Friday, August 18, 2017

Logan Lucky: Redneck Robbers Stage An Ocean's 7-11

Steven Soderberg is one of those directors whose name you hear and think about all his artsy, froofy, indie movies that sometimes win awards, but aren't very crowd-pleasing. I'm talking about films like Sex, Lies & Videotape, The Limey, Erin Brokovich, Traffic, Full Frontal, Solaris, The Good German, The Girlfriend Experience, and Side Effects. You don't (well, I mean, I don't...) associate him with summer movie popcorn fare and/or comedies. But, then you forget that he directed the Ocean's Eleven franchise, Contagion, and Magic Mike. He'd "retired" from directing for the last three years and has made his return with Logan Lucky... which is essentially just like Ocean's Eleven except replace all of the smooth-talking, slick-looking, suave participants in the heist and replace them with five rednecks who couldn't even spell the word 'suave'. A lot of the elements that made the Ocean's movies so fun are recycled for this film, yet somehow... and this truly does take a talented director working with a good writer and a terrific cast to do... it feels fresh and original.

Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a hard-working, blue collar, single dad with a gimp knee. His brother, Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), is a soft-spoken bartender with one arm... excuse me, hand. Their sister, Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), is a caring, trailer-trash hairdresser with a much higher IQ than she's willing to reveal to the world. Together the three of them live their simple lives separately just trying to make ends meet. Jimmy spends his off time with his young daughter... when he's allowed visitation from his ex-wife (Katie Holmes). Clyde humbly tends bar operating under the notion that their entire family suffers from the "Logan Curse"-- one that his caused Jimmy's bum knee to get him fired from a construction job and Clyde to, well, have one arm... excuse me, hand. After finding out that Jimmy's ex-wife is going to be moving with her new husband across state lines and taking his daughter with her, he realizes he needs to do something quick to make himself some cash. This is where the idea of a redneck heist comes into play (the motivation here for the robbery is kind of murky... it's like he needs the money for his daughter, but it's also like something he's always wanted to do just for shits and giggs). After convincing his brother and sister to be players in the heist, they need one last piece of the puzzle-- an ex-con, currently in-car-cer-a-ted, named Joe Bang (a hilariously scene-stealing Daniel Craig). Together they, and Bang's dim-witted brothers, decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a packed NASCAR race.

The plot of this movie could've easily turned into a Larry the Cable Guy Netflix vehicle under the guise of a lesser filmmaker, but Soderberg and newcomer writer Rebecca Blunt, have crafted a very intelligent, very fun, very funny film with some of the most simpleminded Southern characters since O Brother Where Art Thou. Though these characters look like you wouldn't be able to penetrate their thick skulls with the sharpest of hammers, the plan that they enact is smart and creative, and the twists and turns of the heist are just as fun as any Ocean's film. What's great is that the movie is so down-to-Earth, it almost pierces the soil. Unlike the Ocean's films that use multi-million dollar, highly technological equipment to get their score... the Logan clan use the most rudimentary of tools to enact their robbery (things like stolen construction equipment, cockroaches, baked goods, bleach, jumpsuits, "borrowed" dealer cars, and gummy bears [yes, gummy bears are integral to the heist]). The creativity of the planning and the characters themselves enacting said plan is some of the most fun I've had watching a movie since Baby Driver.

A clever script, offbeat directing, and the genre bending of taking a heist movie and putting it in the hands of these numbskulls isn't all that makes the movie work... it's the cast. There are a LOT of recognizable faces in this film from Seth MacFarlane to Katherine Waterston to Dwight Yoakam to Sebastian Stan to Hillary Swank. But it's our leads who really drive the film. Channing Tatum is still enjoying the fruits of his Step Up career turnaround (thanks largely, in part, to Soderberg's Magic Mike as well as the 21 Jump Street franchise). He's less a six pack with a voice, and now a lovable bundle of abs (actually... he got a little pudgy for the film). Then, there's also Adam Driver. I'm not a fan of Girls. I thought his "comedic" timing was severely off in This Is Where I Leave You and he's serviceable in Star Wars. But the dude has very much won me over with his performance that's so understated and hilarious I kept waiting for him to just outright say, "Everett... my beard itches." Finally, Daniel Craig, with his strange-sounding, but equally hilarious southern drawl kills it as Joe Bang, the wild card of the group, who, in most instances, appears like he could go insane at any minute, but keeps you on your toes with his high-pitched giggles and "science" abilities.

Really, the only problems I had with the film were very small. I felt like it took a little too long to get going. I didn't really understand WHY they needed to do the heist in the first place (the stakes were very low). I didn't understand why everyone in the movie had the same accent, but Seth MacFarlane had a strange British one. And the ending reveal is presented almost exactly as the reveal of the first Ocean's movie. That's about it. Taking extra time to get going just gives us a little bit more characterization, something that seriously lacks in most summer movies. The reason to pull the heist, while absent, somehow doesn't FEEL like it's necessary. They just kind of want to. MacFarlane's accent... who knows. It's out of place, but not egregiously so. And the ending, while a carbon copy, still works within the scope of this film as well. These are just nitpicky things I have to address, so that I sound like a legit critc.

Look, in the current political climate, and overall state of the world right now, we need movies like Logan Lucky for escape. They take us out of the nightmare we're in and distract us with good wholesome, enjoyable entertainment for two hours and remind us that there is some good in this world. I feel as though the movie is going to unfortunately fly under the radar this year, but it has everything: silly, yet smart characters, a great deal of heart, a heist, and a whole lotta laughs. It's a terrific film.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Annabelle: Creation: The Damn Doll Doesn't Move; The Movie's Okay Though

Let me give you the quick run-down of the Annabelle storyline in films that have led up to this one. My job as a critic (shut up... I know I don't get paid) as well as a film lover allows me to already know this information you may not be privy to. The Annabelle doll first showed up in The Conjuring. She showed up in the first five minutes of the movie in order to establish some sort of backstory for our ghost-hunting heroes. She's creepy... she just sits there... and winds up doing nothing at all for the entire movie. There's even a lingering shot of her at the end of the film where she does... again, nothing. Then, some executive asshole decided she was creepy enough to warrant her own film. So, we got Annabelle the movie. The movie was a cheap, poorly written, executed even worse, teen PG-13 schlock that wasn't even good enough to call "so bad it's good". In the movie, the Annabelle doll does so much nothing one might start to think it's not the doll that's haunted, but you know, literally anything else. Finally, Annabelle apparently made enough money it warranted a prequel to a prequel. Yet, this time, they actually hired a capable horror director (David F. Sandberg who directed last year's underrated Lights Out), did away with all the cheap PG-13 scares, grew a nut or two, and went for Conjuring-style R rated horror. And while the film is leaps and bounds more superior than its predecessor, guess what the running theme is of the movie, however... the goddamn doll doesn't do anything!

Here's the deal with Annabelle: Creation... it didn't need to be an Annabelle movie. The plot, the characters, the circumstances all have very little to do with the fucking doll that I'm now convinced the doll has just become a useless MacGuffin that's more of an inside joke between the filmmakers who want to see how many movies they can make about a doll that's as active in this film as a deaf mute is into the grunge scene (is there still a grunge scene?). You have to imagine that screenwriter Gary Dauberman had to realize he had nothing to write about. He's got a blank word document up on his screen and his inner monologue is like: "The doll doesn't do anything... how the hell do I make a horror movie?" Well, he found a way around it which is a much better standalone horror movie about a demon than it ever will be as an Annabelle film. We start with dollmaker guy, his wife, and young daughter. He makes the doll after his daughter's likeness... she gets hit by a car and killed... they become creepy humans 12 years later. They have offered up their large house to an orphanage for young girls. The dollmaker wife has been in some sort of undisclosed accident and is bedridden. Dollmaker is now an old, bearded, creepy lurker who bustles about the house with a chip on his shoulder. This is where shit starts to get weird. Our hero orphans: girl with a Polio leg, and her bff, start hearing noises, seeing doors and dumbwaiters open on their own, until finally the inanimate doll Annabelle starts showing up in random places to do absolutely nothing.

Turns out, the doll is just a conduit for a real demon. Dollmaker and wife thought that their daughter was trying to reach them from the beyond, asks permission to enter the doll, and they grant it. However, it was just a demon pullin the old dead-daughter-fake-out on these guys so he can collect souls and rip out eyeballs and shit. If you got rid of the doll and kept the story the same (seriously, it doesn't even need a "conduit" since said conduit participates as much as a guy with no arms in a high-fiving competition) it would be a much better standalone horror movie. But, we know in 2017 that giving the okay on an original horror movie is much riskier (apparently) than slapping a known title to it and calling it a prequel. Writer Dauberman was very creative in working around the doll problem and what ends up happening is a whirlwind of seriously dumb ideas mixed with some actually terrifying moments. Seriously, the last 35-40 minutes of the movie makes up for most of the incompetence of the first hour. There's some good stuff here.

First of all, it improves nearly every aspect that the first Annabelle movie failed at. They went for the actual terror instead of cheap scares. Yes, there are still the jump scares that feel cheap (and kind of are), but they also went for terror and unease and intensity that'll send your gut up into your throat. If you can overlook the jump scares and wait for that last 35ish minutes of the movie, it's genuinely going to creep you the hell out. There's also some pretty good child actors in here. Polio leg girl astounded me because she was one of the few who didn't sound like she was reading her lines off of cue cards and her bff, who was also in last year's surprisingly okay Ouija prequel, is also very good. Director David F. Sandberg also seems to be working in the right direction as far as getting his feet wet in the genre. Lights Out was a very capable horror movie and he ups the ante here with this film. He's very focused on sound, as well as the absence of it. Generally, there's not a lot of music, instead he focuses on amplifying little noises like a footstep or a creak or bell ringing instead of sharp violin noises or fists pounding on piano keys. He also doesn't try to use gore as a crutch. Yes, it's an R rated movie, and yes there are a couple of shocking images involving blood, but it's mostly what you don't see that scares the piss right out of you. There is a lot of good working in the back end of this movie. And there is plenty here to get you good and scared.

However, there is a LOT of dumb shit also. Immediately I noticed that, once again, we apparently just cannot write dialogue in horror movies anymore. This is just an impossibility unless your name is James Wan (director of The Conjuring films). And then there are the jump scares. I understand that we need to set a tone somehow and audible screams to horror filmmakers are as gold as laughs are to comedians, but they're cheap and they feel cheap. I think what really got me though were the rules of the movie. There's this demon on the loose frightening a few of the kids. Not all of them... just a few. The demon can move an inanimate doll, open doors, appear out of nowhere... but in the middle of a showdown it can't handle a locked door. We also have no idea what the demon wants. There's one (very laughable) scene where the demon changes from a small child to a dark-faced, yellow-eyed demon alerting the child that he wants "YOUR SOUL"! But, for what reason... I have no idea. At one point the demon is possessing one of the girls, then also possessing a scarecrow and attacking the other girls, but also appearing as his actual demon-self to another girl. Like... were there three demons? Can it clone itself? What does it actually want? And why can't it open a locked door or figure out how to work the rope of a dumbwaiter? If you can figure out a way not to focus on these lingering plot holes and open questions, you'll enjoy the film. And I can't stress this enough: it does get better the more it goes on. About 45 minutes into the movie I was convinced it was just another average, run of the mill, horror spin off cash grab that wasn't going to provide any of the terror my ticket was paid for. But it eventually did and won me over.

Let's be clear, though... the horror of the movie won me over. I have not, nor will I ever be won over by the goddamn focus of the film being the stupid Annabelle doll which strikes as much fear into your heart as a pug dressed up as the Easter Bunny (are my analogies getting through?!). It's almost frustrating that the studio has started to invest a lot of interest in expanding the Conjuring universe instead of funding more films to become the next Conjuring itself. The Nun from The Conjuring 2 is getting her own film next year (there is even a direct reference to the Nun in this film), and a third Conjuring film is also on its way down the line. We know we can't put a stop to it (though I figured with how bad the first Annabelle film was, that was going to be it... little did I realize how many shits Hollywood does not give when it comes to expanded universes), but at the very least if we can get skilled and competent directors like Sandberg who can emulate and possibly even elevate James Wan's previous works, then there is a bit of a silver lining. The doll is stupid, the movie has shades of dumb... but if you can wade through all of that... you're gonna have a good time.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Kidnap: Pulp Friction

What happened to Halle Berry??? She was an Oscar winner. She murdered it in Monster's Ball. She got in to X-Men. She was a Bond girl! Where did everything just kind of fall apart for her? Was it actually Catwoman? How was she not given more and more roles that showcased her talents as an actress, rather than trying to replicate the magic by way of a movie called Things We Lost in the Fire? I mean... do any of you actually know what this is:
That came out (apparently to theaters) five years ago. Me, the dude who studies IMDB like it's my last chance to pass the BAR exam before I give up being a lawyer and open an imitation Irish pub, had not heard of this movie. It's movies like that one, like The Call she was in a few years ago, and now... Kidnap. And while the movie isn't as excruciatingly bad as it looks like it could (should) be... it's still too dumb for a quality actress like Halle Berry. We need her to start picking up better roles again because we don't want what happened to Cuba Gooding Jr. to happen to her. 
From Oscar... to Dolph Lundgren... is a dark, dark path.
Kidnap was actually a lot different than I was expecting. One, because I hadn't seen a single trailer for it, just several billboards advertising the film. Second, because said posters suggested to me that it was a movie that should be going to On Demand, not theaters. What I expected from the film was Berry's kid is kidnapped, she tracks down the kidnappers and takes the law into her own hand. There is also the R-rated aspect of the movie, which gave me a smidge of hope that we'd get to see Berry dispensing her own kind of (ultra violent) justice. However... I was only kinda right. Berry plays Karla, a diner waitress who is going through a divorce - her ex-husband is fighting for sole custody - look... it doesn't matter. None of this matters in the rest of the movie. There are no more scenes/characters from the diner later in the film. There is no sudden appearance of the ex-husband. This, apparently, is what we like to call in the movie business as "character building"... even though we didn't need it at all. Anyway, Karla and her son Frankie are at the park when Karla gets a phone call, looks away for a minute, and Frankie is kidnapped by hillbillies. Karla sees them shoving Frankie into the back of their car and decides to chase them down in her soccer mom minivan. This is the entire movie, folks. Karla involved in a high speed pursuit of her son's kidnappers with no phone, no weapon and no plan of how to get him back. And it's actually better than it sounds. That, by no means, means it's good... but it's better than you'd expect.

Somehow, some way, the filmmakers involved in this film found several ways to keep this movie interesting. I wasn't hanging on the edge of my seat, but I also wasn't wanting to turn the movie off (I watched this movie on my laptop... there's no way in hell I was going to pay to see it, so let's clear that up right now). And though we do care enough about Karla and her little boy, and we do root for her to save him somehow (like, seriously... even if she gets the car to stop, how is she supposed to overpower these hillbillies and get her kid back?), there are some seriously questionable moments in the film. Without a plan, even though we're watching the "action" happening on screen, there's always that little thing in the back of your mind going: what the hell is she planning to do? Why haven't they just stopped the car and shot her? These questions are dealt with... not intelligently... but not unwisely. It's always strange to watch a movie and realize that what you're watching isn't good, but it also isn't terrible. 

The film is rated R. The MPAA rating states it earned this rating due to "violence and peril". Okay. As movie goers we pretty much know what to expect when we see a movie is PG-13 due to violence and when a movie is rated R due to violence. PG-13 might give you some quick shots of blood, but there will be absolutely nothing that even encroaches upon 'gory'. R will give you blood. R will give you bones snapping and dismembered body parts and pretty much anything violence-related. I legitimately don't know how Kidnap got an R rating. There is one use of 'fuck' (perfectly allowed in PG-13) and the "violence" in the movie is so tame even a PG rating wouldn't be out of the question (though the thematic material around it could elevate it to PG-13). The only blood involved in the film have to do with a few car crashes that cause... wait for it... scrapes and bruises. The MPAA apparently thought these scrapes were violent enough that only an audience of 17-year-olds and above could handle it. The 'peril' by the way... all happens off screen. I want to be able to say how unfair I think it is for this movie to get the PG-13 rating (Dunkirk is above and beyond more violent and has much more peril than this film) and how it's going to hinder sales... but it's not like very many people are going to see this movie anyway. However, the teenager demographic (who is really the only people that will probably enjoy this movie) has been almost entirely eliminated by the unjustifiable R rating. 

Look, Kidnap was never going to be a success. Halle Berry doesn't have the pull that she should have. And the plot of the film (as well as the rating) aren't going to convince the average moviegoer to see the film. But, where do you release the movie? It's a little bit too dumb to get a wide release into theaters, but it's not dumb enough to garner a straight-to-Redbox release. It's just one of those movies that would've been kind of fun to watch back in the 90s when they used to make those pulpy made-for-TV movies on random Friday nights. But in 2017... there's just no place for it. But, it's harmless. There will be moments you're invested in, and there will moments when you're screaming at the screen for Karla to do something more. That's about it. It's one of the most average movies I've ever watched. And those who are already dubbing it the worst movie of 2017 went into it wanting it to be so. I though it was going to be near the bottom of the 2017 totem, but it's so unbelievably average, when I wake up tomorrow morning I won't remember a thing about it. At least bad movies will stick with you for a long time. 


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Dark Tower: Perspective #1 - He Who Hath NOT Read The Books

There are two types of people who are going to see this movie - Type #1: Someone who has never read the books, but likes the trailer and/or Stephen King and/or the cast, especially the two leads Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, but knows very little about the actual story. Or Type #2: Someone who has read the books... all of them... probably multiple times... who is filled with joy that they FINALLY made an adaptation of one of the best (if not the actual best) series Stephen King has ever written.

I am Type #2.

Well... not exactly. I kinda read the first three books about fifteen years ago. Here's what I remember from them - I liked them because I read three of them. There is a Gunslinger named Roland. There is a Man in Black. There is a Dark Tower. That's it. So, I think I'm entitled to claim I'm in the Type 2 category. Most of you are aware of these facts. Hell, two of them are in the title. But I'm here to give you my take on the film as a movie fan only. I will not be (because I can't) giving you any breakdown of the movie vs. the book. My friend Matt will do that HERE..

So, I'm guessing your first question is this: is The Dark Tower as bad as critics are saying it is? I mean, as of this moment it stands at a putrid 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are Adam Sandler movies with higher scores. My answer is simply no. It is not even close to as bad as the word is spreading it to be. I personally thought the film was quite enjoyable and I have quite a bit of positive things to say about it. There are also some really terrible elements to the movie that I have quite a bit to say as well. But, let's wait just a second for that. For those who don't know, the film stars Elba as Roland, the Gunslinger, in a world outside of ours. He is given the task of protecting "The Dark Tower" which is exactly as it sounds... a huge, dark tower in the center of essentially every universe that keeps the world of demons out of every world. If the Dark Tower is ever destroyed, unspeakable evil will control everything. Roland is to make sure this never happens. Enter Walter, also known as the Man in Black, also known as Alright, Alright, Alright, also known as Matt McConaughey. He's essentially the Devil incarnate and he's out to make sure that the Dark Tower IS destroyed. It has been said (by who... I don't know) that only the mind of a child can destroy the Tower. So, he's out collecting kids to harness the power of their minds to destroy the Tower. Enter Jake, a "troubled kid" with visions of Roland and Walter, who has found his way through a portal to another world. Together, Jake and Roland must take down the Man in Black and save the universe. (Again, this is what I got from the movie's explanations... if I'm off, avid book readers, don't blame me.)

Elba is damn near perfect in this movie. He's a damn near perfect human being in general, but my guess is that fans of the book will all agree (I literally have zero evidence to back this up) that they have found the perfect Roland. He dominates every scene he's in, he's a magnetic action star with acting chops to boot, and a bit of stifled charisma that escapes every once in awhile through the stoicism. His chemistry with Jake, his fight sequences, his entire presence in the film is outstanding. If you're going to see the film for any reason, it should be to watch this man act. However, and this is actually more surprising than Elba being the perfect Roland, McConaughey is AWFUL. I am a big fan of MM. His performances in Mud and Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective and Interstellar and damn near anything he's made in the last seven years have been off the charts fantastic. But, his performance as the Man in Black is quite possibly the worst performance of his entire career (and I've actually seen Fool's Gold). One thing I've learned from this movie is that MM should never be a villain. He doesn't have the credibility for it. He's so much better as a leading man with his intensity mixed with that great southern charm. Here, he hams it up to a cartoonish level. You know in kids movies when they have the bumbling villains (like Blank Check or Power Rangers), he makes those guys look like Hans Landa. I kept waiting for the MM we know and love to shine through and defend that Best Actor award, but he kept doing the opposite. Everything was so over-the-top and muwahahaha-evil that it was unintentionally laughable. I can't lay the blame entirely on him, though. While a lot of the movie is very well-written and characters given decent depth... his lines of dialogue were abysmal. He's a sorcerer with the power to make anyone do anything he wants. So, instead of just waving his hand and a guy is on fire or waving his hand and having a guy aspirate... he actually has to say "BE ON FIRE" or "STOP BREATHING"! It's not scary... it's comical, and it shouldn't be.

But back to the positive. The film was very entertaining. For being a 95 minute PG-13 film, there were some excellent sequences. All of the shootouts were very fun and exciting to watch. There are a couple of scenes where it felt like a PG-13 John Wick. It's the combination of the badass character of the Gunslinger himself and just the badass nature of Elba's entire existence on this Earth. Jake, the kid, was also very good. You take a risk having a child protagonist (who normally comes off as annoying, not thrilling), but they found the right actor in Tom Taylor. The scenes with him and Roland are by far the best scenes of the film, and some of them are quite hilarious (intentionally). However, there isn't much original for Jake to do. He's a very powerful psychic, but doesn't know it. He's just the type of kid the Man in Black is looking for... kinda cliché. I genuinely thought they were going to tell us his midichlorians were off the charts. By doing this though, the film feels watered down. From what I've heard about The Dark Tower series... shit gets dark... like really dark. It's supposed to be very genre-bending and extremely gritty. Yet, this Dark Tower adaptation kinda felt like a YA Stephen King adaptation. Like not as YA as say Divergent... but not too far off. This threw me off a little bit. Yes, I get that we have to world build in the first film. We have to get a lot of information to understand the world and the rules surrounding it. But that doesn't mean we have to "teen" it down. The way I picture The Dark Tower working best is - watch the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 and pay attention to the shots of the desert wasteland. That is how you pull off gritty. That is how I imagine The Dark Tower is supposed to go. I don't want Stephenie Meyer's version.

Here's what I take from this film: it's like a decent pilot episode for a show I'm on the fence about. While it certainly has its many flaws (MM's acting, some CGI moments that looked really bad, some of the on-the-nose explanatory dialogue), I was still intrigued and I was still entertained. If this was the pilot to a show... I'm not turned off by it. I might be slightly annoyed, but I'm still running to watch episode two. If after episode two and three it's still heading toward mediocrity and away from greatness, I might turn it off... but as far as an intro, a pilot, is concerned... I'm definitely interested in watching more. The other thing I take away from it is I have definitely found my next book series to read. I've always been a fan of Stephen King's writing anyway (those of you who think he's niche and have anything negative to say about the man... you don't get good writing... the dude is a genius), but if nothing else I'm definitely reading the books. And while I know it's nearing the end of summer and most of us are heading back to work (if we haven't been working through summer anyway) and there's little to no time left to head to the movies, but if you're even a tad bit interested in checking this movie out, don't listen to RottenTomatoes on this one. Check it out. You'll still have a good time.


The Dark Tower: Perspective #2 - He Who Hath ACTUALLY Read The Books

 --Written by Guest Reviewer Matthew Martin-Hall

EDITOR'S NOTE: I asked Matthew (and he offered as well) to write a review from the perspective of someone who has read (and loves) The Dark Tower novels (as well as graphic novels) for those of you who have read them also, or would like a review from that perspective. I did not discuss my views of the film with him beforehand, and he did not discuss his views with me beforehand. Both reviews were written blindly of one another and published as-is. Enjoy!

First and foremost, I did not see the same film you did, nor was I under any illusion that I would. I have been around the Tower three times with Roland and his Ka-Tet, twice with the additional book The Wind Through the Keyhole and I have been long into his past up to the fabled last stand at Jericho Hill, by way of the graphic novel collection published by Marvel (Bleh...). I know this story better than most. That being so, I didn't come to the Tower on its Last Time Around (Ka is a wheel) with any expectations. I came to it by way of the same compulsion that draws Roland to his Tower, something described in the books as more powerful than a heroin addiction. I came to look Roland in the eyes and watch him remember the face of his father one last time. And Roland, as he's prone to do, broke my heart.

Now, this is no critique of the film. If you want that, I'll pull out that toolkit real quick and tell you it had about as much of an arc as one of Roland's bullets and spent too much time force feeding the audience "on the nose" lines for it to be anything remarkable. Also, let's be clear... it's called The Touch. Not Shine. What the fuck is Shine, if not something out of a bathtub still that could potentially make you go blind? That word bugged me more than anything else in the film to be honest; when it comes to canon, at least. I digress...

Roland broke my heart. Not because they did anything wrong with him; In the land of Mid-World (or with anything involving the Tower, really) one gets used to the creation of new rules that make believing in the notion of wrong an exercise in futility. Such qualifiers really hold no water in this... Multiverse? Omniverse? Whatever... let's just say one gets so used to being confused that the shit just stops penetrating and one is forced to realize (as with most things) the path of least resistance is best. Anyhow, Roland broke my heart because he lost his way. The existential crisis he had in the film so nearly tore me, I almost didn't stick around long enough to be as confused and bloated with theories as I am now.

Let's be clear, in the books, there is not one time EVER that Roland is not, in every way, shape, and form, an absolute Gunslinger. The quintessential King Errant whose very goal is to keep a quavering... Hyperverse? Megaverse? from crumbling upon itself, guns forged from Excalibur in tow. The pursuit of the Tower literally IS Roland. Every decision he makes, every person he kills, or lets die, or sacrifices, or uses, is in service of the beam that leads him to his Tower. He questions this in the books at times, but never once does he falter from his station. He wants to, and at times needs to, but he never does. He is The Gunslinger, through and through, and it is what defines him. So, suffice it to say that when he sat at that table and denounced every existence before the tribesmen and women, something inside me churned. Again, not in a way that would compel me to qualify the film as good or bad. But more so in the way that we anguish when we see a good friend or family member make a terrible decision with lifelong consequences. When a favorite poet or playwright moves on. When we're told one of our pets has a terminal illness. That was what happened when I saw Roland blaspheme so tragically, and it physically hurt.

Once that pang subsided through a flurry of creative trick shots and speed loads as I got to see Roland's hands go to work (a personal moment of triumph, don't ask me how) I was left to wonder, where does this all fit?

Okay, I guess this is somewhat of a spoiler alert, but it's really not because I'm a huge proponent of the whole "it's about the journey, not the destination" philosophy. But skip this paragraph if you're reading the books and are a shitty traveler. I'll try to keep it as ambiguous as possible, just the same.  Ka is a wheel (Ka also isn't mentioned or explained once in the film which was about as troubling as the whole Shine thing, but I digress again). The series ends with the same words that it opened with. The Man in Black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed. As all things in this... Parallel universe? Paniverse? it is cyclical. All that being said and understood, when I went to bed last night pondering the question as to whether or not this film can be considered canon, I came to my answer and (as most things revolving around the Tower are) it's contingent upon something. That something is what Roland does and doesn't know/remember. If Roland is aware of the cyclical nature of his existence and in some way remembers the events that took place during the books in some form or fashion... that completely explains both his existential breakdown as well as his rather moot pursuit of the Man in Black for revenge. I sincerely hope this is the case, for this is the story's saving grace.

We'll all have to wait and see. But as we wait, we know something very important... Roland has something that he didn't have in the books: We know that this time around, he has, in his possession, the Horn of Eld!

Should he make it to the base of the Tower, through the field of roses (Can'-Ka No Rey) just outside the clutches of Dandelo (IT!) on Odd Lane in the White Lands of Empathica, by way of Fedic (thanks to the Mani) outside of the Calla, all to cry the names of his fathers, his mothers, his friends, his Ka-Tets, his lovers (and maybe a few gillies) in a single herald from his horn last blown at the fall of Jericho Hill... I would very much like to see what happens.

Say thankee-sai big big.

To conclude: I'm sure a lot of fans of the books will see this and cry it the product of the Crimson King himself. But I would staunchly argue that they have forgotten the face of their fathers. This film is as much all of the books as it is none of them. And in that way, it truly is a spirited installment to the canon, should it make the cut. To fellow readers, if you came to this expecting to see the genocide of Tull, the Weigh Station, Muties in the mountains, and Tarot card reading in a talking circle with Roland ending up on a beach somewhere in Mid-World, then I advise you find your beams again and be true.

You've lost your way, and it isn't a Dark Tower film that got you there.

To everyone else: was the film bad? No. Was the film good? No. Should you go see it? Yes, if for no other reason than to give them some motivation to continue making this series. If for no other reason than you all getting to meet Susannah (both Delgado and Dean), Eddie, and (of course) Oy! They are worth your time and effort.

If this film was to give us our Gunslinger (and I suspect it was), we have him now. Let's get him to his Tower, so we can all watch him stand, and be true.

If I were to give the film a grade from A to F, I'd give it a big, fat...


Friday, July 28, 2017

Atomic Blonde: Charlize Theron Will Straight Up Murder Your Ass

Charlize Theron is 42 years old. She's been on the Hollywood scene since she was twenty-one. She played minor roles in films until a true leading role in Disney's Mighty Joe Young. From there she was either given or chose very mediocre films like The Astronaut's Wife, Reindeer Games, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. Her first most noteworthy film role, one that also earned her an Oscar, was in 2003's Monster. When she was 30 years old, in 2005, she was given the chance to lead a female-driven action film with Aeon Flux, and as we all know that was a complete disaster. For the next ten years it was a slew of under the radar indies, dramas, Snow White re-imaginings and Seth MacFarlane westerns. Finally, ten years after Aeon Flux... and now at age 40... we got to watch Theron show off just how unbelievably badass she truly is in Mad Max: Fury Road. Most of the time I forget Tom Hardy was even in that movie. Due to the success of that film and the word of mouth of Theron's badassery... at 42 years old... we have Atomic Blonde. Now, I am only highlighting the age thing here for two simple reasons: First, to show that Theron is getting more impressive with each passing year. And second, because had Hollywood actually realized just how impressive she was back when she first started... we could've been getting badass femele-led (or just plain Theron-led) action movies for the past two decades. It's a shame we had to wait as long as we did to be able to rank Theron up there with the rest of the action greats.

So, before we get into Atomic Blonde I feel there is a bit of a disclaimer I should throw out there. Over the past few months I've seen quite a few trailers for the film. The advertising for this movie has made it look like we're about to watch the Theron-equivalent of a John Wick movie. Some sort of plot with a catalyst that leads Theron on a mission to kick as many asses as possible in a two hour time frame. This isn't exactly the case. The story of Atomic Blonde is this: Theron plays Lorraine, a British Intelligence Operative sent to Berlin in order to retrieve a stolen list of all British agents. There, in Berlin, she meets her contact David Percival (James McAvoy), and the two of them do some super-secret crazy spy shit in order to get the list back. The list contains the names of every British operative currently active (including double agents and triple agents and double triple agents, etc.). However, there is a mole working for the KGB, setting Lorraine up, exposing her, and basically causing all sorts of trouble.

Now... here's where this movie and a movie like John Wick differ. John Wick has a very simple plot. Some bad guys killed his dog. He kills them all. That's it. There's the invention of the underground society of assassins and all that, but the plot is very simple. There's really no twists and turns, no mystery to unravel. It's just John murdering anyone connected to the organization of the dude who killed his dog. And he kills everyone. Literally... everyone. Atomic Blonde is different. It is an action movie, but it is more a spy/espionage movie first. A good two-thirds of the movie involve Lorraine tailing leads, finding out information, evading attack, discovering who the mole could be, and the like. It's not until the final third of the movie that almost all of the action you see in the trailers comes forth. But, boy, when it does, watch out. It comes fast and it comes furious (hey, Charlize was in the last Fast and Furious movie... they should do a crossover movie with Mad Max called Fast and Furiosa). The fight sequences and shoot-outs and brawls she gets into are some of the best visually stylized action sequences I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it yet, go check out the YouTube behind-the-scenes video of Charlize training for this film. The director even says that normally in an action film you'll get a couple punches in, then have to cut in order for it to look authentic. Charlize works so hard and is such a badass chick that they were able to do multiple punches and kicks and flips in this film because she was so committed to the film. In fact, there is an action sequence that lasts probably a good twenty minutes of Charlize engaging in hand-to-hand combat with at least ten thugs... and it's one shot. Obviously there is trick photography at work here, but it doesn't take away from the impressiveness of both the choreography or Theron herself.

The one thing that hinders Atomic Blonde, however, is actually its story. Where John Wick knows that it is purely a vehicle for numerous action sequences and gun fights, so it doesn't waste too much time on a story... Atomic Blonde is all about story. This is good because now it's not just hundreds of random henchmen scurrying about waiting to be shot in the face. There's actually reasons behind each of the fights in the film, and this makes it feel a lot more organic. However, the problem with Atomic Blonde's story is that it's kinda weak. There isn't anything super new here that plunges you into this story with really any emotional connection. It's entertaining enough, but it's nothing new. You're here for her. There aren't any twists or turns you didn't already see coming from the beginning, there isn't anything new introduced into a standard spy movie that you haven't really seen before... except her. Theron drives this movie with full force. And if it wasn't for her and the perfectly executed fight sequences, this movie would be totally forgettable. Even an actor as strong as McAvoy just falls by the wayside under Theron's thuderous performance. This is a movie where you don't go for the story. You don't go for the action. You go to see Charlize in full force kicking ass and taking names.

The reason I'm comparing it so heavily to John Wick is that stylistically it's very similar. The action is similar, the look and feel of the movie are similar as well. This is partly because one part of the directing duo of John Wick, David Leitch, has helmed this film. You're able to tell that he is trying to mature as a filmmaker, relying a little bit more on story than action, but really dude... just do what you're good at. We like it. So, don't go into it thinking you're getting a female John Wick. You aren't. Go into it knowing you're watching a mediocre spy movie with a mind-blowing performance from a powerhouse actress who should've been making movies like this a long time ago. And, today, at 42, she's showing us that she's got the mind, spirit, body, and kick-ass moves of a 20 year old. Hollywood... listen to us now... Charlize Theron is the action star we want. Keep doing movies like this and the audience will show.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Girls Trip: A Dual Perspective

I know this is going to come as a surprise to my loyal and faithful followers, but I had absolutely no intention of seeing Girls Trip. It's not that I think a comedy featuring an all female cast can't be funny, I just didn't think this particular all female comedy would be all that funny. I saw the green band trailer that didn't make me laugh. Then I saw the raunchy red band trailer that didn't make me laugh. I thought it looked lazy, with jokes meant to shock you into laughing rather than actually being funny and clever enough to illicit a laugh. But... my opinion of movies based off their trailers have been wrong before. I would've bet money that Rough Night was going to blow Girls Trip out of the water with hilarity, and that movie wound up being pretty bad. So... what actually convinced me to see this film? Well, there were two factors. First, every time I saw one of the trailers for this film, I was with my lovely girlfriend who was laughing much more than I was and she wanted to see it. Second, if you venture over to Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see that Girls Trip sits at a very respectable 89% fresh with over 70 reviews registered. If I think a movie looks bad enough that I don't want to see it, but it gets a grade that high... it piques my interest (kind of like Valerian... I have absolutely ZERO desire to see that movie, but if it was sitting on 89%, you better believe the review would already be up... however, sitting in the low 50 percent... that one is just going to have go un-reviewed). However, after seeing the movie... and understanding that the film definitely has an audience... one that isn't exactly targeted at someone like myself... I feel that it is unfair for me to be the only voice in this instance. Therefore, I have asked my lovely girlfriend, Ashley, to lend her perspective to the film as well... so you can make your own choices.

****QUICK SIDE NOTE: Each review was written blindly, so as not to influence each other's take on the film.****

Ashley's Take:
Ryan asked me to throw in my two cents about Girls Night, maybe partly because I think he knows that a review of a film, which focuses on a group of black women in their mid-thirties spending a weekend in New Orleans to attend Essence Fest, from the perspective of a white man in his late twenties is probably a bit of a limited view... so he asked his white girlfriend in her late twenties to bring some, albeit still very white, insight to the table.

Before I start, I want to say that Tiffany Haddish, who plays crazy party girl Dina, is going to be the next big thing. She is HILARIOUS and beautiful and Girls Night is going to catapult her into the spotlight where she belongs. I'm going to go one step further and put in writing that I think Haddish is going to gain some momentum in comedy, but she's going to blow our minds with a dramatic role. When that happens, know that I'll be sitting here stewing in how right I am.

The chemistry between Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Tiffany Haddish is real. That's what makes the movie one of the better ~lifelong friends get into a mess on vacation~ movies I've seen. More importantly though, these funny women are giving us a comedic narrative that we need more of. I had a good time watching Girls Trip. I laughed a lot, cringed over how truly terrible and awkward white people are, and found myself imagining a life where Tiffany Haddish is my wife and we live happily ever after. The only reason I didn't give Girls Trip an higher grade is because the predictability of the story left you wanting more. Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to the sequel (because if Pitch Perfect can have three fucking movies, this BETTER get a sequel).

My Take: 
I didn't hate Girls Trip, but I certainly didn't enjoy it. I'd read a few reviews saying it was the next Bridesmaids, but if that's what we're comparing it to on the comedy spectrum, it falls pretty far from the target. I thought most of the humor in the movie was quite lazy. Most of the jokes in the film were recycled from previous films that performed them better. I thought a lot of the sight gags in the film were leading up to something funnier than what was delivered. However, there were moments that actually caught me off guard and had me laughing. One of the biggest turn offs for me in the trailer is a scene when Jada Pinkett-Smith's character is supposed to be zipping across a crowded pathway from one rooftop to the other, but gets stuck in the middle. The catch here is... she's had a lot to drink and has to pee. She is unable to hold it in and lets it out on the onlookers below. Parts of this are shown in the advertisements and I thought it made the movie look even worse. Turns out this is one of the funnier moments in the movie. Turns out the scatological humor here was actually a lot funnier than it appeared and the cast went further with it than I expected... with very humorous results (this is something Rough Night failed to do entirely). And with most ensemble comedies there is always one performer who stands out above the rest. Here, it's relatively unknown actress Tiffany Haddish. Not all of her jokes land (in fact I'd say it's about 50/50), but when they do, even the most curmudgeonly of movie patrons will find it hard to stifle their laughter. She gives 110% to the role and I applaud her comedic courageousness.

The structure of the film was also something I had a big problem overcoming. The plot is so predictable, by the end of the first act I could've looked over and told the people next to me exactly how the movie was going to go. There are so many blatant set-ups, there are only obvious payoffs and that's exactly what we get. Yet, there was earnestness in the characters, which (barely) overshadows the rigid structure the film plots out. I can appreciate that these characters aren't stock characters (even though they're in a stock plot). They're multi-dimensional and very earnest women. In fact, the best part of the movie isn't even a very funny scene. One of the women gives a speech on respecting yourself as a woman and it is a speech that every young woman (hell any young person) should hear because it's empowering as well as poignant. Normally, when a character in a movie like this has a big revelatory speech at the end of the film, it's nice to see a change in the character, but there's no real powerful message delivered. Girls Trip actually delivers this powerful message. So, for all its faults, there are still some diamonds in the rough. I think, though, most of the humor just wasn't targeted at a viewer such as myself. It isn't a total waste of time, but it's nothing I say you need to rush out to see. In fact, I still maintain that the only two movies worth anyone's time right now are Baby Driver and Dunkirk.  Go see one of them. Now.

Ashley's Grade: B-
Ryan's Grade: C-