Movie Review ~ Doctor Sleep


The Facts
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Synopsis: Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as his and tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Kyliegh Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Carl Lumbly, Alex Essoe, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Alyn Lind, Jacob Tremblay

Director: Mike Flanagan

Rated: R

Running Length: 151 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  It’s time to own up to the dark truth that I’ve seen every Stephen King movie but never read a Stephen King book.  I know, it’s a horrible thing to admit and I don’t offer it up with any amount of pride, only to say that I’ve appreciated that King is a writer with work that has provided so many wonderful adaptations.  Way back in 1980 when The Shining first premiered, it’s well known it wasn’t King’s favorite interpretation of his work.  Legendary director Stanley Kubrick took quite a lot of liberties with the source novel, eliminating characters or changing their make-up all together, to say nothing of the reworked ending.  While a TV adaptation hewed closer to King’s original vision, it paled in comparison to what Kubrick had created.   Over the years, King came to some finality with the movie, for better or for worse, and it was generally accepted by all in thinking of King’s novel and Kubrick’s film as two separate entities that shared similarities.

Re-watching The Shining again (released in a spectacular 4K BluRay) for my 31 Days to Scare, I was struck by how little actually happens (in terms of on-screen action at least) in Kubrick’s film up until the final third.  Over the years I’d always remembered the movie to be this non-stop cabin fever scare-fest that was a journey into madness from the start but that’s what a young imagination falsely remembered will do to you.  Seeing it through a more adult eye with a critical angle, I was taken by how well Kubrick turned up the heat on the Torrance family as they came to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado and the horrible fate that befell them.  Jack Nicholson’s performance is legendary to say nothing of Shelley Duvall’s unfairly maligned and unjustly ignored heroic work as his wife who comes apart at the seams on account of her husband’s own mental breakdown.

Kubrick’s The Shining ended (spoiler-alert) with Jack Torrance frozen to death in the Overlook’s hedge maze and his wife Wendy and son Danny high-tailing it down the mountain to safety.  So when King went to write a sequel to the novel years later, he obviously was writing a sequel to his story that ended with the Overlook destroyed.  King’s follow-up, Doctor Sleep, was a well-received best-seller and soon it was time to consider making that into a movie as well.  Yet, how to merge this book with the previous movie?  Enter Mike Flanagan, riding high off of his success with a series of successful genre films Oculus, Hush, Gerald’s Game, and the series The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. Hired to adapt and direct Doctor Sleep (he also edited the movie), Flanagan worked with King to adjust the novel to fit with Kubrick’s original film and the result is a seamless continuation that’s supremely satisfying and frequently frightening.

Picking up in 1980 where Kubrick left off, Doctor Sleep starts not with the Torrance family but with Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, The Greatest Showman) and other members of The True Knot.  Surviving on the essence, or “steam”, of those with special powers like Danny has, they move throughout the country hunting children because that is when their “steam” is at its most potent.  The more they feed, the longer they live and the stronger they become.  At the same time, Danny and his mother (Alex Essoe, Starry Eyes) have relocated to Florida where Danny sees visions of a familiar friend from the Overlook.  Jumping ahead 31 years, Danny (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Robin) has dulled the memories of his past and stifled his “shining” with alcohol and drugs and is barely standing when he meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis, The Meg) in a small New Hampshire town.

Finding a new life and sobriety, Danny spends the next eight years working at a hospice and often using his gifts to help patients transition to the other side with peace.  He’s also been communicating telepathically with Abra (Kyliegh Curran) another child possessing the power of the shining equal to Danny who has caught the attention of The True Knot.  When she begins to see visions of Rose the Hat and The True Knot in action, eventually finding a link into Rose’s consciousness, Abra knows she can’t take them on alone.  Asking for Danny’s help, he has to decide if he can open up the door to let his dark past back in he’s worked so hard to keep boarded up for these many years.  With so many ghosts from the Overlook locked away inside their individual Pandoras boxes, if that portal opens Danny isn’t sure what else might return with them.  But does he have a choice when a hungry cult will stop at nothing to get to Abra and now for the first time has also sensed his power and presence?

At 151 minutes, Doctor Sleep outpaces The Shining by 5 minutes but offers more movement and thrills at the outset than Kubrick did in his film.  Now, some may see that as a good thing or it could be a sign of Flanagan not totally trusting the audience to wait for two hours to get to the main event – but I don’t agree with that.  This is a movie that has measured out it’s shocks in just the right places, aiming squarely for maximum impact and not just to goose audiences with short attention spans.  No, Flanagan has previously demonstrated in his projects that he knows just when to push the button on the scare machine and here again he proves his timing is spot-on.  He doesn’t even have to push hard, simple things like music cues or familiar images can get those tingles started in your tailbone and send them upwards fairly quickly.

The references to The Shining are both obvious and sneaky and you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for some fun ways Flanagan and his production team have tipped their hat to Kubrick’s original design.  While some scenes from the original are recreated in part, I was so glad to see it wasn’t with old footage made to look new or digitally altered to appear as if Nicholson and Duvall had come back for reshoots.  Casting new actors in these roles that aren’t exactly lookalikes but aren’t doing a pronounced impression was a wise choice too – you get the general idea of the previous actors but it’s more the character that’s important above all else.  Someone at my screening whined at the end they wished Nicholson had returned…but that would have been a huge distraction.

As is typical, Flanagan has assembled an interesting array of actors and it’s not just those at the top.  While McGregor is in fine form as the tortured Danny and nicely conveys the sense of loss and ongoing struggle he’s going through, he often takes a backseat when someone like Ferguson is onscreen because she’s such a commanding presence.  Stalking around the movie (and other actors), Ferguson’s character is wicked scary and doesn’t oversell why she’s the leader of this bloodthirsty pack.  There’s no campy acting going on with Ferguson.  Rose the Hat has survived for a number of years doing what she does and she has little qualms about taking the lives of the young — it’s a really evil role and Ferguson is impressively menacing in it.  I also quite liked Curran’s Abra, delighting in her burgeoning powers but also realizing the reality of the terrifying visions she’s seeing.  She ably holds her own against more seasoned performers and does so in the face of some disturbing material.

That’s another thing about Doctor Sleep that got under my skin and I couldn’t shake, it’s a very unsettling film.  Horror movies are meant to jostle you a bit and then let you go on your merry way into the night but Flanagan’s film digs in and sticks with you for a while after the movie is over.  While the imagery might not be all that gruesome, there are some suggestions of terrible acts that are hard to brush off and it adds to the growing sense of dread leading to the climax of the film.  While I won’t say how or where the film ends, speaking for myself I left the movie feeling satiated with where Flanagan (and King) led these characters.

Bound to keep a new generation of viewers up at night by pairing this with the original, Doctor Sleep is another win for Mike Flanagan and well as fans of Stephen King.  It’s a handsome production that provides the requisite shivers and shudders but takes it’s time to find an emotional core beneath it all.  Adding in the strong performances from the leads and supporting players and you have a solid effort worthy of sitting on the shelf next to its predecessor.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rings

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Synopsis: A young woman becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores a dark subculture surrounding a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after he has viewed it.

Release Date:  October 28, 2016

Thoughts: When Dreamworks decided to remake the 1998 Japanese film Ringu in 2002, the age of the American remake was just starting to come into its major fertility.  Starring Naomi Watts, The Ring was a spooky scare-fest, well-made with hair-raising shocks that made it a major box office success. Three years later its sequel didn’t come close to its predecessor, even though it was directed by Hideo Nakata who created the original film in Japan.  11 years on and here’s your first look at Rings which seeks to establish a new jumping off point for the series. We all know that any trailer can be cut to look exactly how the studio wants to market it and Paramount has done a good job in crafting their preview…but let’s just wait until October to see if Rings is a band of gold or not.

Movie Review ~ The 5th Wave

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother.

Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, Liev Schreiber, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff

Director: J Blakeson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 112 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: As is tradition, January is proving to be a rough month at the movies…which is largely why The 5th Wave is only the second movie I’ve seen in the theaters so far in this new year.  While it’s not as pretentiously terrible as the other movie I saw earlier in the month (Anomalisa…oy), the latest big screen first installment of a Young Adult trilogy of novels struggles to set itself apart from the numerous other (and better) page to screen adaptations.

Coming off like a Muppet Babies retelling of Independence Day, The 5th Wave is the first novel in Rick Yancey’s trilogy following the after effects of an alien invasion that leaves the world in ruins. An electromagnetic pulse has destroyed anything with a current or engine, a super strain of the bird flu, and a series of catastrophic earthquakes that yield gigantic, yes, waves, has trimmed the population down by the millions.  The screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Akiva Goldsman (Winter’s Tale), and Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) often feels more mature than the characters speaking the lines, but that winds up helping the film overall.

At the center of the mayhem is 16-year-old Cassie and her younger brother Sam (spoiler alert if you miss the first 15 minutes of the movie: the parents don’t make it…), left to fend for themselves against an alien race known as the Others who are taking steps to rid the planet of its inhabitants.  When Cassie and Sam are separated by the kind of “just missed the bus” moments that can only exist in fantasy movies, the siblings find themselves split into two separate plot threads.  One thread follows Cassie’s rocky journey to reunite with her brother and the other tracks Sam as he is recruited into an army of children trained to exterminate the alien species by a grumpy looking Liev Schrieber (Spotlight) and a heavily made up Maria Bello (Prisoners, who, it must be said, gets the biggest laugh of the movie thanks to a sight gag involving her red lipstick).  There are a few twists that aren’t hard to predict, though to its credit the film doesn’t expressly telegraph each and every move.

It’s the end of the world as she knows and she feels…ok?  Though the first 1/3 of the movie is decently paced and mildly involving, its biggest problem is its bored-looking star.  Using flared nostrils and expressive lips as a substitute for deep emotion, Chloë Grace Moretz (Carrie, Dark Shadows) saunters through the majority of the movie killing time and collecting her paycheck. She gets a few good tough chick moments but they are weakened by the film feeling obligated to give her googly eyes for a hunky piece of could-be-alien man meat (Alex Roe, filling the man-meat qualifications nicely).

I actually found myself more interested in the parallel storyline of a squad of teens and pre-teens going through basic training, though overall it’s given unfortunately short shrift in favor of more Moretz moments.  Led by Zombie (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) alongside interesting but underdeveloped characters (like Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel and especially Maika Monroe, Labor Day), had the film focused solely on the squad, it may have found its footing easier when it rounds the corner into its final act.   A brief side note, I’m growing a bit weary seeing kids killing kids and being put into such deadly harm so parents, even though its based on a book your kids can pick up in their library, this easily earns it PG-13 thanks to several overly violent and disturbing passages.

As to the conclusion of the movie, it’s no secret that this is the first in a planned trilogy so there’s little resolution to offer by the end…making the previous two hours feel like a large set-up to sequels that may not happen should The 5th Wave get deep sixed at the box office.  My advice would be to wait until the second (or third, or fourth if they dare to split it into two movies) is released and catch The 5th Wave from the comfort of your own home.

Movie Review ~ Winter’s Tale

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A burglar falls for an heiress as she dies in his arms. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her

Stars: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Russell Crowe, Ripley Sobo, Mckayla Twiggs

Director: Akiva Goldsman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Oscar nominated director Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Cape Fear) isn’t known to shy away from many projects.  This is a man, after all, that took a novel like Shutter Island which was considered to be impossible to adapt for the screen and made a perfectly good (if strikingly literal) thriller out of it.  So you should pay attention when you hear that Scorsese flirted briefly with bringing Winter’s Tale, Mark Helperin’s 1983 fantasy novel, to life only to abandon the project because he couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.

The project then fell into the hands of Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar winning screenwriter of A Beautiful Mind who took on the work as a passion project.  Laboring for years to have his screenplay produced, he finally found himself in the director’s chair surrounding by a fairly impressive cast and a celebrated production team.  How, then, can the final product be so remarkably terrible?

Well…I’ll direct you back to Mr. Scorsese who had the correct premonition that this time jumping epic love story wasn’t destined to be captured on film.  It existed best in the yellowing pages of paperback copies of Helperin’s novel stuffed away on bookshelves waiting for their owners to thumb through them in the doldrums of these wintery months.

My experience with the book is limited, having paged through it a few times over the years but never being sucked in by its storied charms.  It’s essentially a bit of romantic whimsy with prose that helped inspire some imagination of the people, places, and flights of fancy Helperin laid out.  I can’t speak to how close Goldsman’s adaptation sticks to the source but I know that something was absolutely lost in translation.

Opening with a prologue filmed in lovely sepia tones by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Killer Joe, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Jack Reacher), the story begins in the late 19th century with Polish immigrants denied entrance to America who wind up lowering their infant son in a model boat in the hopes that the harsh waters will see him safely to the shores of New York.  Ah…the American Dream!  Flash forward years later and the orphaned boy is now Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks, Dead Man Down), a burglar on the wrong side of gangster and former father figure Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, Man of Steel) ready to make an escape out of the city.

Before he can reach the city limits, however, he happens to make one last burglary in the stately Penn home where he meets Beverly (Jessica Brown-Findlay, Downton Abbey), a doomed beauty suffering from consumption with a fever so bad she sleeps on the wintery roof to keep her temperature down.  Love blooms (not naturally because Farrell and Brown-Findlay have precious little chemistry) and soon Peter and Beverly are overcome with passion that leads to a bad end.  Oh…did I mention the film has angels, demons, flying horses, and mythical prophecies?  Well…there’s that too.

I’m giving you more of the plot than I normally would because it helps set the stage for the next act of the film which takes such a peculiar leap forward that you wonder if you aren’t watching a three part mini-series that forgot to include the second installment.  So much of the film takes place in establishing the past that next to no time is left to explore anything in present day New York.  The third act is comprised then of extraordinary coincidences, unexplained lapses in continuity, and half-developed characters (like the one poor Jennifer Connelly is stuck with) culminating in a cornball ending more laughable than the emotionally resonant one the filmmakers intended.

Farrell makes for an engaging lead, though his lack of chemistry with his leading lady and the oddity of his American born/raised character having a perfect Irish accent leaves more of a lasting impression than any good will his commitment earns him.  Crowe is particularly terrible here with his awful leprechaun-y brogue…his scenes with a surprise cameo (and equally atrocious) star is sure to haunt him in years to come.  Brown-Findlay doesn’t leave much of an impression aside from the realization that her narration of the film is better than her onscreen performance.  William Hurt (The Host), Connelly (who will also do time with Crowe soon in Noah), and Eva Marie Saint (make sure to do the math of her screen age when she shows up and see if you cry foul) round out the players.

Running close to two hours I will say that as banal as the film is, it managed to move along with a nice clip.  Goldsman rallies the production design to create a handsome looking film (even with one of the worst Hans Zimmer scores ever) though he lets the whole schmaltzy mess get away from him almost from the start.  If you’re thinking of catching this with a loved one, I’d suggest taking a walk around the block holding hands instead.

The Silver Bullet ~ Winter’s Tale

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Synopsis: Set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century, Winter’s Tale is a story of miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil.

Release Date:  February 14, 2014

Thoughts: Silly me, I thought this was going to be a film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play.  Looking at the cast list before seeing the trailer I thought Warner Brothers had assembled an impressive line-up to tackle the Bard’s romance…but knowing that it’s really an adaptation of a fantasy novel from 30 years ago makes me sorta nervous.  Directed by Oscar winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, Winter’s Tale joins a crowded Valentine’s Day line-up but this is probably the one film that boasts the most A-list cast members such as Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Dead Man Down), Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt (Altered States, The Doctor, The Host), and Russell Crowe (Les Misérables).  I have a feeling the movie may be a tough sell given its time-hopping narrative but it could be a moody romance for those looking for something with more substance than your average romantic comedy.