Movie Review: SONS OF HERCULES In The Land Of Darkness

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sons of herculesEmbasy Pictures
1964
NR

“Tomorrow, in the arena, you will be torn into pieces by my elephants.”

Okay, so, stay with me as I try to go through trying to explain this one to you all. I might fail spectacularly, but that’s just part of the fun. So, there was this syndicated television series in the 1960s that was known as The Sons Of Hercules that were essentially repackaged sword-and-sandal films made in Italy. As to be expected, the original movies really had little to do with either Hercules or his sons, but they were gathered together, given opening and closing themes and narration to tie things into either the Greek demigod or any one of his sons, even if said movie they were chopping up had nothing to do with either.

In the case of the serial “In The Land Of Darkness”, this originally started life as the Italian movie Hercules The invincible, yet for whatever reason this American redux refers to the lead as Argolese. After getting past the theme song, where we’re informed that these progeny of the Greek demigod “were man as men could be”, despite wearing what looks like a miniskirt, and some voice-over narration, we meet up with Argolese, who immediately saves a damsel from a lion attack. The lady happens to be the daughter of King Tedaeo, who offers her hand in marriage to Argolese, if he could bring back the tooth of a dragon. You would have thought saving her from becoming lion chow would have been enough, but no, he has to sweeten the pot a bit. After acquiring a spear from a witch that will kill the dragon — with the witch wanting the same tooth as compensation — Argo fights the dragon, but then learns that the denizens of the village of his betrothed have been taken prisoner by the hordes of Demulus, a tribe that has a nasty habit of eating the hearts of their prisoners. So, Argo and a sidekick “comedy relief” by the name of Babar are off to save everyone. Will we be able to pay attention long enough to see if Argo is successful? That’s the question of the ages, folks…

So, this being an Italian film repackaged as an American television serial, Sons Of Hercules In The Land Of Darkness hits all the classic Bad Movie beats that makes this rather enjoyable in the way that I’m sure the movie producers weren’t going for: cheep budget, so much hammy acting, bad voiceover dubs, even worse wardrobe choices, etc. I will give the movie this: At least they utilized a real lion for the opening action scene. Sure, you knew that Argo would win, but still, I really was rooting for that lion.

Overall, Sons Of Hercules In the Land Of Darkness is cheesy bad in the kind-of-good sort of way. I should point out that I was only made aware of these repurposed serials by way of Rifftrax, having watched this riffed edition. And I still found myself laughing at points that had nothing to do with the riffs going on. Recommended in that this has to be seen to be believed.

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Movie Review: BATMAN RETURNS

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batman returnsWarner Bros.
1992
PG-13

“Actually, this is all just a bad dream. You’re at home, in bed, heavily sedated, resting comfortably, dying from the carcinogens you personally spewed in a lifetime of profiteering. Tragic irony or poetic justice, you tell me.”

So, now that the world knows my thoughts on the 1989 Batman movie (and if you somehow missed it, it’s right here), you’re probably wondering if I happen to harbor the same “meh” reaction to the sequel, Batman Returns. Well…yes and no. And as always, there a long-winded story behind this.

Unlike the first Batman movie, I actually watched Batman Returns in the theater when it came out in the summer of 1992. And upon my first viewing of the movie, I wasn’t all that impressed. Looking back there were some factors that lent to that: The big one probably being expecting an action movie based on a comic book character. I was not expecting a really dark comedy disguised as an action movie.

It’s Christmastime (even though the movie was released in June, but whatever, it’s Christmas now), and after a flashback featuring a surprise Pee Wee Herman, we meet Salina Kyle, the rather put-upon secretary of Gotham business magnate Max Shreck, a man who, as the name suggests, is a very power man who probably fades away when the sun comes up. After accidentally discovering some nefarious doings Max’s company was involved in, Max personally pushes her out of a multi-story window, where she presumably dies but then brought back to life by ally cats. Meanwhile, there’s a deformed weirdo that dwells in Gotham’s surprisingly elaborate sewer system, calling himself the Penguin working with Shriek to become Mayor of Gotham. Between that and the appearance of Catwoman in the mix, Batman has his hands full this go-round.

Upon initial watching, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with Batman Returns. It was just a little too weird for my tastes back then. Of course, as time passed and my tastes and sensibilities developed to what they are now, Batman Returns grew to become my favorite of the four Burton / Schumacher-era Batman movies. I’ve grown to appreciate the darkly Gothic weirdness, the bizarre twisted take of the comic book superhero world. The take on the Penguin here is gleefully terrifying, Catwoman proves to be a perfect foil to Batman (though I found myself wondering more than once how she could actually movie in that vacuum-sealed costume), and Gotham itself is a fever dream of a nightmarish Wonderland architecture. The fact that it is set during Christmas just adds to the ambience.

Overall, if you’re going to watch only one of the four Burton/Schumacher Batman movies, I recommend Batman Returns. Now, to relive the horrors that were the two following Batman movies…*shiver*

Uncle NecRo Watches: READY PLAYER ONE

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UNCLE NECRO WATCHES

ready player one

Uncle NecRo just watched the ode to late 20th Century childhood nostalgia, Ready Player One, and he’s joined by Brian from the Will Code For Beer pubcast. What did they think about it? You’ll have to listen to find out…spoilers ahead, folks…

necrosarx@gmail.com
willcodeforbeer.wordpress.com
willcodeforbeershow@gmail.com

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: STAR WARS Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

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The Last JediDisney / Lucasfilm
2017
PG-13

“What do you know about the force?”
“It’s a power that Jedi have that lets them control people and…make things float.”
“Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.”

So, this is a first. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi happens to be the first Star Wars movie that has left me without a fully-formed opinion about it immediately after the credits rolled. And even now, as I write this a day or two after watching this with the Exalted Geeks, I find myself chewing over what I really thing about this newest entry in the ongoing saga from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But, I’m gonna give it the ol’ college try, I am I am.

Let’s take some time, then, to warn about SPOILERS, as I have no earthly idea how to keep things spoiler-free while talking about my thoughts on this movie. But, considering I know this won’t be scheduled to be posted until the second day of 2018, I don’t know if there will be anyone in existence that will need the spoiler warning, but just in case there is, be ye warned. If somehow you’re reading this and haven’t seen The Last Jedi, this is your chance to jump ship and go do so. Go on, I can wait.

So, The Last Jedi begins with the First Order striking back against the Resistance lead by General Leia (she’ll always be the Princess to me). After narrowly escaping following a botched defensive attack, the Resistance find themselves on the run and hotly pursued by the First Order. Meanwhile, Ray is finding that Master Skywalker’s reaction to her arrival is not what she was expecting. Which was the Jedi hero of legend. Instead, she’s confronted with a grumpy old man who wants nothing to do with Jedi, and has cut himself off from the Force. But, Ray proves to be a persistent whipper-snapper and manages to get Luke to agree on three lessons. They don’t go as expected. Oh, and Chewy may or may not have gone vegetarian, I don’t know. Meanwhile, a revived Finn has gone off with some new character named Rose to find a master code breaker at a posh high-roller casino so they could get past the defenses on Snoke’s ship so they can shut down the techno-McGuffin so they can outrun and escape the First Order. That goes as well as expected. Ray comes to odds with Luke and leaves, while the surviving Resistance squares off against the First Order at a long-abandoned Rebel base, and then Luke finally squares off against his nephew Kylo Ren. To quote Luke Skywalker from this movie, this is not going to go the way you think.

All that, and I still left out a whole bunch from that synopsis. And there is a lot to take in. And quite frankly, rather than analyze the film (there are plenty of blog and YouTube posts out there, so take your pick), I’ll just cut to the chase: I rather enjoyed The Last Jedi. I thought it built up on and continued the previous story nicely, not just rehashing what has come before while still retaining the overarching saga; there wasn’t just a reliance on the older characters, but a much-needed passing of the torch to the new characters involved. The story was dark, like the second installment in the trilogy should be, and deliciously so. The characters weren’t just 2-dimensional, but had depth and conflict, regardless of what side of the fight they were on. Luke turning out to be jaded and unwilling to get back into the fight, let alone training Ray, is something unexpected, yes…but I loved this character development. It was unexpected, given the hopeful and (admittedly) slightly naive Jedi Knight Luke we last saw at the end of The Return Of The Jedi. Not that I was rooting for a curmudgeonly Skywalker…I too was surprised at his reaction, but I accepted it as one of the logical conclusions his character arc would take. Kylo Ren is turning out to be a far more compelling character than expected. Also, I’m glad those Porgs didn’t end up being this movie’s Ewoks. They’re just there, not really needing to be in the movie as much as they were, but good for some light comedy relief when needed.

That’s not to say that The Last Jedi doesn’t have its flaws. Leia surviving being blown into the vacuum of space being my first point of contention while watching this. I realize this is a movie about space wizards with lazer swords fighting space Nazis; still, presuming this is the same kind of space that we’re subjected to here in our galaxy, that was quite a bit of stretching of my suspension of disbelief, there. And while I get the feeling we’re not necessarily done with him just yet, I still think that Snoke was wasted here. Such a buildup with The Force Awakens, and then…well, rather let down, I was.

Overall, I think the good things about The Last Jedi far outweigh all the bad, especially the cries of this being the “worst Star Wars movie since The Phantom Menace” I’ve seen on some blogs and reviews. I think what may have happened is that The Last Jedi wasn’t what they were expecting, and because it didn’t cater to their own needy sense of entitlement, they couldn’t see past that to just enjoy a friggin’ Star Wars movie. I for one highly recommend seeing this.

Movie Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE

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justice leagueWarner Bros.
2017
PG-13

“I miss the days when one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.”

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

Lead-up to the big DCEU team-up movie has not been an easy one. While I seemed to be in the minority in thinking that Man Of Steel was decent if not severely flawed, Batman V Superman was a hot mess, and Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but at least it was a bit more entertaining. Wonder Woman was awesome, but something I consider more an exception to the rule, rather than being a positive step in the right direction for the DCEU franchise. So, it was up to Justice League to fully turn my doubts around about the viability of the series. Will Justice League prove to be the contender with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will this prove to be its undoing, ending up like Universal’s Dark Universe?

Also, I realize this is going to be posted at the beginning of the new year, a couple of months since it premiered in theaters, but regardless, possible spoilers ahead. I won’t know until I’ve written this thing, and all.

Pretty much picking up in the aftermath of Batman V Superman, it seems the death of Superman has caught the attention of an ancient intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf, who has tried to conquer the Earth before, but was stopped by the ancient heroes…heroes which included the Amazons, the Atlantians, and the Green Lantern Corps, among others. Now that the so-called “old gods” have disappeared, Steppenwolf has come back to retrieve three hidden alien devices that, when combined, will turn the planet into the hellish world he desires it to be. As such, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting other superpowered heroes to help stop the invasion and beat it back from whence it came. Among the ranks are half-Atlantian, half-Human Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, Speed Force-adept Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. Cyborg is unique in that his powers stem from bonding with the very alien items that Steppenwolf is searching for. Even with that lineup, though, the team still seems to get their collective butts handed to them. They need to get another team member with a bit more power to go toe-to-toe with this New God. Someone…super. Some kind of super man, if you will.

Okay, fine: they resurrect Superman. I told you there would be spoilers.

So, Steppenwolf gets all three devices, goes to Russia and begins terraforming, and the superheroes plus a newly revived Superman (complete with shiny new duds) shows up, lay the smackdown, and everything ends on a happy note, with Bruce and Diana continuing with the notion of formation a league of some sort, for justice. Then the post-credits scene happens, and now I’m sad again. You’ll see what I mean when it happens.

I’ll be forthright: I went into watching Justice League with some very, very lowered expectations. Like, nearly non-existent. I was pretty much convinced that Wonder Woman was a fluke, and Justice League would continue in the same level of suckage the other two “team-up” movies in the DCEU were. But, I was proven slightly wrong.

First, the good: all the superheroes were done right. I’ve said that Ben Afleck was probably my favorite Bruce Wayne / Batman so far, and I’m sticking by it. Wonder Woman is still awe-inspiring as well as a furious butt-kicker (all apologies to Lynda Carter, you’ll always be my first Wonder Woman). As far as the newbies go: I had my doubts about Aquaman, and especially Jason “shirts make me itchy” Momoa’s kind of dude-bro vibe I got from the previews, but that actually works for the character. I was impressed. I am now interested in a possible Aquaman stand-alone if he continues playing the character, no mean feat. This iteration of the Flash, while effective as the comic relief of the group (because the world is not yet ready for Plastic Man, pity as that is), I wasn’t fully convinced he was Barry Allen. He seemed more Wally West than Allen. But, that’s the direction they took, and he played it well. The biggest surprise for me here was Cyborg, as I was convinced he was going to be regulated to background character that only comes up to give out technobabble and such. No, his arc was fairly substantial, given the time frame. And since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, I have to say it: Superman is finally Superman. No longer is he brooding, he actually laughs at times. Even his costume is brighter than on Man Of Steel. Also, the running time is significantly less than the other movies, so it goes by in a relatively brisk pace. Which, really, brings up:

The bad: While I was glad for a nice, refreshingly shorter movie run time, I get the feeling that maybe that extra half-hour would have actually been beneficial to flesh out things a bit better. Like, with the main baddy of the film, Steppenwolf. He’s not only the most two-dimensional villain I’ve come across since the heyday of the 1990s superhero films, but his motion-capture CG rendering is the worst I’ve seen. It took a lot out of my enjoyment, as I kept thinking how hard it could have been to just use a live actor and use the CG sparingly to beef things up? Could have used some more baking time, guys.

Overall, while the action and fight scenes were breathtaking, and finally getting to see Supes back in form, Justice League seemed to fall just short of the epicness that a team up movie like this should have been. Regardless, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and while not a complete turn-around, Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. Definitely try and catch this on a big screen some time.

Movie Review: THOR: Ragnarok

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thor ragnarokMarvel/Disney
2017
PG-13

“Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate. As punishment, I was forced to be in here and become a gladiator. Bit of a promotional disaster that one, but I’m actually organizing another revolution.”

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the mighty Thor finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk, his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

It seemed like not too long ago that a young and excitable Marvel Studios was releasing what would become their First Wave of the grand-reaching Marvel Cinematic Universe, that included the first Thor movie. I remember being enthusiastic about skipping the first Thor movie, because I really wasn’t a fan of the Marvel comic itself. A comic book hero based on Norse mythology? Hard pass. I prefer my comic book heroes dressing up as nocturnal rodents or bitten by radioactive critters, thank you very much. Or, failing that, written by the British Triumvirate (Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore). You get the idea. Pity my prejudices, as when I finally did get around to watching both Thor and its sequel, I actually enjoyed them. Not my favorites of the Marvel Movie bunch, but certainly not terrible. Good enough to warrant trying to watch the third movie in the theater when it was released. And watch it in the theater I did, with the other members of the Coven of Exalted Geeks, which we also recorded a podcast about immediately thereafter. But, since I like to go a bit more in-depth with my coveted opinions on things on this here blog of mine, here’s what I thought of Thor: Ragnarok.

My first thought of the movie was, “This is, hands down, the best Hulk movie I’ve seen.” And no, that’s wasn’t a spoiler, because the trailer to this movie flat-out shows the Hulk, right out in the open. Which is a bit of a point of contention I had, letting that cat out of the bag long before the movie, but then again, I’m just a pseudo-journalist with a blog, and not one of them Hollywood execs calling the shots on this. Not that I’m bitter or anything (wankers). But, yeah, the Hulk makes up about a third of the fun times had with Thor: Ragnarok, what with his gleeful antagonism of Thor like the good frienemy he is.

My second thought: “Wow, they actually managed to get ‘The Immigrant Song’ for the movie, not just the trailer.” Which is a feet unto itself, really. They may be loosening up their iron-clad grip on licensing out their songs, but Led Zeppelin still doesn’t just hand them out like Pez candy. “The Immigrant Song” plays not just once, but twice here. Excellent get. Well, it was either this, or something from the equally tonally-appropriate Amon Amarth. “Guardians Of Asgard” comes to mind…

My third and final big thought on this: “They’re really trying to capture the magic of the Guardians Of The Galaxy formula, aren’t they?” Yeah, while this is a rather dark movie (which is to be expected when the concept of Armageddon and destruction is right there in the subtitle of the movie), there are also a heavy dollop of humor mixed in to help lighten the tone up. This works maybe 85 percent of the time, maybe.

You may have noticed that I decided not to go with my standard method of summarizing the plot of the movie. That’s mainly because Thor: Ragnarok really is an epic fantasy action movie in and of itself. It starts with a massive battle between Thor and the undead army of Hell (or whatever the Marvel equivalent is), and then it ends with a giant fiery demon destroying Asgard. In-between, major characters in the franchise die, Thor goes on an unexpected journey of discovery, we’re introduced to one of the greatest side characters since Luis in Ant-Man, and of course HULK SMASH! A lot of HULK SMASH! All this, and some of the most mind-blowing visuals this side of a Kirby splash page. On the other hand, this may all be part of the downside of the movie, as there’s so much to take in. Also, sometimes the humor itself seems more juvenile than not. And it was mentioned in the podcast we did that Hela seemed to be yet another arbitrary villain introduced without much buildup or fleshing out beyond some brief exposition. I tend to agree with this assessment.

Overall, despite its flaws, I would still urge anyone reading this to try and watch this on the biggest screen you can, and try and take in as much as you can. Thor: Ragnarok may be a filler movie before getting to the main event with the next Avengers movie, but it’s a grandly entertaining filler movie, full of bright shiny things and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, along with great action sequences. In other words, it’s a Marvel movie. Go enjoy it for what it is.

Movie Review: The DARK TOWER

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the dark towerColumbia Pictures
2017
PG-13

“It’s a hotdog.”
“Savages. What breed?”

Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at state, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

The Dark Tower. What started off as a series of short stories collected together into a small novel, that suddenly exploded into an epic western/dark fantasy/sci-fi saga of the last Gunslinger in a world that has moved on, questing to find the Dark Tower, the nexus that holds the multi-verse realities together, a quest that is not only personal, but also to protect and save it from being destroyed by the Crimson King. Along the way, he travels to different dimensions, meeting others who would join him on his quest, as they make their way to the ultimate goal. It is a saga that is held in as almost as much regard as The Lord Of The Rings, with fans that are just as passionate about the books and other adaptations and lore.

They made a movie about it, now. I’m pretty sure you may have noticed by now, but yeah. After what seems to be decades of trying to bring it to the big screen, it’s finally happened. And, after a week or so having to wait due to scheduling issues, I finally watched it with some key members of the Coven of Exalted Geeks.

I will pause right now to say that, in case you’re just reading this, and haven’t gotten around to checking out my book reviews, I am what you would call a Stephen King Constant Reader, and have been since I was 14. I’ve also read all of the Dark Tower novels, and some of the comics as well. So, yeah. Dark Tower nerd, here. Anyway…

One more time around the wheel, I guess: So, there’s this tween-ager named Jake Chambers who, for a number of years now, has been having these really detailed dreams involving a mysterious man in black (not Johnny Cash, I’m afraid) trying to destroy an even more mysterious dark tower, while being pursued by a gun-slinging cowboy. This “gun-slinger”, if you will, is seeking revenge, because the man in black, it turns out, killed a bunch of people with magicks, including the gunslinger’s father. Little Jake has been drawing pictures of these dreams and more, and everyone things that he’s a bit…insane because of this, including his mom and step-father. That’s why they decide to send Jake off to a special retreat for crazy kids. Only, the people from the retreat who show up aren’t really people, so Jake parkours his way to freedom and goes to a house he dreamed about and activates a portal that takes him to Mid-Wolrd, the home of the real-life gunslinger. And also the guy in black. He meets up with the Gunslinger, and they go on a journey to find the man in black’s hideout, where he’s taking kidnapped children that have psychic powers to use to topple the Dark Tower, to stop him. Along the way, they make a pit-stop back in New York to stock up on bullets and a certain soda brand they couldn’t get the license for, so they couldn’t show the logo or say the name out loud.

Oh, there was a lot of nerd rage over this movie. Not as ridiculous levels as with the 2016 Ghostbusters movie; there was quite a bit, though, some of which I overheard going out of the theater after the movie. But, this is my review of the movie, and thus you will have my not-so-humble opinion on this movie. And remember, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a long-time Constant Reader of Stephen King’s work, and have also read the entire original saga of books and hold them as kind of my Lord of the Rings. Ready? Deep breath, here, aaaaaaand…

…I rather enjoyed The Dark Tower. No, really. I did. I went in knowing that they weren’t trying to adapt the books–because, really, that would have been nigh impossible, even if you got Peter Jackson in his prime in on things–but essentially do a continuation of the books. Really, even Stephen King himself mentioned that this wasn’t an adaptation attempt, but kind of a sequel to the books. I don’t want to go into the details, but if you’ve read the entirety of the saga, you know why I’m saying this. Also, it’s been documented by the makers of the movie that this was the intention. As such, there were elements that were lifted from all of the books–and some other Stephen King books outside of the Dark Tower universe proper–that have been included here and there, with more of a focus on Jake’s perspective of the story rather than Roland. And yes, I was nerdy enough to pick out the easter eggs abounding.

Beyond that, though, as a movie in and of itself, I would have to say that The Dark Tower was much more enjoyable than most of the reviews I’ve come across have made it out to be. I found it to be a rather well-made, well-acted, gorgeously shot western fantasy with a creamy sci-fi center that entertained me for the surprisingly tight 90 minute run time. Because, if anything had the right to go over the 2-hour limit, it would have been this. But, the filmmakers showed restraint, and it helped things out in that area. Idris Elba was the perfect choice to play Roland Deschain, as he managed to emote more with his eyes to give that haunted look needed for the character. And what can I say, but Matthew McConaughey nailed it as the Man In Black, the evil known as…Walter. Okay, you can probably laugh at that, but that’ll be the last thing you’d do. The guy can charm you one second, and then chill you to your spine the next, all while never changing cadence or going over the top. That said, he may have been underused. The action scenes are probably where you’re going to get the majority of the groans, especially if you have even a rudimentary grasp on basic physics. But, with just a bit of strength to the suspension of disbelief, you still get some very action-packed scenes mixed in with your dark fantasy, here. And I do believe the movie’s best part happens when Deschain arrives in New York City. Some fish-out-of-water comedy to flavor things up.

Overall, yeah, there were some flaws to this iteration of The Dark Tower. I wasn’t happy with how easily the resolution at the end happened. But, when it was all said and done, The Dark Tower managed to entertain me, and did so without feeling the need to cram something happening at every moment of its run time. It was a rather satisfying blended genre flick that, honestly, I hope they make more of the story. Even in television form, which I think would work better overall. But, we shall see if survives the whiners. For me, this is recommended, more of a matinee, but definitely on the big screen if you can.

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