Film Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

Release Date: October 30th, 2019 (France)
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan
Based on: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Music by: The Newton Brothers
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Zackary Momoh, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas

Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes, 180 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“You’re magic. Like me.” – Abra Stone, “You need to listen to me. The world’s a hungry place. A dark place. I’ve only met two or three people like us. They died. When I was a kid, I bumped into these things. I don’t know about magic. I, I always called it “the shining.”” – Danny Torrance

*There be spoilers here!

When I first heard that Stephen King was penning a sequel to The Shining, I was pretty excited. If I’m being honest though, I didn’t have high expectations or anything, I just thought that it’d be cool to check in on Danny Torrance after the events of his childhood to see how he turned out and what sort of effect that level of horror had on him.

I wasn’t excited about the book, itself; I was more excited about the possibility of what the book’s existence meant. Especially, as a sequel film is something that has been toyed around with by Warner Bros. before. But luckily for us, they didn’t crap out some inferior straight-to-DVD product, they instead waited decades and decided to adapt King’s own sequel.

Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book and for those of you who have been reading my reviews for awhile, you probably already know that I’m not a massive fan of King’s writing but I’m more of a fan of live action adaptations of his work. Well, the good ones, anyway.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the film either but once I knew what the premise for the story was and saw who was cast as the lead, it was hard to not feel something.

Once I saw the first trailer, I felt that the tone and the style of the movie were solid and I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, I missed it on the big screen, as I had a lot going on and it didn’t stay in my local theater for more than a couple of weeks. Also, it’s hard for me to sit in the cinema now for two and a half hours because I’m getting old, I drink too much soda, hate holding my pee and can’t stand other people around me scrolling Facebook, answering their phones, chatting to their neighbor and making as much noise as possible with their popcorn crunching and candy bag diddling.

So I’m glad that I watched this at home, even though it would’ve been really cool to revisit the Overlook Hotel in a proper cinematic setting.

Getting to the film itself, I was really impressed with Doctor Sleep. I can’t say that it is as good as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining but it is really hard to top or even come close to a masterpiece. Still, this film does the material justice and it justifies its existence, becoming its own story and its own film, independent of the original. Granted, for context and for a richer overall experience, you should still probably watch the original film if you haven’t, as the call backs to it are really neat and it might be better to get the whole experience and not just one half of it.

Furthermore, this truly is a sequel to that 1980 Kubrick version. The hotel is the same, once you travel back there, and the actors cast to reprise that film’s iconic roles were done so with the intent of trying to replicate the performances and the look of those actors. I’d say that this film pulls that trick off, even if it is kind of weird seeing someone else’s face in the place of Shelley Duval’s, Scatman Crothers’ and Jack Nicholson’s. But its done in the best way possible and it respects the work of the actors that came before.

Side note: Jack Torrance appears very briefly and he’s played by Henry Thomas a.k.a. Elliott from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. What’s even more interesting is that he also once played the iconic Norman Bates in 1990’s Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Beyond all that, the actors playing the main roles in this film all give superb performances. I’ve especially got to give credit to Ewan McGregor, as the adult version of Danny Torrance, and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat, this film’s primary antagonist.

I also thought that Kyliegh Curran was really good as the young Abra. This is the first movie I’ve seen her in and kid actors are usually annoying as hell but she played her part like a veteran and delivered in a way that most adult actors wouldn’t have been able to.

The supporting cast did their job solidly from Cliff Curtis as Danny’s friend, Zahn McClarnon as the evil but awesomely enchanting Crow Daddy, Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi and Bruce Greenwood, as Danny’s boss and leader of his AA group. We also get to see Carel Struycken as the patriarch of the evil gang, he’s probably most famous for playing the Giant in everything Twin Peaks related. He was also Terak, the villain from the second Ewoks TV movie from the ’80s.

The most important takeaway for me was the story. I loved it, I thought it was a great expansion on the already established mythos and even if a return to the hotel initially felt like cheap fan service, it worked and it brought things full circle for the Danny character.

Sadly, he does die, which I thought was a mistake because there is real potential in the idea of Danny and Abra having stories beyond this one. I guess they can utilize Danny as a ghost, as they did with the Dick Hollorann character, but there’s that part of you that wants him to survive this because there’s more good work to do and the end of the story is left wide open for further exploration, especially in regards to what the villains are and how there might be more.

I thought that the direction by Mike Flanagan was top notch. I’m not all that familiar with his other work, other than I know that he’s worked in the horror genre for a little while. This may inspire me to go back and look at his earlier films, though.

Additionally, the movie has great cinematography that is equal parts terrifying and mesmerizing. The film is meticulously shot and presented with perfect lighting regardless of the visual tone of the scene while also boasting magnificent shot framing. There isn’t a weak looking or half-assed scene in the picture and the work of the director and cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, is impressive.

My only real issue with the film is that I think it would have worked much better as a short (six or eight episode) season of a television series. There’s a lot to this tale and there is certainly a lot more context that could have been utilized to enrich the story if it had more time and more room to breathe. I wanted to know more about the villain group, their history, where they come from, what their larger purpose is, etc. I also would have liked to spend more time with Danny, as a new guy in town, trying to reestablish his life.

In the end, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen from 2019. It is also one of the best horror films of its decade, as the ’10s weren’t very kind to the genre and barely gave us a handful of memorable horror pictures.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the 1980 version of The Shining, as well as good movie and television adaptations of Stephen King’s work.

Film Review: The Ewok Film Series (1984-1985)

I really liked the Ewok films when I was a kid. I didn’t even care that there weren’t lightsabers and Star Destroyers.

So how would I feel about it as a 38 year-old adult? And right after watching the six theatrical Star Wars films again? Review on those, coming shortly.

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984):

Release Date: November 25th, 1984
Directed by: John Korty
Written by: George Lucas, Bob Carrau
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Eric Walker, Warwick Davis, Fionnula Flanagan, Guy Boyd, Aubree Miller, Burl Ives (narrator)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Korty Films, Walt Disney, 97 Minutes

Review:

“A rock? These little bears are nuts!” – Mace

These were television movies and they were unlike all the other Star Wars films before them. These took place entirely on the Forest Moon of Endor and were about the Ewoks who live there. According to various sources, they take place just before the events of Return of the Jedi. Which is strange, considering the Ewoks meet humans and Wicket can speak basic (or English) and then in Return of the Jedi, they try to barbecue humans and then can’t speak a lick of basic. Also, there is no Imperial presence or half-built Death Star in the sky. Let’s ignore those details however.

These movies didn’t hold up in regards to special effects. There is a lot of really outdated stop motion. This is mostly used while the heroes are fighting big creatures but it is a definite step down in quality from the theatrical films. I can’t hold that against these movies though, as they were made for television and had a very limited budget compared to the bigger films before them.

Caravan of Courage is still pretty easy to watch and it is entertaining. It makes the Ewoks more relatable and it delves into their culture more than their limited presence in Return of the Jedi. It also expands everything you think you know about Endor. It is more vast than what you can take away from Return of the Jedi. And these films’ existence, is probably why I don’t dislike the Ewoks in Jedi when so many other fans do. Caravan of Courage succeeded in making the Ewoks more than just space teddy bears.

In this film, the story follows Mace and Cindil, who are shipwrecked on Endor. They meet the Ewoks and enlist their help in trying to track down their missing parents. There are challenges every step of the way. There is also a lot of use of magic, which makes these films feel more like Tolkien than Lucas but in a galaxy with the Force, is it really that implausible? Besides, I don’t think that these are considered canon anymore, after Disney bought the franchise.

Caravan of Courage is a heartwarming movie, it plays pretty quickly at 94 minutes and is full of enough adventure to keep you engaged.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.

Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985):

Release Date: November 24th, 1985
Directed by: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Written by: George Lucas, Jim Wheat, Kim Wheat
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Wilford Brimley, Warwick Davis, Aubree Miller, Paul Gleason, Carel Struycken, Niki Botelho, Eric Walker, Sian Phillips

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Star cruiser… crash, crash!” – Wicket

The second movie is the better of the two. It also brings in more characters and is lead by Wilford Brimley, most known for Cocoon, The Thing, Our House and commercials about oatmeal and “DIABEETUS!”

Where the first film relied on narration to talk about the Ewoks, this chapter quickly pulls the other Ewoks out and focuses on Wicket, who can speak basic very well. It makes the interractions between Cindil and Wicket more direct.

In this movie, Cindil’s entire family is killed by barbaric marauders and the Ewoks are captured. Wicket and Cindil escape, meet Teek (a speedy alien) and a grumpy old man named Noa. Together they go on to rescue the Ewoks and save the day, conquering the evil space barbarians and a witch that can turn into a bird.

Okay, the summary sounds ridiculous but it works for the film.

This movie is just better than the first in that it starts off treading some dark territory but evolves into a film about friendship, love and compassion. It brings together strangers and shows just how broad “family” can be.

Also, Wicket isn’t just a child Ewok in this movie, he is actually pretty bad ass.

The direction was good, the acting improved, the sets were better, the world was bigger and the score was really good for not being done by John Williams.

Yes, these films feel dated but who cares? Both are still pretty watchable and one could argue that they are better than the Prequel Trilogy. I’m not the one to argue that, I’m just saying one could.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.