THE DARK TOWER (2017) – An Inconsequential Blip on the Dark Tower Universe

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darktower_poster

I’m guessing there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the epic novels by Stephen King.

There are eight novels in the series, and while I haven’t read any of them, the idea that this very short movie— it clocks in at a meager 95 minutes— could do an eight book series justice is difficult to fathom. It’s just too quick and inconsequential.

Strangely, this movie version of THE DARK TOWER is supposedly a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works. Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice.  The movie THE DARK TOWER as it stands would barely do a short story justice.

In a nutshell— and that’s what this movie felt like, really— THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father.  He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.

Jake’s mom Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can receive help, since he’s getting into fights at school and generally having a difficult time with life, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black.  There, he befriends the Gunslinger and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.

Yawn.

The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written.  The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least.  And four writers worked on this thing:  Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel.  Not that it mattered.

The story as told in this movie left me with so many unanswered questions.  Who is the Man in Black?  Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth?  Who is the Gunslinger?  Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black?  The movie provides no back stories on these characters.  I also wanted to know more about young Jake.

Things happen too quickly and too easily.  Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.

Again, for a movie based on an eight book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.

Nor is THE DARK TOWER all that visually impressive. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern-day surroundings.  Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.

I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much.  He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018) but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents.  Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.

Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well.  He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain.  Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV,  from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).

In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best part of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on-screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.

Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers.  Seen better, seen worse.  The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable.  Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.

I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse.  Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.

But it’s not awful.  It’s just not that good.

At the end of the day, it’s just an inconsequential blip on the Dark Tower universe.

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Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

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INTERSTELLAR (2014) – Science Fiction at its Best

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interstellar - posterMovie Review:  INTERSTELLAR (2014)

By

Michael Arruda

 

INTERSTELLAR, the latest film by writer/director Christopher Nolan of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy fame is an instant classic, not only one of the best movies of the year, but also destined to be one of the all-time classic science fiction films ever made.  No kidding!

INTERSTELLAR takes place in the not too distant future, a time when Earth is in crisis due to a shortage of food.  People work as farmers, because the need for food is so great, even though the soil is dying, and the time is coming when the Earth will no longer be able to sustain life.

 Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former astronaut/pilot who now works as a farmer, and he’s none too happy about it.  He has to raise his children on his own, as his wife recently died from cancer, and he receives some help from his father, Donald (John Lithgow).  Through an odd series of events, Cooper and his young daughter Murph find themselves inside a secret NASA base in which Cooper is reunited with his former professor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

Professor Brand informs Cooper that NASA is secretly working on a plan to save the human race.  A worm hole has been discovered near Saturn, and Brand reports that they have already sent manned space crafts through the worm hole in search of other habitable planets.  Now they need to send a new mission to seek out those previous missions in order to learn which planets if any are inhabitable.  Brand wants Cooper to pilot the mission.

Cooper decides to go, against the wishes of his ten year-old daughter Murph, and even though he promises her that he will come back, she doesn’t believe him.  Cooper leads the mission through the worm hole, and in a race against time, as their voyage through time and space will take years, they attempt to find a new planet able to sustain human life and then get the word back to Earth before the planet dies.

INTERSTELLAR is a compelling, exciting movie that works on multiple levels.  It contains enough big ideas and gets enough of the science right to succeed as an exemplary work of science fiction, and it also scores high with the human element, as it contains major conflicts for nearly every character in the film to overcome.  It also works as a melodrama, as it tells a riveting and oftentimes suspenseful story.  It’s visually very satisfying, it contains great acting from nearly everyone involved, and it has a fantastic script by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.  And oh yeah, there’s the work of its talented director, Christopher Nolan.

Some of the ideas explored in INTERSTELLAR include worm holes, black holes, the theory of relativity, and time travel.  The worm hole is the plot device which sets the story in motion, as it allows our astronauts to travel impossible distances through space in one lifetime.  The theory of relativity also takes a prominent role in the story, as on certain planets years pass by as mere hours.  Spend a few hours on the planet, and back on earth two decades pass.  These are highly interesting topics, and they’re handled in this movie by screenwriters Christopher and Jonathan Nolan with near perfection.  The science isn’t dumbed down to the point where it plays as theatrical fantasy, nor is it so highbrow that it flies over our heads.  It strikes a nice balance.

Like last year’s GRAVITY (2013) it also gets the silence of space right, as scenes of space travel are shot in eerie silence.

Only the dealing with the black hole gave me pause— at first.  The fate of someone entering a black hole is most likely death, and anything else seems somewhat less than believable, but since the truth is, we really don’t know what happens inside a black hole, there are certain creative privileges that go hand in hand with this subject.  In other words, until there is definitive scientific proof of what really happens inside a black hole, writers can get away with certain creative indulgences, as long as they remain believable.  What happens inside the black hole in INTERSTELLAR ultimately passes the believability test.

Nearly every character in INTERSTELLAR has a major conflict to overcome.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) in addition to trying to save the human race (yeah, that’s a biggie!) also wants to make good on his promise to his children that he will indeed return home.  Fellow astronaut Brand (Anne Hathaway), Professor Brand’s daughter, is in love with one of the astronauts from the previous mission and thus is biased about travelling to his planet.  Cooper’s adult daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) desperately wants to prove that her father didn’t lie to her, that he really planned to complete his mission and return home to her.  Professor Brand (Michael Caine) in spite of his herculean humanitarian effort is harboring a terrible secret.  It’s one of the reasons INTERSTELLAR remains compelling for all of its 169 minutes running time, because nearly every character has a conflict to work through.

Another reason it remains enthralling is it doesn’t play like a cold stoic science fiction tale.  INTERSTELLAR is a heartfelt melodrama, with characters you truly care about placed in some very dangerous and life threatening situations.  There are also some exciting scenes of suspense, including a fierce fight on an ice planet, and a nail biting sequence involving an impossible space docking maneuver on an out-of-control space station.

Matthew McConaughey leads the very talented cast with another neat performance, this time as Cooper, the former astronaut who makes the bold choice to pilot a ship through a wormhole into the unknown in order to save humankind, all the while believing in the improbable, that he’ll be able to make it back home alive.

Jessica Chastain is equally as good as Cooper’s adult daughter Murph, albeit her screen time is much smaller than McConaughey’s, but it is these two characters who drive this story along.

Anne Hathaway is also excellent as fellow astronaut and scientist Brand, as is Michael Caine as her father Professor Brand.  Throw in John Lithgow as Cooper’s father Donald, Casey Affleck as Cooper’s adult son Tom, and a few other familiar faces, including a major star who appears unbilled, and you have the makings for a phenomenal cast.

Visually, INTERSTELLAR is impressive and doesn’t disappoint.  Director Christopher Nolan fills this one with memorable scenes and images.  Even better is the screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan.  Everything seems to work.  I was hooked within the first few minutes and remained so for the nearly three hours the movie took to reach its conclusion.  It’s Nolan’s most satisfying film since THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).

Still, it’s not perfect.  The logic behind the appearance of the worm hole, for example, doesn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny, and a key scene where Cooper attempts to communicate across dimensions to his daughter had me scratching my head.

But these are minor quibbles.

INTERSTELLAR is a superior science fiction movie.  It’s better than the recent science fiction efforts like GRAVITY (2013) and PROMETHEUS (2012), and it deserves to be included in the conversation with some of the all-time greats, films like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).

One of the best movies of the year, INTERSTELLAR is one voyage you definitely do not want to miss.

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DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) Recalls Dark Times

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Dallas Buyers Club posterBlu-ray Review:  DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

When Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) earlier this year, I decided to go back and watch some of McConaughey’s roles from the past few years which led up to his Oscar winning performance, thus starting my own personal Matthew McConaughey tour.

Alas, the Matthew McConaughey tour comes to a close today with my review of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Based on true events, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB takes place in 1985, just when the AIDS epidemic was first making front page news.  Ron Woodroof  (Matthew McConaughey) is an electrician who works at a rodeo.  He lives a fast and wild life:  sex, alcohol, smoking, and drug use, and that’s just in one day.   Nope, Ron is not going to win any awards for Man With The Healthiest Lifestyle.  In fact, he is shocked to learn that he is HIV positive, since he believed the AIDS disease was only contracted by homosexuals.

Initially in denial, he cusses out his doctors Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Eve (Jennifer Garner) accusing them of mixing up his blood results with someone else’s, and he scoffs at their prediction that he only has thirty days to live.  Eventually, though, Ron realizes that he is indeed very ill, and he reads up on HIV and the AIDS virus.

He learns that the one drug treating AIDS is called AZT, but since it hasn’t been approved yet, he is not allowed access to it.  Ron decides to take matters into his own hands to get AZT by any means possible, which eventually leads him to Mexico where he meets a disbarred American doctor Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) who steers Ron away from AZT, calling it poison, and instead prescribes Ron with a series of vitamins and alternative medicines which do in fact succeed in prolonging his life.

Ron returns to Dallas and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a transsexual he met at the hospital Rayon (Jared Leto).  Together, they start the Dallas Buyers Club, a club in which members pay a flat fee for access to the alternative medicines which Ron continues to bring into the country in an effort to treat as many fellow AIDS sufferers as they can.  They fight an uphill battle against both doctors who see the Club as dangerous for their patients, and the FDA who see their actions as illegal and want to shut them down.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB tells a moving and relevant story, and for those of us who remember these times during the 1980s- the fear, the misinformation, and the stigma that went along with AIDS and HIV- it’s a chilling reminder of a troublesome  time in our history.  It’s a decent screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, but it’s not the strength of the movie.

The strength of the movie is the acting.  Across the board, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB features phenomenal acting performances.

Leading the way is Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, the homophobic womanizer who at first is anything but a sympathetic main character, but as the movie goes on and Ron grows more frustrated with the system and becomes more and more proactive in seeking out alternative treatments, he develops into a leader for the HIV infected community.  Through his actions, he becomes an admirable person.

And when we grow to like Ron, it’s not in a superficial phony way.  He doesn’t suddenly go from homophobic hick to open-minded hero.  He may become more tolerant towards the gay community and those suffering from AIDS, but he’s still the same roughneck personality.  He’s just channeling his tough guy tendencies towards a worthy cause.

McConaughey looks absolutely sickly and weak in this movie, which is a testament to both the make-up department and his performance.  In fact, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.

Believe it or not, even better than McConaughey in this movie is Jared Leto as transsexual Rayon.  Leto also won an Oscar, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.  Rayon was my favorite character in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB because Leto makes him such a three dimensional sympathetic person.  We learn firsthand about his hopes and fears, we see him struggle through his weaknesses, and we witness some very painful moments in his life, like when he visits his father, who is completely ashamed and disgusted by his son.  Rayon is also the character who without really trying to do so reaches Ron, and breaks through his tough exterior.  Without Rayon, Ron wouldn’t have been able to operate the Dallas Buyers Club.

Jennifer Garner is also excellent as Eve, the doctor who at first warns her patients to stay away from Ron, but as the two become closer, and she listens to what Ron has to say and reads his research, she begins to change her mind about AIDS treatment.  Denis O’Hare is just as good as Dr. Sevard, the doctor who is steadfast in his opinion that Ron is flat out wrong.

Michael O’Neill is sufficiently annoying as FDA agent Richard Barkley, and Dallas Roberts is effective as Ron’s lawyer David Wayne, while Griffin Dunne makes his mark as the doctor in Mexico who first steers Ron on the path towards alternative medicines.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee has made a film that captures the fear, sadness, and suffering of this time period, when AIDS was a new and relatively unknown disease, and rumors ran rampant, and treatments were inadequate.  It goes without saying, that DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is not a fun movie.

Of the Matthew McConaughey movies I watched this past year, the one I probably enjoyed the most was MUD (2012).  Taken as a whole, MUD was the most entertaining of these movies.  McConaughey was excellent in all of them, but he was best as Ron Woodroof in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

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Matthew McConaughey’s Dynamic Performance Drives THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)

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The Lincoln Lawyer posterBlu-ray Review: THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)
By
Michael Arruda

Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar this year for his performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), and if you haven’t been paying attention, you might not have noticed that McConaughey has been steadily working his way through some pretty decent roles the past few years.

Take his role in THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011), for example, where he plays Mick Haller, a smooth talking cooler-than-ice defense attorney who becomes the victim of an even smoother criminal.

I caught THE LINCOLN LAWYER on Blu-ray the other day, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I especially enjoyed McConaughey’s dynamic performance as the indefatigable Mick Haller. McConaughey easily carries this movie from beginning to end.

In THE LINCOLN LAWYER, defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) never met a client he didn’t like, or wouldn’t accept payment from, and he operates out of the back seat of his Lincoln town car, thus the film’s title, THE LINCOLN LAWYER. He’s none too popular with the local police department since he has a strong record of keeping even the most guilty-seeming clients out of jail.

When a young man Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating up a hooker personally asks for Haller to defend him, Mick thinks nothing of it, even though his friend and investigator-partner Frank (William H. Macy) tells him something about the guy rubs him the wrong way. But Mick is used to out-talking and outwitting everybody, so he takes on the case without fear, although he does wonder why Louis would ask for him when his mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) is exceedingly rich and powerful and has an entire legal team at her disposal.

Mick prepares his defense with the argument that Louis is the victim of a scam by the hooker and an accomplice intent on setting up Louis for the crime so they could reap the benefits of an enormous settlement.

Things play out as planned until Frank uncovers some unsavory information about Louis that connects him to one of Mick’s prior cases, and suddenly Mick realizes why Louis chose him as his defense attorney, but this realization comes too late, as Mick’s family and friends are threatened, and Mick finds himself having to defend a man he knows is guilty not only of this charge but of a far more serious one.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a fun thriller with a likable character at its center. Attorney Mick Haller might not seem like the most likeable guy, but his energy is infectious, and he oozes confidence and charisma. As such, you can’t help but like the guy, and so when he’s targeted and double-crossed by another sly character, one who’s far more sinister than himself, you’re definitely rooting for him to succeed, and you want to see how he’s going to outsmart his adversary.

McConaughey imbues this guy with charisma and charm. His Mick is not a jerk or a weasel. He’s simply a player in the legal system, and he believes that all clients deserve to be defended. He just happens to be very good at what he does.

Taken as a whole, the film is somewhat uneven, as in addition to its main plot, which is good, it throws in a less than believable subplot involving Mick’s ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) who works for the District Attorney’s office. No, they don’t face each other in court. In fact, they’re hardly adversaries at all, and tend to get along splendidly as they work together to raise their young daughter. They work together so well it makes you wonder how they got divorced in the first place.

Tomei is fine in the role, although ultimately she doesn’t have a lot to do, and is saddled with some awful lines of dialogue, like when she looks at her sleeping daughter and turns to Mick and says, “At least we did one thing right.” No, by all accounts you two do a lot of things right. Why aren’t you still together?

Ryan Phillippe is icy cold as the defendant Louis Roulet who tries to outsmart his attorney Mick, but he’s a much more one-dimensional character than Mick and nowhere near as satisfying. The more the story goes along, the more we realize Louis is no match for Mick and it’s only a matter of time before his plan blows up in his face.

Even colder than Phillipe is Frances Fisher as Mary Windsor, Louis’ powerful and manipulative mother. I wish she had been in the movie more.

William H. Macy is very good as Mick’s friend and investigator, Frank, and Macy delivers his usual strong performance. Laurence Mason is also very good as Mick’s driver Earl, who helps Mick with more than just driving.

The film also features decent performances by Josh Lucas as the prosecuting attorney who’s in way over his head taking on Mick, John Leguizamo as Val, the bondsman who introduces Mick to Louis, Michael Pena as Jesus Martinez, the former client of Mick’s who is now in jail in spite of his claims of innocence, and Bob Gunton as Cecil Dobbs, the head of Mary Windsor’s legal team.

Strangely, only Bryan Cranston fails to impress, as he’s stuck in a brief throwaway role as police detective Lankford. It’s the first time I’ve seen Cranston in a movie without being wowed, but this has less to do with his performance than with the brevity of the role.

For the most part, the screenplay by John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, succeeds. Its main story is very good, as the battle of wits between Mick and Louis is compelling.

Director Brad Furman does a nice job at the helm, making this one as slick and as polished as Mick’s Lincoln. Furman would go on to direct RUNNER, RUNNER (2013), starring Ben Affleck, and I found both films very similar in terms of quality.

Matthew McConaughey is the best part of THE LINCOLN LAWYER. While the rest of the film is a mixed bag, its talented cast and decent story make this one a more satisfying “mixed bag” than most.

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