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Doctor Sleep's Diminishing Returns 

And Last Christmas' gifts

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click to enlarge Definitely not getting that security deposit back. - DOCTOR SLEEP
  • Doctor Sleep
  • Definitely not getting that security deposit back.

DOCTOR SLEEP. Stephen King famously hates Stanley Kubrick's version of his novel The Shining (book 1977, movie 1980). It's not my place to say he's wrong but ... he is. While Kubrick's is a liberal adaptation, therein lies the whole damn point. Books are not movies, nor the reverse, and this business of simply lifting the words from the page and transposing them onto the screen with as little deviation as possible makes me frustrated, wistful and a little sad.

It's a good thing King took and takes issue with Kubrick's version because to me The Shining will always belong more to the screen. By the time I saw the movie, at a precipitous midnight screening as a pre-teen, I had made my way through a fair-to-middling portion of King's oeuvre but had yet to reckon with Kubrick's. I had my mind blown and began exploring the iconoclastic ex-pat director's work in earnest, just as I had the author's. In so doing, I've returned to The Shining a number of times and, like all the whack-jobs, scholars and conspiracy-theorists, I find something new each time. Like all of Kubrick's work, it is a visually dense, beyond-meticulous exercise in craft, a horror movie that defies and transcends genre with its perverted beauty and consummate composure. The near impossible complexity of its production design, together with the persistent rumors about Kubrick's ties to the U.S. government, have been the stuff of (often addle-pated) conversation and conjecture for decades, so much so that a documentary was made about it (2012's Room 237, which I recommend, though probably only for fans). While I cannot subscribe to all of the fantastical notions that have become attached to it, the movie is a significant and enduring work of art. And, having read the novel some 20-plus years after I began reading King, I'd posit the movie has more to offer. 

My opinion notwithstanding, King's stock is soaring these days. Whether this is due more to the imminent adaptability of his work, or the withering imagination and the fear of investing in new intellectual property remains debatable. Regardless, adaptations of his books are trending and good for him. Whether it is good for us — the audience, the fans — is another matter. 

In 2013, King published the novel Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining that picks up the story of Danny Torrance some 30 years later. Sometime between then and now, writer/director Mike Flanagan got hold of it and recast it as some sort of bridge-building exercise between King's novel and Kubrick's movie; a better philosophical gesture than art. 

Flanagan previously adapted another King book, the second-tier but still effective Gerald's Game, into a weirdly antiseptic Netflix movie in 2017 and, while Doctor Sleep evinces some stylistic evolution (and access to more money, one supposes), it still feels somehow stilted and unconvincing, a fairy-tale rendering of ostensibly horrific subjects. The same criticism could be leveled at much of King's work, so maybe it's only appropriate. 

The Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) to whom we are reintroduced is a fall-down drunk with no prospects (King again channeling Carrie Nation). Since the traumatic events depicted in The Shining, he's spent his life alternately capturing the ghosts in his mind and trying to numb himself to his psychic gifts. And then, one day, he decides to move to New Hampshire, get sober and reinvent himself through clean air and hard work. (In King's defense, his painstaking plotting and character shading rarely survive the transition from page to screen, this being no exception.) In the midst of this wholesome chapter, Dan becomes aware of an adolescent girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) with a shining more powerful than anyone has ever known. This makes her a target for a roving gang of vampire-junkie-tourists who subsist on what they call "the steam" of similarly gifted children and are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who wears a silly hat. After some debate, Dan, unwisely enlisting the aid of his friend Billy (Cliff Curtis, doing better work than the part probably merits), teams up with Abra to do battle with the forces of ... what they represent is unclear, really. Faceless evil? The vagaries of the ancient world? An uncaring universe?

This whole enterprise, from its conception, feels non-essential. I suppose I can see the appeal for completionists and I imagine the book is not without its satisfactions. On screen, though, and at over two and a half hours, Doctor Sleep plods, meanders and goes unnecessarily back to the source to provide a coda that does not offer much at all. R. 152M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

click to enlarge Walking into Costco the day after Halloween. - LAST CHRISTMAS
  • Last Christmas
  • Walking into Costco the day after Halloween.

LAST CHRISTMAS. I've made no secret of my affinity for Christmas movies. Despite my godless pessimism, I find in many of them a warm and abiding comfort. And so I look forward each year to the possibility of a new Christmas movie that might make its way into the canon. I'm not so sure about this one ascending but it has its charms. 

Inspired by the George Michael song of the same title (and liberally scored with Michael's songs), co-written by Emma Thompson and directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, 2011; Ghostbusters, 2016), Last Christmas presents the struggling Kate (Emilia Clarke), née Katerina, a first-generation Londoner of Yugoslavian descent. In the wake of a health crisis, she struggles with self-care and motivation. Her parents barely speak to one another, having been forced to start over after their emigration. She fights with her sister, hangs onto her retail job by a fingernail and goes through the motions at singing auditions. But then she meets a charming oddball named Tom Webster (Henry Golding) and gradually starts to pull things together. 

The plot treads a fairly well-worn path but the script, suffused as it is with notions of hope and inclusion, together with Feig's deceptively light touch, transcends cliché. PG13. 102M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.

See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Opening

CHARLIE'S ANGELS. Reboot with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska and Elizabeth Banks, as well as the requisite costume changes and explosions. PG13. 118M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

FORD VS. FERRARI. Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in a drama about Ford's quest to beat team Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966 PG13. 152M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE GOOD LIAR. Ian McKellan stars as a confidence man who falls for his wealthy mark (Helen Mirren) and everything goes to hell. R. 149M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

JOJO RABBIT. Director Taika Waititi's satire about a Hitler youth recruit (Roman Griffin Davis) whose goofy imaginary friend is Hitler (Waititi) and who struggles with his beliefs when he finds his mother is hiding a Jewish girl. PG13. 108M. MINOR.

THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004). CGI Tom Hanks, trains and Santa. G. 100M. BROADWAY.

Continuing

THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Your goth role models return in animated form. Starring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron. PG. 87M. BROADWAY.

FANTASTIC FUNGI. Mycological documentary with time-lapse footage of mushrooms and a dive into their history. NR. 81M. MINIPLEX.

GIFT. Documentary about the creative process of giving and gift-based cultures from a Roman museum to Burning Man. NR. 90M. MINIPLEX.

HARRIET. Director Kasi Lemmons' biopic about Harriet Tubman's (Cynthia Erivo) escape from slavery and crusade to free hundreds of others via the Underground Railroad. Put her on the $20 already. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

JOKER. The supervillain gets the sympathetic (but not vindicating) origin story treatment with an excellent and creepy Joaquin Phoenix amid a grimy, brutal Gotham. With Robert DeNiro calling up King of Comedy vibes. R. 121M. BROADWAY.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL. Angelina Jolie is back in the horns to block Aurora's (Elle Fanning) wedding and throw down with Michelle Pfeiffer. With a winged Chiwetel Ejiofor. PG. 119M. BROADWAY.

MIDWAY. Ed Skrein and Patrick Wilson as U.S. Navy pilots in the key battle over the Pacific during World War II. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

PAIN AND GLORY. Director Pedro Almodóvar's Spanish drama about a director (Antonio Banderas) looking back on his life. Also starring Penélope Cruz. R. 113M. MINOR.

PLAYING WITH FIRE. John Cena, Keegan-Michael Peele and John Leguizamo star in a comedy about smoke jumpers saddled with a trio of kids. PG. 96M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE. Linda Hamilton returns to battle more robots from the future with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis and Edward Furlong. R. 128M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP. Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin return for the deceptively well-written, better acted sequel to the action comedy. R. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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John J. Bennett

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