Review by Camden Ferrell
Nearly 40 years after the release of Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining, audiences will get to return to that world once again. Based on King’s best-selling novel of the same name, Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the fateful events that happened at the Overlook Hotel. This is a thrilling and satisfying adaptation that should please fans of both the film and books.
This movie takes place over many years and follows Danny Torrance as an adult. He’s a recovering alcoholic who meets a young girl who also has the ability to shine. Danny then learns that he must protect her from an evil cult that feeds off of those who shine. This is an entirely different type of story than The Shining, and it feels completely fresh and original because of it.
I was a fan of the book, but it was one that seemed difficult to adapt for the screen, but writer and director Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game) does a marvelous job of condensing the story and adapting it for film. It’s a more thorough and ambitious story he aims to tell, and with King’s source material, he does a great job of doing so.
This movie is led by Ewen McGregor (Trainspotting) who plays an adult Danny. He does a great job of understanding the depth of his characters. He battles with his demons, both real and supernatural in a way that feels very rooted in reality. He carries many of the scenes in the movie and is a rather engaging actor to watch in this role.
Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible series) gives an impressive turn as the antagonist and leader of the cult. She is beautifully frightening, and she gives a powerful and screeching performance that elevates all of her scenes and creates a formidable threat to the protagonists. The movie also features Kyliegh Curran in her first major role, playing the young girl with the shining. She does a passable job alongside her co-stars, and even if it seems underwhelming, it shows promise for this young star.
What’s great about this movie is how it seamlessly unites both King’s and Kubrick’s version of The Shining. It pays homage to both and continues its sequel with a similar spirit that will please all horror fans. It also features plenty of small details and references for fans of the Doctor Sleep novel. There are plenty of unique touches from Flanagan that make this movie feel more fleshed out and enjoyable. It’s a surprisingly human story about trauma and addiction that give this movie a more profound subtext.
The movie also succeeds in all of its unpredictable and shocking moments. Almost all of the film’s final act deviates significantly from the book in a way that is pleasing and surprising at the same time. Even if the creative choices can undermine some of the subtle character development, it makes up for it by being continuously original and frightening.
Even though it is over two and a half hours long, thanks to the fast pace and confident direction, it goes by very quickly. Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor and a sequel done right. It has great performances, scares, and plenty of surprises.
Doctor Sleep is in theaters everywhere November 8th.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Adopt a Highway is a drama film that premiered earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival. This movie is the directorial debut of actor Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade). What the movie lacks in compelling plot-driven narrative is more than made up for by yet another masterful performance from Ethan Hawke.
This film follows Russell Millings, an ex-convict who was a victim of California’s three strike policy. He was robbed of decades of his life due to a minor drug charge. Upon his release from prison, he tries to navigate his new environment when he finds a baby who was abandoned in a dumpster. The movie takes its fish out of water premise to human levels and distinguishes itself in the process.
The script by Marshall-Green is a mostly unobjectionable. It’s a reflective character study with a hint of social commentary spread throughout. It revels a lot in its minimalist exchanges, but it really succeeds in how it develops Hawke’s character through actions rather than words. It’s a modest script, but it’s one that works well with the premise.
The obvious highlight of the film is Hawke’s (First Reformed) performance. It’s become very clear that he is one of the most talented actors working today, and this more subtle role is a testament to his own abilities. He embodies the character in a very realistic way that can feel heartbreakingly real at times. He interacts well with the cast, especially the baby he finds in the dumpster. It’s a fantastic performance that practically defines this movie.
The movie also does say a lot in its parallels between its protagonist and the baby he finds. Marshall-Green meditates on the idea of a stolen life, of robbed opportunities, and uncertainty. At heart, Hawke’s character is still a boy despite what his appearance would suggest. It’s a life that, despite being a victim to society, still has some compassion left in it. This is an emotional message that Marshall-Green attempts to make.
However, this movie does make some surprising choices with its narrative. It goes in unexpected directions that aren’t necessarily bad, but somewhat disappointing. There is a definite turning point in the film where it seems to become significantly less engaging. Hawke remains electric, but the pace severely drags, and the plot feels aimless too often.
Despite this, its final act does have one special moment that is achingly beautiful. It is achieved through the superb acting of Hawke and the development of his character over the course of the film. Even though the film doesn’t even clock in at 90 minutes, it still makes a somewhat efficient use of its time.
Adopt a Highway is not a compelling plot-driven narrative, but a quiet and thoughtful character study. This movie shows promise for Marshall-Green as a director and serves as another showcase for Hawke.
Adopt a Highway is available on VOD on November 1st.
Review by Sean Boelman
Serendipity, directed by artist-turned-filmmaker Prune Nourry, is a personal and captivating look at a difficult period in Nourry’s life. Quite possibly one of the best documentaries of the year so far, this film delivers as both an evaluation of what it means to be an artist and what it means to be human.
The movie follows Nourry after she receives a breast cancer diagnosis, expressing her feelings through her art dealing with femininity and female fertility. Although plenty of documentaries have dealt with diseases and how they affect artists, none has been as effective and intimate as this, largely because the film is, intrinsically, a work of Nourry’s art.
Over the course of the movie, viewers will come to admire Nourry, not only for her artistic bravery and ingenuity, but also for the courage and perseverance she shows despite the major obstacle which she is facing. Viewers who have a personal connection to breast cancer, whether themselves or a loved one, will likely find themselves moved by Nourry’s experiences and how well she was able to express her emotions regarding them.
The film also offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Nourry’s art. The two storylines (her work and her experiences with cancer) often intersect, but they also work well on their own. Sequences depicting the preparations that Nourry makes for her various multimedia exhibitions are enchanting and wonderfully-made.
Nourry’s statements about femininity and female empowerment are definitely intriguing and thought-provoking. The movie allows some very interesting insight into Nourry’s creative process and what she wants to say with her work. Since Nourry directed the film herself, she is able to effectively guide the audience to her message in this way.
If anything, there is enough story in this movie for it to have been much longer. Clocking in at under an hour and fifteen minutes, this film breezes by, particularly if one is able to connect with the subject and her story. Certain sequences could have spared to be expanded, but the movie is nonetheless very impressive given that Nourry is not a filmmaker first.
As one would expect, the film is very accomplished on a visual level. Likely due to her work as a visual artist, Nourry has a keen eye for composition, and much of the movie is absolutely beautiful to look at. Even the medical shots in the film feel elegant and beautiful. Additionally, the movie’s use of music is quite unique, adding to the overall style and mood of the piece.
Both an art documentary and a cancer documentary, Serendipity bites off a whole lot to chew, but somehow, it manages to be a revelatory experience. Equal parts beautiful and moving, this will likely go down as one of 2019’s most underseen films.
Serendipity is now playing in theaters.
Review by Sean Boelman
Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus is an unorthodox romance, the directorial debut of French filmmaker and musician Serge Gainsbourg. Receiving a re-release in a new restoration, this is a film that purposefully and unabashedly defies convention, but in a way that is often shocking and frequently entertaining.
The movie follows a tomboyish waitress who falls in love with a gay garbage truck driver, causing his partner to become jealous. Although this plot is somewhat problematic by today’s standards, this film was originally released in 1976, at which time it would have been a surprising exploration of an aspect of sexuality that wasn’t often discussed, much less portrayed on-screen.
In terms of pacing, the movie definitely won’t appeal to most audiences. By no means is this a traditional romance, the purpose of the film very much being to make the viewer uncomfortable to an extent that the movie can be very hard to watch at times. That said, Gainsbourg’s direct approach to the story is interesting and thought-provoking, to say the least.
In a few instances, the film does seem like it leans a bit too heavily on shock value, but those who are familiar with Gainsbourg’s music (which is sometimes very sexually explicit) will likely be unsurprised by this. However, it never feels as if Gainsbourg is exploiting the sexuality on screen, but instead, like he is portraying it in an honest (and brutal) way.
Gainsbourg’s use of characterization in the movie is also quite unique. Although all three of the characters have characteristics with which the audience can identify, the film never takes one particular character’s side. Instead, Gainsbourg focuses on the dynamic between the three leads as broken individuals linked by the lust that unites them and divides them in equal measure.
The three leads of the movie, Jane Birkin, Joe Dallesandro, and Hugues Quester, have very good chemistry together, selling the love triangle aspect of the film. Birkin, likely the most well-known of the cast, does a great job of carrying the movie. Her subtle emotion, even in the film’s more over-the-top sequences, goes quite a long way.
On a technical level, the movie is very impressive thanks to Gainsbourg’s unique style. Since Gainsbourg was a musician before becoming a filmmaker, the use of music in the film is key. The score (composed by Gainsbourg) is wonderful, both fitting the movie quite well and functioning as a musically complex piece on its own. Gainsbourg’s visual style is also richly detailed and artistic.
An interesting step into the past, Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus certainly won’t be for everyone, but it is a film that is unique in both form and content. Hopefully the other three movies in Gainsbourg’s filmography will also receive a restoration soon.
Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus is now playing in theaters.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Elephant Queen, directed by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, is a new nature documentary exploring the African savannah. Although it lacks the charm and narrative rhythm characteristic of other animal-centric documentaries, the film is watchable thanks to some absolutely gorgeous visuals.
Ultimately, perhaps the biggest thing working against this movie is its title. Audiences will go in expecting a film about elephants, when in reality, it is actually an exploration of the larger role that the eponymous creature plays in the ecosystem of the African savannah. While a significant portion of the story does follow an elephant and her family, there are multiple sidebars that don’t add particularly much to the movie.
Some of these sidebars, such as one involving foam nest tree frogs, present some interesting information of which most audience members (particularly the younger ones) may not be aware. That said, other portions of the film feel extremely derivative, simply redoing a narrative that has been done many times before in nature films and television.
Because of this very uneven narrative, the movie feels much slower than it likely should. With nature documentaries, the filmmakers are constructing a cinematic story from the hours of footage they shoot of their subjects. It is truly a disappointment that, with footage this wonderful, Deeble and Stone were unable to make something more compelling and entertaining.
As one would expect, the nature photography that is on show in this documentary is astonishing. Featuring both wonderfully detailed close-ups and sprawling landscape shots, the creative team behind this movie really knew what they were doing in capturing the beauties of the savannah. Even if one is unable to get absorbed into the storyline, it would be nearly impossible not to be fascinated by the visuals.
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor provides a very neutral narration to the film, and while it doesn’t have a ton of energy, it does lend the movie a feeling of elegance and grace. More akin to Planet Earth than Disneynature, Ejiofor’s narration seems crafted more to deliver information than to entertain. As a relatively recognizable name, Ejiofor is likely to be one of the film’s biggest draws for casual viewers.
However, the movie’s main success is in giving the audience an admiration for the natural order of the world. In a way that is more effective than most other similar films that came before, this movie really emphasizes the balance in the ecosystem and how every organism has their role to play. If viewers come away from the film learning one thing, it should be this.
The Elephant Queen is not the most entertaining nature documentary, yet it is redeemed by some beautiful cinematography. Full of breathtaking shots of the African savannah, this is little more than eye candy, but good eye candy at that.
The Elephant Queen will be available on Apple TV+ at launch on November 1.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Western Stars is a concert documentary featuring Bruce Springsteen and his album of the same name. This film is directed by Springsteen and Emmy-winner Thom Zimny. While it is undoubtedly the retrospective product of a mature artist, it can sometimes feel bogged down by its overly manufactured structure.
The movie consists of a performance of the entirety of Springsteen’s nineteenth studio album. Each song is separated by a brief vignette that reflects on the meaning of each song and further explores Springsteen’s persona. This is a fairly standard concert documentary, but due to his extensive experience, this movie does feel more emotionally involved and engaging.
The best part of this movie is how intimate it is. His performance is done in his family’s barn that gives the film a really personal feeling. That along with the aesthetic of the barn makes it feel like home, and it’s a perfect place to perform his new album.
As far as the music goes, the album is a generally solid piece of art. Springsteen experiments with orchestral instrumentation in his music which gives the band a fuller sound. The musicality throughout is truly admirable. The sound mixing can be a little odd at times, but for the most part, it does a great job of blending the strings, brass, and percussion as well as the numerous guitars and Springsteen’s vocals.
The music’s only flaw is that the lyrics can sometimes feel a bit shallow. The intent is clear in each song, but sometimes they’re not written in a very original way. Regardless, these are honest words that come from a man with a long musical history. Some standout tracks include the majestically optimistic Hitch Hikin and Western Stars as well as the emotionally charged There Goes My Miracle.
It also becomes an emotional experience for longtime fans as well. The scenes between the songs are very retrospective. He doesn’t let his present be defined by his past, but he does explore the role his past had in shaping him as a person. He reflects on his career, family, love, and life itself. Even for Springsteen novices, it’s obvious that this is a movie that could not have been made by him at any other stage in his life than right now.
The main problem with the film is its structure. Even though it is similar to the standard concert doc template, the transitions feel unnatural. It feels artificial, which is an off-putting trait since it heavily contrasts the performances very natural feeling. It soon becomes repetitive and a tad tiresome towards the middle of the movie.
Despite its flaws, this is a movie that will be a cinematic treat to fans old and young. It’s a noble directorial debut for Springsteen, and it’s a solid companion piece to his newest album. Even if it there are some tedious moments, it’s an ultimately rewarding experience.
Western Stars is in theaters now.
Review by Camden Ferrell
In a world full of smartphones and apps, Countdown is a horror movie that uses these modern luxuries as a means for scares. This is the feature directorial debut of Justin Dec. While it isn’t as bad as its absurd premise suggest, this is a movie that is devoid of thrills and will appeal to few.
This movie follows Quinn, a newly licensed nurse, who is tormented by a demonic app that predicts your time of death. She attempts to uncover the workings of the app and survive past her time of death. This is a premise that may be somewhat fresh since it does deal heavily with technology, but it is a gimmick that gets old very quickly.
Like many horror films, it relies too heavily on jump scares to rattle the audience. The excessive booming of the score and the diegetic sounds in the film feel cheap and half-baked. Even the build up of suspense is weak, and there never is any fear when watching this film.
Unfortunately, this is a movie that isn’t written especially well. It relies on familiar tropes and clichés that make this movie completely unoriginal despite its premise. The dialogue is cheesy and predictable, and its attempts at depth and drama fall completely flat.
This movie is led by Elizabeth Lail (You). She does her best considering her weak material, but it isn’t nearly enough to bring personality and life to her scenes. The supporting cast consists of Jordan Calloway, Peter Facinelli, and Valente Rodriguez. They are all given underdeveloped characters with lifeless lines that are incredibly forgettable.
One of the few merits of this movie come from its attempt to develop some lore around its premise. It finds a lot of its inspiration in the texts of the Bible, which is nothing groundbreaking in this genre, but it does show that there was some thought put into the crafting of this story. It can be heavy-handed, but the attempt is still there.
Ultimately, this is a film that panders to its target demographic too heavily. It doesn’t care about consistent storytelling or in-depth character development. It only aims to deliver cheap thrills supported by a careless script.
Countdown may appeal to casual moviegoers looking for a mindless pastime with friends this weekend, but others need not check out this painfully bland horror film. It is not scary, and its short 90-minute runtime feels significantly longer than it should. This is a movie that will make you check your watch to countdown the minutes until it is over.
Countdown is in theaters now.
Review by Sean Boelman
Delayed by two years as a result of the Weinstein debacle, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s new film The Current War is finally arriving theaters in a heavily-modified director’s cut. A beautiful and surprisingly captivating movie coming from an unexpected story, the talent behind and in front of the camera truly bring an electricity to the screen.
The film tells the story of the race between inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse as they compete with differing electrical systems with the goal of powering the world. Although this may not seem like the most exciting story on paper, the way in which it plays out on the screen is absolutely cinematic, featuring many heated conflicts and some fascinating discoveries.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that there are so many moving parts involved in this story that it is impossible for all of them to be equally and fully developed. The film’s main focus is on Edison’s story, and that is understandable given the fact that he is the most well-known of the major players, but this leaves the storylines following Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla feeling underbaked and unfulfilling.
That said, the movie is an extremely interesting exploration of the dynamic between invention and industry. This film showcases both sides of the spectrum: Edison, who is inventing for the sake of science, and Westinghouse, who is in the game to make money. However, the movie refuses to choose sides as to which party is right and which is wrong, instead emphasizing how society operates with both of these things in constant conflict.
Also interesting is that the film does not present Edison as a clear protagonist and Westinghouse as a clear antagonist. Rather, the lines are blurred and the movie feels like it is following them both as leads of their own stories. Even though Edison is acting based on good principles, he can be a bit of a bully at times, and Westinghouse is the opposite. Gomez-Rejon plays with this moral grey area in a way that is challenging and thought-provoking.
The ensemble in this film is phenomenal, and it is totally understandable why this movie seemed like a major award contender two years ago. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a great performance as Edison, pulling off the nuances of the character’s ambiguity with ease. Michael Shannon provides a great foil to Cumberbatch’s performance, giving a much flashier turn. The supporting cast also features some memorable appearances from Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, and Matthew Macfayden.
Visually, the film is absolutely phenomenal thanks to beautiful cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung. One of the finest cinematographers working today, Chung brings his unique style to the movie, helping the film stand out from most period pieces. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrians is quite good too, making the movie feel much more tense.
While it does have some issues, The Current War is a thoroughly enjoyable film thanks to great performances, phenomenal visuals, and a unique story. It really is a shame that this got shelved due to controversy with its original distributor, but at least the director’s wonderful vision was able to be restored.
The Current War is now playing in theaters.
Review by Camden Ferrell
From director Steven Soderbergh (High Flying Bird), The Laundromat is the filmmaker's latest film for Netflix. Despite its rich and controversial premise, this movie wastes the potential of its highly talented cast on a lackluster and lifeless script.
This movie is a comedy-drama about the Panama papers leak back in 2016. After a woman’s vacation turns into a tragedy, and she deals with her insurance, she is lead on an investigation that uncovers countless shady dealings involving the law firm Mossack Fonseca. This premise has lots of promise to tell a gripping narrative about the globally known leak, but it never feels engaging at all.
Its main problem is it tries to present itself in the vein of films like The Big Short by having quirky narration and presentation, but it doesn’t work very well for this film. It aims for humor and satire, and it feels completely empty. It relies too much on its eccentricities to weave together all of these stories, but it never quite sticks the landing.
This film features an all-star cast that consists of Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas. These are some of the most talented actors working today, but they are reduced to shallow dialogue and cheesy quips in this movie. They aren’t given great material to work with, and none of the actors seem particularly thrilled with what they are doing. To make matters worse, Oldman uses a cringingly awkward accent for his entire performance.
The movie’s main problem is its lack of variation in its tone and style. It feels very monotonous, and it doesn’t make an effort to engage its viewers. It also lacks the kind of accessibility that a film like The Big Short has. It never fully dives into the scope of this scandal but remains content with its superficial exploration of the event.
Despite this, there is a segment about a wealthy African billionaire (played by Nonso Anozie) that is quite enjoyable. It features the domestic troubles and infidelities in his life that has some tangible stakes. It develops the characters in a way that elevates the business side of the story while creating an interesting narrative.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t employ that technique. It feels very derivative and unoriginal. It’s not especially off-putting, but it is rather boring. It’s disappointing that a talented filmmaker like Soderbergh created a movie that doesn’t have very much to say about its subject.
This is a movie that might be fairly educational to those unfamiliar with the Panama paper leaks. However, those already accustomed with the leak won’t have much to learn or enjoy from this film. It is a hollow attempt at retelling one of the biggest leaks in history.
The Laundromat isn’t really worth the time to watch. Even for fans of Soderbergh or the cast, this film will bore you rather than interest you. Its messages and themes are muddled by a weak script and questionable execution.
The Laundromat is currently streaming on Netflix.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Kill Team, the narrative debut of documentarian Dan Krauss, is a thought-provoking new drama about the ethics of war. Adapted from Krauss’s documentary of the same name, this film works because of its intelligent and shocking script coupled with great performances from Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgård.
The movie follows a young American soldier serving in Afghanistan as he begins to question his commanding officer’s behavior as being potentially questionable. Because this story is so intensely personal, and Krauss has a connection to it already having made a documentary about it as well, it is able to draw the audience into its world quite easily.
Perhaps the most effective thing about Krauss’s approach is that he is able to build quite a bit of tension even for those who may be familiar with the outcome of the story. Thanks to expert pacing, Krauss is able to effectively emulate the feelings of fear and dread that the protagonist is experiencing, making the film’s message hit even harder.
Granted, the movie isn’t particularly subtle with its commentary. Everything that this film wants to say is put front-and-center as Krauss uses this story as a conversation starter about the ethics of war. If Krauss did his job properly (and he did), viewers will leave the movie feeling frustrated about the system and the way it treats people who are willing to speak up.
Additionally, Krauss does an excellent job of making the protagonist of the film a very sympathetic character. Over the course of the movie, audiences will come to fully support him because of the ideas for which he stands. However, even beyond that fact, the first thirty or so minutes are spent establishing the character’s personality and making him relatable despite his extraordinary situation.
Wolff does an excellent job of playing the conflicted Private with a good deal of emotion, but it is Skarsgård as the commanding officer who takes things a bit too far that truly shines. Skarsgård is playing against type here, but he proves with this film that he has just as much of a range as his father and brother. He is able to make the character feel menacing and intimidating without being a caricature, which goes a long way for the movie as a whole.
On a technical level, the film is pretty solid. Krauss’s origins as a documentarian are very much evident because the movie is shot in a very straightforward and matter-of-fact style. However, this approach allows Krauss to heighten the realism of the story. Audiences won’t be able to doubt the honesty of what they are watching.
As the narrative debut of Dan Krauss, The Kill Team is certainly a very accomplished film. Since he has already told this story before, the purpose of this movie seems to be to make its message available to another audience, and it is successful in doing that.
The Kill Team hits theaters and VOD on October 25.