“Dark Tower” movie review

A paint-by-the-numbers “epic” story with a prolific number of Stephen King references. Adapted from the Dark Tower series of novels by Stephen King, Dark Tower introduces movie audiences to one of King’s masterpiece works of literature. Unfortunately, the movie takes place in the middle of the series and fails to leave audiences wanting to see more. For the most part, it offers up little more than an enhanced SyFy Channel original movie or a one-time HBO film. With a powerhouse leading cast consisting of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it constantly feels that the actors were held back from that which we are normally accustomed. That is, not to say that there aren’t enjoyable parts of the movie–certainly seeing all the King references are fun and it is a great premise. I only wish the story and characters had been allowed to develop over the course of three films. Although there is sufficient evidence to suggest that some movies in the recent past that have been forced into a trilogy instead of a strong, concise single film, this is an example of a one-time film that truly needed the room of three films to develop and emotionally connect with audiences. There is never a dull moment in the film, nor an opportunity to become bored because the film is incredibly rushed and turning points are forced into place.

At the center of the universe stands a massively tall dark tower that keeps the bulk of evil forces at bay. Under attack by Walter (McConaughey), the last gunslinger Rolland (Elba) must destroy Walter and his following before they destroy the dark tower and wreak havoc on Keystone Earth and the other planets in the universe. Harvesting children with “the shine” from earth, to use their minds to destroy the tower, is the method employed by Walter and he has his eyes on a child whose shine is greater than any other. After Jake (Tom Taylor) evades capture by Walter’s henchmen, he finds himself on Mid World where he meets gunslinger Rolland. Under constant siege by Water, Rolland and Jake must make a arduous journey to Walter’s headquarters where he is mounting his attack against the tower. With the fate of the universe at stake, Rolland, Walter, and Jake face-off in an epic battle of good versus evil.

There is not much to dissect here. One thing is for sure–and I have not read the books–BUT, from what I know of the books, fans of the literature will not like the film because it takes what happens over the course of “King” sized novels and condenses it down to little more than a short story turned 2hr film. Not having read the books, I was not set up for disappointment. That being the case, I enjoyed the film for the most part. But it was obvious that it was incredibly rushed and there was little if any development in plot or character. No emotional investment to be found. It’s a shame; the premise of the film is fascinating and I think there is a high degree of probability that I would have enjoyed following the franchise had it been more than one film. The way the movie ends does lend itself to possible sequels, but after the very “television” feel of this one, it is going to have a hard time convincing future audiences to invest time and spend money on it. If anything, this film does prompt me to read the novels upon which it is based. One argument that could be made in the film’s defense is the same one that can be made when looking at many of the films based upon King’s works. His novels are so dense, internally driven, and detailed that is is difficult to successfully translate effectively from page to screen. Obviously, there are exceptions to this trend (i.e. the upcoming IT theatrical release).

If you are a fan of fantasy and adventure films with a hint of science-fiction, then you will likely enjoy this movie. If you love the series of books, I feel fairly confident that you will not like this adaptation. Perhaps this film will inspire a network to spearhead an epic television series. I think that is where this story will be best shown.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Star Trek: Beyond” movie review

StarTrekBeyondOld school charm paired with impeccable visual storytelling! From Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot, Producer J.J. Abrams once again returns audiences to the world of Captain Kirk aboard the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) in a film that encompasses much of what was loved about the original series/movies, and combines that soul with the film production technology of today. Despite the subdued anthropological subtext, which is one of the primary differences between the Star Trek and Star Wars universes respectively, this story will definitely keep you entertained with brilliant writing and a nostalgic feel. For long-time fans of the franchise that’s been around since the 1960s, you will find that Abrams handles the settings and characters with care and respect. The third film in this reboot series, Star Trek: Beyond is one roller coaster of a ride that boasts a narrative pace that moves at warp speed. If there is one fallacy in the storytelling of this installment, in the Abrams reboot of the Gene Roddenberry classic, it is the lack of social commentary on the human condition that has been at the core of Star Trek since its creation. With a fantastic cast, incredibly strategic direction, and beautiful cinematography and visual effects, Star Trek: Beyond will whisk the audience away to the final frontier and “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Following an encounter with an alien species at the York Town space station and colony, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is requested by Starfleet leadership to investigate the causes of distress in order to render help. With the possibility of accepting a Vice Admiral commission from Starfleet, Kirk sees this as his potentially final mission aboard the Enterprise. Concurrently, Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also at a crossroads in his life when he receives word that Ambassador Spock has passed away, as he contemplates picking up where Ambassador Spock left off. Gathering the crew together for what may be the final mission of Kirk and Spock, the Enterprise sets out to uncharted deep space to evaluate the problems and bring about peace. Unknown to the Enterprise crew, they are about to encounter their darkest times yet and a villain named Krall (Idris Elba) who seeks an artifact in the possession of Kirk and has a mission to destroy the Federation and bring about his own version of peace–called chaos.

As a long-time Star Trek fan myself (TNG & Voyager), one of the very first elements I picked up on at the beginning of this installment was the trademark bridge sound effects from the original Star Trek TV series. Employing a little suspension of disbelief, what with all the flat panels and touch screen displays and all, the bridge of the NCC-1701 Enterprise still boasts the old soul of the bridge that started a universe of adventures that continue to this day. Fortunately, visionary producer J.J. Abrams, director Justin Lin, and writers Simon Pegg & Doug Jung craft a story that mostly takes what made the franchise so endearing and channel it into an exciting story for audiences today. From the characters to the dialog, and from the interpersonal interactions to the settings, this Star Trek movie effectively leads the reboot of the franchise in the right direction. Having just watched Abrams’ Star Wars: the Force Awakens back in December, I was very curious as to how similar Beyond would look and feel as compared to the aforementioned. Forced to decline the director’s chair for Star Trek: Beyond, Abrams turned the reigns over to Lin while still serving as the creative producer. Directing Star Wars and producing Star Trek could have left audiences with similar cinematic experiences; however, both movies are vastly different but provide fans with excellent additions to the respective universes.

Prior to screening the movie, I was very skeptical going into it since the various trailers for the film were disappointing–looked like the film was going to be cheesy. To my surprise, the film was definitely not hokey and played out exceptionally well. Compared to the previous two films, I definitely like this one much more. That is mostly attributed to the fact that Beyond felt like a Star Trek movie. The previous two installments felt like a Star Trek movie taking place inside a Star Wars-esque universe. Hopefully, this film will redirect the reboot of the motion pictures in a direction more closely aligned with the original series and movies. With Star Wars and Star Trek trying to find their respective places in today’s culture of media, entertainment, and gaming, it is important for both series to be distinctly different from one another. Now, I don’t mean different stories or characters–obviously, that’s a given by default–but I mean the feel of the stories needs to be unique. Star Wars is an action-adventure mostly concerned with good v evil and Star Trek is science-fiction that concerns itself, traditionally anyway, with the human condition. Both take place in the future, but are different experiences. There is demonstrable evidence in Star Trek: Beyond that the franchise is seeking to stay true to its roots in anthropology and psychology; whereas Star Wars: the Force Awakens is staying true to its roots in futuristic good v evil in a galaxy far, far away.

From a technical perspective, the film is flawless; however, it would have been nice to have seen more practical effects and miniatures more so than digital effects, albeit, the effects were impressive. I appreciated the focus on the interpersonal relationships between the characters, and how it upstaged the actual conflict. Yes, the conflict in the story is important and is what drives the action, but it’s the characters themselves that are the most important element in the narrative. Does this film shift the dominant focus off Star Wars and onto Star Trek? Not particularly. But does this movie pave the way for the Star Trek movies to be on par with the Star Wars movies? I believe that we could begin to witness that trend. Star Wars has the massive advantage of being owned by the Walt Disney Company; and therefore, TWDC is integrating that IP into the parks, cruise line, and merchandise. That is HUGE. Unfortunately, Star Trek does not benefit from being owned by a distribution company and legacy studio with theme park investments in the United States, anyway. Paramount did have amusement park investments, but sold them off to Cedar Fair many years ago. Perhaps the interest in the Star Trek movies and upcoming TV series in 2017 will generate a desire for this IP to become part of a themed entertainment property as well.

With so many choices this weekend for movies it is hard to decide what to see! I am looking forward to watching Lights Out now that I have watched Star Trek: Beyond. Whether you are a fan of the original series or movies OR you are a new fan to the Star Trek universe, I feel confident that you will find much to enjoy in this newest installment in the Abrams reboot. Hopefully the film will perform well over the weekend and begin to generate an interest in the upcoming TV series as well.

“Finding Dory” movie review

Finding_DoryA cute but ultimately emotionally static sequel to a beloved animated film. Disney-Pixar’s highly anticipated sequel Finding Dory makes a splash this week. Following the critically acclaimed success and continued popularity of Finding NemoFinding Dory hopes to find a place in your heart as well. Unfortunately, this film struggles to leave as lasting an impact as the first movie. Many film and Disney enthusiasts, approaching this film, knew that it was most likely going to be either a Cars 2 or a Toy Story 2; it falls somewhere between the two, but closer to the former. Not straying too far from from the plot of its predecessor, Finding Dory‘s message about disabilities turned strengths get a little lost in the emotionally static feel and somewhat forced turning points and dialog. The film certainly has its moments of laughter and surprise, but those are few and far between. Using its predecessor as an example, it is highly unlikely that Ellen DeGeneres could have been replaced by any other voice actor and the character of Dory still remain as endearing; however, honestly in this film, not just Ellen, but any of the other voice actors could have been replaced and the characters and plot play out just the same. A film needs to be a roller coaster of sorts–have its ups and downs–but Finding Dory pretty well stays rather somber the entire time. But yes, it does have some funny and pull-at-your-heart-strings moments. All in all, this movie feels like a forced sequel that wasn’t entirely necessary but produced in response to the high demand for a return to the world of Dory, Marlin, Nemo, and their friends.

Many years before Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (Albert Brooks) bumped into each other, Dory was just a baby fish with two loving parents. Struggling with short-term memory loss from an early age, Dory’s parents worked with her everyday to learn and grow. One day, she found herself all alone and couldn’t find her parents. And over the course of years searching, she found her way to the reef where she encountered a frantic dad searching for his son; and well, the rest is history. Moving up to present day. With an inability to shake the feeling that she keeps forgetting something really important, Dory finally remembers that she lost her parents. Although the memories are vague and spotty, she knows for certain that she needs to find them. After begging Marlin to go on another adventure out past the drop off, Marlin and Nemo agree to partner with Dory in search of her parents. From one side of the ocean to the other, nothing will stop Dory from locating her long lost parents to reunite as a family.

Like with Zootopia as well as other Disney films, there is usually a message in the subtext of its animated features and shorts. Finding Dory clearly has a message about perceived disabilities. Perceived in that, what is otherwise a physical or emotional disability, can be used to develop strengths. Most of the characters that you will encounter in this movie have some kind of disability. Dory and her memory is the main one, but there are definitely others. I don’t want to give much away, so we’ll just leave it at that. Although I feel the approach to writing this message into the diegesis of the film was a bit forced or heavy-handed, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it was handled very well and is mostly seamlessly integrated into the plot and mild character development. The two characters who offer the audience the most, in terms of character arc and development are Dory and her septopus friend Hank (Ed O’Neill). What’s a septopus? Just watch the film and find out. Both characters are mildly entertaining but lack that magical spark that was so much a part of Finding Nemo. One area that sequins sometimes find themselves in, is pulling from the first movie so much that you leave the sequel wondering why it was even necessary. Thankfully, that really isn’t the case with Finding Dory. But you’ll be happy to know that you will see some familiar faces from the first one, including everyone’s favorite sea turtle and stingray. Among the new characters in the movie, my absolute favorite was Becky!! Such a hot mess and quite possibly a little disturbing. Those eyes, though. She was so instrumental in my enjoyment of the movie!

I had the fortune of screening the film with one of the lead vocalists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo the Musical. And I won’t disclose who it was, but he “totally” eats, breaths, and sleeps Nemo and his friends. This was a fantastic opportunity to include an analysis of, not only my point of view on the film, but someone else’s who has a lot of time and energy vested in this property. I half expected him to disagree with me after the movie ended when we began discussing it. But, it turns out that he feels very much the same as I do. He was able to point out some elements that were actually taken from the show at Animal Kingdom, which was really cool! It’s a show that I watch fairly often as well, as I am a former Cast Member myself and current Annual Passholder. Having the ability to discuss Finding Dory in regards to how it fits in with not only its predecessor but the live show was fantastic! He echoes many my same opinions on the movie, but also adds that the kid behind us told their mom that it was amazing. So, in terms of how well this film plays out for children, it does a great job. Many of the young people are about the same age I was when I saw the first one. I think what I missed most in Finding Dory as opposed to Finding Nemo is the lack of comedy. There is definitely some funny moments in the film but the comedic timing and structure simply doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor. Reminds me of a quality just above a straight to DVD/BluRay or a commercial-free Disney Channel Original Movie. Let’s remember this: Toy Story 2 was also a fairly week sequel–albeit entertaining and heartwarming–and then it came back with the phenomenal tear-jerker Toy Story 3, so it is entirely possible that the Nemo property will go through the same evolution.

Competing against Central Intelligence and a handful of limited releases, Finding Dory is sure to beat out the competition this weekend. And for what it’s worth, it is a fun movie that warms those of us in our 20s and 30s with childlike nostalgia of when we first saw Nemo. Is this destined to be the next great Disney-Pixar film? Probably not. However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy it with your friends or family. Certainly, it is a wonderful movie to be enjoyed with those who love seeing familiar characters and meeting new ones. I just wouldn’t go into the movie looking for an excellent and dynamic story.

“The Jungle Book” (2016) movie review

JungleBookDisney Nature meets beloved animated classic! Disney’s newest live-action remake of an animated classic surprisingly plays out very well. Unlike last year’s CinderellaThe Jungle Book strikes a perfect balance between creating a new more visceral experience of a familiar story and paying homage to the best of what the animated version had to offer–the essence of what made it “Disney.” As I was sitting in the theatre, I was amazed at how much the film truly felt like a classic Disney masterpiece that just happened to include beautiful cinematography, incredibly well engineered CG animals, and a plot; albeit, not a dynamic, thrilling, or deep plot, but a coherent plot nevertheless. That’s more than I can say about the original. Even though, I too like the classic. After the Cinderella cinematic schlock, I was not expecting much out of this film. But, I stand (or sit, rather) corrected. The Jungle Book is encouraging in that it proved to me that Disney can still tell a good story that is great for a wide audience and includes the core of the magic of an animated classic but successfully translates the narrative into a live-action movie.

Deep in the Indian jungles, an orphan human infant is found by a wise and caring panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Knowing he would die alone, Bagheera took him to a pack of wolves to be raised as one of their own. Being given the name Mowgli (Neel Sethi) spend his childhood as a wolf. When Shere Kahn (Idris Elba), a vengeful bengal tiger, threatens the wolf pack and the rest of the jungle, Mowgli decides to leave the pack and head for the man village–the jungle is no longer a place for a man cub. Guided and guarded by Bagheera, Mowgli must begin to adapt to his soon to be new life, but is having the most difficult of time. Throughout his journey through the misty jungles, Mowgli will encounter animals and beats he has never seen and even make some new friends along the way, including the lovable Baloo (Bill Murray). All the while, he must avoid an encounter with Shere Kahn while pressing on his journey of self-discovery and wild adventure.

Writer Justin Marks and director Jon Favreau demonstrate that a live-action remake of an animated Disney classic can be the best that a modern cinematic general audience movie can be and still hold onto the magic that has made it a story to stand the test of time. As I have not read the Rudyard Kipling work of literature upon which The Jungle Book is based, I’d like to imagine that this version of Mowgli, Bagheera, and Baloo’s adventures does the words of the English journalist and author justice. Unlike the original beloved movie devoid of any real coherent or conventionally structured plot, this remake tells a visual story supported by a simple but effective narrative complete with proper turning points, twists, and events. The pacing is also well-engineered, which creates a pleasant journey for the mind as well as the eyes. Using mostly on location jungle shots, supported with subtle sound stage sets gives this film a natural beauty that feels like something right out of a Disney Nature documentary. Contrary to how some CG animals can look, these creations were fantastically real–like you could reach out and stroke Bagheera’s ebony hair. Newcomer Neel Sethi is impressive to watch as Mowgli. He embodied the lovable characteristics of the animated version whilst adding in a modern twist. One of my favorite ways to evaluate an actor, in a genre such as this, is if he or she looks like they are having fun. And, Sethi definitely showed that he was having fun bringing this story to live-action cinema.

One of the reasons I was disappointed with the remake of Cinderella is that I missed the magic of the timeless music. Realizing that this was the first attempt to remake an animated classic (not a reimagination as is the case with Maleficent), it is entirely possible that Disney decided to make sure the next remake included the core of what made the animated version so beloved. And you will definitely find echoes of the original Jungle Book in this live action film. Most of the characters you remember from the original are also reprising their respective roles. Some of the roles are modified to either be more or less prominent, but it’s all very effective in building the story. One of the characters that is not as prominent in this version is the bola constrictor Kaa (Scarlet Johansson). But, in the relatively short amount of screen time, she delivers an exceptional performance, inclusive of the hypnotism, and through her interaction with Mowgli, Kaa reveals his backstory that adds to why Shere Kahn has vowed vengeance on his life. Just like in the original, King Luis (Christopher Walken) want to be just like Mowgli and possess the red flower.

There are certain elements of the original that are not included in the live-action version, but they are elements that did not fit in the world Favreau created for this film. Suffice it to say, I do not think that you will greatly miss those parts of the original because this Jungle Book holds onto the original magic and brings it into 21st century cinema. What about the talking animals??? Like with many movies, I did not read up on this one too much because I wanted to be surprised. Needless to say, I did not look up the voice actors so I was not prepared for the animals to speak. When Bagheera first began to speak, I was definitely caught off guard. However, I quickly accepted that the articulating mouths on the animals speaking perfectly good English in the jungles of India were as natural as the luscious green trees and crystal clear water or as natural as Mowgli’s ability to communicate with nearly every creature. The UN must have implanted Mowgli and his friends with those instant translator devices. But, because of the quality of the production, the adherence to the Disney magic that made the original memorable, and the solid writing, I was more than willing to engage in the suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the movie to its fullest extent.

If you enjoyed the music, characters, and story in the original, then you are definitely going to enjoy this live-action remake. I am excited to see that the essence of the original animated classic is alive and well in this film. I hope this is what we are to expect from the next live-action adaptation of a Disney animated classic.