Monday, November 11

Doctor Sleep Review

Doctor Sleep
Dir: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, and Emily Alyn Lind

Author Stephen King published “The Shining” in 1977 and director Stanley Kubrick would adapt the book into a film three years later in 1980, turning it into one of the seminal horror movies of all time even though Stephen King has made public statements of how much he dislikes it. 

King would continue to look into the past for influence on his 2013 book “Doctor Sleep”, a sequel to “The Shining” which follows young Danny Torrance after the events at the Overlook Hotel and into complicated adulthood that details struggle with addiction and the continuation of evil in different forms. 

Director Mike Flanagan, who last helmed the fantastic Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House” and another King adaptation the impressive “Gerald’s Game”, takes an interesting approach to “Doctor Sleep” by crafting a film that pays special attention to King’s source material themes, both in vague and specific ways, while offering a superb homage to Kubrick’s iconic film.

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has been haunted by the events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel when he was a child, the memories and ghosts of that day continue to follow and torment him. However, Danny further develops his special ability, which he calls “the shining”, with the help from the ghost of his old friend Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly playing the role made famous by Scatman Crothers from “The Shining”), which allows him to trap the spirits around him inside his mind. 

Danny grows up, troubled with addictions, and wandering through different towns until he winds up in a small New Hampshire town where he finds peace, along with sobriety, with the help of a kindly friend named Billy (Cliff Curtis). 

Things aren’t safe for Danny, along with other people who can “shine”, as a murderous roaming caravan of people who feed off those that shine is hunting a young girl named Abra (Kyleigh Curran) who Danny has developed a friendship with. 

“Doctor Sleep” has a lot of story to tell here, a lifetime in the case of Danny Torrance who experiences so much trauma as a young boy and then grows into adulthood with the scars of that event still very much healing, sometimes still bleeding when a ghost comes wandering back into his life. Director Mike Flanagan taps into this character, utilizing a subdued and affected Ewan McGregor to make this character the emotional core of the film. 

Stephen King crafts the novel with an approach that is far less of a supernatural tale and one that is more of the horror that happens in everyday life, the evil that exists without ghosts or paranormal monsters. Flanagan focuses on this narrative element, crafting tension with the roving group of killers led by the wicked Rose, played fiercely by Rebecca Ferguson, and orchestrating some disturbing elements involving children. One of these specific scenes is extremely hard to watch, a moment played to increase the peril which is effectively done right before Abra becomes a target for the group. 

Flanagan clearly understands and respects the vision of Stephen King for this story, but also the vision from Stanley Kubrick who turned “The Shining” into one of the best-regarded genre films in history. There are moments within “Doctor Sleep” where Flanagan recreates scenes, characters, and designs from “The Shining”, they are amazing and utilized so effectively to accommodate the tone of this film. 

“Doctor Sleep” has some minor pacing issues, which makes the story feel like it may have been better suited for an extended series to provide attention for all the characters and the journey Danny takes. Still, these are minor issues for a film that feels so accomplished in its vision, even when it’s working hard to honor the themes of the source material and the artistic style of Stanley Kubrick’s film. Mike Flanagan has demonstrated with his recent films, and specifically with “Doctor Sleep”, that he is truly the current master of horror. 

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00

Friday, November 1

Motherless Brooklyn Review

Motherless Brooklyn
Dir: Edward Norton
Starring: Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, and Willem Dafoe

A lone New York gumshoe exits the darkness of a side alleyway, a fedora casting a shadow over his eyes as steam rises from a manhole nearby. “Motherless Brooklyn”, directed, acted and written by Edward Norton, tackles the crime film noir genre with aggressive style and impressive performances from a group of exceptional actors placed in roles that allow them to flex and chew the scenery in unique ways. It’s a movie that doesn’t often get made in today’s sequel-heavy, superhero influenced atmosphere, the fact that it understands film noir characteristics and narrative themes keeps this film thought-provoking and engaging throughout.

In 1950’s New York, Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), sometimes known as Brooklyn and often self-described as Freakshow, works for a private investigation company run by Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Lionel is an orphan who grew up rough, Frank protected him when he was younger, keeping others from taking advantage of him. Lionel has a condition, he says his “brain is all messed up”, that accompanies physical twitches and involuntary verbal bursts. But being in the investigation business, this condition has an advantage as Lionel has a photographic memory. 

Frank arranges a setup with a group of mysterious guys, bringing Lionel and another one of Minna’s Men (Ethan Suplee) along to watch his back. Things go bad and Frank is shot, leaving Lionel to piece together a scheme of corruption beyond the private sector, but rather into the realms of New York politics, greed, and murder. 

“Motherless Brooklyn” is an interesting piece of noir cinema, it feels unusual yet refreshing to see a film like this on the big screen, which is where this film should be seen. Edward Norton, wearing the director’s hat, does a great job of combining familiar genre characteristics from crime films from the past, bringing a shadowy and hazy atmosphere to New York City while also showing the contrasting beauty of the city’s architecture and landscape both in bright sunlight and the dark of night. It feels, in very specific moments, like John Alton’s style of noir composition with films like “T-Men” and “He Walked By Night”, with deep shadows and pinpoint lighting style. 

The cast is an ensemble of great actors who all contribute nicely with characters, some who control the screen with glee. Take for instance Alec Baldwin playing a forceful businessman in a politician’s disguise. Baldwin’s introduction in the film finds him bursting through doors, feet and fist stomping, into a celebratory meeting that immediately stops. 

Minna’s Men, Bobby Cannavale, Ethan Suplee, and Dallas Roberts, have the fun task of playing the many different versions of noir detectives we’ve seen from the past. The tough guy, the playboy, the family man…each in search of a different reason for being a detective.

Edward Norton’s character is the most complex, the most intricate and the most unlike the standard stereotype found for this character. At one-point Lionel, seemingly shedding his persona to look more like something more familiar, picks up a trench coat, fedora and a holster with a gun, putting on the uniform of the determined gumshoe. Norton is doing so much with the character, consistent twitching and verbal rhyming spells, more flair than vulgar, that become more prominent when he is agitated or, in the one instance, grooving to jazz music in a smoky night club. 

The narrative weaves a nice who-dun-it but delves into over-explanation too often, with flashbacks that assist the mystery in ways the audience is already keen to. The primary story conflict is that of power, and throughout the film, this aspect is what gives the movie its motion, it what keeps you engaged to see how the sympathetic Lionel will best the bad guy. This drives the film until, in the final act, it shifts into a story about the protection of the past, present, and future. It works in pieces. 

“Motherless Brooklyn” is inspired by so many great things, “Chinatown”, classic film noir, jazz (the score and accompanying music from an amazing group of artists like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Thom Yorke, and a score by Daniel Pemberton), and New York City. While the narrative encounters a few bumps, the film does a great job of organizing an intricate and interesting noir film. 

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00

Friday, October 25

Parasite Review


Dir: Bong Joon-ho

Starring: Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Woo-sik Choi, Sun-kyun Lee, and Seo-joon Park

Some films make you laugh, some films make you cry. Some films make you scared, some films make you think. Every now and then a film tries to make you do all these things, all in one movie. Even less frequently a film successfully does all these things, separately and at once. These are the films that stick with you, these films make an impact; director Bong Joon-ho’s masterful multi-mood drama, comedy, thriller, horror is one of those memorable moments in cinema. 

To call the Kim family “down-on-their-luck” would be an understatement. In fact, if “down-on-their-luck” was street level the Kim’s home, which is located with windows looking up at the street level, would be the better description of their current place in the South Korean city they live in, however, that social status can be universally placed in any big city in the world in Bong Joon-ho’s narrative design here.  

We are introduced to the family sitting in squalor, moving about the crowded living space looking for a Wi-Fi signal to steal from someone living in the spaces above them. The family makes money folding pizza boxes for a delivery company, they aren’t good at it, but they stick together and support one another even when things seem to look bleak. The patriarch of the family is Kim Ki-taek, a brilliant performance from long-time Joon-ho collaborator Kang-ho Song, who doesn’t have much going in his favor beyond the affection of his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) and the respect of his daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park) and son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi).  

Things turn in favor of the Kim’s when Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) gets a job as a tutor for the Park family (Sun-kyun Lee and Yeo-jeong Jo). The Park’s live in a house that belonged to a famous architect, the design of the home is lavish and the Park family is well-off enough to afford a lifestyle the Kim family could only dream of. And Ki-woo recognizes that opportunity is in the palm of his hands the moment he moves across the boundaries of the world he knows into the wealthy new community. Ki-woo’s charm and lies gets his sister a job as an art teacher/therapist for the Park family’s only son. Ki-jung jokingly talks about knowing nothing about art therapy until she Googled what it meant and then just simply made up the rest. Before long Ki-taek and Chung-sook infiltrate jobs within the family, using underhanded schemes and manipulations to gain jobs as a chauffeur and housekeeper. 

“Parasite” is a film about social status, class systems, family dynamics, human decency and dignity, manners, respect, history…if that sounds like too much narrative politics for one film, it never feels that way. The beauty and masterful quality of this film is that even though it is clearly trying to make a point about different things, Bong Joon-ho never pushes his points in exhaustive ways. It’s the subtlety of his narrative, Joon-ho shares screenplay credit with Jin Won Han, that makes the film as entertaining as it is unnerving, as naturally comical as it is boldly serious. 

Joon-ho has always told intriguing stories by meticulously understanding the visual language used within the frame of his picture. Many times, the framing of characters and the position of shapes and objects in view offer as much visual explanation as a purposeful line of dialog would. “Parasite” is consistently interesting to observe; the contrast between two worlds is told with shapes and the concept of space, where the Kim family operates in tight quarters, often hunching and crouching to get into places that allow them a sense of freedom, the Park family has so much room to explore in their mansion, so much space to lose themselves in their giant world. The identity of two families is explored with how they occupy the frame with one another, where the Kim family is often times positioned close to one another, the Park family is separated and distant from one another. Bong Joon-ho is a master of using space to show and dissect relationships and motivations, it’s all present here.

With everything Bong Joon-ho is doing with the fantastic actors, who all give fantastic performances, and is trying to say with his multifaceted narrative, the core of the film is simply about the complicated lives of two families (plus another twist that will not be revealed here).  Joon-ho taps into uneasy subject matter and then easily finds a way to see the unflinching humor within these truths, it’s a fascinating exploration of humanity regardless of the subtitles and cultural differences found in this film. Bong Joon-ho simply has a keen understanding of people and what motivates them to do both beautiful and disgusting things. 

Bong Joon-ho is a brilliant filmmaker and “Parasite” is absolutely stunning film. 

Monte’s Rating

5.00 out of 5.00