Doctor Sleep (5/5)
Stephen King’s work has been popular for filmmakers to adapt since Carrie first telepathically stole her way into horror fans’ hearts in 1976.
His most famous work, of course, is The Shining, which made it to the big screen courtesy of Stanley Kubrick in 1980. A now legendary film, it has often been decried by King (who attempted his own TV miniseries adaptation in 1997 which debuted to a mixed response) as being less than faithful to his original novel. It was somewhat surprising then, when the Doctor Sleep trailer dropped revealing itself as not only being based on King’s sequel, but the Kubrick film in equal part.
This is the story of Danny, the young boy in The Shining, now grown up and struggling with his past, his abilities and his life in general. An alcoholic much like his father, Danny finally begins to climb up from rock bottom, just as a similarly powerful young girl named Abra makes herself known to both him and the eerie, murderous cult of The True Knot.
The leader of this cult, Rose the Hat, is played by the beautiful Rebecca Ferguson who is a convincingly menacing villain. She searches for Abra, determined to make her their next victim, while Danny does his best to shield her from harm.
Ewan McGregor is very good in his role. Despite their similarities, Danny Torrance is a very different character to his father (memorably portrayed by Jack Nicholson) and McGregor’s natural likability help make him an engaging and much more heroic leading man. Though Danny starts out badly, by the end of the film he is certainly worth rooting for.
Kyliegh Curran gives a very strong performance for a newcomer and will hopefully go on to have a great career. She very much holds her own between McGregor and Ferguson, and is not annoying (as child actors do tend to be).
Atmospheric and intriguing, Doctor Sleep builds to a satisfying ending (which, incidentally, is not the same ending King wrote in his book). Filled with memorable imagery, such as an astral projection flight into Abra’s mind, director Mike Flanagan calls back to the Kubrick film but very much makes this sequel his own.
Todd Philips’ Joker, a realistic exploration of the rise of Batman’s most famous villain, is the first film since James Cameron’s Avatar to top the UK box office for over six weeks. Taking the iconic character previously played by actors such as Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Jared Leto, director Phillips strips him of all the comic book colour and bombast and reduces him to a frail, unhinged, loner.
Cut off from support and medication, unhappy Arthur Fleck finds his world turning increasingly dark and depressing as Gotham City drowns in a sea of trash and vermin. When his mother – the only person he is close to -–accidentally reveals the possible truth of his birth, she unwittingly releases all hold on his sanity. Arthur murders in cold blood, dances in the streets, incites rioting and rebellion and targets those who, as he says, merely get what they deserve.
Joaquin Phoenix gives an intense and often, in the best way possible, cringeworthy performance. His mental health slips so believably, and, though his actions are shocking, he draws sympathy, for the most part. Phoenix is awkward and disturbing but he is almost the perfect choice for the role as written here.
Although other characters (such as a TV host played by Robert De Niro) do appear, the film really belongs entirely to the Joker, and therefore to Phoenix himself. It’s really a one-man show.
Those hesitant about seeing the film, perhaps suffering from Marvel/DC movie burnout, should leave such concerns at the door. Joker, stands as its own thing – there are no superheroes here – and would be better compared to films like Taxi Driver. Recommended.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2/5)
Disney has been on a live action remake money grab for some years now. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is an unnecessary sequel to its 2014 twist on the Sleeping Beauty tale starring Angelina Jolie.
She returns as the titular fairy, slipping back into the role with ease. As Princess Aurora announces her engagement to Prince Phillip, Maleficent tries her best to ingratiate herself with Phillip’s family while his mother, Queen Ingrith, sabotages her at every turn.
Ingrith hates fairies, and magic, and intends to use Maleficent and Aurora as a means to go to war with the creatures and peoples than inhabit the enchanted moors.
The film deals with material that is perhaps too heavy for children (war, racism, genocide) and does it quite clumsily, opting for breathtaking set-pieces over character and story development. We learn more about Maleficent and who she is, but it often seems like an addition rather than an exploration. The sequel delivers things not promised or even hinted at by the original.
It is good then, that Michelle Pfeiffer makes an entertaining villain. The best scene in the film is when she invites Maleficent to dinner only to manipulate and provoke her into anger. Pfeiffer and Jolie work well together, but their shared scenes are far too few.
The dialogue is very poor in places, and wincingly on the nose, but the film does manage to scrape past its predecessor by mere distance from the source material. Sleeping Beauty fans can watch without fear of Disney once again messing with their favourite fairytale. Just like The Huntsman: Winter’s War (the sequel to Snow White and The Huntsman) had almost nothing to do with Snow White, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has very little to do with Sleeping Beauty.
See it for Pfeiffer, and for the visuals, not for the story.
Joker (2 hrs 2 mins, rated 15), Doctor Sleep (2 hrs 31 mins, rated 15) and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (1 hr 58 mins, rated PG) are all on general release.