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Quarantine 2020 Catch-Up — Movie Reviews: Doctor Sleep

Well, my last review “Until the End of the World” couldn’t have been more aptly timed it seems. Personally, I’ve been quarantined for about two weeks. No, I don’t have Covid-19 (aka Coronavirus), however my place of work has been heavily impacted by this phenomenon as, I’m sure, many of you reading this probably have experienced some level of disruption in your life as well. So, in these times of uncertainty, I’ve decided to dive into my watch-pile of movies that I’ve accumulated over the years and forgotten about, or more plainly- haven’t gotten around to watching for one reason or another. I figured I’d start with a more recent release, and Mike Flanagan’s adaption of “Doctor Sleep” is an excellent place to begin!

Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, “Doctor Sleep” is both an adaption of Stephen King’s Novel and a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film. This film also puts a heavy emphasis on nods back to Stephen King’s original book that really cements the world building attempted here. Admittedly, I missed the theatrical run when it was in theaters, so when I picked up the blu-ray, I chose the ‘Director’s Cut’ of the film. I’m not sure how much of the story is altered for this cut, but as I see it, this should be the definitive version of the film. Though, this does add about a half hour to the run time making it a three-hour commitment, you have been warned. The story is divided into six chapters and each one effectively peels back layers of the return to this world, and the dangers that come with it. We get some quick flashbacks early on with a young Danny Torrance and his Shining mentor Dick Hallorann, or at least, a communication with Hallorann from beyond the grave. He warns Danny that “it’s a hungry world out there” and that there are those who would feed on Danny’s power in a most violent way. It’s really the perfect introduction to the threat that Danny must eventually face in “the true knot”.

When we catch up with Danny (Ewan McGregor) as an adult, it’s 2011 and he’s in a bad place. He’s become an alcoholic to quiet the effects of his shining abilities. Dan (as he’s called now) steals from the single mother he’d just had a one night stand with and gets on a bus and heads out of town. After some ignored shame from the ghostly Hallorann, Danny finally succumbs to do the right thing after being haunted by the dead Mother and Son he neglected. He finally settles in a small town in New Hampshire and befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who helps Dan get a small apartment, a job as an orderly at the local Hospice, and becomes his AA sponsor. Fast forward seven years to 2019 where Dan’s gotten over his alcoholism, and he gets a new ‘friend’ of sorts when another person, who also shines, leaves him chalk messages on the blackboard wall. That ‘friend’ is Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a teenage black girl living in an affluent suburb whose Shining power is strong, even more so than Dan’s. Meanwhile, ‘the true knot’ is running amok in the world, feeding on the life-source of those who shine. ‘The true knot’, as they call themselves, are a roaming band of psychic vampires that hunt and devour those who shine, and those who shine strongest give the most potent steam when they die. Initially, I wasn’t impressed with these villains, but they grew on me over the course of the film. Once they capture and brutally slaughter a young baseball loving boy, their threat and menace was secured. The group consists of about ten to twelve members for most of the story, each a different immortal age and prowess. The group is run by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) a particularly charismatic and analytical vampire of the mind. Rose is incredibly gifted in the dark arts and hears Abra’s mental projections pleading with Rose to stop the young baseball player’s slaughter- even halfway across America. Thus she sets her sights on the young Abra, and when Abra seeks out Dan for help in her investigation of that young boy’s murder, things start to accelerate.

At this point you may have an idea or two where the story is going, but I’ll leave any plot summation for your own discoveries. In truth, I was incredibly, joyously, wrong in my original assumption that a sequel to “The Shining” would be ill-advised. I’m still in shock that “Doctor Sleep” isn’t just a passable sequel, but one that ties both books and Kubrick’s film adaption together in consistently smart and horrific (i.e. Good) ways. While the last half hour or so does indulge in returning to the Overlook Hotel, it earns that return. It doesn’t feel like the script takes us there for shallow nostalgia, but for a deeper character exploration for Dan Torrance besides the solution for Rose the Hat. Which really runs into the theme of the film, using your own fears against your problems. Facing your fears with the acknowledgement and confidence required to stop them. Speaking of the return to the Overlook, one of my favorite aspects of this film was the reliance on actors that look extremely close to the actors who portrayed major characters in the first film. There’s no attempts to dig up Jack Nicholson and reanimate his face for a cameo scene here, no, just strikingly similar actors. Particularly impressive was the actress they got to portray Wendy Torrance in Dan’s flashbacks, Alex Essoe, she was eerily close to Shelley Duvall‎’s appearance and her acting choices were so close that, at times, it was mind-boggling.

“Doctor Sleep” was a welcome surprise, and well worth the wait! The new characters and dynamics that arose were engaging and well executed, but the return to the characters and places that we know and loved from both the book and film adaption of “The Shining” were outright spectacular! I haven’t enjoyed a long-gestating sequel as much as this since “Blade Runner 2049”. If you enjoy a good horror movie every now and then, and especially if you like or love “The Shining”, I highly encourage you to check out the Director’s Cut of this movie!

Final Score: 41 Psychic Vampires

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Old School Review: “The Running Man” (1987)

Written by Steven E. de Souza and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, “The Running Man” is a sci-fi adjacent action movie adapted from the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The novel, from what I can tell with some light internet research, is VERY different from this adaption with the core concept alone surviving the transition. Which makes perfect sense after giving this one a watch, casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as the main character of a Stephen King novel adaption in the 1980’s wouldn’t have made much sense unless you were going to drastically change the nature of the story. Mostly set during 2019 (appropriately) two years after a worldwide economic collapse, the United States has degraded into a totalitarian nightmare. The government uses TV game shows to keep the public pacified through violence and carnage. The most popular game show is ‘The Running Man’, where convicted criminals must evade armed mercenaries for a chance at parole- or a grisly death!

A police helicopter pilot by the name of Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is flying above Bakersfield, California, with his crew when he’s given orders from his superiors to fire into a sizable crowd of citizens engaging in a “food riot”. When he refuses, his crew members on board get their own orders to restrain Richards and to quell the rioters with a barrage of bullets. So the system committed a massacre, blamed it on Richards, and threw him in a labor camp for his revolt. After some time he escapes from the camp with two resistance fighters named Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) and William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto). They make it to one of the resistance camps, but Richards decides to seek shelter at his brother’s apartment not far from the camp. There he meets Amber Mendez (María Conchita Alonso), the new tenant that took up residence after Richards’ brother was taken for “re-education”. Richards then takes Amber hostage and tries to hop a flight to Hawaii, but she outs him to airport security and he’s quickly scooped up by the ICS broadcasting company. Having viewed the footage of Richards escaping the labor camps, Killian (Richard Dawson), the host of ‘The Running Man’, chooses to snatch Richards up before the government can have him- as he’s the perfect candidate for his game show.

Killian coerces Richards to play the game in exchange for his two resistance fighter friends’ safety, which is, of course, a lie. Killian has tracked down Weiss and Laughlin and made them game contestants as well. At this betrayal, Richards swears revenge before Killian sends them down the tubes and into the game. In the abandoned parts of Los Angeles that are the game zone, Richards and his friends keep moving as they’re pursued by the stalkers. Out in the world, Amber sees footage of Richards being captured for ‘The Running Man’ and realizes that the advertisement was doctored and begins to question whether Richards was telling the truth and investigates. After some sleuthing, she discovers that Richards was framed for the Bakersfield Massacre, but she’s quickly caught by the ICS security and thrown into the game for her punishment. After Richards, Weiss, and Laughlin kill Sub-Zero, the first stalker to be dispatched in the show’s history, they begin to search for ICS network’s uplink tech, which they believe to be in the area. Amber catches up with the three and shares her discovery, they then split up as two more stalkers are sent after them.

The majority of the film takes place in the game zone of ‘The Running Man’, and it’s a fairly entertaining time if you’re into cheesy action oriented movies from the eighties. There’s some fun one-liners from Arnold, gratuitous violence involving chainsaws and flamethrowers, and some genuinely fun arch villain acting from Richard Dawson as Killian, who was the first host of “Family Feud”- great casting with that part! The movie also correctly predicted several aspects of what modern society might be dealing with in the year 2019, though not nearly to the degree that the movie suggests. “The Running Man” predicted “deep-fake” technologies and correctly suggested that the people of 2019 would be having huge societal issues with the truth and misdirection due to ever-advancing technologies. It also predicted economic collapse, the disparity between the rich and the poor, and our collective obsession with “reality” TV. While this one may not be the most intellectually engaging, and not exactly the peak of Arnold’s action movies to come out of the eighties, it IS a fun time and a perfectly fine way to spend a rainy (or snowy) night in.

Final Score: 4 Stalkers & 1 Running Man