The Dark Tower (Full Review)

When you think of Stephen King, horror films like The Shining, Carrie, and It are the first things that come to mind. But in his decades of creating literary classics, he’s also managed to create one of the best selling fantasy series’. I’ve never read The Dark Tower but have always been vaguely familiar with some of the story elements and concepts. With King’s track record, I went into the film adaptation of his 1982 novel with modest optimism.

The_Dark_Tower_teaser_posterThe Dark Tower film tells the story of a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who begins having visions of a parallel world. In those visions, Jake sees that a man in black (Matthew McConaughey) is kidnapping psychic children and trying to use them to destroy the dark tower that protects each world from a realm of evil monsters. Once he realizes his visions are real, Jake journeys into the parallel world and joins forces with Roland (Idris Elba), the last remaining gunslinger charged with protecting the tower.

Although the source material predates a lot of films in the genre, the fact that a film version is just being made doesn’t do The Dark Tower any favors. Several moments, like the bullied teenage main character, come off extremely cliché. The plot almost plays out like a bedtime story for children, spouting out pieces of its vast mythology and expecting the audience to catch on or not ask any deeper questions.

But there is an overall simplicity to the story that actually feels refreshing. In a time where so many science fiction films are bloated with two hour long convoluted plots and unnecessary characters, this movie feels fairly concise. McConaughey’s villain is imposing even if his motivations are juvenile, and Idris Elba delivers his performance with the necessary dose of grizzled swagger to make him both likable and heroic.

As a person who never read the books, I fully understand that there is a better version of this story. But holding it to the standard of simply being entertaining, The Dark Tower works. The action sequences, though reaching Wanted levels of ridiculous, have a keen rhythm to them that make them fairly fun. So despite the fact that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel and never truly feels as compelling as other summer blockbusters, The Dark Tower is a fairly decent time at the movies if you are a fan of the genre.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Redbox Reviews: Kubo & The Two Strings

Laika has quickly become a studio known for sensational filmmaking. Paranorman was one of my favorite films of 2012, and even though their last film, Box Trolls wasn’t as strong of a story, it still managed to dazzle with its unique animation and generally charming message. Their newest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, feels like an old bedtime story with all of the magic, mysticism, and heart that make old legends so entertaining.

kubo_and_the_two_strings_posterLike all of Laika’s films, Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop motion animated film. It tells the story of Kubo (Art Parkinson), a boy who lost his eye when his mother escaped with him after her magical father (Ralph Fiennes) and sisters kill her husband. When Kubo’s magical twin aunts (Rooney Mara) track him down, the boy must journey with his talking monkey guardian (Charlize Theron) and an amnesiac beetle samurai (Matthew McConaughey) to find the only thing that can protect him: his father’s legendary armor.

As mentioned, all of Laika’s film are gorgeously animated. Knowing the meticulous nature with which these films are made only adds to the splendor. But even if it didn’t look incredible to the eyes this film would still be a triumph. The story is filled with wondrous adventure and incredible action sequences that never slow. And at the heart of it all are some of the most endearing characters in any animated film. Monkey is a harsh, but caring mother figure and Beetle is a bumbling but brave sidekick. Even a mute, magical origami samurai that guides Kubo provides a touch of comic relief and a dash of nobility.

With memorable characters, great animation, soothing music, and a captivating story that is great for all ages (although perhaps a bit frightening for the youngest viewers), there is nothing to dislike about Kubo and the Two Strings. It is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2016, and if you failed to catch it in theaters as I did, then you should rush to your nearest redbox if you’re a fan of any period adventure film.

FINAL GRADE: A

Sing (Full Review)

It’s been quite the year for animated movies. Disney set the bar high with three fantastic films in Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. But Illumination (the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise) showed that they could create a fun film without minions with this summer’s Secret Life of Pets. Now they close out the year with Sing, an exciting concept aided by a stellar voice cast.

sing_2016_film_posterSing is the simple story of Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala bear whose rundown theater is about to be taken due to bankruptcy. His last ditch effort is to have a singing competition with a collection of vocally talented locals. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla son of an unsupportive gangster father, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) a stressed pig housewife with 25 kids, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine who is chosen for the competition over her jealous guitar playing boyfriend, Mike (Seth McFarlane) a rude crooning street rat, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a massive case of stage fright, and a confidently flamboyant German pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). With a talented group, Buster is poised to prove his sheep best friend (John C. Reilly) wrong, if only his elderly iguana secretary (Garth Jennings) hadn’t accidentally put a $100,000 reward on the audition flyers.

The movie breaks no new narrative ground, but that isn’t the purpose of Sing. Instead, it’s a thoroughly wonderful experience because of the different characters and their arcs. They are all interesting, funny, and loveable. And the music is sensational. If you aren’t familiar with the vocal splendor of Tori Kelly, then you’ll be in for a marvelous surprise. Her voice is angelic and her shy, wholesome character is the heart and soul of a film filled with soulful characters.

The holidays should be about family and fun, and for that reason Sing manages to be a triumph without any fresh twists or turns. It delivers what it promises and gives some hefty laughs and heartwarming moments along the way. So while it might not be Academy award worthy, anyone who comes out of Sing without a smile on their face went in for the wrong reasons.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar… Full Review

Memento. The Prestige. The Dark Knight Trilogy. Inception. There are few directors with a track record like Christopher Nolan’s. His hot streak of not just good movies, but great ones, is uncanny. Over the years, he seems to have mastered the art of story telling without the bloated CGI and over the top action sequences that other blockbusters deem necessary. But at some point, logic dictates that he has to make a bad film. Doesn’t it?

93adf4cc94ee6641c38e9cb64706abf5cf528229Interstellar, co-written by his brother Jonathon, is Christopher Nolan’s newest work. The film tells the story of a dying Earth’s waning years. Swarming dust clouds are an everyday occurrence. Crops are dying out little by little. There are no more armies and no more engineers. Pretty much everyone is a corn farmer. With the situation dire, the last remnants of NASA (Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, and Wes Bentley) plot a risky voyage through a wormhole in space with the hopes of finding a new planet capable of sustaining human life.

Like most of the films Christopher Nolan has both written and directed, this one is long and complex. There is tons of science mumbo-jumbo implemented into the movie that you won’t understand. Some of it, mostly the actual theories and factual science implemented for the film, is conveniently explained in layman’s terms, but a lot of the equations and theoretical algorithms might as well be wizarding spells from Harry Potter. Luckily, the overly convoluted science doesn’t take away from the real story, which isn’t space exploration or a dying earth, but actually the story of a father’s need to do what’s best for his kids even if they’ll hate him for it. Matthew McConaughey is fantastic as widowed father, Cooper. As a former NASA pilot, he is the best candidate to navigate the voyage through the wormhole, but returning from the trip will be difficult, if at all possible.

The overarching relationship between McConaughey’s Cooper and his daughter Murph (played brilliantly by Mackenzie Foy) as well as the chemistry with co-star Anne Hathaway give this movie heart and soul. Nolan knows who to pick for his movies and here he has put together a splendid group. A who’s who of great actors (Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck) repeatedly, but pleasantly pop up in the film in unexpected places. And though long, the movie is far from boring. If you enjoyed last fall’s Academy Award winning hit Gravity, then you will be riveted by Interstellar. There are plenty of eye-popping visuals, many of them coming from two shape shifting blocky robots. Like the Batpod in The Dark Knight and the hallway fight scene in Inception, Nolan continues his knack for impressive, but believable special effects through resources other than CGI.

The movie is far too long and the ending will either be a head scratcher or an eye opener depending on how much you pay attention. But the overall payoff is indeed splendid thanks to emotional performances and captivating imagery. Surely, Christopher Nolan will make a bad movie at some point, but Interstellar isn’t it.

FINAL GRADE: B+

The Wolf of Wall Street (Full Review)

There is a select group of actors that are amongst the elite. These actors can make anything worth seeing. Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale… just a few of the names that come to my mind. Without a doubt, Leonardo DiCaprio is a member of that illustrious group.  DiCaprio can sell any script to an audience, and perhaps that makes him perfect to portray Jordan Belfort aka the real life Wolf of Wall Street.

Image There are two points in the film where DiCaprio asks someone to give him an example of how to sell a pen. How it is done is both difficult and simple at the same time. The same can be said about Martin Scorsese’s three hour black comedy which tells the real life story of American stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Belfort himself even has a cameo at the end). In many ways, it is nothing we haven’t seen before. Think Goodfellas with a New York stock market backdrop. But if there’s any director/actor combo in this day and age that can make a three hour movie void of CGI explosions and fight scenes worth our time, it’s Scorsese and DiCaprio.

The movie takes us on Jordan Belfort’s meteoric rise and inevitable fall in the late 80’s and early 90’s. DiCaprio’s Belfort is what you’d imagine any 25 year old millionaire to be; a manipulative, money crazed, drug addicted, degenerate. He also just happens to be an intelligent, ambitious, charismatic, hard working tactician with the ability to motivate anyone to pretty much do anything. He does have a tad bit of a heart, but it’s as seldom seen as his sobriety.

With 99% of the screen time in his hands, DiCaprio does what DiCaprio has always done; be great. He puts as much charm and passion into every scene as Jordan Belfort puts into his sales meetings with his ever-attentive subordinates. But he isn’t alone. And perhaps that is why the film seems to blow buy despite its ridiculous running time. The supporting cast each adds its own unique flavor to every moment their on screen. Jonah Hill is magnificent as Donnie, Belfort’s bumbling, out of control enabler and right hand man. Matthew McConaughey is hilarious in a brief role as Belfort’s first boss and mentor. And newcomer Margot Robbie is nothing short of mesmerizing as Belfort’s sexy trophy wife.

Because of its length, the movie gets self indulgent. But that might be the point of it all. We all know what’s going to happen as we watch Belfort’s hilarious, yet irresponsible rise to the top. Like any drug, it will be fun while it lasts, but eventually it will all come to a horribly dark climax. Luckily for us, we have Leo to make the journey worth while.

FINAL GRADE: A-