“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

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“Kubo and the Two Strings” movie review

kuboAbsolutely beautiful! A dazzling display of the best that cinema can be! Laika and Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings is truly a testament to the art of motion pictures! Brilliantly animated in an eye-catching stylistic way, this film provides audiences with a simple and intimate journey through a dynamically epic world of adventure, laughter, and tears. Directed by Travis Knight, from the opening to the final fade to black, Kubo is arguably the best animated feature length film to hit theaters in a long time. It contains the incredible storytelling that few films, live-action or animated, strive for but often fail to accomplish. Rarely, do audiences witness a perfect film, but this one comes very close to being perfectly written, directed, acted, shot, edited, and produced. With an A-list of vocal talent behind the characters in this immaculately animated world, Kubo will surely impress all those who watch this fantastical story. In some ways, I could argue that this film displays signs of being self-aware. Self-aware in that this simple but effective visual story is all about the very concept of storytelling. Cecil B. DeMille said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling;” and this film proves that, in a world of high concept blockbusters that are produced to simply generate revenue at the sacrifice of storytelling, there are films with beautiful imagery, writing, and even a great message that hold true to the very idea what launched more than 100 years of cinema.

Following a daring escape from an unknown enemy across a treacherous ocean of tsunami sized waves, a young women survives a nearly fatal crash and washes upon the shore of a beach in the shadow of an imposing mountain with her infant. Many years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) has grown up to be a young man with a passion for storytelling that he learned from his mother. Never having fully recovered from the accident, so many years ago, Kubo has the responsibility to take care of his mother. Harnessing his talent for magical origami, a stringed instrument, and storytelling, Kubo makes a little money each day for him and his mother. Little did Kubo know that his mother’s warning to not stay outside of their home after dark was for good reason. Soon, Kubo will find himself on an epic journey to unlock a secret legacy that he could have only dreamed of. Along his journey, he meets up with a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a man-beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who protect and teach him along the way. Don’t blink, even for one second, because you may very well miss something of grave importance.

The first thing you will observe in this movie is the exquisite and stylistic combination of two different animation methods. Claymation, which most are familiar with, and the lesser used papermation. Although typically used by themselves to tell an animated story, the brilliant combination of both methods to concurrently tell this epic story will leave a lasting impression upon you. There is a beauty in this film unmatched by any other in recent times. In many ways, the visual appeal of this movie reminds me of the early Walt Disney and Pixar animated films. Audiences can easily witness the absolute passion in every movement, detail, and landscape. I was completely sucked into Kobo’s fantastic world of Japanese influence. In addition to outstanding technical achievements in animation, lighting, and cinematography, Kubo is a film that is equally outstanding in its ability to tell a simple but inspirational story. It is the epitome of an ideal relationship between artists and engineers. This film successfully combines an artisan handcrafted charm with the precision of sophisticated visual storytelling technologies in a dazzling display of cinematic art that will surely be cherished for a lifetime.

Simple. The plot is so simple but yet very much profound. While so many studios are cranking out franchises, adaptations, complex plots, and young adult dramas, the Laika production company chose a different route. It chose a route that proves that the mastery of visual storytelling that showcases the art of cinema is still alive. In a world of the business of moviemaking, Kubo returns us to the art of filmmaking. Not confined to art house theaters in Greenwich Village or West Hollywood, this film is evidence that truly artistic masterpieces are still desired by the American audience. “The art of making art, is putting it together” (Sunday in the Park with George). Knowing that just the leaf ship sequence at the turning point between the first and second acts took 19 months to create, design, and produce, it is clearly apparent that a tremendous amount of time, love, and energy went into every frame of this stunning movie. As someone who has a passion for the very concept of storytelling, this film brought tears to my eyes because of the sheer beauty of the film and the experience of watching it on the big screen. Although it is an endearing film filled with love and adventure, it is also quite scary during some of the intense conflict between Kubo and those who wish to do him harm. From Kobo’s magical origami birds and samurai warrior to the playful banter between Monkey and Beetle, I was awestruck at the brilliance of the film in both writing and visuals.

I highly recommend this film for those who have not seen it yet. I only wish I had made it to the movie before last night. After hearing what others have said and written about this movie, I have come to the same conclusion that many have voiced: this film is exceptional by any known measurable means of evaluating a film. If any animated film this year is destined for an Oscar nomination or win, this one is it.