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: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2017 (Edinburgh premiere)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Porno and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson

Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Nostalgia! That’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth. Just ’cause you had a near-death experience and now you’re feeling all fuzzy and warm. What other moments will you be revisiting?” – Simon

It is hard to come back and make a sequel to anything twenty years later but Danny Boyle did just that. He had talked about a Trainspotting sequel almost as long as it has been since the first one in 1996. Originally, he talked about it picking up with these characters nine years later. Well, it actually took just over twenty before we got to see where these guys ended up.

T2 Trainspotting is a much more sober picture than its predecessor but it still matches that original film in style and tone. Granted, it is hard to match the level of darkness that the first film had and really, these characters aren’t in that same sort of chemically induced rut. They still have problems but they’re different problems, even if their old lifestyle still hovers over their heads like a black cloud, always ready to rain down and remind them of where they’ve been and the pain they shared.

The story catches up with Renton and his return to Edinburgh, two decades after he pulled a heist with his friends and double crossed them, taking the money for himself. He has no choice but to return home and in the process, has to try and repair the damage he did. He tries to help Spud and goes into business with Sick Boy, who now just uses his real name: Simon. The real x-factor is Begbie, who may be even more insane than he was twenty years earlier, before spending years in prison.

There are a lot of twists and turns with this film and I might almost call it a neo-noir. There is crime, betrayal and a sort of femme fatale in the mix. Plus, it deals with some pretty dark subject matter and has a pretty impressive visual style.

I like this on the same level that I like the first film but I like them for very different reasons, because even though they deal with he same people, the same place and the same sort of scheming, they are both very different pictures. Danny Boyle did a superb job in resurrecting this world and giving it new life that wasn’t just derivative of the first. Like life, it showed how people evolve and change but are ultimately who they are at their core.

Also, like the first, the film is propelled by the pop music selections of the director. There isn’t a traditional score but there is a real energy running through the film due to the great music Boyle has sewn together from scene to scene.

I don’t think that all Trainspotting fans will enjoy the sequel, as much as I did. It really depends on what you’re looking for in it. But for me, I’m someone that isn’t too far off from the age of these characters. I understand the place they were in twenty years ago and I see how I have evolved in that time and how these characters can and should be different than who they were in their youth.

This film brings Boyle’s original picture full circle and it does leave you with hope for most of these characters. Also, after this second chapter, you feel much more connected and emotionally invested in Renton, Simon and Spud.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Trainspotting (1996)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1996 (UK)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald

Channel Four Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We took morphine, diamorphine, cyclizine, codeine, temazepam, nitrazepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal, dextropropoxyphene, methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buprenorphine, dextromoramide, chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs you can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.” – Mark “Rent-boy” Renton

I haven’t watched this film in quite awhile but with its sequel finally coming out, 21 years later, I had to revisit this before seeing the long awaited followup.

Trainspotting, as much as I enjoyed it in my teens and twenties, is a better film than I remembered, seeing it now in my thirties. Or maybe, I just have a bigger appreciation for what’s good in film now that I’m older.

Out of everything that I’ve seen from director Danny Boyle, this is still my favorite of all his films. How does something so stylized feel so real? His use of music and the cinematography he employed create a hip yet gritty world that is very much a product of the 90s while tapping into the vibe of the 80s.

This is also a film that is perfectly cast. Ewan McGregor shines as Rent-boy and his crew are like chaotic satellites crashing into each other and everything else in his orbit.

The film is a perfectly orchestrated mess populated with characters who are tragic, insane, sad and wild but still relatable even in a highly exaggerated state. If you have ever been around real drug addicts, you have experienced these types of characters. Hell, if you went to good parties in high school or college, people like this were everywhere, at least in the 90s when I experienced my youth.

The camerawork in this picture is fantastic and a lot of the shots are mesmerizing, even if they exist in an uncanny level of filth and squalor. The toilet scene is one of the most disgusting things in cinema history but it is so well captured that you can’t look away from it and you have to appreciate the artistry behind it.

Boyle was a guy slightly ahead of the curve. Other directors employed similar techniques in countless attempts to mimic this film but Boyle brought something to the table that set him apart and to this day, still keeps his work, in this picture, far above the imitators.

This is a rough picture to get through if you’re not prepared to truly experience this lifestyle at its lowest. It is rough even if you are prepared but it is a film with a pretty stark message about addiction and how it can literally possess people in the worst ways. It is also about trying to overcome that chemical possession and truly finding a way to live again.

Between the narration, the despicable crew of screwed up youths and the overall style of the film, there are a lot of parallels between this and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It is easy to see that this film was inspired by that 1971 masterpiece but it is still very much its own thing. There is even a scene in a bar that looks very much like the bar from Clockwork and it almost gives you a sense that maybe this does exist in that world, decades later.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005)

*Written in 2015.

I haven’t watched these films in a few years. I catch glimpses of them from time to time as I am flipping through channels on cable but it has been at least five years since I’ve sat down and watched this trilogy in its entirety.

It is universally agreed upon that this trilogy was not on par with the original trilogy and many people have griped about these three films for well over a decade now. I knew they weren’t as good but I used to try and defend them, as I could look passed their faults because at least they were new Star Wars movies.

Having had a lot of time away from this series and being less enthusiastic than I probably should be about the upcoming Disney films, I can no longer defend the prequels in good conscience. They are what essentially killed the Star Wars magic inside of me, even if I didn’t want to see it at the time.

But let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999):

Release Date: May 25th, 1999
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Ray Park, Terence Stamp, Keira Knightley, Peter Serafinowicz, Sofia Coppola, Warwick Davis

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Phantom Menace is a bad film, plain and simple.

There are only a few good things even worth mentioning as positives.

To start, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Also, Darth Maul is the most bad ass looking Sith of all-time. Unfortunately, Darth Maul has little screen time and meets his demise before this film is over and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to share most of their scenes with any combination of the characters Jar Jar Binks, Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. All three of those characters, in this film and really all of the films, were mostly unbearable.

This installment into the Star Wars mega franchise was too full of political nonsense and pointless babble about stuff no one cares about. Sure, we’d like to know how the Galactic Empire came to be and how the Sith rose to power and conquered the Jedi but we didn’t need endless diatribes about details no one even remotely wanted to follow.

Also, take into account what this franchise was before this movie. You have now replaced terrifying and cool Storm Troopers with anorexic and bumbling Battle Droids. You replaced Rebel soldiers with thousands of Jar Jars and armed them with bubbles. You replaced X-wing Starfighters and TIE Fighters with awfully designed Naboo Starfighters and Vulture Droids. You replaced desolate and wild worlds with the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Everything about this film was wrong: in tone, in characters, in design, in total execution.

It was corny, cheesy, way too child friendly and full of more annoyances than things that are actually cool.

Fuck pod racing. Fuck midichlorians.

There really is nothing I like about this film other than the few things mentioned around paragraph two. And even then, they certainly aren’t enough to save this movie.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002):

Release Date: May 12th, 2002 (Tribeca)
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Liam Neeson

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 142 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – Anakin Skywalker

Attack of the Clones may be even worse than The Phantom Menace.

This film offers up a lot of the same as the previous. Luckily though, Jar Jar Binks has pretty limited screen time, as the backlash of that character was tremendous. In fact, I’ll be shocked if future Star Wars films even remotely show a Gungan.

The cool thing about this film is the inclusion of Jango Fett and the origin of his son, the uber popular and awesome Boba Fett. Also, Christoper Lee, one of my three favorite actors of all-time, shows up as the Sith Lord, Count Dooku.

This film should have been awesome. Well, for the first time ever, we get to see what happens when an army of Jedi fights together. While it was visually cool to see a bunch of Jedi light up a few dozen lightsabers, it happened against Battle Droids. You know, those clumsy metal comedians that the idiotic Gungans beat in the previous film. Somehow, now, they present a challenge to the best Jedi in the galaxy. Am I missing something here?

Also, one thing that has always bothered me about the Star Wars films was the ambiguous travel times. Never is it as much of a continuity problem, as it is here.

Look at the timeline of people traveling to Geonosis. Yoda shows up five minutes after Mace Windu, even though they both left Coruscant at the same time and Yoda had to make a pit stop at Kamino to pick up the Clone Army. Anakin and Padmé got there not too long before Windu because they knew Windu would not make it in time to stop Kenobi’s execution. However, Windu walks up just as the attempt at execution is going down. And Windu was walking casually slow. Had he tried not to look so cool, he could’ve probably beat the clock for sure.

This movie is a mess. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s acting during the Anakin and Padmé romance scenes was beyond painful to watch.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005):

Release Date: May 15th, 2005 (Cannes)
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Bruce Spence, Keisha Castle-Hughes, James Earl Jones, Bai Ling (scenes cut)

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

The third and final movie in the prequel trilogy is the best of the three. However, it still isn’t very good by Star Wars standards.

In this one, we see Anakin’s destiny reach full climax as, by film’s end, he becomes the iconic Darth Vader. Of course, the path to full Vaderdom is just more of the same bullshit that we’ve had to endure over multiple films now. And Hayden Christensen continues to give a wooden performance accented by Natalie Portman, who doesn’t even want to be there and Ewan McGregor, who is trying to be passionate with the shitty lines George Lucas gave him to speak.

This film solidifies just how stupid the Jedi Council is or just how bad of a writer that George Lucas is. Why are only two Jedi sent to rescue the Supreme Chancellor who is held hostage over Coruscant, the capital of the galaxy? I mean, there is a Jedi Temple full of Jedi below, even if many are off fighting on other planets. And why did Yoda and Obi-Wan not tag team Palpatine and then Anakin? And somehow, Yoda and Obi-Wan fought their battles at the same time, even though they took off for them simultaneously but one was down the street and the other was on the other side of the galaxy. Again, ambiguous travel times.

Count Dooku dies too early. General Grievous is a dumb villain and it is clear that instead of having long lasting iconic bad guys like Darth Vader, Lucas would rather give us Maul then Dooku then Grievous in an effort to sell more toys. Sacrifice the story, sell more shit.

Fuck this movie too.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.