THE DARK TOWER: A Comparison and Review with Friends

Stephen King’s magnum opus series The Dark Tower was given the big screen treatment last month when it was unveiled to fans and non fans alike. I’ll be honest, I have no interest in seeing the film, much less dusting off books from a shelf to get into the series. So instead I decided to sit down with two good friends to dissect their thoughts after seeing THE DARK TOWER. Michael hasn’t really been exposed to the world of THE DARK TOWER prior to the film, while Cory is a super fan of the book series… Let’s chat!

So coming out of seeing THE DARK TOWER, I guess this question’s for both of you, did you like the movie?

MICHAEL: No.

CORY: Mixed feelings.

Alright, let’s delve into it. Michael, let’s start by hearing your first impression of the film as a mere viewer and then compare it to Cory, who’s read the whole series.

M: Compared to him, he’s a huge fan. I’ve never read any of the books. I’ve hung out with him to know enough about them. It did not meet my expectations. Also, why the hell was Matthew McConaughey air bending? That’s not how Stephen King writes. He writes in a way that makes things subtle. This movie was just like another Avatar fanbase.

So what you’re saying is you don’t believe it was true to Stephen King’s writing style?

M: Noooo. If Stephen King saw it, he’d be like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just go back to drinking!’

C: Stephen King has said himself that he doesn’t dislike the movie. He kind of approves of it. He vouches for the movie. Some people think that he’s contractually obliged to say nothing bad about the movie.

That’s a thought. And Michael, was there anything you wish was different about it, as a viewer not really knowing much about the books?

M: There was too much exposition. There wasn’t enough introduction into the world of The Dark Tower, or therefore, worlds of The Dark Tower. What I was expecting the entire time was to have at least a moment to explain what The Dark Tower is. It is the connection of all worlds, including our own in every fictional world Stephen King has created. But it just becomes this maguffin. It’s just this thing in the distance that you have to save… ‘Suuure, I’ll do that!’ Well, why do you have to save it? Because the world will end. Why will the world end? Because it is literally a construct of every world. For all I know, it’s literally just this black spiky thing in the distance.

C: To be fair, as far as the books go, a lot of the book series is just, ‘ Why do we have to reach The Dark Tower?’ Because it’s gonna fall. It’s the maguffin through most of the book series.

M: So I would have the exact same criticism if I were to have read the first six books.

C: He doesn’t really go into why The Dark Tower matters until after book four, it seems.

So do you think it did the series justice going the film route and squeezing good amounts of text into this average time frame of film?

M: Oh, nooo. It needed so much more time. You needed time to get used to the characters. I almost didn’t believe that his mom died, because well, why do I give a shit about his mom? I’ve known her for thirteen seconds…

It seems like there’s a lack of emotional investment, by what you’re saying.

M: Exactly! There wasn’t enough to get attached to the characters.

C: As far as the time frame goes, Stephen King had like, thirty years, 4,500 pages, and seven books to work all this stuff out and to fit all of these answers to questions in. The movie had 95 minutes. The movie isn’t supposed to be a stand alone movie. Ninety-five minutes is nowhere near enough time for an intro to The Dark Tower. It’s long enough for an intro to it, but not enough to explain to an audience what it is.

M: One of the reasons I love Stephen King is that he’s a master of getting you into their world with detail. He describes every scene so perfectly. It’s like I can mentally see everything there is to this world. It’s wonderful! For this movie, I think it would be a much better medium to have it as a series. With the movie, you are rushed. The director basically made this movie knowing they’d have to cut time. The point of any story is to convey a feeling, and there’s no way to instill a feeling if there is not enough time for that feeling to exist.

Image result for dark tower movie

So Michael, would you someday take a shot at the book series, even after this viewing?

M: Good question! I drive a lot, I work a lot, and I have an audio book subscription I need to use! So it is on my list.

Good deal. So Cory, I’ll ask you this now, how was the film viewing it as a fan of the book series?

C: Hit and miss. There was a lot of stuff in the movie that I really liked seeing referenced, like with  Maerlyn’s Rainbow, Matthew McConaughey basically controls unlimited power. There was a lot of really cool stuff that I got a lot more out of than I think the non-book fan would have gotten, just because I knew what they were referencing.

M: Yea, the thing is, I’m not making fun of Stephen King, or The Dark Tower. I’m making fun of the person who wrote that. Whoever wrote the script, because really, man? Like I said earlier, the point of any Stephen King story is subtlety.

C: Well, one of the biggest things I had issue with was that in the book series, and in all of Stephen King’s books that have this same antagonist, everything he does that’s not natural is extremely subtle. The extent of his powers basically manifests as the lady thought she had a knife strapped to her arm instead of a fucking banana, and he took advantage of that. This whole, “Stop breathing! I can control glass now,” wasn’t the deep-felt mind fuck that Stephen King is known for.

M: Matthew McConaughey glass bending, err, breath bending, as opposed to the example of him turning a knife into a banana, is that it’s entirely possible that that girl just wasn’t prepared enough, and she actually brought a banana with her.

C: In the book series, and in King’s other works, the antagonist is more of an illusionist. He messes with your perception as opposed to actually controlling glass or catching bullets. He wants to convince you that he could, but won’t do it. Some of the only times that Roland misses his shots in the book, are against the Man in Black. The Man in Black doesn’t catch the bullets. Yea, it makes for cool cinematography. It looked badass. I will say, one thing this movie had going for it, is all of the gun fights were kick ass, but they didn’t have this finesse, I guess. It’s all perception-based. It was made to try and capture as big of an audience as possible.

M: It didn’t have the same feeling. You could tell it was made without the same heart in mind. It was made for a paying audience. It wasn’t made for a loving fan base.

So do you guys think it’s filled with enough elements to attract the average moviegoer?

M: Maybe I’m not the average moviegoer, maybe I’m just a cynic. I didn’t like the movie. I even tried to take myself out of expecting a lot from it. As someone who’s never read the books, as someone who’s watched enough movies to kind of tell what is a good movie and what isn’t, it was just a good action movie for a total of twelve minutes within it. It didn’t know where it wanted to be on the spectrum of a children’s movie where your imagination can run wild, and an adult movie where just everyone must die. It followed as a movie and that was it. It was a literal movie, and that’s all it’s got going for it.

C: I felt like the movie followed as a movie well. It wasn’t a groundbreaking kind of thing. I could at least follow what was going on, even removing myself from knowing all the references as much as I can. The movie didn’t touch the books. I felt like given another few movies or a tv series, it could touch the books.

So there’s word they’re producing a television series based on book four of THE DARK TOWER series, Wizard and Glass, which covers the origin story of the gunslinger and the formal introduction to the whole world.

C: I always prefer the tv series format to the movie format. From  my understanding, they’re planning on doing the kind of stuff that happened way in the past from the books, and the “present,” as the movies. Book four deals with all of the past, and it is the most divisive book in the series. People either love that book or they hate it. But doing it that way would allow people to follow the movie series. Then, if they cared more about this backstory, they can watch the tv series.

M: I feel like I could get into that, if it were executed as a tv series. If it’s done as a movie, I refuse to watch that. There is a difference between taking time, getting into your characters and your world, and then milking it for all it’s worth. That’s why I’m sometimes worried about spin offs.

Briefly, what are your thoughts on the acting in this one? There was some good hype going around that Idris Elba was about the only redeeming factor of the film.

C: The acting was great, I felt. Idris Elba did a wonderful job. He will save anything.

M: It’s not the acting that got me out of it, I feel like the actors themselves did the best they could with what they were given. Idris was awesome.

We can all agree on this. So back to the idea of a cross-platform universe… In the world of the films right now, how did it backtrack to the book’s narrative?

C: Basically, this is not a retelling of the books. This is a new story. It’s a new story with the same characters. It’s not even an adaptation. It has things from the books, but it is not the books.

M: It’s the same intellectual properties. Same characters. Just new plot.

And bringing it to the big screen, good idea or bad idea? Let’s keep in mind the people who are viewing the film with no prior exposure to the world of THE DARK TOWER.

C: If it gets more people interested in the series, it’s always a good idea. If someone went into this and thought, “That has a lot of potential. I need to read the books,” Great idea. More people need to read the series. I cannot stress it enough. This is my favorite book series. It is phenomenal!

M: I guess that’s a good point, because you know there is some nerd out there who’s like,”You know, I’ve been meaning to read The Dark Tower. Oh! They’re making a Dark Tower. I might as well read the entire book series before the movie comes out!” That person was probably disappointed.

C: They were probably really disappointed in the movie, but really happy to have read the book series.

We’ll wrap it up with final thoughts . 

M: You physically cannot expect the book to give you the same feeling as the movie, simply because of the format. Because when you read a book, because of how it works, you are in the book! Your brain does the visual screenings for you, basically. With the movie, I have to deal with what they think everything looks like.

C: I’m hoping in ten year’s time when more movies and the tv series have been released, we’ll be able to look back on all this and see that “Oh, this is how it all makes sense.” It makes sense in context of everything. Movies rely on two senses: your sight and your sound. There is nothing past those in a movie. With a book, you can go into detail on every little aspect of the taste of the air, the smell, everything. You get the feeling that you’re in a world that does not want to live anymore.

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Film Review – Death Note (2017)

Netflix has finally unveiled to us its live-action adaptation of the super famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. You can look at Netflix’s DEATH NOTE in one of two ways: viewing it as merely a film with no attachment whatsoever to its source, or you can view it as a fan of the anime/manga. I’ll say this now, you are going  to be disappointed either way, haha. Let’s just say DEATH NOTE made my Friday very stressful.

If you’ve read the manga series or like me, are a fan of the anime, you know how dark and twisted this cat and mouse game is. You may be asking yourself, “Should I give this film a shot?” My answer is yes. Not that you’d be missing a whole lot, but just being a fan of its original story, you need to at least see this for yourself, haha. You owe it to yourself to find out, because believe me, I was terrified and excited for this, too. We’re in this together, so go see it if you have about two hours to kill. The moment I heard news of this adaptation, I thought, “Well, shit! They better get this right!” It’s a lot of detail and character development to squeeze into the average film time frame. Director Adam Wingard (YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST, BLAIR WITCH) takes the source and tries to pay tribute to it, and I can appreciate the effort, but it is hard to take a liking to something so far fetched from the original source. Death Note is the only anime that has kept me on the edge of my seat and really made me think. DEATH NOTE the movie is just an hour and 40 minutes of doomed teenage love and their desire for power.

Light Turner is played by Nat Wolff. Yes, the Nat Wolff from the Nickelodeon series THE NAKED BROTHERS BAND. Wolff has also starred in the film STUCK IN LOVE (2012) and more recently, PAPER TOWNS (2015). This adaptation explores the idea of a Death Note falling into the hands of a teenager in suburban Seattle. While I can understand this modern take, it flopped because the character arcs are so switched around. As the film goes on, Light seems to be more like the Misa Amane of the series. Nat Wolff himself isn’t necessarily what sunk DEATH NOTE for me. I was surprised to see him cast as Light, but really I was relying on the script to come through for this one. And I gotta ask, did twelve-year olds write this?! It feels like we’re stuck in an eighties teenage nightmare.

Image result for death note 2017 light turner

The perky Misa Amane from the anime/manga is played by Margaret Qualley (THE NICE GUYS, PALO ALTO) as high school cheerleader, Mia Sutton. She is devious and so in love with Light, but more in love with the death note, it seems. The script makes Mia and Light so nonchalantly infatuated with each other. It’s like they’re star-crossed lovers, but they’re more like a couple of hormonal teenagers with a morbid desire for power. Yea, they’re that goth couple in school who are plotting to take over the world with their murder book… The story is premature. Their relationship was introduced to us so quickly and before we know it, Kira is making international headlines and it feels like Light is only doing things to impress her, when in actuality, she is the one pulling strings here.

The twisted baddass-ery did not translate to film. The sick and thrilling chase we all know and love…isn’t here. So what’s something we can maybe appreciate about DEATH NOTE? Well, I was a fan of the soundtrack and some of the ballads that were nicely synced into some scenes. L, played by Lakieth Stanfield (GET OUT, SHORT TERM 12) wasn’t too hard to accept. I know in the media they may mention things like whitewashing the whole film, but we won’t touch on that, haha. As far as L goes, the script did let Stanfield tap into the whole introverted, sugar loving gestures our buddy L has. He was quick witted and determined in the film. I liked seeing that. He did have one or two meltdowns that were not so true to L’s nature. DEATH NOTE’s L was a little more aggressive in expression and lacked a little bit of self reserve, if we were to compare him to the anime.

Also, I’ll say that besides L’s mannerisms in general in the film, Ryuk is easily the best thing in the film. And why couldn’t we get more of Ryuk?! I’d like to know that, please. Even distancing myself from the anime, I still find it in poor quality. The choices in colors and effects were totally great. I was down for that. They captured the ambiance through colors perfectly, and as far as effects, Ryuk was one of the best parts because of this! They failed to utilize more of what was working for the film. I mean, why wouldn’t you have more scenes of this all knowing death god the death note essentially belongs to?? Willem Dafoe, truly the only good casting call in the film, was phenomenal. The end. Lol. (Notice how I did not keep this short and sweet.)

DEATH NOTE really took a hit with its rushed montages. Light’s whole Kira persona rise was just a montage and everything became so unstable as far as narrative. It was literally a downhill ride after that. The ending was a little open, so there may be talks of a sequel sometime soon. Would a sequel really do it justice though? It would have made sense if Wingard wanted to space this all out and decided to take on a ten-episode series, for example. I think it would have given this live action adaptation more of a fighting chance. It would have laid down the groundwork to allow a much more graceful tribute to the anime.

Film Review – Before Sunrise (1995)

Finally, a romance film up for discussion! Truthfully, I’m a hopeless romantic, haha. I dabble with the rom-coms from time to time and more so the critically romantic classics. Others I like are those “in between” movies. They’re not the masterpiece classics, but they’re not sappy, cheesy comedies… It’s that blissful balance of a conversation piece and wanderlust. It’s the film that you didn’t think you needed, but you can’t help but fall in love with it.  In BEFORE SUNRISE, a young American tourist, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets French student Celine (Julie Delpy) by chance on a  Euro-train from Budapest to Vienna. When story plots become non existent, here with BEFORE SUNRISE we are given an absolute joy of a night in Vienna. It’s like, “Who needs a plot?!” Well, BEFORE SUNRISE proves to be an exceptionally delightful excursion on its own with the beautiful landscape of dialogue.

The genius that is Richard Linklater (SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED, BOYHOOD) directs this fresh air of a film, and his subtle direction in BEFORE SUNRISE is magical. The directing is just impeccable and so graceful. With ordinary characters, Linklater was able to create something extraordinary between them. Alongside Kim Krizan, Linklater let the writing speak for itself, literally. I love how he stays true to the conversation-as-plot narrative, and the way he always focuses on character and makes it a priority to make the audience invest in these characters more than anything. I can say that the originality is here. Everything falls into place. With continuous shots through the lovely streets at night, it is effortless to follow Jesse and Celine as they discuss love, death, and life, all the while falling in love with each other. To walk the streets at night with someone and forget the world, and to lose yourself into them for one night is euphoric bliss. BEFORE SUNRISE stands out in cinema with its lengthy instrospective dialogue and attention to human experiences.

When you have two people meet in a sort of serendipitous circumstance, I think that’s how sparks can really fly. The film doesn’t have a crucial plot. Jesse and Celine strike up a conversation on the train, they become infatuated with each other, all the while knowing, that this ridiculously random meet will soon have to cease and they will go their separate ways when the train stops. But it’s when the time comes that Jesse realizes maybe there’s more to this. Maybe if he puts himself out there and invites her to take his stop, they will continue the night talking about life , love, and the wonders of one’s purpose. Go ahead and watch the clip below. (Try not to fall prey to Ethan Hawke’s charm, LOL.)

Let it be known that I have an undying love for Ethan Hawke for as long as I can remember. His characters always have this great substance to them and he’s just so lovable! Maybe that’s just my opinion, though. Maybe it’s  just me relating to his roles as a writer and this artsy charm to him. But this isn’t the last time we see him play these indie roles. Remember the anthology film, NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU? I reviewed it once upon a time. In one of the shorts, Hawke played this very charming, persistent, ivy cap-wearing writer having a smoke with a chick on the street. It is really gold. Admittedly, I can recite it word for word, but we won’t tell anyone…!

Hawke and Delpy explore their chemistry in BEFORE SUNRISE and it helps the flow of the conversation to become so natural. That foundation alone has molded the film to be so beautiful. A definite favorite of mine. The film would go on to have two more story installments with BEFORE SUNSET (2004) and BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013), making it the ‘Before’ Trilogy. I look forward to reviewing the next two chapters to this wonderful story, so be on the lookout, friends.

Film Review- A Cure For Wellness (2017)

Let’s be honest, where does one start with A CURE FOR WELLNESS? For starters, what kind of film is it? Well it is a sci-fi/ mystery/ psychological thriller/ fairy tale/and body horror cluster fuck. It makes way for some critical thinking more toward the end of the film where they finally decide to pull all the strings of information and twists.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (THE RING, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise), A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a film that follows a young New York finance executive who is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an eerie “wellness center” located in the Swiss Alps. It soon becomes apparent that there’s something sketchy and macabre going on deep within the walls of this facility. Right off the bat, I thought this film was really going somewhere. Unfortunately, with its wickedly nice imagery of horrors, the later half of the film couldn’t quite carry its weight in narrative.

I came across a comment on the RogerEbert.com review of the film that said, “But at least it’s not “The Human Centipede.” And I really loved that comment, haha, because while having a genuine and original idea, the story is just so dry. It didn’t pull me in, and Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) as a character never became relevant to me. Quite honestly, I was rooting against the dude. A CURE FOR WELLNESS has a lot of nice visuals, but it just didn’t have enough substance in the script.

Where the storytelling drive runs short, we still have the visuals. The redeeming quality of A CURE FOR WELLNESS is Yugoslavian-born Bojan Bazelli. Yes, that’s right, the cinematographer of the film. The camera work in this film is what made the two and a half hours a little less painful to the eyes. Bazelli’s work really is a sight for sore eyes alongside the first half of the story, which was all going so brilliantly and in tune. Take a peek at the various stills straight from the film!

In an interview with No Film School, Bazelli discusses his uprising in film, his opportunities in the United States, and expresses the imagery in the film. Totally go check it out. A really interesting read! “If you can achieve the image that speaks emotions in the context of the story, you have done your job fantastically. That’s pretty much all [cinematographers] try to do,” said Bazelli.

So thank you, Bazelli, for your visually arresting shots of mysterious, slightly creepy, idiosyncratic euphoria. It brings me to a problem though. Do I like A CURE FOR WELLNESS at all? Here’s the thing, the idea is indeed original. It’s got “Hey ! I’m produced straight outta Hollywood, but I’m not another reboot or sequel! Gimme a chance!,” written all over it, haha. So you already want to give it a shot… It’s a shame that this film is actually so original and beautiful to watch, and yet at the same time, so dull in the storytelling department. It’s enchanting and jarring of a film, but it ultimately falls prey to the contents of its own demise.

And if you are a Verbinski fan and/or really enjoyed A CURE FOR WELLNESS, his next film will be SPACELESS, a science fiction suspense film in pre-production, so let’s cross our fingers on that one.

Playlist Bliss- WALLS

So if you know me in real life, you would know that I’m a huge Kings of Leon fan. Long time fan now and it astounds me that I haven’t written a piece on them yet…. Really, Jessica? But how does one write about their favorite stuff without rambling on? I’ll keep it simple today because if I decided to write an entire piece on my love for this band, we would be here all day. So maybe next time!

Today I’m writing a piece in Playlist Bliss highlighting what I’ve been listening to lately. Kings of Leon released their seventh studio album last year and have gone on tour in Europe and will actually be here in their hometown of Nashville, TN come September 29! OF COURSE YOUR GIRL IS GONNA BE THERE. Wouldn’t miss it… So, their title track “WALLS” comes to us with a feeling of heartache, longing, and defeat. The soft ongoing rhythm of guitar and piano encompasses a raw skin to the song, and I freaking love it.

The visuals of the video itself make it hard to not fall in love with.  We follow lead singer and guitarist Caleb Followill through a very minimal close encounter that takes us on a little short journey. Those piercing blue/green eyes and honest vocals just melt us. And he definitely is a beautiful man! The colors of the falling day in the distance just makes for a beautiful shot. Also, I tend to love basking in emotional music, haha. The song especially  touches me because it resonates with a lot emotions one may feel in their own life or just the fact that a song can become so vulnerable can make it easy to sympathize with.

Watch the music video, peeps! Watch it over and over again, like I do everyday. (kidding. but I do watch it weekly!) On October of 2016, Caleb Followill explained to Entertainment Weekly a little on how the band’s most popular songs came to be. Here’s what he had to say about the single “WALLS,”

“I found that melody on the road, and when I played it during sound check, everyone jumped on, immediately. I had, [sings] “When the walls come down…,” but for the rest I would just mumble. When we got in the studio, I opened my mouth and it just poured out. It’s like a gift from the gods. I was in the right place at the right time and said something that now, I mean, I’m getting texts from everyone like, ‘Man, that song really touched me,’ from big football players to my mom.”

“Representation of everything…”

Really wanted to share this post robofists-revenge put on tumblr a while back. I really have no words, because the post speaks for itself on many levels of the human heartbreak. While I am long gone from my past heartaches, a feeling of friendly retrospect is sometimes needed. I could write for ages of the many feelings I once felt. 500 Days of Summer, while being a beautiful movie in itself, was profoundly familiar to me through its essence. Being in love with the idea of someone/something can be the most excruciating thing, but at the same time, so liberating. How so? Because ‘people come and go.’ And sometimes, the experience leads you to believe in a higher reality for yourself. Sometimes people come into your life to unknowingly help you realize what you love out of life… (to be continued, maybe?)

Netflix’s Live Action DEATH NOTE Releases Dark Teaser

Anime and manga fans of the dark classic unite. The dark live-action adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba’s beloved manga, Death Note is almost here.

The first official teaser trailer for the live action DEATH NOTE was just released hours ago by Netflix and we are freaking out! Immediately, the teaser entices us with the notorious notebook falling ever so softly from the skies and into the grasp of our main character Light Turner (contrary to the manga’s ‘Light Yagami’), played by Nat Wolff. We also almost see one of the main characters in the frame, Ryuk the Shinigami, a grim reaper type creature.

In the minute long trailer, we are given just a peek at the twisted essence Netflix is conveying in its version. Margaret Qualley is seen as Mia Sutton (Misa Amane in the manga series). Almost instantly a flare of horror ensues in the teaser, and we can only hope that this live-action film adaptation of DEATH NOTE will not disappoint.

The story is set to follow the premise of the manga where Light, a brilliant high school student, discovers an eerie notebook entitled, ‘Death Note,’ which claims to kill anyone whose name is written within.

If you are a die hard fan of the manga and/or anime, you will be the toughest critic. It is sometimes difficult to portray a sinister plot from animation to live-action and time will only tell if Netflix has done the series justice. For now, we will form our opinions and anticipate together if the totally twisted badass-ery will translate to film.

Death Note started as a manga series in December 2003 and ran until 2006. An anime adaptation of the series premiered in October 2006 until June 2007. Netflix and their production studio got ahold of the rights for the live-action adaptation from Warner Bros. in April 2016.

DEATH NOTE, directed by Adam Wingard, will release to Netflix’s online streaming August 25, 2017.