Archive for the 'movie review' Category

08
Aug
17

Movie Review: All Reviews Lead to the ‘Tower…’

Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Jackie Earle Haley, and Tom Taylor.

Directed by Nicolaj Arcel

Every now and then you have to divorce what you know of the source material from the movie that you are watching. “Total Recall?” Not incredibly difficult. “Minority Report?” The movie fares better than original story. “I Am Legend?” Aside from the first part of the novel it’s fairly divorced. Like the movies of old where a director (like, say, Hitchcock) would by a novel just on its premise, not bother reading it, hand it off to the screenwriter to churn out a screenplay, then release the movie as a “based on the book by…” ‘The Dark Tower’ does that but goes about an extra half-mile. To sum it up: imagine having a friend take notes on the ‘Dark Tower’ series of novels. Then, you hand those notes to another friend who wants to answer the question, “What would this be about told from a supporting character’s point of view?” That would be the basis of this film.

If you have not read the novels, the movie isn’t entirely to be missed; it does have some entertainment value and it wasn’t done badly. If you have read the novel and its series, then this may reaffirm your fears. NOTE: I will try my best to “divorce” myself from the book series as much as possible in this review.

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a kid growing up in modern day New York City. His father was a firefighter who was killed on the job and he’s being raised by his mother and stepfather, both of whom are somewhat concerned about Jake’s current preoccupation: a giant Tower. A Man In Black (who isn’t Johnny Cash). A Gunslinger. Jake sketches and draws these dreams and visions that he’s been having for the past year. But what do they all mean?

Cut to a place called Mid-World. It’s a place that is part fog-covered forest, part desert, and part-wasteland (there’s an abandoned amusement park with overgrowth). Wandering this expanse is the Gunslinger (Elba) who is looking for vengeance for the death of his father (Dennis Haysbert) who was killed by Walter O’Dim, aka the Man In Black. Walter O’Dim is a sorcerer with tech-assist – he can transport himself anywhere, make people obey his commands, and see everything that’s going on except he has no sway over the Tower. The Tower is a hulking monolith with multiple wires that protects all the “good” in the Universe. It is said that it can be torn apart by the mind of a child which brings us to Walter’s preoccupation of using children’s “shine” (read: psychic powers) to assault the Tower with their energy. Shots are fired but nothing can seemingly take it down.

Via a homeless guy Jake finds out he may just be the kid that can accomplish that. Following failed meetings with a psychiatrist (Jose Zuniga) Jake’s parents are planning on sending him away to a place where he can be CAT-scanned, interviewed, tested, etc. only problem is that the ones wanting to take him are “skins” – mutants from Mid-World sent by Walter himself to find the one kid that can help destroy the Tower and bring a fiery destruction to not just our world, but all worlds. Chasing his “dreams” (and evading the “skins”) Jake finds a house that has a portal straight into Mid-World. Jake steps through, wanders the vast nothingness, then happens upon the Gunslinger.

What follows is essentially the structure of “man on a vengeance” meets “the kid who is The One.” This, ultimately, is what undoes the movie for us die-hard Tower junkies. Those wanting a movie about Roland Deschain are left with the scraps that they gave Elba to play. Don’t get me wrong – Elba did a way better job than I imagined he would but they kept his character in a box only to be used in event that Jake needed help. If you’ve read any of the series you know that it’s not about Jake, but Roland. Try imagine a Batman movie centered on Robin and you’d get the picture. McConaughey shines as the Man in Black/Walter O’Dim however the character in the book was more about treachery, illusion, and trickery than being technologically savvy, using kidnapped children’s psychic powers to destroy the Tower.

Therein lies the problem with the film – what audience should it have catered to? With a more massive following among Tower junkies this film comes up way short. Sure, there are references to “Christine,” and other horror novels King has done as well as the number 19, the Ka-tet symbol, “All Hail the Crimson King,” the “skins,” etc. Again, it’s like someone wanted to throw the entire book series into a blender and make the best of what was poured out first.

When I heard about this film being done, first with J.J. Abrams then with Ron Howard, I was onboard. Seeing what they’ve done to it… I don’t know if I can forgive them of it. There are multiple movies that can be made from the series, for sure, but boiling down the main story from elements in the series (the house in “The Drawing of the Three,” sketching from “The Dark Tower” itself, the black crystal ball from “Wizard and Glass,” etc.) this isn’t even a “greatest hits” of themes from the Tower series, just laziness structured into a “child who is the One who can save us all” story arc. If I were Roland, I would give up on Walter and seek vengeance on that.

My grade: (all things considered) C

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14
Dec
16

#33. The Wild Bunch (1969)

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Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O’Brien

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

The Short, Short Version:

Holden is Pike, an Old West gang leader living in a time coming to a close. After a small-town bank heist is found to be a setup him and his gang (Borgnine, Johnson, Oates among them) make their way to Mexico. On their trail is Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former gang member who worked with Pike before being captured. Now in the employ of the railroad Thornton has 30 days to capture Pike using a ragtag group of come-alongers interested in the money. Pike strikes a deal with a Mexican General named Mapache for a load of 16 guns. Pike must keep his own crew together while getting the guns and not getting caught by Thornton. However, the General has some plot twists of his own…

Why This Made the Top 40:

I remember first buying the DVD from a Wal-Mart rack in Carbondale, IL while being in school there. One of my friends, Jason H., was emphatic. “There are like 300 Mexicans that die in one scene alone! It’s the bloodiest movie ever made.” I took it back to my dorm room, threw the disc into my computer, and watched it from my computer screen. Loved it. The final showdown scene was everything he said it was.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the film and now I have a 4k TV. Plasma aside, Warner Bros. did a great job transferring the film to blu-ray. For the most part it looks amazing. Sure, sometimes the excessive clouds of dust and smoke seem a little flat but overall the deep focus of the film makes it feel vibrant. One could complain about this and the sound being a little flat but it was a product of its time. Maybe one day it’ll all be cleared up but until then this transfer is a good enough one.

As for the film itself it turned me onto more of Peckinpah’s work. I almost considered “Major Dundee” and “Straw Dogs” but in the end I came back to “The Wild Bunch.” I do also recommend “The Getaway.” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” not so much.

14
Dec
16

#34. THX 1138 (1971)

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Starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, and Maggie McOmie

Directed by George Lucas

The Short, Short Version:

It’s some point in the future and everyone has a shaved head, wears white, and is on drugs for everything to avoid human emotion. THX 1138 (Duvall) repairs androids and lives with a female roommate LUH (McOmie), who switches some of his pills for hers. The result is a spiral from them having sex and being caught, to a “watcher” named SEN (Pleasence) trying to force THX to be his roommate, to LUH being pregnant, to THX being “taken away” to stay with other “undesirables.”

Why This Made the 40:

I have always wanted to watch this movie. While in film school at SIU-C I had viewed the original student-film version, “Electronic Boutique,” which I thought was interesting. This seems as if first-time director Lucas was taking jabs at California culture or maybe prophecizing Big Pharma. Either way it’s an interesting treatise on societal disconnection not unlike “Brave New World.”

I watched the “Director’s Cut” version and from what I can tell as compared to the original there are more effects that Lucas tried to “blend in” with what he shot at that time. It makes for a funky looking film, but not in a bad way. It’s not the greatest sci-fi movie you’ll watch but it’s not the worst either.

11
Dec
16

#35. Hero (2002)

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Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung

Directed by Zhang Yimou

The Short, Short Version:

Set in the time before the Great Wall of China, Jet Li is the Nameless Man who’s not too different than Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name.” China is divided into seven warring factions and Nameless approaches the Emperor Qin claiming his victories over master fighters Broken Sword, Sky, and Flying Snow. Upon speaking with Qin he relays the stories of how he beat all three. What we’re then treated to is three stories about how it all went down. The real reason behind the assassinations and Qin’s fate unravel as the tales unfold.

Why This Made the 40:

I had never watched it before this week. I remember someone saying that I would like it, giving it to me, and I can’t remember who. Did I like it? Sure. I think I didn’t watch it when it came out due to thee fact that I’m just not a big person on fantasy stories; kinda pick-and-choose. I did go to a theatre and watch, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and wasn’t really all that impressed. It looked nice but too much “wire-fu” and the story wasn’t all that great. Again, my opinion.

This time around being removed from the early aughts wire-fu movement I can say that I enjoyed the film. It pays homage to a few other films you may know. I mentioned earlier that Li’s character reminded me of the old Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood character. Aside from that there are a few references back to Kurasowa’s, “Rashomon,” in story structure and the fight with Broken Sword. At one point in the film (minor spoiler) a calligraphy teacher’s in a building being hit by multitudes of arrows. He commands his students to stay in their places as he is. Sitting cross-legged on the floor arrows fly around him much like the retired Emperor in, “Ran.” I’m sure there are several more references in this film.

Again, I’m not a huge fan of Asian cinema but every now and then there’s one I like. For it’s breathtaking scenery and mis en scene, “Hero,” is an incredibly beautiful movie. I actually went looking for it on Blu-ray as I only have the DVD version which is constantly grainy/pixelated. The one advantage to having the DVD version is that the original Mandarin Chinese 5.1 DTS sound mix is incredible while the video is, unfortunately, lackluster. Meanwhile the word is that the Blu-ray looks incredible while unfortunately the DTS 5.1 mix is the English dubbed version. Apparently, it’s one or the other…

08
Dec
16

#36. The Tragedy of MacBeth (1971)

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Starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, and Terence Bayler.

Directed by Roman Polanski

The Short, Short Version:

Finch is MacBeth, the Scottish Thane of Glam who happens upon three witches who tell him that he’ll be the new Thane of Cawdor as well as the King of Scotland. Next thing he knows he IS the Thane of Cawdor as well but once King Duncan’s son Malcolm is crowned Prince MacBeth is less about redemption and more about retribution as he kills Duncan and becomes King. Following the Despot’s Guide to Complete Rule he sets to murder anyone else who may be able to claim the throne from him. One last trip to the witches gives him the prophecy, “… till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane,” which boggles and infuriates him but faster than you can say, “Ides of March,” MacBeth is overturned and beheaded.

Why This Made the 40:

In what also feels a lifetime ago it was a pick by my high school senior English teacher, Mr. Gleaves. Usually Shakespeare’s stuff feels stilted (c’mon… how many times do you use “thane,” or “thee,” or thou sayest?” without some sense of mockery?) but watching it on a 13” TV suspended from the ceiling I was transfixed. This was what Shakespeare was at its core – dark, bloody, gritty, dirty, and violent. I would later happen upon the reason for that – Polanski directed the movie following the murder of his wife, model Sharon Tate. For those of you who don’t know Polanski was in a relationship with Tate who, on a certain fateful night, became a victim of slaying by the followers of Charles Manson. Manson sent his followers to a house that was initially owned by a certain record producer who Manson wanted dead but was since sold to another person. Manson’s followers didn’t know the difference and murdered everyone there. Polanski, grief-stricken, decided to plunge himself back into his work. Playboy owner and founder Hugh Hefner, feeling sorry for the death of Tate, assisted in bankrolling/producing the movie. Polanski’s hurt, anger, pain, and rage are reflected in the film and, knowing that, gives a context to the violence on screen. I recommend this film not as a celebration of a tragedy but as a darkly personal catharsis wrapped in a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not the grass on the ground but the dirt and worms underneath. Forget any of the Hammer film sets or anything Kenneth Branagh put out – this is the must watch.

08
Dec
16

#37. Rio Bravo (1959)

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Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, and Angie Dickinson

Directed by Howard Hawks

The Short, Short Version:

John Wayne is John T. Chance, sheriff of an old West town who, with the help of his deputy and drunken friend “Dude” (Dean Martin) locks in jail local bad guy Pat Wheeler (Bond). Unfortunately Wheeler is part of the Burdette gang which all but runs the town. While they plot Pat’s escape it’s up to Chance and the Dude along with an older, crippled deputy named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a young gunslinger named Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) to “hold the fort” at the jail until Federal Marshals can arrive.

Why This Made the 40:

In what feels like an eon ago I had a film class called Film as Literary Art which was taught by a British guy named Tony Hawk. I can still remember how distinct his voice was. That aside, our syllabus covered the films of Howard Hawks and this made the class (as well as Wayne’s, “Hitari!”). While I only became a moderate fan of Hawks’ work I did come away with movies I greatly appreciated such as “Rio Bravo.”

I think one of the reasons I like, “Rio Bravo,” so much is that I’m a sucker for tales of redemption. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whom I let borrow films and I didn’t realize that was an underlying theme – redemption. The characters have to all redeem themselves in some way – Dude goes from being an alcoholic to sober to clean himself out and up. Colorado Ryan and Stumpy want to prove their worth. John Chance gets another chance at love. Redemption.

Also, Hawks treated “Rio Bravo” not as a Western movie but a hybrid between the morally-conscious prior films such as “High Noon,” and TV Westerns such as “Maverick,” “Lawman,” etc. It’s entertainment with action, adventure, romance, suspense, and comedy – one of those rare blended-films of the genre which makes this movie actually fun to watch. It’s a half-popcorn, half-morality tale cinematic adventure.

And it’s got Dino (Martin). What’s not great about this movie?

06
Dec
16

#38. Carlito’s Way

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Starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Leguizamo.

Directed by Brian De Palma

Short, Short Version:

It’s notably the Eighties and former “J.P. Morgan of the smack business” gangster Carlito Brigante (Pacino) has his 30-year sentence overturned via his lawyer Kleinfeld (Penn) proving that the police conducted illegal investigations on him. “Free at last!” Brigante espouses his renewed faith in the world and swears he’ll never go back to what he did before. Problem is that the rest of his social circle doesn’t feel that’s the right move to make. The story of one man’s quest for redemption comes to the conclusion that sometimes you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out.

Why this made the 40:

Aside from being in my favorites category the film is literally in my Top Ten Favorite Films of All Time. Sure, Pacino may be a stretch for being Cuban however the film is done so well you forget about that idea. Brigante enters as a flawd character trying to do the straight and narrow – invest on a friend’s car sales business in the Florida Keys. As he tries redeeming himself to society and keeping out of jail he finds himself dragged back into the thick of it: his best friend/lawyer Kleinfeld (who has now turned into a gangster himself) not only enlists him to help dispose of some guys yet also offers him to the D.A. on trumped-up drug charges. His second-in-command at the club he winds up owning sells him out to another up-and-coming gangster, Benny Blanco (Leguizamo). The girlfriend he broke up with 6 years ago is dancing at a high-end strip club (surprise!) and they get back together. For everything he’s trying to do right by not doing anything at all everything goes wrong. Call it fatalism.

I’ve enjoyed De Palma’s work: “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Scarface,” “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Femme Fatale,” etc. While being more of a “modern Hitchcock,” De Palma crafts interesting moments of drama and action while sneaking in the style (except for “Dressed to Kill,” which is pretty much a Hitchcock film in its own right). In the case of “Carlito’s Way,” as Penn’s Kleinfeld becomes more and more coke-addled/insane, the camera takes on more and more “Dutch angles.” De Palma also goes the extra mile and does 360-degree movement around the characters while doing Dutch angles (I don’t know of any other instance of this) thus heightening paranoia. Also of note: the scene where Kleinman is going to Riker’s Island Barge and the camera pulls back as he’s walking alone is a very Hitchcockian shot.

From it’s one-liners (“Favor’s gonna kill you faster than a bullet,” “You think you’re big time? You’re gonna fuckin’ die, big time!”) to the shots to the script (David Koepp) to its actors, “Carlito’s Way” is a helluva movie all-around and not just my favorite De Palma but one of my faves overall.