Happy Labor Day!
My last Movie & TV Roundup covered three months instead of my usual two months, so to make up for it, here’s an installment for just the month of August.
I’ve watched a few more movies than usual, so it works out well!
What I Saw
- The Dark Tower 
- Kong: Skull Island 
- It Follows 
- As Above, So Below 
- The Accountant 
- Jack Reacher: Never Go Back 
- Paddington 
- The Awakening 
- Game of Thrones (Season 7) 
- Death Note 
What I Started Watching
- The Librarians (Season 1) 
- Iron Fist (Season 1) 
- The Borgias (Season 2) 
- The Defenders (Season 1) 
- The Saint (Season 1) 
- Frontier (Season 1) 
- Norsemen (Season 1) 
Mini reviews follow:
The Dark Tower
2017 | Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. With Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor.
We don’t often get out to the cinema these days because of the kids, but we had a couple of opportunities over the summer and chose to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and The Dark Tower. (I actually wanted to see Baby Driver instead of The Dark Tower, but we waited too long and it wasn’t showing anymore.)
The Dark Tower is based on a Stephen King series that I knew little about, but some other King adaptations have turned out well (Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, Misery…and the new adaptation of The Mist is on my watchlist). Plus, Idris Elba, right?
It’s quite unfortunate that the movie needed a fair bit of CGI and had a lower budget of $60m (compare with another CG-heavy movie like War for the Planet of the Apes at $152m) and ended up feeling like a fancier made-for-television movie. The script was rushed, with moments that should have been epic seeming small. It was really quite a waste of some talented actors. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I didn’t think it was a total wash—the movie was still watchable and it had some interesting moments. But it doesn’t seem like this movie was intended for fans of the books, as it’s apparently more of a sequel, and there isn’t much here to truly hook non-book readers into this messy story.
Kong: Skull Island
2017 | Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. With Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly.
After the disappointment of the Peter Jackson Kong movie, I wasn’t holding out much hope for this new Kong adaptation, which seems unfair in hindsight. But I went into this movie with low expectations, and came out fully impressed. I love a big monster movie (the recent American Godzilla films have been so poor, but I was all over Pacific Rim) and this fit the bill very nicely.
It’s a much smarter film than it needed to be, and the cast and effects were top notch, as well. Good blockbuster fun, all around.
2014 | Directed by David Robert Mitchell. With Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist.
I am, quite honestly, a complete chicken when it comes to most horror films. I can handle slasher flicks and jump scares, but it’s psychological (and supernatural) horror that tends to keep me up at night.
Yet, It Follows had received such good reviews that I finally found the nerve to watch it. Despite having a hard time sleeping later that evening, I’m very glad I saw this movie.
The story is cleverly tailored to a low-budget film, and it very effectively builds a slow-burning terror. The horror is an unnamed, shapeshifting entity, “It”, that slowly but steadily hunts down its human target—unless that person has sex first, transferring It’s unwanted attention to their partner. Should It kill the new target, it backtracks down the line. Maika Monroe (The Guest) plays the main character who becomes the new target, and she wrestles with the morality of passing It on while she’s on the run and becoming increasingly sleep-deprived.
The movie almost seems like a metaphor for life: once you’ve come of age, you keep looking over your shoulder for death that inevitably comes for you—albeit, hopefully in a less violent manner. I did like the film’s decision to avoid addressing any origin or explanation for the existence of It; the movie is scarier for not knowing. (The only question I wish they’d addressed is, “What was up with that clamshell e-reader?”)
As Above, So Below
2014 | Directed by John Erick Dowdle. With Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil.
I’ve wanted to see this movie for a few years, mostly because the upside down Eiffel Tower poster is pretty eye-catching, and the catacombs of Paris seems like a fantastic setting for a survival horror movie.
Cross Indiana Jones with The Descent, and add a dash of religious horror (perhaps something like Constantine? I don’t remember it too well, but it had angels and demons, didn’t it?)—that’s As Above, So Below. Except with a lower budget and cast talent to match.
Perdita Weeks (sister of Honeysuckle, the adorable young driver on Foyle’s War) is an awfully annoying chemist/archaeologist—OK, Wikipedia says she’s an “alchemy scholar”—who is meant to be incredibly smart but is totally the kind of nutcase who will get everybody killed. She assembles a team to sneak into the depths of the Parisian catacombs in search for the philosopher’s stone, which I’m pretty sure was destroyed in that Harry Potter book.
Needless to say, things go south very quickly, and many people die in unpleasant ways. The movie’s pace is brisk and I was never bored—just mildly annoyed at some of the characters’ poor decision-making, which is par for the course in these kinds of movies. It’s enjoyable for anyone who likes survival horror (me!) and isn’t expecting too much. Also, it’s not especially horrifying, so chickens can feel free to give it a try.
2016 | Directed by Gavin O’Connor. With Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal.
This isn’t a movie I was particularly interested in seeing, but the husband was keen—finally, Hollywood made a movie with an accountant hero! I need to remind him that Johnny Depp’s character in Nick of Time was also an accountant—a more realistic, mild-mannered one, to boot!—and that movie was a lot better. Also, my husband has not been an accountant for some time, so I don’t know why he even cares.
Ben Affleck unconvincingly plays an accountant with high-functioning autism who also does work on the side for criminal organizations around the world. Credit to the supporting actors, who are all pretty much better than Ben Affleck is in this movie, but this movie failed to hold my interest. There are some clever parts and some exciting parts, but the whole just feels clunky and disjointed. Like The Dark Tower, it also felt a bit TV movie-ish, which is starting to seem like an unfair descriptor with some TV movies/miniseries being really excellent these days (The Night Manager comes to mind).
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
2016 | Directed by Edward Zwick. With Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge.
I actually remember almost nothing about the original Jack Reacher movie, except that I thought it was very boring.
But, action movies are one of those things that’s easy for my husband and I to agree on watching, particularly when we’re both feeling a little brain-dead, so Jack Reacher 2 was put on.
I can’t say whether it was worse or better than the first, but basically, it was also very boring. Tom Cruise is boring in it. I want to like Cobie Smulders (even though I despise How I Met Your Mother), but she always seems especially wooden in movies, like The Avengers series. Just so, so boring—and isn’t that the worst accusation you can level against an action movie?
2014 | Directed by Paul King. With the voice of Ben Whishaw, plus Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi.
So I put on this movie for Peanut, who’s 3, and he watched about the first 20 minutes—but drifted off when the movie started to get a bit talkier. I guess the movie is aimed at slightly older children, but honestly, I actually sat down and watched the rest of it. “Peanut, can you move? You’re in Mommy’s way.”
Also, it took me about halfway through the movie before I realized Colin Firth was not actually playing the father. I had somehow gotten it into my head that Colin Firth was in this movie (must have mixed it up with that other English family film, Nanny McPhee, which I haven’t seen). I simply thought, Hmm, Colin Firth is a bit less stuffy than usual! Of course, when I realized it was actually the Earl from Downton Abbey, I felt quite silly. They don’t really look much alike at all, do they?
Anyway, I love movies like this because they fit that hard-to-find genre of family-movie-that-is-entertaining-for-children-and-adults-alike-but-is-not-also-incredibly-stupid-and-patronizing. The two kids are not horrifyingly irritating, and really my only complaints with the cast (Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are perfect as the parents) are that I can’t really buy Nicole Kidman as a children’s baddie (real baddie? for sure), and I didn’t love Ben Whishaw, the hipsterish Q in the Daniel Craig Bond films, as the voice of Paddington Bear. He sounds just a little too grown-up and low-key; perhaps I misunderstand the Paddington character, but I would have liked a slightly more animated—ahem—and charming voice actor. (Perhaps someone like James McAvoy?)
2011 | Directed by Nick Murphy. With Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Joseph Mawle.
I was quite proud of myself for recognizing the young boy in this movie as Bran from Game of Thrones (the first season of which was released the same year as this film; Isaac Hempstead-Wright is now 18!). Fellow GoT cast member Joseph Mawle (Uncle Benjen) also appears in the film.
Rebecca Hall stars as a debunker of things supernatural in post-WWI England who is hired to solve a ghost problem at a boys’ boarding school. I have found Hall unbearably snobby elsewhere, but she’s perfect in this film. It’s a bit surprising to me to realize how many horror films there seem to be with strong female leads.
The Awakening does employ a few jump scares, but most of the horror comes from the foreboding atmosphere and the story’s clever twists and turns. With solid supporting performances from Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Hempstead-Wright, and Mawle, this is a rare horror film with the foundation of a well-made period drama.
Game of Thones (Season 7)
2017 | Created by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss. With Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Lena Headey.
I’m a GoT book reader, and while I’m not a massive fan, I did really like the first couple of books. I basically speed-read the more recent ones just to get a handle on what was happening—boy, did they need a ruthless editor. Yeesh.
That said, I have generally enjoyed the seasons of GoT that deviate from the books (because George R. R. Martin hasn’t gotten around to finishing up the series). Season 7, which just finished up, kind of takes the cake because while it was full of exciting stuff—no spoilers, because I hate spoilers and won’t do that to others—it also took the story and characters into directions I am not very fond of. The writing has suffered since the showrunners no longer have Martin’s original work to reference, and they’ve amped up the crazy cool stuff. I mean, yeah, it’s fun—but it’s not much in keeping with how I expected the endgame to play out.
But of course, I still look forward to the final season next year.
[I also just want to mention how awesome Alfie Allen was in the season finale. Dude can act. He’s probably had the most difficult character arc to portray, as well.]
2017 | Directed by Adam Wingard. With Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Lakeith Stanfield, Shea Wigham, Paul Nakauchi, and the voice of Willem Dafoe.
We watched this Netflix movie not knowing much of anything about the original source material other than that it was a Japanese manga. (I’m not very familiar with any manga apart from having seen 1995’s Ghost In the Shell.)
It turns out that fans of the original generally despise this adaptation. It’s understandable, if the characters and story have just been changed too much, and the setting—somewhat unnecessarily—moved from Japan to Seattle. I think it’d have been better for Netflix to advertise this version as inspired by, rather than being based on, the original.
Anyway, from my perspective, coming to this completely new, I enjoyed the movie well enough. The story is intriguing: a powerful book falls into the hands of a teenager, and allows him mark anyone for death simply by writing their name in the book and picturing their face in his mind. The movie could actually have been easily extended to a full-blown television series, but as a standalone movie, it zipped along at breakneck pace, which was kind of fun. The story originally felt as though it would stay small, but it fairly quickly burst into something a bit more epically huge—this was both exciting and also gave the movie an off-kilter, extra-fantastical feel that was reminiscent of Netflix’s version of Dirk Gently. I was surprised by how much I liked all the main actors, even as their characters were not the most likeable, and they often made dumb (but believable) teenager decisions. Still, we both found it to be an enjoyable diversion, and are definitely intrigued by the original manga, which we’ll definitely have to check out.
Thanks for reading!
If you have any movie or television recommendations for me, please let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for something great to watch!