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Update-College Move-In/My Thoughts On: “The Dark Tower”

Oh boy, it’s finally that time.  In four days, this guy will be moving into a dorm and will be earning his BA in the next three years.  To be clear, I have been in PSEO courses for the past two years (earning college credits in high school in order to skip the obligatory general courses required for a degree).  I commuted from home and had much more time to watch/review movies.  Since this is my first semester for real, there will be fewer posts.  This is due to a combination of: getting used to the new schedule and setting, not having my car (it would be a hassle to take it with me), and the lack of a job.  I’m not broke, and the school has a bus so there will be a few reviews here and there.  When in doubt, check my “About” section for the most updated version of my schedule.

You may have noticed that the website has not changed, though I said there were a few things I wanted to change in the last update.  Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that this website costs me nothing.  I would have to pay a monthly fee to have complete control over design and presentation; but since I don’t have a job, and do not get paid for these reviews, it will stay this way for a while.  Sorry (unless of course you don’t mind how it currently is).  Now let’s get to the main attraction.

The Dark Tower is the newest entry into the “disappointing Stephen King adaptation” genre (along with The Shining Mini-Series, Dreamcatcher, Maximum Overdrive, Thinner, Lawnmower Man, and The Langoliers).  Of course Mr. King’s legacy has brought us some of cinema’s most famous stories like: Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand by Me, Carrie, and Kubrick’s The Shining.  Considering that he’s published over 250 novels, short stories, etcetera, Hollywood will squeeze every last penny out of his bestsellers.  Today, we have The Dark Tower, a film so standard, so lazily-executed, you’ll forget it 1 hour after leaving the theater!

The main problem with The Dark Tower is the utter lack of detail.  You know how Peter Jackson made Lord of the Rings (the story that was supposedly impossible to adapt) into movies?  It was not by pure luck that the end result was near-perfect.  The books told of fantastic battles, memorable characters, and one heck of a universe!  The Dark Tower shares many of these traits: multiple books, loyal fanbases, both stories are fantasy epics, and their film adaptations were both highly anticipated.  Only difference is that you could see the effort and love behind every scene in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The Dark Tower felt like it was written by a Sony computer, shot by a hummingbird, edited by a cocaine addict, and directed by a coffee table.  This is an enormous shame because the marketing was great.  The two leads looked cool and the action sequences promised some stunning visuals.  In reality, the characters are blander than bread, the PG-13 rating ensures that all the potentially awesome violence is gone, and the story is a compilation of fantasy movie clichés rather than an original story.

Despite the short runtime, the pacing is boringly slow and there are more “talking head” scenes than you would ever want in a Stephen King adaptation.  When the action does show up, it’s only slightly less generic than Power Rangers (2017).  The aforementioned neutered rating prevents any real impact, the camera does whatever it wants, and the actors, much like the audience, look uninvested.  The story is even worse.  Most of the narrative is a mishmash of King tropes, and all the interesting stuff is not explained.  Who built this tower?  Why are there so few people protecting it?  What is the backstory (and motivation for that matter) of our antagonist?  Where do these alternate beings come from?  None of these vital questions are answered very well, if at all.  The best we get are a handful of references to much better King adaptations in one pathetic attempt at fan service.  For all of you who subscribed to the “Stephen King universe” thing, I didn’t see any overarching plot that connected to any other one of King’s works.  Granted, I haven’t read The Dark Tower novels so the connection could be in the books, but it’s certainly not in this bare bones flick.  The only mildly entertaining things about the film are a few cool slow motion moments and Matthew McConaughey (who you could tell was enjoying every second of screentime).  Unfortunately, that only goes so far, especially when the climax, the final battle between Idris Elba and McConaughey, is the definition of “all buildup, no payoff.”  This confrontation was almost as bad as Batman vs. Superman… almost.

Bottom line, The Dark Tower is a thoroughly skippable waste of time and money.  Quite a shame too, because many potential fans were likely turned off from King’s (supposedly) great magnum opus epic.  As for me, I’m much more apprehensive about the new It film.  The Dark Tower gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

Thanks for understanding my transition into college life; I’ll get back to reviews once everything is sorted out.

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My Thoughts On: “Detroit”

I apologize for the lack of posts last week.  I did see this film on Friday, but it left me… contemplative.  It was necessary to sort out the emotions, let the anger cool, and then the Charlottesville drive-by happened and American media erupted.  Now, as much fun as I have writing these things, when it comes to politics, I try to stay out of political/social issues.  Mostly because I don’t trust myself enough not to say something stupid or ignorant on the Internet.  Now that I have everything figured out, let’s talk about Kathryn Bigelow’s intense, but manipulative drama.

I’ll admit, this is definitely a film that educates (somewhat), but the filmmaking approach favors harsh racism and brutality as opposed to character development and a good balance between tension and morals.  The first act is tame compared to the other two: showing us the causes of the Detroit riots in 1967.  Unfortunately, the movie forgoes whatever narrative it had to assault the viewer with uncomfortable scene after uncomfortable scene.  Seriously, A Clockwork Orange (which featured rape, torture, murder, and ultra-violence) wasn’t as hard to watch as Detroit, only difference is that Detroit focuses on the stuff that makes movies like Moonlight win Best Picture.  The film attempts something similar to what Patriots Day did, telling the larger portion of the event in one night through multiple character perspectives.  However, the pacing is terrible.  Looking at this movie from a writing standpoint, the climax starts at the forty minute mark and goes on for thirty minutes.  Thirty, incredibly uncomfortable minutes.  Most of the movie takes place at a hotel, where the main black characters (and a few others caught in the wrong place at the wrong time) are intensely interrogated by Will Poulter’s group of hostile city police officers.  For the sake of time (and the film itself admits that some scenes were dramatized), all I’ll say is that this is one excessive sequence.

The most interesting thing about this film is Poulter’s detestable, prejudiced, white-cop, antagonist.  Not only is Poulter giving his all for this character, he’s the only one who has any inner conflict.  The motivation is not clear-cut and it’ll leave you thinking twice about a character that was written to be hated.  This brings me to my biggest complaint; the movie gives you nothing to chew on.  Look, I’ve seen a lot of black history films, shows, books, etc.  I’ve noticed a few common traits and manipulative techniques.  In the end, the most effective ones where movies like Glory and In the Heat of the Night (1967).  The films that put the story and characters first before getting into the tough stuff.  I can only care so much about your movie when I cannot remember the names of the main characters as they go through these atrocities.  It’s not difficult to get the audience to cringe, police racism is a hot-button topic in America; it takes much more effort to create something that the audience can come back to.  Once the credits roll, you’ll feel absolutely terrible, then completely forget the film a week later.  Not something a filmmaker wants, regardless of the point you were trying to get across.  Detroit gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C.

Thanks again for your patience, I’m moving into my dorm next week and final preparations are being done.  However, I’ll have something on The Dark Tower on Monday.

 

My Thoughts On: “Wonder Woman”

Yeah, I posted a review on Thursday and a “my thoughts on” on Monday… moving on.  I figured that I should briefly talk about a movie that will definitely make it to every critic’s best of the year list.  Thankfully, I agree with everyone on the basis that this is the best movie (tied with Man of Steel in my opinion) in DC’s cinematic universe.  However, there are many things holding it back.

Most of my complaints lie within the story, which needed a few revisions.  For one, the whole movie is a flashback started with narration (two of the most overused storytelling techniques of modern time), and the first third is exposition-overdosed.  Also, the lore and message is very confused.  The movie goes to great lengths beating you over the head with its mythology, but the message (which is handled well) kinda fights against the mythology.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t sit in the back of my mind when the epic action sequences (accompanied by some outstanding music) and fun character interactions are taking place.  The movie walks a fine line between fighting for feminism, and being sexist.  For example, all the male characters are introduced as stereotypes, whereas all the women (aka, the Amazons and a useless comic relief) are portrayed like Zeus’ gift to a world dominated by sexist, violent, pervy, one-note idiots.  Thank real God, Patty Jenkins gives all of her characters more dimension as they spend time together and become friends.  Eat that 2016 Ghostbusters.

Despite its shortcomings, I actually experienced something that I haven’t yet felt in a DC movie… pure enjoyment.  Each DC movie has its moments, but Wonder Woman managed to bring out my inner 9 year-old, and considering the last superhero movie to accomplish this was Captain America: Civil War (which had much more going for it), you can color me as one satisfied customer.  Wonder Woman gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

My Thoughts On: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Poor Guy Ritchie.  The guy can’t catch a break after Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which I thought was fine).  I mean, The Man from U.N.C.L.E was unbelievably forgettable, and was such a box office disaster; I thought he wouldn’t get to make another movie for a while.  Luckily, some studio had faith in him, now we can see his interpretation of one of England’s most famous legends.  Unfortunately, you’ll be wishing they never pulled the sword from the paper mache stone after watching the end result.

To its credit, King Arthur is the most visually interesting Ritchie film (after Sherlock Holmes) I’ve seen.  Oh, I’m not talking about the F/X (which look unbelievably cheap); I mean the sets, costumes, and some of the cinematography.  Good thing too, because the characters are bland as white bread.  While Charlie Hunam gives a decent performance, I can’t remember anyone from the movie, probably because the screenwriters used token “adventure” clichés as characters.  It would be easy to list them off, but I’d rather talk about the worst one: Arthur himself.  Instead of being a bad*** swordfighter whose strong-willed, diligent personality never surrenders; Arthur is reduced to the “reluctant hero” trope.  Mhm, the most tedious version of “the chosen one” plotline is our protagonist for 2 incredibly long hours.  If that wasn’t enough, his backstory is exactly the same as the story of Moses (there is even a scene where he’s sent down a river in a basket as a baby).  Oy, these characters are forgettable.

It’s a shame really.  There are moments of classic Ritchie brilliance (an interrogation scene in particular is hilarious), the music and production is cool, and when the movie actually wants to be awesome, it is.  I don’t know much about King Arthur lore, aside from that line in Tomb Raider: Legend where Alister states that Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone were, “Two bloody different stories!”  What I can tell you is that this movie’s bland story is not saved by a neutered PG-13 rating and a lack of satisfying action sequences.  King Arthur: Legend of the Sword gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

My Thoughts On: “Get Out”

Well, this one’s been a long time coming.  I don’t think anyone lost sleep over my lack of a review, so let’s skip the apology and get right down to it.

The marketing for this movie was bloody brilliant!  I could never tell if it was pure horror, satirical comedy, or both.  They interest you without spoiling anything, and it sets the tone perfectly.  Honestly, the trailers are some of the best in modern cinema, and the film itself doesn’t disappoint, even if there are a few issues.

What I don’t like boils down to two minor problems, but have a great impact on the movie as a whole.  First, the pacing.  Get Out is not a traditional horror film; it is a slow-building, suspenseful mystery with excellent attention to character.  However, there are a few scenes that drag on, and the runtime should have been cut down a bit.  Secondly, the commentary.  I’m getting tired of seeing “thought-provoking” in Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus sections.  It’s an easy way to say, “this movie talked about racial issues” no context necessary.  In reality, the “commentary” in this movie is pretty obvious (some of the dialogue spells out what the message is).  Get Out is at its best when it is subverting clichés and being unpredictable.

Despite my overly analytical mind’s efforts to predict what would happen next, I was never right.  The only predictable thing about this movie is that you know something is wrong, but the incredible storytelling keeps you guessing in dreadful anticipation.  The humor is just as competent.  Unlike in Keanu (also written by Jordan Peele), the jokes vary in setup and punchline.  You’ll be cringing in one scene, laughing in the next (the supporting cast is stellar!), and then you’ll be shocked by what the first two scenes built up to.  Trust me, this is one satisfying movie!

This is hard to say, but Get Out is better than The Visit, one of my favorite movies of 2015.  Both films are horror/comedies about someone going to see family in a very suspicious setting.  Not only is the script very spontaneous, but the humor is much better as well.  Basically, this movie deserves 90% of the overwhelmingly positive response it has received.  Allow me to add to that response by giving it Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

My Thoughts On: “John Wick: Chapter 2”

I hope you’re prepared for nerdgasming, because this post is going to be little more than a neon sign flashing, “GO SEE THIS AWESOME MOVIE RIGHT NOW!!!”  It is rare to come across a sequel that one-ups its predecessor, and when that happens, it is truly a sight to behold.

Stuntman/director Chad Stahelski (who also directed the first film) returns with even more visual style and intense fight sequences to boot.  I cannot understate how incredible these action scenes are!  This is due to: brutal R-rated hand-to-hand combat, impeccable stunts, camerawork that doesn’t cut or shake around, and sound mixing that packs more punches than the characters do.  The violence in this movie is akin to that of a 90s action flick without the cheesiness or over-the-top setting.  Many people will disagree with me on that aspect, but John Wick 2 makes a great effort to validate the 100+ body count (among other improbabilities).  When characters hear “John Wick,” they shudder in fear or, if he’s in their presence, treat him with respect rivaling that of Pope Francis.  He’s one of the best assassins the crime underworld has ever seen.  It would only make sense that people fear him.

Speaking of crime underworld, John Wick 2 has a stronger story than the first.  I always thought the dog’s death was a flimsy motivation, and they remedied that by expanding the incredibly interesting criminal world in this movie.  We got hints of this in the first movie, like the cleaning service, golden coins, and the hotel.  Hey wait, I just figured it out!  Literally as I write this review, it dawned on me.  They intentionally teased at the underworld in the first movie so the audience would gain interest for future installments.  Do you know what that means?  A franchise film released in the last seven years didn’t beat you over the head with sequel-baiting exposition!  Excuse me, I must sob with joy.

The narrative may not be as solid for some (although the motivations in this movie are logical).  Come to think of it, the runtime is too long, and the characters are slightly generic.  But for what John Wick 2is, I wasn’t expecting Inception, just some kick-a** thrills and Keanu Reeves proving that he can act.  John Wick: Chapter 2 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

My Thoughts On: “The Founder”

I can’t believe we’re still in January, because the movies that I’ve seen are surprisingly entertaining.  Today we have a film that takes us through the early days of Ray Kroc; entrepreneur/salesman who had a string of failures behind his 20+ years in the business.  When he comes across a small restaurant created/run by two brothers (Mike and Dick McDonald), Kroc instantly desires to be a part of it.  After much contemplation and pitching, he convinces the brothers to turn their very successful restaurant into a nationwide franchise.  After a while, Kroc begins to take over the business as he makes decisions that the brothers disagree with.

If you couldn’t tell, this is based on a true story, and a much more engrossing one than I initially thought.  The Founder blends rich American history with detailed explanations of how the industry functions to create a film that average audiences and business-minded people will enjoy.  There is actually a lot of wisdom and knowledge to take from this movie, but none of that would matter if the lead performance wasn’t up to snuff.

I’m glad Michael Keaton is continuing to pick scripts (Birdman, Spotlight) that are packed with potential, because he can sell almost any character.  Ray Kroc is a bit of an antihero.  He neglects his wife (played by Laura Dern), backstabs the brothers, and cares very little about other people’s opinions.  However, the writing for his character always keeps him likeable.  The movie makes it very clear that he has been suffering through his career for decades and he never caught a big break.  When something this promising finally comes into his life, he takes charge and diligently works.  He’s a little like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network; even if you don’t like him, you have to admire his tenacity and cleverness.  Did he (I use this term for the purpose of making a point) basterdize the concept?  A little, but he kept goals in sight and stuck to the core message of the iconic chain.  What helps is Keaton’s passion and intimidation.  As the movie goes on, he becomes more and more cutthroat and determined (a lethal combination); it gets to the point where you could compare him to a mob boss in terms of inspiring fear.

Sure, the editing is unnecessarily quick, and the pacing is slow, but The Founder is an important film to see if you have ever partaken of the ubiquitous brand’s culinary delicacies.  Considering how many locations there are, the odds say you have.  The Founder gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

My Thoughts On: “Hidden Figures”

First, off, sorry about the extreme lateness of this.  I was sick for most of last week, and the Mission to Mars review was the last thing I wrote before sick brain took over.  The Untouchables review was posted before this one in order to stay on schedule.  Since then, spring semester has started, and I have lots of work to do.

What makes Hidden Figures an interesting specimen is the tone.  The movie follows three black women who worked at NASA during the American/Russian battle for space control.  Because of these women, the U.S. was able to be the first global superpower to put a man into Earth’s orbit.  This took place well after the Civil War, but the tension of inequality is still present everywhere in this movie.  It could be because of the PG-13 rating, but this movie never gets really violent, profane, or gritty.  As a consequence, the dramatic heft is not nearly as impactful as other movies of this sort.  Initially I thought this was holding the movie back, but it actually works.  This movie doesn’t take place during a war like Glory, nor are its white characters as racist as the ones in The Help.  Instead, these women have to overcome prejudice in the workplace, at the school setting, and in being recognized.  Oh, there are “big” moments, and they are used at just the right times.  Honestly, I appreciate the way this movie was written.  As a positive guy, I don’t think every movie needs to have the heartbreaking dramatic heft of Glory (although we still need movies like that every now and then).

The fact that everyone was bringing their A game to this project helps quite a lot.  Every one of the actors has a unique role to play and a unique personality.  To me, the best performances come from Octavia Spencer (an overworked/underpaid leader of the “Negro computer team”), Jim Parsons (finally breaking type-casting as a prejudiced NASA manager), and Kevin Costner (the devoted director of the space project who doesn’t care about race or sex, only proficiency).  The work from these three is some of the best in their careers.  Hidden Figures is worth watching purely for the cast which also includes  Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, and Taraji P. Henson.

I didn’t like this movie as much as I wanted to.  It’s a fine biopic with a great score and more lighthearted direction than expected.  There were a few moments that dragged (to the point of feeling redundant), but I see the effort on and off-screen.  Considering how many black films we got last year, I’d say this was one of the best.  Hidden Figures gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

My Thoughts On: “La La Land”

*Sigh*  I can’t wait until I get to the point in my career when I get invited to AFI and I can see these movies before anyone else.  Then I don’t have to wait to see it at a theater in a different city that has a limited showing… in January.  That same theater that takes over 20 minutes to get through a line of 15 people and causes you to miss the supposedly “jaw-dropping opening musical number.”  Grrr.

Just like Manchester by the Sea, the positive reaction to this movie was overwhelming.  As such, it is impossible to go into the movie without having some expectations (though I keep mine in check as best as possible).  So did the movie impress me?  With the exception of the screenplay, everything is aces.

As far as musicals go, this has got to be one of the best of recent years.  The “animated musical” genre is still going strong (Frozen and Sing being two of the most popular).  However, the genre that includes Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz has been all but forgotten.  More “trendy” movies like Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods could be considered a subgenre of the classic musical, but they don’t come anywhere near the quality of La La Land.  Since you most likely know the plot of this movie, I’ll just get to the criticism.

There is not a word for how impressive this direction is.  Director/writer Damien Chazelle brings his passion project to life with the detail of a Kubrick film.  The tracking shots in this movie rival that of The Revenant, the performances ooze with energy and talent, the sets capture the tone and time period with panache, and the lighting/use of color is scintillating.  Not to mention the soundtrack.  Oh my gosh, the music in La La Land is amazing!  The dance sequences are perfectly choreographed, and the score elevates each frame with ease.  If you play an instrument, you’ll probably love this movie.  On a presentation level, you could mistake it for the juiciest steak from the most refined restaurant in the richest part of New York City.  Sadly, on a story level, it’s got as much substance as a Big Mac.

I like this style and I like these actors, but the script is quite clichéd.  This could be from the fact that this genre doesn’t focus on story.  Which is fine, but when you don’t care about the script at all, we get Mamma Mia! and Flashdance (forgettable characters and over-the-top scenarios serve as filler to the musical numbers).  Thankfully, La La Land has more to offer than those films.  However, there are more clichés than I’d like.  The “starving artist” the “naive/hopeful new star” the “boss of the protagonist who doesn’t like their creativity,” and the “bubbly upbeat friends of the protagonist.”  There are a 1001 different things going on with the two main characters, but I didn’t get very engaged because they didn’t stand out as much as the movie’s style does.  I could have accepted this issue, if it weren’t for the climax.

Without spoiling anything, this (mostly linear) story randomly does a few loop de loops, then goes backwards, then skips forwards, and left me utterly disappointed.  I really don’t know what is going on when this part of the story was written, but it certainly wasn’t helpful!  I spent two hours with these characters only to have some out of left field thing make all that character development seem pointless (no, nobody dies).  It also reminded me that almost every supporting character in this movie is either a hindrance or a jerk to the main characters.  I’ve never said this before, but it would have been better if the story stayed on its predictable path instead of what actually happens.

Of course I enjoyed this movie, but I do not love it (even though I really wanted to).  It is worth seeing just because more movies like this need to be made, but the story needed a rewrite or two.  La La Land gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

No Thoughts On: “Manchester by the Sea”

Plot twist!  I am not reviewing this movie.  Not because I am lazy, or because I didn’t see the movie, it’s because I do not understand it.  Being 19, privileged, and a millennial, I have had very little life experience, especially with what Manchester by the Sea (or How to get Nominated for All the Oscars) displays.

Remember the critics’ reaction to Inception?  While most of it was positive, there was an unusually large amount of negative criticism that basically boiled down to, “it’s confusing.”  One of my rules of criticism (of any type) is “Understand it before you criticize it.”  Surely, I don’t have to explain why.  The point is that Manchester by the Sea is not meant for me.  It’s meant for grown adults with kids, significant others, and generally has more life issues than me.  The only thing I am confident in saying is that the acting, music, and cinematography is some of the best of 2016, no doubt.

What makes this movie different from, say, A Clockwork Orange or The Lobster (both movies that I will review in the future), is that they are both comedies.  They are also very weird movies that are not the most relatable.  Manchester by the Sea is one of those slice-of-life movies that is supposed to mirror real people in real situations with real problems.

Thank you for your understanding, my next review will be of something I definitely understand.  P.S. If you really want a grade for this movie, it would be a B (unofficially).