Tag: rebecca ferguson

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.

The Kid Who Would Be King

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

On paper, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is corny: a boy who is constantly bulled at school discovers that not only is he a direct lineage of King Arthur of Camelot, he is destined to stop a sorceress (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned underground for centuries, from enslaving the entire planet. However, writer-director Joe Cornish consistently finds ways to retool and transform history and mythology in a way that is consistently entertaining. Kid- and family-friendly action-adventures from America could learn a thing or two from this familiar yet refreshing piece of work.

One could feel the writer-director’s love for children right from the get-go. It could have easily been a special and visual effects extravaganza first and foremost, human drama second. Instead, it is the other way around. Notice that despite the incredible developments—meeting an old wizard who is able to transform into a teenager, facing off with an army of fiery skeletons, fighting a dragon—the script always finds an opportunity to pull back and examine friendships, partnerships, relationship with self and family. At the same time, these are never saccharine, simply a natural development of the story. This is a risk because slowing down in the middle of an action-packed journey could prove fatal in less capable hands. Cornish is willing to experiment.

The chosen one is named Alex and he is played with charm and fervor by Louis Ashbourne Serkis. Although the film is largely comic and cheeky, it is correct to cast a performer who can excel in drama because the center of the picture is how Alex relates to those around him: his mother (Denise Gough), his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), bullies-turned-allies Lance and Kate (Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris), and the magical Merlin (Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart). On top of this, the actor must create a character who is impacted by an absence of a father figure. You see, there is plenty to unbox and it is surprising how the work rolls with the punches and continues to move forward without feeling the need to drive a point across using a sledgehammer.

Despite the dazzling CGI, what surprised me most is how Arthur and his knights are painted. In numerous family-oriented movies where the bullied and the bully are required to team up in order to achieve a common goal, once a bond is formed, no matter how tenuous, it is a straight shot to the finish line. Not here.

I was so impressed that Alex and Bedders are constantly challenged by Lance and Kaye for nearly half the picture. The fact that there is a struggle among their team adds another layer of drama. It even has time to bring up the idea that maybe Lance and Kay are the way they are simply because they are older than Alex and Bedders, thus having experienced the world a little more. They do have a point when they claim that the world is far from a nice place. In other words, Arthur’s knights are not robotic allies; the script has ways of reminding us that they have a mind of their own. However, out of the four, I wish that Bedders had been given more opportunities to shine. His “magic tricks,” mainly serving as comic relief, only go so far.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the kind of film that most children would be enraptured by. Yes, there are the usual action sequences that keeps the material moving, but more important, I think, are its messages regarding empowerment, particularly during the second half. It is optimistic and it wishes to say that children can make a world of difference. On this topic, it is not subtle nor does it need to be. With so much junk entertainment aimed for kids, this film provides a better alternative.


Life (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

As someone who works with microorganisms, the sci-fi horror movie “Life,” directed by Daniel Espinosa, is an expected but most welcome surprise. Think about it: there is something innately creepy or unsettling about dealing with something alive, potentially harmful, that we cannot see with a naked eye. This picture takes advantage of that concept for as long as it is able. Clearly inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic “Alien,” similarly crew members with a sense of humor who share a certain camaraderie being forced to face unimaginable horrors in space following a discovery of alien life, it manages to hit the right notes consistently enough to overcome some of the clichés within the sub-genre, particularly in how just about each astronaut eventually undergoes a most gruesome demise.

Initially, I was unimpressed. For a sci-fi picture set in a space station with an ambition to create as realistic an environment as possible, I found it to be annoyingly loud and ostentatious. Compare this to greats of the genre, especially alongside Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The harder it tries to engage the audience through visuals and sounds, an the air of detachment is all the more amplified. “Odyssey” works because it simply shows what is while this film tries to appeal to what we imagine science fiction should be like rather than a set, settled reality. Further, the former relishes the quiet but the latter is afraid of it at times. As a result, I felt as though I were peering into a snow globe—curious but in the back of my mind a part of me wasn’t entirely convinced.

Equally bothersome during the first quarter is its inappropriate use and number of closeups. When there is a fascinating organism on screen, most of the attention should be on that creature. We already have an idea how everyone in the room must feel like—because we feel those similar emotions, too. There is no need to cut to the performers’ facial expressions every other two seconds (Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya). Doing so takes away some of the excitement and breeds frustration. We want to see what is on that petri dish and learn what it is capable of.

Eventually, however, the film proves capable of first-rate entertainment. The first attack by the extraterrestrial made me question my own safety, despite wearing personal protective equipment, when handling minuscule organisms. I admired how efficiently the camera traps us into an increasingly impossible situation as the biologist (Bakare) handles the life form in a containment cube. The editing commands a certain rhythm to it that makes us want to look away because it is built up in such a way that some thing is about to occur soon… yet we cannot help but stare wide-eyed since we crave to see what happens next. The early deaths are appropriately horrifying and creative. The camera lingers on their lifeless faces.

The look of the alien is inspired. I enjoyed how it reminded me of deep-sea jellyfish. It does not appear particularly solid but has convincing strength when it pounces on its prey. It looks translucent, but it is highly agile and versatile. Credit goes to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for putting to life a creature that is intelligent, a real threat to the increasingly desperate characters. And credit goes to the special and visual effects team for creating a convincing monster, not just another uninspired CGI monster-of-the-week with tentacles.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Parallel to the discovery that the IMF had been a pawn by an international terrorist group called The Syndicate, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his fellow IMF agents (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames) have been dissolved thanks to the CIA director’s (Alec Baldwin) insistence to the Senate committee that the group is a liability. He argues that Hunt and his crew often go off-track from established protocols and although they are able to deliver favorable results, these are almost always accomplished through sheer luck. Meanwhile, Hunt attempts to locate the leader of The Syndicate (Sean Harris) but it proves especially difficult because the man is often already three steps ahead.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is another fine addition to a series that had seemingly lost its way during the second installment but it has since, like a phoenix, risen from the ashes during its third outing and has only gotten better since. Perhaps a critical factor of the series’ success is, aside from Cruise’s magnetic presence as well as willingness to perform his own outrageous stunts, the decision to hire directors with the required vision and efficiency to frame and execute highly effective action sequences.

The picture reaches its peak when Hunt engages in a mission in Casablanca. It involves an underwater sequence so complicated and exciting that I found myself squirming in my seat because there came a point where I could not come up with ways how he could possibly extricate himself from increasingly impossible situations. A powerful statement is made when the audience already knows it is all going to turn out all right eventually and yet the material still manages to surprise. And despite the dangers the characters go through, the script is able to sneak in a handful of bona fide laughs.

Rebecca Ferguson plays Ilsa Faust, a woman whose allegiance is, for the most part, remains rather gray. In a lot of ways, the actor is perfectly cast. She is very beautiful —which is very necessary if we were to believe that Hunt would be drawn to her—and yet it is difficult to trust that beauty. For instance, time and again the character seemingly has a tendency toward betrayal but because she is written as someone who has a distinct set of circumstances, we root for her to make the right choices not only for herself but also for those who set up the chess pieces just so in order to allow her to execute more moves during the game. I enjoyed watching Faust because there is intrigue behind the character. This makes her a cut above many recent kick-ass female characters in action pictures released in the past ten years—within and outside of this series.

Movies in this genre is almost always defined by its villain. Solomon Lane, the leader of The Syndicate, is smart and can be genuinely intimidating at times—especially Harris’ voice and manner of phrasing threats—but we do not come to know very much about him. This is a weakness because even though we know his endgame, the nook and cranny of his motivation is left in the mist.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” commands effervescent chase scenes, whether vehicles are involved or old-fashioned running toward a target. Notice the level of danger mounting when the score goes silent and all we hear are the footsteps and their echoes. It takes elements typically found in thrillers and sandwiches them between moments of catharsis, from knife fights to eyebrow-raising surprises.