fantasy

The Dark Tower

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A young boy is consumed by his strange dreams. He sees a tower, a man in black who seeks to destroy the tower, and a gunslinger who seeks revenge. The dreams lead him to another world that has been ravaged by the man in black. He must find the gunslinger and aid him in defeating the man in black. If they fail, the tower will fall. If the tower falls, darkness will consume our world.

To start off I will say that I have never read The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I had no frame of reference going into this film so I had little to no expectations. Even with no expectations I still feel nothing but disappointment and confusion when thinking about The Dark Tower film. The film had such promise. It has a great cast, a big Hollywood budget, and (from what I understand) amazing source material. The number one issue with The Dark Tower is not only does it not follow what is written in the book, but it also creates this entire grand mythos without actually explaining any of it. The audience is introduced to the man in black and the gunslinger, but we don’t really learn anything about who or what they are and the motivations behind their actions. The audience is shown skin-stealing creatures who work for the man in black, but it is never explained what they actually are. There are entirely new worlds that are somehow connected by portals and the tower, but viewers never learn how this connection works. The film is only an hour and 35 minutes long. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t take an extra half hour to better develop the characters and the world they created is mind-boggling.

The effects of the film also leave much to be desired. The choice to use CGI throughout the film doesn’t bother me. With the world they are trying to create it is the most logical option. What does bother me is that there appears to be little effort put into these effects, making many scenes look like something from a made for TV movie instead of the blockbuster hit this film was supposed to be. The climax of the film is where the flaws are the most glaringly obvious. The final scenes look ridiculous, taking out any excitement or suspense, and the entire sequence of events is simply too brief. This is just another example that shows how a little more time and a bit more effort could have greatly improved the film.

The actors were one of the few positive aspects of The Dark Tower. The material the had to work with was thin, but the leads all did what they could with it. Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor) did his best to make the gunslinger, Roland, as interesting and complex as possible. This is no easy thing to do with what Elba had to work with, but his talent still shows through the muck and the mire. It is clear that Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club) has the potential to make an incredible villain. There are moments in his portrayal of Walter, who is also known as the man in black, where McConaughey expertly portrays the evil within. Sadly, the writing of his character and the way he is directed in certain scenes keep McConaughey from rising to his true potential. Tom Taylor (Broken Hearts, Doctor Foster) is probably the most developed character as the young Jake. This gave Taylor more opportunity to show his acting skills and to portray an enjoyable character, as far as the writing allowed. My one note for Taylor is that there are times where his accent breaks through, especially when he says the word “gunslinger.”

I want to like this movie. It is overflowing with potential and it creates a universe that I want to learn more about. The Dark Tower has an interesting premise and phenomenal actors. Unfortunately, not only will fans of Stephen King’s book leave wondering where the story they know and love went, but people who have never read the books will likely leave even more confused. There are simply too many plot points and characters that are not fully developed. The best part of The Dark Tower is hunting for the other Stephen King Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. If you plan on seeing this film I will say it will probably be more enjoyable on the big screen than on your television at home, but The Dark Tower isn’t a film I would go rushing to the theaters to see.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

Dave Made a Maze

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Dave never finishes anything. He picks up hobby after hobby trying to create something, but he never finishes. One day he decides to build a cardboard labyrinth in his living room while his girlfriend is out of town. As he’s building, he accidentally traps himself inside. When his girlfriend gets home she gathers friends to go in and find Dave. What they don’t realize is that the labyrinth is much bigger on the inside, and the creatures and traps Dave built have taken on a life of their own.

Dave Made a Maze is the single most original film I have seen in years. Most people growing up built some kind of fort or maze out of whatever is in the house as a child. Most people also pretend that what is inside is real. The filmmakers create a cardboard world that is beautiful and nostalgic all at the same time. They quite literally bring to life a childhood that many people experienced. The maze Dave builds doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s just a bunch of cardboard boxes taped together in the middle of a living room. Yet the maze has a TARDIS-like quality (Doctor Who reference for those who don’t know) in that it becomes a full-size labyrinth once inside. To add to the sense of whimsy in this film even the booby traps and creatures that are made from paper and cardboard come to life including giant heads, origami cranes, and the legendary Minotaur.

In many ways the maze itself represents Dave’s lack of focus. It is just another unfinished project and the many traps within are the things that distract him from completing anything. There is even one scene where Dave and his girlfriend get stuck in what looks like their apartment in this odd continuous daily loop of monotony. While this scene is up for interpretation, I see this as yet another trap in Dave’s maze. This trap locks Dave back into the life he is currently living and never achieving greatness like he so desperately desires. This is why, even when his friends enter the maze and they are all being chased by the Minotaur, Dave insists that the only way to escape the maze is by completing it. Yet again, this is a representation of Dave being forced to break out of the cycle he has created for himself. This metaphor is something that many viewers can relate to and will empathize with.

The world created in this film manages to be both whimsical and somewhat terrifying all at once. The set design is breathtaking, each part of the maze being made almost entirely out of cardboard. What’s even more impressive is that each set was built and disassembled in one day and filming time only took 22 days. The amount of work and artistry the filmmakers put into these sets is truly amazing. Even the various traps are made out of cardboard and when someone meets their end in a trap instead of blood, red streamers pour out of their body. It makes the death scenes absolutely hilarious and allows the filmmakers to have a certain level of gore without any actual blood or guts. The creature design is also primarily cardboard and paper, which is beautiful when the creatures come to life. Unfortunately this is where I find one negative about the film. Dave made everything out of cardboard, and most of the creatures are cardboard, yet the Minotaur doesn’t quite follow that rule. His head is a gorgeous cardboard design, yet the head sits atop of big, buff, shirtless human body. If the Minotaur had been made fully in cardboard it would have been more effective and stayed within the continuity of the film.

This fantastical world would not be as compelling without the characters who venture through it. Nick Thune (Urge, Dreamland) plays the builder, Dave. His character has a very interesting story arc and Thune does an excellent job of portraying Dave as he goes on this unique adventure. Thune makes the audience initially think Dave is just kind of a loser, but as the story progresses he manages to change how Dave is perceived. Much of the supporting cast is excellent as well. Meera Rohit Kumbhani (The Engagement Clause, Weird Loners) is delightful as Dave’s girlfriend, Annie. She stands out because she is tolerant of her boyfriend and tries to support him in his endeavors, even when his actions seem a bit on the crazy side.  Adam Busch (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Colony) is also great as Dave’s best friend, Gordon. Much like Annie, Gordon tries to be supportive of Dave, but he is also great at making fun of Dave’s shortcomings in a friendly way. While watching the film you really get the feeling that these people are relatable friends reacting in honest ways, and that is all due to the acting.

Dave Made a Maze is a bizarrely perfect blend of horror and whimsy. It is almost as if we enter an alternate universe where Jim Henson makes horror films. The gorgeous sets and fantastical creatures create a beautiful new world. The fact that the filmmakers were able to achieve this in 22 days of filming is still baffling to me. My biggest complaint is simply the Minotaur. While the head is a gorgeous cardboard creation, it doesn’t make sense to me that it would have a normal human body. This film is truly one of the most stunning and unique films made in years and it breaks the barriers of the horror genre, providing something for everyone to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10