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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

A modern-day, bullied kid pulls a sword out of a stone and is tasked with saving the world in The Kid Who Would Be King, writer-director Joe Cornish’s attempt to capture the youthful, magical wonder of Harry Potter, mixed with the legend of King Arthur.

While he doesn’t completely fail, this film misses being a true crowd-pleaser, due to a drab directorial style, messy action and moments that are far less clever than they think they are. This one will probably work better on a smaller screen, so wait until it’s streaming.

Do that, and you’ll catch a pretty good performance from Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy) as British school-kid Alex, the fed-up boy who sticks his neck on the line to protect best-bud Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from a bully, Lance (Tom Taylor). Serkis is a little overwrought in some of the film’s more emotionally demanding parts, but he hits the right notes when it comes to Alex’s heroic proclamations after he procures Excalibur from a big rock in the middle of a construction site.

Alex notices that Bedders sounds a lot like Bedivere, and Lance is short for Lancelot, so he figures destiny requires him to knight the two, along with Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Lance’s partner in crime. (King Arthur had a knight named Kay … get it?) They form an unlikely alliance against Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), the banished half-sister of King Arthur who returns as a flying dragon lady and wants to make England the hub for the apocalypse.

Looking a little lost with wild hair and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, Patrick Stewart has a few scenes as an aged version of Merlin. He gives his few moments a fun, goofy touch, but he feels more like a guest star than a real player. For the most part, Merlin appears in the form of a teenager (Angus Imrie), becoming an owl whenever Merlin sneezes. When you add up all the different versions of Merlin, he fails to be a captivating, unified character. He’s just sort of odd.

Cornish, whose lone previous feature-directing credit is the low budget Attack the Block (2011), reportedly procured a $59 million budget for this one, considerably more than the $13 million he got for the prior film. While he showed a scrappy ingenuity in Block, King actually winds up looking like it cost less money than Block to make. The special effects are messy; the action is haphazard; and the overall palette of the film is surprisingly dull for what’s supposed to be a sprightly adventure.

Ferguson, so good in the Mission: Impossible movies, like Stewart, gets little opportunity to make a mark as the villain. When she’s fully transformed into her dragon-lady persona, it looks a little bit like Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Medusa from Clash of the Titans, but not enough to be cool. It’s just derivative and sketchy.

There are worse movies for your kids to see. There’s a good central message about making nice with your classmates and banding together to accomplish things. There’s also a sweet, somewhat moving element involving Alex’s single mom and his missing father. Cornish might do well with a low-key family drama before he again tries a sped-up action adventure. He does all right with the humanity stuff; it’s when he tries to do the magical things that The Kid Who Would Be King falls flat.

This is a muddled attempt to create a new franchise in the post-Harry Potter world. (Don’t get me started on those shitty Fantastic Beasts movies.) I suspect this one won’t be getting any sequels.

The Kid Who Would Be King is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Tom Cruise is his maniac self in Mission: Impossible—Fallout, the sixth installment in the steady franchise—and proof that Cruise is certifiably insane. The movie is one “Wow!” moment after another, and the guy shows no signs of slowing down, even though he’s now 56 years old.

The movie stacks stunt after stunt, featuring Cruise doing everything from jumping out of airplanes, to scaling cliffs, to piloting his own helicopter. It also shows Cruise leaping from one rooftop to another and breaking his ankle against a building—a stunt that shut down production for weeks, but remains in the film, in all its bone-breaking glory.

Do we really care about the plot when some of the best stunts and action scenes ever are here? Thankfully, the plot is a fun, twisted story, so you’ll be interested even when Cruise isn’t risking his life. Yes, there are a lot of, “Hey, haven’t I seen that before?” moments—lots of masks get ripped off, for starters—but the labyrinthine hijinks still feel fresh overall.

No, I’m not going to do much to explain the plot. It wouldn’t really do you any good.

OK, I’ll tell you a little.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on yet another mission to save the world, this time from nuclear terrorists headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the baddie from the franchise’s prior installment, making a welcome return. This time, Hunt is saddled with an “observer” in August Walker (Henry Cavill), tasked by CIA director Erica Sloan (a so-so Angela Bassett) with making sure Ethan and the IMF complete their mission with minimal funny stuff.

Cruise is sick in the head. Thankfully, one part of his sickness makes him willing to pull off movie stunts like the ones mentioned above. Cruise, while reteaming yet again with director Christopher McQuarrie (now the only director to have helmed two M:I films), manages to pull off his most spectacular cinematic feats yet. The skydive sequence, in which Hunt must work to save an unconscious co-jumper before they go splat, is simply unbelievable (in a good way). There’s a motorcycle chase through Paris streets that demands you see this thing on an IMAX screen.

Cavill, whose facial hair in this film has gotten a lot of attention over the last year, gets a chance to stretch out and play someone far more interesting than his Kryptonian dud. Here, he’s a multi-dimensional badass, especially in a bathroom brawl during which Walker and Hunt try to take out a worthy opponent. Cavill shares in the glory of some of the film’s craziest stunts. That’s not him skydiving, though: Cruise, also a producer on the film, forced Cavill to watch that sequence from the ground in favor of a stunt double.

Alec Baldwin, the original Jack Ryan, takes a break from hosting Match Game to show that he can still throw some big-screen punches as Hunt’s new IMF commander. Vanessa Kirby is sinisterly terrific as White Widow, a sly arms dealer Hunt whom must confront. In her second go-round, Rebecca Fergusson’s Ilsa Faust adds many elements of surprise. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames deliver their usual, competent support. Lorne Balfe’s score deserves a big round of applause for its adrenaline-inducing contributions.

No matter how much money this movie makes, Cruise needs to slow down at some point. In some ways, Mission: Impossible—Fallout feels like it could be the franchise capper. It’s hard to think of any way Cruise could top what he puts onscreen, action-wise.

Then again, I probably started saying stuff like that when the original Mission: Impossible came out.

Mission: Impossible—Fallout is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Life, the new sci-fi/horror film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, is an inconsistent but overall sturdy genre pic that looks great and ultimately delivers the goods, despite a few slow patches—and a couple of remarkably dumb moments.

Credit director Daniel Espinosa for setting a grim tone and sticking with it through the very end. Too many big-budget films wimp out with their vision; Life does not.

Gyllenhaal and Reynolds play astronauts pulling a long haul on the International Space Station. Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan is actually about to break the record for consecutive days in space, and generally prefers life among the stars to life back on our miserable planet.

The crew is awaiting a space capsule containing samples from Mars, and these samples will lead to an amazing discovery: life beyond our planet. Ship scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a cell, wakes it up and marvels at its ability to grow at a rapid pace. He eventually finds himself also marveling at the little guy’s ability to grab on to his glove and mulch the hand within it.

We quickly learn that life on Mars was probably a total shit show, because this nasty glob (a distant cousin of Steve McQueen’s The Blob) kills everything in its path. The expedition goes from a triumphant discovery to ultra-protective mode in a matter of seconds—because if this thing gets to Earth, the Blue Planet will become lifeless virtually overnight.

The movie hums along nicely for a while as the organism picks off crewmembers in rather grisly fashion. Some of those death scenes will impress those of you who like your movie deaths yucky; Life does good things with weightlessness and blood-splattering. The momentum gets interrupted by one genuinely dumb death scene that makes no sense, and a few talky scenes that go on a little too long. While these scenes don’t derail the film, they do take it down a couple of notches. Without these legitimate flaws, Espinosa was on his way to a very good sci-fi offering instead of a passably good one.

Gyllenhaal, playing what is essentially the male lead, is his usual reliable self, giving his character a few quirks to make him original. Reynolds gives the movie a few laughs, and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation) is good as the ship’s voice of reason.

While the film borrows from other genre standbys like Alien and Event Horizon, the central monster has plenty of standout, original qualities, and its method of killing people from the inside is terrifying. There were definitely enough original moments to distinguish the film as more than an Alien rip-off. (I’ve seen a few complaints branding the film as such.)

The movie gets high marks for its technical achievements, including some nice camerawork and solid editing. The musical score gets a little sleepy at times, and a bit distracting at others. It’s not bad, but when you are noticing the score too much during dialogue scenes, something is a little off.

If you are thinking this is Deadpool in Space, don’t go. Reynolds, although very good in the film, has a supporting role. This is Gyllenhaal’s film, so if you are looking for Donnie Darko in Space or Jarhead in Space, you should be OK.

The movie leaves itself open to a sequel, but it’s doubtful that will happen: Life is not making the big bucks, and the setup would call for a film with an enormous budget.

Life is entertaining, but it probably won’t stick around in your mind for long.

Life is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

As is the case with some of the other sequels coming our way this summer (Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World), Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, the fifth in the series, is a decent piece of summer fluff, but little more than that.

Tom Cruise (whose hair stylist included a little too much red in the mix, resulting in a hue that doesn’t quite fit his complexion) is back as Ethan Hunt. This time around, he’s hanging from airplanes in unnatural and impossible ways, performing overly long tasks underwater, and riding a motorcycle again.

Everything he does is in service of a typically convoluted plot, involving some sort of evil syndicate of international agents who have faked their deaths and are looking to terrorize the planet. All sorts of nations are in on the evil, but the United Kingdom is especially nasty in this one, giving the whole thing a little bit of a James Bond vibe. In addition to London, Ethan goes to Morocco, Paris and Jupiter. (OK, I’m kidding about Jupiter … wouldn’t that be cool?)

If you are running late for the movie, just stay home, because you will miss the incredible airplane stunt in which Cruise clings to a jet while Simon Pegg looks on in horror. Some folks came into my screening a little late and missed the entire sequence. I wanted to walk up to them, point a finger and yell, “Ha, ha, ha … tardy, tardy, oh so farty, you and yours missed the plane stunt party! You suck! Go home!” However, the entire theater would’ve kicked my ass had I done this, so I refrained.

Speaking of Pegg, his Benji the computer analyst guy gets a bigger role this time around, reaching the level of spunky sidekick. He gets to scream and moan during car chases, and in the finale, he has one of the cooler moments in the movie, involving a bomb. It’s a good move having Cruise and Pegg pair up. It leads to a level of humor not present in previous installments.

A newcomer to the series, Alec Baldwin, gets a couple of good scenes as the CIA guy trying to eradicate Hunt’s agency. Rebecca Ferguson is impressive as an English agent who may or may not be a villain; she’s also quite decent-looking in a bikini. Jeremy Renner is around to crack wise as he messes with Baldwin’s character, while Ving Rhames still gets to collect a paycheck. As for Emilio Estevez, sadly, he’s still dead after his elevator accident in the first film.

This movie is directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won a screenwriting Oscar for The Usual Suspects, directed Cruise in Jack Reacher, and wrote the incredible screenplay for Cruise’s vastly underrated Edge of Tomorrow. He’s officially in the Tom Cruise business.

Back to the subject of Cruise’s hair: I’m thinking his stylist should allow a little gray to come through, and should opt for something a little more dark brown. The reddish-orange tint bothers me, especially when the light hits it in a certain way. It makes him look older than he actually is. Come on—we all saw him totally grey in Collateral. He looked sharp, and that was more than years ago. Embrace the gray, Tom! Embrace the gray!

Word is out that Cruise is going to make Mission: Impossible 6, and who knows what crazy stunt he will subject himself to next time out? He’s scaled the tallest building in the world, gone cliff-climbing, and held onto an airplane while it takes off. Perhaps he will eat a whole glob of wasabi in one chomp at a sushi restaurant. That would be insane!

Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation is my least favorite M:I yet, but it’s still a good film. Things feel a little by-the-numbers this time, but Cruise is a crazy bastard who’s willing to go all-out for his movies, and this installment is no exception. The dude is nuts, and we, the movie-viewing public, are better off because he’s nuts.

Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews