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. 

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. 

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. 

     

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) Review

     From the opening scene I knew I was going to be in for a fun ride. Living in an age where its all about the dark, gritty, painfully serious, tortured superhero film, it’s such a refreshing take when you can laugh and smile at a sentient baby tree dancing his ass off. 

     That’s the kind of joy that you cherish. 

     It’s been only a few months since the last film, when Star Lord (Chris Pratt) finally comes to meet his father Ego (Kurt Russell) and he’s happy as can be. But Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) suspects something else is afoot while Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and, somehow, Yondu (Michael Rooker) are being chased down by the Sovereign race for stealing batteries. 

      Yeah, you read that right. 

     I don’t know what surprised me more; the absolute fun I was having, or the unexpected depth there was to a story with a giant living planet. 

      Make no mistake, this is a father/son movie through and through. Here’s that rare sequel that took the foundation of the original film, and actually expanded and built upon what came before it. This felt like more of a continuation than just a straight up sequel. 

     A lot of love has to be given to one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, Michael Rooker. His Yondu got such an emotional upgrade in this entry, adding more humor, and dare I say,  a warmth that was lacking in the character the first time around. 

     No one other than director James Gunn could have made a film like this one. I just came to accept that the Marvel films have to play it a little safe in order to keep the brand going, but Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 clearly shows that you can take thematic risks, like the perils of fatherhood, the fear of abandonment, to new fucking pop culture heights. 

     I didn’t expect this movie to be on par with the last, and I sure as shit didn’t expect to be wiping tears from my eyes, especially to a movie with a baby tree dancing his ass off to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky. 

     Well Marvel, you raised the bar again. Now fucking keep it there. 

Power Rangers (2017) Review

     Ah, another property being relaunched as a potential film franchise. The nostalgia kick is too strong to ignore. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of Power Rangers television show. I knew who everyone was, it was too cheesy for me even in elementary school. 

     Well, we’ve come now to the inevitable film reboot, and I got to say… 

     That it ain’t bad…

     The plot is pretty much what you’d expect from a Power Rangers movie: Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) wakes up from her deep slumber, and starts causing some shit, meanwhile a group of misfit teens acquire some gems and superhuman powers. Lead by Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Rangers have to work together to defeat Rita, and find themselves in the process. 

     I genuinely feel that this will quite possibly be the best movie that will ever be made with this material. I mean that as high praise. The acting, writing, and even the directing is a lot better than this movie deserves. Let’s not kid ourselves here; its a giant monster/robot movie. Who the fuck is going to see this to get a thoughtful high school drama in the vein of John Hughes? I sure as shit didn’t. 

     Where the movie broke through was the respect that was given to actually develop and respect the characters. Yes, I’m even including the genetic clone of Zac Efron as the Red Ranger (shut up, he is). My God, even Rita Repulsa was given an intriguing backstory as a fallen ranger (a shiny nickel for those that guess what color she was). Even Alpha-5 (Bill Hader) was actually funny, and didn’t make me want to throw a beverage at the screen. I want a Zordon/Alpha-5 spin off where they just bitch to each other for 90 minutes. Just take my money. 

     Like any good pasta dish, Power Rangers does have it’s fair amount of cheese, especially when they fight the monster, because of course it does. Its a god damn Power Rangers movie!! I don’t give a shit how many Oscars the movie might have won in the future, if there wasn’t those cheesy mecha battles, the film would’ve been a complete failure. I even had a joyous grin on my face when the theme song played. 
     Bear in mind, I never thought the series in all of it’s incarnations was really any good. Just wasn’t a fan. It was too cheap and low budget even for my unrefined tastes as a child. But if the show had been anything like this movie, I would’ve been that guy that wouldn’t shut up about the show. 

     Never have a been happier to be proven wrong about the quality of a film. I never thought I would say that I liked a Power Rangers movie. Never. 

13 Reasons Why (2017) Series Review

When I first heard about Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why I thought I was in for a cry fest. A serious drama, dealing with a serious, complex issue; Man, was I so wrong. 

     The series actually plays out like a “suicide” mystery, instead of a murder mystery. What we get are 13 episodes, or “tapes” where we dives deeper into Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) motivation into why she decided to end her life. 

     As the tapes make their way through a select few students, causing riffs to be sure, it reaches Clay (Dylan Minnette), a boy who had a crush on Hannah, decides to investigate what actually happened to her. But the deeper he gets in, the more he’ll discover answers to questions he shouldn’t even ask. 

     As much as a initially thought this was going to be a dramatic series, I was quite pleasantly surprised that the show plays out like a noir tale. At the heart of this story is a mystery with a needlessly complicated conspiracy at its core. Dirty secrets are aired out, betrayals are a plenty, its everything you could want out of it. 

     I was hooked by the end of the first episode, being reminded of Rian Johnson’s Brick, another high school set noir mystery. I was transfixed on what was at the heart of this girl’s suicide, and what role did our protagonist Clay play in it? When you find out the reasons why, your heart will shatter. 

     The show is melodramatic through and through, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. It’s so highly addicting, but the show does go into somereally fucked up areas that teen shows used to allude to, but can now be seen in all its macabre ugliness. It made me uncomfortable, as it should, but be warned of what you could be entering. 

     The important thing you’re all probably wondering is, does it have a satisfying conclusion? I think it does. I have no clue if there’s going to be a second season, but the way it was left made me happy. There are a shit ton of plot threads left answered, but the most important one, Why did Hannah Baker kill herself? was answered superb enough. 

     Its a show that really does make you think. For all its plot contrivances, overly melodramatic scenes, there is a heart to it, a pain to be had. It gets very ugly by its end, just like any great noir tale.