Tag: ewan mcgregor

Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

In many horror movies, there is almost always an assumption that the antagonist is evil. It has become an awful habit not to tell us how evil the villain can be and thus why it must be vanquished at all costs. About a third of the way through in writer-director Mike Flanagan’s occasionally impressive “Doctor Sleep,” it proves to be more potent than its contemporaries: it takes the aforementioned extra step. It dares to show a child murder that includes all the details: how he is targeted; how he is lured; how he is kidnapped; how he is handled; the precise moment the boy realizes he will die that night; the blood gushing from his small frame; the screaming, crying, and begging due to extreme pain; the terror in his last breath. It creates a level of urgency so high, that when the enemies finally get their comeuppance the viewers are inspired to yell at the screen, “Get him!” “Shoot her!” “Don’t let them get away!”

The work is a solid sequel to one of the most iconic horror films, Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable “The Shining.” However, it does not start strong. In its attempt to bridge the gap between the terrifying events that took place inside the Overlook Hotel in 1980 and 2011 when mid-thirties Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) has become an alcoholic in order to suppress his shine (psychic powers), the work relies far too often on familiar imagery such as patterns on walls or floors, word-for-word dialogue taken directly from the previous film, its use of primary colors, how the hair of Danny’s mom (Alex Essoe) tend to fall a certain way so that attention is drawn to her ears.

On the surface, those who have seen Kubrick’s picture multiple times may find some enjoyment from spotting every reference. On the other hand, these images and lines of dialogue pale by comparison against the original. There is a sense of preternatural discipline in the predecessor that this one lacks. The mimicry is amusing twice or thrice, but one wonders eventually when the work will forge an identity of its own. Auspiciously, the story moves at a brisk pace; it does not feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie.

Perhaps because the film, based on the Stephen King’s novel, is interested in expanding the story in ways that are curious and magical. For example, shine, as turns out, tend to vary from one person to another—not only by degrees as “The Shining” implied but also in terms of nature. One person’s shine can mean having the ability to read minds, while the next person’s shine means having the ability to control individuals’ actions by mere suggestion. We usually learn the advantages and limitations of these abilities. We meet about a dozen characters with the shine and so we become curious about their specific talents. It is refreshing that our central protagonist, Danny, is not the most powerful. His experience makes him formidable, but there is least one who we feel has mastered her abilities. She is named Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of a cult who feeds on children’s shine. Cult members aim to prolong their lifespan.

The story is about finding the courage to move on from one’s past—nothing fresh. Dan is haunted by literal ghosts. Eventually, he lands a job at a hospice and we learn how he earns the titular nickname. (It involves a cat.) Meanwhile, the highly gifted Abra (Kyliegh Curran) must come to terms with her strange abilities by overcoming her fear of being regarded or treated as a freak. Her parents are aware of her abilities, but it is never talked about directly. Why? Because there is shame there. (I wished the screenplay delved into this further.) The template is unimpressive, but there are enough jolts and plot twists that make for an intriguing watch. Dialogue can be as revealing as overt action.

McGregor and Curran share terrific chemistry. Flanagan’s script consistently underlines the big brother/little sister relationship, the connection between the mentor and the mentee. It never syrupy, just sweet enough to hint a possible happy ending for haunted Dan. He deserves it. Curran embodies the role with gusto; she is not simply required to look scared or cute. She possesses a natural knowing look and so we believe the character is beyond her years. I hope Curran would choose character-driven work in the future, rather than just another role for a child or pre-teen that can be played by anyone.

“Doctor Sleep” is not composed merely of cheap jump scares. Horror is often situational—which is an example of a great nod to its predecessor. It is interested in how people relate to one another, what scares them, how they attempt to find solutions. Flanagan understands why Kubrick’s film works and, for better or worse, he dares enough to modernize the scares while putting his own stamp on what or how a horror movie should be like. He is confident of his storytelling, the craft propelling the scares, and the capable cast. It is a worthy follow-up.

T2: Trainspotting

T2: Trainspotting (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting a duplicate of the original modern crime-comedy classic “Trainspotting” are likely to be disappointed with Danny Boyle’s follow-up. While it retains some of the energy of the original, in many ways this installment is more mature, more thoughtful, less concerned about delivering swagger and attitude than it is in telling a story about familiar characters having the opportunity to reconcile with their common past.

I argue that the picture’s main weakness is its willingness to give into fan service. While parallel scenes and flashbacks are quite neat and at times able to draw a smile on my face during the first third, I grew tired of this technique during the latter half, especially when the tone shifts toward a more serious note and there is a genuine dramatic gravity in the center. These winks distract rather than enhance the experience—kind of like having a security blanket when the owner is no longer a child.

All four characters are equally fascinating when apart and when they finally cross paths. To me, despite this film and its predecessor’s generous images when it comes to drug use, its stance is without a doubt anti-drugs. Here, it shows how drugs has ruined the lives (and continues to ruin the lives) of those who have developed a habit. Each character falls on a different spot within the spectrum and the material makes a subtle case about personal responsibility’s role in how each person’s life has ended up the way it did.

The plot involving a man having to return to his hometown and triggering a sequence of events is surely familiar. However, the four former friends are interesting because each has his own demon to battle. Renton (Ewan McGregor) must face his friends after betraying them in the worst way possible. Although twenty years has passed, that feeling of shame doesn’t simply go away. Spud (Ewen Bremner) attempts to lead a drug-free life by channeling one addiction onto an healthier alternative. Admittedly, I wished for him to succeed but somewhere in the back of my mind I was convinced he would relapse.

Meanwhile, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is cooking up a plan to take revenge on Renton, his former best friend. Can a person whose bark is more powerful than his bite actually pull off such a scheme or will his soft spot get in the way of his purpose? And then there is Begbie the sociopath (Robert Carlyle) who has found a way to escape from jail. Having learned that Renton is in town, he plots to kill or seriously injure—at the very least. It is quite amazing that years have failed to erode the cast’s chemistry. Sure, there are more wrinkles on their bodies and faces, their postures are more worn, they move a little slower, but tension builds up the moment one looks at another a certain way and starts to dig up the past.

The strength of “T2: Trainspotting” lies in its ability to adapt to the age of its subjects. Because we have learned about them from a certain angle during their youth, the material remains fresh since we get to know them from a different perspective this time around. Credit to writer John Hodge for striving to deliver something of value and not simply rehashing what has worked before.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) works for a firm that represents a sheikh (Amr Waked) who wishes to introduce native Atlantic salmon and the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen, so she contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries specialist, to ask if this course of action is possible. The scientist responds and expresses that the idea is ridiculous, claiming that salmon live in cold waters and Yemen is anything but wet let alone cold. But Sheikh Muhammed is determined and willing to pay millions to get what he wants. Soon, plans are underway, the British government onboard, with the consultant and the scientist teaming up to make the unfeasible project feasible.

Though propelled by a bizarre idea, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” based on the novel by Paul Torday, is rendered beautifully, from its rapturous landscapes to the human relationships involved in taking fish out of their natural habitat onto somewhere new which, in theory, will serve as a symbol of East and West having a closer, stronger link.

The film is anchored by a professional relationship between Harriet and Dr. Jones, the screenplay playing upon the idea that opposites tend to attract. Blunt plays Harriet with a commanding joie de vivre, intelligent but unafraid to be silly, open to new experiences without losing track of what she considers to be her roots. McGregor, on the other hand, portrays Dr. Jones as a cerebral person but far from blind to the poetries and ironies of words and situations, one who is hungry for something exciting while keeping the majority of the yearning repressed, and having a very droll British humor. There is a joke about him acting like someone with Aspergers syndrome and the material gets away with it.

Their eventual romance is underplayed which is the right decision in a movie like this. If there had been more relationship viscera about Dr. Jones’ marriage and Harriet’s boyfriend (Tom Mison), focus would have been on the melodrama instead of the attempt of making the impossible possible. Despite minimization of the central character’s original relationships prior to them falling for one another, it is nice that we are allowed to understand and sympathize with the scientist and the consultant’s struggles. For a while, there seems to be an equal number of reasons why they should not be together as opposed to the alternative.

The direction allows the landscapes to breathe. Though it does not barrage us with overhead shots of the water, the desert, and the grassy mountains, we get a specific feel for each of them in the backdrop of characters walking from one place to another or simply by standing still. The simplicity in the way it is shot looks sharp, clean, and effortless. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more fish.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” directed by Lasse Hallström, is slightly inadequate only in the political maneuverings executed by Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), the press secretary to the British prime minister, who hopes to use the eccentric project–and a bit of spinning–to establish better international relations. It is supposed to be a satire, I guess, but it looks and feels more like a farce. Such scenes manage to take away some of the poetry and rhythmic groove that make us want to believe and participate in the mystic veins of having faith, the exhumation of the land, and the conflicting matters of the heart.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is given the task to sell his uncle’s horse. Instead of coming back with money or gold, Jack has accepted beans from a monk (Simon Lowe) who claims that they are holy relics from a very special time. If Jack delivers the beans to an abbey, he will receive payment that is considerably more than what the horse is worth. However, the monk admonishes that Jack must not allow the beans to come in contact with water.

“Jack the Giant Slayer,” based on the screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney, takes inspiration from “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” and shows us a world that is exciting and magical. Though it lacks development in terms of the romantic tension and feelings between the title character and a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) who craves for adventure, it has enough good action sequences to make up for this shortcoming.

The greatest weapon in its arsenal is the impressive visual effects. Particularly eye-catching is the first time a bean is triggered to grow its stalks up to the heavens. Though obviously generated by a computer, we are shown the details of the plant growing in height and width while crushing everything that gets in the way of its destiny. A thrilling score is utilized and the sound effects are precise in order to keep us transfixed in the moment.

The giants are actually scary. Like the beanstalk, they, too, are computer generated. Although at times they appear somewhat cartoonish, like when they charge in groups, they feel like real threats when one or two share a frame with a human character. The camera gives us enough time to appreciate the look of the giants, from their blotchy, scaly skin as they lumber about to their crooked, rotten yellow teeth when they snarl. One of the more memorable encounters involves a giant taking a bite out of a live sheep and the camera, adopting Jack’s point of view, observes the horror from underwater. Small decisions like this prevents the film from becoming as yet another pedestrian action-adventure.

Tomlinson and Hoult are attractive when together and apart, but their characters’ romance is denied from ripening by the screenplay. Jack and Isabelle share some cute scenes in first half, but the majority of the time they spend together involves running from danger and swinging through collapsing structures. Their interactions start to become repetitive eventually. Would it have been too much for the writers to give these two something interesting to say about their struggles, as a poor farmer and as a future queen, with respect to the teamwork and adventures they are thrusted into?

This is going to sound silly, but it must be mentioned because I kept noticing it. Though Ewan McGregor, playing a knight leader, is a pleasure to watch because he is clearly enjoying his character, most distracting is his hair. In one scene, it is up: very stylish and magazine-ready. The next scene when it is pouring cats and dogs, naturally, it is down. However, when it is no longer raining, his hair is back up–as if the storm had never occurred. The glaring lack of continuity when it comes to the performer’s hair is enough to take me out of the story a few times.

Directed by Bryan Singer, “Jack the Giant Slayer” does not require us to think very hard but it is fun and executed with a lot of energy. I enjoyed its treatment of the villains.

The Impossible

The Impossible (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Instead of staying in their home in Japan, the Bennett family, led by Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor), decide to spend their Christmas vacation on a Thai resort. The day after Christmas, while they relax by the pool, a tsunami comes raging through the coast which inevitably decimates everything in its path. Maria and Lucas (Tom Holland) are separated from Henry, Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). As Maria’s health declines, so is the hope of the family finding one another in a community that must deal with deaths and missing persons.

“The Impossible,” based on the screenplay by Sergio G. Sánchez and experiences of the Belón family in December 2004, reaches inside of us and twists what it manages to hold onto. It makes for a consistently compelling watch especially from the standpoint of special and visual effects. Although it is a cut above many films of its type because the humanity of the story is often underlined, it falls into some of the expected dramatic trappings of disaster movies.

What is most sensational is watching the tsunami’s power to change a picturesque serenity of life into a horrifying vision of death. I liked that a choice is made in terms of which group to focus on. By allowing the camera to stay on Maria and Lucas’ struggle to get to one another as they are carried by a raging torrent, tension is heated until it boils. The movement of the camera below and above the water gives us an idea on how difficult it must be to gain some control of the situation for another chance of holding onto a loved one and feeling safe despite the chaos all around.

The direct aftermath is equally fascinating. It changes gears by focusing on the images around mother and son rather than the question of if or when they will be reunited. Particularly memorable to me is the sight of a dead man faced down on the water coupled with a neighboring image of a fish gasping for air. Placing them side by side touched me because it is an effective reminder of the fragility of life as well as our place in nature. Also, even though it does not further the plot, I appreciated that it turns our attention on the senses: images like people walking through mud while a trail of blood is created, sounds of a child crying for his mother, and how it must have smelled when the ocean is mixed with land and modern creations.

Since the picture does not have much plot, in some ways it is crippled. The most disappointing is the screenplay being reduced to putting characters into one place forcing them to just miss each other as one enters and the other leaves the room. It cheapens the material and I started to feel like I was being toyed. Tonally, it is a mess because it eventually begins to feel like something that is taken from a bad romantic comedy-drama. With all the horror and sadness that the Bennett family has gone through, surely they deserve something that is more respectful and less cliché.

Even though “Lo imposible,” directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, has a nasty habit of settling for dramatic techniques that are typical, one of its methods never fails to get to me every single time. That is, when two characters swim or run toward one another as the majestic music reaches a crescendo. I guess it is highly relatable: when you really miss someone and you want to hug him so hard or kiss her in a way she’s never been kissed before, the anticipation from inside of us turns into an uncontrollable spirit animal.

Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

Alex (Ewan McGregor), David (Christopher Eccleston), and Juliet (Kerry Fox) were looking for a new roommate. Each interview was like a cruel audition in which they mocked, teased, and insulted the person in front of them for whatever they deemed wasn’t worthy of their level of cool. It was established that the trio were far from likable people. Eventually, they decided to take on Hugo (Keith Allen) as their new roommate. On his first day, however, his flatmates found him dead in his bed and right underneath was a suitcase full of cash. Written by John Hodge, “Shallow Grave” was quite sly as it slithered from buddy comedy to paranoid thriller and back. It was fascinating because it magnified the common darkness found in so-called normal people and how that darkness evolved into something much more sinister when a whole lot of free money entered the equation. In one of the most involving sequences in the film, the three friends decided to get rid of the body. As to how, Alex suggested that they cut off Hugo’s hands and feet, pull out all of his teeth, and beat his face to a pulp until it was no longer recognizable. Only then they could bury the corpse in the forest for quick decomposition. His proposal, although morbid, had a certain level of comedy and wit behind it because we were shown several times that one of Alex’ hobbies involved spending ample time in front of the television. Perhaps he learned from watching too many crime movies. I liked that the important decisions that the characters made were loyal to how they were when they just relaxed in the couch. I was able to follow the story, even when it turned somewhat unbelievable, because I enjoyed connecting the seemingly unrelated pieces that had been laid out for us. After getting rid of the body, we saw how each roommate reacted to the terrible crime they’d committed. The most interesting reaction was David’s because I suspect it would be the most typical. Each day, he turned that much more paranoid, feeling that someone knew something about what he’d done and people were out to expose his secret. I feared his instability but felt sad for him at the same time because he traded his peace of mind for money–money that he couldn’t even find the courage to spend. It was deliciously ironic that he was an accountant. There were subplots involving a perceptive detective (Ken Stott) who sensed something didn’t feel right after he’d spoken to the roommates and two crooks looking for Hugo’s money. The latter was handled in an expediently hilarious and unexpected manner while the former was like watching a cube of butter slowly melting on a moderately hot stack of pancakes. Because the two strands offered an opposite atmosphere while still maintaining a level of tension that felt right to the story, it was easy to buy into the plot conveniences. However, I wish the script bothered to consider some questions that were quite obvious. Why didn’t the three flatmates simply hide the suitcase in one of their rooms after they found it and phoned the cops about the dead body afterwards? And, once they felt they were in the clear, why didn’t they divide the money into three? Personally, I would want my share as soon as possible. “Shallow Grave,” directed by Danny Boyle, commanded an air of seriousness when it came to guilt, greed, and morals but it wasn’t afraid to go for the humor even if it felt inappropriate. I even had a slight giggle when Hugo’s corpse was being cut with a hacksaw so strenuously by one of the trio.


Haywire (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) thought she was safe in a diner, at least for a while, until she looked outside and saw Aaron (Channing Tatum) approaching. He took a seat in front of her and commanded her to get inside the car. Mallory was not to be persuaded this way. After she mentioned Barcelona, Dublin, and the name Paul, Aaron realized he had no choice but to force her, through extreme violence, despite customers watching. We needn’t worry, though, because Mallory Kane was a former Marine. As a private contractor, she was more than capable of defending herself against colleagues about twice her size. “Haywire,” written by Lem Dobbs, had a simple plot yet quite labyrinthine at the same time because we were dropped in the middle of whatever was going on and we didn’t have a clear understanding of the characters’ motivations. Two-thirds of the picture focused on a flashback sequence involving two assignments in Barcelona and Dublin, respectively: the extraction of a kidnapped Chinese man (Anthony Brandon Wong), in which Mallory was the leader of the on-site operation, and Mallory serving as an escort of a British agent (Michael Fassbender). As pieces fell into place and the plot made more sense, the film was still able to keep a high level of excitement and mystery. Perhaps it was because the fight and flight scenes were equally compelling. Whenever Mallory faced an enemy and both had to inflict incredible amount of pain to each other, there was a lack of score. The sounds–heavy blows delivered to the body, furnitures cracking due to uneven distribution of forces, posh glass breaking–were magnified and they made the visual experience much more visceral. At one point, I found myself wanting to get up and engage in a one-sided fight against a punching bag. It was a great decision to allow the one-on-one matches to play out. Most of the time, Mallory’s enemies were experienced fighters so I found it believable that it would take time for one of them to make a critical error or reach exhaustion. The escape scenes were quite impressive, too. Mallory’s stint in attempting to evade a tracker in the streets of Dublin was almost suspenseful on a Hitchcockian level: a beautiful woman in a foreign country suspecting that a stranger was observing her from afar and following wherever she went. The chaos that Mallory experienced was complemented against the chaos happening under the jurisdiction of Coblenz (Michael Douglas), an influential United States official for various discrete operations. Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) and Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) were the puppeteers of the game, the reason why Mallory seemed to have gone rogue. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Haywire” was at times weighed down by desultory technical artistry. Most of the scenes were in color but select scenes were in black and white. I found it inconsistent and I got the impression that the director was trying too hard. Nevertheless, the film was fun due to its energy and well-choreographed duels. It doesn’t require much brain power to sit there and watch it all unfold.