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.  

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. 

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. 

     

The Ridiculous Joys of Mystery Science Theater 3000

On April 14, 2017 something happened. After 18 years, Mystery Science Theater 3000 returned to effectively grace our screens, simultaneously enhancing and ruining the moviegoing experience for all. 

     The series has always followed some poor dude up in space being forced to watch shitty movies, usually of the horror and sci-fi genre, by some crazy scientist in the name of… well science. Said dude is joined by robots Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Croooow. (Its just Crow). The opening song literally sings to you the whole premise of the show, so I don’t know why I just did that. 

     Anyhoo, this show is the definition of cult series, because not everyone will like. Most don’t, but once you experience it and embrace it, so much fun can be had. 

     I had written before about the sheer joy and lunacy of the Midnight Movie, and it’s now available on Netflix. This show, along with Monstervision, were the Midnight Movie shows for me (they never aired at midnight). 

     Watching the first episode of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I was hit with the realization that my love of unbelievably shitty films steams from this series. With the ungodly amount of bad films I’ve seen over the years, the show gave me a tool that has endured me to survive: the gift of laughter. 

     I had never seen a show where characters talked back to the screen, making witty asides that would make Oscar Wilde green with envy. Nothing can top a well delivered joke in line with the films being watched. There was never a show like this before, and I’ll be damned if there was ever a show like it since. It’s truly a unique creature, built from television and cinema. 

     Even with the show’s move to Netflix, its the same thing as before! Believe me this is such a great thing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 changed the way an entire generation watched and experienced films, the unsightly horrors from the voids of space. I’m just giddy. 

     I’m hoping a new generation will now pick up the series and have its imagination fucked with, much like mine was. And while I’ve been lamenting this whole “Reboot” fever, I’m not gonna say a bad word about this trend. Reboot All in the Family, I don’t give a fuck, I got Mystery Science Theater 3000. 

     The world isn’t such a bad place after all. 

Blumhouse Productions has Lost their Fucking Minds on the New Halloween Movie…

     Alright this isn’t new news; I seriously needed a couple of weeks to process this. I’ll try to articulate this as best as I can. 

     I already wrote about how Miramax lost the rights to the Halloween franchise because it shouldn’t take you over half a fucking decade to release an installment, and they deserved to lose their cash cow. Assholes. 

     Well, it was announced awhile back that John Carpenter was going to return as a producer and maybe composer. Blow me, just make the damn movie. 

     The last idea that was thrown around was having The Shape about to be executed for his rampage back in ’78, with the kid of one of the investigators being trapped in the prison. It’s a good idea that got tossed before I could even get excited. 

     I’m just having Myers withdrawals. 

     It was announced that David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) is going to direct and co-write the script with Danny McBride. 

     Danny McBride. 

     Danny Mc-fucking-Bride.

      Yes. This fucking guy. Kenny Powers himself is going to write the new Halloween movie. 

     Let that sink in. 

     I’m just… What the fuck…? Oh, so we’re clear, I’m not upset that he’s doing the movie. I’m all for actors and writers doing something out of their comfort zone; I’m losing my shit because this needs to happen! This:

     Its fucking crazy! And McBride knows some dark shit, as a lot of comedians do, so I want to see these guys tackle the Shape like they got something to prove. Imagine that: a Halloween flick made by passionate filmmakers? Don’t let me down fuckers, make this shit happen! I don’t give a shit if the movie sucks, I just want to see how this will turn out! Blumhouse has killed it recently with Split and Get Out so make the movie already, Fuck! 

Get Out (2017) Review 

     Ever since I was in my early teens, and I caught a showing of Night of the Living Dead on tv, I was floored. The flick is terrifying, but what stands out the most is that the main character of Ben is black man. In a film made in 1968. Well, to be more accurate, what stands out is that Ben survives the night, only to be shot in the head by a posse with checking if he was undead first. It was sad, and left me in shock. 

     Jordan Peele’s Get Out is evocative of the social commentary that Night of the Living Dead had. Some overt, like the opening, some more subtle, like the attire worn at the party, but its influence is all over the picture. 

     Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous to meet his girlfriend, Rose’s (Allison Williams), parents because they don’t know he’s black. But not to worry, Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) are those cool white liberals that are so understanding. Even if there is something off about them…

     As Ipreviously mentioned, I love a horror film with some social commentary, and a big deal has been made about Get Out’s message on interracial matters, but that shouldn’t be the first thing to look at. Competency, and skill as a horror film should be looked at first, and done well, or no matter how powerful your statement is, it will falter. 

     Jordan Peele knows his horror films, Jesus Christ. 

     Peele knows that a horror film’s success or failure depends entirely on its pacing and editing. John Carpenter’s Halloween being the prime example. Peele is aware of when to hold back, when to drop hints, and to actually have likeable sympathetic characters. It’s like a foreplay before the big climax. 

     Luckily, the performances serve the material so well; Keener and Whitford know exactly the right balance between sweet and creepy. Right out of the gate, you know something is wrong, but they’re so nice (perfect metaphor for race). Kaluuya’s performance as Chris hits his beats perfectly. He is the conduit for us, the audience, and its been such a long time that I felt scared for a character in a horror movie, much less one that I was actually rooting for. Trust me, that’s all too rare. 

     I’m so happy to see a filmmaker make a film that is evocative of the horror films of the 60s and 70s, one’s were filmmakers put their fears on screen for us to experience. And Get Out is one hell of an experience. 

Split (2017) Review

     Director M. Night Shyamalan has gotten a bit of a bum rap in the past decade or so. After hitting  such heights with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable the man couldn’t pull a good movie out of his ass even if he ate The Godfather frame by frame. 

     But after the pleasant surprise that was The Visit, I was hopeful that he could keep the train going and I’m happy to say that he seems to be on the right track. 

     After being abducted along with her two friends, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) comes to the realization that her abductor(s) is a man (James McAvoy) who suffers from multiple personality disorder. 23 to be exact; some helpful, like Hedwig, some not so much, like Ms. Patricia. While Casey does have to come to terms with her past, she has to figure out which personality is a friend, while another may emerge and cause chaos. 

     Shaymalan has always excelled as both a writer and director when his films deal with ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Split almost plays like a chamber piece, one location, but not quite. The film is more intimate, nearly uncomfortably so. 

     Taking a cue from Hitchcock, there are some very uncomfortable themes at play, but Shaymalan doesn’t exploit it. I do wish this was explored just a bit more, but to do so would overshadow the story, and even the performances. 

     James McAvoy, its safe to say now, is the most underrated actor of his generation. The role(s) as presented are daunting for any actor to play, and McAvoy manages to pull it off. His performance, if it faltered, would have made the film come to a screeching halt. There were parts where I felt terror in his acting. Believe me, its a lot more difficult than can be credited. 

     Also the role of Dr. Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, is the absolute perfect supporting performance to McAvoy. What should have a been an exposition role, Buckley managed to sell the concept of the story. There is such a quiet passion in the role, such dedication to her character that it makes the suspension of disbelief, well, believable. 

     Shaymalan is back in form here, proving that he needs to make more films on an intimate, human scale. Extravagance was never his strong suit, his characters were. While this may not be his best film, but it sure as hell beats everything he’s done in the past decade. And if you’re a fan of his early work, you owe it to yourself to see this one. Trust me on this.