Doctor Sleep

2019

Dir. Mike Flanagan

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Kyliegh Curran,

This summer I was lucky enough to visit The Design Museum and see their wonderful exhibition on Stanley Kubrick. Amongst the items they had on display from the Kubrick archives was an original manuscript of Stephen King’s The Shining, complete with margin notes from Stanley Kubrick. It also had a quote from Kubrick explaining that he liked the novel because it went deeper into the psychological aspects of Jack Torrance, and wasn’t just about the supernatural. Kubrick’s film adaptation has gone on to be a horror masterpiece, whilst Stephen King has publicly voiced his outrage at the changes that Kubrick made whilst adapting his novel for the screen. So when director Mike Flanagan took on the task of adapting Doctor Sleep, Sutephen King’s sequel to The Shining, he had a tough job on his hands, pleasing both Stephen King and fans of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal masterpiece.

As you may have already guessed, I’m a big fan of Kubrick’s movies, but I’m also a huge Stephen King fan. I love The Shining, both book and film, even going as far as having Jack Torrance being the only Pop! Vinyl figure I own, and choosing blinds for the spare room based on the pattern being the same as The Overlooks carpet. I’d also read Doctor Sleep the moment it was released, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone of the book Doctor Sleep is very different from The Shining. It’s here that Flanagan faces his biggest challenge, melding together the tone of Kubrick’s movie, with the tone of King’s sequel. It’s a feat that Flanagan achieves with ease. Following on directly from the incidents of The Shining, Doctor Sleep then jumps forwards to the modern day where Danny Torrance is now a grown man and recovering alcoholic, still haunted by the events at The Overlook Hotel. He has tried to hide his shine for years, but soon comes out of hiding when Abra, a young girl with a lot of shine, is targeted by a group known as The True Knot, vampires who feed off the steam of young children with The Shining.

As a pure adaptation of a novel, Doctor Sleep is fantastic. It’s largely faithful to the book, and brings out the best in everything I love about King’s writing. There’s a slight alteration in terms of the style of storytelling. This film is far more linear than King’s book, but for the first two thirds of the movie, this is beat for beat the book I read years ago. Flanagan is fast gaining a reputation for adapting horror novels, with The Haunting Of Hill House bringing the classic novel into the modern age, and now this film. It’s clear to see that he loves the source material that he is working from.

Flanagan also excels in bringing together a fantastic cast. Ewan McGregor is perfect casting for the older Danny Torrance. Bringing a desperation and melancholy to the role. Whilst the young Kyliegh Curran is amazing in a difficult role, one scene in particular where she channels Danny is a great showcase of her talents. Best of all though is Rebecca Ferguson, as Rose The Hat, named for the hat she wears. Rose is the leader of the True Knot, and Ferguson is completely captivating as the main villain of the piece. In fact, the True Knot are all genuinely terrifying.

From Occulus, to The Haunting Of Hill House, and now Doctor Sleep, Flanagan’s films have always dealt with the horror of death, and the question of what lies beyond. In this respect the ghosts of The Overlook are never truly scary in this film, they are there for our characters to come to terms with death. Flanagan’s films suggest that genuinely good people do not have to worry about what comes next. The True Knot on the other hand, are not good. They are most definitely bad, and because of this they fear death above all else. It’s this fear which drives them to torture and kill kids with The Shining for the steam they give off. They feed off of it like a pack of animals, and Flanagan does not shy away from the brutality of their crimes. In a stand-out sequence, they torture and kill a young baseball player, played by the incredibly talented Jacob Tremblay, and in this one sequence Flanagan makes you truly hate and despise the True Knot.

Their agency is the driving force of the movie, and is what sets the difference of tone. The Shining is a psychological horror, and Doctor Sleep is a vampire movie. It’s in the final act of the film that Flanagan manages to deftly merge these two tones into a cohesive one. Bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion which will please both fans of Kubrick’s film and Stephen Kings novel. If the film falters at all it’s in the slightly slow pacing, and the casting of lookalikes to play characters from The Shining. After seeing such fantastic CGI and de-aging techniques in recent films, it is slightly off putting to have an actress who kind of looks like Shelly Duvall.

As a Kubrick and King fan this film was everything I could have hoped it to be, and whilst it doesn’t quite deliver the scares of Kubrick’s classic, this is still expert storytelling which manages to tie together the style of two distinctive masters.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to try and watch Mission: Impossible – Fallout without your draw hitting the floor. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mission films, I loved the first one when I was young, and even though it’s not as good, M:I 2 was one of he first films I owned on VHS. That film almost sank the franchise, until JJ Abrams reimagined it, and since then the franchise has gone from strength to strength, even if the press around Tom Cruise’s stunt work sometimes overshadows the actual movies. In a series first, Christopher McQuarrie returns to direct Fallout after adding his own flavour of old school espionage to Rouge Nation.

Fallout follows Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his rag tag team of IMF agents. After, sacrificing 3 balls of plutonium in order to save the lives of his team, Cruise is forced by CIA head Angela Bassett to team up with CIA thug Henry Cavill to go and retrieve it. Cavil is there to babysit Cruise, and to make sure the mission goes off without a hitch. This proves to be difficult as differing motivations come into play, and the ghosts of Ethan Hunt’s past come back to haunt him.

Sometimes a band will release a couple of albums that are good, but don’t quite work. Each album exploring different musical styles and approaches. Then they will create an album where all of these experimentations coalesce in a way that makes complete sense of what came before. Fallout is that album. It plays like a greatest hits of all that came before, whilst tying everything together in an engaging story. It’s the best Mission Impossible film to date. McQuarrie blends the tension of the first film, the emotional characterisation of the third, and the outrageous stunts of the fourth and fifth film together to create a more than satisfying whole. It’s an adrenaline rush that I haven’t experienced since Mad Max: Fury Road.

Usually with Mission Impossible films you have to talk about the showstopper. The stunt which is getting all the press. In Fallout there are at least four showstoppers. Action set pieces so well put together, you can’t believe what you’re seeing, and made all the more unbelievable by the fact that most of them are done in camera, not against a green screen. Each showstopper offers something different as well, they aren’t just variations on the same stunt. We get skydiving, bike chases, helicopter chases, and the usual M:I special effect of Tom Cruise running. They are all mind blowing. Tom Cruise’s commitment to getting the shot is outstanding, and you’d have to argue that he is now the greatest ever action star to have graced our screens. McQuarrie stages his set pieces against back drops of Paris, London, and mountain ranges to glorious effect. The film looks amazing, and is a complete joy to behold.

McQuarrie had talked about approaching this film in a different way to how he approached Rouge Nation, aware of the fact that each film before had a different director, and a different flavour, he wanted to continue that trend even though he was returning to direct. He succeeds here by blending the jaw-dropping action with the most character driven story to date. Fallout delves into the heart of who Ethan Hunt is, and by pairing him with Henry Cavill, described as the CIA’s hammer compared to Hunt as the scalpel, we see what makes Hunt tick, and that is his desire to save the world with as little civilian casualties as possible. Cruise and McQuarrie play with the idea that Hunt is haunted by every life he thinks he could have saved, and is prepared to sacrifice his own happiness and own life to save just one more person. It’s a great personal battle that plays out on an epic scope; it’s not coincidence that Hunt receives his mission this time in a copy of Homer’s Odyssey.

The best Mission: Impossible film so far, in a series which keeps going from strength to strength. The combination of Cruise and McQuarrie continues to be a potent one, and with great supporting turns from Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson, this may just turn out to be the blockbuster of the summer. The action is spectacular and the story more than keeps up with it. For me this cements Cruises place as the greatest action star ever.

10/10

The Greatest Showman

2017, Uncategorized

The Greatest Showman

Dir. Michael Gracey

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

Coming into The Greatest Showman I was hoping to be charmed. I was a huge fan of La La Land, and with the lyricists behind that hit writing the original songs for this musical, I was hoping to be won over. I’m not a huge fan of musicals, though I’ve seen my fair share, but I’m open minded to them. I did have my concerns though. P.T. Barnum, whilst a fascinating subject, has been accused of everything from animal abuse to racism, and I was concerned about how this film would deal with those issues. My concerns were realised when the film didn’t even try. It’s a tried and tested formulaic musical. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Lamest Showman.

The Greatest Showman is the story of P.T. Barnum. The man who invented show business. The film portrays him as a man who came from nothing, and with nothing but his own imagination and will power, turned himself into one of the most famous and successful men in America. He did this by starting a museum of wax works which soon turned into a circus of odd live acts, everything from trapeze artists to giants, to bearded ladies. The circus works, and we are shown that Barnum’s real flare lies in marketing and selling his visions to the audience. The success of the circus isn’t enough for Barnum, as he wants the respect of the upper class. This comes in the form of Rebecca Ferguson’s Jenny Lind, a European opera singer who Barnum takes on a world tour. This quest to better himself soon has him losing sight of what’s really important, his wife, played by Michelle Williams, and his daughters.

If anything works in The Greatest Showman it’s the performances. Hugh Jackman is undeniably charismatic as P.T. Barnum, finally being able to fully express himself as a song and dance man. This version of Barnum is a good fit for Jackman, and plays to all his strengths. It’s also nice to see Zac Efron back doing what he does best, after years of trying to break free of the High School Musical tag, he fully embraces that part of his talents here as young socialite who falls in with Barnum, and falls in love with Zendaya’s trapeze artist, even though his parents disapprove because of the colour of her skin. Zendaya as well registers strongly, as she transitions from Disney channel star to movie star.

If the performances are strong, it’s the rest of the film that falls down. It’s worrying that each time the film segues into song you feel your whole body squirm with how uncomfortable it feels. It’s cheesy, and not in a knowing way. This is a film which plays to conventions, and never once subverts them. A film in which a characters lowest moment
is turned into a triumph of character within the space of one song. The songs themselves aren’t great either, apart from “This Is Me” none of them really register, and won’t stick around in your head for long. There’s also a lack of characterisation. Great actresses like Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson are left with nothing to do.

If the film doesn’t address the controversy of Barnum’s life, it presents the movie as a fantasy version. Which also comes in handy when explaining the cheap looking special effects. The biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t practice what it preaches. Barnum is celebrated for treating those with oddities as equals, but the film itself never once does this. When we are introduced to the bearded lady, and yes, that’s the only way to describe her because she isn’t given much more characterisation, she’s hidden behind a sheet, and it’s supposed to be a shock when we, the audience, see her. The people in the circus are never shown as more than other. It’s a huge problem. It’s one thing for the film to overlook the exploitation of these people, but it’s another thing for it to exploit the idea of people with differences in exactly the same way.

If La La Land was the re-birth of the musical film, then The Greatest Showman is the death knell of the traditional musical. It’s a film which is never as bold or as unconventional as its protagonist. It’s predicable at every step. It’s schmaltzy and saccharine. It’s all show, but no substance.

4/10