04 August 2017

Detroit Tower

Alright folks, here's the deal: This is a charming weekly column, but we're getting to a lowpoint for the year. No, I don't give a shit about Annabelle 2 (2017), The Glass Castle (2017), or The Nut Job 2 (2017) next week. Spoiler, they're all going to be awful and make no money. Maybe Annabelle 2. I might come back Aug 18 for Logan Lucky (2017), because how can I not rant about Soderbergh's return to cinema that we all saw coming? After that, September is pretty barren, although there's IT (2017) and Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) in there. I'd like this column to become more yearly, but I'll probably keep sticking to weekends that have a bunch of films coming out that we actually care about.

But not to get ahead of ourselves - we've got two pretty damn adult-looking flicks a the cineplex this weekend, which is wonderful. First is the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower (2017), which isn't actually really an adaptation at all, but we'll get to that. Next we have Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit (2017), which looks pretty damn good, even if its race riot / police brutality spin seems done to death by now, even if no one actually seems to be getting the message. So maybe it's worth it. Let's go piece by piece here.

We are cancelling the apocalypse! Alright?! Alright! Alright.
So, I've never read The Dark Tower novels because I don't really read anything besides joke books and the Lord of the Rings, but I've always had a solid appreciation for this material that Stephen King can inexplicably churn out. It's a marvelous idea to link a lot of his other disparate work while also slightly bending genres from his usual horror shtick. It all revolves around Roland Deschain the Gunslinger and his quest to find a Dark Tower or something. Did I get any of that right? I didn't look it up.

Truth be told the saga takes place across eight novels written from 1982 to 2012, although the series proper concluded in 2004. Hell, King's probably got seven or eight more in him. Now, I self-admittedly hadn't read a page, but the synopsis did partly inspire Kate's Stupid Journey Through Upside-Down World, which I should probably try to peddle more. It's an enormously popular work and ought to inspire a Lord of the Rings - level following and response.

Except of course that due to the terrible nature of its development hell and nigh-unfilmability, we're not actually getting a direct adaptation. We're getting a quasi-sequel to the final, definitive ending of the (at the time) seventh book, with some parts from the first book thrown in so this world actually makes sense. As a fan I'm not sure what I'd think. I suppose it's cool that they can't really fuck anything up or deliver a bastardized version of the story I had in my head, but don't you want to lean into the positive? To see a brilliant adaptation of exactly what's in your head?! It all kind of feels like a cop out instead of something really inspirational.

On the note of its Lord of the Rings-ability, I also have concerns that by blatantly not exactly adapting the film, it also takes the stakes off this being a typical nine-film literary investment. It's more like SONY seeing how this does before it really puts its feet on the ground. To their credit, SONY hasn't had a bonafide hit since the Raimi Spider-Man days and it's tough to blame them for being cautious. The history of this adaptation process is patently ridiculous, although we certainly dodged a few bullets along the way.

Still, the casting is damn good. Director Nikolaj Arcel is pretty unknown and untested, but the marketing looks interesting and solid, although it seems to avoid describing much of the story, instead relying on Elba being a badass. That's not totally a bad thing. There's not a ton of competition to clear this week, but I'm eternally curious if this is any good. It's almost impossible to lump Stephen King adaptations together because they're of such varied budget, time periods, and talent behind the camera. The author also famously hated The Shining (1980), which is for my money one of the greatest movies of all time. That's all to say, who knows where this dude's taste is with movies, particularly his own work. Let's dig in to every Stephen King theatrical film adaptation ever!

Carrie (1976), Brian de Palma - put every single person involved on the map. Yay for pig's blood!
The Shining (1980), Stanley Kubrick - one of the scariest movies ever
Cujo (1983), Lewis Teague - also terrifying, if a little campy
The Dead Zone (1983), Dave Cronenberg - solid, even if the TV show with Anthony Michael Hall is a bit more famous now
Christine (1983), John Carpenter - classic car horror
Children of the Corn (1984), Fritz Kiersch - many sequels, a sort of classic!
Firestarter (1984), Mark Lester - I literally know nothing about this beyond it's just about a little girl who starts fires with her mind. I suppose that's basically the movie
Cat's Eye (1985) Lewis Teague - I did not know this was a thing before researching this post
Silver Bullet (1985), Dan Attias - I saw this last month! It was fucking terrible!
Maximum Overdrive (1986), Stephen King - this is not good.
Stand by Me (1986), Rob Reiner - where would we be without the Coreys?
The Running Man (1987), Paul Glaser - This is more known as part of the Schwarzenegger Sci-Fi canon, and has its fans, but I've always thought it was garbage
Pet Sematary (1989), Mary Lambert - Hahaha, Pet Sematary cracks me up every time - Fred Gwynne, the little evil monster boy at the end, this movie rules.
Graveyard Shift (1990), Ralph Singleton - the first out and out dud, this film is about a giant bat that eats mill workers
Misery (1990), Rob Reiner - another classic, although now known for exactly one scene and you know the one
Needful Things (1993), Frasier Heston - inspired a Rick and Morty episode but otherwise sucks
The Dark Half (1993), George A. Romero - isn't it amazing how many classic horror directors tried their hands at Stephen King material!? Romero failed!
The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Frank Darabont - contrary to popular IMDB, not the greatest movie of all time, but damn solid
The Mangler (1995), Tobe Hooper - nope.
Dolores Claiborne (1995), Taylor Hickford - is this even a real thing? Stephen King did not write a novel called Dolores Claiborne. That's terrible.
Thinner (1996), Tom Holland - we're in the thick of un-famous mid-90s King adaptations. How did he start so hot in the 80s and then turn to shit.
Art Pupil (1998), Bryan Singer - Nazi Gandalf!
The Green Mile (1999), Frank Darabont - Okay, we're back on track. This is a great flick.
Dreamcatcher (2003), Lawrence Kasdan - I sort of remember this, right? It was like...okay?
Secret Window (2004), David Koepp - this was Stephen King? This stupid weird Johnny Depp movie that carried none of his Jack Sparrow momentum.
Riding the Bullet (2004), Mick Garris - this grossed as much in theaters as my college tuition cost.
1408 (2007), Mikael Hafstrom - now here is a super-underrated spooky flick. Back on track.
The Mist (2007), Frank Darabont - probably the best melding of adaptation and movie you're going to get.
A Good Marriage (2014), Peter Askin - I have no memory of this existing. That was three years ago.
Cell (2016), Tod Williams - somehow the second Sam Jackson / John Cusack Stephen King movie! It sucked!

So, okay - we've got 30 movies here, and I'm going to say that like, twelve of them are good. That's right on 40%. There's at least like fifteen that are well-known in the cultural consciousness, though, which is solid. This doesn't even factor in the fucking hordes of TV movies and series like Salem's LotIT, The Stand, Rose Red, Under the Dome, 11.22.63, and of course...The Langoliers. The Langoliers is probably one of the worst fucking movies I've ever seen, I caught it late night on cable some years back, hot dog is that a stupid cheesy movie.

The point is, that basically like, half the time King is really good and comes up with something really really cool and interesting. The other half is all garbage, but who are we to judge? The sheer volume and expanse of genres the man is capable of writing about is staggering. I have no idea if The Dark Tower will fall in the plus or minus side of this, and indeed, barring The Mist and The Green Mile, his peak is so clearly '83 - '94, and that might be even pushing it. If we're talking about The Dark Tower in forty years like we talk about Carrie and The Shining that'd be a huge accomplishment. Even if we're talking about it in twenty years like the fucking Langoliers that'd be amazing.

What worries me is that this interpretation of The Dark Tower is more like every other big blockbuster and less like a Stephen King story. Really except for The Running Man, there's never quite been an adaptation like this. It's typically all either weighty creepy dramas, inspirational dramas, weighty creepy horror stories, or cars that mysteriously come to life and kill you. Or pets that return from the dead! Hahaha! Fred Gwynne you Munster-looking motherfucker! There's a very real danger of The Dark Tower being absorbed into the random shit that takes up the rest of summer.

Still, the bright side is that the path is clear for this movie to play for ever. I don't think The Nut Job 2 is going to threaten it. If it can remain in the cultural conversation for a few weeks without anything else, that's a good thing. Of course, films like Dunkirk (2017) are still very much in that conversation. It's a tough assessment, and again, it looks pretty cool and I am on board as not-really-a-fan, which is something.

I mean, it's basically no different than a Lions game.
Let's move on to Detroit. For all her acclaim and Best Director awards for The Hurt Locker (2009), she's done surprisingly few films in the past eight years. Sure, there is the monumental achievement of Zero Dark Thirty (2012), but that's still a five-year gap until the present. I suppose that's one more film than ex-hubby and faux chief 2010 Oscar Ceremony rival James Cameron has made since AVAGRABAR (2009), and people seem to care a ton more about Locker than that blue crap in the past eight years. After a pretty prolific 90s, it's suddenly exciting to see her make another film, although it seems that she certainly has a settled genre by now.

Perhaps that's just it - Bigelow could crank out these kinds of thrillers every year and they'd all be the same crap. Instead, Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and from the looks of it, Detroit are all precisely crafted and intricate works of art that function as simultaneous character study, threadbare tension-filled suspense pieces, and war films to boot. Even Detroit looks to very much settle into the realm of that latter description. It'd be more interesting if she tried her hand at other genres if she didn't do this type of movie so damn well.

To further a Detroit-specific discussion, though, there are some obvious issues at work here considering how racially charged everything having to do with this film is. It's based on the 1967 Detroit Riots, specifically one hotel where three innocent black teenagers were murdered by authorities. What's perhaps most astounding is that this happened fifty years ago and is still a national topic of discussion. Or to be more specific, became a national topic of discussion within the past few years. Also astounding.

What's most interesting is that the context of the event as it happened in 1967 is seen in a far more drastic light in 2017. Despite happening smack dab in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, this was a northern city driven by racial violence. It of course was only an indicator of rough times to come for the city of Detroit (who knows how the proud white and racist people of that city feel about their town's name now attached to this race riot movie. Actually, I can guess) in every aspect of their lives. Except the 2002 Red Wings.

But it is as if an event that in 1967 American understood as a bunch of mongrel black folk getting upset for no reason, or worse yet, because it's in their nature or some hogwash, in 2017 we can understand the frustration and scenario a bit better. That's a critical moment in the decline of the inner city, which only within the last year or so has shown some signs of reversing. While there has been a weird up-in-arms controversy that white girl Kate Bigelow can't understand black plight, 1) I'm not sure how that matters, it's not like Gareth Edwards understands how AT-ATs should attack, and 2) she's done an amazing job with controversial material before, and proven how adept she is at handing a wide array of different cultures.

The key is of course Mark Boal, who is probably one of the best synthesizers of research on the planet, who has written Bigelow's past three films out of an exhaustive array of material. I have a lot of confidence in this production, which, if that's misplaced then so be it. I like where this is headed. Racial movies have been pretty hot lately, and I don't think this has the sexiness or mass appeal of something like a Straight Outta Compton (2015), or hell, a Zero Dark Thirty for that matter. It'll be in a fight for second with the likes of Dunkirk and The Emoji Movie (2017), but to be honest ought to pull in that $20-30 million that should clear them by a good margin. I don't see it lighting up the theater but it ought to do just fine. At a $34 million budget, it doesn't have to do too crazy either.

So what do you think? Which of these flicks are you checking out this weekend? Or just Netflixing Rogue One (2016) at home? C'mon!

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