Bro-Reviews: The Dark Tower

One (frustrating) step away from an epic.

Let’s face it folks, making a movie is never easy. Adapting legendary literature beloved by many people into a film is near impossible. This has never stopped Hollywood before, as “unfilmable” classics such as World War Z, Watchmen, Cloud Atlas, and Atlas Shrugged have all been adapted into feature length films, yielding mixed results at best. One of these classic works of literature that has also been label “unadaptable” is The Dark Tower by legendary author Stephen King. With an expansive universe that has been built for many years through numerous books, The Dark Tower could never get out of production hell, recycling through directors such as J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard. Years later, however, The Dark Tower has finally arrived in theaters, hoping to break the “unadaptable”/”unfilmable” curse.

The Dark Tower sees 11-year-old child Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) experiencing nightmares of a parallel universe called “The Mid-World”. Convinced his dreams are true, Jake sets off for an adventure to explore this universe, which he eventually discovers and befriends Roland (Idris Elba), a Gunslinger sworn to protect the Mid-World. Roland is on a quest to find the Dark Tower, the nexus point between time and space, in hopes to save all existence from extermination. However, Walter o’Dim/ The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is hot on the unlikely duo’s trail, and the two’s mission appears to be near impossible to complete.

Throughout the development of the Dark Tower, rumors circulated the film was too big for director Nikolaj Arcel to grasp, with initial test screenings panning the film for being too convoluted and lacking in special effects. This of course led to re-shoots and studio interference to try to make the film more accessible to mainstream audiences in the hopes of making a bankable summer blockbuster. As I stated earlier, The Dark Tower has always had the reputation of being near impossible to adapt to the big screen, and that’s the case for many of Stephen King’s works. The Dark Tower was more than likely never going to be the epic hardcore fans had hoped for, but as it stands, there’s evidence The Dark Tower was closer to being an epic than one might have originally thought.

Idris Elba continues his ascension to the top of the A-List with his turn as Roland. Elba is undeniably cool as the legendary gunslinger, and he projects his sense of frustration and seemingly aimless wandering due to the damage Walter o’Dim/ the Man in Black has done to the Mid-World and all of the other gunslingers. The Dark Tower serves as further proof the Elba is an actor to be reckoned with. Matthew McConaughey is delightfully creepy and suave as Walter o’Dim/ The Man in Black, and appears to be having a blast in the role. He’s also able to convey a sense of dread and impending doom every time he appears on screen, once again adding another tremendous performance in McConaughey’s “McConaissance” that has been going strong since 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Although there are moments of bad child acting, Tom Taylor is an appealing enough actor as Jake Chambers to display his wonder when first encountering the Mid-World and eagerness to help Roland, as he and Elba as make for a nice duo.

Matthew McConaughey;Idris Elba

Of course, one would be remiss if they did not mention whether or not the Mid-World is realized in any fashion. There’s definitely enough imagery within the film that makes King’s parallel universe come to life, which is impressive considering the film’s muted $60 million budget. Scenes in which children are being strapped to machines and using their “shine” in an attempt to bring down the tower are frightening and original, giving the film a much needed chilly atmosphere. This atmosphere is also bolstered with the barren wasteland of the Mid-World, an abandoned theme park, a village safe haven, and secret Mid-World societies in the heart of New York City Roland and Jake come across during the film’s 95 minute run time.While the special effects are nothing to marvel at, they’re good enough to be passable in a film that clearly had budget restrictions.

However, therein lies one of the issues preventing The Dark Tower from rising above an otherwise conventional fantasy film. Although I’ve said it before, it needs to be said again; The Dark Tower was never going to have a seamless transition to the silver screen. King has written 8 books in the series, and never truly concluded his epic saga. With that in mind, it’s very disappointing the film was restricted to a lower budget and not allowed to be the $100 million summer blockbuster it could have been in order to have the Mid-World and all of its intricacies come to life. Action scenes involving the creatures of the Mid-World are so dark you can’t really follow what’s occurring on screen, somewhat muting the film’s otherwise stylish and pulpy action sequences. It would have been even more terrifying to see all of the monsters and creatures Roland gives exposition about when explaining how the tower guards the universe from such monsters and then see him do battle with them. The film also feels hacked to the bone at 95 minutes, and one cannot help but feel the studio interference in the film in order to make the film more appealing to a wide audience. At 95 minutes, the film could’ve used an extra half hour of set-up, exposition, and action to make The Dark Tower be the epic film it should have been.

Also plaguing the film are the 20 minutes or so we see Jake in the real world/ keystone earth. Much of the dialogue during this time is laughably bad, and it does not help that the young actors in these scenes clearly needed another take or more acting lessons in order for them to not come across as actors but as actual children living in New York City. On top of that, the ending of the film clearly has a rushed, “we ran out of money” vibe, leaving one with somewhat of a sour taste in their mouth as they exit the theater.

By no means is The Dark Tower a great movie, but it’s not terrible either. Considering most of the other Stephen King films such as Pet Sematary, The Mist, and Dreamcatcher that were all quite bad, The Dark Tower stands as one of the better Stephen King adaptations.  Unfortunately, one cannot but help but feel the studio interference onscreen while watching the film. The result is a near epic film that needed more time and money to have Stephen King’s legendary vision fully realized, rendering it somewhat conventional. Despite the feeling of what could have been, The Dark Tower is bolstered by Elba’s and McConaughey’s performances, has enough imagery, and stylized action to justify a trip to the theater.

Rating: 2.5/4. Pay Matinée Price.

The Dark Tower stars Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kanz, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Dennis Haysbert. It is in theaters Friday, August 4th.

Bro-Reviews: Wish Upon

Wish upon a better movie.

As it pertains to the horror film genre, there’s very little material out there that is new and original. Filmmakers have resorted to taking tried and tired premises and repeating them over and over again in the hopes that younger audiences who have not seen these premises before will be fooled into thinking the material they are being presented with is something that’s never been done before. Once again, Hollywood producers are trying to hoodwink and bamboozle audiences, and their latest attempt to trick us has come in the form of a new “horror” film, Wish Upon, from upstart distributor Broad Green Pictures.

Wish Upon sees Claire Shannon (Joey King) struggling through life ever since her mother committed suicide when she was a child. Her high school life is also a chore, as she is unpopular, bullied and goes unnoticed by her crush. One day, her hoarder father Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) stumbles upon an ancient Chinese music box, which Claire learns grants wishes and turns them into reality. After making wishes that change her life for the better, bloody terror breaks out and hurts the ones she cares for. Claire must then solve the mystery of how to make the carnage stop before it’s too late.

This is an exact replica of “The Monkey’s Paw”. For the uninitiated, “The Monkey’s Paw” was a book by W.W. Jacobs published in 1902 that has since been adapted into numerous films, with the basic premise being three different people can hold the monkey’s paw item and it will grant them three different wishes. While the wishes come true, there is a blood price for the ones who made the wishes to pay since they are altering fate. Wish Upon takes this premise and puts it in a high-school setting, resulting in one of the most embarrassing blunders ever released in theaters.

WISH UPON

Joey King is a fine young actress and does what she can with the material, but she comes across as a junkie who hasn’t had her fix in the film. I firmly believe the filmmakers kidnapped poor Ryan Phillippe after he went out on an all night drinking-bender and just threw him onscreen, as throughout the film he looks as if he is crying for help and wondering where his once promising career has gone. Jerry O’ Connell also appears in the film for about 30 seconds, making me wonder if he too was strong-armed into doing this film because he owed the mafia some money. The rest of the cast consists of mainly no-names who should never work in film again, as they deliver their terrible dialogue like a high schooler performing in a play that’s only there because they need the extracurricular activity credit to graduate.

The actual use of the premise is inconsistent throughout as well. Once a wish is granted, someone close to Claire is supposed to die. However, people die in the movie that Claire is neither close to nor is even related to, so the film can’t even stick to its tried and tested premise in an attempt to make a compelling film. The only time the film is even marginally suspenseful is a scene in which the filmmakers use the cheap gimmick of showing two different people experiencing dangerous situations while leaving you guessing who’s going to be the one that gets it.

One aspect of horror films that is quiet necessary to qualify it as a horror film is providing scares, which Wish Upon can’t even wish for. Even if a horror film isn’t particularly scary, it can be improved in an exploitative fashion by quenching the audiences’ blood thirst. Wish Upon is largely bloodless throughout, so it doesn’t even go for the cheap exploitation in the hopes that its PG-13 rating will lure in dumb, unassuming teenagers who still believe the Paranormal Activity movies are real. The film also tries to blend comedy into the mix, as numerous snarky teenagers quip one-liners and do “things millennials do” despite the horror that is occurring around them. Most of the laughs are unintentional, and one must highlight Shannon Purser’s dramatic “THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT” line, as it provided one of the biggest unintentional laughs I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Somewhere buried deep within the incompetency of it, there’s a decent movie that Wish Upon could’ve been. Instead, what we have is an incompetent, bloodless, not scary “horror” film that insults the audiences’ intelligence with its predictable themes that have been retreaded for the thousandth time. Had it not been for the laugh inducing middle-finger-to-the-audience ending/ payoff, Wish Upon couldn’t wish for even a half a star rating. In the end, Wish Upon will leave you wishing you had stayed at home and read “The Monkey’s Paw” instead.

Rating: 0.5/ 4 Stars. Stay Away.