the prints before it made it to home and digital release.

Ok, thats a bit intense.

So was this movie and without point. Who was it for? Which audience? Who was asking for this in the public? When First Blood came out in 82 the war in Vietnam hadn’t even been over a decade. By the time the last of that set came out, the Cold War wasn’t over. What was happening in Burma was nightmarish to say the least, but the country is it’s own now and the character had a solid ending. All of the psychology and depth to him, the soul searching and trauma? Who is that for now?

This movie was made for one reason to line someone’s pocket books. Not for any sense of creativity or good story to entertain. Sure big studio movies are always made to line someone’s pocket, but usually there’s something entertaining intended.

Not here.

When I get to the best and worst, this one is inching close to the top of that list.

 

I am hoping after the PRIDE parade tomorrow Ad Astra is worth something.

Darke Reviews | It: Chapter Two (2019)

It’s no secret how much I loved IT 2017 as that review attests. I didn’t go back and read the book to see what was different and a thousand people did their videos on what was different between that movie, the mini series, and the book. Even now as I write this I know there are a thousand people writing their scripts for the differences between the book and the movie. As I mentioned in the original review, I don’t care. This review won’t compare the original series or the book as all three are different styles of creation which would be unfair to compare against one another. King can spend a hundred words or more for a single description, both series and movie can do it with a single frame, held for two seconds. King has the luxury to explore the depths of psyche and depravity in a way that no Made for Network TV could conceive of, especially in the wake of the 80s and early 90s. Even now such material would be found on streaming content, cable, or premium cable to really go there. So thus book and mini series cannot truly and fairly be considered rivals, just as the mini series is a product of its time and capabilities this movie is a product of its and needs to be judged appropriately.

Does it continue the story of IT Chapter 1? Are questions answered? Are the required plot beats hit from the original material to progress the story? Is it scary? Is it visually interesting? Do the actors feel like they are the grown up versions of the children they had been? Does the ending feel like a good conclusion?

Or…should IT have not come back?

Certain credits remain in place, which might seem obvious considering the $700 million global haul it took on a $35 million budget, but Hollywood does stupid things all the time. Look at Dark Phoenix bringing back the writer of the most maligned X-men movie to write…the same movie. Gary Dauberman comes back as the writer to finish out the story, with a brief stint putting out the Nun, Swamp Thing for DC, and Annabelle comes Home in the meanwhile. Thanks to maintaining that same writer, the movie has a consistency with the 2017 release that keeps the flow going, and with it being an adaptation much of the material is there. Dauberman has perhaps one of the more unenviable tasks in this production as he has to adapt the unadaptable with some significant deep lore from the book that the series couldn’t touch and he has to decide what if anything to keep from that lore. I don’t disagree with most of his decisions. Point in fact some decisions made are so well done they almost make me overlook some of the flaws in that script (possibly editing, hard to tell). Which does mean there are flaws. The movie needs a few trigger warnings and while…thematically accurate I am not sure it was needed or could have been altered to not be as rough. I will discuss more on that in the TL;DR section. Some of the jokes could have been toned back or removed and left only for the villains to tell; mostly weight based ones for the record. I’m also not 100% on a beat from the end, but I will let it ride for now. Overall the screenplay does everything it needs to and shines where it must.

Which brings us to director Andy Muschietti, who has done nothing between the movies which is probably a good thing for the man directing this. He makes plenty of brilliant choices here and absolutely nails drawing the performances from the cast; but the flaws that might be in Daubermans script or in the editing must land on him. You can’t make certain references to objects, places, or phrases if you never set them up successfully. The movies near three hour running time does as well. There are at least two full scenes which could be struck from the movie and it wouldn’t have an effect on the overall plot for all that they did. While they may be canonical and something folks would like, it added nothing with some of the changes made to accommodate them. The trick to superior editing is removing a scene and if it doesn’t change the flow or narrative in any significant or character driven/growth way then it could be cut. It may seem I am being harsh on him, but I am really pleased with the overall product, but the parts that detract fall on him.

What doesn’t detract is the acting.

McAvoy and Chastain are well known and more than capable of playing the adult versions of Bill and Bev and they nail it. Bev is missing something I think, but that might be screenplay or editing failing not Chastain. This also marks their third appearance together in a movie as near as I can tell. Jay Ryan is hard to tear your eyes away from as the adult Ben Hanscom, meanwhile James Ransone (Sinister) brings it as an adult Eddie Kaspbrak. Andy Bean (Swamp Thing) nails the adult performance of Stanley Uris ridiculously well, you feel like you are really looking as if he grew up and looked the same just taller. Isiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters) gets the Mike Hanlon as an adult and brings all the desperation and depth he needs to bring everyone back to Derry after 27 years. All of them are good, if not great, they brought their A games and no one phoned it in in the slightest, but we need to talk about Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad). His Richie, his performance is absolutely next level. Some might say he wasn’t particularly funny and I would say they missed the point because those jokes were meant to fall flat. This mans acting is just through the roof and continues to bring the film back together in a way that makes the stakes seem so real for these adults. The same comes for the kids who are back to reprise their own roles for different angles on scenes we know and scenes we never saw, Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), Sophia Lillis (Bev), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), and Finn Wolfhard (Ritchie) get the most shining moments with Wolfhard getting an absolutely powerful scene that will surely be overlooked by most.

This is where Muschietti shines everyone. These performances require actors who are above the par, but it also requires a director who knows all of his stuff to get the performances I saw. Now I didn’t mention Skarsgard in th acting section relegating him to the technicals, but this isn’t his story this is theirs. He’s there. He does his thing. He is legitimately scary at times, but Chapter Two is all about the kids, the adults, trauma, and coming home again. While most of the work around Pennywise this time is good, some of the forms and threats just don’t look as clean as they could and another pass, another rendering effort could have taken them a step in the right direction towards ideal completeness. Of course, that doesn’t stop this movie from having raw nightmare fuel left, right, and center that was generated in a computer. There’s enough to keep some folks up at night that doesn’t involve clowns trust me.

TL;DR?

It: Chapter Two does everything it set out to do. It completes and concludes the story of The Losers Club and Pennywise the dancing clown. There are laughs to be had, there are jumps, and there are tears. There is real and imagined horror through this movie from the opening scene to the bruises on adult Bev’s arm that never go away during the length of the film. Growing up in a small town not too dissimilar from Derry, I can see coming back to town and walking through it to see what changed and what hasn’t and sometimes that’s terrifying in its own right.  Facing your past can be its own fear and making your own future as well. The movie is able to successfully hit all of these beats, plus never ceases to have a level of tension and did I just see that moments through it.

Knowing that Dauberman and Muschietti deviated from both the book and the original mini-series adds its own level of tension. If you know either of those incarnations you know things that will happen, but as proven they are willing to change things. So when the title credits begin with a WB logo surrounded by the deadlights, you can’t be sure *how* they will interpret scenes. What will their take on the Chinese Restaurant look like? The library? The final form? Who lives, who dies? It’s all up in the air and that is a magic all its own.

Should I see it though?

Yes. Absolutely Yes. Why aren’t you watching it yet? Go home. Watch it.

That said…I need to dip into spoiler(ish) territory out of respect for all of my readers needs for some potentially unexpected triggers.

  • Trigger Warning: Abuse of LGBT persons in the opening scene. Its a bit hard to watch, even harder thinking some people might be cheering it on.
  • Trigger Warning: Suicide. It is done as well as you can do that scene, but much as I didn’t know about the one in A Star Is Born, I must give my readers the warning if they have never seen the mini series or read the book.

Would you watch it again?

Even with the three hour running time? Yes. Yes I would. Lets go. Big screen. Big sound system.

You’re going to buy it aren’t you?

I am curious to what the box set will look like on my shelf. Yes.

Is it as scary as the first? 

Hmm I don’t think so. Sorry to say, part of the fear of the first is the initial shock value of what they did and the kids in peril. This focus on the adults and us knowing Pennywise, does take away some of the terror. That’s more or less like Alien vs Aliens. You will never be as afraid of the Xenomorph as you were in the original, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own level of terror.

Any parting thoughts?

It does run a bit long and hits a Return of the King type ending sequence, but beyond all of that this will be and should be a very well received film in my opinion. I do think that Mike isn’t treated particularly well by the script or the film and there’s some opportunity there; some of the CG could be cleaned up – but again this is about as good as you can do with the amount of material needing to be adapted.

Also three of the cast (McAvoy, Chastain, and Hader) were in Disappearance of Elanor Rigby together…the hell?

Darke Reviews | Men in Black: International (2019)

I really had no interest in the Men in Black films after the second one, so I missed the third one (apparently a good thing?) and I even missed the animated series (yes it’s a thing). Will Smith lost his charm with me a very long time ago and so did the franchise. I was very dubious when I heard there was a new Men in Black movie coming out, but then I heard the cast; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. I have a serious girl crush on Thompson and Hemsworth isn’t exactly what one calls something bad to add to a movie. Seven years since the last film put a nail in the series coffin and twenty two years since the original. The trailers showed some promise and gave us a heroine to get behind, so I went and watched it with the two members of my Dark Court.

Should we be neuralized to forget?

There are two writing credits on the movie, which is not across my writer threshold making it a good thing. Art Marcum and Matt Holloway who have screenplay credits on Iron Man, Punisher War Zone, and Transformers the Last Knight. Talk about hit or miss? It does, however, inform some of what I saw in the movie. A script that doesn’t do anything particularly original and follows the Men in Black formula pretty well. There are some clear bits of dialogue that represent expected plot points that got dropped as the production went on. The story is what was promised on the trailer, girl finds the MiB, gets recruited, gets sent to London office. Threat to the planet ensues.  They look good a long the way.

So not original? No. Formulaic? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. Not always. I hear in critics circles and some regular movie goers saying “its sooo formulaic” as if its a bad thing. Every movie is a formula. Some are more recognizable than others. They get reused for a reason – they work. When you go to a bar do you complain that your drink is formulaic? You just paid the same amount you did for a movie ticket. All it means is that the pattern and structure follow something you’ve seen before, but with the content being adjusted for this particular narrative. The adjustments work here and I really didn’t have any major complaints. I don’t have much in the way of major praises either. It simply works at the baseline and in some cases, like this one, that really is not the worst thing in the world.

A good director helps though and fortunately F. Gary Gray is a good director. I like his work on Set It Off, The Italian Job, and the Negotiator. I hear that Straight Outta Compton was good. The framing of shots is good. The direction and required mystery components are handled well. He had two of the most charismatic modern actors in Thompson and Hemsworth. He used his Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson well, something frequently not done.  Side characters like Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber) and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible) work well and suit the narrative and even add to it, which makes a pleasant change from previous films.

If anything the biggest weakness on the movie is an over-reliance on CG. More than a few of the shots and creatures would have looked even more amazing in the practical with make up, puppets, and the like. That said, the vast majority of the CG creatures and world looked good. The studios involved clearly spent their money well here and created that same lived in world of MiB with always some little thing in the background, which is a very Mos Eisley Cantina trick and I appreciate it. While some looked good, there’s two or three effects that just look exceptional and are definitely worth seeing.

TL;DR

I love that the writers and director went with the female lead on this one and that she is confident and capable. Not to say that she doesn’t make mistakes, but the humor in this movie is elevated even over the first one. All the jokes land and really for once don’t depend upon the embarrassment of someone to be funny. I *hate* that kind of humor and the movie didn’t have it. Thompson is a more than capable lead character and the charisma between her and her co-star in Thor is more than enough to light up any screen.

The movie much to my surprise works. It isn’t great, it doesn’t redefine the genre, but if you want to start off a new franchise you could do a lot worse than this. Point in fact this is one of the first times in a long time I actively want a reboot of the franchise with these two characters at the helm. Not only are the actors magnificently charming, I *like* both the characters for what they bring to the table. Men in Black International surprised me a bit. I knew I enjoyed it and was able to unwind watching it, but as I write I am finding how much I enjoyed it.

Granted, maybe its just me comparing it to last weeks movie? Either way…

Should I see it?

Yeah if you were dubious I think you will be ok. Like I’ve said, it doesn’t tread any new ground plot wise, is pretty basic but makes that work in its favor. Matinee minimum, super sound systems optional.

Would you see it again?

The Dark Court and I agree – probably not in theatres. Not a bad thing, just it doesn’t require that screen to enjoy

So you’re buying it then?

Honestly, yeah. I liked it.

Anything else to add?

This movie didn’t help with my crush. It might have made it worse? 

In all seriousness, the humor in the movie works and doesn’t do it at the expense of anyone, beyond some decent physical comedy from Hemsworth. I would recommend he talk to Brendan Frasier before he plays that card too much.

Ok so Next week?

Toy Story 4 – Probably not. I never fell in love with that franchise. I honestly didn’t particularly like the first one, don’t even remember the second, and didn’t watch the third.

Childs Play – I am curious. Pretty likely. No members of the Dark Court with me though. Maybe a Dark Princess will brave it?

Anna – maybe, for some mindless action fare? Still undecided there.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Dark Phoenix (2019)

Interesting that the title isn’t X-Men Dark Phoenix, it’s just Dark Phoenix. X-Men First Class (2011), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and X-Men Apocalypse(2016) and now Dark Phoenix in 2018. Whoops, thats right this was originally to have a release date on November 2, 2018, then pushed to Valentines day, now pushed to June. Pushing release dates is costly to the studio, mostly in PR and awareness of your audience as they remember the original and then…forget. We saw this with Alita, and people going “Didn’t this come out already?”.  Reshoots are even more costly to the studio, costing millions if not tens of million dollars. You have to bring actors back from whatever they are doing now, rebuild sets, hire crew, and also challenge some poor Visual Effects house with last minute work that they will be underpaid for. I suppose there’s only one question –

Is The Dark Phoenix worth the cost?

Sit down with me for a moment. I want you to remember the original “X” franchise of films. Now try to remember X-Men The Last Stand in 2006. This movie was the original franchise run and attempt to do the Dark Phoenix Saga. It is almost universally panned, sank the franchise so badly nothing was made for 5 years and it was a Retcon/Reboot,  and made people doubt the vitality of the comic book movie. Two years later Iron Man came out and we tried, actively, to forget how bad it was. We did for a time and life was better, even if the new franchise referenced it in both Wolverine, Logan, and Days of Future Past we were able to get by. I ask you to remember this with me because I need to tell you something important. I need you to answer something for me after I tell you.

The studio hired the same man who wrote X-Men the Last Stand as the writer and director for this movie. He has the sole credit on the movie for written by. He is also the one with screenplay credit on Fan4stic in 2015. I need to know what blackmail material that Simon Kinberg has on 20th century Fox. What could possibly posses a studio to give this man the job? He *is* a producer this is true, but why and how could he get funding after any picture he has had direct involvement in has not been commercially well received. Why would they think that giving him the same project he botched so thoroughly thirteen years ago would be a wise idea? Granted, here I feel like quoting Jurassic Park The Lost World.

Um no, not the same mistakes. You’re making all new ones.

Kinberg did not make many of the mistakes made in The Last Stand. He did in fact make plenty of new ones. He thought that close up shots of our Queen of the North and her amazing cheekbones breathing heavily, with a cracking fire effect in her skin makes for drama. They use that shot at least six times. X-Men First Class worked because of dialogue and chemistry between characters. Days of Future Past worked because of dialogue and the debates between Xavier and Magneto and Mystique. Apocalypse…didn’t work for many because it lacked those things. This one has precisely two scenes where there is that emotionally charged and heavy debate of morality and ethics and what is right or wrong.  They both exist in Act I. Shortly after I stopped caring.

I can look past the fact that for a movie set in 1992 Charles should be 54 and Magneto likely pushing 60 and they didn’t even bother with any form of aging make up. The earlier movies gave an excuse for Mystique not them.  But fine, we can say all Mutants age gracefully. I can almost, almost get past how awful Jennifer Lawrence’s make up is as Mystique. I get it she didn’t want to do the movies anymore and didn’t want to have to do full body make up again. We can put her in completely unflattering (and I don’t mean non sexy, I mean just not good looking on camera) outfits, the worst wig I have seen in awhile, and change the make up entirely. Nah, I can’t get past that. It’s lazy.

 

X-Men First Class – 1962 (Filmed 2011)

X-Men Days of Future Past- 1973 (Filmed 2014)

X-Men Apocalypse – 1983 (Filmed 2016)

 

 

Dark Phoenix – 1992 (Filmed 2018)

Look I get it she’s a shapeshifter, but how does it look worse and worse as the movies go?

This movie had a $200 million budget. $40 million more than First Class, roughly the same as Days of Future Past, and $22 million more than Apocalypse – which looked…bad. There are so many shots in this movie that just look …bad. Mystique is just the tip of the iceberg and when you have a budget like this I would expect some form of climactic ending that is satisfying. This had nothing of the sort. I get you had to reshoot the ending because it was too close to Captain Marvel (which you would have beaten by several months on the original release), but this ending had no weight to it. Faceless people dying facelessly. Yay? Sure there are some cool moments in the finale, but they are moments. They have no emotional weight to them as there is no emotional build up to them or breath to take after its done.

That is the ultimate problem with the movie. There is absolutely no emotional arc worth a damn. Kinberg says he loves the material, but he’s butchered it not once but twice now. From an opening sequence that looks to pay homage to the altar of Michael Bay and his jingoist tendencies to absolutely zero denouement. The story is so emotionally flat that the only thing you care about is getting to the next beat before you fall asleep from not caring.

I could try to talk about how McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult try to turn it around, but they cannot overcome the inertia of this. I could talk about how Turner powers through and brings emotional weight to the arc and salvages it, but that would be a lie. Despite Jean Grey’s power, Turner is not more powerful than Kinbergs overwhelming mediocrity. Jessica Chastain must have lost a bet or thought she was signing on to play an even older Jean but instead they made her platinum blonde and emotionally drained. She is wasted. Alexandra Shipp had reason to be angry a few weeks ago as while Storm LOOKS cool (she really does) there’s maybe fifteen actual lines of dialogue for her. We get nothing even close to good Quicksilver scenes which elevated both prior movies.

You know what I am tired of talking about it. Its not worth it.

TL;DR

Magneto’s line from one of the early trailers works for my feelings on the movie “We’ve heard it all before, no one cares.” The actors may have cared, the crew may have cared, but the writer/director and producer did not.  This is the worst kind of laziness with a franchise that had found its legs and put out a better than average success rate. I thought my review might have been kinder than some of the others, but as I often find when I’m on the fence about a mediocre movie the more I write the more irritated I get with it.

Even the Dark Princess and Dark Council member who joined me tonight was bored with it. Admittedly she had not watched an X film since X-2, but she couldn’t fathom why she should care about Jean Grey. The movie gave no one a reason to care, the franchise gave no one a reason to care. 20 minutes of screen time in Apocalypse is not enough.

So should I see it?

No. No one should. If they didn’t put an emotional investment in it, the movie is not worth your monetary investment.

Would you see it again?

No.

Ok what about completing your collection when it comes out in digital or blu-ray?

It’s unlikely. Even though there are moments I like it doesn’t have enough of them.

OK so it’s bad, can we give it the MST3K treatment?

Sadly, still no. It’s high production value bad. Everyone involved CAN act so that isn’t a point to pick on it. Sure they can’t out do the bad directing and script, but that isn’t their fault.

I have nothing on this movie. I was going to say it’s on the tail end of mediocre just dabbling above bad, but no. This is a bad movie.

Better than Last Stand, but only because it is more comprehensible and at least reasonably true to the characters.

 

This was not worth the delays or reshoots. Let’s see what Disney does in five years with it.

Darke Reviews | Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

So everyone and their mother complained about how there was too much human action going on in Godzilla (2014). How they only teased the main event through the movie or how you only got to see it through a TV report or partial shots. Oddly a few people complained about how chonky the new take on Godzilla was. I can firmly tell you these people are wrong. I am here for the absolute unit that is Godzilla in 2014 and again in 2019.  The trailers promised us a lot more monster on monster action and introducing Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. They promised us cities getting laid to waste as these titans went about their business with humans stuck in the middle and looking pretty helpless.

Did they keep their promise?

We have three writers on the story here, so we invoke the Darke Three Writer rule for quality, or do we? Starting with Zach Shields, who worked on the beautifully twisted Krampus (2015), we then move to Max Borenstein who brought us Kong: Skull Island and the 2014 Godzilla, which marks him as the man behind the inter-connectivity. Finally we land with the man who has story, screenplay, and director credit Michael Doughtery. I’ve been a massive fan of Dougherty since 2009 with Trick R Treat and with his clear love of Mythos and myth I felt he was the perfect director when I heard he was attached. The three of them on story, with Daugherty and Shields on screenplay delivered on the promise of more monsters, but at the cost of any sense of logic or reality. The movie entirely embraces the ridiculous premise of the Kaiju and runs with it as far as you can run and still stay even remotely grounded. Is the science good? Not even close. Is the Technology believable? Hah.  Is the plot armor on despite the wanton destruction? Spoilers. Do I care? No.

We’re talking about a movie series in which there’s an ultra secret private company who has been studying these things for decades. Visited Skull Island in the 70s’, but no one heard anything about it. Then watched as Godzilla and the Muto’s broke Hawaii, Vegas, and San Francisco. Now we continue four years later with that same agency still being called to task by the government, who knew about them all along anyway. We find out more and more of them are waking up, some who will fight for us, others against. Who will stand as king?

The cast is of course serviceable. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception) doesn’t get anything as good as Let them Fight, but it works. Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Zero Dark Thirty) is our leading man who is a member of Monarch trying to save his family. Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, The Conjuring franchise) and Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) are said family. The three of them are the more or less emotional core of the movie that are to keep us grounded between the monster smack downs. It works and isn’t nearly as overwrought as it was in 2014 as in this case they are chasing the creatures rather than constantly happening to be in the wrong place and the wrong time. The rest of the cast is a whose who of character actors from Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), Bradley Whitford (Get Out), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), and Charles friggin Dance (Game of Thrones). I have a distinct feeling in some of the cases, even those not mentioned here, someone went “do you want to be in a Godzilla movie?” and the only correct answer was given.

Visually the movie was gorgeous. So many of the shots were something you could freeze frame, get printed, then put on a wall and be happy. Dougherty and cinematographer Lawrence Sher knew how to frame the camera for maximum effect. The trailer does it’s job by only hinting at the many many shots that are just awe inspiring when you consider the scale of them and the events that are unfolding because of them. The kaiju of this movie live up to the name of Titan as each and everyone is made to feel massive and terrifying in scale and scope. The creature design is top notch on all of them and you are given ample opportunity to appreciate each one of the designs. The music does it’s job, but that’s hardly a surprise with Bear McCreary on that and fans of the original Toho will notice more than a few musical cues that hearken back to the originals.

TL;DR?

I enjoyed myself with this movie. The Dark Princess of the night and myself just enjoyed gushing about all the things done so well here. Every logical extreme was taken here for the audiences pleasure. They knew the movie they wanted to make, they listened to their audience, and they made it. We are all the better for it and in days of emotional weight in our action movies or movies with such dance like precision this is a breath of fresh air that says to hell with the rules; we’re going big and we’re not going home. It absolutely knows what it is and doesn’t try to be more. Some of the dialogue is cheesy and I didn’t care.

Godzilla: King of Monsters is the movie that was promised and I am looking forward to Godzilla vs Kong.

Ok so I guess we should watch it?

Buy a beer. Buy some popcorn or pretzels. Sit back. Make sure you have a great sound system in the theatre.

Are you buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. You should to.

Ok, but I liked the 2014 and didn’t want more monsters?

I like the 2014 Godzilla. I really do. I get what they went for and appreciate it with holding the monster back. That said, the cat is out of the bag. We’ve had the big reveal, so now we get the rest of the story as it were. Yes, this is more action driven than person driven but it’s not without the person.

Which one is better?

Not answering that. Depends what you want out of the movie. Thats up to the person. I enjoy they both and unlike Ken Watanabe’s character, I see no reason to let them fight.

 

I loved the look and feel of Godzilla King of the Monsters. It pays off on its promises and build up. I have no regrets here and I don’t think you will either.