Jackie Earle Haley

The Dark Tower (2017, Nikolaj Arcel)

The Dark Tower is the story of unremarkable white kid Tom Taylor–wait, he’s supposed to be eleven? No way. Anyway, it’s the story of unremarkable white teenager Tom Taylor who discovers, no, his visions are real and he is a wizard and he’s going to travel to another dimension and bring a legendary hero back to modern New York City. Once back they will battle to save the universe itself, thanks to the hero’s gunfighting abilities and the kid’s vague magical magicking.

Okay, well, it’s not actually vague magicking. Taylor’s got the Shining. You know, like in The Shining. When they tell him he’s got the Shining, you have to wonder how he got to be fifteen without seeing The Shining. Maybe because he’s supposed to be eleven.

Taylor’s dad died at some point before the movie starts so mom Katheryn Winnick has remarried. She went with astounding tool Nicholas Pauling, who wants Taylor out of there because papa lion? Maybe it’s because Taylor’s got problems–he draws visions of a mythic fantasy world, Idris Elba’s gunfighting hero, and Matthew McConaughey’s creepy man in black. Maybe they sent Taylor to the shrink for drawing pictures of Christopher Walken. At the start, it seems like McConaughey’s going to just do a Christopher Walken impression, which would be a lot better than what he ends up doing. The Walken impression would at least be amusing. Dark Tower is short on amusing.

Because Dark Tower is serious. Director Arcel plays it straight. The screenplay plays it straight. Taylor lives in a New York City infested with disguised demons but it’s still safe enough gun shops have zero security. And no one has cell phones. If Arcel had any personality in his direction, there’d be a possibility for this New York City. The sad thing about Dark Tower is all the missed opportunities. Because, even if it’s short on amusing and McConaughey isn’t as amusing as if he were aping Christopher Walken, none of the principal cast half-asses it. They’re just in an under-budgeted production. They hold together admirably.

Though it gets depressing watching Elba try to do acting while the film’s got no need for him to do any. The script’s got no need for him to do any. All the characters exist entirely through exposition, usually exposing about themselves to others. It’s a weak script. As pragmatic and unenthusiastic as Arcel’s direction gets, it’s nothing compared to the script. Junkie XL’s score does most of the heavy dramatic lifting, just because the script doesn’t have time for it. Of course, the script doesn’t have time for anything while it ought to be doing character development either. Sure, once Taylor gets to Fantasia, he immediately becomes fetching to the opposite sex and finds out he’s a wizard, but it’s not character development. It’s just setup for the finale. Sure, the film’s uninspired and disappointing, but it’s pragmatic as heck.

Taylor’s fine as the Boy Who Lived-lite. Elba’s… potentially good. He’s never near bad, but the part’s crap and Arcel’s got no time for acting. Arcel doesn’t even have time for McConaughey’s ostensible excesses as his evil, magical, maybe Satanic character. It might help if Elba and McConaughey–who have been nemeses for untold ages–had some chemistry. Elba can do lack of enthusiasm, but McConaughey phones it in during their handful of scenes together. Spellbinding acting it ain’t.

Dennis Haysbert and Jackie Earle Haley have glorified cameos. Haysbert is overly portentous but not embarrassing. Haley’s is embarrassing.

Technically, there’s nothing terrible. Rasmus Videbæk’s photography is fine. The special effects are all right. There’s not enough of them–either the budget limitations held back establishing shots or Arcel just doesn’t like them. Given his bland competence as a director, it seems more likely they’re budgetary omissions. There are a lot of budgetary omissions. They’re kind of Dark Tower’s thing–frequent, unexplained, inexcusable absences.

Because with what they had, the filmmakers should’ve been able to turn out a much better ninety-five minutes. The script’s the big problem. And Arcel does nothing to transcend it.

The worst thing about Tower is it actually does end up disappointing. The first half is riddled with problems and always seems absurdly unaware of itself in terms of being a knock-off Neverending Story, Princess Bride, and, I don’t know, Star Wars, but Taylor is sympathetic and compelling. Elba always seems like he’s eventually going to get some great scene. It’s just around the corner.

Only it’s not. A perfunctory ending is around the corner. Because the script, despite being low on ideas from the start, manages to run out of them as things move along.

It’s also–almost–too technically competent to be such narrative slop. Competencies aside, The Dark Tower is poorly written and badly produced. Those lacking qualities sink the picture further than it ought to sink.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel; screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Arcel, based on characters created by Stephen King; director of photography, Rasmus Videbæk; edited by Alan Edward Bell and Dan Zimmerman; music by Junkie XL; production designers, Christopher Glass and Oliver Scholl; produced by Goldsman, Ron Howard, and Erica Huggins; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Taylor (Jake), Idris Elba (Roland), Matthew McConaughey (Walter), Katheryn Winnick (Laurie), Nicholas Pauling (Lon), Claudia Kim (Arra), Dennis Haysbert (Steven), Jackie Earle Haley (Sayre), Fran Kranz (Pimli), Abbey Lee (Tirana), and José Zúñiga (Dr. Hotchkiss).


Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)

For a “traditional” underdog story, Breaking Away is exceeding complex. It opens with Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley; neither Steve Tesich’s script nor Yates’s direction emphasizes any over another. Actually, Quaid’s loudmouth gets the most emphasis.

Then the film introduces Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Christopher’s parents and it becomes clear Away will be focused around him. Besides Christopher, only Haley gets any time away from the group (though the group occasionally appears independent of Christopher). I haven’t gotten to how Tesich introduces both major challenges in the film well into its second act.

Meanwhile, there’s Yates’s direction, which is focused on the friendship but also the quietness of the town they live in. Cynthia Scheider’s editing and the sound design are major stars in the picture, especially once the bicycle racing gets more important.

But wait, I forgot to mention Dooley and Barrie have a story independent of Christopher. They orbit him and his friends’s arc, occasionally popping in, but Away is more like seven stories in one. Yates and Tesich show glimpses of the secondary ones; if they’d given them all emphasis, it’d probably run seven hours.

All the acting is outstanding, though Stern has the least to do of the primaries. Quaid and Haley have the hardest jobs; Haley’s the better of the two, but both excel. Christopher’s fantastic.

Dooley and Barrie are wonderful.

Hart Bochner’s good. Robyn Douglass’s amazing in a subtly intricate role.

It’s an outstanding film all around.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Peter Yates; written by Steve Tesich; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Cynthia Scheider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Christopher (Dave Stoller), Dennis Quaid (Mike), Daniel Stern (Cyril), Jackie Earle Haley (Moocher), Barbara Barrie (Evelyn Stoller), Paul Dooley (Ray Stoller), Robyn Douglass (Katherine), Hart Bochner (Rod), Amy Wright (Nancy) and John Ashton (Mike’s Brother).


Dollman (1991, Albert Pyun)

Wow, I’ve never written about an Albert Pyun movie for the Stop Button? I hadn’t realized how lucky I’ve been over the last five years not to see one. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Pyun movie as an adult.

Dollman went straight to video. Some of it looks like it might have been shot on video too, really bad video, but it’s not like good film stock was going fix this one.

The film sort of defies description. I was expecting The Incredible Shrinking Man with a wisecracking cop (played by Tim Thomerson). But it’s nothing along those lines. Even though Thomerson’s human-looking alien cop is only supposedly to be thirteen inches tall, there’s not a single scene of him interacting with some oversized prop or an exaggerated set. Dollman‘s too cheap for those effects.

It’s too cheap for a lot, apparently. Thomerson has a double for long shots, one with completely different hair. The double does some of the process shots too, for when Thomerson’s on screen with regular-sized people.

The script’s a disaster–it’s more of a social piece about the Bronx than a sci-fi action thriller–but there’s occasionally hilarious dialogue.

Thomerson’s pretty disinterested, but his lines usually go over well. The film also stars Jackie Earle Haley, playing a gang banger out of the seventies. Haley occasionally does really well. The script’s weak for him, but he’s got a lot of charm, even as a vicious moron.

It’s lame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Pyun; screenplay by David Pabian and Chris Roghair, based on a story by Charles Band; director of photography, George Mooradian; edited by Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Anthony Riparetti; production designer, Don Day; produced by Cathy Gesualdo; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Brick Bardo), Jackie Earle Haley (Braxton Red), Kamala Lopez (Debi Alejandro), Humberto Ortiz (Kevin Alejandro), Nicholas Guest (Skyresh), Judd Omen (Mayor), Michael Halsey (Cally), Frank Doubleday (Cloy), Frank Collison (Sprug), Vincent Klyn (Hector), John Durbin (Fisher) and Merle Kennedy (Maria).


Scroll to Top