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Nice try.

This is a tough one. In order to be a good critic, I have to get my biases out of the way. The Dark Tower books are pretty personal for me, so this movie was always going to be personal for me. I first read The Gunslinger when I was thirteen, pulling it down off the shelf to be my first Stephen King book, because the back cover said “fantasy” and the book seemed thin enough to get through quickly if I didn’t like it. I was living in a small town in Saskatchewan, halfway through what would be a pretty terrible year there. A year where I needed frequent escapes from bullying, poverty, and the brewing frustrations and confusions of puberty. I needed something like The Gunslinger, much like Jake Chambers maybe, and the series delivered. I followed it since, waiting for King to hurry up and finish with ten times the anticipation and fear than I could ever feel about A Song of Ice and Fire. I always knew that a movie version of The Dark Tower was inevitable, and that it would be a difficult sell (especially now) as is. I followed the production of this movie with a lot of trepidation but always a little bit of hope. As it neared release, article after article came out to talk about how troubled its production was, how compromised and messy the movie would be, and I settled down to very low expectations. And yet, this movie surprised me by how truly awful it is. I haven’t seen a movie this bad since Assassin’s Creed and it’s bad in almost exactly the same ways.

I’m not a megafan of anything, seldom letting fandom get in the way of what I like to think is an honest and critical appraisal of the stories and media I engage with. That said, there are two basic approaches to a movie like The Dark Tower. There’s approaching it as an adaptation and approaching it as a movie like any other. People generally conflate their reactions, especially if they don’t have a vested interest in film criticism as a craft, and so you’re gonna see a lot of reactions that blur the lines between reacting to how The Dark Tower fails as an adaptation and how it fails as a movie. But it does fail at both. If it was just a bad adaptation, I would be far more forgiving. I’m cool with adaptations that beat out their own path or try to present another take on a thing. My critical history is full of remarks to this effect, so I don’t think anyone could say that I don’t like The Dark Tower just because it’s a “bad Dark Tower movie”. Most of this review will be about how it’s just generally bad, but I will also talk about it as an adaptation. ‘Cuz I have to at least a little bit. I owe it to that kid who walked through Mid-World and beyond with Roland’s ka-tet.

Brass tacks is that The Dark Tower is exactly the kind of gutless, cut to death, and misguided genre movie that is cynically trying to ride the coattails of other genre hits. Particularly, in this case, the recent wave of “YA” movies, some good and some bad, which are made from “YA” books, some good and some bad. The Dark Tower puts minimal effort into every single distinguishing element until the result is boilerplate and meaningless. It casually name-drops bits of lore from the books like its trying to win a #nocontext contest and its few characters are underserved, inconsistent, and rushed through a movie that is probably thirty minutes too short. The result is incredibly rushed, messy, incoherent, and probably mostly frustrating for people who didn’t read the books but actually like fantasy and lore and shit. Those people will have precious little to grab onto here, as almost nothing is explained or presented in the movie meaningfully.

To try and summarize it in a sentence: imagine looking forward to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and getting Eragon instead. That, on every level, is what The Dark Tower is like.

SPOILERS, SAY THANKYA Read the rest of this entry »

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The few shots that actually take place in space are nice.

I follow a few rules when I set out to review a movie. One of them is that I try to review the movie I’ve seen and not the movie I wish I’d seen. The big difference is that, when you go into something with expectations (sometimes very clear ones), you wind up missing the forest for the trees. On this hook can be hung a lot of unfair reactions and reviews for movies, either positive or negative. It’s a kind of easily avoidable bias and avoiding it raises the caliber of a review. Or at least that’s what I think. Feel free to disagree.

Anyway, that notion is why I’m going to get something out of the way before I dive into this review. I was hoping for a Star Trek movie that finally did something different than the plethora of action-adventure movies we already have, especially in the scifi genre. Star Wars is back, so why does Star Trek need to be so similar to it? Maybe because studios like to make money. I didn’t like this movie very much, and at least a little of that is because it consistently felt like wasted potential. But if you take away my expectation for a more wonder-driven, thoughtful third entry to this reboot franchise, what is left? Hopefully something more fair to the movie. You’ll have to let me know.

My argument is that the movie I saw (as opposed to the one I wished I’d seen) is as fundamentally flawed, shallow, and messy as the previous two. My disinterest in Wrath of Khan helped me appreciate Into Darkness more than the majority of the audience, but this time around I feel like if I were a fan of the Original Series, I’d have appreciated this movie more. It certainly panders to Original Series fans yet again, but asks way less of them (unlike Into Darkness and the ’09 movie). Because I don’t have much feel for what is meant by “it was like a movie length version of an OS episode”, I don’t have to consciously avoid the nostalgia-based bias that comes with that. For what it’s worth, I do think I’ll like this movie more as time goes on (much like ’09) where I like Into Darkness much less.  Read the rest of this entry »

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This.

I spent like 5 hours yesterday writing about this movie. Did two complete drafts of the review as my first go around felt unsatisfying and overly focused on the reception of Age of Ultron as opposed to being about the movie itself. I was much happier with my second, 4000-word review and I will do my best to make this third attempt as good, but if it feels a bit half-hearted just know that it’s because of the heartbreak of losing 5 hours of work and not because the movie sucked. Age of Ultron did not suck.

To me, Age of Ultron is the biggest movie of 2015. And I don’t just mean the most exciting or something. It is a massive, massive movie. Plenty going on, many characters, and so on. But yeah, it’s also the one I was most excited for (sorry Star Wars, but I’ve been hurt before). Some have said you don’t need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to follow this, but I think you really do. At this point, you either like what these guys are doing and you’re okay with the superhero monolith… or you’re not. In many ways, Joss Whedon relies on our familiarity and our investment to navigate an incredibly tangled web of characterizations, sub-plots, and even missing pieces cut from what was once a three hour long movie.

The two hour movie that remains is fast, relentless, and full of amazing moments. Because the concept of giant, shared universe superhero team-ups is now familiar as well, Age of Ultron quickly acknowledges our affection for that before moving on to something else. This is a movie about how things change, and how we are often the architects of the pain those changes bring. It’s easy for an identifiable theme to get lost in the shuffle of a movie this big, but every character gets a subplot and arc of their own which will lead them into their continued solo adventures.

If there are weaknesses in Age of Ultron, they are likely the result of cuts. You still have to lay this at the feet of Whedon, since as director he’s the most directly responsible. At the same time, you can forgive hard sacrifices that get made for a movie as impossible as Age of Ultron to even exist. So for the most part, an avowed fan like me can overlook some rough patches (but I’m still going to discuss them with you). This is a movie that knows what you want to see and is more than happy to give that to you and then some. The hype machine being what it is, some people are always going to be satisfied or ambivalent and I suggest to you that Age of Ultron deserves better. It could never be as surprising and novel as The Avengers was three years ago, but its highs are just as high and it never hits the low points (mostly in the first twenty minutes) of its predecessor. It’s entirely a success.

THERE ARE NO STRINGS, BUT PLENTY OF SPOILERS

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The scale of this movie is in its own category.

I followed the production of Pacific Rim since I first heard about it. There’s probably no one who was more hyped for this movie than me. Pacific Rim wound up not being quite the slam dunk I wish it was, but it is a great ridiculous distillation of 80’s action movies, Saturday Morning cartoons, and corny ghetto anime. It’s the closest thing to a live action anime since Speed Racer. There’s no other movie quite like this, though, and that includes Speed Racer. But that doesn’t mean Pacific Rim always feels brand new. The story actually feels pretty familiar, maybe too familiar, and the plot is so basic and characterization so lean that there’s not much of the story that really differentiates itself from those familiar things. This may put off some people, but it should be noted that Pacific Rim is a movie aimed squarely at ten year olds, not jaded thirty year olds with enough pop culture awareness to chart every beat, reference, and quirk of of the movie. If you’re the type of person who enjoys that stuff, you’ll have a ball here. Guillermo Del Toro is the type of guy who enjoys that stuff, and so his movie is awash with it. It’s almost as prominent a feature as the film’s robust world-building (one of its strongest features). I’m sure Del Toro is the most responsible for the sheer level Pacific Rim reaches in that (blowing even District 9 out of the water), but writer Travis Beacham also deserves tons of credit.

Without splitting hairs too much, Pacific Rim is all about seeing some shit you haven’t seen in a movie before. Namely, watching gigantic mechs with human pilots do battle against sea monsters. That is exactly what you’re going to get. The story and characters exist to serve the initial hook or get the fuck out of the way. That introduces some problems, particularly a lack of story meat to chew on. The thinness of the story does not make it stupid, however. Everything functions perfectly well in spite of some rough edits and a few too many places where you really feel the absence of the three-hour cut that’s supposed to exist.

At its worst, Pacific Rim is a big corny cartoon that is another example of something I’ve talked about before: the cinematic equivalent of a big dopey dog that fucking loves you. This is a robotic dog painted up like an airshow plane, yes, but a dog all the same.

But at its best, it’s a spectacle unlike any other. This is big all over. Big subjects, big moments, and big clear images of staggering beauty. Read the rest of this entry »

A visually lavish film, the visuals in Prometheus never disappoint.

It’s just too bad. One one hand, Prometheus will be a victim of hype. There’s almost no way it could ever have lived up to the amount of anticipation that’s been fueling it for over a year. That said, Ridley Scott and writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof are the most at fault for what is essentially 2/3 of a good, possibly great film and 1/3 total fucking bullshit. A lot of people are saying that it’s the 3rd act that is weak and are blaming Lindelof for being unable to stick yet another landing with his non-existent, sequel-bait ending. I’d say that even though I’m somewhat facetiously dividing it in thirds myself, the problems start much earlier than the third act. Prometheus is a huge disappointment but there’s an extent to which we have to look in a mirror to find the source of that. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those movies where anyone’s ever going to be taken seriously for “you didn’t get it” defenses. There just isn’t that much to get. Prometheus is a beautiful film with some great ideas and decent performances, but it is also the kind of film that falls apart the more you think about it.

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I know this picture signifies something…

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the perfect sort of movie to explain how I regard which bad movies are worth hating and which ones should simply be ignored. Basically, the difference between the sort of movies that end up on my year end Worst 10 list vs. the handful of bad movies I see but don’t even bother to review.

Make no mistake, Ghost Rider 2 is shitty and I expected it to be shitty. I thought it would be excrementally entertaining though! It isn’t very entertaining at all. I mean, conceptually this is a remake of Terminator 2 with demonic possession and fire piss. At the least, that’s an entertaining sentence to write let alone think about. So what the fuck happened? Read the rest of this entry »

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