Dark Horse Comics.
Dark Horse Comics.
Photo by Jörg Blobelt.
“Doctor Sleep” (2019) was ABSOLUTELY ****ING FABULOUS. I had high hopes for this movie after seeing the trailer — yet it exceeded my expectations. I’d easily rate this a 10 out of 10.
This is a story-driven horror film just brimming with blackly creative ideas and weird world-building — I haven’t read Stephen King’s source material, but I feel certain this was a loving adaptation of the 2013 novel. It is also genuinely touching at times. (I was trying to explain to a dear friend recently about how King’s work can surprise the uninitiated — the monsters and devils typically occupy only a portion of his imaginary landscapes. The remainder is inhabited by good people who are bravely doing the right thing.)
All of the movie’s story elements are painted vibrantly by Mike Flanagan’s beautiful screenwriting and nightmarishly trippy directing. The film’s action and often incongruously bright visuals are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s visions in “The Shining” (1980), to which this film is truly a worthy successor. (Flanagan was the director and screenwriter for last year’s fantastic “The Haunting of Hill House.” The qualities that you loved about the Netflix show can also be found in “Doctor Sleep” — in some ways, they are very similar stories.)
Rebecca Ferguson is mesmerizing as the story’s antagonist, Kyliegh Curran is pitch perfect as the young anti-hero, and Ewan McGregor is predictably terrific.
The only quibbles I had were minor — there was one plot device (presumably from the novel) that didn’t translate well to the screen. It concerns how the bad guys replenish themselves … I’ll bet it worked well in King’s prose, but it seemed corny and cliche when visualized on film.
You could also argue that “Doctor Sleep’s” constant references to “The Shining” were pretty heavy-handed. But that didn’t bother me too much … I arrived at the conclusion that “The Shining” and “Doctor Sleep” were really two halves of an epic supernatural road trip. Your mileage may vary.
One final caveat — this film does portray violence against children. It isn’t extremely graphic, but it’s still especially disturbing. (It technically isn’t gratuitous, I suppose, because there is an in-universe reason why Ferguson’s tribe of villains targets the young.)
This is easily the best horror film that I’ve seen in years. Go see it.
“The Meg” (2018) is an easy movie in which to find flaws. They’re many, they’re egregious, and they’re consistently front and center. The biggest flaw for me is its truly terrible script; it’s like the screenwriters weren’t even trying here. (At one point we see a character simply grunt a response to another during an exchange, as though the screenwriters were too disinterested to write a line of dialogue.) The movie’s other weaknesses include the occasionally spotty CGI and some head-scratching science.
With all of that said, however, I still had fun with “The Meg.” (The title refers to a prehistoric shark called megalodon, which our protagonists inadvertently release from a newly discovered deep-sea trench.) I’d rate it a 6 out of 10 because it was a fun enough summertime monster movie. It’s clunky stuff, but it’s passably enjoyable lowbrow entertainment for fans of creature features.
I like Jason Statham too. (This is the first film I’ve seen him in since 2004’s “Cellular.”) He certainly isn’t a bad actor, even if his lines in this film should have had him inwardly cringing. He’s got presence and charisma.
I’m not sure I would actually recommend “The Meg,” but I didn’t hate it.
I just cannot be partial to slasher films. It’s never been my preferred horror sub-genre to start with, and, at this point in my life, these movies have become so predictable and devoid of story that I often find them boring. There are exceptions — some of the the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films (1984- 2003) and “Child’s Play” (1988) were grotesquely creative and had terrific supernatural setups that were well executed. But even the attraction of John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” films (1978, 1981) is still mostly lost on me.
With all of that said, I’ll still say that my horror fan friends were right when they told me that 2018’s “Halloween” was a superior sequel. It looks a lot better than the segments I’ve seen of of the campier followups in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
It’s far better filmed and directed, it’s occasionally scary and it benefits from a very good cast. (Jamie Lee Curtis is of course quite good as the film’s heroine and perennial “final girl.” I’m also always happy to see Will Patton on screen, and I like Judy Greer a lot.) The script occasionally shines unexpectedly, too — the screenwriters have a truly impressive talent for making minor characters vivid with funny throwaway dialogue. (One of the three screenwriters is actor-writer-comedian Danny McBride, who I liked quite a bit in 2017’s “Alien: Covenant.”)
I’d be lying, however, if I told you that I wasn’t occasionally bored by this latest “Halloween” — simply because its basic, boilerplate plot and conclusion seem endlessly redundant with those of other slasher films. There are few surprises toward the end — one “gotcha” moment was especially nice — but the overall story is just too tired. I’d rate this film a 7 out of 10 for its merits, but I can’t actually get excited enough about it to recommend it.
“Greta” (2018) has some of the ingredients of a fantastic thriller: an interesting story concept and the talents of both the wonderful Chloe Grace Moretz and the extraordinary Elizabeth Huppert. It’s beautifully shot, too. (Weird trivia — what you’re seeing in much of the film outside of the obvious establishing shots is Dublin, and not New York. It turns out the Irish city can make a pretty plausible stand-in for the upscale neighborhoods of Brooklyn or Manhattan.)
Regrettably, those ingredients nevertheless combine into an average film; I’d rate this a 5 out of 10. Until its final half hour or so (when there are a few nice moments, thanks to Huppert), it’s far too slow in its execution. The tone of the movie feels somehow off, too. The city is bright and beautiful. Moretz’ character and her roommate (well played by Maika Monroe) feel too strong and capable to become truly imperiled. Worst of all, the titular Greta comes across during most of the movie as a vague and ineffectual threat. (There is a sequence in which she harasses Moretz by simply standing outside her workplace and staring. It’s unintentionally funny — you’ll know what I mean if you see the movie.)
Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a truly bad film, only a mediocre one. If the trailer suggests you might like it, it’s worth the price of a Redbox rental to find out.
I didn’t quite love the first season of the “Jack Ryan” television series, but I still really, really liked it. It’s a decent adaptation of Tom Clancy’s source material, albeit a very loose one. (And that’s just fine — we already have a number of excellent films that closely adapt the events of the books; we don’t need another methodical retread of the author’s novels.) I’d rate this an 8 out of 10.
There are some narrative weaknesses, particularly in the show’s failure to sustain tension between its episodes. And there are some surprise plot developments that the show telegraphed a bit obviously. (I usually don’t pick up on these things, but even I saw the clues.) There is also a subplot involving a drone operator that is largely unnecessary … some viewers will find it interesting while others will not.
“Jack Ryan” also suffers just a little in comparison with the Audience network’s superior “Condor” (2018). That excellent show covered much of the same subject matter, with its own ordinary CIA-analyst thrust into deadly game with terrorists. Season 1 of “Condor” was better written, boasted an amazing cast, and was far more frightening.
John Krasinski does a good job as the title character. I’ve always thought that this character would be tough for an actor to play, simply because he is so consistently nondescript. (The whole character concept is that he usually appears to be an especially bright but otherwise ordinary civil servant … his background as a United States Marine and his patriotism and courage aren’t things that he advertises.) Krasiniski’s Ryan is closer to that of the books than the version we see in the Harrison Ford films. I love Ford as much as the next person, but his interpretation of the character was too a bit too meek and diffident for me. That wasn’t quite the Jack Ryan that Clancy created.
What’s strange about the show is that it truly shines when deviates widely from the source materiel — especially in the character of Jim Greer. He is played to perfection here by Wendell Pierce, and he is no longer the gentle, wizened father figure that we saw in his counterpart from the books and movies. Nor is he a minor character — Pierce’s Greer is a gruff, pissy operations man fresh off of an ominous and unfair demotion, who shoots and runs right alongside Ryan when the bad guys attack. It sounds preposterously stupid. But … it works — largely, I think, because of Pierce’s talent. He’s a good enough actor to sell the idea and he invests Greer with a kind of perpetually disgruntled, antisocial charm. I honestly would continue watching this show if it focused on him as the main character.
When Season 1 of “Condor” was good — and it almost always was — it was a cinema-quality spy thriller. This was a smart, suspenseful, well made TV show that was very nearly perfect — I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.
“Condor” was adapted loosely from James Grady’s 1974 book, “Six Days of the Condor,” and its famous film adaptation the following year, “Three Days of the Condor.” I’ve neither read the former or seen the latter, but I can tell you that this new iteration of the story is intelligently written, nicely directed and edited, and well performed by its actors. It seems to channel the modus operandi of Tom Clancy’s books and films — showing multiple thoughtful characters plotting and acting either against or alongside one another — while the show keeps the tension high with sequences of surprise violence. (And there is indeed some disturbing violence here, particularly when the story calls for it to be perpetrated against non-combatants. “Condor” aired on the Audience channel on DirecTV; I suspect its content might be too much for a regular network.)
William Hurt has always been a goddam national treasure, as far as I’m concerned. (I may be biased in my appraisal of his work, as I grew up watching him in films like 1983’s “Gorky Park” and 1988’s “The Accidental Tourist.” I think he’s one of the best actors out there.) Seeing his talent colliding with Bob Balaban’s on screen should make this show required viewing for anyone who enjoys spy thrillers. (There is an extended, loaded exchange between them in a coffee shop here that is absolutely priceless.)
The whole cast is great. I’ve never been a fan of Brendan Fraser, simply because his movies are usually too goofy for me — but he shines in “Condor,” playing against type as an awkward villain.
Leem Lubany is terrific as the story’s merciless assassin. (See my comments above about the violence.) The role doesn’t call for her to have much range, as her character is a somewhat stoical sociopath. But she looks and sounds the part — combining sex appeal with an incongruous, calm, homicidal intensity. She reminded me a lot of Mandy, Mia Kirshner’s priceless, plot-driving assassin in Fox’s “24” (2001-2014).
If “Condor” has a failing, then it lies with its saccharine protagonists. The screenwriters seem to have gone to great lengths to paint an edgy, unpredictable, violent world full of compromised good guys and moral ambiguity. Why, then, are its handful of young heroes so implausibly perfect? The putative hero is “Joe,” nicely played Max Irons, who is just fine in the role. But the writers make him so idealistic, so gentle, so smart and so kind that it just requires too much suspension of disbelief. At one point I even wanted to see a bad guy at least punch him in the face, simply for being a goody-goody. It makes the story feel weird, too. (Who wants to see Jesus in a violent spy thriller?) The few other protagonists that we see here are also too good — they feel like thinly drawn, cookie-cutter heroes and not real people.
There are some plot implausibilities, too, that I’ve seen pointed out by other reviewers. (I have arrived at the resignation that others are simply far more perceptive about these things than I am.) But there was nothing that affected my enjoyment of Season 1.
“Condor” is great stuff. I recommend it.