Film Review: DOCTOR SLEEP (USA 2019) ***

Doctor Sleep Poster
Trailer

Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.

Director:

Mike Flanagan

Writers:

Stephen King (based on the novel by), Mike Flanagan (screenplay)

DOCTOR SLEEP is based on the Stephen King’s 2013 novel, that follows what happens after THE SHINING, which was made into the Stanley Kubrick horror classic of the same name with Jack Nicholson, who declined to appear in this sequel.  Flanagan is an American filmmaker. He is best known for his horror films, all of which he directed, wrote, and edited including Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil (all 2016), Gerald’s Game (2017), and Doctor Sleep (2019).

It is 2011, sometime after escaping the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance, (now all grown up into Ewan McGregor and now known as just Dan) and his mother Wendy live in Florida.   He escapes his alcoholism though still scarred by his experiences at the hotel.  Danny is taught by the ghost of Dick Hallorann to lock such ghosts in imaginary “boxes” in his mind.  Meanwhile, a cult of quasi-immortals known as the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat, feed on “steam” produced by the dying moments of people with the Shining ability to slow their aging.  She recruits a teenage girl called Snakebite Andi into the cult after observing her ability to telepathically control people.

In a small town, Dan befriends Billy Freeman, who gets him a job and becomes his AA sponsor.  Dan uses his Shine abilities to comfort dying patients, who give him the nickname “Doctor Sleep” where the film title is derived from. The film’s main story which now moves to 2019 involves his dealing with  Abra Stone, a young girl whose Shining is even more powerful than his and the destruction of The True Knot group.

For those who love THE SHINING, DOCTOR SLEEP pays enough homage to the original film while still keeping it fresh with new scary ideas. There are the familiar scenes of young Danny riding his tricycle in the hotel hallways, the huge gushing of blood from the double closed doors in the hotel and characters that look like the mad Nicholson and frantic Shelley Duvall.  Yet, director Flanagan has enough ideas to keep his film original and fresh.  The beginning sequence where Rose the Hat entices a little girl with flowers is the film’s scariest and creepiest scene.  No other scene in the film tops this one.  The film has a solid climatic showdown.

DOCTOR SLEEP lacks jump scares, which are basically cheap scares that often make no sense to the plot or story but annoyingly scares audiences out of their seats.  I hate these.  Lacking these, DOCTOR SLEEP rises itself over cheap horror flicks like THE CONJURING series.  DOCTOR SLEEP works like an action horror film, that includes a big shootout showdown, western-style.  The 45 million budget allows high production values that make the film look great.  It runs a full 152 minutes or so, but director Flanagan knows how to build up suspense.  It is better to watch suspenseful segments that watching segments with lots of jump scares. (Example IT2).

DOCTOR SLEEP should keep both SHINING fans and horror fans satisfied.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2msJTFvhkU4

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Film Review: CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (USA 2018) ***

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Christopher Robin Poster
A working-class family man, Christopher Robin, encounters his childhood friend Winnie-the-Pooh, who helps him to rediscover the joys of life.

Director:

Marc Forster

Writers:

Alex Ross Perry (screenplay by), Tom McCarthy(screenplay by) | 5 more credits »

 

Not to be confused with last year’s biography GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN on the author of WINNIE THE POOH, A.A. Milne’s life, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is the story of Christopher Robin, the little boy from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is now all grown up, married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) with a daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) but has lost all sense of imagination.  Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood re-enter Christopher’s life to help him find joy again.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is not strictly the story of Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), the beloved honey gulping bear but about Christopher Robin as the film title implies.  It is is a live-action/CGI extension of the Disney franchise of the same name.  The animated Pooh and friends, are true in appearance and motion to the beloved book and film, so this film will appeal and not disappoint the Pooh fans.

The screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder takes certain liberties.  Pooh suddenly appears in Christopher Robin’s home with no apparent logic.  The time of Robin growing up is glaringly absent in the story.  The film unfolds with Chapter 1 (“Leaving His Friends”) then jumps to Chapter 3 and so on, leaving out certain chapters of Robin’s life as if they don’t matter.  But begin a family film, these little omissions can be  forgiven.  One cannot forgive however is the repeated number of times the script tugs at the heartstrings.  Why has Christopher Robin disappeared?  Goodbye Christopher Robin?  Is Pooh’s red balloon more important that the briefcase of work notes?  Are the work notes more important that your daughter?  Why is the daughter then not with you?  These lines of dialogue can be quite trying.  On the upside. the humour comes off from Pooh’s friend as original, cute and fresh.

Pooh’s friends include Tigger, a boy tiger (also voiced by Cummings, who gets to sing one song as well) , a donkey, an owl, a piglet, a rabbit and a kangaroo.  Brad Garrett who voices the perpetually pessimistic donkey steals the show, with his gruff voice and the script’s best jokes.  When asked “How was your day today?”  His reply is: “Don’t get me started!”

What helps in creating the fairy tale atmosphere especially the colourful hundred acre wood where Pooh and his friends live is the cinematography by Matthias Koenigswieser coupled with the CGI effects.  The music by Jon Brion including a few catchy songs lifts the film’s mood.

The last Disney’s Winnie the Pooh animated feature was good but really slow.  In CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, the animated characters move just as slowly to keep with the expectations of the first film.  McGregor makes a believable grown up Christopher, and does well putting up a straight face while taking all the dialogue with great seriousness.  Christopher, when he realizes what is missing in life brings audiences right back to MARY POPPINS where David Thomlinson as Mr. Banks discards his frugality on saving a tuppence and begins feeding the birds.

Make sure you stay right up to the end of the closing credits.  Just when you think the film is over with the credits coming on, a nifty musical number appears right in the middle, a song on the play of words “Noting becomes Something” as performed on a piano in the middle of the beach with Pooh and friends lying on deck chairs enjoying the sun.  If that is not enough incentive to stay, this sequence is followed by another original Pooh song.

A bit sappy, but CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is entertaining enough and true to the mood of WINNIE THE POOH.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0URpDxIjZrQ

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Film Review: T2 TRAINSPOTTING (UK 2017) ****

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T2.jpgDirector: Danny Boyle
Writers: John Hodge, Irvine Welsh (novels)
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kelly McDonald

Review by Gilbert Seah

T2 TRAINSPOTTING, the 20-years after sequel to TRAINSPOTTING, is so-called after the filmmakers got the rights to use T2 (hasta la vista baby to T2 standing for TERMINATOR 2) arrives with all the characters as well as the actors and director/writer after ageing a full 20 years. Hopefully, the elapsed 20 years have made each person smarter. Judging from the movie, they certainly have.

The original can be remembered (even after 20 years) for its catchy beginning sequence when Renton runs at full speed on the street only to stop with the camera right in front of him. A reverse of that effect is achieved brilliantly at the start of T2. Renton (Ewan McGregor) is now running on a treadmill at full speed, trips and falls flat on the gym floor. The camera is neither stationary nor the character but ends with both in motion before the final shot.

Boyle is directing in top form with all the energy and innovation as his first films. I have been a Boyle fan for his early films like SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING and 28 DAYS LATER and not too keen on his later ones like his over talky STEVE JOBS (there is an extended talky sequence in T2 when Renton rants about ‘choosing life’), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and not especially with his 2012 summer Olympics opening ceremonies.

Though it is not necessary to have seen or be familiar with the original, it is recommended to view the fist film in order to appreciate T2. All the four characters have gone on in life, though their personalities have remained intact. Renton leaves Amsterdam to return to Edinburgh. He meets up with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) who still blames him for ripping him of with money from the first film. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has broken out of prison while Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is still hooked on candy. The villain of the piece is Begbie, who is as violent as ever, seeking to kill Renton for stealing his money.
All the actors are nothing short of perfect in their roles including Kelly Macdonald as Sick’s Boy’s girlfriend, Diane.

The film is much an action film as a character driven piece. The action sequences are well executed (the car chase/escape where Renton jumps on the roof of a car; the fight in the dilapidated building; the club scene) as well as the dramatic confrontations. Audiences should expect and be warned of the excessive violence, swearing and drug use in the film.

Boyle also dazzles the audience with his fancy camerawork at the start and also in the unforgettable sequence when the camera pulls back from Renton’s room into a abysmal corridor.

But T2 delivers – as each actor, director and writer demonstrates. The film is impressive in all departments but most of all, it brings closure to what Boyle celebrated – the use of heroin. This mature film displays the characters now mature and grown up with the drugs perspective put well in place, artistically and less graphically.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGdiACWiMAM

_________

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Film Review: AMERICAN PASTORAL (USA 2016) ***

american_pastoral_poster.jpgAMERICAN PASTORAL (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Ewan McGregor

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning

Review by Gilbert Seah

As Seymour’s story is told from the points of view of Zuckerman’s recollections and his brother Jerry’s disclosure, two sides of the life story of a hero is portrayed. Seymour (Ewan McGregor) is the all-American hero but something went terribly wrong in his daily life. The trouble with the film is that it does not pin down exactly when this happens or the real deep reason why.

Ewan McGregor makes his directing debut and stars alongside Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning in this ambitious adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, about a “perfect” American family that is torn apart by the social and political upheavals of the 1960s. One must give the actor credit for choosing such a dauntless task as a adapting a Roth novel for his directorial debut.

The film is framed by a high school reunion in which 60-year olds Zuckerman (David Strathairn) and the brother (Rupert Evans) meet. They discuss the life of Seymour (the Swede) as the film unfolds with the details. The reason for this form of storytelling becomes clear at the end of the film and serves as Roth’s message, which will not be revealed in this review.

The Swede, as he is referred to in many parts of the film is a businessman with a happy family Seymour’s life begins to slide off the rails when his teenaged daughter, Merry becomes radicalized in reaction to the war in Vietnam. Soon she rejects her family’s comfortable existence for a secret life of violent protest. She is involved with the bombing of a gas station in which an innocent man, Mr. Hanson is killed. As Merry goes into hiding, the father slowly seeks her out. His wife (Jennifer Connelly) however, goes into mental breakdown mode, resulting in an affair after getting a sought after facelift. There are subplots involving Seymour’s stern father (Peter Riegert) and Merry’s somewhat kooky therapist (Molly Parker).

McGregor’s direction and John Romano’s (INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and THE LINCOLN LAWYER) script lack the sardonic wit, punch and edginess of a Roth novel. The film, consisting of a series of dramatic set-ups also lacks any humour. Certain segments like the encounters with the therapist are primed for humour but sadly they are just set up form plot motion.

To the film’s credit, the lush 60’s atmosphere with the vintage cars, props and wardrobe work well. The then President’s (LBJ) face can be seen on the old television set as well.

As far as McGregor playing the all-American football star, it takes a lot of credibility. There is a shot of him in a sports singlet, looking more cutesy than athletic. The only casualty in the story appears to be McGregor’s character. He gets both his wife’s and daughter’s rejections and to make it all worse, is diagnosed with prostrate cancer.

At one point in the film, the father questions how the daughter suddenly came to be such a rebel. The audience would no doubt feel the same with respect to answers. The book delves int Merry’s rejection from her stuttering to her obesity, but these factors are ignored in the film.
AMERICAN PASTORAL is an interesting enough satisfactory film and a worthy directorial debut. One can only wish a better adaptation of Roth’s Pulitzer Prize novel from a veteran director.

american_pastoral_poster.jpg

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OUR KIND OF TRAITOR (UK/France 2016) ***

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our_kind_of_traitor.jpgOUR KIND OF TRAITOR (UK/France 2016) ***

Directed by Susanna White

Starring: Carlos Acosta, Radivoje Bukvic, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris, Ewan McGregor

Review by Gilbert Seah

The new John Le Carre film scripted by Hossein Amini is a spy thriller quite different from what audiences have seen in the past. The main character is now an academic, Perry Makepeace, played by Ewan McGregor. McGregor appears in more relaxed Mode compared to Richard Burton, Alec Guinness or Gary Oldman in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and SOLDIER, TAILOR, TINKER, SPY respectively. This is not necessarily a bad thing as White’s treatment of Le Carre’s material has a more feminine – more human touch. This is a huge contrast to the last major Le Carre film adaptation by Tomas Alfredson, the chilling and excellent SOLDIER, TAILOR, TINKER SPY.

The story here is simple and much more straight forward compared to the extremely hard to follow SOLDIER, TAILER, TINKER, SPY. After Perry is offered a tennis game by Russian mafioso, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), he is ‘recruited’ by him to help him and his family defect. A sort of mixed STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and TORN CURTAIN Hitchcockian story, White’s film plays well blending the cold blooded spy game with a more human aspect. With this main plot, the story weaves in some choice bits of political debate.

Director White is quick to point out that it is not only the Russian mob that are the bad guys in the movie. There is also something very nasty within the British Intelligence as there is in every character in the story. Even Perry is a philandering husband and not one to make his long suffering wife, Gail (Naomie Harris) happy as she is one to point out the faults of her partner. But surprisingly, both Perry and Gail have a change of heart to protect Dima at all costs. In the process their marriage is saved.
As in a Le Carre story, fans will not be disappointed with the plot twists, swift cold blooded killings, car chases and exotic locations, in this case Marrakech, the Alps and the cities of London and Moscow. The film has the look of the spy thrillers of the 60’s and 70’s. But the Carre story is updated with modern technology such as the downloading of key information (bank account numbers) into a usb memory stick.

The humour is also slick. When asked by Perry the reason he was picked, Dima’s reply was that he was the only one left in the restaurant. But a good pick Perry is. A lot of the humour is also derived from Dima’s behaviour – how he changes from kindness shown to his family to cold brutality.

The film contains a few outstanding performances that make the movie. Among them are Stellan Skarsgard’s flamboyant and hyper ex-Russian mafioso Dima and Damian Lewis’ Hector who starts off following British red tape and ends up fighting against it. Jeremy Northam (PRIEST, THE WINSLOW BOY) has a cameo as Aubrey Longriegg, a treacherous British politician.

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is a milder but still entertaining Le Carre thriller.

 

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Happy Birthday: Ewan McGregor

ewanmcgregor.jpgHappy Birthday Ewan McGregor

Born: Ewan Gordon McGregor
March 31, 1971 in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland, UK

See reviews of their best work:

SHALLOW GRAVEShallow Grave
1994
dir. Danny Boyle
Starring
Kerry Fox
McGregor

TRAINSPOTTINGTrainspotting
1996
dir. Danny Boyle
Cast
McGregor
Ewen Bremner

THE PHANTOM MENACEStar Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
1999
dir. George Lucas
Starring
Liam Neeson
McGregor

MOULIN ROUGEMoulin Rouge
2001
dir. Baz Luhrmann
Starring
Mcgregor
Nicole Kidman

BLACK HAWK DOWNBlack Hawk Down
2001
dir. Ridley Scott
Starring
Ewan McGregor
Josh Harnett

ATTACK OF THE CLONESStar Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
2002
dir. George Lucas
Starring
Natalie Portman

BIG FISHBig Fish
2003
dir. Tim Burton
Starring
McGregor
Albert Finney

REVENGE OF THE SITHStar Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
2005
dir. George Lucas

MOVIE POSTERTHE PHANTOM MENACE 3D
dir. George Lucas
Stars: Ewan McGregor
Liam Neeson

MOVIE POSTERSALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
dir. Lasse Hallstr m
Stars:
Ewan McGregor
Emily Blunt

STAYStay
2005
dir. Marc Forster
starring
McGregor
Ryan Gosling

THE ISLANDThe Island
2005
dir. Michael Bay
starring
McGregor
Scarlett Johansson
Steve Buscemi

INCENDIARYIncendiary
dir. Sharon Maguire
Starring
Michelle Williams
McGregor

MOVIE POSTERHAYWIRE
dir. Steven Soderbergh
Stars:
Gina Carano
Ewan McGregor

Amelia Movie PosterAmelia
dir. Mira Nair
Stars:
Hilary Swank
Richard Gere
McGregor

The Men Who Stare at Goats Movie PosterThe Men Who Stare at Goats
dir. Grant Heslov
Stars:
McGregor
George Clooney
Kevin Spacey

BEGINNERSBEGINNERS
dir. Mike Mills
Stars:
Ewan McGregor
Christopher Plummer

MOVIE POSTERJACK THE GIANT SLAYER
2013
dir. Bryan Singer
Stars:
Nicholas Hoult
Stanley Tucci

MOVIE POSTERAUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
2013
dir. John Wells
Stars:
Meryl Streep
Julia Roberts

MOVIE POSTERMISS POTTER
2006
dir. Chris Noonan
Stars:
Renee Zellweger
Ewan McGregor

MOVIE POSTERTHE IMPOSSIBLE
2012
dir. Juan Antonio Bayona
Stars:
Naomi Watts
Ewan McGregor