‘Doctor Sleep’ Demonstrates That You Can Never Fully Outrun the Darkness of Your Childhood

1 Comment

CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahue

Director: Mike Flanagan

Running Time: 152 Minutes

Rating: R for Creepy Nudity, Shotguns Fired at Supernatural Villains, and an Overall Generally Disturbing Vibe

Release Date: November 8, 2019

The end of 1980’s The Shining did not promise that all would be well for little Danny Torrance. But the opening act of Doctor Sleep is much more encouraging. Danny and his mom Wendy have made it out of the Overlook Hotel, but they haven’t quite escaped it. Danny is still being harassed by the spectral residents, but thanks to a few words of advice from the ghost of Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly taking over for the late Scatman Crothers), he is able to firmly close the door on them and keep them at bay. But cut to thirty years later, and Dan (now played by Ewan McGregor) isn’t looking so good anymore. We meet him anew as an alcoholic getting brutally beaten up at a bar and stealing money during a one-night stand from a single mom after she stole money from him to buy cocaine.

I am not an alcoholic myself, so I do not know what it feels like to deal live with that disease. But now that I have seen Doctor Sleep, I imagine that alcoholism must resemble the experience of being constantly surrounded by relentless supernatural villainy. Or at least I imagine that’s what it feels like for Stephen King, who has been public about his struggles with the bottle and has used it for inspiration in his own work. How else to explain the prologue to Doctor Sleep, which feels like a happy ending, but is instead a red herring that leads into more than two hours of evil letting us know that it’s not done with us? It must be agony to endure all that pain when intellectually you know, as Danny does, how to fight it off but you just cannot bring yourself to do it.

But perhaps that understanding of the darkness is ultimately where Danny is able to draw his strength from. He certainly needs all of it, as there is a new threat in the form of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who leads a band of vagabonds who are basically energy vampires. They are not quite immortal, but they have lived for centuries by feeding off the life force of people with remarkable abilities. They have their sights set on thirteen-year-old Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran), who exceeds perhaps even Danny with her mastery of the shining (which is basically a combination of telepathy and clairvoyance, as well as something akin to astral projection).

One of the biggest pleasures of the film version of The Shining was how it left so many of its striking images ambiguous, often cutting away before we had a chance to make sense of what was happening or even where we were spatially or temporally. Doctor Sleep is at its strongest when it follows this approach, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so as Danny and Abra commune via the shining. Even moments of revisiting specific settings from The Shining do not play as fan service, but rather, they have an ominous sort of “we shouldn’t be here, we’re playing with fire” vibe. The only major misstep is when writer/director Mike Flanagan’s script over-explains what is happening. I haven’t read the Stephen King novel that the film is based on, but King has a reputation of being a little wordy, and that seeps into the film a bit. But otherwise, Doctor Sleep is a solid frightener about how the darkness within human brains can be quite demandingly resilient.

Doctor Sleep is Recommended If You Like: The Shining, But the Stephen King Element More Than the Stanley Kubrick Element

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Mind Tombs

Advertisements

This Is a Movie Review: Christopher Robin

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Disney

This post was originally published on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen, Toby Jones

Director: Marc Forster

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Bumpy Rides on Trains and the Streets of London

Release Date: August 3, 2018

One reason the Winnie the Pooh stories have endured, particularly in cartoon form, is because of their commitment to the intense, occasionally overwhelming, wonders of the imagination. Ostensibly, the original fount of this imagination is Christopher Robin, whose stuffed animals have sprung to life in the Hundred Acre Wood. Christopher Robin the movie, starring Ewan McGregor as the grown-up title character, initially presents itself as being about the importance of retaining your inner child, as Pooh, Piglet, and the rest of the gang return unexpectedly after decades to visit their old friend. But along the way, Marc Forster’s film is powered along by the lessons of treating employees fairly so memorably espoused way back when (and year after year) in It’s a Wonderful Life. The businessmen of Christopher Robin are not quite as warped and frustrated as Mr. Potter, but they prevent people from properly enjoying their time with their spouses, children, and stuffies, and that cannot be abided.

The major conflict is that Christopher is unable to spend a weekend in the countryside with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) because of work commitments. Far from a workaholic who has forgotten how to have fun, he is instead a businessman who is constantly stressed out by the demands of his bosses and his commitment to do what is asked of him. As the efficiency expert at Wilson Luggages, he is tasked with finding the most cost-effective way to lay off staff, and he must have his presentation ready by a Monday morning meeting. He gets to work fulfilling this heartbreaking task, resigned to being stuck in a rigged system. Then Pooh Bear shows up, and through a series of mishaps, Christopher is able to see this problem anew with fresh eyes and discover a way for decent, hardworking people to keep their jobs AND have paid vacation time while still retaining efficiency.

The presence of talking stuffed animals could be played to make Christopher Robin appear insane to the rest of the world, but the Hundred Acre Wood gang is too un-self-conscious to hide their true selves to anyone. Thus, Pooh’s presence is disarming to all his human friends, acquaintances, and audience. His propensity for simple wisdom in the vein of Zen aphorisms is on full display, as he remarks, “it’s usually today” when Christopher Robin screams out, “It’s tomorrow!” and later declares that today is in fact his favorite day. We all can benefit greatly from leaving room for Pooh in our hearts. When life feels like it is just making our floors sticky and breaking our glassware, we just need to take that as an opportunity to assess the situation differently and realize what is really important.

Christopher Robin is Recommended If You Like: It’s a Wonderful Life, Winnie the Pooh cartoons, Making time to vacation with your loved ones

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Honeypots

 

This Is a Movie Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

1 Comment

What up with Disney ransacking its vault to remake its own animated hits into (mostly[-ish]) live-action versions? This is not an inherently bad idea. These are stories that have been told over and over (often in fairy tale form) and will continue to be told over and over, so why not spruce them up with some 21st Century Pizzazz?

What does new-flavor Beauty and the Beast offer over the 1991 toon? Belle’s an inventor, but that does not factor in too much. There is an “exclusively gay moment” for Le Fou, but it is so inconsequential that you might need a study guide to locate it (I certainly did). So ultimately, this is about some legends of acting and singing giving it a whirl. Nothing earth-shattering, but we’re in good hands.

I give Beauty and the Beast 3 Rose Petals out of 5 Snowy Days in June.

This Is a Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

Leave a comment

This post was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova

Director: Danny Boyle

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Pointy Things – Both Body Parts and Devices You Stick Into Your Body

Release Date: March 17, 2017 (Limited)

1996’s Trainspotting features one of the most iconic opening shots in film history, as Ewan McGregor’s feet fall from the sky and then pound the Edinburgh pavement to the inimitable strains of “Lust for Life.” The kickoff to 20-years-later sequel T2 Trainspotting directly calls back to its predecessor, but in a sly way that ensures this is no empty exercise in nostalgia. And really, how could it have ever been that? Getting back together with your junkie criminal mates is not exactly the stuff of teary-eyed reunions. T2 falls short of reaching the landmark status of the original (a nearly impossible task), but its themes (“choose life,” choose whatever the hell you could possibly choose) and hallucinogenic style remain intact.

It has been several years since I saw Trainspotting, and over the course of T2, it becomes abundantly clear how many plot specifics I have forgotten. Luckily this is the type of sequel that fills you in on everything, with enough dreamy flair to prevent any flashbacks feeling like spoon-feeding. Renton (McGregor) has been living in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife; he still runs, but for exercise, not to escape the law. Spud (Ewen Bremner) got clean for a little while, but is now on the brink of suicide. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), in between “running” a family pub, is pulling a sleazy blackmail extortion scheme with the help of his young Bulgarian “girlfriend” Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Franco (Robert Carlyle) is serving a 25-year jail sentence and scheming to get out. And Diane (Kelly Macdonald) is now a lawyer, dropping in for a cameo consultation.

Nobody is thrilled over Renton’s return, considering he stole everyone else’s shares of the drug deal at the end of the first film. But they mostly reconcile enough to commit to Sick Boy’s plan to open a “spa” (i.e., brothel). Franco, fulfilling the wild card role, is off on his own teaching his son how to sell stolen goods; he is much less forgiving when his and Renton’s paths cross.

Whether or not they succeed (or what success even is in this situation) is beside the point. T2 is about taking stock of one’s life, and how unsettling such midlife reflections are with a druggie past (and present). Director Danny Boyle throws out all his tricks to make this chapter simultaneously unsettling, beautiful, and hypnotic. Camera angles are slightly askew, slow motion and freeze frames disrupt the rhythm, and even Snapchat filters are used to great effect. Adding to the surrealism (for non-Scottish audiences) is the impenetrability of the thick accents. There is a bit of fun with subtitles during one Franco scene, but otherwise we are left to our own devices to figure out what the hell everyone is saying. For the most part, I do not even bother with such translation; I would advise you to do the same.

In one unforgettably riveting scene, McGregor resurrects the classic “Choose Life” monologue for a new generation. The rejection (but also pseudo-acceptance) of capitalism inherent in these speeches is what fuels this series. There is plenty left in the tank to continually define the Trainspotting thesis. In just five minutes, McGregor demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt why he would ever want to revisit such an iconic role.

T2 Trainspotting is Recommended If You Like: Sequels That Seem Unnecessary But Turn Out to be Quite Fulfilling

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Needles Shared Between Friends