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

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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

Movie Review: ‘Good Boys’ Presents a Panic-Riddled, But Also Fundamentally Romantic View of Life for Today’s Youth

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CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams, Will Forte, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Josh Caras, Lil Rel Howery, Retta, Millie Davis

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Typical R-Rated “We’ve Got to Get the Party!” Shenanigans, But This Time Involving 6th Graders

Release Date: August 16, 2019

Are kids growing up faster than they used to? It’s a question that every generation ass once they become adults, and I am usually inclined to believe that that worry (or at least the generalized version of it) is a bunch of hooey. It all depends on everyone’s unique circumstances, which vary around the planet and within the same neighborhood. Some kids are forced to grow up fast while others have eternal childhoods. But if the example of Good Boys is a representative sample of where we are in 2019, then the youth do indeed have a lot more than ever to contend with. Drugs and raging hormones are as much a factor as they’ve ever been – throw drones into the mix, and look out!

I can confidently say that when I was in sixth grade, I never had a day that got as absurdly out of hand as the one that “Beanbag Boys” Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) endure. (Heck, I never had a day like that in my teens or twenties either.) They’ve been invited to a co-ed party that promises to include kissing, and in a desperate effort to do it right, they end up spying on their supposedly nymphomaniac (“someone who has sex on land AND sea,” according to Max’s understanding) neighbor and then lose the drone that belongs to Max’s dad (Will Forte, the sort of achingly sweet father who should really adopt everyone). This then leads to broken bones in a bicycle chase, selling a sex doll to Stephen Merchant, running across six lanes of highway traffic, trapping a cop played by Sam Richardson in a convenience store with a dildo stuck on the door, and shooting their way out of a fraternity with paint guns. These are the sorts of shenanigans we’ve seen young cinematic partygoers get up to for decades, but those troublemakers are usually at least a few years older. In this case, the situations are as uproarious as any, but it’s tempered by how out of control everything feels. These are sweet kids who let panic get the best of them, and I can’t help but feel vicarious parental pangs for them.

It’s thus hard to fully embrace Good Boys, as it is quite stressful to watch twelve-year-olds contend with crises they’re nowhere near fully equipped to handle. But there is one element I greatly appreciate, and that is the matter of consent. It is underlined over and over in this movie that if you want to lock lips with your crush, you must ask first if they’re also into it. And when those moments happen, far from killing the mood, they instead increase the romance to an almost unbearably cute degree. Kids today might be dealing with a lot of pressure, but if they’re also being taught the importance of consent from a young age, then I’m not completely worried about the future.

Good Boys is Recommended If You Like: Superbad, Blockers, and weirdly enough Rock of Ages

Grade: 3 out of 5 Beanbag Boys

This Is a Movie Review: Shane Black’s Version of ‘The Predator’ Has Some Interesting Ideas, But It Could Have Benefited From a Few More Drafts

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CREDIT: Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Jacob Tremblay, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski

Director: Shane Black

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Plenty of Blood and Even More Guts, Tourette’s-Style Profanity, and Predator Sex References

Release Date: September 14, 2018

The Predators from Predator aren’t really predators. They’re sportsmen, hunting for the thrill of it instead of for sustenance. If there’s one thing that The Predator wants you to know, it’s this. And also that “The Predator” is a cool name, so it doesn’t really matter that it’s not accurate. This edition is filled with ideas, most of them more high-minded than the title character’s etymology. That is to be expected, considering that writer/director Shane Black (who acted in the 1987 original) has made his career on somewhat self-aware and slightly askew takes on the action genre. But by his standards, the ideas on display here are a little undercooked.

It turns out that some Predators may not be entirely motivated by killing. In fact, there is now at least one rogue Predator who is interested in helping earthlings survive. That is the idea driving the plot, as Army Ranger sniper Quinn (Boyd Holbrook) procures some valuable Predator tech that multiple parties are interested in retrieving. But this film’s most compelling idea is its definitive stance that spectrum disorder is the next step in human evolution. Boyd’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who gets his hands on his dad’s discovery, is somewhere on the spectrum. His condition is not especially debilitating; it mainly manifests itself in an aversion to loud noises and an aptitude towards accurately interpreting alien devices. He becomes a person of interest to all sides in this struggle, and it is a fairly rewarding avenue for this story to take.

But the issue is, for as much as The Predator wants to grapple with these weighty concepts, the majority of its substance consists of cheeky jokes and action set pieces, which are only sporadically satisfying. There is plenty of energy from a motley crew of military prisoners, like Keegan-Michael Key’s aficionado of “Yo momma” jokes and Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s spouter. But getting in the way of it all are inconsistent explanations about how to dispatch Predators. Do you shoot them in the head? Wear them down with multiple hits until they finally start to fall? Do you need to get their armor off? Sometimes each of those options works, but other times they don’t. Also, there are these Predator dogs that are actually kind of cute but I’m not sure what their purpose is. And that’s pretty much how this whole film goes: it’s pretty cool, but I’m not entirely sure what its purpose is.

The Predator is Recommended If You Like: The Hulk Dogs from Ang Lee’s Hulk

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Predator-Human Hybrids

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Wonder’s’ Lessons in Kindness Are Obvious, But Timelessly Valuable

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CREDIT: Lionsgate Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Noah Jupe, Ali Liebert, Danielle Rose Russell, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, Elle McKinnon

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG for Middle School Bullying

Release Date: November 17, 2017

If you plan on seeing Wonder, please do yourself a favor and bring tissues. That is not a mark of quality in either direction, just a fair warning of what you’re in for. Of course, if you know the premise of the film, chances are you could have guessed as much. The story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a congenital facial deformity struggling to fit in at middle school, could not be anything but emotional. But the explanation for Wonder’s knack for keeping the waterworks running for two hours straight goes beyond the obvious. This is the type of movie in which rhetorically gifted actors make grand pronouncements about the importance of kindness and loyalty. Their insights are far from groundbreaking, sure, but their eloquence is a gift and the realization that people have had the courage to live up to these ideals is profoundly affecting.

Director Stephen Chbosky already demonstrated his emotional bona fides with the adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and with Wonder he has now confirmed himself as one of the best in the business for prompting a good cathartic cry. He pulls it off this time by taking full advantage of the academic setting. School is not just a place for learning how the world works, but also how to be a good person. It helps in that regard when you have dedicated educators, and Auggie has a couple of excellent teachers played by Daveed Diggs and Ali Liebert, and a fantastic principal played by Mandy Patinkin. They are not defined by their quirks but by their love of teaching. Diggs’ Mr. Browne is the type to write inspirational sayings like “our deeds are our monuments” on his chalkboard. It helps to be in an environment that reminds you of such simple, but necessary truths. Patinkin’s bow tie-sporting Mr. Tushman (yes, he’s fine with you laughing at his name) fulfills the bulk of the speechifying. With his words, he is marvelously generous, maintaining and spreading a positive attitude.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s perspective and narration, naturally enough. But it extends that generosity to multiple characters, making this less a story about overcoming physical defects and more one about how there are so many ways we can be cruel to anybody, but it is so much better if we instead reach out with kind gestures. The gift of subjectivity and their own narrated segments is granted to Auggie’s teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie’s best friend Jack (Noah Jupe), and Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). The lesson here is clear and effective: you never know someone else’s full story if you haven’t lived through it, so it is always wise to allow them to share it with you.

Chbosky can be a little haphazard with this subjectivity. It is no big loss that Auggie’s parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) are not afforded their own segments, as we still get satisfying peeks into their interiority. But it would have been nice, for example, if we had gotten a closer look at Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Auggie’s most frequent bully. We do meet his very unreasonable parents, but for a movie that is so kind in all capacities, it stings a little that he does not have more of a chance for redemption.

When you get right down to it, Wonder is simply a force for good in this world, demonstrating as it does that kindness, courage, second chances, and cameos from Chewbacca never go out of style.

Wonder is Recommended If You Like: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dead Poets Society, Room

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Astronaut Helmets

This Is a Movie Review: The Book of Henry

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The Book of Henry has been hailed by some as the next so-bad-it’s-good classic and by others as just one of the worst movies ever. But as I finished watching it, my reaction was, “What’s the big deal?” As I thought it over, though, I realized that some pretty crazy things did happen – Naomi Watts plays video games and buys a gun, Sarah Silverman kisses an 11-year-old on the mouth, Bobby Moynihan doesn’t debut a new catchphrase – but that lunacy does not really take this film to the realm of The Inexplicable. That is because when it comes to the strangest examples of cinema that truly need to be treasured, it is about tone more than plot – the how, not the what. And Book of Henry’s tone just isn’t that singular. It’s maudlin, bland, middle-of-the-road. All the actors are too traditionally competent and/or understated for the weirdness to really land.

Jacob Tremblay is still adorable, though.

I give The Book of Henry 400 “They Did That’s” out of 1000 “Whatever’s.”