Doctor Sleep

Director: Mike Flanagan

Screenwriter: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, and Carel Struycken

When I heard that a film adaptation was in the works for Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, I admit I was worried. When I read the 2013 novel, I remember immediately thinking, “Well, this will never work as a film.” Then, to my surprise, within a few years, it’s announced that it’s already in production, and with the talented horror-guru Mike Flanagan (Haunting of Hill House, Hush) as writer/director. That’s enough to get me in the theater, and fortunately, Doctor Sleep does not disappoint.

As I mentioned, Doctor Sleep is Stephen King’s long awaited follow up to his horror classic, The Shining. The original film version of The Shining from 1980 directed by Stanley Kubrick has taken on a life and mythology of its own being hailed as one of the greatest horror films of all time as well as inspiring countless stories and documentaries about some of the strange occurrences associated with the production. Doctor Sleep picks up 30 years after the events at the Overlook Hotel from the original novel. Danny, now going by Dan (Ewan McGregor), is a fully grown, recovering alcoholic, and still has the shine, a term referring to his psychic abilities. Dan’s pretty messed up as one tends to be after a haunted hotel possesses your dad leading him to chase you and your mom around with an axe and just murder a bunch of people before freezing to death in a hedge maze. Oh…spoiler alert.

Now, Dan is sort of a lost soul leading him to taking a job as a hospice nurse, a job that puts his abilities to good use, as his shine gives him an uncanny ability to help soothe the dying in their final moments – subsequently earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep. The shining is a pretty valuable thing – even more so to a group of steam-punk looking, cultish demons known as the True Knot. Lead by ancient matriarch, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot travels by RV across the country seeking out those with the shine, torturing them, and then devouring their essence, which they call steam. It’s a motley crew of weridos with weird names to say the least (a tip of the cap to Twin Peaks’s Carel Struycken as Grandpa Flick). They survive on steam and it must be extracted through pain and torture, which results in some very unsettling scenes in the film.

When the True Knot sense the presence of a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who possesses incredibly strong abilities, Rose and her band of scoundrels look to hunt her down. Abra reaches out to Dan asking for his help to stop the True Knot from capturing and killing more people in their caravan of death!

I enjoyed Doctor Sleep much more than I expected I would. The performances are good, especially by Rebecca Ferguson as Rose. The horror is quite terrifying in parts, and while The Shining is on a different plane in terms of achievement and experience, Doctor Sleep is a well-told, strongly designed sequel. The nods to the first film are appropriate, but this is a fully realized, complete story all on its own. The adaptation from the source material is extremely faithful in most respects, but Flanagan also takes some massive left turns in other places, most notably with when Abra’s powers manifest and with the film’s ending. Stephen King said in an interview that it is important for readers to understand that the novel Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the novel The Shining and not the film. I think Flanagan took to that approach with this film in that the movie Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the movie The Shining and not the book, therefore the choices he made to deviate from the book make sense to the characters as we know them from the movie (even though I would have loved to see the novel’s ending play out in the film).

Doctor Sleep does what it set out to do very well. It invokes the spirit of The Shining without needlessly relying on it to stay above water. The inexplicable 152-minute running time does unsurprisingly result in the occasional drag here and there, especially in the first act. Still, there’s plenty that works and more than enough play in this film to keep Doctor Sleep from being a dull boy. B+

Doctor Sleep is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.

Jack the Giant Slayer

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The story of Jack and his magical beanstalk dates back to Viking times and over the past 1400 years, we have yet to be sick of it.  Countless versions of this story exist in virtually every format of entertainment imaginable.  The story is a good one though and in the hands of the talented director Bryan Singer, this version is certainly one of the best. 

Jack the Giant Slayer stars Nicholas Hoult whose star is on the rise.  Fresh off of his other starring role as R in Warm Bodies, Hoult functions well as the underestimated, romantic hero.  The main story is mostly familiar.  Jack is trusted with a task to sell items for money, but he returns home with no money and a handful of “magic beans.”  The magical properties of the beans are unleashed when they become wet in a rainstorm sending Jack’s house, and inadvertently the King’s daughter Isabelle, up to a legendary land of giants via a massive beanstalk.  King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) organizes a team to rescue his daughter lead by his trusted knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and including Jack as well as the plotting Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who the princess has been promised to for marriage. 

The giants are truly spectacular.  They are easily 20 feet tall and have a very clever form of motivation based on a previous war between man and giant, which resulted in them being magically enslaved by a magic crown.  Nonetheless, they are vengeful and dangerous, bringing a real threat of danger and excitement to the story.  Furthermore, Singer allows several opportunities for tongue-in-cheek humor to permeate the already clever adventure story that takes place up the beanstalk.  Simply put, a strong case is made for Stanley Tucci to have a part in every movie.

The only issue the film has going against it lies in its first act.  Singer’s film begins a bit slowly with terse voice-over narration of parallel backstories for young Jack and young Isabelle.  The children playing these parts deliver excruciatingly clichéd performances, and it was at this point that I admit I was worried.

Consequently, I must pause here to mention that this review comes with a brief stipulation.  When it comes to re-making a fairy-tale, there are many pitfalls that can occur; a major one is choosing the right audience.  Aside from this tepid opening segment, Bryan Singer actually has made a film that would exist more comfortably in Middle Earth than in Disney World.  It embraces its world of man-eating giants and has fun with it.  This decision certainly enhances the film’s entertainment value, but it also takes a familiar children’s tale and puts it just out of reach for children to enjoy. Creating an opening scene so clearly not in congruence with the rest of the film sets the incorrect initial mood that is hard to shake once the movie gets good.  However, if you can make the leap, this film definitely functions much better as a romantic action film than as a cute and safe children’s tale.        

That being said, I liked Jack the Giant Slayer.  I also recommend seeing it in 3-D, which is a recommendation I can honestly say I would give to no more than five films.  This is a fun, entertaining, funny, and good looking film that is easy to enjoy once the film figures out what it is and who it’s aimed at.   B