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.

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

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

Did they prepare for war though?

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should I see it?

You’re invested already. So yes.

Would you see it again?

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

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No regrets on that front.

Are the dogs adorable?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Welcome to the Continental.

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

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

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

How did the finale fair?

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

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

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

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

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

TL;DR?

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

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

Should I see it?

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

Would you watch it again?

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

Buying it?

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

Are you perhaps overselling this movie?

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

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

 

Darke Reviews | Glass (2019)

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

Did they catch a break with Glass?

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

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

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

TL:DR?

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

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

Should I see it?

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

Would you see it again?

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

Buying it?

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

Aren’t you being kind of harsh?

There are many types of bad movies out there.

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

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

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