THE DARK TOWER. It's never surprising when a Stephen King novel series is adapted for film, but an eight-book series? In 95 minutes? The Dark Tower turns out to be a later chunk of that series, with a prequel TV show on the horizon. One hopes that project fares better and makes the most of the actors wasted here.
We're told in the opening shot that the only thing guarding our world is the tower at the center of the universe, which can be felled "by the mind of a child." With that setup, we meet Jake (Tom Taylor), a gaunt adolescent obsessively drawing creepy scenes from his nightmares about another world filled with rodent-like creatures masquerading as humans, sapping the minds of children to power a laser attack on the aforementioned tower. There, the Gunslinger, a dusty, sad-eyed Idris Elba, duels with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who's less like Johnny Cash and more like Gucci-era Tom Ford's idea of Lucifer. Eventually, Jake leaps into that other world to team up with the Gunslinger, hike the barren landscape and battle the Man in Black back on Earth.
The story connects to King's other works and hits all his buttons: a troubled psychic boy, his well-meaning mother and cold stepfather, a heroic late father and even a wild-eyed prophetic homeless man. Director Nikolaj Arcel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009) moves through the exposition so quickly that it feels like a hasty book report, skimming past the deeper themes in a story ultimately about fathers and sons. Action sequences are rushed and obscured by darkness, though the supernatural gunplay is good fun.
The Dark Tower is, however, a chance to see Elba — who was alternately terrifying and charismatic as Stringer Bell in HBO's The Wire and who overshadowed lead Charlie Hunnam in Pacific Rim (2013) — in a too-rare lead role. Paired with a young actor not quite up to the task, Elba carries the film with his glowering intensity, quiet grief and hesitant attempts at connecting. McConaughey, too, is at least having a good time, runway-strutting around with his disco-goth shirt unbuttoned, catching bullets and bullying his management staff. One wonders what they might have done with more time and script. PG13. 95m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
DETROIT. In making a movie based on a true story, even a documentary, there will always be something left out and there will always be some of the teller in the telling. In this moment, making a movie about racist police brutality seems doubly risky, but also doubly necessary. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, who teamed up for The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012) have stitched together a fictionalized account of the crushing story of people killed during the 1967 Detroit riots based on witness testimony, records and interviews. It may seem a departure from their previous projects but they build the film on familiar territory: fear, violence and the lingering price of survival.
After a quick animated brush-up on the history of African American migration to industrial centers like Detroit, we cut to the social club bust that sparked the uprising in that city. Soon the revolt escalates from throwing bottles to looting and burning buildings, and the National Guard is rolling through the streets in tanks, shooting at kids in windows in its hunt for snipers. Into this ugly mess roll a trio of jittery, young, white cops led by Krauss (Will Poulter, all pink-faced rage), who's put back on the street after an indisputably bad shooting/murder with a "Calm down out there" from his superior. He and his crew, aided by National Guardsmen, double down on abusing their authority to tragic results when a prank leads them to a possible sniper at the Algiers Hotel. There, Motown hopeful Larry (Algee Smith) and his pal/manager Fred (Jacob Latimore) are licking their wounds, chatting up a couple of white girls and waiting out the night after the riots cancel a performance in front of an A&R man. They, along with a handful of other black men will spend the night lined up with their faces to a wall, beaten bloody and interrogated, some of them killed. Throughout the night, Dismukes, a black security guard at a nearby grocery store, played by the earnest John Boyega (The Force Awakens, 2015), attempts to walk the tightrope of cooperating with the police when they are clearly bent on violence, looking the other way and urging calm among the hostages — and that is what they are — so they might "survive the night."
The film maintains an undercurrent of panic throughout, so we are braced for impact even when Larry is immersed in his own disappointment, singing to an empty auditorium. To a person, the actors put in devastating performances, not only in the adrenaline-fueled night at the hotel, but in the aftermath, when the city is snowed over and the survivors are hobbled by the trauma of what they've endured. Aside from one ham-fisted "good cop" moment, the film and its cast succeed in showing us not only the extreme bad actors but the complicity, individual and systemic, that set the stage for their crimes and leave them unpunished.
Somewhere in the relentless, unflinching violence, you may wonder if there is a point to showing all of it, face after bloodied face. The best justification comes within the movie itself, when Carl (an excellent Jason Mitchel) waves a gun and menaces his friend in imitation of a white cop, "demonstrating white power." You've got to feel it to wrap your mind around it. It's a story white Americans, directors and writers among them, can own and tell, too. R. 143m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
KIDNAP. Did three films with black lead actors open in the same weekend in Humboldt? So they did. And one is even a fun, if slightly goofy, thriller. Who knew?
Halle Berry plays Karla, harried waitress and divorced single mom who is tirelessly upbeat with her son. While at the park and on the phone with her divorce lawyer, a couple (Chris McGinn and Lew Temple) snatch her son (Sage Correa) and take off with him in a beater car. Dropping her phone as she runs, Karla jumps in her minivan and sets off after the kidnappers in a wild highway chase that leaves a wake of piled up cars. Why they take him doesn't really matter — we're in it for the chase.
Talking to herself in the car, Berry's monologues can seem a bit like self affirmations and her tough talk is clunky, but she does a solid job on the action and the ebb and flow of panic throughout the film. Sure, you've got to suspend disbelief and look past some messy editing, but there are genuine thrills to be had, like when the minivan runs low on gas or a cop tries to pull Karla over. Hell, there's even a pivotal scene with a landline phone. And when the inscrutable kidnappers show themselves, McGinn, with her narrow, glinting eyes, and Temple, who may have just ended the trucker hat trend, set a new bar for greasy desperation. R. 82m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ANNABELLE: CREATION. Everybody is freaking out about scary clowns but the real threat is creepy dolls, right? R. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
CITY OF GHOSTS. Documentary about activist citizen journalists and their underground resistance against ISIS. Directed by Matthew Heineman. R. 92m. MINIPLEX.
THE GLASS CASTLE. Based on Jeannette Walls' memoir, this family drama stars Brie Larson as a young woman growing up poor and on the road with her alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson). PG13. 127m. BROADWAY.
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER. This update on the original documentary starring Al Gore focuses on the possibility of an "energy revolution." PG. 98m. BROADWAY.
THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE. Squirrely sequel about animals trying to save their park. Voiced by Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph and Jackie Chan. PG. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JURASSIC PARK (1993). Yes, this is now old enough to be a "flashback" movie and those of us who saw it in the theater are officially dinosaurs. Please preserve me in amber. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY.
ATOMIC BLONDE. Stunt-man-turned-director David Leitch brings Cold War cool, exceptional fight choreography and a quieter, better paced spy movie than the trailer suggests. Charlize Theron delivers a winking, knife-edged performance. R. 109m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE BIG SICK. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan star in a romantic comedy that breaks new ground as boy meets girl and girl goes into coma. Michael Showalter directs this deceptively simple, unassuming movie in which the deeply funny is juxtaposed with the devastating. R. 120M. MINOR.
DESPICABLE ME 3. An out of work Gru (Steve Carell) returns to a life of crime, meets his long-lost twin and battles a villain stuck in the '80s (Trey Parker). With Kristen Wiig. PG. 156m. BROADWAY.
DUNKIRK. Christopher Nolan's focused and intimate telling of this World War II story of pinned troops, outnumbered airmen and hail-Mary civilian rescue effort brings each character to life with the wave-action of hope and hopelessness. PG13. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE EMOJI MOVIE. *Eye-roll emoji. PG. 86m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ENDLESS POETRY. Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's auto-biopic about joining the bohemian scene in his youth during the 1940s. NR. 128m. MINIPLEX.
GIRLS TRIP. Almost 30 years after "Ladies First" dropped, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish star in this crass tale of four lifelong friends' trip to the Essence Festival in New Orleans. R. 122M. BROADWAY.
MAUDIE. Sally Hawkins stars in this biopic of arthritic artist Maud Lewis, who painted in Nova Scotia. With Ethan Hawke as her taciturn husband. PG13. 115m. MINOR.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Co-writer/director Jon Watts (Clown, 2014; Cop Car, 2015) makes good on a tremendous opportunity here, utilizing a talented cast to great effect and bringing the franchise back to its sweetspot. PG13. 133M. FORTUNA, BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS. Luc Besson's comic book adaptation feels misconceived with its story of an idyllic planet ravaged by humankind, poorly constructed military intrigue and a thin love story. PG13. 137M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Caser (Andy Serkis) sets out on a quest of vengeance after the apes are pulled into war with a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). PG13. 150M. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill