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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Stephen King fans know he hated Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for trivializing Jack Torrance’s alcoholism, and improvising on the evil powers of The Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep, King’s sequel to The Shining, seems to exist, in part, to right some of the wrongs King saw in Kubrick’s movie.

Unfortunately, director Mike Flanagan, the man behind the excellent and creepy Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, made the decision to incorporate Kubrick’s film into his own cinematic adaptation of Doctor Sleep. The results are a mixed bag of genuinely scary moments and passages that make the film too dependent on the glory of Kubrick. Simply put: It’s not a good idea to try to re-create a Kubrick moment without Kubrick’s involvement.

The film starts in 1980, with Danny Torrance riding around the Kubrickian Overlook on a big wheel—and making that dreaded stop at Room 237, where that old lady stayed in the bathtub way too long. The film then jumps ahead to Dan as an adult, played by Ewan McGregor. Dan, like his daddy before him, drinks a lot. He also still has discussions with the now-dead Hallorann (played by Carl Lumbly here). Dan not only still “shines” (communicates telepathically); he also talks to dead people.

The monsters in this movie would be The True Knot, a band of gypsies who look like they are killing time between Burning Man and a Phish concert. Their thing is to hunt down children who can shine, like Danny Torrance did in the original Shining. When they find them, they murder them and eat their essence, which leaves the body as steam. In other words … they are basically vaping not-quite-immortal vampires.

The Knots are led by Rose the Hat (a spooky Rebecca Ferguson), named so because, well, she wears a hat. Rose is the one who rations out the steam for her Knot crew, which they keep in thermoses. This element of the film, along with Ferguson’s disturbing performance, gives Doctor Sleep some memorably scary moments. A sequence in which a young baseball player (Jacob Tremblay, making the most of a few screen minutes) encounters the Knots is as harrowing as anything you’ll see in a movie this year.

In some ways (which I won’t give away), King gets a chance for some do-overs. Some of the scenes and themes in Doctor Sleep reference parts of King’s original novel, as well as the sequel book. King has long bemoaned the ending of the Kubrick’s film, and I can see why he might like the Doctor Sleep conclusion.

Unfortunately, this movie was better when it wasn’t hanging around the Overlook Hotel. The moments in the Overlook, although visually impressive, feel like little more than a stunt, because there’s no real viable reason for the protagonists to be running around in Kubrick’s nightmare. Doctor Sleep works fine when it’s about a nasty band of soul-suckers messing with the kids who have special powers. It’s a confused mess when it tries to do Kubrick. It’s as if this film is trying to provide further relevance and depth to the ghosts and deranged characters who haunted Kubrick’s Overlook—which is simply not necessary. What Kubrick did doesn’t need to be monkeyed with, yet that’s exactly what Doctor Sleep does, especially in the finale. There’s a sequence near the end that is supposed to be the scary payoff, but instead, it led me to unintentional laughs.

McGregor is good in the central role, and Ferguson is fine as the villain. Kyliegh Curran is great as Abra, a young girl who partners with Dan to battle Rose.

Flanagan could’ve cut out much of his expensive Overlook finale—it runs longer than 2 1/2 hours—and he probably would’ve had a better, more cohesive film. Instead, Doctor Sleep winds up being an elaborate imitation of—and a strange sort of King apology for—a classic Kubrick film.

Doctor Sleep is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

One of the better films of the 1990s finally gets a sequel as Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and the boys swing back into action.

After being gone two decades following the heist after which he skipped town with all of the money, screwing over his gang mates, Mark finally returns home—and the circumstances are grim. Best friend Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) remains pissed; Spud (Ewen Bremner) is an absolute suicidal mess; and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is fresh out of prison—after an escape—and looking for some payback.

Director Danny Boyle also returns, and he’s put together a film that, while not nearly as good as the original, is a sequel worthy of the original. It’s fun to see these characters again, and interesting to see where the years have taken them. (Basically, not very far.)

Heroin addiction, a big part of the original, is more of an afterthought in this one, although Spud’s ongoing addiction is dealt with, and two of the main characters relapse for at least one scene. The movie deals mostly with Mark’s efforts to repair friendships, and Begbie’s still-psychopathic behavior.

In America, this film barely played cinemas, although it did have success overseas.

Special Features: You get a commentary from Danny Boyle and a sitdown Q&A with Boyle and the cast.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s wonderful animated musical from 1991, is the latest feature to get placed on the Disney Live Redo of a Beloved Animated Movie Assembly Line, with a big-budget effort starring Emma Watson as the iconic Belle, and Ewan McGregor as a CGI candelabra.

You may be asking yourself, “Is this absolutely necessary?”

The answer: No. No, it is not.

Then, you may ask yourself, “OK, if it isn’t necessary, is it at least an enjoyable pastime, for I like enjoyable pastimes? They help distract me from all of this trivial shit in my head.”

The answer: Why, yes, it is an enjoyable movie, even if it is completely unnecessary.

The movie isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the original like, say, Gus Van Sant’s time-wasting Psycho effort. However, it does follow a lot of the same plot points and incorporates enough of the musical numbers to give you a sense of déjà vu.

Thankfully, Watson makes it worthwhile—Hermione makes for a strong Belle. Since director Bill Condon retains the music from the original animated movie, Watson is asked to sing, and it’s pretty evident that Auto-Tune is her friend. She has a Kanye West thing going.

As the Beast, Dan Stevens gives a decent-enough performance through motion-capture. The original intent was to have Stevens wearing prosthetics only, but he probably looked like Mr. Snuffleupagus in the dailies, so they called upon the help of beloved computers. The CGI creation blends in nicely with his human side.

The cast and crew labor to make musical numbers like “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” pop with the creative energy of the animated version, but they don’t quite reach those heights. They are nicely rendered, for sure, but not on the masterpiece level that was the ’91 film. As for the romance between Belle and the Beast, it has a nice emotional payoff. In a way, the movie is a sweet tribute to the animated movie, rather than being a movie that truly stands on its own.

Where does Beauty and the Beast stack up with the other recent re-dos of animated Disney classics? I would put it well above Pete’s Dragon, but below Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which were more solid efforts and felt a little more original.

There are worse things to do in cinemas right now than watch a good-enough retake on a Disney movie starring one of your favorite members of the Potter universe and that guy from Downton Abbey. Beauty and the Beast is nice, yet ultimately disposable, fluff. Let’s face it: Disney has the money to throw away on ventures such as this, and given the box office takes, this train is going to keep on rolling.

If you like Disney redo fluff, there’s more coming. The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, Peter Pan and Mulan are just a few of the remakes in the pipeline. Actually, pretty much everything they’ve done up until now is being remade. Universal has a Little Mermaid movie on the way, yet Disney still has plans to release their own live version of their animated gem. Winnie the Pooh and Cruella (the villain from 101 Dalmatians) are all current projects.

In short, with this juggernaut, Star Wars and Marvel all under the same dome, Disney is so big, they will be governing the planet soon. Stay tuned for Disney Health Care, a Disney Missile Defense System, and Mickey Mouse for president.

Oh, wait … that last one has sort of happened already.

Beauty and the Beast is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Don Cheadle makes an impressive directorial debut with Miles Ahead, a crazy biopic that is mostly fiction—but all fun.

Cheadle plays jazz-trumpeter Miles Davis, hibernating from public life in the late ’70s, when a Rolling Stone reporter (Ewan McGregor) shows up at his door looking for a comeback story. The film then turns into a comedy thriller of sorts as Davis tries to track down a missing tape from his latest sessions—something that never really happened. It’s all just an excuse to use Miles Davis in a goofy story, and somehow, it all works.

Cheadle is pure awesome as Davis, even doing some impressive trumpet-miming. (Cheadle, like Ethan Hawke in the recent Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue, learned how to play trumpet for the part.)

The film switches between Miles in the ’70s and Miles in the ’60s dealing with relationship struggles. No, the movie doesn’t really focus much on the actual music. It’s more of a weird trip inspired by the music.

Michael Stuhlbarg is good as a shady record producer, and McGregor has a lot of fun as the shifty reporter who will do anything for a scoop.

Cheadle has made a good-looking, and good-sounding, movie to go with his strong performance. It’s not going to win any awards for accuracy, but it’s a fun movie with a Cheadle performance well worth any music-lover’s time.

Miles Ahead opens Friday, April 22, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Cinémas Palme D’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730); and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342).

Published in Reviews

Tracy Letts’ play came to the big screen with a big cast featuring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and others.

After a family tragedy, a group of sisters and their husbands/boyfriends return home to Texas and their dying mother (the Oscar-nominated Streep). Mom was mean when they were growing up, and she remains mean in her dying days, much to the annoyance of daughter Barbara (Roberts, also Oscar-nominated); she is doing her best not to follow in mom’s footsteps.

The cast is strong, with most of them turning in great work, including Juliette Lewis, who does her first truly good acting in a long while. The lone exception would be Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the slow sibling. He’s just all wrong for the part.

Sam Shepard makes a brief but memorable appearance as the family patriarch. While his screen time is short, his character plays a large part in the film.

The movie is super-dark and ugly, and full of people acting like true jerks. While the story isn’t anything all that new, the cast makes the film worth seeing.

The ending feels a bit tacked on; in fact, it was tacked on: The studio didn’t find the original ending to be suitable, so they insisted on this new one.

Special Features: There’s a director’s commentary (something that’s been rare on recent Blu-ray releases), deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tracy Letts’ play has come to the big screen with a big cast, including Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and others.

After a family tragedy, a group of sisters, accompanied by their husbands/boyfriends, return home to Texas and their dying mother (played by Streep). Mother was mean when they were growing up—and she remains mean in her dying days, much to the annoyance of daughter Barbara (Roberts), who is doing her best not to follow in mother’s footsteps.

The cast is strong, with most of them turning in great work—including Juliette Lewis, who turns in her first strong performance a long while. The lone exception: Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays a slow member of the family. He’s just all wrong for the part.

The movie is super dark and ugly, and full of people acting like true jerks. While the story isn’t anything new, the cast makes it worth seeing, thanks to the power of their performances.

August: Osage County is playing at the Century Theatres at the River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940); Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 760-323-4466); and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615).

Published in Reviews

Naomi Watts got nominated for an Oscar for playing Maria in The Impossible (out this week on Blu-ray), based on a real woman who fought for her life in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

She should’ve taken home the gold.

There aren’t too many performances that grab me like Watts’ performance does in this one. She is an acting force, as is Ewan McGregor as her husband, Henry, and Tom Holland as her oldest boy, Lucas. This is one of last year’s better ensembles.

While vacationing in Thailand, Maria and Lucas are separated from the rest of the family when disaster hits. The tsunami scene is amazingly well-done; you get a true sense of its awesome, destructive power, and the dangers in those rushing waters. The wave was re-created on a soundstage, but it looks like an actual tsunami. The authenticity of the moment is bolstered by putting Watts and Holland in the water; yes, that’s them holding a mattress as it is tossed about.

Watts’ character spends the majority of the movie in awesome pain. (The injuries are the stuff of nightmares.) She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue; this is a very physical performance, and it will always stand as one of her best.

McGregor handles some of the movie’s heavier emotional moments, and he does this with his usual standard of excellence. Holland, making his on-screen film debut (his lone previous credit was voicing a cartoon character), is a revelation. He isn’t overshadowed by the powerhouse performances by Watts and McGregor; he matches them.

Special Features: There is a director’s commentary that includes Maria Belón, the actual survivor portrayed by Watts. You also get some deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes about casting and the special effects.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Jack the Giant Slayer will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history.

Using a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, director Bryan Singer—who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked)—has put together a visual mess.

The movie features live actors performing along CGI giants, and the live action doesn’t integrate with the effects at all. The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn’t just make this a CGI animated adventure. It’s not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing.

The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (who was very good in Warm Bodies). He plays the title character with enough charm to make the movie almost tolerable, but that’s it. Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci have supporting roles, and they actually register more than Hoult.

Unlike in the classic fairytale, Jack must go up against an army of giants. Those giants are created via motion-capture animation that is never convincing or impressive. In fact, the lineup of giant characters looks quite bad.

It doesn’t help matters that the lead giant, a two-headed villain named General Fallon, is voiced by Bill Nighy. Nighy, of course, voiced the Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and his work here is very similar. In other words, you’ll spend the movie being constantly reminded of his better performance as a more-interesting villain in another picture. It also doesn’t help that Fallon’s simpleminded second head is a total Gollum rip-off.

The movie is rated PG-13, but don’t take the little kids. Singer inserted many violent moments in which the giants dispatch human victims, often by biting the humans’ screaming heads off. Granted, Singer doesn’t show the bloody aftermath, but it’s pretty shocking for what’s supposed to be a family film.

People get stomped, too, like Charles Grodin in the 1976 version of King Kong, which I just re-watched on Netflix the other day. The ’76 version of Kong was better than Jack the Giant Slayer, because Rick Baker in a monkey suit was more convincing than the CGI giants in Jack. Plus, Jessica Lange was really hot.

As the reluctant princess who runs away from her puny king dad (Ian McShane), relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson doesn’t exactly light up the screen. This isn’t necessarily her fault, considering that the screenplay provides her with nothing but flat dialogue, and the wardrobe department makes her wear silly hats.

McGregor fares best and has a couple of good moments, including a sequence in which he almost winds up as a pig in a blanket. Tucci is saddled with a goofy wig and goofy teeth. He looks like he thinks he’s playing somebody funnier—but he isn’t funny.

For the kids, Singer allows for a few farts and boogers. I suppose he thinks that balances it all out: Yes, giants rip heads off screaming victims in this movie quite often, but I will throw in a couple of farts to keep the kids laughing.

I’m curious why Warner Bros. moved this from its original release date last summer. Is it because they wanted to do some more work on the special effects in an effort to make them look better? (If so, they failed.) Or did they know they had a stinker on their hands, so they decided a March release would lessen the competition?

Either way, they have a history-making stinker on their hands.

Up next for Singer is X-Men: Days of Future Past. That’s encouraging news; let’s just hope none of the X-Men fart, pick their nose or bite somebody’s head off.

Jack the Giant Slayer is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews