Category Archives: Movies

A Stephen King fest: The Dark Tower, It, Gwendy’s Button Box

The weekend The Dark Tower came out in cinemas here I watched it twice. As a long time fan of Stephen King’s writing, I’ve waited with increasing excitement for what I imagined was going to be nothing short of a perfect visual translation of the seven books that make up the original series. Then I read a few reviews online and I’m glad I did. I should have known that it was not really feasible to squeeze seven books into a ninety-five minute movie. People were complaining the movie was not faithful to the series, that it was too different. They were right, and I was glad I was forewarned because it would have been disappointing to go to the cinema expecting an epic tale. But the movie worked, because it wasn’t really The Dark Tower in its splendid world-crossing, ka-tet camaraderie and trying adventures.

At first I thought the movie was a distillation of the books, a paring down to their very essence. It reminded me of that time years ago when I watched a modern reinterpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which all the actors wore pajamas. Was it good? Yes, it was. The words were there, the story was there, but it was different from the play. And yet in many ways it was the same.

The basic story of The Dark Tower is summed up in the first sentence of the first book, The Gunslinger:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

Roland, the last gunslinger, is trying to prevent the man in black, Walter, from destroying The Tower. Should The Tower fall, chaos and destruction would follow. The seven books (plus one he wrote as a stand-alone) give a detailed account of Roland’s journey to the Dark Tower, of friends he makes along the way, of the epic quest which is one of many he has undertaken before, all with the same purpose, all ending the same way.

I’ve read The Dark Tower books so many years ago that I can only remember fragments, so an in-depth comparison is out of the question. What I did not expect was this: the movie actually picks up where the last book left off – and here I don’t want to spoil it for you so I won’t go into details. Let me just say that when I got the end of that last book I felt cheated and incredibly frustrated, but in retrospective there couldn’t have been a better ending.
In the movie, the cast is reduced to three important characters – Roland the gunslinger, the boy Jake, and Walter, the man in black and Roland’s nemesis. Jake’s dad was a fireman who died on the job – here I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a nod to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or to Joe Hill’s recent novel, The Fireman (Joe Hill is King’s son). Maybe it was both or maybe neither.

It’s obvious the movie was made to accommodate a large audience. People who are new to Stephen King’s work will get a good vs evil action movie with nice special effects and a good story line. Long time fans, those who have read the books the movie is based on, will get so much more out if it (or less, depends on who you’re talking to). For me it was a pleasure to spot references to Christine, It, and The Shining. A passing reference to Oy, a dog-like creature with limited speech abilities, was but a fleeting sequence, but I was happy it was there. I remember Oy in the books – he was one of my favorite characters and I was heartbroken when he died.

By far my favorite parts in the movie were those when Roland said the gunslinger’s creed, something that to me sounds like a cross between a mantra and a prayer. Just seeing that on the screen, after having to imagine it when I read the books, made the movie worth watching. In fact, that was what made me love it. Idris Elba gave a great performance as Roland. I remember being excited when I read about him being cast in the role of the gunslinger. He did not fit with the image I had in mind but I like surprises. He did not disappoint and neither did Tom Taylor who played Jake, one of the members of the group that joined Roland on his quest to the Dark Tower.
As usual, King’s references to pop culture – guns, moral values, soft drinks, medicine, physical appearance, were a nice touch and I loved them all. You should see Roland’s face when he drank a can of soda for the first time. That made me laugh.

Many thanks to richysmalls via Instagram for allowing me to use his art. The entire picture is hand made using dots. Amazing, isn’t it?



Not long after I watched The Dark Tower, another Stephen King movie adaptation made it to the big screen. IT, based on the novel with the same name, is about a group of seven children who call themselves The Losers Club, who band together to fight the evil that is haunting their town. The evil is Pennywise, a clown who’s been kidnapping children and who appears to each of the seven children in the shape they fear the most.

I’ve read IT too long ago to remember many details and it wasn’t one of my favorite King novels. I found it disturbing, which is an understatement when it comes to King’s books, but this one even more so because it involves children. I’m glad one of the scenes in the book didn’t make it on the big screen. It would have been awful.

The movie is not your family-friendly type. There’s blood and mutilation and dirty jokes told by some very young boys. The most disturbing part for me was the woman in the painting which makes a couple of appearances, and that was far creepier to me than Pennywise himself. At least with him we know he’s supposed to be an evil entity, but that painting was something so unexpected it made me nearly jump out of my skin. I thought the children actors did a great job, especially Sophia Lillis in the role of Beverly Marsh, the only girl in the Losers Club. My favorite parts were the interactions between the seven friends. I look forward to the next installment which is going to be about the children who grow up and come back to their town to rid it of Pennywise once and for all.

I didn’t find Pennywise all that scary. Sure, he has some teeth worthy of a creature from Alien but to me he’s just a weird clown. What I found scary (apart from that weird-looking woman in the painting) was the way the adults behaved towards the children – an overbearing mother, a harsh teacher, a sleazy father, they were the true aliens (I will not call them monsters, except maybe for the father, who made my skin crawl).

It’s interesting that Pennywise’s lair is in an old abandoned house. I remembered a similar construction in The Dark Tower, which serves as a portal to another world. The building were nearly identical in my mind but then I’ll have to wait for the movies to come out on CD so I can take a closer look.


Gwendy’s Button Box

I was looking forward to reading this book for two reasons: the first and obvious one because it’s Stephen King and I’d read almost anything he writes, and the second because I was intrigued by the other author name on the front cover – Richard Chizmar. He is the founder of Cemetery Dance magazine (in 1988), and Cemetery Dance Publications (in 1992) which has published several of King’s books.
Whenever I see two names on the cover of a book I wonder whose voice is going to be the prominent one. I haven’t read anything by Richard Chizmar, but I can say this book had King’s unmistakable easy-going style with dashes of humor all over it. The man can spin a story like no other author I’ve read before.

What would you do with a box with magical powers? Would you take it? Would you destroy it to remove temptation?
This is the story of a young girl, Gwendy, who’s given a box by mysterious Mr. Farris. Gwendy is reluctant to take anything from a stranger at first, but Mr Farris can be quite charming and persuasive. It’s not just a regular box that he gives her, but one with powers. A sort of Pandora’s box with instructions and buttons you can push. Some of those buttons can be used for good. Others can do some nasty things. And the box gives out treats, sweet delicious treats. Who wouldn’t want to spend time playing with it?

It’s obvious that what happens in this book goes beyond being just a story. Sometimes you push a button just to see what happens. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you make a mess. And you learn things, not only about the box but about yourself and your limits.
As usual I loved King’s pop culture references, especially the one right at the beginning about women’s bodies.

The media says, ‘Girls, women, you can be anything you want to be in this brave new world of equality, as long as you can still see your toes when you stand up straight.’

Aldous Huxley, you will live forever.

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Deliver Us from Evil (2014) – movie review

Deliver us from evil Demons. Possession. Exorcism. Death. Faith or lack thereof. Just a few words that would be perfect to describe this movie. A New York police officer (Eric Bana) and his partner (Joel McHale) become entangled in a series of weird cases. They are helped by a Catholic priest (Edgar Ramirez) to get to the source of the evil that seems to connect the cases they’re working on.

I’ve been waiting for this movie, thinking it would be perfect for R.I.P.. I even bought a ticket for seat number 13. The left armrest was broken, and halfway through the movie the white cloth on the headrest two chairs over flapped gently in the breeze of the air-conditioning. There was one other person sitting at the end of the row, far away from me, so that was a bit ghost-like. It made me smile.

The movie itself is neither better nor worse than your average horror movie. It even has a couple of funny moments, but what I found the most interesting was the reference to a song by The Doors, which played an important part in the overall plot of the movie. The imagery was disturbing and quite well done, still, I found sounds and half covered faces a lot more sinister than the blood.
I liked that the exorcism scene wasn’t over the top, like the one they filmed in jail, where a demon had taken over the body of a woman. That was a bit too overdone and it lost some of the creepy potential. The contorted face and noises almost made me laugh. This one, however, was just enough to get the point across and quite convincing.
Another bonus point goes to the characters played by Ramirez and Bana – the priest has his sins, and so does the cop, and in confessing them they are stripped of the aura of perfection. They might be heroes, but they are flawed nevertheless.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, there are scratching noises on the floor and under the bed, and considering I’ve seen this movie the day after writing the beginning of a story with plenty of scratching noises, I try to tell myself that this is just a silly coincidence.
Overall, this is a good movie. Definitely not as grim as Silent Hill for example, but with a mix of elements that work well together. As for the horror factor, it falls somewhat in the middle. Not too soft but not that scary either.

My rating: 7/10

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Noah – a movie review

Noah Russell Poster Exchanging his gladiator sword and horse and the adulation of crowds for coarse clothes and a tent somewhere in the wilderness does not make Russell Crowe skip a beat. In fact he looks perfectly at home in the harsh, barren surroundings of a world segregated by the choices humans have made. In this new movie, Crowe plays Noah, a man who belongs to the tribe of Seth, a peace-loving group of people who live off the land and believe in The Creator. As one of the last men of his tribe, it’s his responsibility to carry on his bloodline and live mindfully, just as his ancestors have done before him. Conflict is brought about by the descendants of Cain, who, after slaying his brother, went on to build great cities that eventually gobbled up the land’s resources. And as the descendants of the two tribes come face to face, death follows, just like it did the sons of Adam so long ago.

I went to see this movie not expecting too much from it. My religious knowledge concerning Noah is limited to the greater picture instead of the finer details and the movie blended the parts that I knew with interesting pieces that fit perfectly into the story. God is referred to as The Creator, and his appearance in the story is limited to weather-related effects instead of the white robed man, which adds more credibility to the narrative. The visual effects are stunning, the grandiose ark, the animals, the battle scenes, all contribute to a Lord of the Rings imposing grandeur. Jennifer Connelly plays Noah wife and she succeeds in bringing raw emotions into this retelling, as does Emma Watson whose part becomes harrowing to watch at a point. Ray Winstone, as Tubal-cain, the descendant king of Cain, is an opponent worthy of Crowe, and their fight scene is one of the best moments of the story. Anthony Hopkins is Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, and even though his role is small, it’s pivotal to the story nevertheless.

Although the director has chosen to tell a story using a well known biblical character, this can very well be a story set in our times, as it brings into focus issues humanity has been facing for a while: the overworking of land for profit, killing animals for the special powers they supposedly have, greed, war, and the list can go on. But it’s not only the dark side of humanity that gets displayed in all its ugliness; there is also love, forgiveness, and the ability to see beyond a narrow path and the belief into a better future. Noah has a task – to ensure the survival of the innocents – the animals. His path seems clear cut, and he has everything he needs in order to make sure his task is done. But as he struggles to do what he thinks he is supposed to, other elements complicate the story, and the eternal question looms large: is this really what he must do, or does he have a choice? Is this his destiny or can he take destiny into his own hands?

I really enjoyed this movie, most of all for its message which was delivered in a non-preaching manner that manages to use the story of Noah as a clever way to spotlight the human capacity for destruction and also its immense capacity for love and forgiveness. It’s a powerful, emotional, deep story that goes deeper than the story of a man who built an ark. It’s the story of an ending, and the possibility of a new beginning.
I was also disappointed to see the low ranking it got on A low 6.6/10 which was a pity, really. I wonder if people were frustrated by the deviation from the biblical story or they just did not get the message. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

My rating: 8.5/10

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Jack Reacher (2012)

It was two years ago that I had my first encounter with a Jack Reacher novel. Nothing to Lose was entertaining and at that time I thought, written very much like a thriller movie. Fast forward to 2013 and here’s Jack Reacher on the big screen, played by Tom Cruise. Now I am sure that if I hadn’t read that book, my opinion of the main character would have been different. Unfortunately, the one main thing I kept remembering was how Reacher looked like in the novel – the impressive stature, the “rough around the edges” look, the bulky appearance. Tom Cruise didn’t quite fit this image, even though he tried.

JR The movie itself is fast paced, entertaining, and with enough going on to keep one glued to the screen. Based on the book One Shot by Lee Child, this is the 9th novel with Jack Reacher as the main protagonist. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a man accused of several murders he didn’t commit. On the hospital bed, the accused asks for Reacher, an ex military man with an impressive record and a penchant for getting the bad guys. And punishing them. Described by the accused as “the only one who can help me”, Reacher ends up exposing the bad guys, having an “almost” moment with the sexy female lawyer assigned to the case, taking off his shirt and solving the mystery. Maybe not in that order though. As a Tom Cruise movie, this was excellent. Not as good as Mission Impossible, Minority Report or Valkyrie but still, it’s a certain type of movie that Tom acts in and he’s good at it, and this one definitely fits the bill.
The car chases, the fight scenes, that combination of bravado and irresistible charm that seemed to work on all the ladies (Rosamund Pike who played the lawyer seemed more than a bit star struck), add just about the right flavor to the movie, even if it did seem a little over the top. On the other hand, it is an action movie so over the top moments are to be expected.
Lee Child (or perhaps I should use his real name, Jim Grant) makes a cameo appearance in the movie – that was neat, it’s always nice to see the man behind the novel.

I liked the movie but while I was watching it I tried to detach myself from the idea of Reacher as I read about him in the novel, and just imagine this was a typical Tom Cruise movie. Viewed this way, the movie was great, and I was able to enjoy it. If we bring the real Reacher’s appearance into focus, the film falls short. Or maybe I just need more convincing.
I can’t help but wonder if this is but the first installment in a series, a sort of Americanized James Bond.

Reacher. Jack Reacher. This could work.

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15 random things about 500 Days of Summer

In an attempt to forget (even for a short while) about the waters that are creeping slowly but surely into the city, I decided to watch a movie. This one has been on my radar for a while but for some reason got pushed somewhere far away until today and I’m glad I watched it now. It was good, it was romantic, it was lovely, it was the perfect escape. And I loved it.

15 random things about 500 Days of Summer

1. Summer is a cool name for a girl. Autumn is not.
2. If expectations would coincide with reality every time, life wouldn’t be as interesting.
3. Never heard of The Architecture of Happiness by Alain Botton but now that I have, I want to read it.
4. There’s a French song in this movie that I really liked.
5. Things can go from colorful to colorless very quickly when you are in love. Nothing new here, eh?
6. When Tom is depressed he likes vodka and orange juice. Oh, and smashing plates.
7. “To die by your side is a heavenly way to die.” The Smiths said that. Beautiful.
8. Some people can draw a cool picture on the inside of an arm.
9. “She’s like the wind…” Remember that song?
10. There are things you shouldn’t shout in a park in the middle of the day.
11. It’s cool to have a blackboard in your house. I want one too.
12. Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? This movie will remind you of it.
13. Vagiant is what happens when you put together vampire and giant. There’s actually a band with that name. I googled it. Shame on me, I know.
14. “The best way to get over a woman is to turn her into literature.” Apparently Henry Miller said that.
15. I dare you to tell me you don’t like this song:

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La vita è bella (1997)

A good movie is entertaining, a great movie feels like a reward. This one surpasses the good and the great and it goes into the realm of amazing.
The story starts with two friends on a journey, some confusing moments, and an unexpected encounter that sparks a beautiful love story.
Guido and Dora seem to be made for each other. His ability to add a bit of that magic ingredient called humour  to every situation leaves everybody open mouthed and sweeps Dora off her feet. Buon giorno principessa, he would shout every time they met, a large smile on his face, eyes dancing with joy.
The first part of the movie feels like a fairytale, the prince has met his princess (or principessa for the sake of accuracy) and they lived happily ever after. But there is a war going on, and the prince is a Jew, which makes things complicated. The fairytale is torn to shreds when reality sets in and we get to see the happy family (their little boy as well) shipped on a train to a concentration camp where Dora would be taken to the women’s quarter leaving her husband and little son by themselves.
That’s when Guido’s resources are put to the test and I was pleasantly surprised to watch as he found yet another way to lift his son’s spirits and also to let his wife know he is alive and thinking of her.
I laughed while crying and the other way around and at the end of the movie I felt happy, even though I probably shouldn’t have.
If you like fairytales, watch it.
If you believe things happen for a reason, watch it.
If you want romance, watch it.
If you want something funny and heartbreaking and amazing and wonderful, watch it. And after you do, come and leave a few words here and tell me if you liked it. It would be very much appreciated.

As with many great movies, this one has a soundtrack which completes the story beautifully.

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I’ve always been a fan of movies based on legends, mythology or ancient history, so when I saw an add for Thor, I knew I would get to watch it sooner or later and so yesterday I went to the cinema with a friend of mine who was just as excited about the movie as I was.

The movie is pure entertainment, all 114 minutes of it. The transition between the gods’ realm and present day Earth was done in such a way as to tie the movie in one continuous story without the appearance of broken pieces glued together. There was humor (a scene in a diner where Thor, now mortal, eats his first meal on Earth), fight scenes (those are much better in the gods’ universe) and a good amount of fast paced action in both worlds.

Chris Hemsworth is up to the task of portraying Thor, The God of Thunder, whose reckless actions earn him banishment to Earth in an attempt to teach him a lesson. His famous weapon, the hammer, is thrown from the skies by his father Odin and only one that is worthy of its power will be able to release it from the rock it got stuck into, a nice parallel to Arthur’s Excalibur.

The characters, the costumes, the decors, the special effects, all were done to perfection striking a perfect balance between two very different worlds, making this movie a pleasure to watch.

There’s also a scene after the credits, that is worth watching.

P.S. I need to brush up on my Norse mythology. 🙂

Photo courtesy of Google.

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The English Patient

How do you take emotions from the pages of a book and translate them into a movie? Is there a magic formula one can use to perform this change to the joy of the eye, without losing anything from the joy of the soul?

I am of two minds about the movie. There are scenes which follow the book to the letter (remember that plum?) but they are almost devoid of emotion, so much so that without the book they would go unnoticed in the blink of an eye. It must have been quite difficult to rise to the task of changing the words into images. And still, I was pleasantly surprised to see the abandoned villa from my imagination materializing on the screen, those broken steps fixed with books, the rooms deserted, the burned man on the bed.

The characters appear somewhat superficial. The Englishman’s cry when he carries his lover’s body into the desert, or Hana’s lovely but forced smile, and Kips’ words, “I want you to find me”, make them more human.

Juliette Binoche doesn’t seem very suitable for the role of Hana – while she does look deliciously fresh and young, I feel the role called for someone more…melancholic. Caravaggio, played by Willem Dafoe, is but a shadowy presence while Naveen Andrews in the role of Kip manages to just make himself noticeable. Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, in the roles of the English patient and Katharine succeed in bringing a spark to their roles and into a movie in which the protagonists lack depth.

Without the book, the movie would have less value. Having read the novel, I found watching the movie enhanced the experience, filling the gaps here and there, providing some answers, bringing some sort of closure. One has to pay close attention to details and remember the written words, for in them lies the key to understanding what really happened.

Do I recommend the movie? Yes, but I also recommend reading the book first, because without it the movie lacks substance. Together they make for one complete experience.

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The Tourist

Have you ever seen a movie you really liked and then halfway through, a song comes on that gives you goosebumps? That’s what happened to me when I heard Katie Melua’s No Fear of Heights. I was watching The Tourist when I heard that song and quickly got out my notebook and pen and wrote the few words that I could grasp: “I have no fear …although I know it could drown me”. That song is only one of the great things about this movie.

The Tourist is the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema this year. I’ve wanted to watch it ever since I saw Johnny Depp was in it, just because I’m a huge fan. Ever since ….well, I don’t really know when it all started but I know I liked him as the clumsy and sensitive man in Edward Scissorhands, the crazy barber in Sweeney Todd, the timid inspector in Sleepy Hollow, the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, the irresistible gangster in Public Enemies, the pirate in The Pirates of The Caribbean series, not to forget the eccentric and slightly crazy writer in Secret Window Secret Garden or the charismatic gypsy in Chocolat and I could go on. He is the perfect actor for portraying slightly odd characters, a chameleon who adapts with each role.

The Tourist was definitely an enjoyable movie to watch, the story, the settings (what can be more romantic than Venice) and the characters make it all fit together as well as Angelina’s long suede (?) gloves. And just when you think it all goes down the path of predictability, the road takes another unexpected turn to the delight of the viewer. Johnny Depp is very believable as the American tourist with a charming if slightly off balance attitude and Angelina comes across as the femme fatale, faithful to the one love in her life that would make her go from a city to another at a moment’s notice. She won’t come in gun blazing, and her performance is good nevertheless, perhaps because of that. It is refreshing to see a movie which doesn’t actually have to be all bullets and violence to be good (although this one isn’t lacking but not as much as I expected).

I liked everything about this movie and even though it’s not a classic, I would definitely recommend it. Here’s a little preview:

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