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. 


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Atomic Blonde Spoiler Free Review

Look at me, back again with more movie reviews! There’s always a busy time of the year when it seems like there’s a new movie we want to see every week, and it seems like this is that time. Today we’re going to talk about another one that I was really excited for: Atomic Blonde, which is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City. No spoilers ahead, so let’s jump right in. 

I’d like to start by saying how much I am loving all the kickass ladies we’ve been getting this year. As someone who likes movies in the comic book and action genres (among others), it’s great to see some awesome female characters. Real characters, not a sexy sidekick/sidechick/damsel in distress. Laura/X-23 and Diana/Wonder Woman have been two of the biggest ones so far, and now we have Lorraine Broughton. We need to keep making this happen, folks! 

Anyway, on to the movie. Atomic Blonde is directed by David Leitch, co-director of the first John Wick film, director of the upcoming Deadpool 2, and a veteran of stunt work and stunt coordinating. So that sounds pretty cool on paper, right? Well, it’s also pretty frickin’ cool on screen too. I had so much fun with this movie and there’s a lot I want to talk about. 

Okay, I’m going to talk about the soundtrack first, given that it’s the thing mentioned most often in my notes. The story is set in the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, so the music is all appropriately, gloriously, egregiously 80’s dance/pop. I loved it so much. I mean, it also served to set up the time period and the locations really well, too. I’m not going to sell it short in that regard. The soundtrack is fantastic, there’s not much else to say. 

Also fantastic is the cast. Charlize Theron is ferocious in this movie as Broughton, a veteran MI6 agent. She’s amazing to watch, whether she’s taking down a whole crew of baddies in a stairwell, or talking to her superiors back in London. No one else in the cast is slouching, either. James McAvoy is another fascinating watch in this, as are Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Bill Skarsgard (who we’ll see later on this year as Pennywise the Clown), among others. 

I kept wondering why he looked so familiar

In a film like this, the big question is the action, which is warranted given how central it is to the genre. For how slick the film looks, the fights are dragged-out and dirty in comparison. It’s not pretty fighting, stylish yes, but no fancy flips or kicks or outlandish stuff. John Wick was 95% headshots, Atomic Blonde is mainly hand-to-hand, often using whatever is available as a weapon. It’s not overly gory or graphic (there’s only one instance I can think of where someone’s brain matter repainted a wall), but it doesn’t skimp either. And even better, there’s no tropey wounds either. Lorraine doesn’t end up with the fashionable cheek cut, or any of that crap. In one particularly nasty fight, both her and her opponent are legitimately bruised, bloody, and exhausted by the end. When do you see that? People actually getting realistically tired and hurt in a fight? Not often enough. 

something like this.

In conclusion, go see Atomic Blonde. Think of it as a James Bond story with a John Wick look. It has a fascinating setting, a story I’m purposely not talking about to avoid spoiling all the twists and turns, and a great cast. Its super fun and I definitely recommend it. 


PS: the reviews don’t stop here. We are T-minus 2 days until The Dark Tower. So, for good or ill, expect a review for that sometime not long after!