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.

Documentary Review: Special When Lit (2009)

Release Date: October 1st, 2009 (Raindance Film Festival – UK)
Directed by: Brett Sullivan
Music by: Brett Sullivan
Cast: Roger Sharpe, Rick Stetta, Sam Harvey, Steve Epstein, Gary Stern, Lyman Sheats Jr., Tim Arnold, Josh Kaplan, Pat Lawlor, Steve Ritchie, Steve Kordek, Steve Keeler, Raphael Lankar, Koi Morris, Al Thomka

Stream Motion and Sound, PBS International, 97 Minutes

Review:

I’ve always been a fan of pinball and arcade games in general. When I grew up in the ’80s it was hard not to be captivated by these things as gaming machines of all types were everywhere you went, even in a small town like mine.

Because of that, I was excited to see this documentary back when it first came out. It also came out in a time when pinball and video game documentaries were at an all-time high, probably due to the 2007 cult hit The King of Kong.

This delves into the history of pinball and it covers a lot of ground but it is mostly focused on the mid-’70s and beyond. It touches on the history before that but I actually would’ve liked to have seen more of its early history, as well. But there are other documentaries that cover that.

For the most part, this is simply talking head interviews edited together to tell a story. It’s well organized and edited and the whole documentary runs smoothly, as it looks at the fan side of pinball, the corporate side and the competitive side. All bases are pretty much covered and everything is given a good amount of time.

Now I don’t know how much this will resonate with everyone but if you’ve got an interest in the subject, it’s certainly worth a watch, as it’s full of colorful, entertaining characters and it’ll probably make you want to go collect your quarters and find the nearest machine to play.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about pinball and arcade games, many have been reviewed here already.

Film Review: Prometheus (2012)

Also known as: Alien 0 (working title)
Release Date: April 11th, 2012 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Ridely Scott
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Music by: Marc Streitenfeld
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Benedict Wong, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Kate Dickie, Emun Elliot, Patrick Wilson, Ian Whyte, Daniel James

Dune Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Big things have small beginnings.” – David

I remember initially liking this when it came out but the more I thought about it, processed everything that happened and then applied it all to my knowledge of the long running Alien franchise, it all started to fall apart.

I think what happened was that I was effected by the film in the same way that J. J. Abrams movies effect me, initially. I’m overloaded by a rapid pace, random shit happening so fast I can’t process it, constant information dumps and then  a big, over the top, action-filled finale that serves to be a gargantuan exclamation point on a big smorgasbord of “what the fuck?”

Ultimately, this movie doesn’t make any fucking sense. And that really fucking sucks because it has some really good things working for it that lose their effect because the human brain isn’t made to process bullshit, especially at the pace that the Micro Machines commercial dude could spout off a run-on sentence like this one.

Prometheus was probably my most anticipated film of 2012. I was ecstatic for it and I was sold on the trailers. But upon seeing it, something didn’t feel right, it’s like my brain was pre-programmed to love it and I didn’t want to feel what I was really feeling underneath it all: disappointment and confusion.

It’s a disjointed clusterfuck of a movie, poorly written with contrivances, conveniences, random weirdness and some horrendously bad dialogue that made me feel bad for the superbly talented cast that had to stumble throughout this picture.

For instance, the scene where Charlize Theron reveals that Guy Pearce is her father was absolute fucking cringe. How does that happen in a scene with just Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce? They’re fucking legends at this point!

Every development in this movie was nonsensical and contradictory to the personalities that were established for its characters. All the weird alien twists and turns didn’t add up and just created more questions than this film tried to answer.

In fact, even though this movie does clue you in to the origin of the alien xenomorph species (and the human race), it creates more questions, builds more mystery and turns what should have been a really simple and cool plot into something so damn messy that a team of mental hospital janitors on cocaine couldn’t keep up with the diarrhea spilling out on the floor from the writers’ asses.

What’s with the black goo? What’s with the alien cobras? What’s with the squid that turned massive in an hour? What’s with the weird looking xenomorph? Why did the Engineers on the holographic replay run into the room with the dangerous shit? How did David know what to do with any of this shit? Why did we need the Weyland side plot? Hell, why didn’t they just cast an old guy instead of forcing Guy Pearce into an old man mask from Spencer’s? What’s with the ginger chickenshit turning into a space zombie with a ballooned out head? Why did the Engineer ignore Elizabeth but then go way out of his way to track her down to kill her later? Why did the women run in the path of the giant ship rolling towards them and not cut left or right? After the ship took off, crashed and then rolled like a renegade tire, why was David laying in the same spot where he got his head ripped off? How did his head not pinball around the ship? Why the fuck did I watch this a second time?

Prometheus is incompetent. It’s so incompetent that it hurts and frankly, I don’t think I was initially suppressing these feelings and observations, I think that I was just overwhelmed by how much bullshit was forced down my throat that I couldn’t make sense out of any of it. I was hit in the brain with a sledgehammer nearly every five minutes for two hours straight. Frankly, it took seven years for me to collect my thoughts and give this picture a second viewing.

I thought that maybe I was overreacting and that maybe I missed some glue that held it all together. Nope, it’s still shit. And it absolutely fucking sucks because this shouldn’t have been a clusterfuck of biblical proportions. It should’ve set some things up easily and then followed the framework established by the original film. Hell, it could’ve followed the second film or even combined the two. This isn’t rocket surgery!

Anyway, when I saw Alien: Covenant, I initially thought that it was worse than this but it’s not. That’s still a shitty film for the most part but this thing takes the cake.

Prometheus is insulting. It believes that it is some great mystery and highly intelligent film. It isn’t. In fact, it actually feels like my fifteen year-old cousin’s fan fiction work for his blog that has seven followers after two years. I try and give the kid advice but he just goes, “Fuck off, boomer!” Whatever, I’m Gen-X, bitch and your shipping of Hicks and Bishop is just weird.

Rant over.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: it’s direct sequel Alien: Covenant and the other Alien films other than the first two, which are far superior to anything else the franchise has done since.

Film Review: Invaders From the Deep (1981)

Release Date: 1981
Directed by: David Lane, David Elliot, John Kelly, Desmond Saunders
Written by: Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Alan Fennell
Based on: Stingray TV series
Music by: Barry Gray
Cast: Robert Easton, Don Mason, Ray Barrett, Lois Maxwell, David Graham

ITC Entertainment Group, 92 Minutes

Review:

Like the recently reviewed Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars, this feature “film” was chopped up from episodes of one of those popular British marionette puppet sci-fi shows.

In the case of this one, it was taken from the show Stingray, which actually exists in the same lore as Thunderbirds. How exactly, I don’t know, as I’m not really a fan of these marionette shows.

This one wasn’t as hard for me to track down as the Mysterons one, as I found a shoddy copy up on a website awhile ago. Luckily, I downloaded it and saved it, as that site is now gone.

You can find the host segments with Joel Hodgson though, if you wanted to see the material that was made when this was featured on the original, local Minneapolis version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Unfortunately, the MST3K version in its entirety is missing, as far as I know.

Overall, this is pretty hard to watch. The edit is a real hatchet job and honestly, this just feels like more of the same after having just watched Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars.

In fact, Mysterons actually was better even though I also hated that one.

The story is hard to follow but that’s because this is comprised of four different episodes that all had their own plots.

The puppets also aren’t as good as the puppets from series that came after this. This looks and feels like an underwater Thunderbirds but with less skill and care behind the production.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: the Stingray show it’s chopped up and re-edited from, as well as other MST3K features that were just sci-fi TV shows edited into full length “films”.

Film Review: Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars (1981)

Release Date: 1981
Directed by: Robert Lynn, Ken Turner, Brian Burgess
Written by: Tony Barwick
Based on: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons TV series
Music by: Barry Gray
Cast: Francis Matthews, Ed Bishop, Liz Morgan, Donald Gray

ITC Entertainment, Century 21 Television, Incorporated Television Company, 91 Minutes

Review:

Out of all the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies out there, this was the hardest one to track down. Mainly, because the episode doesn’t exist in any form that I know of and because this “film” is really just four episodes of the ’70s British marionette sci-fi show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons poorly chopped up and stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster.

Truth be told, the only way I could watch this was by calling in a favor to an old friend, who then had to call other friends, one of which just so happened to have the original American released f.h.e. VHS tape. My friend was then able to copy it digitally and sent me that file. The quality was shitty but that’s because this old video tape was probably warped and sitting in a box in a basement for close to four decades.

Since I am trying to review every single movie ever featured on MST3K, I couldn’t let this one elude me.

So here we are. I’ve seen it but other than completing my mission of reviewing ever MST3K picture, it wasn’t worth the effort.

To start, I’m not a fan of marionette puppet shows. I could never get into Thunderbirds, Stingray or anything like them. I don’t know why because these things are bizarre and weird enough that I think they should interest me but they all mostly turn into a terrible bore after just a few minutes.

So this one was no different.

But it is made worse by the fact that it really was sloppily edited and hard to follow. Sure, my brain kept trying to turn off but the story was an incoherent mess and because it was really four stories, it just didn’t work being wedged together into a single feature.

All in all, I don’t regret having to go through what I did to see this with my own eyes but its one of those things where its all about the journey and not the reward, I guess.

If you have an interest in this, you can actually just watch the show itself, in HD, with Prime Video. I checked that out for a bit and it is much better seeing this in its original form.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other MST3K features that were just sci-fi TV shows edited into full length “films”.

Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: Return to Oz (1985)

Also known as: Oz, The Adventures of the Devil In the Sky (working titles)
Release Date: June 21st, 1985
Directed by: Walter Murch
Written by: Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Deep Roy

BMI (No. 9) Ltd., Oz Productions Ltd., Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Distribution, 113 Minutes, 110 Minutes (“uncut”), 109 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“I have always valued my lifelessness.” – Tik-Tok

I saw this in the theater when it came out. I’m not sure how this was a kid’s movie because it scared the shit out of me. Granted, it scared the shit out of me in that really cool way that made me re-watch the film again and again once I copied it onto my own VHS after renting it. Yes, I was a bootlegger creating my own entertainment library at six years-old.

Anyway, usually things that I found scary as a kid aren’t scary in adulthood. However, the two key creepy scenes in this film still hold up and are actually still effectively creepy. In a time when kids are much bigger pussies than my generation, this movie would wreck six year-olds’ brains.

The two scenes I’m talking about are the introduction of the evil Wheelers and the hall of severed heads, especially when their headless host awakes and the heads all come to life in their glass display cases.

In fact, that latter scene is pretty over the top and kind of a mindfuck even though I know it’s coming and honestly, that’s incredibly rare for a movie rated PG.

Moving beyond those two moments, the film itself is still pretty damn dark. I mean, any film that starts with a child being locked up in an asylum and about to receive electroshock therapy is quite unsettling.

Unfortunately, despite a few moments with some imagination and potential, the picture as a whole is kind of drab and definitely fifteen or so minutes too long.

The whole third act is really drawn out.

Once Dorothy and her friends get to the Nome King’s mountain, things screech to a halt. It’s not that this portion of the film is uninteresting, it’s just dragged out to an ungodly length and moves at a snail’s pace.

I still really enjoy the flick as a whole and it’s worth a watch for fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. However, it lacks energy in most places and getting from one sequence to the next can be like waiting for an elderly turtle to pull his dangling balls across a pool of molasses.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Oz films, as well as ’80s family fantasy movies.