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Thu10192017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

A couple of years ago, there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, and was to be followed by a TV series. Javier Bardem was cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series.

The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland, and a relatively novice director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) at the helm in Howard’s place. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The debut film’s budget was reduced to less than $70 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not the launch of what was proposed as an epic, blockbuster franchise.

As a result of all of this, this movie is a catastrophe, and a complete insult to fans of the books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and fans of science fiction/fantasy. Oh hell, this thing insults everybody: It looks like a low-level episode of Doctor Who, and we’re talking schlocky, 1970s Doctor Who. It feels like they used the same soundstage for all of the interiors, and just repainted shit. The CGI is terrible; the pacing is ridiculously, unnecessarily fast; and the plotting is confusing for those who haven’t read the books. (I’ve never read the books, and after watching this, I don’t care to ever read them.)

The story involves some kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a sad teenager who is gifted with “The Shine,” the psychic powers Danny had in King’s The Shining. He dreams of another world where there is a Dark Tower that acts as some sort of barrier between other dimensions, protecting planets like Earth from evil. He also dreams of a gunslinger (Elba) who is trying to kill the Man in Black.

No, it’s not Johnny Cash; the Man in Black is some sort of devil man played by McConaughey. His intention is to hunt people with the Shine, because their brains harness the power to shoot laser beams into the Dark Tower, thus destroying it and releasing goofy CGI monsters upon the Earth. Tom winds up traveling to something called the Mid-World, where he takes a brief hike with Roland, then winds up back on Earth in present-day New York City for some kind of apocalyptic battle.

Go ahead and badmouth me if I got any of this wrong; I assure you that is the best I could gather from this hackneyed, rushed, underwhelming production. There have been reports that this is, in fact, a sequel to King’s novels, and not a faithful beginning to the actual saga. I can’t report on the authenticity of such a report. I can just tell you that the movie sucks.

When considering the apparent scope of the novels, it’s a bit of a shocker that the film clocks in at 95 minutes. There is a definite sense that a lot of backstory and exposition has been removed in order to dumb things down and streamline the pace.

Elba growls intermittent dialogue, with his character amounting to nothing more than a shallow archetype. Also: If you are going to have a gunslinger with a Western motif, give him a cool hat. Elba, as always, looks cool, but something as simple as a hat would’ve made a little more sense in fleshing out the gunslinger character.

McConaughey roams from sloppy set to sloppier set, looking lost and perhaps even a little pissed that he signed on for this garbage. He’s not all that bad; he’s just given next to nothing notable to do.

There are still some sketchy plans to follow up this film with a TV series. Whatever the plan is, producers need to scrap it and start over a few years from now, when the memory of this unfortunate cinematic event has subsided.

The Dark Tower is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I am grateful for the existence of Inferno, Ron Howard’s latest installment in his Da Vinci Code film series.

Without Inferno, Tom Hanks would’ve had no reason to be out promoting a movie around Halloween time. Because he was, he stopped by Saturday Night Live to host for a ninth time. While there, he was in a totally bizarre sketch as David Pumpkins, a weirdo in a haunted house elevator ride accompanied by two beatboy dancer skeletons. The sketch is already a classic.

That’s it … that’s the only reason I am grateful for the existence of Inferno. David Pumpkins.

The film itself is easily the worst of the series, a series that was already pretty terrible in that both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons blew ass. Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, something the world’s most beloved actor shouldn’t need to do. This series needed to be put down after the first installment.

When Langdon wakes up in a hospital room, with a bullet scratch on his head and a loss of memory, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is there to help. Then, somebody starts toward Langdon’s hospital room with guns a-blazing, and the so-called adventure begins.

Langdon is having hallucinations about something akin to Dante’s Inferno while trying to work his way through amnesia. He’s in Italy, and he doesn’t know why, but Sienna, for reasons unknown, is going to stay by his side until he works things out.

For starters … the amnesia gimmick is one of the most desperate plot gimmicks anybody could put in a novel or a screenplay. I was half expecting Robert Langdon’s evil twin brother, the villainous Michael Langdon, to appear and kick Robert in the balls. This feels like a cheap soap opera from beginning to end.

Also, if you are going to employ the amnesia gimmick, be consistent. Moments after barely being able to remember anything, Langdon manages to grab a laptop and use the Internet (even though he didn’t know what coffee was just seconds before). He then he remembers his password and surfs the net. So he has selective amnesia: He can remember intricate details about passwords and how to surf the net, but that darned coffee stuff mystifies him.

The main “puzzle” Langdon has to solve this time out is finding out where a doomsday bomb containing a virus that will wipe out the majority of the Earth’s population has been planted. If he doesn’t find the Make Everybody Sick bomb, it will be an apocalypse like no other. Gee, I wonder if he’ll find it. I wonder if the whole world will die in a Ron Howard movie.

The first quarter of the movie does have some decent visuals as Langdon has nightmares about a plague-infected Earth, although it makes little sense why he’s having them at all. Much of the rest of movie consists of Robert and Sienna running around, pausing to talk about some sort of puzzling business that needs to be solved, and then running around again. The puzzles, as in the prior films, are ridiculous.

Hanks is just going through the motions, having to spend much of the movie looking confused and sweating profusely. Jones is a good actress, but she’s given nothing to do with a completely ridiculous part. If you’ve seen the commercials for this one, you already know the fate Ben Foster’s character suffers. He wastes his time here (after a great performance in this year’s Hell or High Water) as a billionaire who thinks the world is due for a cleansing.

Apparently, author Dan Brown is at work on a new Langdon novel, due out in 2017. Given that Inferno is a bomb by all accounts, let us all hope we have seen the last of Hanks and Howard wasting their precious time on this series.

And if you haven’t seen the David Pumpkins SNL sketch yet, you need to Google that shit, pronto.

Inferno is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Ron Howard directs The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, the first major Beatles documentary since The Beatles Anthology in the 1990s.

While the Anthology is still the most definitive account of the greatest band to ever walk the Earth—it’s damn near perfect—Howard does a nice job of culling footage snippets of the band during the short-lived touring days, screaming fans included (one of them being Sigourney Weaver, who is seen both in vintage footage and in a present-day interview).

The surviving Beatles—Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—participate with interviews, while John Lennon and George Harrison have a strong presence in archived interviews. As with Anthology, there’s no narrator, just the voices of the Fab Four either recounting those crazy touring days or commenting on them as they were happening.

That stretch ended right before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, when The Beatles became a studio band and eschewed live performances. As the film demonstrates, that decision came about not because they didn’t love playing together, but because they were basically afraid for their lives.

Hardcore fans will be familiar with most of the interviews and performances, although you will see and hear some surprises. This film is actually a great starting point for anyone looking to get to know more about the band. Keep this in mind when you check them out: This band did what they did in just seven years. SEVEN YEARS. That’s how long it takes many current bands to put out one album.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years is streaming on Hulu.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

There have been a lot of Moby-Dick adaptations over the years, the best one being the bizarre John Huston version with Gregory Peck going bonkers as Ahab.

There is just no need for another take on the Herman Melville classic right now. Strange, then, that somebody with a lot of money thought there was the need for a movie about the actual events upon which the classic novel was based.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, an actual whale ship out of Nantucket, Mass., that was sunk by a whale in 1820. The alleged culprit of the sinking was a sperm whale (like Moby), and the sinking resulted in many days on lifeboats for the surviving crew—as well as some cannibalism.

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex. The crew includes Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (Hey, it’s Thor and Spider-Man together!), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow!) as the resident recovering alcoholic, and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln!) as Captain Pollard—all people who actually existed. However, the story in the film goes way off the real-life script.

In Ron Howard’s film, the whale that did the sinking pulls a sort of Jaws: The Revenge thing and follows the survivors as they float aimlessly in the sea. Chase, who published a true account of the tragedy back in 1821, goes a little crazy here, believing a sperm whale, spotted with white blotches, is out to get him.

That never happened, of course. Yes, a whale sank the ship, and yes, some crewmembers became lunch. No, the whale didn’t follow the survivors and taunt them. It busted up the Essex and then disappeared into the sea for some plankton and leisurely swimming. That’s too boring, so the second half of the movie involves starving men trying to evade a vengeful whale. A whale movie hasn’t been this stupid since Richard Harris pissed off a killer whale in Orca.

This film has the odd framing device of Moby-Dick novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who is telling the story of the Essex as if it had never been told previously. In reality, the story had gotten out long before—such as in Chase’s aforementioned published account. The whole revelatory framing device rings false.

“Stupid” and “nonsensical” (read: whales with vendettas) can be forgiven in an action movie as long as the effects are up to snuff. Such is not the case with Sea. The whale that eventually attacks the Essex is not a convincing entity. It looks like Hemsworth is battling the product of many artists who just couldn’t get things quite right. The blend of live and animated performers is just awful, as are the 3-D effects, if you should be so unfortunate as to have laid out the extra dollars for 3-D.

Hemsworth fares better than he did in the awful Blackhat, but I have no idea what accent he’s trying to use. Is it a Massachusetts accent? Or Hungarian? Klingon?

Holland, a fine actor who was excellent in The Impossible, is tasked with looking scared and hungry, which he does admirably. He essentially has the Jamie Bell role from King Kong, that of the young “golly gosh” novice who has gotten himself into a harrowing nautical situation. They look very much alike.

Howard has made a lot of movies, and this is one of his worst, on the bottom of the pile along with The Dilemma and The Da Vinci Code. Regrettably, his next effort will be a second sequel to Code—dimming his chances of rebounding from this waterlogged dreck.

In the Heart of the Sea is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The story of the Formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s is epic, full of seemingly impossible twists and turns.

Rush, Ron Howard’s film about that rivalry, is far from epic.

It’s a period piece in which the audience can feel every wig and every attempt to establish the time period. In other words, Rush never feels authentic, and instead comes off as some decent actors playing dress-up. It also serves up a heaping pile of romantic melodrama that sends the movie off the track and into the bleachers.

Rush is supposed to be a movie about Formula 1 racing, yet the performers spend surprisingly little time behind the wheel. The focus is on their lives off the track, and while that warrants some interest … come on. Show us more racing, and less of Hunt’s boring marital woes.

Chris Hemsworth keeps his Thor hair to play Hunt, a superstar English playboy who is tearing it up on the tracks when egotistical rich-boy Lauda (Daniel Brühl) buys his way into the sport. It turns out Lauda is a decent driver, and their rivalry eventually leads to Formula 1 competition, where the two push themselves during the 1976 season.

It was on a rainy day in Germany when Lauda crashed his car in a near-fatal accident. He suffered major burns to his head and life-threatening damage to his lungs. Amazingly, Lauda came back to race only six weeks later, with his head covered with bloody bandages, to try to preserve his points lead.

With a crazy, real-life premise like that, a movie based on the events should be fantastic—and the two leads are indeed impressive. Brühl, saddled with some big false teeth to physically resemble Lauda, is excellent as the obsessive Austrian. His Lauda is easily the film’s most-compelling character, even when the story line focuses on Lauda’s humdrum love life.

Hemsworth’s Hunt is everything one would expect—and a little more. He likes to party before and after races. He likes to vomit before races because he’s “really” stoked. He likes to wield his mighty hammer and save the human race from invading alien forces. OK, that’s in The Avengers—although what Hemsworth does here isn’t far removed from what he does as Thor. However, Hemsworth catches the mannerisms of Hunt quite accurately, although Hunt comes off as a predictable dullard in many ways. Fault the screenplay for that.

Ron Howard reportedly had just south of $40 million to make the movie; this, perhaps, accounts for the lack of sustained racing sequences. That’s not a lot of money for a movie that demands a lot of vroom-vroom. Perhaps money is a reason why too much screen time is spent on Hunt’s blasé marriage to model Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde, so very good in this year’s Drinking Buddies). Miller left Hunt and ran off with Richard Burton. There was some talk that Russell Crowe would play Burton, but the character wound up being excised from the film. That would’ve been a great cameo.

Howard ends the film strangely, with Bruhl’s Lauda narrating over footage of the actual Lauda and Hunt, discussing the paths their lives took after the movie. An actor talking over footage of the character he just played seems a little odd. It also had me wishing that the movie could have been a biography focusing on Lauda, who is still alive, and Hunt, who passed away from a heart attack at the age of 45. The story is so amazing, and footage of the crucial racing events exists.

How about just interviewing those involved with the story, splicing it all together with race footage, and calling it a day, rather than blowing $40 million? As it turns out, the BBC did a documentary episode on Hunt and Lauda for their Clash of the Titans series. It’s available on YouTube, along with a few other documentaries. They cover all the bases—and render a viewing of Rush moot.

Still, in the pantheon of racing movies, Rush actually ranks high in a rather meager field. It’s much better than Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder and Sylvester Stallone’s Driven. It’s also better than most of the Fast and Furious movies.

Howard is capable of great moviemaking based on actual events. Apollo 13 is easily his best film, with Frost/Nixon and Cinderella Man ranking in his personal Top 5. Unfortunately, Rush stands alongside the likes of Howard’s The Dilemma and The Missing. It’s a film with a great premise whose tires go bald well before the finish line.

Rush is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Netflix subscribers who find the entertainment selection a little weak at times currently have access to one of the year’s greatest television surprises: An new 15-episode season of Arrested Development is currently available on the streaming service, and it’s as if one of TV history’s funniest and oddest families never left.

Each episode generally focuses on one character, like Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, with the other family members playing supporting roles. The episodes’ chronologies overlap, but the character focus changes. This amounts to a lot of fun.

If you are a fan, you will not be disappointed. Will Arnett’s Gob still performs magic to the refrain of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” David Cross’ Tobias is still a “never nude.” Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay is still shopping-obsessed, and so on.

The new shows also feature great cameos, including Ron Howard providing more than his voice, and a blessed reunion of Henry Winkler and Scott Baio.

There’s been some talk of an Arrested Development movie. As far as I see it, this is a 7 1/2 hour movie, since you can currently watch them all in a row.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and directed by relative newcomer Goro Miyazaki, this is a surprisingly straightforward piece of Japanese animation that doesn’t involve fantasy elements.

The story is about kids in Yokohama, circa 1963, who are trying to find their way and fight for a few causes. The central character is Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger in the English-dubbed version), a young girl who lost her dad in the war and finds herself liking a boy who may or may not be a good choice.

The movie looks great (as films from Studio Ghibli often do), and it tells a sweet story. Other English-dubbed vocal-cast members include Anton Yelchin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Howard. 

From Up on Poppy Hill opens Friday, April 12, at the Century Theatres at the River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, 760-836-1940.

Published in Reviews