The Dark Tower – A Movie Review

I very much love The Dark Tower series.  I believe when it is all said and done, these books will be remembered as Stephen King’s masterpiece–his magnum opus.  We have long wished for Roland of Gilead to grace the big screen, but time after time we were burdened with disappointment as it simply never seemed to work out.

Until that disappointment ended.  The news finally arrived that Idris Elba would play Roland Deschain and Matthew McConaughey the Man in Black, Walter, or whatever else you’d like to call him.  These are, under optimal circumstances, exquisite actors.

Furthermore, powerhouses such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Akiva Goldsman, and Stephen King himself served as producers!  These are names that have created some of our most revered entertainment.

Tonight, during a hellacious thunderstorm (which I personally considered the perfect backdrop), I finally got my wish–I saw The Dark Tower on a movie screen.

Did it bother me that, other than my friends and me, there were only five other people in the theater on it’s opening night?  Did the bad reviews give me pause?  Did I consider losing faith?

No, I have not forgotten the face of my father.

Here’s what we have to remember–a large portion of the viewing audience has never read The Dark Tower series.  In fact, the guys I saw it with haven’t read the books!  The industry could not make a movie that worked as a page for page adaptation of The Gunslinger.  They just couldn’t.  I know die-hard fans wanted that, but I think that’s being a little unfair.  We all know the rules by which Hollywood plays.  Big summer action movies are not exactly subtle, complex, or plot driven.

But here’s the thing–The Dark Tower isn’t actually that much of an action movie.  In fact, I think you saw most of the action several months ago in the first trailer.  It spent far more time than I expected developing young Jake and Roland’s bond, a bond that, over time, will become one of the greatest and most heartbreaking relationships in all of literature.  Jake is an extremely likable character in the books, and so I commend them for spending the time necessary to allow the audience to get to know him, to sympathize with him, and to like him.  It also offered glimpses into Roland’s past which resulted in his current, surly demeanor.  Finally, it took its time establishing Roland and Walter’s rivalry, one of the most dynamic I’ve ever read.  They provided far more story than I anticipated, and this pleased me to no end.  There’s action–make no mistake.  But there is also a lot of plot with ample room to grow.  More on that later …

Also, with a run time of just one hour and thirty-five minutes, The Dark Tower had to convey a great deal of story, motivation, and character as quickly as possible.  Simply put, it didn’t have the luxury of the books to slowly unfold the intricacies we readers adore.  In my mind, they successfully did this.  The established the Dark Tower’s purpose, Roland’s duty, Walter’s reason for wanting to destroy it, and Jake’s role relating to all three.

Were there some serious changes made?  Yes, there were some pretty significant departures from The Gunslinger.  We just have to accept that they needed to make this movie as digestible as possible for the casual viewer.  In my mind, they did this.  I mean, really, what do you want most from the first film?  I want to get to know Roland, I want to explore Jake and Roland’s relationship, I want to experience Walter and Roland’s ongoing conflict.  The casual audience needs to know the significance of the Dark Tower, and they need to see someone try to destroy it and someone try to save it.  I think the filmmakers did an admirable job walking this very fine line.

Honestly, they need to hook as broad an audience as possible with this first film.  If they do that, and if the rumors of television spin-offs combined with future films are true, they will then have the collateral necessary to dive deep into this multiverse.  Right now we need to get people on board with a big, easy to understand film, and then we can all go down the rabbit hole together as this thing adheres more strictly to the other books.

Oh, and there are plenty of rabbit holes for us to explore.  Though the movie didn’t specifically address any of these things, sharp-eyed viewers will notice graffiti praising the Crimson King, as well as ample rose symbols everywhere.  There are references to other King books, which play a HUGE role in The Dark Tower series.  In fact, you’ll literally hear the words “the shining” and see the name “Pennywise” if you look closely enough.

My hope, my sincere hope, is that with It releasing soon, we are going to get a King universe where they reboot all of his most famous works to interconnect with The Dark Tower.  The Shining, Pet Cemetery, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, Cujo, and many, many others directly relate or are referenced in The Dark Tower series.   Can you imagine if King pulled a cinematic move like Marvel/Disney?  Why not?  He’s been entwining these books for decades!

I’d like to end this review commenting on the acting.  Matthew McConaughey could have really gone over the top with Walter.  He pulls it back just enough.  His Walter is creepy, unsettling, and obviously evil, but we never get any nefarious monologues or maniacal chortling.  He chooses to often speak softly rather than to bellow, and this made all the difference to me.

Finally, Idris Elba was not the obvious choice in my mind for Roland Deschain.  Let’s face it–most of us always pictured Roland as white.  King himself is on record as saying he modeled him off of Clint Eastwood.  However, Elba nailed this character.  Nailed it.  Elba captured Roland’s penchant for violence, his silent wisdom, his stoic torment, and–most importantly–his ability to accept Jake into his heart.  He delivered the most important aspects of this character so many of us hold dear thus rendering simple skin tone irrelevant.  Idris Elba is Roland Deschain–plain and simple.

I believe if you’re a casual viewer you will really be able to follow and enjoy this film.  For the avid Dark Tower fans, I think the film offers you the most important qualities that you crave with a great deal of potential to deliver the more nuanced adaptation you desire from subsequent films.  Of course, those won’t happen if we don’t get out there and support this first conventional installment.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Movie Review

I have to be honest, even though I thought Tom Holland’s Spider-Man proved one of the best parts of Civil War, I did not feel excited about yet another reboot of his own movie series.  I absolutely did not want to sit through poor Uncle Ben getting killed yet again, Pete getting bitten by a spider again, another turbulent romance with Mary Jane, and then a retread of the same villains we’ve also already seen.

Why didn’t I have faith in Marvel?

My mistake.

Spider-Man: Homecoming won me over completely.  It avoided all of those things I most dreaded.  Instead, we’ve got a Spider-Man finding his way months after Civil War.  This Spider-Man movie felt completely fresh and absolutely a part of the larger Marvel Universe.  Other than the web-slinging and the colors of the suit, Homecoming departed from much of what has already been done with Spidey on the big screen.  Tom Holland looks like an actual high school student.  He acts like an actual high school student.  He sounds like an actual high school student.  He’s got a whole new group of supporting characters.  Even Aunt May is a big departure from what we’ve already seen and they had some hilarious ongoing gags about her attractiveness.

As you’ve seen from commercials, Happy Hogan and Tony Stark play huge roles in this film.  This also sets it apart and makes it far more funny than any previous Spider-Man movie.  Tom Holland has great chemistry with pretty much everyone, but especially with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau.

In terms of tone, Homecoming is pretty lighthearted and humorous.  However, that’s not to say it doesn’t have some serious action scenes and real suspense.  I wouldn’t say it’s scary at all, but the Vulture is definitely an intimidating villain in both appearance and action.

Speaking of whom, Michael Keaton undeniably crushes it as the Vulture.  He delivers a multifaceted character who is both sympathetic and even likable.  I love how they set him up, the motivation they give him, and then his mindset.  I think that, along with Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, he is the best cinematic Spidey villain yet.  Maybe even the best contemporary Marvel movie villain, for that matter.

What delighted me most about Homecoming, though, is that it genuinely surprised me several times.  There were huge character revelations that I didn’t expected that made the story all the more intimate and definitely increased my investment.  I cared about virtually every character in this movie!

Spider-Man: Homecoming managed to somehow surprise while keeping a funny, light tone with real moments of suspense.  Tom Holland oozes charisma while emanating Peter’s intellect, charm, youthful indecision, and — most importantly — innocent heroism.

Against all odds, I am fully committed to this third Spider-Man reboot.  Here’s hoping Tom Holland will serve the anchor to Marvel’s cinematic universe for many years to come.

Image result for spider man homecoming movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Mummy – A Movie Review

I’m a sucker for the old Universal movie monsters.  I love them all.  When I heard Universal wanted to get into the shared universe game with their classic horror characters, I howled in delight.  They’re calling it Dark Universe and plan to release new, connected films featuring the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Van Helsing, Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the Phantom of the Opera.

Their first outing?  The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise.

I had very serious concerns walking into The Mummy because it was not doing well at all on Rotten Tomatoes.  I tend not to put too much stock in reviews if I want to see the movie badly enough, but my concern regarded the future of my other Dark Universe movies.  I worried that if The Mummy floundered, Universal would abandon the Dark Universe initiative and I wouldn’t get to see my Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Bride of Frankenstein.  After all, this is exactly what happened with King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword.  (Yes, I’m still made about that.)

So here’s the thing, I saw it with three other guys, and we all liked it for various reasons.  Is it the greatest movie ever made?  No, not by a long shot.  But, it seemed like they put a lot of effort into it, Tom Cruise delivered a likable character, the special effects were cool, the action was great, and the movie generally entertained.  Yeah, there were a few plot holes.  Sure, parts of it we’ve seen before.  It even got a little confused at times as to whether it wanted to be a horror movie, a buddy action comedy, or a romance.  And the ending, well, somehow the ending came off both clichéd and vague.

But, like I said, it entertained throughout.  There were all kinds of visual hints and references to the other Universal monsters, and it actually had us chuckling more than we expected.  I would definitely consider it far more of an action thriller than a horror movie.  Cruise had great chemistry with his wingman in the film, Jake Johnson.

Tom Cruise played a man who is mostly a decent guy, but he’s also a little egocentric, a little bit of a thief, a little blockheaded, and, for quite a bit of the movie, very confused.  But, Cruise pulls all of this off with his usual charm and charisma.  And while there’s plenty of action, I wouldn’t call Cruise an action hero in this one.  He’s more often than not the victim of action and just trying to survive.

It was also a lot of fun to see Russell Crowe hamming it up as Dr. Jekyll.  He will supposedly be the connecting link between all Dark Universe films, and, like Cruise, he is a generally magnetic actor.  If you’re hoping for a Mr. Hyde appearance, by the way, you won’t be disappointed.  Of course, the transformation didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  We cracked a few jokes after the film about how he really needs to get one of the timers a lot of older folks use with their medicine, but that’s okay.

Actually, that’s my mantra for The Mummy — “That’s okay.”  I wasn’t expecting much, and it lived up to my expectations.  Were the female roles a little bland and shallow?  Yes.  Did the story itself never quite come together organically?  Yep.  Did parts of the movie look like they had been snatched right out of other films?  Absolutely.  Did the ending leave us generally confused?  Definitely.

But, even having said all of that, we had a great time.  We had fun.  Fun.  Let’s not disregard the importance of that word.  Sometimes we want to just go see a monster movie and have some fun.  That’s okay.

Wonder Woman – A Movie Review

You know I loved Batman v Superman, especially Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  You probably also remember that when the first preview Wonder Woman arrived, I got very excited.

Last night, the wait ended, and my wife and I got to see Wonder Woman in her first solo film.  It’s hard to articulate how much pressure I put on this movie.  I needed it to be a critical success, not just a financial one, because that’s the big knock against DC movies so far in their shared cinematic universe.  I also needed Gal Gadot to prove she could headline a movie and carry it for the entire duration, not just come in and steal a few scenes.  Furthermore, I needed Wonder Woman to take her place as the inarguable international cinematic icon we all know she is.  Finally, I needed a Wonder Woman movie I will one day be proud to sit and watch with my two young daughters.  (This is a PG-13 movie by the way, and there are a few moments deserving of that rating.  I won’t let my nine-year-old see it for another few years, so take that into account.)

For the most part, I’d say Wonder Woman excelled in almost every way.

That’s not to say it’s perfect — it’s not.  But it’s very, very good.  In fact, my wife said it’s the best action movie she’s ever seen.  (Keep in mind she doesn’t watch a lot of action movies.)  I’ll start with what I didn’t care for, and then I’ll spend the rest of the review gushing.

My biggest complaint is that, at times, the backgrounds looked really, really fake.  Strangely fake.  There are about three moments I can think of specifically that totally took me out of the movie because of the weird texture of the background.

I’m also so tired of the big bad guy fight at the end.  This seems to be an unavoidable cliché for all superhero movies.  I don’t know how they escape it, but it needs to be addressed.

Finally, this will come as no surprise, but we got a lot of the patented Zack Snyder slow motion fight scenes.  Now, to be fair, I’ve seen most of Zack Snyder’s films, so this is a thing for which I’m very familiar.  I don’t think my wife has seen any Snyder movie, and she absolutely loved those same slow motion fights.  To her, it was completely new and fresh.  (Yes, I know Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, but Snyder definitely infused a bit of his sensibilities.)

Let’s talk about what I loved …

Gal Gadot.  She oozes charisma.  She is perfect as Wonder Woman.  Her eyes have such intelligence and passion.  She is incredibly graceful and athletic.  Her comedic timing is even pretty strong!  She had some lines in this movie that could have been woefully cheesy, but she somehow delivered them humbly and full of authenticity.  In other words, her magnetism in Batman v Superman was no fluke — she’s got what it takes to keep Wonder Woman going strong for a long, long time.

You know what else rocked in this movie?  Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira and its Amazonian inhabitants.  They were so cool, and Robin Wright quickly established herself as the coolest of the cool.  Her character is Antiope, and I won’t tell you anymore about her, but she was awesome.

I have to admit, Chris Pine even won me over in this film!  He plays Steve Trevor, a character that’s been associated with Wonder Woman since 1941.  Pine and Gadot have great chemistry together, and their banter is really fun.  It’s important that Trevor be a likable, complex charter, a character worthy of winning over the heart of Wonder Woman.  Just as Lois Lane most be pretty special to hold her own with Superman, Trevor must be equally formidable.  Pine is always a little hit or miss for me, but he definitely complimented Gadot very well.  They make a good team.

When there’s not a ton of special effects going on, director Patty Jenkins shot a gorgeous film.  Set during WWI, Jenkins provided a beautiful Paradise Island, a horrific battle-torn Europe, incredibly intricate costumes, and plenty of interesting angles and camera positions.  At the end of the day, other than a few strange backgrounds, this is an extremely well-made film.

Though it at times bordered on being almost preachy, I loved the fact that this Wonder Woman wants to be a hero.  She wants everyone to be a hero.  She is not afraid to call people out, to tell people when they are acting shamefully, and to ignore any complications that could get in the way of doing the right thing.  She does what she thinks is right, she says what she thinks is right.  She does not shy away from being a hero, and this movie does not shy away from trying to be heroic.  Thought DC movies were too dark and brooding up to this point?  Wonder Woman defies that trend.

My absolute favorite scene will go down as one of the most iconic in the character’s history.  You’ve seen bits of it in the previews.  Wonder Woman is crossing a battlefield … by herself.  Her reasons for doing so are inspiring.  The immediate effects will make you want to cheer.  It’s an amazing, wonderful moment in the film.

I absolutely recommend that you see Wonder Woman.  It’s not perfect, but it’s about as good as a major summer blockbuster can be.  My wife thoroughly enjoyed it, and she’s typically not one for superhero movies.  Of course, this isn’t just another superhero movie.  Wonder Woman lived up to all of my expectations, and it will live up to yours, too.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Alien: Covenant – A Movie Review

I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of the Alien franchise, but I definitely have fond memories of Aliens scaring the crap out of me as a kid.  Honestly, believe it or not, Prometheus is what got me really excited for the revitalized Alien saga.  Prometheus seemed innovative, smart, and full of ramifications for not only where the Alien franchise has been, but also where it is going.

Because I loved Prometheus so much, I couldn’t wait for Covenant.

Here’s the thing … if you’ve seen Alien or Aliens, you’ve seen Covenant.

Did Covenant thrill?  Absolutely.  Were the special effects amazing?  Yes, without a doubt.  Were the monsters scary as hell?  Oh, yeah.

Unfortunately, from a story perspective, nothing felt particularly new.  The story is pretty much the same:  Distress call.  Good intentions.  Infection.  Bloodshed.  Female protagonists fights for her life.  [Redacted.]

Compared to Prometheus, Covenant felt like a retread.  Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that I didn’t care about Covenant’s crew.  None of them were particularly charismatic or even likable.  In fact, I think the vast majority of them were fairly bland and perhaps even cliched.  The apparent protagonist, Daniels, can’t compare to the magnetic Ripley or even the engaging Dr. Shaw.  Astoundingly, Michael Fassbender felt both constrained and exploited by his character.

I think if you’re a traditional Aliens fan, Covenant will entertain, but I personally just couldn’t get past some of the inexplicable decisions the crew made nor the unlikely scenarios presented in the plot.  There were so many instances that left me befuddled.

Speaking of plot, without spoiling too much of the film, there are about five minutes that directly relate to Prometheus, and, man, do I wish Ridley Scott had made that movie instead.  If only they had used that vignette as the foundation for an entire film … that movie would have been amazing.

So, like I said, if you’re a fan, Covenant will be a fun experience.  It’s not a bad movie at all.  It’s well made and looks fantastic.  I certainly had a good time watching it with some friends.  By the movie’s end, though, I realized I’d already seen it about thirty years ago.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword – A Movie Review

If you’re fan of either Guy Ritchie or King Arthur, I think you’ll be very pleased with King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword.

Fresh and visually captivating, you haven’t ever seen this King Arthur before.  This is an ass-kickin’ King Arthur who grew up rough on the streets in a house of ill repute.  He knows how to cheat, lie, steal, and fight without anything other than his bare knuckles.  Yet, there is a golden heart beneath the gruff exterior, perhaps even a noble one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the general story of King Arthur, his father (the King) is killed and his child, Arthur, is rushed to safety and raised in ambiguity without realizing his true heritage.  It’s only after pulling Excalibur from stone that he realizes his true calling.  This latest iteration of the iconic character follows familiar beats but also makes several significant changes to the traditional legend, most of which prove enjoyable.  I’m more than okay with Ritchie putting his own stamp on the tale – no need to show us what we’ve already seen before.

This movie depicts a grimy, dirty, gritty world in which Arthur resides, a world that is not kind to its inhabitants.  Yet, even for all the pallor, the movie retains Ritchie’s signature style.  These urchins have more hair product than you can ever imagine!  I also found it amusing that the clothing appeared strangely modern considering the era of the movie.  But you know what?  Who cares?  The movie looked good, the sets looked good, the costumes looked good, the actors and actresses looked good.  I’m not going to get hung up on authenticity – Arthur is kickin’ too much ass for me to care!

With tons of action and lines firing out of the actors’ mouths like bullets, this movie moves very quickly and absolutely entertains.  I relished that they made Arthur rakish without making him dark and brooding.  He’ll punch you in the nose, to be sure, but he’ll grin while doing so.  Make no mistake, he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders and endures horrific hardships in this film, but you still see a charismatic, good man beneath the roguish exterior.

Ritche infused a bit of Peter Jackson’s sensibilities with his take on King Arthur.  There is more of a fantasy element than you’d probably expect, and some of the battle scenes look like they could have been pulled out of Lord Of the Rings.  However, unlike Jackson’s typical outings, Ritchie’s battles are far more intimate and willing to go smaller at times.  For the most part, those battles are fluid and look great.  But, there are a few moments in the film when it gets a little too “The Matrix” for my tastes.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Those scenes jolted me right out of the story.

I also didn’t care for the climatic one-on-one battle.  I won’t spoil it, but we’ve seen it a thousand times in most super hero movies.  I wish Ritchie had resisted the temptation to go that route while additionally forcing Hunnam to spout some awful lines (which have also been said a thousand times).

Even with all of that being said, I liked the movie.  I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if you are a Guy Ritchie fan or a King Arthur fan, you will not be disappointed.  I love that Ritchie is taking on so many English icons, and that he’s putting his own indelible touch upon such world renowned characters in his own inimitable fashion.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing this cast continue King Arthur’s story.  They have a ton of story left to tell.  If you know Arthurian legend well, they didn’t even skim the surface of his epic adventure.  If future installments are as fast-paced and action-packed as this one while still retaining a sly sense of humor and stylish delivery, I’m all in.

Image result for king arthur legend of the sword poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest and admit that when Guardians Of the Galaxy came around back in 2014, I wasn’t all that into it.  I didn’t even make it to the theater for a viewing.  Truthfully, even when it came out on video, I didn’t think it was all that great.  Funny?  Sure.  Different from any other Marvel movie?  Definitely.  Fun?  Yeah.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

So, with all that being said, I’d like to say that I LOVED Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

I won’t spoil anything in this review, but I found this installment far more funny.  These characters aren’t even trying to take themselves seriously anymore, except when they are – more on that later.

It also has a better plot that is no longer beholden to the Infinity Stones.  Elements touched upon earlier in the film came into play later in the film, especially in regards to the jokes.  But, even in terms of story, it all went full-circle and came together nicely.

The visuals are absolutely amazing.  As I watched the film, I stopped and appreciated the nuanced aliens, the diverse machinery, and how this film truly looks like it could span a universe.  (Maybe I should have said galaxy there, huh?)  It’s a feast for the eyes, to be sure.

There also existed a very cool message regarding family.  Again, I won’t spoil anything, but if the first film served as a reason to come together, this film serves as a reason to stay together.  As you can see from the advertisements, Nebula plays a far greater role, as does Yondu.  These two characters have familial ties to particular Guardians, ties that make for interesting plot developments.  I loved this film because of these character developments.  We’re seeing these characters change and grow in ways we haven’t seen in many other Marvel movies.

Of course, that’s not to say that this is a character study – not at all.  For the most part, these characters all have uproarious comedic moments.  I mean, I’m talking scenes that will make you absolutely guffaw.  Yes, I said guffaw.   But then, every once in a while, truly touching scenes arise.  Scenes that were emotional, sentimental, and tugged on the old heartstrings.  Happily, these moments did not at all detract from the film whatsoever – they only served to amplify the story line.  Were they a little syrupy?  Sure, but they worked well in a movie like this.

I also really liked that this film did not necessarily follow the tried and true sequel format.  It actually followed far more of a comic book or cartoon structure.  Once more, I won’t spoil anything for you, but this movie gives us an opportunity to see the Guardians in different situations, different dynamics, different groupings, and in different settings, and they each shine as a result.

Obviously, I loved this film far more than its first installment.  However, this movie would not have been possible without its predecessor.  I don’t mean that in the literal sense, of course.  Rather, I mean that by all the groundwork being laid in the first movie in terms of character, those characters now have a chance to break their own mold and grow in ways delightful.

Baby Groot is adorable.  Drax is hilarious.  Rocket is more abrasive than ever.  Gamora lets down her defenses.  Star-Lord becomes more than just a guy who cracks one-liners.  Nebula and Yondu?  You’ll have to see for yourselves.

Oh, and there are some fantastic cameos.  I can’t even touch upon those.  I will say this: be sure to sit through ALL the credits.  All of them.  And watch them closely.  There’s a lot going on even during the credits that’s a lot of fun.

That’s really the operative word – fun.  This is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love it for its own sense of irreverence.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)