Review – It’s Bad to be the King (“The Dark Tower”)

Some said that taking all of Stephen King’s eight-book series, The Dark Tower, and dissolving it down to a single motion picture was sheer insanity. Can you imagine doing that to the Harry Potter series? Madness! But producer Ron Howard and some others over at Columbia Pictures thought it was a pretty good idea. Yeah. Right.
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I confess, I’ve never read any of the books (mea culpa), so my review is totally film related. That being said, we have NYC pre-teen Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) having some rather nasty dreams about a wasteland, a extremely tall tower, a gunslinger, a demonic dude in black, and other such horrible stuff. He sketches it down, much to the chagrin of his doting mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) and his repulsive step-father, Lon (Nicholas Pauling). Besides the cities earthquakes, Jake’s in for a BIG surprise. Discovering a portal in an abandoned house, Jake steps through the StarGate-like entrance and BOOM! He’s now in Mid-World, an alternate universe containing the one and only Dark Tower.

In this world, the demonic magician Walter Padick (Matthew McConaughey) steals children from other worlds who have a special qualities, and straps them to a machine. Their screams, he hopes, will deliver a beam that can destroy this gigantic Tower which protects the universe. Who’s gonna stop him? Why, the last Gunslinger, of course! Idris Elba plays charismatic and troubled Roland Deschain, the last of his twin-gun toting kind who meets up with Jake in Mid-World. Together they form a plan to A) kill Walter and B) destroy that machine he’s got, but first they have to find him, and for that they have to visit the Seer (Claudia Kim).

Well, lo and behold, the Seer says that Jake has “the Shine” (straight out of King’s The Shining book!); strong psychic abilities that can either save or destroy the Tower. Well, isn’t that’s convenient! That’s why Walter wants him so bad and will go to any length to strap him into his chair of doom. To escape his clutches, Jake and Roland take a quick side-portal-trip back to NYC for some R&R, but find trouble there as well, with Padick’s crummy little toady, Sayre (Jackie Earle Haley), and Roland getting introduced to Earth’s pleasures like Coca-Cola and instant access to bullets.

There’s the obvious third act where Jake gets abducted by Padick while Roland squares-off with a million bad guys uses only two pistols… of course! For the finale, there’s a Dumbledore vs Voldemort (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) magical battle rip-off you’ll no doubt recognize. You can’t help but get this feeling you just watched an extended episode of TV’s Once Upon A Time. Many Stephen King book-to-movie adaptations have worked beautifully (Misery, The Green Mile), while others tanked big time (Maximum Overdrive, Dreamcatcher)

Adapted by Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin), Jeff Pinkner (TV’s Fringe), Anders Thomas Jensen (The Salvation), and director Nikolaj Arcel (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), I’m guessing this might have been a better mini-series than a movie. I suppose the books were better (as the old saying goes), as this movie is predictable and boring and works against itself every step of the way. There are SO many plot holes and questions that need answering that, as you might guess, is all the fault of the screenwriters as they try and cram eight books into one 95 minute movie. It just doesn’t work. All the nuances and subtleties are lost and all you’re left with a hackneyed, chopped-up, incoherent plot with a few decent performances.

Arcel as director does an admiral job (except in those dark scenes–ugghh! C’mon, just turn the lights up!), but in the long run, the movie just succumbs to the usual drivel you’ve seen a dozen movies just like it. However, I will give points to the actors trying to maintain a shred of dignity in this mess: Elba is excellent, as always, and holds the picture together along with McConaughey who, despite his quirky role, looks like he was having some fun with it. Another plus was young Tom Taylor in his film debut. This kid’s got some decent acting skills instead of the cutsie kid-acting we get nowadays.      

     

Last Action Hero (1993)
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An ordinary kid entering the world of a fictional character? Yeah, we got that covered with this wild ‘n’ wacky film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger who parodies himself as an action hero in action hero films!
 
Okay, stay with me on this one… Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a 13-year-old in a crime-ridden area of NYC and has a thing for seeing movies. Lots of them. So much so, he misses school and gets in trouble with his widowed mom (Mercedes Ruhl). His favorite flicks are the “Jack Slater” movies starring, that’s right, Arnold. One day, at his favorite theater, old Nick the projectionist (Robert Prosky) gives Danny a ‘magic ticket’ and alakazam! Danny is whisked through the movie screen and into the latest Jack Slater movie on the screen he’s watching! NOW he’s part of the movie that’s going on with all the lunacy that happens in a motion picture, like no logic, no laws of physics, and people acting very strangely.
 
Meanwhile, Jack Slater is very confused having to deal with this bizarre little kid who keeps telling him that, “None of this is real! It’s all a movie!”. This, of course, lends itself for some pretty crazy scenes with tons of Easter Eggs for all you movie buffs. Since this kid is hip to the movie’s tropes, he knows the obvious tip-off’s; Danny warns Slater about his police friend, John (F. Murray Abraham) being a traitor. “He killed Mozart!”. And he points out crazy Benedict (Charles Dance) as a ruthless killer, but nobody will believe him… nobody, except Benedict, who is intrigued by Danny’s uncanny ability to know the (movie’s) future.
 
Finding out about Danny’s magic ticket, Benedict uses it to enter our world through the same movie screen and realizes his full lethal potential. Danny comes back with Jack in tow and the fun continues when there are TWO Schwarzenegger’s at the newest Jack Slater movie premiere plus a real killer on the loose from the other movie realm. This is one nutty movie that doesn’t take itself seriously until the end, and then it gets a little too serious. With a great screenplay by Shane Black, David Arnott, and William Goldman, the direction is all over the map (but in a good way) by action director John McTiernan.
 
Truth be told, O’Brien can be a little annoying at times and probably wasn’t the best choice for Danny, but the rest of the cast are perfect. To see the sheer lunacy of ‘movie magic’ actually happening to ‘real people’ and then see their innocent reactions to it, is genuinely funny. Like Slater falling into a thick, gooey tar pit, emerging okay, and then wiping off the incredibly sticky stuff off with just a few papers towels?! Yeah, that’s ‘movie magic’! 
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