Darke Reviews | Kong: Skull Island (2017)

I had two movie experiences tonight. Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Kong: Skull Island. These experiences were diametrically opposed with SAO being with friends and an audience who was clapping, laughing, crying with the beats of the movie. I haven’t seen an audience as passionate about a film and reacting so strongly in many many years. I was among those feeling with the movie and cried quietly after my friends had to head home.

It’s been a long time since I remember seeing a movie that made me feel like that and with friends and fans who were as engaged. I miss it and I cherish tonight’s experience.

Then there is Skull Island. There were maybe 15 people in the theatre, but two men behind me who may or may not have snuck in, were quite obnoxious and very very drunk. Kept calling me bro. As I was not in the mood to be assaulted tonight I said nothing. Do I think it may cloud my review of the movie? Perhaps.

The real question is should Kong have stayed on the island?

First, let me make one thing very clear, this *is* in fact tied to the same universe as 2014 Godzilla movie. The studio in it’s…vain… attempt to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is trying to create one with it’s own properties (or Toho’s I guess?). This isn’t a spoiler as it actually has no bearing on the film, but the company Monarch from the first one is present here and it is no accident. There will be a roll over spoiler at the bottom though for those who want it.

The story credit goes to John Gatins (Flight, Real Steel, Need for Speed and Power Rangers later this month). Suffice to say his style of story is all over the place in his work history as much as it is in the movie. Though his story was adapted to screenplay by Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World), Max Borenstein (Godzilla 2014), and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Real Steel, Bourne Legacy). The people behind the pen and on the paper of this movie have left me a mixed bag of emotions as to how I feel about the work they produce individually and collectively – much like the movie. I feel that the people of the pen paid attention to the feedback from Godzilla being too slow, focusing too much on boring non dimensional characters, killing off your most interesting actor. I also believe that they overcompensated the other direction; but still never quite nailed the characters.

Just as I feared from the trailers the movie isn’t quite sure of the tone. It very obviously moved away from the sedate, dry, and washed out tones of Godzilla; but in it’s quest to be different didn’t stake a claim as to what it wanted to be. It knew it just HAD to be different than it’s predecessor so it tried everything! A bit of horror, bit of adventure, bit of action, bit of war, bit of comedy, and bit of Oh god look at the size of that thing – and little of it worked. I may have to send their agent a small booklet on the word subtlety and how to write  a script with it. None of the characters are particularly compelling and you spend the time wondering when most of them will be picked off by the denizens of the island. The amount of stupidity shown as nearly as big as Kong himself; while the broad strokes used to paint the near caricatures of human beings is wide enough to paint the deck of an aircraft carrier. You just won’t care, and the only reason you might is the raw charm of a handful of the actors.

Oh the actors. Hiddleston is doing his best to be the adventure movie lead despite the flaws in the script, directing, and just the movie itself. He tries and I care simply because he is Tom Hiddleston. Samuel L Jackson phones in a performance of Colonel Kurtz, I mean Preston Packard. Brie Larson does little, but tried to do more than look pretty. Not her fault either. More on that in a bit. John C Reilly is absolutely fine. He was not in full comedy mode, in fact he’s a touch tragic but due to the script and directing you don’t get that 100%.  There isn’t much else to mention here; which means I can begin the ritual execution.

What. Was. Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Thinking? Also what was the studio thinking? They want this to be a tentpole level feature that can help continue to drive interest in their plan for a Giant Monster Cinematic Universe, so lets hire the guy who did a few episodes of Funny or Die and some other comedy work. The direction in this movie is nearly as bad as the editing. I can think of nothing good to say here. The contrivances were god awful while the shot choices laughable in their forced attempt to be ‘epic’.  The pacing is all over the place, the characters have hints of being more and are flatter than the ground under a giant gorilla’s foot.

What does work are the visuals. Kong is amazing. The creatures are…ok, but Kong is amazing. There are fights with him, more than Godzilla offered and far more clear than the previous film. That is one of the movies few credits in which the fighting of Kong vs Monsters is very clear and easy to understand. I think they used music when they couldn’t figure out how to test the speakers or the dialogue may have been even worse.

TL;DR?

It’s not good. I am away from the experience and the movie just isn’t good. The visuals are good and they waste no time on the reveal of the big guy. So thats the positive column. It does try, and mostly succeed at giving us a King Kong story we haven’t seen before, but that isn’t much praise. The money shots of him standing and his size are there and worth it, but they do not carry a film.

Thats all I can say – I really believe it’s bad.

Should you see it?

If you are a Kong fan? Sure. Otherwise see Logan again or save the money.

What if I really must see it? I mean Hiddleston.

If you must, the 3D does add something. Mostly digital embers, but the depth of field is nice and the XD speakers were amazing in more than a few shots.

Are you sure the jerks that were behind you didn’t sway your opinion?

Yeah pretty sure. Its why i still write these vs impromptu videos.  It gives me time away to think. Honestly, the review is kinder than I thought it would be.

But Jess – it’s a giant monkey fighting weird reptiles movie. Isn’t it just good for popcorn?

Honestly. No, not really. Sure the big guy should be the focus, but the movie is just badly done.

Anything else?

Next week is Beauty and the Beast and The Belko Experiment, but I will be traveling for work so may not get to see B&B before Friday.

 

 

Rollover begins

Ok if you do see it stay for the end credits. I noticed it said “Rodan”, “Mothra”, “King Ghidorah”  are trademarks of Toho. Then we get an end credit scene where they absolutely set up King of the Monsters.

 

Rollover Ends

Darke Reviews | Crimson Peak (2015)

So first off, apologies about missing the last few days of reviews, been a touch sick. That being said, we do have a new film that fits right in with the theme of this month with it’s supernatural tones and haunting themes. As we start into the review a confession that I am a Guillermo del Toro fangirl, I’ve loved his entire filmography and still have a few films to watch. This is my most anticipated movie of the fall season from the trailer to now I have been getting hyped. Cast, Director,  all of it. I mean watch this trailer, with PJ Harvey’s cover of Nick Cave’s Red Right hand.

This is a trailer that drove me to watch a film. This did the job of a trailer, I was interested. I was hyped.

Was I too hyped? Was it worth it?

Let’s begin with writing. Matthew Robbins, best known as the writer of 1974’s Sugarland Express. He is also the mind behind urban horror tale Mimic, 80’s rebellion icon The Legend of Billie Jean (a personal fav). The man knows how to write character driven stories. He also does a good job with tension, but only a good job; that’s where co-writer del Toro comes in. Nothing will stick out to me more about del Toro than his work on Pan’s Labyrinth a film that any director should be proud of and how people brought young children to it. It was a tumultuous film I look forward to writing a review of soon, but regardless it has such beautiful tension and imagery. Now we combine forces of these two men, who had previously worked on Mimic together. Only good things can come from this right?

We also have del Toro at the helm directing and providing, and I use the term honestly, visionary ideas to the production. I think of what he did with Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy when given a chance. It’s important to know here that del Toro isn’t just a talented writer, but he has also worked multiple film crews as well, working Art Department, Editorial, Casting, Stunts, and so one. There are few facets of film he does not understand which only makes him a stronger director and that is in play here. I have complained a few times recently how claustrophobic modern film is, where the quality of the camera and the way the sets are shot make films seem small. Here del Toro flips that on it’s head making the film feel both claustrophobic and large at the same time in a an extraordinarily talented way. He made interesting fade choices I haven’t seen since the early days of film that only add to the style and ambience of the finished work.

An excellent director can do miracles when given the right cast and that has been put together. Jessica Chastain I have realized is a magnificent actress, much like a female Gary Oldman. Her roles are so different and so powerful, but she vanishes into them and you forget quickly you are looking at Murph, Commander Lewis, Maggie Beauford, or Maya; here instead she is Lady Lucille Sharpe, a Victorian/Turn of the century lady. Her brother, Thomas, is delivered unto us by Tom Hiddleston, most famous for his Loki performances, but also from a vampire favorite Only Lovers Left Alive. I am ecstatic that he did this as it will hopefully force fangirls, and other fans alike, to no longer think of him just as the man who played Loki. Thor made him famous, but his talent will keep him so I hope. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Only Lovers Left Alive) joins her two former castmates as Edith Cushing-Sharpe, a young american girl with dreams of being a writer in the vein of Mary Shelley vs. Jane Austen. Rounding out the cast we have Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim / Sons of Anarchy),  Jim Beaver (Supernatural), and the man with incredible fingers, Doug Jones. Few people have seen Jones without a make up effect on him, but suffice to say he is an excellent creature performer.

That also tells you something of the film. There are people, mostly Doug Jones and Javier Botet that play the supernatural elements of the film. For those in the back, Real people. Yes, they are overlaid with computer work, but that is only after the prosthetics and make up is applied. The movie goes as practical as it is capable of for the story it wants to tell and thrives for it as physical performances enhanced by a computer are always better than a performance simply made by the computer in a film like this. The effects are creepy but not too creepy. The trailers will let you manage your expectations of what you can and cannot deal with. Continuing on the technicals, the sets themselves are perfect. I mean that. Perfect. The house is real as far as I am concerned. It is a place I want to go, it is a place I can go. The costuming is stunning as well and tells a story of it’s own.

Now, the story itself? It is a classic ghost story in every sense of the word. This is not a spoiler since if you are surprised it’s a ghost story, clearly you are not paying attention. It is atmospheric. It is pulpy. It is large. It is small. It is dark and it is bright. Not one aspect of the story is wasted or left to chance.

TL;DR?

At almost precisely 2 hours, I cannot say Crimson Peak is a perfect film. I closed the longer part of the review saying not an aspect was wasted or left too chance; yet there is some pacing that could have been addressed. Guillermo does a sublime job of building tension and releasing it as needed, but it’s not quite perfect. I cannot put my finger on it but there’s just something off that didn’t resonate as well. It could be the bad audience I had, the long work day before, or my own expectations being as high as they were.

All of that aside, if you are looking forward to Crimson Peak – see it. See it this weekend. It’s the only one studios care about. We need more of what this film, it’s cast and crew bring to the cinema. This movie is the art we thought it would be.

The trailer says beware Crimson Peak.

I say enter of thy own free will….

 

Darke Reviews | Thor: The Dark World (2013)

 

Ah how I love Hollywood and its need to get even a few more dollars to make the opening weekend look even better. First it was Midnight showings, technically making them released on the official release day. Then the 11PM, 10pm and 9pm showings came; now we have 8pm. Soon a Friday release means noon thursday! Though in all fairness and sarcasm aside it’s nice for an amateur like myself to see a film “early” so I can give my dear readers a review before they take the opportunity themselves. It’s even better when I can see it with friends who do not keep my hours. Let’s get to the review shall we?

Honest Trailers really nailed Thor in their recent video. This movie exists so you know who the Point Break guy will be in Avengers. It had a difficult job ahead of it and quite honestly not the best director to do it. Kenneth Brannagh had to find a way to introduce Thor, Jane Foster, Loki, Odin, The Warriors 3, Sif, the realms of the universe, tie it to the current continuity of the Marvel verse and still not introduce the concept of magic. That’s a tall order for any director. It’s also interesting that both Marvel and DC have explicitly avoided the mystical characters to date in their successful films. Brannagh did alright, not great, but alright with the first film. It created an unexpected bonus where Loki was the most interesting thing about the film, a trend to be repeated apparently. I really think us girls love him because hes adorable and would be a project we can try to fix. That’s a discussion for another time.

The sequel picks up where The Avengers left off and while my spoiler free disclaimer remains for Thor 2, the Avengers is beyond the statute of limitations. Loki has been imprisoned back on Asgard. Thor has not returned to Jane since he left her in New Mexico. Jane for reasons we cannot tell fully is not working for, with or even near SHIELD. Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been battling across the Nine Realms trying to bring peace and order to them after the Bifrost was destroyed during the events of the first movie. Everyone seems happy to tell Thor he needs to stop pining for Jane and Jane herself is doing a poor job of trying to move on. She still has loyal and snarky wingman and intern Darcy helping to track anomalies with a slightly off kilter (justifiably) Erik Selvig. During an investigation Jane is reunited with Thor and an ancient enemy resurfaces in a ploy to destroy the known Universe. Pushed to his very limits Thor is forced to obtain the aid of the one person he knows he cannot trust, his brother.

There is the high level synopsis spoiler free. Marvel handed the reins (reigns?) of this film to Alan Taylor. Don’t know the name? Neither did I. He is mostly a TV director who did 6 episodes of Game of Thrones and 9 of the Sopranos. How they picked him? I do not know. What I do know is he didn’t do a bad job. The shots were good, the acting was good, the fighting was watchable, all in all good direction on a script that had me scratching my head a few times.

The movie does fall prey to the too many writers problem in which we have 5 different writing credits; not including the comic books three credits. The story is by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot) and Don Payne (Thor, Fantastic Four 2). Knowing this in retrospect I can see where certain script elements appeared and why other elements were the way they were. The story was then adapted to screenplay by three men. Stephen McFeely (Captain America, Pain & Gain), Christopher Markus (same), and Christopher Yost (a slew of animated Marvel shows). This to me explains why there were scenes where the entire theatre erupted in laughter ( for good reason). sadly it also explains between the five of them why there was a women in fridges moment and a certain air of ..a very unwanted love triangle. I know that the film is supposed to be about Thor, but the Warriors 3 and Sif were his companions more than any other and they are woefully and painfully under utilized here. Granted they get more to do here than in Thor, but its still not good. And Love Triangles! Gah. I was annoyed when I suspected it, then it was confirmed. They aren’t needed, they are rarely liked and even more rarely handled well.

Ok, lets talk the actors. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals every bloody scene he is in. No one can keep up with him even if they try. One particular shape-shifting scene brought the house down. He is the absolute best thing about the movie. Hemsworth is delicious to look at and really acts well beyond the looks. There are times I think he was sick when his accent gets so thick and his voice drops an octave or two. It’s clear he gets the arrogance that Thor is to have, but has also learned humility over the years. Portman plays the fish out of water and love interest remarkably well and in a way that isn’t annoying. I was hoping to see more proactiveness from her early on but they deliver well enough at the end.

Anthony Hopkins seems to be showing his age beyond the make up in this turn as Odin. Rene Russo is actually given something to do briefly and gets more than two lines which is nice to see as she’s the bloody Queen of Asgard. I reiterate that Jaimie Alexander isn’t utilized well enough through the film as Sif and some of the times she is I want to hit a writer. Zarchary Levi (Chuck) replaces Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time) as Fandral seamlessly and he even gets to buckle some swashes. Hogun and Volstag are barely used thus their actors have little screen time or epicness that could have been given. Kat Dennings returns from being a Broke Girl to playing Darcy the snarky. She’s almost overused.

Christopher ( Dr. Who) Eccleston plays the villain Malekith. I will be honest, through the trailers and much of the film I did not recognize him. The make up was superb and the post production work on his voice were really well done. He actually brings a suitable air of menace to the film that we didn’t have in the first much.

The technicals. Le sigh. During one sequence I half expected to hear a young Jake Lloyd go “Yippee” and some bad commentator talk about the Pod Racing. The sound mixing and effects were so completely unoriginal it took me out of what should have been a fun sequence. Visually Asgard looked slightly less CGI than before and overall was rather well done. The effects of the big bad however. Not so much. While they did for the most part have some of the best lighting for it that made it match the atmosphere and environment around it – it just wasn’t working. There were times it reminded me of Blade or Fantastic Four 2. Hmmm…

Also – Puppeh!!!

TL;DR?

Despite some of the harsh comments above, it really is an enjoyable two hours. It’s far from a perfect film and still less flawed than the original. I don’t regret the time or the price unlike another Marvel film this year. I can safely tell everyone go see the film; I doubt you will be as critical as I am. I think this one is a movie people of all ages can enjoy but I do recommend watching Thor and or The Avengers first.

No breakdowns on this one, just see it. Matinee or full price, I think you will get your monies worth.

Stay allllllllllllll the way through the credits. Two scenes in this one.