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Film Review: Doctor Sleep

“When I Was A Kid, There Was A Place, A Dark Place. They Closed It Down, And Let It Rot. But The Things That Live There, They Come Back…”

With Hollywood at a particular period in cinematic history where every single word written by the steady hand of Stephen King is set for some form of live action adaptation, with the release of Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two alone this year resulting in very successful box office returns, the release of Doctor Sleep this week reminds that the best King adaptation in the form of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining, has yet to be truly tested even after nearly forty years. With King’s original novel undoubtedly one of his most iconic and well regarded by literary readers, the fear of any sequel to the tale of the Torrance’s and the Overlook Hotel were first raised when Doctor Sleep was published in 2013, and whilst King’s novel passed the time nicely during my university years with some interesting ideas and charming call backs to its’ predecessor, the narrative never held the same sense of supernatural wonder that the 1977 original novel had in spades. Cue the big screen adaptation therefore, one directed by the overly impressive skills of horror aficionado, Mike Flanagan, the mind behind both Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series and of course, Stephen King’s own, Gerald’s Game, and what we have is a movie which succeeds in paying both homage to Kubrick’s classic horror and staying as faithful to the novel of Doctor Sleep as humanly practicable, a decision which ultimately simultaneously both hinders and supports Flanagan’s latest big screen project.

With Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining only carrying a slight sense of faithfulness to the source material in the first place, Flanagan’s movie directly follows events which take place in the 1980 horror classic after a decision was made that most people heading into Doctor Sleep would have probably seen Kubrick’s portrayal of events rather than read the original text, and with a central narrative which follows a now alcoholic and middle-aged Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and his discovery of both others who “shine” and Rebecca Ferguson’s (Mission Impossible: Fallout) band of vampire-esque killers who feed off the “steam” of those inflicted with the power of the shining, Flanagan’s movie for those who would not have read the novel is a substantial diversion from the confines of the Overlook Hotel. Blending mystery, scenes of downright horrific violence and a really beautiful genre aesthetic, Doctor Sleep does have elements of real intrigue, even for someone who has read the source material, but at a staggering two and a half hours, the movie doesn’t half drag at times, particularly when we are exposed to utterly blasphemic reconstructions of scenes from Kubrick’s original movie and a tendency to focus on particular characters who suffer from a unhealthy balance of being both uninteresting and underwritten. The Shining it is not, but as a direct adaptation of a middling King novel, Flanagan’s movie is good enough but fails to ignite the sense of haunting wonder its’ predecessor continues to evoke even after nearly forty years.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Good Boys

 “Tonight Is Our First Middle School Party. There’s Going To Be Girls There. You Know What That Means..?”

With 2019 undoubtedly the year where the coming of age movie has become the weekly norm, this week sees the release of Good Boys, an American teen comedy brought to the big screen by both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg through their production company, Point Grey Pictures, a film studio responsible most recently for the rather excellent, The Disaster Artist, and the mildly entertaining, Long Shot, from earlier on this year. Directed by Ukrainian-born filmmaker, Gene Stupnitsky, in his big-screen debut, Good Boys sees Stupnitsky team up with long-term writing collaborator, Lee Eisenberg, after their extensive work together on the American, and much much better, version of The Office, for a movie which takes the very well-worn and cliched tale of youth and young manhood and spices it up with a impressively hilarious comedic script which results in one of the most surprising and rewarding American comedies in recent history.

Wholly focusing on the trials and tribulations of the self-proclaimed “bean bag boys”, Good Boys sees Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams and the ever improving, Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) as Thor, Lucas and Max respectively, three awkward inbetweeners who upon taking the big step from fifth to sixth grade, are invited to a house party ran by their school’s most popular kid, one who promises the chance for our leading lads to partake in the horrifying encounter they all aren’t prepared for; kissing a girl. As per the difficulty when it comes to this type of story, the tale of teens angst and rife anti-social behaviour isn’t exactly anything original, with the likes of Booksmart this year alone offering a very similar plot, if being a tad more adult and certainly better made on an aesthetic level, but where Good Boys falls down on a basis of freshness and a slight cheap sensibility, it more than makes up for in terms of comedic output, with the razor sharp script offering numerous hilarious set piece, one of which actually made me giggle so much, tears began streaming from my eyes, an effect of which I haven’t experienced from an American comedy in donkeys, and when a comedy works its’ magic to the extent that bodily fluids extract themselves from your body, it’s fair to say that such a movie does its’ job pretty damn well.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Predator

“I Think They’re Attempting Hybridisation. They’re Upgrading On Every Planet They Visit…”

With it being thirty one years since the original Predator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger out muscled Carl Weathers and a brand new monster franchise was violently brought to the attention of Hollywood, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) brings his own particular twist to the series with a direct sequel to the previous entries which features over-inflated ego’s, jaw-dropping violence and an eclectic twist of tones as we see the threat of the titular monster land on the doorstep of Boyd Holbrook’s (Logan) Quinn McKenna, a merciless Army Ranger sniper whose team are swiftly massacred after a mysterious alien ship crash lands on earth. With Black himself famously having a leading role in the original, his penchant for black comedy which has been rife throughout his directorial back catalogue thus far is surprisingly the standout tone of The Predator, a film which attempts to pay respects to the original with ridiculous levels of violence and an overwhelming B-movie sensibility, but a sequel which too ultimately feels nothing more than a slice of popcorn flashiness without the lingering aftershock which made the original release back in 1987 so darn re-watchable even after initial sniffy reviews back in the day. What’s the point of film critics anyhow? Please continue.

Following in the footsteps of the soon-to-be released Mile 22 by disregarding the fundamental laws of film-making by glossing over basic characterisation and seemingly hiring editors who are hooked on some sort of maniacal drug, Black’s movie doesn’t half move like a bullet train, hooking audiences straight into the action as a quick detour into the jungle leads onward to hidden government bases, Halloween covered schools and finally back to the jungle as our titular murderous beast gleefully tears the wide range of cannon fodder violently apart. With Black choosing to focus the heart of the action upon Holdbrook’s shoulders as his character finds himself on the self proclaimed “loony bus” alongside the likes of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Thomas Jane’s (The Punisher) rather forgettable but equally homicidal “troubled” soldiers, the quick quipped banter between the characters at first doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the movie whatsoever but as the movie progresses into more extreme and over the top territory, including a drastically overlong and plodding conclusion, Black’s vision is clearly groundwork for an expanse into wider Predator related territory, and whilst his latest is riddled with flaws and silly mistakes, the best way to view The Predator is to understand what it fundamentally is at heart; a trashy B-movie wannabee.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Wonder

“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”

Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.

Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Room

“Hello Jack, Thanks For Saving Our Little Girl…”

Starting slightly off topic, Lenny Abrahamson’s latest, Room, based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, is a strange case of reminding me of the success of Disney, particularly that of the works by Pixar, in regards to how films such as The Lion King, Wall-E, and most recently, the simply wonderful Inside Out, could take important and sometimes dark subject matters such as loss, human consumption and the development from child to adult, and present them in a fashion both uplifting and engaging for everyone no matter what their age. With Room, a film that similarly has a disturbing, twisted narrative at its’ core, its’ one of those rare cases in cinema in which a film brings with it an abundance of different meanings, whether it be psychological, mental, or particularly, social, and that alone succeeds in making Abrahamson’s latest a riveting success, one that is both emotionally draining as well as being undeniably life affirming, a strange yet incredible combination if ever there was one.

Beginning by delving straight into the lives of Joy and Jack, the mother and son combination held captive by “Old Nick” within the less-than spacious titular “room”, Abrahamson’s latest begins by showing us the world in which the young Jack is all but used to, a world in which life begins and ends with that of the four walls of “room”, a world in which mother Joy has had to endure ever since her kidnapping at age seventeen. From such a setup, a fundamental fear began to arise in fearing what Room could have potentially become if left in lesser hands, with it perhaps playing out in a Panic Room style thriller, one in which substance was left behind in favour of drama and thrills, yet the true winning formula of Room is in its’ tendency to show the events of the film from that of young Jack, where the dark subject matter, although inherently present, is left in a somewhat ambiguous, confused state in line with our young character’s state of mind, brought on by his sudden change of lifestyle and the existence of, Aladdin reference inbound, a whole new world. It is this point of view that allows the film to present a wide range of sociological and psychological problems that the all too real crime of kidnapping and captivity brings across the world. It’s a film that encourages to think outside the box.

Although Brie Larson has understandably been taking all of the plaudits for her simply brilliant portrayal of the captive mother, caught between making a better life for her son in that of “room”whilst being entirely aware of the power of the outside world and its’ effects it potentially could have on her young child, the film no doubt belongs to Jacob Tremblay, the nine year old actor who, in the face of an intelligent, thought-provoking script, portrays the character of Jack in sheer heartbreaking fashion, with his ability to convey the emotions of a socially-inept child, one who is simply baffled and completely frightened at the prospect of understanding the newly found world, truly outstanding. It’s a performance worthy of examination from a wide range of angles, whether it be from that of one either sociological or psychological, and one that deserves all the attention it can possibly get. Tremblay’s performance is one of the many talking points which results in making Room a truly exquisite experience and one that won’t be quickly forgotten. Room is a film of sheer, unquestionable power and one of the strongest of the year so far in the race for Oscar supremacy.

Overall Score: 9/10