The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower

Idris Elba is the last of the gunslingers fighting to protect “The Dark Tower”.

When the credits began to roll at the end of The Dark Tower, I found myself eager to start reading the books. Sadly, it was not because the movie intrigued me (far from it). Instead, I need now to know if, during the process from page to screen, something was lost in translation (if not much more).

I can safely assume the book has valuable source material (I mean, it is Stephen King we are talking about), so how can a movie like The Dark Tower crumble so? First off, I could hardly accept Matthew McConaughey (undoubtably talented) as Walter (or, as he is known, the man in black). It is true that a lot of villains need a certain “charm” (think of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the MCU), but the notes don’t strike the right tone for McConaughey. He is just too likable a guy, I think. His Walter is out to destroy The Dark Tower, which will allow monsters into the universe. The only thing standing in his way (along with his almost superfluous team of…I will just call them geeks for the sake of time) is the last gunslinger, Roland (Idris Elba). Roland is able to fend off Walter’s magic (unlike Roland’s father, a small part played by big talent Dennis Haysbert), and also stumbles upon a new player, the young Jake (Tom Taylor). Jake is having dreams of the gunslinger and the man in black, but his mom (Katheryn Winnick) and step dad (Nicholas Pauling) feel he is just losing it after the death of his father.

Any movie that is adapted from other written material always has two audiences to play to: those that have experienced the written work, and those that haven’t. Perhaps the biggest mistake that The Dark Tower makes is that it focuses more on the former audience members and not the latter ones. Movies are always better at entertaining than they are informing us. In the case of The Dark Tower, it has neither going for it.

Parents, there are some parts of violence and swearing (no sex or nudity), so I would say middle school and up would be ok.

I walked away feeling sorry for those who made the movie, from director Nikolaj Arcel and young star Tom Taylor (who does seem to do ok as a young actor) to screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who has done worse…cough, Batman & Robin!, cough!) Still, I feel the audience deserves the most of the apologies, because they could have seen something new and exciting, but got something bland, convoluted, and uninspired.

 

Overall: One and a Half Stars * 1/2

The Shining (1980)

The Shining

Danny (Danny Lloyd) comes across the creepiest cinema twins in history.

“A big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside.”

This is how author Stephen King has described the Stanley Kubrick film version of The Shining. Of course, not all movies based off of movies will make the author happy (like P.L. Travers, who strongly disliked the Disney version of her literary character Mary Poppins).  Still, this review is coming from someone who has not (as of now) read the original material. I saw the film first around the age of twelve, not knowing it was based on a book. From that perspective, I found it terrifying.

The story is rather well-known: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former teacher who takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd), in his only screen performance) to the Overlook Hotel to be the caretakers for five months. A (somewhat) recovering alcoholic, Jack is determined to being secluded in order to help finish his writing. He is so optimistic he does not seem to mind that one of the former caretakers butchered his family before killing himself, or that the hotel was built on an indian burial ground.

The other element being brought to the stay at the Hotel is the peculiar Danny, who has the ability to “shine” (see the future, and read the minds of others who can do the same). The only other we see who can do this is the Hotel’s cook, Hallorann, (Scatman Crothers). It is he who informs Danny (as well as us) nothing good resides from room 237 (more on that later).

There is one thing that King does say positive about the movie, and that is the visual appeal. This is no real surprise, as the movie was directed by film icon Stanley Kubrick (known to be as much a perfectionist as anyone behind the camera). If you were to choose any shot from The Shining and say it was your “choice”, it would be hard to argue regardless of what it was. Whether it is Jack in the doorway shouting his famous “Heeere’s Johnny!”, any visuals of the hedge maze, the long unblinking stare of Jack, the red bathroom, the elevator full of blood, or the hallway showing the creepiest twins in film history.

“Come play with us Danny.”

Chills.

Parents, it should come as absolutely no surprise that this film is not for kids. Besides the obvious creepy scenes and swearing, there is one main scene of nudity that does take place in room 237 (as well as some nude pictures, and a brief scene in a bed room that is far more creepy than sexual). In other words, unless you have the most mature middle schooler, High School and above.

Perhaps if I do read the original book, I will be able to see more of what King dislikes about the movie (he did not approve of the casting of Nicholson or Duvall). The movie came out with mixed reviews, so much so that it got two Razzie nominations: Duvall for worst actress and (believe it or not) Kubrick for worst director (you read it right). Time, of course, is always the best judge of movies, and The Shining still stands as one of the best horror films. It has layers that can keep being peeled away (the ending is for sure going to raise questions upon every viewing) and you still are not sure what to expect. Anytime a movie does that, it is something special.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

IT (2017)

IT

Let the floating begin…

After the month of August has given an overall let down for theater goers, how refreshing is it that the movie to bring the experience of big screen ecstasy is not only a horror movie, but a remake? Well, you cannot deny IT.

Based off the book from Stephen King, IT is one film to satisfy not only fans of the horror genre, but those who think they don’t like horror films as well. It relies not just on the villain (whom Bill Skarsgard plays beautifully) but the idea of him as well. The film starts off with the death of a young boy months before the summer of 1989. We meet his older stuttering brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and some of his friends, including Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), who spews one liners like a pro, and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), preparing for his bar mitzvah. There are other new kids as well that are adding to the “Losers”: Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a social outcast with a good heart, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), who is homeschooled, and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), with her own troubles at home.

I had flash backs of another great Stephen King adaptation, Stand by Me (1986), while watching IT. If you cannot appreciate the horror aspect of this film, then you will certainly love the coming of age aspect. Ah, the middle school days, when guys acted tough, swearing all the time, and noticing the female body. All of that (and more) is played to perfection thanks in part to the perfect young cast (all of whom are mainly unknown to me, except for Wolfhard, who plays Mike in Netflix’s Stranger Things).

Like all wonderful horror movies, IT has a collage of breathtaking beauty. Consider a scene towards the end, when one character is waking up on the ground, and it almost looks like they are in a glass bottle. There is also a bathroom sequence that, while I will not spoil it, is destined to be one of the most talked about horror scenes of all time. Blood never looked so gorgeous, and I cannot credit director Andy Muschietti enough.

Perhaps what Muschietti does best is trust the intelligence of the audience. He keeps the perfect pace so that we (or at least those like me who never saw the original with Tim Curry) are figuring everything out as the characters are.

Parents, it is clear the movie is rated R for violence/gore and lots (and I mean lots) of children swearing (there is one scene where the kids, including Beverly, do go swimming in a quarry, wearing nothing but underwear.  Still, I noticed a few young people (no younger than 9 or 10) in the audience I was at. I guess it is up to you, but, if it were my kid, I would say middle school and up.

 

Admittedly, I must say the movie did start off a bit slow for me after the opening scene, but I gradually eased in to what is surely one of 2017’s best films. Two things went through my mind as I left the theater. The first was that I need to reevaluate my list of the top ten movies based on Stephen King novels (IT is not the best, but is surely up there). The second is that, if they start working on a sequel, I would personally not mind waiting another twenty-seven years.

I am sure Pennywise would agree.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2