So Idris Elba is The Gunslinger

Warning: Those of you who have never read or heard of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, in any of its several forms, will likely have no idea what I’m talking about.

gunslingerSo Idris Elba is the Gunslinger. It’s official. The cameras are rolling. After years and years of false starts, rejected scripts, departing directors, and Hollywood production hell, it’s happening. I’m…cautiously optimistic. Hollywood has broken my heart too many times for me to work up anything approaching outright enthusiasm, but I’m hopeful. But it took me a little while to come around to that. Let me explain.

I have to admit, Idris Elba, at first glance, is an odd choice. Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat, shall we? Idris Elba is an excellent actor. He’s a bad-ass. I have no doubt he can carry the role of Roland of Gilead, and truly make it come alive. The thought of him spouting some of Roland’s lines in his low, gravelly voice gives me shivers.

But he’s black, and Roland is white. Let me say right upfront, that doesn’t matter. Does it? I don’t think so, but it took me a couple of weeks to make up my mind. Let’s discuss.

There are some movies where the casting is almost supernaturally good. The Lord of the Rings, for example. It felt like the casting director just peeled my brain open and scooped the characters out onto the screen. It was eerily perfect. Not so Idris Elba. In fact, Elba is jarringly different than what Roland of Gilead looks like in my brain. That’s a fact, for me, and for millions of Dark Tower fans. It’s disingenuous and deeply unfair to call Dark Tower fans racist if they’re having a problem with it. After thirty years of the main character of the series looking one way, in the novel’s descriptions, in Michael Whelan’s wonderful cover art and illustrations, in the dozens of graphic novels, now, without warning, Roland is someone completely different. There is nothing wrong with anybody having a knee-jerk reaction to that.

What if they remade Blade with a white guy? What if they remade Kill Bill with a man? What if they remade Ghostbusters with a bunch of women…oh, wait. Ugh, nevermind.

Destruction_of_Despayre-TEABut anyway, it gets to the heart of the question, how much ownership do fans have over the fantasy worlds they love? We’ve seen, most of all with Star Wars, that owners of an intellectual property are free to make sweeping, unilateral changes to their respective universes, and the fans don’t have a say. I mean, thirty years worth of Star Wars extended universe canon was obliterated with the stroke of a pen. Millions of voices crying out in agony, and then silenced…  And I understand why they did it, I do. But it’s a blow when you have such emotional investment in something, and then someone comes and nukes it. It’s rather like renting a home. You get comfortable there, you think you have some say over what happens to it, then one day you find out that you really don’t at all. It can sting.

But it’s not just that, there are story issues as well. Perhaps the most obvious issue with Elba’s casting is that it indicates significant plot revisions. Detta Walker, The racist, wheelchair-bound black woman who features prominently in most of the books, just ain’t going to work if Roland is also black.

But the more I think about it,  the more I realize that the Detta you see in the books would never make it to the big screen anyway. Let’s be real. A crazy, violent, racist black woman, spouting vile epithets while she tries to kill the protagonist by virtue of his skin color? This was a character created by Stephen King 30 years ago, likely at the height of his substance abuse problems. The world has come a long way since then. I don’t care who is playing the Gunslinger, if you think the original Detta Walker would make it into a major motion picture in 2016, you’re crazy. You’d likely be hard-pressed to find a self-respecting black woman who’d even agree to play the part.

the-dark-tower-coverDetta’s character is an ugly, hurtful stereotype that needs to die. I mean, let’s play the switcheroo game here for a second. What if (due to the casting of Idris Elba as Roland) they made Detta Walker into an ignorant white-trash wheelchair bound racist with Aryan Nation tattoos, screaming “n*gger” at Roland? Her character, of course, still wouldn’t fly. Mark my words: No matter who plays Roland, that entire subplot and character arc is going to be severely revised or axed altogether. And that’s not a bad thing. So, get used to it. And if Detta’s character doesn’t have that particular arc, then Roland’s race truly doesn’t matter to the story. Gilead seems to be a pretty progressive place, after all.

So, the only thing left to worry about is whether the movie is going to suck. Like I said earlier, I’ve been burned too many times to get my hopes up. But I think I can safely say that if this movie does suck, it’s not going to be because of Idris Elba, and certainly not because of the color of his skin.



Welcome to My Happy Place

How to seduce Matt Kincade: It’s not that complicated. Bring me some Indian take-out food and watch a Wes Anderson movie with me. I’m yours. Or, I suppose you could show up at my luxury hotel suite in Paris.

Kidding aside, Indian food and Wes Anderson is my happy place. I can’t quite explain it, but an order of chicken korma and watching The Life Aquatic or Moonlight Kingdom will break me out of the deepest of funks.

So I just thought I’d share this perfect little vignette from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Darjeeling Limited. I can only hope it makes you as happy as it makes me.

This is mildly NSFW, so don’t watch it if you’re offended by Natalie Portman’s butt.

Special Effects Fatigue: When I know there must be a reason why that monster is punching that other monster, but I just don’t care anymore

I went and saw Batman vs. Superman the other day. Altogether, not as bad as I’d feared. But still not that great. And here’s the problem.

I’ve been noticing a peculiar thing lately, while watching summer blockbuster popcorn type movies. So often, I just stop caring. At the climax of the movie, the part that’s supposed to be the most exciting, I just go numb. My eyes glaze. I just want it to be over so I can check my email.

Too much punch.

And it’s not because there’s not enough action, it’s because there’s too much action. The most recent Godzilla movie was a particularly egregious example. The special effects were top notch. The cast was great. The production design was perfect. It all felt really…real. The feel of the originals with modern production values. But it was just too much. The first time the bad monster thing punched Godzilla through a building, it was super awesome. And the second time. And the third time.

Then it happened again and again and again, neither Godzilla nor the other monster suffering any visible damage. I had zero emotional connection to either giant monster. It got boring. This epic battle had all the dramatic tension of a six year-old banging two action figures together. By the end, I was just amazed that they could find any more buildings to smash each other through.

Same thing with BvS. Affleck was great. Henry Cavill was great. Everyone was great. The production design was perfect. Everything that went wrong, went wrong behind the camera and in the editing room.

Too many smashing.

I mean, think about it. When you can use millions of dollars worth of top-notch special effects to make a photorealistic Godzilla smash a giant bug-thing through a photorealistic skyscraper, and make people not give a shit that it just happened, something is very wrong.

And it seems to be happening more and more. I can remember feeling this way back during the Matrix and its sequels, watching Neo and Agent Smith take turns punching each other for 45 minutes. Batman vs. Superman was another offender. I felt like I was watching a .gif repeating.

I took a martial arts class a long time ago, and I remember the instructor saying that if you hit in the same place too many times, it would just go numb and your strikes wouldn’t really have any more effect. This is kind of how I feel in modern monster movies. Like I’m just getting punched in the face for 45 minutes. All the damage you can do has been done, and now I’m just thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner.

I think it all comes down to pacing. Scary movies are good at this. The tension. The slow, gradual buildup. Then a little faster. Faster still. Faster. Climax! Then they dial it down a little, let your nervous system JUMP SCARE! recover. Then it calms down again, for a while. If you really pay attention to it, the pattern gets a little repetitive. But it works, because the filmmakers understand that they’re playing a psychological game with you. They take their time building the tension and they hold a little something back, which makes it all that much more satisfying when you finally get it.

Far be it from me to make a sexual comparison, but…well, you gotta work up to it. Most of the time. I mean, I guess sometimes it works. Fury Road was like the movie equivalent of a lust-crazed quickie in the supply closet at work. But the operative word there is quick. Keep that up too long and there are cramps, chafing, co-workers start to wonder where you are… I digress.

Anyway, Fury Road came on fast and hard, but it still had great pacing and emotional content that made you care about what was happening on the screen. Not so Batman vs. Superman. When two (or more) invincible things take turns punching each other across the city for fifteen minutes straight, past a certain point…well, perhaps the director is engaging in another kind of sexual act. The kind you can do all by yourself.