The Dark Tower(2 / 5)
Or How to Make Soup out of Stephen King’s Keystone Series.
In brief: Take an epic eight-book series inspired by both Lord of the Rings and Spaghetti Westerns,1 strip away the character and the uniqueness, boil down the mythology and the plot, and reduce to 95 minutes.
In longer: Rather than focus, as the book does, solely on The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) in his pursuit of Walter O’Dim AKA the Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey)2 shifts its attention instead to Jake Chambers (newcomer Tom Taylor); a troubled kid based in New York who’s experiencing dreams/visions of the end of the world.3
These visions lead Jake to the rocky desert of Mid-World4 and to Roland of Gilead, last surviving Gunslinger, on a question to avenge his father Steven (Dennis Haysbert)5 and prevent the destruction of The Dark Tower, which would allow darkness to enter into all creation.6
The film’s screenplay7, written by Akiva Goldsman,8 takes the pair back to Earth9 before abruptly throwing them into a truncated third act that suggests serious meddling in the editing room.10 The film’s whole purpose seems to be to get its leads from A to B with as little fuss – or indeed incident – as possible. The Dark Tower itself – which is, canonically, Roland’s final destination, scarcely enters into it.11
Taylor brings a wide-eyed angst to de facto protagonist Jake that’s ingratiating enough, but Elba, despite his no-nonsense charm, struggles to put his stamp on a character who’s not so much Man With No Name as Man With No Personality12 McConaughey, meanwhile, turns his usual Southern charm into a sort of bored, whispered malice; while apparently attired, it must be noted, as a bullfighter.
In production since 2007, first as a TV series under the aegis of J.J. Abrams, it seems vaguely perplexing that this is the version of The Dark Tower with which we’ve ended up: a film that – to return to the soup metaphor – is devoid of both taste and substance. Even the King references with which the film is peppered are – to abandon the soup metaphor – strangely subdued.13 Most explicitly, a sign reading Pennywise at a dilapidated fun fair mostly serves as a reminder of Warner Bros. forthcoming IT adaptation and the pleasant likelihood of it being better than this. Based on the trailers alone, it already is by default.
In retrospect, the lack of content in almost every trailer leading up until The Dark Tower‘s release date should have been a give away. Between Sony, the three other production companies with which they worked, and, of course, the King estate, we’ve ended up with the most watered down version of the property imaginable.
Too bland and uninvolving to be truly terrible, The Dark Tower (2017)14 rewards neither die-hard fans nor casual viewers. For the former, it verges on blasphemy;15 for the latter, it must simply be boring.
Logan Lucky(4 / 5)
Sold as “Ocean’s Eleven by way of the Coen Brother’s”, Steven Soderbergh’s latest lacks the glamour of his inaugural heist film, but makes up for with a hillbilly twist and a degree of affection for its characters that might well seem alien to Ethan and Joel.16
Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a construction worker whose limp, the result of a career-ending football industry, sees him laid off from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway due to insurance concerns. With his embittered ex Bobbie Jo (a tanned, careworn Katie Holmes) looking to move their daughter Sadie (an adorkable Farrah Mackenzie) across state lines, Jimmy decides to put an end to the so-called “Logan family curse” about which his brother – one-armed serviceman-turned-bartender Clyde (Adam Driver) – is always going on 17
As such, having assembled a bank robbery to-do list18, they set about assembling a team. Given the West Virginia locale, it’s a smaller, somewhat less polished team than their Clooney-led predecessors.19 The most qualified among them, Joe Bang (a cackling, bleach-blonde Daniel Craig), is currently, in his own words20 “in-car-cer-ray-ted.” Luckily, that’s no obstacle for Jimmy.
Where Ocean’s Eleven built itself up to a flashy feat of prestidigitation, Logan Lucky is more modest in its ambitions. Despite the moniker of their explosives expert,21, Lucky Logan is surprisingly understated in its depiction of the heist of a lifetime: robbing the Speedway on the busiest day of the year.
Without limitless resources at their disposal, Jimmy’s plan relies on a few key props – including, among other things, a birthday cake, cockroaches, gummy bears, and bleach22 – and a decent understanding of human psychology. Jimmy may look like a meathead, but, as his cheekbone-y brother is surprised to discover, he’s actually something of a savant.
Despite its relatively low stakes23, Logan Lucky thrives as a consistently dryly character-driven comedy24 and a few surreal touches.25 For every broad moment of humour – like Seth McFarlane as an obnoxious, mustachioed, rhinestone-studded British racing team owner – there’s a more idiosyncratic one; like a prison riot in which the list of demands requires the prison warden (played by Dwight Yoakam) to explain the taxing nature of G.R.R. Martin’s publicity schedule.
Welcome back, Stephen Soderbergh. We missed you.28
The Hitman’s Bodyguard(3 / 5)
Following a deceptively tricky formula of violence, humour, and pathos,29 The Hitman’s Bodyguard is forced to rely on the chemistry of its two leads.
Michael Bryce (a world-weary Ryan Reynolds) is an elite protection agent whose life falls apart when a high-profile client is assassinated on his watch. Two years later, his glamorous lifestyle a thing of the past, Bryce is contacted by his estranged ex, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Daredevil’s Elodie Yung), and provided with an opportunity to salvage his reputation.
All Bryce has to do is get a witness to The Hague where they’re due to testify against a genocidal dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, cashing a check). The catch lies in the witness’ identity: none other than Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson), the world’s deadliest assassin. He and Bryce have met; in fact Kincaid has previously attempted to kill him no fewer than
27 28 times.
Originally conceived of as a serious drama, Tom O’Connor’s screenplay is broadly amusing with a sufficient quotient of gags – as in when Bryce and Kincaid grab a ride with a busload of nuns. Even so, the film suffers from the sub-genre’s usual abrupt tonal shifts between sweary cynicism and schmaltzy sincerity. One second Kincaid is crooning a love song to his incarcerated wife Sonia (Salma Hayek); the next you realise her big-boned cellmate is standing in the corner, crying and breaking wind.
Still, Reynolds and Jackson have enough charm to make the inconsistencies less jarring than simply bemusing. Usually the smart aleck by type, Reynolds here plays the straight man; a tense, uptight professional, more or less handing the film over to Jackson’s devil-may-care improviser. The former carries an intricate lock-pick set that’ll get him into any car; the more boring the better. The latter would rather just punch through a window; even if it means bloodying himself up.
Director Patrick Hughes subscribes to the usual fast-cutting blam-blam-blam style of direction; proficient yet unremarkable. There’s an early shootout that might as well be called Coventry Has Fallen and a boat-bike chase along the canals of Amsterdam that recalls Roger Moore’s Bond.31
There are also two “romantic” bar fights and a meet-cute at a mob funeral, all set to soft rock classics.32It’s all slightly male gaze-y – the women are all supposedly empowered, but mostly reduced to being exasperated about their menfolk. The buddy comedy does have a bad history with female characters33
Black’s influence, again, is pervasive and inescapable. The Hitman’s Bodyguard may not be as sharp, memorable, or mordantly funny as most of his oeuvre, but it’s diverting enough in its own way.
- Which stands, like the Dark Tower itself, at the heart of all Stephen King’s work; providing a thematic focal point for novels as disparate as Hearts In Atlantis and The Strand.
- The opening line of the first book, The Gunslinger, famously runs, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed” – a perfect opening image if ever there was one.
- In the book series the character of Jake isn’t introduced until the second novel and then he’s one of a trio of companions who form Roland’s ka-tet.
- Across which, to reiterate, “The man in black fled…”.
- Him and Elba work so well together in their flashback, you may wish you were watching a father-son drama about them instead.
- The things that apparently live in the darkness look like your run-of-the-mill chimerical sci-fi beasties. Bullets will put them down. Big huh.
- I’m loathe to actually call it The Dark Tower.
- The hackiest of hacks to ever have an Oscar to his name. Seriously, I don’t usually hold any animus against writers of bad movies – shit happens – but fuck this guy.
- For some light, fish-out-of-water comedy involving guns, hospitals, and fast food and a touch of surprising bleakness on the home front.
- Director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Engagement) is utterly competent but very clearly a gun for hire and the film suffers from his apparent lack of a creative vision.
- Except for those scenes when it’s under attack by Walter’s psychic-child-harnessing machine, which fires out beams of energy that arc across the sky. Yawn. I mean, what is this, nearly every blockbuster in 2016?
- Roland’s not exactly known as a wise-cracker, but the film gives him about two minor moments of humour and exactly one smile. I like Elba’s smile.
- There’s a photo of The Overlook Hotel from The Shining, a St. Bernard (à la Cujo) that appears in a street scene, and a few other blink-and-you’ll miss them visual allusions. Fans are likely to be too busy being pissed off with what the film’s casual (mis)treament of vital location, the Dixie Pig, let alone Algul Siento, to notice.
- As I will henceforth forever refer to it in the hope that, as the books suggest, all such things come round again.
- And that’s discounting the fact that the film is, for reasons I won’t delve into here, technically both an adaptation of and sequel to the book series, which makes it doubly disappointing.
- In fact, due to its softly quirky humour, and with the participation of Adam Driver, it feels closer in tone to Paterson than The Ladykillers, the Coen’s mordant, Southern-set crime caper.
- In all fairness, Clyde lost his arm en route to the airport to ship home from Iraq.
- Including such gems as “Have a plan”, “Have a backup plan”, and “Expect the unexpected” – good advice all three.
- Though hick brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) do have a touch of the squabbling Malloy brothers, Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan), about them.
- Well, word.
- The film also reminds you just how good Daniel Craig can be in a supporting role; even if he never quite sheds that movie star authority.
- But fails to account for, almost ruinously, a fake arm.
- Even under the third-act scrutiny of the intensely focused Agent Grayson (Hilary Swank), the gang never seems like they’re in particular danger of being caught.
- I laughed consistently throughout.
- When Sadie gets up to sing as part of a beauty pageant, her fake eye-lashes and hair extensions make her look more like a dolled-up dwarf than a little girl.
- Including a take on CCR’s “Fortunate Son” with the longest lead-in I have ever heard.
- It’s more or less the same as the denouement to Ocean’s Eleven – albeit from a law enforcement angle.
- Plus, your return to directing after a four-year “retirement”/hiatus gives Driver a chance to continue his streak of working with great alliterative filmmakers: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Jim Jarmusch (Paterson), Terry Gilliam (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote). Alright, the last one doesn’t count, but its pretty remarkable in itself, right?
- Pioneered by Shane Black in Lethal Weapon and made darker still by Martin McDonagh.
- Apart from Marvel guru Stan Lee, who’s appeared in 39 films with a total box office of over $8 billion.
- Albeit with fewer double-taking pigeons and a bit less flair.
- The soundtrack is, on the whole, eclectic – from Chuck Berry to thrash metal and yes, just a touch of Whitney.
- For which Martin McMcDonagh implicitly criticised himself in Seven Psychopaths).[/note] – apart, perhaps, Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight.[note]Written by Black, costarring Jackson.