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Review: Doctor Sleep

Theatrical Release Poster

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. I’ve never been someone who read any of Stephen King’s books growing up, so my only experience towards The Shining has been through Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie. The way the movie ended was satisfying and emotionally resounding. As such, the idea of any sequel felt iffy, even if based on a book by the original author. On top of that, the initial trailers made me feel like the movie was just going to be a series of Shining references without real substance. Thankfully, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep manages to stand on its own two feet and genuinely surprised me in its depth and presentation.

The story follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he attempts to get over his horrifying experience at the Overlook hotel. He’s a rugged adult now and the film takes time at the beginning to really flesh out what we know about him and his motivations. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you know that I’m okay with the dreaded “slow burn” movie. However others may find this first hour slow and uneventful. There’s no real inciting incident or immediate answers to the events that we witness. Instead, we’re forced to take time getting to know the primary cast and their motivations. This makes the more serious and tense moments in the second and third act that much more exciting. I felt scared because I cared about the characters and knew what they were thinking and going through. Character decisions do get more “interesting” in the third act, but they never brought me out of the moment during the watch so I didn’t think too much about them. Even now they don’t seem like major issues and don’t detract from the more important moments, but it may annoy some viewers.

Acting is great all around. Ewan McGregor really sells the trauma that motivates and influences Dan’s actions. He’s asked to be a man at wit’s end in one moment and then a confident leader in another. Likewise, Kyliegh Curan’s performance as Abra stone manages to cover a wide range of emotions. She’s confident and bad ass when she needs to be, but when she’s scared it’s understandable. As a child actor, I’m even more impressed and appreciated how well Curan and McGregor played off each other. Their relationship is really cute and helps give the story a lot of it’s emotional weight. However, any review of Doctor Sleep that didn’t mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as as the main antagonist, Rose the Hat, would be horribly remiss. She absolutely captures the camera whenever she shows up. She oozes charisma, intelligence, malice, but also a deep emotional attachment to her “family.” It makes her a nuanced villain. Yes, she’s evil – but she’s so fun and suave with it that you can’t help but appreciate the lengths of what she’s willing to do.

I appreciated Flanagan’s recast of the Shining characters. I watched the movie with a friend, who thought that the dis similarities between the new actors/actresses versus the original actors/actresses was distracting. I can understand why and this may be something that puts viewers off. However, I do think each of the recasts captures the “spirit” of the original character. I could believe each of the actors/actresses as their characters , even if they weren’t great at cloning their original actor/actress as that character. There is one scene in the third act where I thought the differences were a bit too strong, but it didn’t distract me too much. Honestly, considering the alternative – a ton of CGI – I’m glad the more practical option was used. If IT 2’s de-aging showed me anything, it’s that technology still has limits.

The movie is crisply shot like all of Flanagan’s previous works. Nothing really surprised me in terms of composition or sound. However, that is not to say that scenes do not look cool. The movie has a lot of action moments that absolutely looked stunning and felt like they were ripped out of an manga or comic book. If you’ve seen Naruto and ever wanted to see real genjutsu fights, this movie has them and they are gorgeous.

I did appreciate all the homages to the original film in both the shot composition and track design. The third act honestly felt like a huge gush of fan-service, which I personally enjoyed. It felt like a nod at fans of the original and I liked it for what it was. It didn’t feel like it took anything away from the plot of the movie at hand. I do think some of the references could’ve been taken away because the movie felt like it could have been a tad bit shorter, but I didn’t mind it.

Thematically the movie focuses on responsibility and the extent of what our obligations are to others. The question is made more interesting by the philosophical questions raised by the scope and use of the “shining” power. I was surprised by how much the movie was making me think about how I would react in similar situations. Although , I think that some of the threads are answered haphazardly, the way the movie ended had me smiling. Based on the discussions I’ve been having, I definitely want to read the source material for both films and go through the experience again. This adaptation deserves that.

Rating

TLDR: Doctor Sleep is a beautiful movie that manages to balance both horror and action. It features one of the best villains of 2019 and is a fun ride the moment psychic shenanigans start happening.

Final Rating: 9.4/10 . This is the best King adaptation of 2019 and there have been a lot. If you ever wondered what happened to Doc after the events of The Shining, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Black Swan

Theatrical Release Poster

Let go. Maintain control. The two impulses seem diametrically opposed to one another. Letting go implies a sense of giving in to drive and impulse, but maintaining control is always portrayed as a denial of the same. Perfection is the balance between two and Darren Aronofsky’s psychological-thriller, Black Swan, follows Nina (Natalie Portman) as she attempts to find that balance in her upcoming ballet performance in Swan Lake.

The first shot of the movie is phenomenal and sets up both the surreal and phantasmic nature of movie , but also places Nina’s life squarely in the context of Swan Lake. She is the white swan- placed in the position of the pure and innocent. Incredibly fragile. It’s the first thing we see her thinking about- her ability to perform in the piece is something that is constitutive of her and her sense of being.

Portman’s performance is haunting and shows the strain and anguish that comes from the pressure to achieve perfection. She feels like a child- diverting her eyes away during conversation, whispering to herself, and crying in fear. Watching her brutal and tense transformation feels that much harder because of how well the anguish is shot and portrayed. Every injury and bruise feels visceral and hard to keep looking at. I could not stop clenching my wrists during certain tense scenes.

Mirrors are utilized with precision. They’ve always been symbolically associated with ourselves. A way of ascertaining our identity- looking into our true selves. Every scene with a mirror in this movie feels like it has a purpose- not just in a superficial “identity is multifaceted” kind of way – but as thought they represent a deep inner conflict between multiple inner selves. They also represent duality which reinforces the divide and conflict between the black and white “swans” Portman must embody.

The movie never spends too much establishing detail- there’s always a suspicion that certain things are afoot- characters are more perverse than they let on. Not focusing on the details does help create the fleeting artistic feeling which accentuates the transformative nature of the movie . Personally I liked how certain things were more open ended, but if you like everything clear cut and laid out for you- this may not be your cup of tea.

However, this does cause a weird sense of lack to develop. Certain subplots are brought up to help accentuate themes, but they don’t get resolved which makes them feel like plot devices as opposed to natural interactions. These inconsistencies also stick out more given the lengths the early portions of the movie take to make the environment “dark”.

Rating

TLDR: Black Swan is a beautiful tale of the price of perfection that will have you questioning what you’re really seeing. There are some slight narrative “forces”, but they don’t detract at all from Portman’s haunting and disturbing performance.

Final Rating: 9.4/10. If you enjoy deep character takes or movies that play with reality vs fantasy this movie should be right up your alley. I felt tense the entire film and was left speechless at the ending.

In lieu of the usual spoiler page, click here, to read my spoiler intensive analysis of the movie.

Review: Scream

1996 Theatrical Poster
Director(s)Wes Craven
Principal CastNeve Campbell as Sidney
David Arquette as Dewey
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers
Jamie Kennedy as Randy
Release Date1996
Language(s)English
Running Time 111 minutes

Movies don’t create psychosmovies make psychos more creative! ” No sentiment could better describe, Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher film/satire Scream. The movie chronicles the journey of Sidney Prescott, portrayed by Neve Campbell, and her friends as her small town is struck by a series of gruesome and horrific murders.

The opening scene of the movie really sets the pace of the whole film and I was shocked by the end of the movie, at how brilliantly the themes of the beginning shot are kind of followed through. Casey Becker, played fantastically by Drew Barrymore, starts her night off nonchalantly, and playfully entertains the phone-calls from her soon to be killer. But within the first few moments, the mood turns sinister and a Dutch angle is used to exemplify the tonal shift- something’s wrong.

Skip to 30 seconds to see what I’m talking about.

Introduction to Scream

This is repeated through the movie. There’s always a shift in perspective when something is off.

The visual effects were also amazing. Watching the movie, I never felt like I was watching something aged. The deaths were just as gruesome and I was blown away with how intricate some of the early deaths in the movie were portrayed.

Complimenting the narrative is one of the most imaginative scores I’ve heard in a horror film. There were a lot of songs that either served to foreshadow scenes there were to come or were just impactful because they didn’t feel like something that’d belong in a horror movie. For example, Youth of America, which sounded awesome, just felt really high octane like something you’d hear in an American Pie-esque movie, but after listening to the lyrics it just works.

Finally, the plot is amazing and filled with twists and turns, as you desperately try and figure out who the actual killer is. There were multiple times where I thought someone was the killer, just like certain characters on screen, but then the movie would do something to caution me against that belief. Then when I would least expect it, new information would be revealed that eroded my previous certainty in the situation. This describes the whole movie and that’s what it makes it genuinely scary. You honestly feel unnerved. You’re never certain what’s going to happen

The constant stream of horror references really reinforces the point and makes the movie that much more enjoyable if you consider yourself something of a horror buff. Whenever a movie is referenced, the movie usually tries to parody an element from the same which gives you cool Easter eggs. But more importantly, those allusions create expectations of certain rules characters should follow and constantly subverts them which only adds to the tension.

Unfortunately, the number of references also feels like kind of a problem at times. This may just be because I’m trying to watch the movie years later or because I haven”t seen a lot of the movies, but it almost felt like the movie kept trying to drop more and more names, and I became less interested because it started feeling too convoluted. This wasn’t a serious issue, but was something that I started feeling near the end of the movie.

Tone also felt a bit mishandled at some times- almost as if the transitions were a bit rough. The film does try to be scary, a satire, and a form of black comedy, but the serious feel of some of the scenes make comedic bits feel a bit out of place. It did work well most of the time, so I don’t think it’s too big of an issue.

Report Card

TLDRScream is filled with twists and turns and brilliantly pokes fun of and subverts tropes. You may feel a bit lost, but no matter what you’re in for in for a phenomenal mystery and a great time.
Rating9.3/10
GradeA


Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!