Thursday, 24 August 2017

Quick-Fire Reviews: 4 Film Special

Hey everyone, doing a bit of catch-up here. I’ve watched a number of films over the past little while and I’d like to give my quick thoughts on each one as I don’t feel like I have a full review’s worth for each. Today we’re going to talk about Colossal, Ghost in the Shell, the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. As always, no spoilers here.

Ghost in the Shell

First off, I don’t know anything about Ghost in the Shell. This is in fact the first entry I’ve seen into the franchise. With that being said, even I can see that it suffers many of the same problems as The Dark Tower when it comes to story and lore. They’ve really simplified and dumbed things down; I’ve seen enough of these kinds of things to know it when I see it. I get the sense that there is so much more to this world that is really interesting and really amazing but would be a deeper cut into the lore than the story was willing to go. Which is too bad because I would’ve liked to learn more about the characters. That’s not even addressing the whitewashing controversy, which is a different discussion entirely. I will say that it looked really cool, though. Visually, it looked fantastic. I’m not the best person to tell you if this is a good Ghost in the Shell movie, but I can tell you it was enjoyable enough to throw on and watch if you’re folding laundry or something. 6/10


I was kind of intrigued by the premise of this movie. It’s a kaiju film, but not a typical kaiju film. It has a definite comedic bent to it and delves into some issues further than I thought it would. It definitely goes in directions I wasn’t expecting, and that’s a good thing. It didn’t play in theatres close to us so we had to wait for video release. It’s a really neat little movie. The performances are really great too, and it was cool to see Anne Hathaway do something different from what she usually does, role-wise. It’s not a super-funny, laugh-out-loud comedy; it has some dramatic elements to it as well. Also, it’s rated R, but it doesn’t take too much advantage of that, outside of a few too many F-bombs for a PG-13. It slides in just under two hours and there are certainly worse ways to spend that time, and leaves you thinking about the directions that the characters take based on what is happening around them. I definitely recommend this for anyone who’s thinking about checking it out. 7/10

Beauty and the Beast 2017

I was initially kind of excited for this one. The original animated film was a big part of my childhood and Belle one of my favorite Disney princesses so I was curious to see what they would do with it in live action. And… they kind of just did the same thing over again. Honestly, this just feels like a rehash of the cartoon, but not as good as the cartoon. There’s something to be said for animation’s ability to exaggerate expressions or actions for the sake of comedy or effect. One scene in particular, the reveal of the library, was so much flatter and less magical than in the animated version, and that made me very sad. The extra songs added in didn’t really do much for me either, and I couldn’t help thing during some of them that I’d rather listen to the originals or the covers by Jonathan Young. Personally, I also thought that the castle was not quite as… grand as I thought it should be. I just didn’t feel the faded, forgotten opulence the way I felt I should have. I mean, you want run-down grandeur, go watch Crimson Peak (which I kind of liked, even if a lot of people didn’t). I don’t know, it almost feels unnecessary because again, it really didn’t add anything new, except maybe for one subtle joke during Be Our Guest that totally floored me. If you’ve seen it, you know which one I mean. It’s not all bad, the performances are excellent and the cast is really good. The Beast’s CG is a bit janky, which surprised me, but the performance was solid. If you’re a hardcore Disney lover, give it a go but I think I’ll stick with the animated version. I hope they do better with the next ones, like they did with The Jungle Book. 5/10

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

This was one that we were pretty excited for, based on the awesome promotional material we saw spoofing the 1992 Whitney Houston film. And it is a lot of fun. It’s like Nick Fury and Deadpool go on a fully-armed, unfiltered road trip in Europe. I’m pretty sure there are scenes where they basically just let the two of them loose and told them to do their thing. A scene-stealer here is Salma Hayek as Jackson’s wife; she is absolutely fabulous and amazing to watch. It’s a bit of a throwback film to the fun, over-the-top kind of action film from the 80’s or 90’s that didn’t take itself too seriously. Being a fan of those kind of films, I really loved that. The soundtrack is awesome too, and I’d honestly buy it just for one song written and performed by Samuel L. Jackson himself. In the score there’s some callbacks to and older generation of spy movie as well, a la the old James Bond or The Man From U.N.C.L.E or something like that. There are some parts that seem cheesy, but they seem intentionally cheesy. This movie knew exactly what it was and had fun with it. And I had fun with it. Definitely recommended for a good time if you just want to chill with a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It earns that R rating though, so this one’s not for the kiddies. 8/10    

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Dark Tower SPOILER Discussion

WARNING- THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER HEAVY FOR BOTH THE BOOK SERIES AND THE FILM. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE INTIMATE DETAILS OF EITHER ONE, STOP NOW. I have done a spoiler-free review of The Dark Tower film HERE, and that would be a better place to go for my thoughts on the film. If you read on, consider yourself fairly warned. Also possible language and fan-ranting, although I will try to explain myself when I do.   

To start with, I’m going to come right out and say it. This movie is fine. It’s fine. Which is good in that I’m not here going ‘it’s horrible’, but at the same time I really feel like this movie should have been a lot better than a mere ‘okay’. My first issue is the runtime. I was starting to feel not too bad about this film in the final lead up to it; I’d made my peace with the fact that this wasn’t going to be an adaptation but a continuation of the story and that this was going to be the next cycle of Roland’s quest that began with the end of the seventh book. I was willing to give it a chance to see where it was going to go. Two days before we went we checked how long the movie was to help plan things out and that’s when all those doubts came screaming back. Ninety-five minutes. That’s it. And it pissed me off, and in a weird way was almost offensive. They plan to open up this huge, expansive world that touches on basically everything Stephen King writes or has written in one way or another, and all you’ve got to do so is ninety-five minutes? This movie should have been at least two hours, easily. Then perhaps we wouldn’t have had to condense and simplify so much, and many things that were more like Easter eggs would have been better explained. Like when Walter uses Maerlyn’s Rainbow, especially Black Thirteen. If you had no idea about the series (and I have such a person to bounce these questions off of), then the importance of things like this get lost. Or the rose painted on the door at the end.

whose importance to the story is in the neighborhood of 'very fucking'

 There’s so many things that should have been more than references, things that have so much importance to the story. You don’t even hear Roland’s father called by name, which is kind of silly considering how often in the books he introduces himself as ‘Roland, son of Steven’. How hard would that have been? They managed to sneak in some Mid-World speech patterns at the village, after all. It’s just so… bare bones. I get that you don’t want to alienate non-fans, but there wasn’t really much for anyone to sink their teeth into, unless they were watching for all those little nods. And that just makes you wish they’d explained those better.  

I'll trade some of these nods for more story any day

It’s not all doom and gloom. The cast for this film is really, really good. Tom Taylor as Jake does really well. You just have to remember, this isn’t the same Jake. This is not book Jake, the kid from 1977 whose father ran a TV station. This is a Jake from presumably today, from a different Earth (in contemplating the lore, I believe book Jake couldn’t have come from Keystone Earth). But he has a lot of the qualities of the Jake we know. In the movie, they call psychic abilities ‘the Shine’ as opposed to ‘the Touch’, presumably to establish the fact that all of King’s stories are connected and that ‘the Shine’ would be familiar to people without too much explanation. As I said in my spoiler free review, I had so much fun with Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal as Walter O’Dim. I thought that was great casting and he was clearly having a lot of fun with it. I never thought he was too goofy or over the top and I really liked his menace. I would have loved to see him in some of the scenes from the book; raising Nort from the dead and the palaver with Roland at the Golgotha especially. I think those would have been fantastic with this cast. 

Speaking of the cast, I have to talk about Roland. I have no issue with his casting, I’ll get that out of the way right off the bat. When this project was first announced, I’ll admit that my dream casting was Viggo Mortensen (as Clint Eastwood is a bit too old now and Scott Eastwood isn’t quite old enough) and I thought he would have made a great Roland. But Idris Elba was fantastic, and you can’t deny that. He really does embody that character awesomely. The only problems I have with him aren’t due to Idris Elba, they’re story issues. I alluded to this problems in the spoiler-free review but now I can elaborate on them further. I may have been irritated by the short runtime and dumbing down of the story, but in a way I can understand them. What I find to be unforgivable, and maybe this is just me as a fan, is the horribly out-of-character aspects of Roland’s story. The first is Roland saying he’s not a gunslinger anymore. Excuse me? Being a gunslinger, especially as the last, is fundamental to Roland’s being. He would never deny what he was. Gunslinger isn’t just a title here, folks, it’s more than a way of life, it’s a symbol. You can see it when they meet people on their journey to the Tower. Gunslingers are almost mythical now, emblems of a time before the world moved on. For Roland to deny what he is, is to deny himself at a fundamental level and I don’t buy that. The second thing is that in the film he’s neither looking for the Man in Black or the Tower. Okay, being a gunslinger is fundamental to Roland’s being, but finding the Tower is why he gets out of bed in the morning. Finding the Man in Black is his goal the entirety of the first book. And I know, you’re going to say ‘well this is a continuation, maybe in this cycle Roland isn’t looking for these things’. Bull. Shit. If I may, let me quote The Dark Tower, the final book in the series (Coda: page 827):

'How many times had he climbed these stairs only to find himself peeled back, curved back, turned back? No to the beginning (when things might have been changed and time’s cursed lifted), but to that moment in the Mohaine Desert when he had finally understood that his thoughtless, questionless quest would ultimately succeed?' 

I took that to mean that he was always sent back to the point of no return, that he was far enough into his quest that he would no longer turn back or away from it. Why then would this version of Roland be anything other than single-mindedly looking for that which he has been looking for since he left Gilead for the last time?  And he basically says he’s abandoned his quest and that the world’s moved on and there’s nothing to be done? Book Roland would look movie Roland right in the eye and tell him he’s forgotten the face of his father. And I agree. You can throw out all the excuses about the timeline and this being a continuation, but fucking up two of the most basic parts of Roland’s personality are unforgivable to me and the biggest issues I have with this movie. Perhaps this makes me an insufferably pedantic purist, but these are crucial character elements, as important to the character of Roland as those big, sandalwood-grip guns he carries. 

I'll get off my soapbox now

Overall, despite my issues with the film, it really isn’t bad. As I said, it’s fine. But I do wish it had been better. What did I want to see, then? Basically, I wanted the story of the books on the screen, I wanted the Gunslinger’s tale done with all the love and detail that Lord of the Rings had. I wanted to see Tull, it’s people, and the battle that took place there. I wanted to hear drunken, ragtime Hey Jude and meet the farmer, Brown, and his raven Zoltan. I wanted to see the waystation and the Slow Muties under the mountains and the sacrifice of Jake. I wanted the movie to start with the opening line, hear Jake say ‘Go then. There are other worlds than these’. They even use the last part of that line as a tagline on the poster, but never in the movie.

 I ran this by my non-fan source and he took that line very differently from someone who knows the meaning behind those words. And I realize that doing a faithful adaptation of the first book probably would have pushed it close if not into an R rating, and I get that they probably didn’t want to go there. I just wanted something more from this film, and I hope if they go forward with the myriad plans they have to continue this universe, that they actually do something with it. Because you know what else I want, later on? I want Eddie and Susannah, I want the ka-tet on screen, I want to see Blaine the Mono and Lud and Shardik the cyborg bear.

Sorry, giant cyborg bear

 If you’re going to make films in this world, give us this world. There’s so much there, don’t waste it.

In the end, would I recommend this film? Yeah. It’s a good time if a simple story. Idris Elba gets to be totally badass and awesome and Matthew McConaughey gets to be slimy and evil and it’s great that way. There’s the start of something good here, we just need to bring it out and really show the amazing world that Stephen King created for these characters to inhabit. I stand by my rating of 7.5/10. Just make the next one better.  

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Dark Tower Spoiler Free Review

Well, it’s finally here. The moment of truth. The Dark Tower is here. Due to work schedules we hit up the Thursday night screening, so we got to see the very first showing in our theater. That was pretty cool in itself; me and the other half, my fellow Dark Tower nerd sister, and our elder spawn whose namesake is the main character of this series. This was a big night, and some of us were quite nervous to see how it would turn out. How could we possibly flesh out a world with such dense lore and connection to so many other things and make a satisfying movie with only 95 minutes of runtime? Well folks, that’s what we’re here to talk about today. This is a spoiler-free review and I’m going to try and keep it a little more succinct than some of my other ones. Because this is The Dark Tower though, I will also be posting a second review which will be spoiler-heavy, lore-discussing, and hardcore nerdy. I’ll link that separately. So let’s get to it. 

First off, a word to anyone who has read the books. Don’t go into this expecting a direct adaptation of that story. Even Stephen King himself has said to think of this as a continuation of the story. Anyone who has read the whole series will understand what that means. For those who haven’t, I expect it won’t make much of a difference either way. I’m just putting it out there as someone who has been reading this series so long I don’t actually remember when I started. I know I say something like that for seemingly every review, but much like Spider-Man, The Dark Tower is something very, very close to my heart at a level most fandom-things simply can’t reach. I just like to put my biases up front. 

Let’s start with the cast. A lot of people were up in arms about Idris Elba’s casting as the Gunslinger. And yes, he might not look the way Roland is described in the book. 

which is more like this

You know what though, he is damn fine in this role. He brings Roland to life. I feel that character in his mannerisms, in his speech, and how he carries himself. It is absolutely all there. As soon as I heard Matthew McConaughey’s casting as The Man in Black, I was sold. And he is just as good as I thought he’d be. He’s every bit as vicious and slimy and calculating, and almost charming as I’d hoped without becoming goofy. I didn’t know anything about Tom Taylor before this but I really enjoyed his performance as Jake Chambers. There’s a great potential for growth in his character in later installments (should they be made) and it will be interesting to see how he goes forward and if the trajectory is similar to the books, because there were hints of that. The rest of the cast does a really good job too with some familiar characters, and some new ones as well. It’s a big positive from me. The action was really fun as well, and Roland got some amazingly badass scenes where you really see the gunslingers of old come to life. 

I did also like the look of the movie a lot. When you’re combing genres like this, the way the world looks makes a big impact on that. Mid-World (Roland’s world) is post-nuclear-apocalypse in which that apocalypse was so long ago that the remnants of the people have rebuilt and anything remaining of the old world are ancient ruins, their purposes often forgotten. And it looks really cool. We do also spend time in New York, but it looks like a city so there’s not really much to say about it. I want to see more of Mid-World, and hopefully some familiar places later on down the road because this movie really does look fantastic. I would comment about the score that goes with it, but to be honest, I don’t remember anything from the score. Maybe I was too busy looking for nods to the books and other Stephen King works (of which there are several), but the score just wasn’t memorable. 

like this nod from the trailers

As I said earlier, the story doesn’t exactly follow the book(s). I’d made my peace with that, so I tried to take this film as its own thing. The story is interesting, sort of a combination of elements from the books told in a bit different way. So while that wasn’t a bad thing itself, it was really… condensed. As I said, this movie was 95 minutes. It should have been at least two hours. I hate to say it dumbed things down, but that’s kinda what it did. If they continue, I’d like to see them expand on both the lore and the world more, because it really is a fascinating thing that Stephen King created with Mid-World. I’d hate to see all that incredible story go to waste. On the flip side of that, if it had gone too deep then maybe we’d have too much of a Warcraft issue where it was too alienating of people unfamiliar with the source material. We did get some good nods and callbacks and hints along the way that set up things really well, they just need to act on that going forward. 

Okay, so the cons. I already outlined my first issue above, in that it was too short and too much of the world glossed over. There is one thing, and it would really only be a problem for fans, so take that however you will but it is my biggest issue. There are a couple of things that Roland says that I just can’t forgive. They are just so egregiously out of character. I don’t know why they decided to go that route, but if there was anything I actively disliked about this movie, it was those couple of things where Roland wasn’t Roland. Again, if you know nothing about the series, it probably wouldn’t be an issue. I’m going to do deeper into all of this in the spoiler review, if you’re interested. 

In conclusion, The Dark Tower was actually better than I feared it would be. The cast was excellent and everything looked great. I had a few story issues, but it wasn’t nearly the worst thing in the world, and I thought it was better than a lot of the buzz I’m hearing. Would I have rather seen a loving, page-for-page adaptation of the book like a sci-fi/western/fantasy Lord of the Rings? Absolutely, but that’s not what we got. I hope we can only get better from here and grow it into the epic tale that it is and deserves to be on the big screen. One can only hope. So would I recommend it? Yes, but with caveats. It really is good, but it’s not great the way it should have been and I hope they can improve if this goes forward.