Out on Friday August 18
Idris Elba leads a flawed Stephen King adaptation. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson offer witless protection. Stanley Tucci pays tribute to a great artist. Al Gore paints a startling picture of a world in crisis.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Dark Tower, The Hitman's Bodyguard, Final Portrait, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, The Untamed, Napping Princess, Dark Night, Everything Everything, The Odyssey, and Quest.
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The Dark Tower
A Stephen King adaptation can go in just about any direction, really. According to IMDb users, The Shawshank Redemption (opens in new tab) is the greatest movie ever made. Killer-rat movie Graveyard Shift (opens in new tab) (1990)? Not so much. But this one was always supposed to be special. Based on King’s beloved eight-volume series of cosmic gunslinger novels, The Dark Tower attempts to mash the whole sprawling saga into one bite-sized, easily digestible 95 minute stand-alone – one that also pays homage to other King-universe properties. It’s a massive overreach, in other words, that’ll bewilder folks who haven’t read the books and frustrate King fans who love the series and have been waiting patiently for decades for a big-buck adap.
A steely-eyed Idris Elba plays the film’s hero, a mortal but still kind of magical gunfighter named Roland Deschain. He’s sworn to protect the titular Dark Tower, a rickety splinter of rock jutting out from the centre of the universe that somehow keeps us all safe from the army of fire-monsters lurking just outside of our worlds.
Matthew McConaughey is Walter O’Dim (!), the famed and fabled “man in black”, an evil sorcerer with Grim Reaper-ish tendencies. O’Dim (!!) dresses like Blue Velvet (opens in new tab)’s Frank Booth and glides around like a dandified version of McConaughey’s Dazed and Confused character, indiscriminately kidnapping children and harnessing their “shine” to shoot lightning bolts at the Tower, determined to bring it down so that...well, the movie never clarifies exactly why he wants the devil-spiders to eat us all, but that’s what he wants.
Enter plucky teen Jack Chambers (Tom Taylor), who has troubling dreams about the two fantasy combatants, and eventually summons them both to Earth, where they fight it out on the streets of New York City for rights to his “shine”, whatever the hell that is.
Honestly, if you’re sitting there hoping the narrative will explain all the portals and zippered skin and why death incarnate looks and acts like a flim-flammy Vegas magician, forget it. Director Nikolaj Arcel scored international hits with the Oscar-nommed A Royal Affair (opens in new tab) (2012) and his screenplay for the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (opens in new tab) (2009); shame, then, that his first Hollywood gig has turned out to be a confusing dud.
There are a few slashes of action-movie flair here and there, most of it thanks to Deschain’s lightning-fast shooting skills. There’s also the odd moment of fish-out-of-water comedy (our hero’s perplexed reactions to things like hot dogs and Coca-Cola) that feel reasonably close to the folksy fantasy of King’s prose. But mostly this is just pedestrian nonsense than ends in shockingly trite fashion. Come back Maximum Overdrive (opens in new tab) (1986), all is forgiven...
THE VERDICT: As baffling as it is dull, Dark Tower is a disappointment for both hardcore fans and the King-curious. Stick with the books.
Director: Nikolaj Arcel; Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
The Hitman's Bodyguard
Whatever tolerance you have for snarkiness, indiscriminate collateral damage and Samuel L. Jackson yelling “Motherfucker!” will be sorely tested by this obnoxious action brom-com. Basically a jacked-up do-over of The Bodyguard, with Ryan Reynolds in the Kevin Costner role and Jackson as Whitney Houston (he even sings), it throws together a pair of actors from opposite ends of the Marvel universe in the hope their separate screen personas will combine to generate that elusive gold dust: chemistry.
What actually happens is they cancel each other out, with Reynolds’ mordant deadpan and muted underplaying leaving Sam with little option but to ramp the shouty, sweary stridency way up. Reynolds is Michael Bryce, an ‘executive protection agent’ with a triple-A rating (what, on Quip Advisor?), who we first see losing one of his clients to an unseen assassin’s bullet.
Brought low by the botched assignment, he’s understandably wary when an ex from Interpol (Daredevil’s Elodie Yung) offers him a job: to ensure killer for hire turned star witness Darius Kincaid (Jackson) lives long enough to testify against a vile Belarusian despot (Gary Oldman, phoning it in) on trial for war crimes.
It goes without saying that Mike and Darius have a past that puts them at each other’s throats from the second they’re reacquainted. (“The only way Bryce and Kincaid don’t make it is if they kill each other first!” clarifies Yung, pointlessly.) With a seemingly limitless number of heavily armed goons on their tail, though, they’re forced to put aside their differences as they embark on a 24-hour road trip from Blighty to The Hague that inevitably comes with as much bickering badinage as it does explosions, gunfire and fisticuffs.
Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) keeps his leads in perpetual motion, switching them from cars to boats to motorbikes and back again in the optimistic expectation it will energise a formulaic and predictable plotline. (One efficient chase sequence on the waterways of Amsterdam utilises all three.)
Oldman’s terrorist tactics, unfortunately, can’t help but strike a nerve in the light of recent tragic events, not least when they stretch to bomb-laden lorries detonating outside crowded public buildings. Salma Hayek, meanwhile, is poorly served as Jackson’s incarcerated wife, who’s almost as shouty and sweary as her other half.
A senselessly violent flashback, incidentally, reveals that the moment the couple fell in love coincided with that time she severed a bloke’s carotid artery with a broken bottle. Now who says romance is dead?
THE VERDICT: Two characters, who you won’t like, insulting each other for two hours. Give it a miss and rewatch Midnight Run instead.
Director: Patrick Hughes; Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung; Theatrical release: July 26, 2017
Paris, 1964: American art lover James Lord (Armie Hammer) – from whose memoir the script’s adapted – is invited by his friend, famous Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), to sit for his portrait. Won’t take more than two or three hours, says Giacometti. Nearly a fortnight later, the artist is still snarling at his canvas, repeatedly scrubbing out his work to start again, while Lord has postponed multiple flights back to New York.
Stanley Tucci’s film – his fifth as director – has serious points to make about the burden of being an artist, even a world-famous one. But they’re securely embedded in the comedy of frustration played out between painter and sitter, thanks largely to Geoffrey Rush’s irascible performance. Stooped, dishevelled, shaggy-haired, he roams around his junk-strewn studio, seizing at every potential distraction, whether it’s jaunts to the local bistro or visits from his prostitute model/muse/mistress Caroline (Clémence Poésy).
Poésy provides fine support, as do Sylvie Testud as the artist’s wife, Tony Shalhoub as his brother and Armie Hammer as Lord. But this is Rush’s show, and he rises to it triumphantly. If you enjoyed Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner, here’s another portrait not to be missed.
THE VERDICT: A stellar performance from Geoffrey Rush centres this diverting glimpse into the chaotic life of a great artist.
Director: Stanley Tucci; Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Sylvie Testud; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
It’s been 11 years since Al Gore’s global warming doc An Inconvenient Truth saw him carting his Powerpoint presentation across the USA, its stark revelations meeting with alarm, scorn and awards. In the decade since, things haven’t exactly improved, giving Gore plenty of ammo for this follow-up, directed with a cinematic eye by National Geographic alumni Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk.
Gore has more of an on-camera role than before, and he’s an engaging guide. If the first film was his war cry, Sequel is more plaintive, its potent images of crashing ice caps, devastating floods and melted roads chiming with a polemic that, thanks to Gore, is remarkably emotional. At times it feels like he’s screaming into the void, which is perhaps expected given the current state of world politics.
Trump casts a long shadow over Sequel, which takes a foreboding look at his climate-change denials. This is both persuasive and poignant, and it’s distressing to imagine what an inconvenient threequel might find.
THE VERDICT: Never preachy, always engaging, Al’s follow-up to his 2006 Oscar-winner paints a startling picture of a world in crisis.
Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk; Starring: Al Gore; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
A meteorite downed in Mexico carries a creature capable of giving unparalleled sexual pleasure. It sounds like B-movie exploitation, but is a disturbing meditation on desire, and its potential for destruction.
Director Amat Escalante channels Cronenbergian carnality and Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, while Simone Bucio and Ruth Ramos deliver stunning performances. Beware: this is explicit stuff.
Director: Amat Escalante; Starring: Kenny Johnston, Simone Bucio, Fernando Corona; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
High-concept sci-fi and down- to-earth drama intertwine in this beautiful anime from Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex). When her father is arrested, Kokone (Mitsuki Takahta), who dreams about being a magical princess, sets about freeing him.
As reality and fantasy blur, we’re taken on an occasionally confounding but enchanting quest with poignant reveals in store.
Director: Kenji Kamiyama; Starring: Mitsuki Takahata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima; Theatrical release: August 16, 2017
Tim Sutton’s experimental drama reprises the mass shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises (opens in new tab). Favouring artfully shot portraiture over narrative, Sutton follows the killer and victims ahead of their tragedy.
Yet this portrait of an alienated culture funnelling its rage into gun violence is itself too cold and distant to connect. Sutton says nothing that Gus Van Sant’s Elephant didn’t convey more powerfully.
Director: Tim Sutton; Starring: Eddie Cacciola, Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
This YA-adapted, eye-rolling weepie centres on Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), an 18-year-old with a severe immunodeficiency disease. When hunk Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door, her hermetically sealed world unravels.
Stenberg’s effervescent turn can’t save this from curdling early into manipulative, melodramatic mush.
Director: Stella Meghie; Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
This affectionate doc follows a working-class black family at the heart of their Philadelphia community. With former addict Christopher ‘Quest’ Rainey running a studio for young rappers and wife Christine’a ‘Ma’ Rainey working at a local shelter, the film blends the personal with the implicitly political.
Filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski illuminates the rich, strife-filled lives of these extraordinary people.
Director: Jonathan Olshefski; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017
An attractive if conventional biopic of French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. Spanning three decades, writer/director Jérôme Salle’s screenplay seeks to cram in too much at the expense of a deeper exploration of themes and characters.
The most interesting aspect is the ambivalent relationship between Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) and his activist son Philippe (Pierre Niney).
Director: Jérôme Salle; Starring: Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney, Audrey Tautou; Theatrical release: August 18, 2017