Category Archives: Based on Stephen King

The Dark Tower (2017, Nikolaj Arcel)

The Dark Tower is the story of unremarkable white kid Tom Taylor–wait, he’s supposed to be eleven? No way. Anyway, it’s the story of unremarkable white teenager Tom Taylor who discovers, no, his visions are real and he is a wizard and he’s going to travel to another dimension and bring a legendary hero back to modern New York City. Once back they will battle to save the universe itself, thanks to the hero’s gunfighting abilities and the kid’s vague magical magicking.

Okay, well, it’s not actually vague magicking. Taylor’s got the Shining. You know, like in The Shining. When they tell him he’s got the Shining, you have to wonder how he got to be fifteen without seeing The Shining. Maybe because he’s supposed to be eleven.

Taylor’s dad died at some point before the movie starts so mom Katheryn Winnick has remarried. She went with astounding tool Nicholas Pauling, who wants Taylor out of there because papa lion? Maybe it’s because Taylor’s got problems–he draws visions of a mythic fantasy world, Idris Elba’s gunfighting hero, and Matthew McConaughey’s creepy man in black. Maybe they sent Taylor to the shrink for drawing pictures of Christopher Walken. At the start, it seems like McConaughey’s going to just do a Christopher Walken impression, which would be a lot better than what he ends up doing. The Walken impression would at least be amusing. Dark Tower is short on amusing.

Because Dark Tower is serious. Director Arcel plays it straight. The screenplay plays it straight. Taylor lives in a New York City infested with disguised demons but it’s still safe enough gun shops have zero security. And no one has cell phones. If Arcel had any personality in his direction, there’d be a possibility for this New York City. The sad thing about Dark Tower is all the missed opportunities. Because, even if it’s short on amusing and McConaughey isn’t as amusing as if he were aping Christopher Walken, none of the principal cast half-asses it. They’re just in an under-budgeted production. They hold together admirably.

Though it gets depressing watching Elba try to do acting while the film’s got no need for him to do any. The script’s got no need for him to do any. All the characters exist entirely through exposition, usually exposing about themselves to others. It’s a weak script. As pragmatic and unenthusiastic as Arcel’s direction gets, it’s nothing compared to the script. Junkie XL’s score does most of the heavy dramatic lifting, just because the script doesn’t have time for it. Of course, the script doesn’t have time for anything while it ought to be doing character development either. Sure, once Taylor gets to Fantasia, he immediately becomes fetching to the opposite sex and finds out he’s a wizard, but it’s not character development. It’s just setup for the finale. Sure, the film’s uninspired and disappointing, but it’s pragmatic as heck.

Taylor’s fine as the Boy Who Lived-lite. Elba’s… potentially good. He’s never near bad, but the part’s crap and Arcel’s got no time for acting. Arcel doesn’t even have time for McConaughey’s ostensible excesses as his evil, magical, maybe Satanic character. It might help if Elba and McConaughey–who have been nemeses for untold ages–had some chemistry. Elba can do lack of enthusiasm, but McConaughey phones it in during their handful of scenes together. Spellbinding acting it ain’t.

Dennis Haysbert and Jackie Earle Haley have glorified cameos. Haysbert is overly portentous but not embarrassing. Haley’s is embarrassing.

Technically, there’s nothing terrible. Rasmus Videbæk’s photography is fine. The special effects are all right. There’s not enough of them–either the budget limitations held back establishing shots or Arcel just doesn’t like them. Given his bland competence as a director, it seems more likely they’re budgetary omissions. There are a lot of budgetary omissions. They’re kind of Dark Tower’s thing–frequent, unexplained, inexcusable absences.

Because with what they had, the filmmakers should’ve been able to turn out a much better ninety-five minutes. The script’s the big problem. And Arcel does nothing to transcend it.

The worst thing about Tower is it actually does end up disappointing. The first half is riddled with problems and always seems absurdly unaware of itself in terms of being a knock-off Neverending Story, Princess Bride, and, I don’t know, Star Wars, but Taylor is sympathetic and compelling. Elba always seems like he’s eventually going to get some great scene. It’s just around the corner.

Only it’s not. A perfunctory ending is around the corner. Because the script, despite being low on ideas from the start, manages to run out of them as things move along.

It’s also–almost–too technically competent to be such narrative slop. Competencies aside, The Dark Tower is poorly written and badly produced. Those lacking qualities sink the picture further than it ought to sink.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Arcel, based on characters created by Stephen King; director of photography, Rasmus Videbæk; edited by Alan Edward Bell and Dan Zimmerman; music by Junkie XL; production designers, Christopher Glass and Oliver Scholl; produced by Goldsman, Ron Howard, and Erica Huggins; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Taylor (Jake), Idris Elba (Roland), Matthew McConaughey (Walter), Katheryn Winnick (Laurie), Nicholas Pauling (Lon), Claudia Kim (Arra), Dennis Haysbert (Steven), Jackie Earle Haley (Sayre), Fran Kranz (Pimli), Abbey Lee (Tirana), and José Zúñiga (Dr. Hotchkiss).


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The Mangler (1995, Tobe Hooper), the director’s cut

The Mangler is terrible. One hopes the rumor producer Anant Singh replaced director Hooper is true because the film’s bad enough and desperate enough, you occasionally want to cut it some slack. You can’t, because it’s terrible, but you still kind of wish you could.

Here’s the movie. Small town in Maine (it’s a Stephen King adaptation), evil laundry magnate (Robert Englund in a risible performance) runs the town because he has the demonic laundry machine. It needs the occasionally virgin sacrifice or it starts walking around like a Transformer, just with some of the worst of the worst mid–1990s CGI. Seasoned but sad widower cop Ted Levine does not think this is just some laundry machine accident. There’s something afoot with creepy old Robert Englund who mentally and physically abuses a runaway (Lisa Morris) because he can’t mentally and physically abuse his niece (Vanessa Pike). But then Levine’s brother-in-law (maybe, there was kind of mention of it), Daniel Matmor as the lamest hippie occult nerd ever, convinces Levine of the demonic possession. There’s some more, but not really.

It’s dumb. It’s a dumb movie trying to mix metaphors and genres and it fails over and over again. It’s not even like Levine is holding it together. If he were somehow this great noir detective befuddling his way through The Mangler, it might be something. But he’s not. He’s not good, he’s just affable and shows signs he could be good in a far better film.

Unfortunately, none of the other acting is any good at all. Matmor, Pike, Morris, Demetre Phillips, Jeremy Crutchley (a young guy inexplicably cast as an old man and in tons of make-up!), Englund–they’re all terrible. Maybe Ashley Hayden and Vera Blacker are okay. Maybe. They’re not enough it enough to be worse.

Bad music from Barrington Pheloung, really bad photography from Amnon Salomon.

At some point as the second act is finally wrapping it up, it becomes clear somehow really tried with The Mangler. Maybe producer Singh really thought it’d be able to hope on that legitimate Stephen King adaptation bandwagon. At least one of the three screenwriters did. But it can’t, because it’s terrible. It’s terribly acted, directed, photographed, everything. It’s slow. It’s not scary, it’s not gross.

If this movie didn’t have Ted Levine, it would be the equivalent of watching dog poop dry on the sidewalk.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Hooper, Stephen David Brooks and Harry Alan Towers, based on the short story by Stephen King; director of photography, Amnon Salomon; edited by David Heitner; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, David Barkham; produced by Anant Singh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Ted Levine (Officer John Hunton), Robert Englund (Bill Gartley), Daniel Matmor (Mark Jackson), Lisa Morris (Lin Sue), Vanessa Pike (Sherry Ouelette), Demetre Phillips (George Stanner), Ashley Hayden (Annette Gillian), Vera Blacker (Mrs. Adelle Frawley) and Jeremy Crutchley (J.J.J. Pictureman).


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Firestarter (1984, Mark L. Lester)

If I tried really hard, would I be able to think of something nice to say about Firestarter? I was going to complement some of Tangerine Dream’s score–not all of it, but some of it–but it turns out it’s not so much a score as a selection of otherwise unreleased Tangerine Dream tracks director Lester picked out. It makes sense a lot of the music doesn’t work knowing that situation, because no way Lester is going to make any significantly good choices for the film.

The film simply has nothing going for it. There are no good performances; watching Firestarter, which is exceptionally boring in addition to being stupid, I wondered more what possessed certain actors to sign on. What the heck is Art Carney doing in this film, much less married to Louise Fletcher? There’s a sixteen year age difference and it looks like about ten more. Carney looks ancient, Fletcher looks great. How did they meet? Why does he complain to strangers she wasn’t able to bear him daughters? Why is so much of Firestarter about old men–Art Carney, George C. Scott, Martin Sheen–fixating on Drew Barrymore? She’s not even energetic enough to be obnoxious. Sure, Lester directs her terribly, but she’s still bored. She can be shooting fireballs out of her face and be bored in Firestarter.

As Barrymore’s father, Brian Keith tries but doesn’t succeed at anything. Stanley Mann’s script is too lousy, the story beats are just terrible, the dialogue’s weak, the characters are weak. But it fits for the film, which doesn’t have anything going for it technically either. Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s cinematography is weak. Lester shoots the film Panavision for eventual pan-and-scan cropping. There’s constant empty space and Ruzzolini’s not lighting anything interesting in it. Firestarter is not creepy, it’s not scary, it’s dumb.

And the real problem is George C. Scott. He’s George C. Scott and he’s humiliating himself. Scott probably gives Firestarter’s worst performance. It’s this weird, terrible macho role and someone should’ve told him no. Or maybe he got himself an awesome swimming pool with the paycheck, but it’s terrible acting. He’s not even hamming it up–Sheen at least bites at some of the scenery–Scott just plays it badly and without enthusiasm.

Firestarter’s dumb and it’s bad. And it’s long. The special effects aren’t even good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Stanley Mann, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Giuseppe Ruzzolini; edited by David Rawlins and Ronald Sanders; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Giorgio Postiglione; produced by Frank Capra Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring David Keith (Andy), Drew Barrymore (Charlie), George C. Scott (Rainbird), Martin Sheen (Hollister), Moses Gunn (Doctor Pynchot), Art Carney (Irv Manders), Louise Fletcher (Norma Manders) and Freddie Jones (Doctor Wanless).


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Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)

In terms of De Palma’s direction, Carrie is a little bit of a mess. It’s a combination of Hitchcock as camp–which really cuts into the effectiveness of the finale–more religious imagery than, say, The Ten Commandments and, finally, some truly brilliant composition from De Palma. He, cinematography Mario Tosi and editor Paul Hirsch create a sometimes transcendent experience.

Sadly, the technical talent–including Pino Donaggio’s lovely score–and good performances don’t overpower the script problems. De Palma falls into the horror standard of using a big surprise ending to avoid having to include, you know, an actual ending. Someone seems to have misplaced Carrie‘s third act.

Some of the trouble probably stems from how much the filmmakers are hiding from the viewer. That aspect plays, unfortunately, into the Hitchcock camp factor I mentioned earlier. De Palma never figures out how seriously he wants to take the film–he’s often either slathering on the religion or making it a tad too goofy. The film’s at its best when he can’t do either, because the scenes need actual content. De Palma’s only goofy when he can fiddle with the pacing.

Sissy Spacek’s excellent in the lead, though she’s not really the protagonist or even the main character. The film forgets about her for long stretches. Nancy Allen’s also excellent as her evil antagonist. William Katt’s quite good too.

Piper Laurie’s okay, nothing more, as the psychotically religious mother.

The strong first half nearly makes up for the misfired finish.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Paul Monash; released by United Artists.

Starring Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins), Piper Laurie (Margaret White), William Katt (Tommy Ross), Nancy Allen (Chris Hargensen), Amy Irving (Sue Snell), John Travolta (Billy Nolan), P.J. Soles (Norma Watson), Priscilla Pointer (Mrs. Snell), Sydney Lassick (Mr. Fromm) and Stefan Gierasch (Mr. Morton).


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