Adapted to feel connected and/ or expand Stephen King’s book series of the same name, The Dark Tower is unreasonably panned by reviewers – most of them, that is.
Once optioned by J.J. Abrams, before his Star Trek and Star Wars days, the novel changed directors, writers and studios, before landing at Sony. Producer Ron Howard, who took hold of the “presumed” franchise after Abrams has been diligent in his commitment to bring the novels to cinemas – giving up directorial duties, pushing rewrites to accommodate lesser budgets, this man deserves a salute.
As does Idris Alba, who carries the weight of Mid-World, and basically holds the entire fate of the universe in his hands, as “The Gunslinger” named Ronald. Ronald is a crack-shot who owns a pair of guns made from King Arthur’s fabled sword Excalibur that can take out demonic beings. Ronald had spent a lifetime trying to kill a mysterious figure called the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a powerful being who goes by multiple aliases, including Walter Padick, Randall Flagg, or about 12 other names in King’s novel series.
In laymen’s terms Man in Black could be a close approximation of the devil, and McConaughey plays him as such. In a scene, which I found more deep than the entire film, he passes by a mother and her young daughter on a side-bench near Broadway, New York. As if pissed off by their giddy happiness, without breaking his stride, he looks at the girl and says “Hate”, and her eyes darken and her expressions change. She looks at her mother with newfound contempt.
Perhaps, the devil should be blamed for changing our moods for the worse – or perhaps, mucking up the film. Actually no, scratch that.
The Dark Tower is a mediocre motion picture, where Ronald pairs with Jake (Tom Taylor) a young boy from New York who can “see” across realms. The boy is one of “pure” essence who can power Man in Black’s machine that attacks a fabled dark tower, safeguarding time and space, in the middle of some far-fetched realm. If the tower falls, its bye bye universe, and the Man in Black becomes god – or something close to that effect.
The premise is intriguing, but like most of King’s adapted works – with exception to a handful (Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist, Hearts in Atlantis and Needful Things), the movie feels unstimulating.
Screenwriters, Akiva Goldsman (also a producer), Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel – the last also the director – have condensed, expanded and reinterpreted The Dark Tower novels for film with the best of their abilities. The end result has the impression of seamlessness, in a bid to setup possible future movies – which, if you ask me, will have a very hard time being made.
The movie is humdrum entertainment, yes, but you’ve probably seen worse – Cowboys & Aliens comes to mind… and the body shivers on automatic reflex. •
Girls Trip – immediate reaction: the film, directed by Malcolm D. Lee and inspired by the real-life experiences of Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver (who also wrote the story), is exactly as it sounds – a girl’s trip.
Being a motion picture – a territory that calls for additional cinema-worthy reinforcements to real-life – the story adds oddball jokes, (some in poor taste), as the girls (*ahem*, women) get together after a long period of doing their own thing to let loose.
They have to fit that “letting loose” spirit within a time frame, though. One of them, Ryan (Regina Hall) is on her way to finalise a deal with a network. Ryan banks on her brand image of a celebrity author who is a strong, faithful woman in a good marriage. Behind the scenes, her marriage is a compromise – her husband has been having an affair, which she knows about but keeps away from the media as it could jeopardise her and husband’s future; their loving image is their staple of success.
Ryan’s friends, who she invites to tag along (and who she couldn’t lie to at first), are Sasha (Queen Latifah, excellent as always), Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish).
Sasha is a celebrity blogger whose website is on the brink of shutting down, and who despite her line of work is resolute in her integrity (well, as long as her friend is concerned; she gets the dirt on Ryan’s husband quite soon but doesn’t leak it).
Lisa is a single mother who loves her children, and is anxious about letting her wild side get the better of her (spoiler alert: she becomes raucous).
Dina is… well… there is no real way to describe her other than “Cuckoo”. In her second scene she is fired from her workplace, but swats her boss’s declaration away (I will be back Tuesday, she tells him, despite his insistence that she doesn’t work in this office anymore). Her highly animated nature – akin to a roaring tornado, plowing through fields and townhouses – gets her, and in affect her friends, into trouble.
The thing is, the screenplay (by Barris and Oliver), has a weird, swish-it-away attitude towards their character’s predicaments. The jams they get in are easily sorted out in subsequent scenes. The actresses are fine, and we do feel who they are as characters throughout, but still one feels the connections are feeble.
At times, Girls Trip becomes too conventional for its own good. I am sure, as screenwriters, they are adhering to the basic, and unjustly sacrosanct, guides of storytelling – which, includes a three-act structure – the beginning, middle and end in films – with predictable high and low points, and journey’s and resolution of its key characters.
This way of mapping out stories has become an unsurprising cliché of its own – a sort of paint-by-numbers way of telling stories. It functions, yes, but leaves little room for manoeuvring out of a pre-set comfort zone.
In a way, these girls are a perfect embodiment of the basics of screenwriting. Even when they become wild, they do so within confines. They function as characters, but not people – even as they talk the talk, and walk the walk.
To a degree, yes, the film has little ambition – and being overly ambitious would not appeal to the story it sets out to tell, which is of course fine, but unremarkable, as well.
Doing so doesn’t make Girls Trip a great and unique experience. It functions, yes, and is successful (produced in $19 million, it has grossed $111 million worldwide till now) – but that’s that. At least the producers are happy. •
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