Category Archives: Fantasy

REVIEW: “THE INNOCENTS” (2022) IFC MIDNIGHT

There are films that sometimes just reach out and grab you in the most unexpected manor. “THE INNOCENTS” from Norwegian director Eskil Vogt is just that film. It is wildly creepy, slick horror with a fantasy and drama element thrown in. And it’s a film you will not soon forget. It’s based around four children – two sisters, along with a boy and a girl from the local neighborhood they move to.

The film begins with the two young girls moving into a new apartment complex with their parents during Summer break. As children do, they look for others to befriend and play with and soon the two girls meet other kids in the complex, when something strange starts to happen.
As these young children come together they come to realize they are ‘connected’ in a way that is both evil personified and good personified.

THE INNOCENTS –

Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), is an adorable little girl and is the younger of the two sisters. Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), Ida’s older sister is autistic and mostly non-verbal. At first, Ida seems like a troublemaker, as we see her pinch her sister, as if checking to see if she is for real as Anna doesn’t cry out or seem to notice the pain from it. For Ida, her sister represents competition for time with her parents, as their focus and energy is mostly spent dealing with Anna’s condition, Ida becomes sadly, sort of an afterthought as she doesn’t require the time and effort Anna does. But here in lies the delicacy of the wonderful acting by Fløttum as she is sublime at showing her character’s growth throughout the film. Then there is Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy from the complex and the first friend Ida meets. Ben is a myriad of complexities, with a mean streak driving his taste for violence and inflicting pain on others. Ashraf is absolutely haunting in this role. And lastly we have young Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), the compass if you will, of the group of four and the youngest. She is also somehow the only person who can communicate with Anna at first. Together as a group, these children can be just that, children, or something much much more, and therein lies the chilling effects of this film. The four children play off of each other so phenomenally, which is pivotal, considering they are our main focus throughout the film.

As well, the film is beautifully shot, edited with good sound design, which helps the movie to reach and hold the viewers attention – and then some. The movie is relentless and does not hold back, as certain scenes may be too graphic – but also quite a punch in the gut for some viewers. What the most chilling aspect to watch is the children because as they become aware of their power and it grows, so does the tension within. The Innocents addresses some serious adult themes that we are aware are too grown-up for the small group of children thrown together to deal with, all unaware of the others markings, but it makes the film all the more suspenseful and disturbing.

THE INNOCENTS

Vogt mastery of combining drama, fantasy, and horror in a compelling way is completely on point here. The story being told isn’t one where kids are committing violence for no reason, it’s more in depth than that. It’s more about the fantasy world kids often live in and their lack of understanding when it comes to the very real consequences of their actions, should they ever be given powers beyond their years. As well, there is no big reveal ever on how the children obtained the powers, and honestly, the question never arose in my mind on that as it’s really not the purpose of the story. The purpose is what happens once they do have those abilities and how they act on them – more the good vs. evil tone and the fact that these children as actors, pull it all off while making their debut’s – is truly a piece of excellence in itself.

Grade: B+

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Review Screening: Courtesy of IFC MIDNIGHT

“THE INNOCENTS” IS NOW IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE AND VOD.

REVIEW: “JUNGLE CRUISE” (2021) Disney Studios

I was probably 4 years old when I was first taken to Disneyland. I can’t remember my exact age, but I do know I was very young and my parents took me on the Jungle Cruise ride – and I freaked out and started screaming and crying. Because yes, I thought it was real and I remember so well the big hippo opening his mouth right where I was sitting in the boat and I thought I was going to be eaten, and basically thought lions, tigers and bears were all after me. I cried so hard and was so terrified, that I never went on that ride again until I was a teen – possibly even older! Needless to say, there was no crying watching this version of Disney’s “JUNGLE CRUISE”, only laughter as it is definitely not that ride and a much different story to boot.

This adventure begins with Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), who hires a wisecracking skipper, named Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), to take her down the Amazon in his ramshackle boat. Together, they search for an ancient tree whose petals hold the power to heal all — a discovery that will change the future of medicine. Along for the ride Lily’s posh, upper-crest brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who doesn’t clearly belong anywhere in a jungle, but succeeds in stealing a lot of his scenes with his over-the-top persnickety ways, most particularly his interactions with Frank’s pet leopard whom they have on board the cruise. The CGI might have been a bit lacking on the leopard, but Whitehall makes it funny so it’s very easy to overlook.

(L-R): Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff, Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton and Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

While ‘Jungle Cruise’ could have just been a simple escapade through the jungle with some good action and laughs thrown in, we do get some long drawn out sections with Johnson’s character Frank explaining a bit of a convoluted backstory of the special flower, and the enhanced version of the long dead enchanted conquistadors of his time. Kids especially, might get a bit lost here as let’s face it, they just want the lions, tigers and fun action aspects of his character that help endear Frank to us more. Director Jaume Collet-Serra gives us a big scale action adventure here with plenty of laughs thanks to Johnson giving us some of his best cheesy humour with one-liner awful, terrible jokes that are so bad they are absolutely downright funny. It’s perfectly done and no one in this film takes it all to seriously and that is possibly it’s biggest highlight except for the fact that the biggest thing that upstages them is the absolute wonderful, electric chemistry between Blunt and Johnson. This would have been a totally different movie without that as together they are an unbeatable team here and yes, the glue that holds this film together. But the supporting cast consisting of Jesse Plemons, and again, Jack Whitehall with his witty-ness, Edgar Ramirez, and Paul Giamatti, all add to the adventure as well and round it all up.

So my advice is no crying – and get your ticket for the fantastical journey that is – Jungle Cruise.

Grade: B-

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Review Screening: Monday, July 26, 2021 at El Capitan Theater ~ Courtesy of Disney Studios

“JUNGLE CRUISE” IS IN THEATERS AS OF FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2021 also VOD on Disney+

REVIEW: “WITCH HUNT” (2021) SXSW Film Festival

There isn’t anything better than a good modern day witch story — the kind where you contemplate not only how you would react if they do exist, but if they just randomly turned up in society. Questions would arise to be sure. How would we treat them? How would we make or shift laws for example, to accommodate these ‘magic beings’ and their powers. Luckily we have “WITCH HUNT” from director Elle Callahan to guide us through what those challenges entail.

The film centers on Claire (Gideon Adlon), a young woman whose mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell), offers a way station of sorts in Southern California for fugitive witches on the run. It’s essentially a safe haven for witches as they wait to be smuggled out of the country by an Underground Railroad network of sympathizers lead by Jacob (Treva Etienne). With an opening scene of men with rifles presiding over a pale, young red-haired woman being burned at the stake that continually flashes throughout the film as it’s part of the nightmares Claire deals with nightly. We quickly learn from this that witchcraft has been outlawed in the US and a ‘Bureau of Witchcraft Investigations’ not only exists, but it’s agents are officially charged with rounding up offenders and shipping them off to detainment camps. And one such agent of this bureau is Hawthorne (Christian Camargo), and he has no qualms about handling things in the old Salem way. Having witches constantly in and out of her home bends Claire the wrong way and she starts to despise the process. It’s not until Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and her younger sister Shae (Echo Campbell) arrive, Claire reconsiders her prejudice of ideas, and discovers a big secret about herself in the process.

While at times a bit clunky, Callahan still manages to not only give us a good story, good acting, she also incorporates many well-known superstitions about witchcraft. The most pertinent includes the “sink test,” where a woman suspected of practicing witchcraft is bound to a chair, thrown into a body of water and if she surfaces rather than sinking, well then she’s definitely a witch. That Witch Hunt shows this ‘test’ being given by government agents to a group of teenage girls feels especially disturbing. It’s effectively comparing the singling out of one group of people, in this case, white, red-haired woman, in a sneaky and very effective way of noting modern day immigration realities that many are experiencing at this moment — being shown through one of the best modes of political storytelling – the horror movie.

Grade: B-

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Review screening : Courtesy of Falco Ink. PR and SXSW Film Festival

REVIEW: “WOLFWALKERS” (2020) APPLE FILMS/GKIDS

With everyone loving on this new animated film from two-time Academy Award nominated Tomm Moore and his co-director Ross Stewart, my excitement and expectations were high on getting this screener and giving it a watch. Then my internet went out and has been spotty ever since so it took me a moment and after watching I felt as though the title said it all. Not that it’s bad, it’s not bad at all and it could be all about taste as this type of animation is so very different than what we are used too, what could be called ‘very mature animation’ and it took me a moment to adjust as it’s doesn’t really feel like a children’s movie.

Story line sum up is in 1650, a hunter named Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) and his daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) have to move from England to this small Irish town as he has been hired to hunt/kill the wolves who are threatening the small village. Bill goes out each day to do his job while he makes Honor stay in the village so she is safe from them. However she sees herself as a wolfhunter as well and wants to help her father kill the wolves, so she sneaks out of the town and happens to come across a young girl wolfwalker named Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who can transform into a wolf when she is asleep. They start a bond as friends that gets severely tested as the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) is trying to get rid of all wolves to protect his town, so Robyn has to convince his father that Wolfwalkers are real and must do what she can to save her friend and the wolves.

While the backgrounds are so beautifully done and so is the music, the plot lacks in spots and in places where the characters are supposed to be charming, they came off as annoying. That along with a lot of it dragging in the middle and being somewhat cliche in lots of places, left it still with a somewhat satisfying ending leaving open many possibilities in which to possibly explore in a follow up.

So, the good parts you ask? The villain Lord Protector was done well not only in character but in design in keeping him feeling mysterious, intimidating and keeping the audience engaged with scenes he was in. With Robin’s dad was being the most likeable character, little Robin’s friendship with Mebh has good heart and sweet humour and it’s themes of loyalty, trust, and family truly resonate.

All in all though, after the amazing opening pace the story lacks for a good portion of the movie, losing the magic it held at the beginning in favour of just being characters chasing after each other.

Grade: C+

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Review screening: Courtesy of 42 West

“WOLFWALKERS” NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS/DRIVE-INS WHERE AVAILBLE  ~ COMING TO APPLE TV+

 

REVIEW: “THE SECRET GARDEN” (2020) STX Entertainment

Gardens can be beautiful magical places where we can get lost in the beauty of the trees and flowers, Secret Gardens can be even more magical and in this fifth iteration of “THE SECRET GARDEN”, director Marc Munden and writer Jack Thorne, choose to alter the text in a few notable ways by changing the time period, removing some characters, and adding some dramatic elements. Ultimately, however, The Secret Garden remains the story people are familiar with, and despite some pacing issues, there’s still magic to be found in these gardens.

As the film begins, we are told it’s ‘the eve of Partition’, which was the 1947 bitter division of British India into two separate states: India and Pakistan. This timing is, of course, quite a bit later than the original setting, but the effect is the same. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), is a spoiled and somewhat bratty, young girl living in India with her British parents in the years following World War II. When cholera kills both her parents, Mary is sent to live with her reclusive, hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth). Accompanied to massive Misselthwaite Manor by the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary quickly learns in all the wrong ways, that Uncle Archibald is a grieving widow (his wife was Mary’s mother’s sister) who is not to be disturbed, and his hunchback is not to be stared at. Mary soon learns that her spoiled brat mannerisms will not be tolerated and at first she finds herself frustrated by this new lonely life at Misselthwaite Manor, but as she explores the estate, her world begins to open up.

As fans of the novel will know, Mary’s adventuring eventually leads her to a hidden, magical garden that reignites her imagination and helps uncover some old family secrets. But it’s the plays on Mary’s imagination that are extraordinary here and the wonderful CGI effects allow us to see what she has envisioned. Whether it’s the wallpaper coming to life, or her mother and aunt walking the halls or swinging in the garden and branches twisting and fitting to her every move. We see the past come alive while running through a garden filled with ever-changing plants and creatures and it’s a lovely, refreshing way to present a garden that has seen its fair share of adaptations. As Mary befriends Martha the maid (Isis Davis), and Dickon (Amir Wilson) while wandering the estate grounds, it’s here where the fantastical and supernatural meet reality, as Mary and her new friend go on adventures and find the magical gardens with powers all it’s own.

Mary encounters others on her emotional journey, while hiding it all from Mrs. Medlock, she finds her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) locked up in one of the mansion rooms thinking he is much like his uncle. She continues to visit him despite his objections and soon she and Dickon are sneaking him into the gardens where he finds the true story of himself as well.

The Secret Garden undoubtedly belongs to Egerickx as she undoubtedly carries the film from start to finish. At the beginning you almost want to dislike her even though she is a child, and by then end, she has melted your heart and stolen the film from all her co-stars, yes even Firth and Walters, though they do give wonderful supporting performances. Where The Secret Garden falters is in its pacing as though even though it’s an almost quick 100 minutes, the plot doesn’t really start falling into place until we are hitting the last 20 minutes of the film and it could have benefited being a bit longer. But even bearing that and the story changes, this film is just so visually beautiful you are bound to get lost yourself in a magical secret garden of your own.

Grade: B-

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Review screening link ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

“THE SECRET GARDEN” arrives in theaters/VOD this week 

REVIEW: “THE OLD GUARD” (2020) Netflix

Twenty-Five minutes in and I knew Director Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s “THE OLD GUARD” was most likely based on some type of book/comic series that was not known to me. Sticking with the film though was a decent pleasure and doing a touch of research after gave me the insight needed.

Turns out ‘The Old Guard‘ is based on the recent 5-part graphic novel of the same name from Image Comics, and stars Charlize Theron as “Andy”, along with Booker (Matthais Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) make up the tight knit group of four covert mercenaries who fight to keep peace.  With a seemingly almost immortal mysterious inability to die, a trait that once exposed on surveillance tapes by supposed ex-CIA agent Coply (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who had ‘hired’ them for a job to save a group of school children who had been supposedly kidnapped, gains unwanted attention from eccentric British pharmaceutical executive Steven Merrick (Harry Melling), who plans to experiment on the four for the good of mankind aka ‘profit’.

Greg Rucka, creator of the graphic novel series, writes the screenplay, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The fleshing out of the team’s backstory brings with it some emotional ties to the past, which work effectively as without knowing any background, you’re able to follow along. All too often though, the dialogue falls into cliched and stale traps – like when they are trying to look all undercover while meeting in a local street bazaar, they end up standing out so completely that you almost have to have a laugh at it. But it feels particularly clunky when the team come to explain their unusual abilities to newcomer Nile (KiKi Lane), a young U.S. marine who discovers she is just like them while on duty in Afghanistan.

KiKi Lane showcases Nile’s innocence and shock well, as she discovers she may not be quite like other marines in doing what they’ve clearly been doing for hundreds of years. Theron gives a plaintive performance, conveying the weight on Andy’s shoulders and the burdens carried through the years convincingly enough and at least they didn’t try to have her do too many of those floppy comic lines sometimes found in similar type features. Her fellow mercenaries though never really get as much of a chance to make their mark with the exception of what takes place between Booker and Andy. Theron really kicks ass in the well choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes she does get as does Lane, and there are bouts of bloody action to enjoy, but these are over rather quickly, with the team never really feeling like they are in any kind of danger. In truth, it’s yet another Netflix release that falls into the usual category; not a classic by any stretch, but definitely a passable and watchable two hours.

Grade: C+

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“THE OLD GUARD” IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON NETFLIX

REVIEW: “STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) LucasFilm/Disney Pictures

Ah, that familiar opening sequence that we know so well.  Where we know we are going to a galaxy far far away…is about the only thing left from over from the original that will never get old seeing. Even with “STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” having this terrific memorable opening sequence, it is sure note that this isn’t a ‘George Lucas’ vision of Star Wars. To be fair, when it comes to Star Wars, the appreciation and the significance of it all is not lost on me, as well as the quality and enjoyment of the films that people feel. But alas, I probably am not in the high percentile of top fans and really wouldn’t consider myself a big Star Wars fan per se. While having seen most of them, I was just one who never grasped onto to the films so completely as others have. With that, seeing the conclusion of the Skywalker series wasn’t going to make me emotional mess in the lead up as maybe it would be to some others – so just know this review truly has no bias on that end.

Episode IX takes place some number of years after The Last Jedi where Rey (Daisy Ridley) has been training to take down the first order.  The Resistance lead by Leia (Carrie Fisher) are figuring out a way to lead the charge with the few alliances they have left, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is trying to become a powerful Sith. The unknown time after which this is set definitely has a few holes in the character progression that were possibly needed in order to ‘damage control’ on the story direction. It’s is also hard to talk about the film without spoilers, but doing my best to get across the jist of it, without really going into heavy spoiling. The Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is not a spoiler as it’s in the trailers and posters so mentioning him, but not any external story elements stemming from his return noted.

As mentioned the biggest problem with Episode IX is the direction of this story. There is just an excess of side stories in the film which absolutely kills the run time and the effects of what the main story being told is. And can we say Cameos GALORE? Boy there were some good ones though. But if you were of the thought that ‘Force Awakens’ had nothing original to offer, well the Rise of Skywalker will double down on that premise. It’s hard to believe how they set it all up, had conflict and executed the conclusion of these characters, all in one unsuccessful sweep here. Plus smack dab in the middle of battle, leading us down the road to clearly what is to become the new series of films or possibly a new show for Disney +, with a quick little story line with Finn (John Boyega) and Janna (Naomi Ackle) have a little convo about how they came to be Troopers and how they need to ‘try and find where they came from.’ Yep, there is your next movie or TV story line people.

As many have already said, there was clearly no plan by Disney for the trilogy. What Abrams set up, then Rian Johnson stepped in and had total control to then do what he wanted, and now Abrams is back to ‘save’ the film by bringing back the Emperor. Okey Dokey. The way the film quickly establishes how and why it is nothing short of lazy. Because there was no mention in the previous sequel films, the Emperors return is ruined due to the franchise factor forcing it back in. The film originally was having Colin Trevorrow as director, so there was clearly no connecting person here like George Lucas and his vision, to step in and help the story take place and progress. Bringing in different directors bring a new look to the film is not a problem, if you can still have a solid story told throughout. Then the bunch of side stories that are being told, just fail to have the time to conclude properly. Maybe they needed more than one film in order to explore them – or should have done so previously. Everything is just rushed into the film and Rey, Finn, Po, Ren and the Emperor, all have to share the screen and some arcs don’t feel earned.

The new band of heroes here as well, just don’t have the same charm, personalities or chemistry together (actually this is the first movie in the new trilogy, where they do stuff together). They feel more like they have been cast for a commercial shoot of the film versus what type of character and personality they had to portray – they are all just so empty, like cardboard-cutouts with calculated screen-time and one-dimensional personalities. Most of them hardly even have an arc or any real character-development over the course of these three movies. The final scene with Kylo Ren and Rey is laughable bad, you’ll know what this is if you’ve seen the film, and if not, you soon will. I was just in awe that the writers ruined a perfect moment by including a said ‘particular action’ which eluded gasping laughs. One character though who was fun and has always been great, is C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). He always been essentially kinda bullied and the film knows this and consequently builds on this to create a somewhat compelling character. Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) wins for the most emotional moment though. Finn and Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac), had character problems that needed to be established in the earlier films as their pay offs don’t feel earned. Rey was also somewhat disappointing mostly due to the direction of the story, but her arc is so unbalanced throughout the first two films that once her character conclusion is just unsatisfactory.

The action as well often doesn’t serve a purpose to the story – it’s just more timely inserted space-battles, chase-scenes and sci-fi fights. Mostly just overblown shiny CGI stuff with a few practical puppets, sets and costumes thrown in to pander to the old fans. These characters didn’t have a lot of time to be together unlike in the original trilogy, so their interactions weren’t memorable. This is also due to the forced jokes and dialogue. I felt like Isaac’s Po was just trying to hard to fill Harrison Ford‘s old shoes of humour when he was Han Solo. Sure the original Star Wars movies had some humor, but in those movies it felt natural, not these wink-wink-moments, slapstick humor and juvenile self aware meme-jokes. What’s worse, is that this movie also tries to be dark at the same time, but this isn’t Empire Strikes Back or Revenge of the Sith, as those movies really were dark chapters in the Star Wars saga with hardly any humor in them.  But in The Rise of Skywalker, it just makes the movie feel even more like a tonal mess, since the movie tries so to be funny, upbeat and happy at the same, making both the humor, the drama and the darker elements feel even more forced and out of place.

The originals worked because they didn’t try to be funny, and the characters were written like they could almost be normal people in the space, whereas the sequel characters are just yelling stuff out that is not natural.  At least the CGI was great. It’s expected to be and it looked cool. What they did with Carrie Fischer was surprisingly good and it fit as well. Yes, it was kind of obvious at points where extreme editing was in play, but her tragic passing was so sad and they had to do what they could after the unfortunate circumstances. (#RIPCarrie). Some of the the battles, while looking good, weren’t all that well executed. As well, lacking a lot of suspense the light-saber duels between Rey and Kylo – on the one hand they were interesting  – on the other they don’t get you as excited as the film wanted you to be. The final fight was just really over the top. I get there’s a finality to the film but there’s so much that’s happening that leaves unanswered questions toward the state of the galaxy.

Lastly, is the music. Yes it’s essentially the same, but John William score is perfect and on every level and is possibly the only thing that elevates the movie. It adds all the tension and emotion to all the Star Wars films to be sure. It’s something we never tire of it after all these films and would still gladly listen to it in future films.

Overall, Rise of Skywalker is underwhelming in it’s execution yet has some good ideas. Even though I’m not it’s biggest fan, there still felt this unsatisfying feeling as the film clearly had no plan and the end result of the story is clearly forced. Is it wrong to have just wanted to see a good conclusion to one of the most popular franchises ever? Instead, the film misses the mark and fails to have an overall finality feeling.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, December 17, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Disney Pictures

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” IS OUT IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

REVIEW: “DOCTOR SLEEP” (2019) Warner Bros.

In “DOCTOR SLEEP” little Danny Torrance is now a grown up Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), and is still understandably haunted by the things that happened to him at the Overlook Hotel as a small child. Most days he drinks his hours away to silence the voices in his head. After one drug-fueled drinking rampage, waking hungover and getting ready to rob the last dollars from his one-night stands wallet – even upon seeing the fact that she has a toddler – but not even so much as blinking an eye over being such a degenerate, he gets interrupted by his still very present ghost mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). This all leads his decision to hop on a bus to go across the country to a new town and once there immediately meets good Samaritan Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). Freeman, who inexplicably within minutes of meeting Dan, just up and pays for his room and board, then magically gives him a job as well. Oh! to be of this place where all lives are wonderfully and simply mended right? And yes, of course all this helps Dan get his life back together, as he ‘meets’ and connects with a young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), through the chalkboard wall in the room as she ‘Shines’ just like he does and they exchange messages through this medium. Seemingly against his will (yawn), he ends up protecting her from a group of powerful psychics, lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who hunt young children with psychic powers in order to feed on them to make themselves live forever.  Oh how the plot thickens as in a twists of all twists (dripping sarcasm) in order to keep Abra (yes, as in Abra-ka-dabra) safe, Torrance will of course be forced to return to the place of all his nightmares, The Overlook and face his ghosts.

The first hour is spent to a certain extent, explaining ‘The Shining’ and what the intentions of the merciless cult-group The True Knot are. As we follow Dan Torrance as a middle-aged man plagued by all these horrific memories, they take liberties left and right rolling right thru a completely inconsistent tone of plot due to the mass sprawl of locational changes. One minute we’re in a sleepy town, the next a woodland area, and then all of a sudden eight years have been and gone. The zippy nature of the editing and bloated explanation results in zero feeling of terror and needles to say, the tension is non-existent.

The second act gives more of an explanation in detailed effect, of the who, what, how, and why’s of the cult group led by Rose. They show us how the group hunt the children and we get to know the some of the main characters that follow her from Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), Barry the Chunk (Robert Longstreet) to the creepy Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken) and Silent Sarey (Catherine Parker). We also get a lot of recurring visuals (The naked Lady in the Bathtub for example) that were meant to be scary, but by the end, are just eye roll inducing.  While the acts of Rose and her group of cannibalistic crazies are horrific, most especially the not needed but much detailed kidnapping and killing of Bradley ‘Baseball Boy’ Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), the fact is, they just aren’t scary.  The absolute revolting nature of this heinous act doesn’t make you frightened, it repulses you, which doesn’t make for a good horror scare in the slightest.  It also makes you realize that all you have to do is change these characters to vampires and the ‘steam’ to blood, and you’ve got a typical tween vampire flick going for you here, with about the same embodiment of zest to the performances as well.  Ferguson, who shines so well in action flicks, comes off here as a gypsy Rose caricature channeling Stevie Nicks, while McGregor doesn’t come close to giving us the feels that child Danny Torrance gave us.  One point in particular, there is a ridiculous ‘Buffy the Vampire’ type fight sequence where a supernaturally charged Rebecca Ferguson takes out an axe-wielding Ewen McGregor in a martial arts type scenario that is so out of place in this film that holding in the laughter is difficult because they are trying to have us believe this is serious stuff.  The ridiculousness of scenes like this screeches throughout the film. There is however, one big stand out performance here in Kyliegh Curran, a superb young actress (whom I hope we see much more of in the future) who makes her character so believable and gives us her all.

The third and final act then arrives, and the entire story crumbles much like the Overlook itself. Plagued by an overshadowing sickness that ‘The Shining’ had produced. Nostalgia. Remember that time where Jack viciously chopped the bedroom door down with an axe? Or that moment where blood came hurtling through the hallways in slow motion? What about Room 237? The introductory swooping camera movement that Kubrick embraced whilst the Torrance’s drove to the hotel? The typewriter? Slowly walking up the stairs in a confrontational manner? The snow-covered hedge maze? The twins? No? You don’t remember? No worries as Director Mike Flanagan has got you covered. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, yet it must be handled with delicacy. The difference between imitating and homage is very fine, and unfortunately Flanagan settled for the former.

Sadly most of this film was just..meh. It lacked the nail biting atmosphere that ‘The Shining’ had in spades. It lacked a lot of fear of any kind really.  One can argue that it is wrong and unfair to compare the two films given the uniqueness of Kubrick’s vision, but Doctor Sleep invites these comparisons by constantly referencing The Shining in flashbacks, relying on much of Kubrick’s imagery to pedal its cheap scares.

Grade: C-

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“DOCTOR SLEEP” IS OUT NOW IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

 

REVIEW: “YESTERDAY” (2019) Universal

A world without music from The Beatles? It’s hard to “Imagine” right.  But of course it’s not as simple as never having their classics played on the radio or not being able to find an album or song lyrics, basically any idea of them ever existing. Of course, that’s a bit too much to tackle in a movie, so director Danny Boyle  simplifies things by serving up a 12 second global power outage in which starts the beginning of ‘Yesterday’.

The film tells the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), an amateur musician who is trying to break into the industry with the help of his best friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James), but during that random power outage,  he gets hit by a truck riding his bike home and wakes up in an alternate universe where several things have turned out to have never existed, but most importantly the Beatles and their songs. Jack decides to take advantage of this, and uses the Beatles’ music to launch his career, becoming the most famous pop star in the world.

That premise sounds great, and I was looking forward to a surreal comedy, but to be honest, it doesn’t quite live up to it, instead getting distracted by what the actual main plot turned out to be: a cliche romantic comedy with the childhood friend that is secretly in love with the protagonist, only for him to figure it out for himself later. aka..a generic romcom.

The best moments of this film are to do with the central premise of the alternate universe, where Jack would reference something, only for the people around him to say “what’s that?” I mean, it’s the same joke in different words basically every time, but hey, the way they execute it is pretty good. There are also some decent satirical moments with Jack interacting with the music industry, personified by Jack’s manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), and an extended cameo by Ed Sheeran, who falls victim to some self-deprecating jokes, and Rocky (Joel Fry) his ‘roadie’ who honestly was one of the funniest characters in the film.

Speaking of the Beatles, you’d be surprised by how little they actually contribute to the plot. For a film that is named after one of their more famous songs, you’d think that their music and impact to society would be more than just a plot device for the main character to achieve his success. There’s no real commentary as to why the Beatles music is so great, you’re just told, over and over again, that they’re the greatest band ever, and that a world without them ever existing would suck. Sure, that is something I would agree with, but the film doesn’t really add much of their own perspective to that side of the story, it just takes that idea as fact.

The romance is decent, but cliche and overall unremarkable. Screenwriter Richard Curtist definitely knows how to write romances, having written several well regarded romcoms, like “Love Actually” and “About Time“, but I would say that ‘Yesterday’ isn’t quite up to that standard. Same goes for Danny Boyle and the other films he directed compared to this. The direction isn’t bad, but it’s bland and doesn’t really add much to the story.

I guess if you like romcoms and Beatles music, this movie will definitely be watchable, and truthfully, it is entertaining enough..but just barely enough and it slides through it’s two hour run time, and overall I’m disappointed that they didn’t take full advantage of the great premise and really run with it.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Monday, June 24, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Studios

‘YESTERDAY’ IS NOW PLAYING IS THEATERS WORLDWIDE

REVIEW: “ROCKETMAN” (2019) Paramount Pictures

Where do we start here…well with Elton Hercules John a.k.a. Reginald Kenneth Dwight of course. This is one movie I predict is going to get very mixed reviews because while it has an R rating and can show a bit more spunk, it’s also more Broadway musical and flits between scenes of Elton’s life at a very high speed, most especially in it’s second half.  I predict many will love it, and some might revile it. I was caught somewhere in the middle. Without giving any actual spoilers away and going step by step through the film every scene, consider this:

1. If you absolutely do not like musicals, save your money. This is the John/Taupin equivalent of a Rodgers & Hammerstein show. It is not presented as a straightforward biopic in the same manner as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘, though honestly these two films shouldn’t even be compared side by side because of many different factors, some of which include the rating (R vs PG-13), that they were two completely totally different types of musicians, one was  a band, one is a solo artist etc.. so just don’t do it. Don’t compare. It’s silly.

2. Much as I like Elton John, this “rock & roll fantasy” of his life treads a little too far into campy territory for me, with two, maybe three very (thankfully) brief moments in the film that can only be described as cringe-worthy. (“Oh, come on, guys–seriously?” moments.) There were times when I genuinely felt this was going to end up as the Ken Russell version of ‘Tommy’ for the new millennium.

 

These few things however, are about my only problems with the film. Credit must be given where it’s due:

1. Taron Egerton is just amazing as Elton. Some might see his acting as occasionally over the top, but frankly and for all we know, maybe EJ really did act that “extremely” at times, considering his anger issues. His singing, most of the time, is virtually spot-on, catching EJ’s lilting singing style quite well.

2. The supporting cast: Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin), Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila – Elton’s mother) , Richard Madden (John Reid – EJ’s agent & self-centered 1st lover), Stephen Graham (Dick James), a simply standout performance by Tate Donovan (L.A.’s Troubador Club manager Doug Weston), Gemma Jones (Ivy, EJ’s grandmother) & Steven Mackintosh (Stanley – EJ’s cold, uncaring father) and all others in the film are essentially faultless.

3. Much as I wasn’t prepared for a musical/rock opera, it’s hard to find fault with the staging and choreography of the musical numbers. Very professionally done.

4. You will learn many things about EJ’s life in this film, most especially his early family life that you may not have known before…I know I did.

5. Don’t leave right away after the credits roll.

So, is it worth seeing? My criticisms aside (and we all know what they say about opinions), it really comes down to this: if you’re a fan–and especially a dedicated fan most definitely go see it. Decide for yourself if my few gripes hold any water.

Grade: B-

@pegsatthemovies

 

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“ROCKETMAN” IS NOW PLAYING WORLDWIDE