Doctor Sleep

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Horror;
Box Office $31.58 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood.

It’s not exactly a secret that Stephen King didn’t much care for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of King’s 1977 novel The Shining. King’s distaste for the film was even a plot point in the 2018 film version of Ready Player One.

So it’s a bit remarkable, then, that King, serving as executive producer of the adaptation of his 2013 sequel Doctor Sleep, would allow the film to quote so much of Kubrick’s work.

Somehow, director Mike Flanagan has managed to make a film that both faithfully follows Kubrick’s version of The Shining while reconciling the differences between the source material and the film that irked King to begin with. The result is one of the better King adaptations, a terse game of supernatural cat-and-mouse that manages to be far more interesting than other recent King-to-screen efforts such as the bloated It: Chapter Two.

Like the book, the film picks up the story of young Danny Torrance, the little boy tormented by his father in The Shining, as he grows into a troubled adulthood (where he’s played by Ewan McGregor). Like his father, Dan has descended into alcoholism, turning to booze to drown out the traumas of his experiences at the Overlook hotel.

But he has also learned to deal with the ghosts that sought him due to his telepathic powers, and after reaching rock bottom manages to sober up and get a job at a hospice, where he uses his powers to help the terminally ill die peacefully, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

His telepathy also puts him into contact with others with the shining power, including a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). She alerts Dan to a cult of shiners led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who seek immortality by murdering innocent children to claim their youth.

Dan then must take steps to protect Abra when the cult decides to come after her next.

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Flanagan re-creates sequences from The Shining, albeit with different actors embodying the spirit of the original film, to effectively bridge the time gap between the two stories. The use of different actors can be a bit uncanny for those familiar with Kubrick’s film, especially if watched back to back with The Shining, since Flanagan admits he didn’t feel the need to go down the rabbit hole of digital re-creations of the original actors as long as he stayed true to the characters. He does a nice job matching Kubrick’s visual style, however, re-creating specific scenes and even using the original film’s music to good effect. Flanagan’s script also references plot elements of the second book that weren’t fully carried over into the film version.

As much as the film is a journey for Danny to reconcile traumas of his youth with the potential for using his abilities to help the world, so too it seems is it a chance for King to embrace the legacy of Kubrick’s version, which is often considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. In interviews before the theatrical release of Doctor Sleep, he spoke to elements of Flanagan’s screenplay that redeemed Kubrick’s version for him, and he echoes those sentiments in the home video bonus materials, in which he seems very much to have softened his stance toward the original film.

Indeed, the sequel does provide some deeper context for what transpired at the Overlook in the first film while giving Dan a chance to atone for his father’s demons.

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The Blu-ray includes a three-hour director’s cut, which runs about a half-hour longer than the theatrical cut. There aren’t really any scenes that change the meaning of the work, but the new material does give the story a chance to breathe by developing the characters a bit more. There are also more scenes of young Danny and his mother that take place shortly after The Shining, deepening Danny’s personal story and enhancing the film’s effectiveness as a psychological thriller while making it more of a bridge between King’s and Kubrick’s interpretations of the first novel.

Really, the director’s cut is the definitive version of the film, so anyone who hasn’t seen it should probably just start there.

The Blu-ray combo packs of Doctor Sleep include the theatrical cut on one disc and the director’s cut on another — so the 4K Ultra HD combo pack has just the theatrical cut on a 4K disc, with the director’s cut on a standard Blu-ray. The bonus materials are presented on the theatrical cut disc in both the 4K Ultra HD and standard Blu-ray combo packs. Each combo pack is only two discs, so the 4K pack doesn’t have a theatrical cut or extras on a standard Blu-ray.

However, the digital redemption code gives access to both the theatrical and the director’s cut, and all the extras as well, with the digital code from the 4K Ultra HD combo pack providing a 4K digital copy of the director’s cut.

Included are three featurettes running a bit more than a half-hour in total that are aimed at fans intrigued by the prospects of a King-approved sequel to Kubrick’s Shining. The 14-minute “The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision” deals with the general making of the film, the five-minute “From Shining to Sleep” provides an overview of how the filmmakers went about trying to connect the disparate movie and film versions of King’s vision, while the 15-minute “Return to the Overlook” focuses on re-creating the iconic sets of the first film.

Men in Black: International

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

 Street Date 9/3/19;
Sony Pictures;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office: $79.66 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson.

The fourth film in the “Men in Black” franchise was supposed to freshen up the franchise with a new cast and creative team. But old habits are hard to break, and Men in Black: International ends up coming across as a bland rehash of the formula established by the original film.

It’s not the fault of the cast, who are doing their best to milk laughs out of the material. And the film looks great, with all the weird aliens, slick gadgets and kooky visual effects one would expect from a “Men in Black” movie.

The issue is that the “MIB” movies don’t seem concerned with the kind of worldbuilding needed to create a viable sci-fi mythology, like establishing a set of rules for how things work. Instead they rely on familiar gags and situations that hint at a bigger picture but ultimately don’t yield many consequences for the characters or the fictional organization they work for that is tasked with secretly defending the Earth from intergalactic threats.

The fourth film kicks off with not one but two flashbacks. In one, a young girl witnesses her parents’ memories erased by MIB agents, causing her to become obsessed with learning the secrets of the organization, which she finally stumbles upon decades later and earns a chance to prove herself as an agent. Played as an adult by Tessa Thompson, she’s dubbed agent M and assigned to the London branch, where MIB boss O (Emma Thompson) thinks something’s not quite right with the operation.

The London branch is run by High T (Liam Neeson), who a few years earlier (in the other flashback) joined agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in fighting off an alien invader named The Hive, and once you hear why they’re called that it pretty much telegraphs every potential plot twist in the movie.

Anyway, back in the present, M and H work together to investigate a potential new threat from the Hive, involving a pair of alien assassins who are looking for a superweapon on Earth, taking them on an adventure through exotic locales in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

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Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth work well together, as we’ve seen in the “Thor” and “Avengers” movies. But their pairing here seems more an attempt to coast off that buzz than come up with fresh ideas.

The shift to London, the globetrotting story and addition of Hemsworth as a suave secret agent are undoubtedly meant to give the film a “James Bond meets Men in Black” vibe, which might have been better served if the film embraced the tone such a mashup would imply, rather than lazily resorting to the familiar buddy cop vs. aliens boilerplate we’ve seen before.

The bonus materials on the Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions mostly reinforce the notion that this is merely the next iteration of a familiar franchise, with a half-hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes about the cast, stunts, production design and gadgets showing how “MIB” is being taken to the next level. But nostalgia isn’t left behind, as there’s a three-minute video recapping the earlier movies.

There’s also a bizarre three-minute NBA crossover video in which M and H discover a number of top NBA superstars are actually aliens. While these were produced as promos for the NBA playoffs around the time of the film’s theatrical run, without that context they play more as a prequel for a “Space Jam”-type movie.

The home video editions also come with a two-minute gag reel.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray are 11-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes, some of which shed new light on elements in the movie. There’s also a pair of amusing faux commercials for “MIB”-style products, one for a consumer-approved memory-wiping neuralyzer, and another for a parody ancestry website for people to discover their alien heritage. However, the Alien-cestry.com URL just leads back to the Sony Pictures home page.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/4/18;
Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $220.16 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.
Stars Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Sean Harris, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, Alec Baldwin. 

The latest entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise brings together elements from all the movies to craft a top-notch, high-energy action adventure that could go down as a benchmark in the genre.

Central to the film’s success is star Tom Cruise, who took on many of the most dangerous stunt sequences himself. This emphasis on practical stunts lends a verisimilitude other contemporary action movies would be hard-pressed to match, as they so often resort to frenetic editing to mask underwhelming stuntwork or visual effects.

What’s even more remarkable about this is that Cruise is now 56 years old. By comparison, Roger Moore was 58 by the time he walked away from James Bond, when critics were saying he seemed way too old for the part. Even more astonishing, as has been pointed out online, perpetual old guy Wilford Brimley was five years younger in the quintessential senior citizen movie Cocoon than Cruise was in this movie. And yet Cruise shows no signs of slowing down (though a broken ankle during one of his stunts does raise the question of how far is too far).

In Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the sixth film in the franchise based on the classic TV series, Cruise personally executes a lengthy skydiving sequence, pilots a helicopter through a narrow mountain pass and races a motorcycle without a helmet through the streets of Paris. Not to mention his signature running scenes that have become a staple of the franchise. All this comes, of course, after he learned to hold his breath for five minutes for the previous movie.

In Fallout, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has to track down stolen plutonium that got into the hands of terrorists because his personal attachment to members of his team led him to save them instead, compromising the safety of the world (and highlighting a big reason why James Bond usually works alone).

Hunt’s IMF squad is then saddled with a CIA observer (Henry Cavill) as they attempt to recover the plutonium again, which now involves a group that wants to free Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the bad guy from the previous film who ran a covert network of rogue secret agents looking to undermine world governments.

Another subplot deals with Ethan’s relationship with Julia (Michelle Monaghan) from Mission: Impossible III, and how they had to part ways so he could continue to save the world without putting her at risk. (Cleaning up this storyline was one of Cruise’s main goals for the film, he says in the supplements).

What’s clear from the bonus materials is that, aside from the flexibility Cruise doing his own stunts being a huge advantage for the film’s editors, director Christopher McQuarrie and the writers were still making up the story as they were filming (which isn’t unlike Ethan’s methodology for completing the mission).

McQuarrie is the first person to direct a second “Mission: Impossible” movie, and even though this film is very much a direct sequel to his Rogue Nation, he insisted on bringing in a new production team to give the film a different style than his previous work, and the results speak for themselves. McQuarrie’s action is kinetic and thrilling while maintaining a clear sense of space and geography so the audience can easily track where the characters are and what is going on.

A number of the action sequences were shot using Imax cameras, and the Blu-ray aspect ratio adjusts to fill the full screen during these scenes.

The Blu-ray comes loaded with bonus materials, including three audio commentaries — a rarity in a day and age when most new home videos are reluctant to include even one.

McQuarrie is involved in two of the commentaries — sharing one with Cruise and another with editor Eddie Hamilton. The McQuarrie/Cruise pairing, amusingly dubbed “Tom Cruise University” at one point, is more an exercise in self-praise and an affirmation of how much fun they were having crafting the film. The track with Hamilton gets more into the filmmaking process in general.

The third commentary involves composer Lorne Balfe, who discusses his creative process and how he went about incorporating the iconic “Mission: Impossible” theme. Fittingly, there’s a score-only audio option to show off the terrific music.

The disc also includes an introduction of sorts in the form of a PSA-type video with Cruise and McQuarrie discussing motion-smooting settings on new TVs and telling viewers they should turn it off to avoid the movie looking like glossy videotape.

All the featurettes and behind-the-scenes material are on a bonus disc, with the main piece being “Behind the Fallout,” a grouping of seven featurettes that run a total of 53 minutes.

Balfe returns in a five-minute featurette to discuss mixing the music for the foot chase sequence. There’s also a three-minute featurette called “The Ultimate Mission” in which Cruise offers his own reflections on the franchise.

The bonus disc also includes the theatrical trailer and storyboards for several sequences, plus a four-minute montage of deleted scenes, offered with or without the director’s commentary.

The deleted scenes are alluded to frequently in the commentaries, but the montage is mostly just the visuals of the scenes set to music, with minimal sound effects and no dialogue. McQuarrie says he usually prefers not to show deleted scenes but decided to present them in a musical montage as a compromise because he really wanted audiences to see the hard work that went into them.

While a couple work fine without sound, it probably would have been more effective to just present the scenes as a disc typically would, rather than make a music video out of them.