Tag Archives: Idris Elba

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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Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi)

Why does Thor: Ragnarok open with Chris Hemsworth narrating only for him to stop once the title card sizzles? Literally, sizzles. Ragnarok is delightfully tongue-in-cheek and on-the-nose. Director Waititi refuses to take anything too seriously, which makes for an amusing two plus hours, but it doesn’t amount to much. If anything.

When Hemsworth stops narrating–after a big, well-executed action sequence–he heads back to mythic Asgard. There he pals around with a number of cameoing stars before heading down to Earth to pal around with cameoing Benedict Cumberbatch. Tom Hiddleston is around for much of these scenes, turning up as much charm as possible in a thin part. Sometimes if it weren’t for Hiddleston’s hair, he’d have no screen presence at all. Not because he’s bad–he’s fun–but because Ragnarok doesn’t really have anything for him to do.

The main plot–involving Hemsworth ending up on a far-off planet duking it out with CGI Hulk (Mark Ruffalo shows up eventually) to amuse Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum is playing an alien ruler, but really, he’s just playing mainstream blockbuster Jeff Goldblum. Though not mainstream blockbuster lead Jeff Goldblum; supporting mainstream blockbuster Jeff Goldblum. He’s got less responsibility but more enthusiasm.

One of Goldblum’s minions is Tessa Thompson. Turns out she’s also from Asgard. So Hemsworth tries to bond with her–oh, I forgot. In between the Cumberbatch cameo and Goldblum’s arrival–Hemsworth and Hiddleston meet up with dad Anthony Hopkins (in such a rousing performance you can hear the paycheck deposit) then discover previously unknown sister Cate Blanchett is laying waste to Asgard.

She’s god of death. Hemsworth is god of thunder. Hiddleston is god of mischief. The first two eventually become important. Like everything else involving Hiddleston in Ragnarok, turns out his god power isn’t important.

Karl Urban is Blanchett’s sidekick, though he gets astoundingly little to do. Much of the supporting cast gets bupkis–like Irdis Elba, who should have a big part since he’s leading a revolutionary force, but he doesn’t. Ragnorak churns. Neither its plot nor its characters develop. Thompson gets the closest thing to an arc and it’s super thin.

Instead, director Waititi relies on Hemsworth’s ability to be likable and mug his way through scenes. Hemsworth and Thompson flirt bickering, Hemsworth and Hiddleston brotherly bickering, Hemsworth and CGI Hulk monosyllabic bickering. The actors do end up creating distinct characters, the script just doesn’t need them to be distinct. So when the third act rolls around and it’s time for the showdown with Blanchett, all the personality gets dropped. There are like six people to follow through the battle sequence. There’s no time for personality.

Waititi’s direction is strong throughout. He’s better when setting things up and taking the time for the grandiose action. Once it gets to the alien planet, he’s lost interest in exploring how the viewer might best experience the scale. It’s fine without–the cast keeps it going–but when it comes time for Ragnorak to add everything up, it’s way too light. Especially since the whole finale hinges on something not really explored enough at the beginning.

Also. It’s unbelievable Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Thompson are so unfamiliar with the concept of Ragnarok. I feel like at least one of them would’ve had to have read Edith Hamilton.

But it doesn’t matter, because it’s all fun. There’s fun music from Mark Mothersbaugh, there’s a fun performance from Blanchett (who rather impressively tempers herself, resisting all temptation to chew the hell out of the CGI scenery), there’s a lot of funny lines. A lot of good sight gags. Waititi knows how to get a laugh.

If only Ragnarok didn’t have drama. The screenwriters don’t do well with the drama, Waititi wants to avoid it, the cast has no enthusiasm for it. It often involves CGI backdrops with poorly lighted composites too. The film can handle being a goofy good time. It can’t handle the rest. It can’t even handle giving Ruffalo actual gravitas. He just mugs his way through scenes, which is fine, he’s good at it. But it does mean you don’t have a single returning principal in the film with any character development. Not the Thor players, not Ruffalo in his spin-off from The Avengers 2.

Thompson and Urban both get one, but they’re playing caricatures. They’re playing them well, sure. But they’re caricatures, thin for even Ragnarok.

Good special effects. Some striking visuals. Waititi does better at the fight scenes than the sci-fi action scenes. Good photography from Javier Aguirresarobe. The Mothersbaugh score is decent.

The plot just turns out to be inferior one. While pretending to be an ostentatious no-frills plot. Without the characters making up for those deficiencies, Ragnarok just can’t bring it home.

Awesome Led Zeppelin sequences or not.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Taika Waititi; screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Javier Aguirresarobe; edited by Zene Baker and Joel Negron; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Dan Hennah and Ra Vincent; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / Hulk), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Karl Urban (Skurge), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange).


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Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

I want to like Star Trek Beyond more than I do. I want to be able to look past its problems. It has a whole lot of problems. Michael Giacchino’s music is awful. Stephen F. Windon’s photography is lame. The four editors don’t do any particularly good work, though they’re not working with the best footage. Because the real problem with Beyond is director Lin. All of the action in the first two-thirds is weak. The set pieces are undercooked, with one set at night and visually opaque, and Lin’s no good with directing the comedy. Oh, right, the script. The script is another problem.

No, it’s not because Simon Pegg, promoted from supporting cast to supporting cast and top-billed screenwriter (of two), gives himself too much to do as an actor. He and co-writer Doug Jung arguably don’t give Chris Pine enough to do, definitely don’t give Zachary Quinto enough to do and give villain Idris Elba absolutely nothing to do. They waste Idris Elba. Not just them, Lin too. But the narrative isn’t structured well. The humor’s awkward (since Lin can’t direct it) and the narrative is poorly structured. Beyond is choppy in places it shouldn’t be choppy.

Lin’s not good with all the sci-fi backdrops. His sci-fi action is poorly cut, but it’s also very uncomfortably shot. Lin doesn’t know how to establish the sets. It’s like he’s scared of medium shots on the Enterprise. It’d be more awkward if the ship were visible, but Windon’s photography is really bad, like I said.

But at the same time, it’s all right. Pine’s great this time, Quinto and Karl Urban get to banter, Sofia Boutella’s warrior alien is decent. John Cho and Zoe Saldana get almost nothing to do. Saldana least of all. She’s taken a big hit in terms of franchise positioning. Anton Yelchin gets the implication of more to do, ditto Pegg. But it’s almost a misdirect for Pegg. He and Jung don’t really give him more to do.

And then there’s Elba. He turns in a fine enough performance in a bad role, but gets to hint at what he could have done with it if the film were better written. And what it needs is just more depth, a little more thought, nothing amazing, nothing a decent script doctor wouldn’t be able to do.

The problem with Star Trek Beyond is it’s too aware of its marketplace, too self-aware of itself as a “new” Star Trek movie. Pegg and Jung don’t give enough credit to the actors. They’re on their third Trek, they’re older, they’ve developed. It’s kind of what’s awesome about this movie franchise–people age. Pegg and Jung don’t appreciate it enough. They do in moments, but not in the pace of the film overall. Or maybe deemphasizing the characters for the action comes from Lin, except in the last third, he manages character chemistry and good action. Amidst some of the worst production design on a “Star Trek” ever. Thomas E. Sanders is terrible at visualizing these future worlds.

But it’s all right. I wish I could recommend it and, as always, I’m hopeful for the next one. They just need a better director (and I was rooting for Lin based on his supremely well-directed action sequences in Fast 5 and 6). And a better script. And a better composer. And a better cinematographer. And a better production designer. And a better CG team.

And Pine and Quinto get about a half a real scene together. It’s like Pegg and Jung are scared of writing them together. Star Trek Beyond is scared of taking responsibility for itself. Lin just doesn’t have what it takes to make this script work. Though the bad action is all on Lin.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, based on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto and Steven Sprung; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk and Roberto Orci; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scott), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Sofia Boutella (Jaylah), Idris Elba (Krall) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (Commodore Paris).


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Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush)

Ah, the socially responsible children’s movie, or: the progressive soulless capitalism of the Walt Disney Corporation, twenty-first century iteration. I went into Zootopia waiting for it to be great–I assumed the filmmakers would take responsibility for the big questions they imply–then I waited for it to be good, then I waited for it to be over. It’s a perfectly competent, perfectly satisfactory outing. Girls have a positive role model in Ginnifer Goodwin’s protagonist, the first rabbit cop, and boys will be positively reassured of their superior position in society thanks to Jason Bateman’s rogue sidekick. Watching Zootopia, you can just imagine Disney drones toggling between Buzzfeed and The Toast for concepts.

And not in a bad way, right? I mean, it is just a kid’s movie about anthropomorphized mammals. It’s not going to do any permanent damage, is it? It’s just a movie about how predators and prey can live together as long as predators are okay with the prey thinking they’re socially and morally inferior than the prey. Oh, wait, no, it actually seems like a big question and Zootopia tries to walk back from it immediately after every time it comes up. It flares. Someone who rewrote the screenplay added this occasional flaring up of really gross social commentary. It might be unintentional, but it’s gross. And obvious.

But it’s well-acted and the plotting is fairly strong. Directors Howard, Moore and Bush do better when handling suspense than action. Zootopia is kid’s CG and the animals are stylized not just to be more genially anthropomorphized, they’re also made adorable. It’s manipulative, it’s Disney, it means what could be amazing action set pieces are just passible CG animation instead. There’s great potential in a chase sequence through a “mouse metropolis” and the filmmakers go with plastic-y CG for the setting instead of any realism. It looks like a toy commercial, it’s got limited potential. But when Goodwin and Bateman are doing a James Bond movie action sequence, it’s awesome. It’s a shame everything’s so uneven.

In the supporting roles, Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons do well. There aren’t a lot of good parts. Even Simmons and Elba don’t have good parts. I mean, Goodwin doesn’t even have a good part, not really. Even Bateman has some really weak material–Zootopia’s so confused it can’t even commit to its charismatic antihero love interest dude.

And Jenny Slate’s not great. Her part’s crap, but she’s not great. The part needs some kind of greatness.

Still, it’s a kid’s movie. For me, I just wish it was better directed. But for a kid’s movie, I wish it didn’t fumble with its social message. I wish it comment on real world racial stereotypes with absurd entries in a “Friends Against Humanity” game. I wish the directors and the writers took it seriously, but Disney isn’t even Disney anymore. It’s just progressive soulless capitalist filmmaking, what should one expect from it? It’s not *Animal Farm*, after all, it’s just a kid’s movie.*

* Of course, *Wind in the Willows* is just a kid’s book and it’s thoughtful about how it anthropomorphizes its animals.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush; screenplay by Bush and Phil Johnston, based on a story by Howard, Moore, Bush, Jim Reardon, Josie Trinidad, Johnston and Jennifer Lee; edited by Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton; music by Michael Giacchino; production designers, David Goetz and Dan Cooper; produced by Clark Spencer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton) and J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart).


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