‘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

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Movie Review: ‘Men in Black International’ is Kind of a Lateral Move as Far as Spinoffs Go

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CREDIT: Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures

Starring: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson

Director: F. Gray Gray

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Gooey Alien Residue

Release Date: June 14, 2019

It’s often a joy to watch professionals perform their jobs competently, so there’s a bit of a thrill to watching Molly (Tessa Thompson) turn into Agent M in the opening act of Men in Black International. After she has an extraterrestrial encounter as a child, she dedicates her life to the goal of joining the secretive alien-monitoring organization, and she is undoubtedly a promising recruit, perhaps one of their best ever. But when it comes to making a film, what we demand isn’t competency so much as artistry. Director F. Gary Gray and his cast and crew have delivered a competent product, and I imagine they had a lot of fun making it. But it is not an out-of-this-world experience, nothing that rocks your sense of reality to its core.

The presence of “International” in the title and the lack of Agents J and K in the lineup seems to promise that we’ll be getting something a little different from what we’ve seen before. And it’s true, this chapter offers plenty that wasn’t on display in MIB‘s 1-3. But we have seen it in other movies in general. There’s the sort of globetrotting typical of Indiana Jones and James Bond, plus a paranoid infiltration angle that calls to mind Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as a spy-within-our-ranks routine we know and love from John le Carré thrillers. Even the alien creature design, which at first glance features plenty of original imagination, may have had some inadvertent inspiration, as one blue fellow looks like the X-Men’s Beast, but with quills instead of fur. (Perhaps it’s a case of convergent evolution?) If the only movies you’ve ever seen are Men in Black, Men in Black 2, and Men in Black 3, then perhaps Men in Black International will expand your consciousness, but for the rest of us, we will continue the search elsewhere for whatever originality remains in the universe.

Men in Black International is Recommended If You Like: Reassembling spare parents

Grade: 2 out of 5 Neuralyzers

This Is a Movie Review: The Kid Who Would Be King

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CREDIT: Kerry Brown/Twentieth Century Fox

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2019.

Starring: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Doris, Denise Gough

Director: Joe Cornish

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Creepy Dark Magic and Middle School Bullying

Release Date: January 25, 2019

In the course of human history, it is always the children’s time to inherit the Earth. Thus, if all is right, then every generation gets the re-telling of the Arthurian legend it deserves. Not only does The Kid Who Would Be King deliver on this front as entertainment, but it is also about how young people, however modest their origins, can rise up to prove themselves and be upright, inspiring leaders. Middle schooler Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) randomly stumbles upon a sword at a construction site, so he pulls it out of a stone and takes it home, totally unaware that it is the legendary Excalibur. He soon finds himself embroiled in a generations-long fight against Arthur’s sister Morgana le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson) as she uses dark magic to take over the world. He teams up with his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and converts some school bullies into allies, rendering the whole affair a lot more noble than you might expect a kid-friendly version of this story to be.

The biggest, and certainly showiest, highlight (as is the case in so many King Arthur stories) is Merlin (Angus Imrie), who here takes the form of a skinny young lad, as he is a wizard with a bit of a reputation for aging backwards. (Patrick Stewart occasionally pops in to play his older version, partly to look the part to anyone who doubts he is an actual ancient wizard.) There are some fish-out-of-water gags that really hit the spot, as Merlin disguises himself as a new schoolmate of Alex’s, declaring himself a “normal, contemporary British schoolboy.” Then there is the mesmerizing way he conjures spells, which is a basically a series of combinations of jazz hands and finger snaps. Imrie must be some sort of champion finger-snapper. Basically, if you like your Excalibur stories to feature jokes about how fast food consists of beetle blood, crushed animal bones, and beaver urine as well as lessons about living according to a code of honor, decency, and bravery, then The Kid Who Would Be King is just what you need.

The Kid Who Would Be King is Recommended If You Like: A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, The Goonies, Thor

Grade: 3 out of 5 Finger Snaps

 

This Is a Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is to Ethan Hunt what Spectre is to James Bond, but not that (transparently) insane and mostly successful. But what I really want to talk about is this idea that Hunt is irreplaceable. The conjecture that there is only person for the most dangerous jobs in the world is certainly compelling, but is it healthy? If we’re talking about how it applies to reality, certainly not. For the sake of the world and for the sake of their personal lives, experts and superheroes should have backups and successors in place. But when we’re talking about the cinematic medium, the calculus is a little different … or is it?

M:I isn’t the only spy and/or insane stunt franchise that has been killing it in the past 20 years, which means we’ve got our backups. And when Tom Cruise finally calls it quits (in a billion years or so), maybe a worthy Ethan Hunt successor will somehow run into our hearts. In the universe where the IMF exists, Hunt really shouldn’t place the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. But since this world is a fictional place, it’s working as it’s supposed to.

I give Mission: Impossible – Fallout 4 Cliffhangs out of 5 Shifting Allegiances.

This Is a Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

I give The Greatest Showman 3 out of 5 Trapezes: http://newscult.com/movie-review-greatest-showman-promotes-p-t-barnums-brand-happiness-enough-surface-level-charms/

This Is a Movie Review: Life (2017)

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

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Beautifully Disturbing Blood Loss

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The paradox of life is that it requires death to be sustained. The paradox of Life is that its successes and failures are both technical, with staging both skillful and sloppy alternately sustaining and choking itself. This combination corresponds thematically with the story, but I do not think it is intentional, and it is frustrating regardless. This is a locked-room creature feature that does not show its hand too early. Once it does, it knows how to drag out the tension, but it also occasionally forgets that knowledge.

The premise here is ideal for instant dread. A six-person crew on board the International Space Station meets a life form that has hitched a ride on a returning Martian probe. Dubbed “Calvin” by a group of stargazing schoolchildren, the creature starts out microscopic but soon starts growing to the point that it is no longer a curiosity and more a threat. I know what you’re thinking: this is Alien, but in space … er, a different part of space. A part of space where your screams can be heard, if only all communication – as is so often the case – had not immediately been destroyed.

There is no escaping the comparisons to Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial horror landmark, but Life does distinguish itself with plenty of philosophical thought lent to the creature concept. Each cell of Calvin has the capacity to fulfill any bodily function. It eventually grows to resemble a crystalline starfish, but it is very much its own new frontier, with its entire body (if that is even the right word) serving as mouth, hands, legs, and whatever else it can use to survive. Also, when it comes down to the resolution, this is more The Thing than Alien. The ISS is not in deep space, but rather close Earth orbit, so if Calvin is not suppressed, there is a very real chance he could consume the whole planet. Life does not shy away from just how nasty that implication is.

The devilish little monster flick that Life mostly succeeds at being is constantly interrupted by a survival tale that fails because no character has any room to come across as a fully realized human being. That is not necessary in a movie like this, but when there is as much dialogue as Life has, it becomes important. But the editing and cinematography seem wholly uninterested in any of that. Shots are frequently cut mid-sentence, effectively garbling the speech, and the look is so washed out, which is fine for generating unease, but annoying when attempting to make sense of facial expressions. Horror often works best by withholding its villain, but the formula is a little different when the monster is by far the most fascinating character.

Life is Recommended If You LikeAlien (though it’s not as well-crafted), The Thing (though it’s not quite as ominous), Tremors (but without the cheekiness)

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Doomed Lab Rats