The Dark Tower (2017) Review

     Author Stephen King has written many an epic tale, but none more so than The Dark Tower series of books. Imagine if Lord of the Rings were to meet a Spaghetti Western. Yeah, its weird but because King is fucking insane he makes it work. To adapt that as a film you need to be just as crazy as him or as passionate about the Gunslinger and his quest. The filmmakers got one of those right. 

     On Mid-World, The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) has been on a quest for vengeance against The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) for years, who has a goal of destroying the Dark Tower which holds together all of existence. If left in ruins all of reality with cease to exist as we know it. But a little boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) could hold the key to either its salvation or annihilation. 

     This verson of The Dark Tower is not the book series. Yeah it has the basic ingredients that do make it the series, but ita truly not. The books were more meditative, more about the existential pursuit of something that gives your life meaning and purpose. The movie is more action and conflict oriented because you need to get to the point when it comes to cinema. 

     A key missing ingredient in the film is the spaghetti western element from the books. The lingering shots of the landscape, the unspeakable violence and especially the music. This is more of a 21st century film problem, musical scores are just bland. Think of the score from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and that is the Gunslinger’s music. Drive around with that music playing and you’ll feel like a badass. 

     The best thing about the flick, hands down, is the casting of Elba and McConaughey in the lead roles. The presence that they both carry just commands your attention. Elba manages to embody Roland’s stoic yet vulnerable nature of a man who has essentially become ronin. McConaughey, fuck, I haven’t seen an actor have this much fun playing a villain in years. The guy chews up scenery like he ran out of bubble gum. There is no greater joy than seeing an actor just have fun being evil. These two guys alone are worth the price of admission alone. 

     Putting aside my love of The Dark Tower books, it works on its own even if the plot is flimsy at times. Fans of Stephen King should have a lot fun spotting the easter eggs from his other stories, and the flick just ain’t bad at all. I mean, once you see Maximum Overdrive you can only really go up when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations. It says so little, but it truly says a lot. 

Ka. 

The Importance Of George A. Romero. 1940-2017


     Filmmaker George A. Romero passed away last week, I’ve been thinking about his films and the contributios that he made to cinema. He did more than that. He changed the face of American horror films with his masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. I could go on for days on how he invented the modern zombie, how he made them cannibalistic in nature and all that. How films like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead would never had existed if it weren’t for Romero. 

     Instead I’d rather dive into something a bit more personal. It was close to Halloween 1998, and I was just learning about symbolism and allegory in stories. Late one Saturday night, Night of the Living Dead came on so I finally decided to see it. 

     I was absolutely devastated by the ending. 

     As anybody who knows the final moments with the protagonist of the movie, Ben play out in a bit of a slow motion in my mind as he takes the shot to the head and dies. That alone is enough to depress anybody but I caught something this time around. 

     It has to do with the fact that Ben is a black man. 

     I had know the history of the Civil Rights movement as well as a kid could at that age, so I knew about Dr. King, Malcolm X and even Medgar Evers and their tragic deaths. 

     I can’t tell you if this was the first time I ever saw Night of the Living Dead, but I can tell you it was the first time I caught the symbolism of the tragic ending, and it opened up my eyes to other works and their meanings. When I saw Ben lying there dead among the other corpses, the images of the Civil Rights leaders flashed through my head. 

     Romero did say during an interview that the ending was not supposed to evoke the assassinations of these black men, actor Duane Jones was simply the best man for the job, but he did admit that seeing it now he couldn’t deny the symbolism behind it. 

     Soon after I discovered his sequel Dawn of the Dead and holy shit was it a scathing social commentary on materialism in society. The dead are all aimlessly wondering around a mall. The man always had something to say in some form. 

     I have to give credit to Romero for changing how I came to view film from simple entertainment to an art form that speaks to countless people. I know he influenced so many artists. But speaking for myself, he was the one that caused me to look closer, and discover truth in filmmaking. Rest in Peace Mr. Romero. And thank you.  

Spider Man: Homecoming (2017) Review


     I remember the first time I saw Sam Rami’s Spider-Man back in 2002. The wow factor, the close proximity to the comics, even the joy that the movie made me feel. 

     Well, 15 years, six films, and 3 Spider- Men later I can say enthusiastically that the films finally got lighthearted and humorous which was something the franchise was sorely lacking. 

     Its been about two months since the events of Captain America: Civil War and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is eagerly waiting for his next mission from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) while trying to balance high school and being a friendly neighborhood superhero. 

     After foiling a robbery attempt by the crew of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) a former government contractor, Spider-Man is put to the test if he’s actually cut out to be a hero. 

     I believe its safe to assume that a lot of fans of Spider-Man have mild reservations about giving this movie their time and money consider how underwhelming the last few entries were. And that’s fair. As someone who doesn’t mind seeing the same character on screen, I just always hope for a different take or story to make it worth my while. 

     And holy shit, I got that here. 

     First off, the origin story has been reduced to a couple of lines. Parker is 15 years old and still in high school. Like for the entire movie. A lot of the movie feels like (because it is) a high school movie that took some inspiration from John Hughes. They even have a school dance (a Homecoming dance…) in the flick, for God’s sake!

     Tom Holland as Spider-Man is the best interpretation of the character I have seen yet on film. Some of the movies gloss over or just plain ignore the fact the Spider-Man is just a child. He really should have no business being a superhero. Holland manages to play the awkwardness of the character to such perfection, that I accepted him readily as the character more than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Might have to do with the focus being on high school, but it was easy going for me. This is the first time in a movie where I actually felt scared for Parker, where in the third act especially, I saw the boy’s fear in his eyes, trying to be brave, but he’s still just a 15 year old kid. 

     The true revelation of the film is Michael Keaton as The Vulture. This should have been a thankless, bullshit paycheck role, oh but not with Keaton. He infuses his character of Toomes with humor, sheer villainy, pathos and humanity into his role that any lesser actor would have slept through. The man in many respects was too good for the role. I mean, its the fucking Vulture! He was B-level villain, and that’s being much too kind. Every single damn time the man just commanded my attention. I have to refrain myself from too many spoilers, but you’ll know the scenes I’m referring to because you won’t be able to blink. 

     I was certain that the Marvel Universe references would be a distracting nuisance, but it fit seamlessly into the story. Tony Stark felt organic, appearing appropriately enough that it doesn’t become less of a Spider-Man movie instead of Iron Man 4. It helps to know the players, but its more self contained as a story than other Marvel films. 

     Homecoming had a lot of hurdles to get through in my eyes, but it damn well got over them. It’s so different, so humorous, that when the credits rolled, I laughed out loud and had a smile on my face as I went home. 

     Welcome home, Spider-Man. 

Baby Driver (2017) Review

     Edgar Wright is a god damn artist. The writer-director of Baby Driver has made other incredible films in the past, but here. Here. The man has ascended to the entirely other level. What should’ve been standard genre fare has been delivered to us as one of the best films of the year, bar none. 

     After suffer from a terrible car accident as a child that left him with tinnitus, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best getaway driver out there. Using music to drown out the ringing in his ears, he masterfully navigates the streets to pay off his debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey). But with one more job left and a beautiful waitress (Lily James) giving him purpose, he quickly learns that there are no clean getaways. 

     Edgar Wright has always been the kind of fimmaker who both embraces and skews the conventions of any given genre be it Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World the man’s love of filmmaking is embedded into every single frame of the films he makes. 

     I can’t recall any recent film where the editing is so meticulously put together to the soundtrack of the movie. I mean everything from gunshots, to revving engines to even the actor’s body movements are all precisely timed to the soundtrack. It just manages to suck you in and without even trying, gets you to focus on the story’s unfolding of the events. 

     All of this shit, as fucking incredible as it is, wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the acting that’s on display here. Jamie Foxx is subtly terrifying as an unhinged member of the crew. Spacey just effortlessly commands every single scene he’s in. I don’t know another actor that comes off so confident. 

     Esgort’s Baby comes through perfectly written, believable, sweet especially in scenes with James’s Debora but the relationship that gave the movie an unexpected depth and warm heart was Baby’s relationship with his foster father Joseph played by CJ Jones. It was this storyline that made me root for Baby and for him to ride off into the sunset. 

     Maybe a lot of people won’t care that the movie is a throwback to the 70s line of heist films, but no one can deny that the movie is thrilling, funny as hell, and the best car chases I’ve seen in years. And you can actually see them too! No shaky cam bullshit. The film is fresh and original and I need that soundtrack in my life. 

So… About The Dark Universe… A Mummy (2017) Review (Rant)

     I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. A long while. Its going to come off as ranty, it doesn’t matter. Shared Universes in film is chic now, and Universal Studios wants a cut of that Avengers money. This time with their horror properties. This is literally nothing new for them, they did this back in the 40s for Christ’s sake, but now they want to jump in with this version of The Mummy (not Dracula Untold ) to kick start “a new world of gods and monsters”

     Well it fucking sucks. 

     I don’t know where to even begin with this. I guess the movie at hand. 

     The Mummy in this iteration, doesn’t know what it wants to be. The tone is all over the place, thinking it’s the 1999 The Mummy, and An American Werewolf in London. One is an action film and the other a deeply macabre comedic horror film. 

     The Mummy fails on both counts. 

     The plot this time around involves Nick (Tom Cruise) being a scavenger who comes across an ancient tomb and his ass gets cursed. So he awakens Ahmenet (Sofia Boutella) who wants to cloke the world in darkness or some such shit. And Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) is in. Seriously. He’s the head of a shadow organization that tracks these monsters. (Alright, that is cool).

     The first problem here is with the main narrative arch of Nick. This guy is supposed to be a scoundrel, a guy who has a corrupt moral compass. The guy does nothing throughout the movie to reinforce that trait. Nothing. There’s this supposed redemptive arch that made me laugh. What’s he got to redeem? Han Solo is a badder mother fucker than this guy. 

     The Universe building on display is just sloppy. Nothing comes off cheaper than an “organization” that keeps track of monsters and the like. Its sloppy because you can just throw in a bunch of references to other characters without any actual effort. Did the filmmakers really expect me to lose my shit because there were vampire skulls or the Gill Man’s fucking gill hand? Eat shit. 

     I do have to admit that Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll was an inspired bit of casting because he is Dr. Jekyll. I don’t think the man knew he was even making a movie. And as a side note, Jekyll was never a Universal Monster, but I love that he is now. Kind of. 

     One of the most confusing missteps was setting the movie in modern day. Who the hell thought that was a good idea??? The Victorian look and feel is what gave the originals that sense of dread and atmosphere since it seems so foreign, like a whole other world. I think it took ke around 15 minutes before I realized this this is supposed to be present day. That’s how muddled this movie is! How difficult is it to clearly establish your timeline?

     The Universal Monsters were one of my first exposures to the world of horror so this means everything to me.  The monsters ranging from Dracula to Frankenstein’s Monster were just so cool, creepy, and even a little tragic. It was the first shared universe on film, and man it was so cool to see Frankenstein take on the Wolf Man, I don’t care how contrived it was. 

     But this? This is so boring. I kept hoping that Universal studios were going to bring back the fun, and perverse joy to seeing straight up iconic monsters fucking each other up. But no. It’s all about that Avengers money. I’m not a fool, I know that this is how studios operate, but I was just hoping that there was someone in charge that had the same level of love, passion, and adoration that I have for these creatures. Because we all deserve better than this, fan or not. 

     Bride of Frankenstein better not fucking suck. 

Cars 3 (2017) Review

     Over this past decade I have actually come to have an affection for the Cars series (thanks to my nephew). Yes, even the much reviled Cars 2. But now we’ve come full circle with Cars 3 and I can see it being a bittersweet entry for the fans who grew up with Lighting McQueen. 

     Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) seems to be on his last legs. With a new racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) who is just plain faster than McQueen, causes him to question whether he can still cut it in today’s racing. With help from Cruz (Cristela Alonzo) a new trainer to help him back to the top. 

     I am such a sucker for the apprentice becomes the teacher stories, especially in franchises. The story has come full circle (hilariously) as McQueen trains his trainer. 

     Gone this time around is the grand scope of the previous film, and a return ro the small, intimate nature that gave the original its charm. Its more retrospective, even a little sad as Doc (Paul Newman) is referenced throughout the film and it brought the real theme of time fleeting. 

     Speaking of Paul Newman, Cars 3 did evoke some memories of The Color of Money a sequel to The Hustler. Now, Lightning McQueen was never disgraced like Fast Eddie Felson was, but the passing of the torch was reminiscent of it.  

     This is by no means a perfect film and Pixar has obviously made much better films, but the movie is light, inoffensive, and quite frankly, a little deeper than it had any business being. I finished the movie with a smile and that’s a lot more than most films this summer. 

Wonder Woman (2017) Review

     There, DC. Was that so hard?

     Who knew that adapting a single character and faithfully staying to the core fundamentals of said character would, you know, make a great movie? I mean, this is a game changer people! 

     Diana of Themyscira (Gal Godot), daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Zeus leads a carefree life until a man, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), somehow manages to crash onto the island and warns of the War to End All Wars. Diana takes it upon herself to go to our world and put an end to her brother Ares, finally ending the Great War. 

     Everything that DC did wrong with their last three outings, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad; Wonder Woman gets right in pretty much every way. First off, here’s a story with an actual beginning, middle, and end. Yes, a fully formed story that isn’t just a set up for another movie or a “Universe.”

     I thought it was illegal to do that in comic book movies nowadays. 

     Second, there was an actual focus and care on developing a character. One. Character. You know, to understand and care about them and their motivation, instead of just throwing them in a blender and wonder what went wrong? 

    The whole movie is contingent on the performance of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, and I  sincerely cannot imagine anyone else in the part. She’s got the asskickery down, no question, but between bashing people’s heads in, she exhibits a warmth, an innocence that adds to her strength, not diminishes it. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for an actor to pull that off???

     Yeah, there is a love story here involving Steve and Diana, and its easily the best relationship of the DC Universe films (yep better than Lois and Clark). The chemistry between Pine and Godot is genuine, and natural to the story. Makes me smile thinking about it. 

     The supporting cast of Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock as Sameer, Charlie, and Chief respectfully, just knock it out of the park. These three actors know the value of supporting their lead, and have their moments to shine, but never overshadow Godot in any way. I actually remembered their characters names without looking at my notes, what does that tell you?

     Director Patty Jenkins has made something truly special here. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Having seen 2005’s Electra, and 2004’s Catwoman which are unbelievable pieces of shit, female superheroes were never the fucking problem. Shitty writing, acting, directing, etc. were the problem. Those films were disrespectful to the source material, and to filmmaking in general. 

     Like Diana at the start of the film, maybe I am much too naive in how the way the world works. I finally got to see the story of one of the greatest superheroes ever up on the big screen. It never, ever, should have taken this long for it to happen. Fuck it, I’m just so happy it was done this well. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Review

     I  thought that by the 4th sequel to a 15 year old franchise would make you want to question your life choices. Considering that the last one, On Stranger Tides, was a bland, uninspired affair. Maybe it’s the fact that my bar was lowered in every respect, it was delightful that Dead Men Tell No Tales is easily the best of the sequels. 

     The adventure this time around involves Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who has made it his mission to break his father’s curse. The only way to do it is to find the trident of Poseidon. And yep, only Captain Jack Sparrow can find it along with a woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), and of course, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). And what tale wouldn’t be complete without some unbridled vengeance against Sparrow, by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem)?

     Every Pirates movie features some young punk on some quest for something (Davey Jones’s Locker, a coin, pussy) but this time around its something fans of the series are actually invested in: the freedom of Will Turner). It almost felt like all the previous movies were just a build up to this one. When referencing the legends told about Jack, we know these tales because we saw fucking saw them ourselves. It just added to the experience instead of making up some bullshit adventure, involving some bullshit character, for some bullshit reason. This time we actually give a shit. 

     Bardem’s Salazar is a foe worthy of his vengeance, and the first villain that actually creeped me out. A charming rogue with a clear and relatable motive. And the humor is actually funny this time around (who knew humor had to be funny to work), with Depp’s Sparrow actually coming off as inspired, rather than picking up a pay check. His would be execution scene pretty much set the tone that this movie is going to be silly. Really fucking silly. 

     Even looking back on it now, and the others, I realized that Dead Men Tell No Tales is going to be the installment that I’m genuinely going to watch more and more. Seriously, who knew that it took 4 more films for the series to get great again. I know, because I seen it! 

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

     I am probably one of the few people on earth that actually liked Prometheus back when it was first released. Yeah, it’s got a lot of logistical problems, but the mixture of horror/sci-fi and the question of our mortality was damn intriguing. It had a unique point of view that set it apart from the other films in the Alien series. 

     Alien: Covenant? It’s just old hat by now. 

     We know the plot to most of the Alien flicks by now: It starts with a transmission and the crew of the Covenant, which is a colonial ship, follows the source to a planet which may be inhabitable for its people. So the crew lead by Oram (Billy Curdup) decide to investigate and come across David (Michael Fassbender) and yeah, it’s not gonna end up pretty. 

     As far as acting and visuals go, the film is pretty tip top. Katherine Waterson’s Daniels joins the ranks of strong women the franchise is known for. I can see how difficult it can be to act vulnerable while also kicking ass. Fassbender’s duel roles as David and the Covenant’s Walter shows that the man just owns every role he plays. Shit, even Danny McBride (yes, that guy) manages to convey a sincere level of vulnerability that made me care. 

     But the problem isn’t the acting or the wonderfully disgusting visuals, but the rehashing of old troupes and ideas already used in previous installments. There’s a section of the film that expands on the Engineers that was pretty kick ass but it was done with as soon as it was introduced. It was clear to me that director Ridley Scott had some ideas to expand on the themes of Prometheus but clearly he wanted to give fans more of what they wanted, which was the xenomorphs. 

     The fans were wrong. Fucking wrong. 

     Since this is pretty much a fan service flick, fans will enjoy it. I’m just pissed that we could’ve gotten something different, a little unique to set it apart from the other flicks. Instead, it’s just Alien: Redux. 

Twin Peaks (2017) Review: Episodes 1-2

     “I’ll see you in 25 years”– Laura Palmer. 

     That line. Jesus. I’m still reeling from this premiere. The short of it is that this is pure David Lynch: its not what I expected, while at the same time being exactly what I expected. 

     If that doesn’t describe what David Lynch is (or co creater Mark Frost), I don’t know what does.

     To attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum, I’ll just rundown some bare bones elements. Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still in the Black Lodge as predicted by Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) 25 years ago. Now it appears that there is an opportunity to escape. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery that seems to have popped up with a high school principal played by Matthew Lillard embroiled in a murder plot involving his possible mistress. I don’t know, I don’t trust anything laid out in front of me. 

     So getting that out of the way, David Lynch wasn’t fucking around when he said that he wanted each episode to be a movie in its own right. It pretty much is though. 

     What really gets me to be honest, is that all of the events in the Black Lodge feel like continuations of the original series, while the new storylines, as it were, have a wholly different feel from before. Lynch was wise enough to see that the soap opera satire that helped to define the original, was no longer relevant in today’s era. 

     With network restrictions a thing of the past, this series goes into the surrealistic imagery with an abundance of reckless abandon. Nothing seems to be held back, well, for the moment at least. As soon as I heard the eerie talk from the Other Place, I knew we were back home. 

     I have always attempted to make the point that it isn’t coherency that makes David Lynch projects special, but the emotions evoked from the incoherent images. There is an epicness in scope; with Twin Peaks itself getting a little short changed at the mement in these two episodes. 

     In all purity, the emotions that this series got me to explore was fascination and fear. Lynch was never one to shy away from horror, and he makes me feel uneasy. I was truly sad though that Sheriff Truman wasn’t there, and that the Log Lady was so frail (The actress would pass away after filming her scenes). But more than anything I was sad about Coop. He never deserved to end up there. 

     As melancholic as I may make this sound, I am already in love with this Twin Peaks. The murder mystery set up feels right out of Lost Highway. Hell, the cinematography feels like a cross between Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. The sound design is pure Lynch, it felt like being right at home. And as always the choice of music is just sublime, with an 80s aesthetic, commonly used, even though it was a Lynchian trope dating back to Blue Velvet. 

     I can only truly recommend these episodes to fans of David Lynch, not just Twin Peaks. The show is much different now, a more unhinged beast of not giving a fuck. I have no god damn clue what the fuck is going on, or even where it’s going, and that is exactly what I wanted out of this revival. Mr. Lynch, Mr Frost, wecome back.