Triple Scoop Review: Doctor Sleep, Underwater, and Tigers Are Not Afraid

Doctor Sleep

Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

Let’s get this out of the way for anyone who doesn’t already know: I’m not a huge fan of The Shining. (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Kubrick’s work in general: I tend to like the cinematography and not much else.) Many adaptational changes annoyed me, especially as I saw the film soon after reading the novel. Admittedly, that was all roughly 15-20 years ago now, so I might feel differently if I were to ever try it again. Point is, unlike many horror fans, I didn’t come into this weird hybrid of a sequel with much in the way of expectations, high or low. It was pretty easy to judge Doctor Sleep as its own thing. And fortunately for me, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Unlike The Shining, which is straight-up horror, Doctor Sleep has more of a dark fantasy vibe. Like, there are creepy moments, absolutely (I fucking loved it when Abra turned the tables on Rose), but the overall flavor of scare is different, kinda like the transition between the quiet, claustrophobic horror of Alien to the action-fueled horror of Aliens. It seems like a natural progression, but I can also see how fans of the original might have been disappointed. What’s really impressive, though, is how much I enjoyed this film, despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Horror movies, especially, have to work hard to earn that length without losing tension or momentum, and Doctor Sleep does a pretty good job with that: there are problems in the third act–which we’ll get to shortly–but overall, the slow, steady pace of the film works well for me.

The cast is great, especially Kyliegh Curran (who’s absolutely fantastic as Abra) and Rebecca Ferguson (who makes for a pretty iconic villain, one who I’d like to cosplay immediately.) Ewan McGregor does solid work as grown-up/fucked up Danny Torrance, and I like pretty much the entire supporting cast: Carl Lumbly is a stellar choice as Dick Hallorann, Cliff Curtis is instantly likable as Billy, and Zahn McClarnon is an excellent right-hand man/second banana bad guy. All of McClarnon and Ferguson’s interactions are pretty great; in fact, the whole villainous family dynamic is awesome and makes these guys much more compelling as antagonists.

Unfortunately, that third act is where things start to falter, which is frustrating because most of the problems here could easily be solved by just not returning to the Overlook. Physically, that is; half the Final Battle takes place in Danny’s head, anyway, so why not just make the entire thing one big mental showdown? We could still get all those iconic references and flashbacks without Danny and Abra literally driving to Colorado for no goddamn reason. (There is a reason: Danny is convinced that they can’t beat Rose on their own, but that’s sorta nonsense because at this point, their batting average against her is pretty goddamn phenomenal.) This would also eliminate the awkward sense of Abra just chilling alone in the car for ten minutes, while Danny has an emotional catharsis inside the hotel with his dad. Like, I genuinely enjoy that scene, but also . . . maybe don’t leave the kid alone outside when a monster is literally hunting you down?

Random Notes:

1. Actually, maybe we could scale back just a bit on those iconic references? Cause I do want them, but also, it feels like Mike Flanagan is vomiting The Shining at you for the last 20 minutes? Like, hey, here are the twins, here is the blood, here is the bartender, the axe, the door, the boiler room, etc., etc., etc. Give me these moments, but not one for every goddam minute, please. Space them out or whittle them down.

2. Snakebite Andi might be the most Stephen King name I’ve ever heard in my whole fucking life. I really liked Emily Alyn Lind in the role, though, since I forgot to mention her before. Also, MR. HOMN!

3. I wish Rose the Hat’s hat was, like, more important? Especially after the grocery store scene, I kind of expected something else. Still, I’m never gonna complain too hard about fashionable millinery. I will complain about Danny hitting rock bottom, however, because I definitely interpreted that scene as “baby starved to death after Danny left him alone with his dead mom,” which . . . yeah, didn’t sit well with me. Apparently, though, there are multiple different interpretations of what actually happened to Mom and Baby? Still. If you’re trying for a redemptive story, IDK, I think everyone should be real clear on exactly what your MC is being redeemed for. Especially if it’s dark ass shit like that.

4. Now that I’ve read the differences between book and movie, holy shit, I’m kinda glad I never read this. The 9/11 subplot? The “we’re related” nonsense? What the actual fuck?

5. I’m just gonna say it: “steam” is a little hard to take seriously.

6. Finally, there is a RWBY poster in Abra’s room. I haven’t watched that show in years, but still, I found this small detail surprising and delightful.

Underwater

Year: 2020
Director: William Eubank
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: VERY MUCH SO
Grade: Strawberry

This was fun enough, but it also could’ve been better. Some scenes are successfully creepy and tense: whenever our characters are crawling through Way Too Tiny Shit, for example, or when poor Mamoudou Athie fucking implodes. (I was disappointed by this; I really thought he was going to last longer.) Most of the cast is pretty great, although I’d probably recast and rewrite Paul (TJ Miller). Still, I’m here for Kristen Stewart’s whole aesthetic, am happy that Smith survived, was amused by last minute Cthulhu, and really enjoyed that Jessica Henwick was our surprise Final Girl. Holy shit, that’s two Western horror movies now with Eastern-Asian women who live. 2020, this is actually something I like about you.

So, that’s the good. As far as the bad, well. The voiceover shit completely fails, like, I honestly have no idea what it’s even doing in this movie? The beginning is especially weird because the first few minutes have this strange, in medias res quality to them that makes the whole scene kinda feel like a dream. It doesn’t fit at all; in fact, I seriously wondered if they were trying to set up some kind of unreliable narrator here. But the rest of the movie is a pretty straightforward action-horror movie (with just a bit of a Lovecraftian twist).

Not all the action scenes work for me, either, because some of them are so muddy it’s impossible to tell what’s happening to whom. Like, I get it: Underwater is underwater. Chaos, poor visibility, all that. Still, when a monster drags two characters away, I wanna be able to tell who they are. I might’ve been more inclined to forgive this if these scenes were strictly from Norah’s POV, as she sadly loses her glasses early in the film and presumably can’t see for shit; unfortunately, that’s not really how they play. Which is a bummer, actually: if I ever lost my glasses in any kind of horror movie scenario, like, it would very much impact my day and/or likelihood of survival. It might’ve been kind of neat, seeing Norah actually dealing with this during the film.

Also, the character work needs, well, work. Norah (Stewart) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) both lost someone–the same someone–prior to the events of this movie, but for some reason, they barely have any interactions throughout to build their dynamic and/or lay in the groundwork for this reveal. More space, too, could’ve been given to the Captain and Norah’s relationship, or to Smith and Emily’s. Instead, we spend too much time with TJ Miller, who’s supposed to be the funny, weird guy, and generally lands harder on the latter than the former. (Although I will admit to laughing when he fake-volunteers Emily (Henwick) to investigate something, all, “This is your moment.” That shit was funny.)

Random Notes:

1. I love that Emily saves Norah, and Norah saves Emily, and they both save Smith together. Also, kinda love that Norah punches Emily in the face. Not because she deserves it, but because it’s a good “who will sacrifice themselves for the other” moment.

2. I’m considerably less impressed by how the women have to get way more naked than the dudes. Except TJ Miller, of course, but this is purposefully meant to be comedic, rather than sexy, presumably because he’s fatter than anyone else in the cast. #RAGE

3. The hands-down funniest thing about this movie: Paul carries around this stuffed bunny, right, like, he cradles it, strokes it, makes sure it’s okay as he’s going through dangerous, water-logged parts of the station, etc. He is 100% acting like it’s a real bunny, and I was seriously wondering if we were gonna get some kinda high-pressure nervous syndrome/space dementia subplot shit going on, especially because of all the Alice in Wonderland references. But apparently, there actually was a real bunny while filming, until the director got a stuffed one instead because of safety concerns. Only for whatever reason, he never bothered telling Miller that the stuffed rabbit wasn’t a stand-in. So, dude acted like the rabbit was real because he thought it would be post-production. I can’t begin to tell you how much this all delights me.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Year: 2017
Director: Issa López
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Mild
Grade: Chocolate

I’ve been meaning to watch this Mexican dark fantasy film for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally did, because it’s pretty fantastic. Admittedly, I probably could’ve picked a better week for it, like, if you need an escapist upper, uh, this isn’t it. (I literally held my breath when two of the kids walked up to a police car, and was utterly relieved when the cops just took off without killing them.) The violence here isn’t particularly gratuitous; in fact, it’s not a very gory film at all. But children do die, and die violently, on screen. Best to know that going in.

All of the kids are fantastic, especially Estrella (Paola Lara) and Shine (Juan Ramón López). I’m amazed that none of them had any prior acting experience because they’re all so good in this movie. One of the things that works best about Tigers Are Not Afraid: the quiet, funny moments when the kids are just hanging out: play-acting some American Idol shit in an abandoned building, telling ghost stories about this dude who eats kids with his pepperoni, etc. And while I can be hit or miss on stories that walk the line between “literal magic” and “is it, though?” I think the ambiguity serves this dark fairy tale well. Which probably isn’t so surprising, as it’s definitely a Monkey’s Paw kind of story.

I honestly don’t have many criticisms with this one. There are a few moments with this stuffed tiger that I found sorta hard to take seriously, but . . . yeah, that might kind of be it. While I’d hoped for a few specific things that didn’t end up happening, the actual ending itself fits the story well and isn’t wholly, needlessly bleak. And since I am, for once, trying not to spoil too much here, let me leave you with a vague list of some other things I really enjoyed:

The trails of blood
The goodbye scene
Morro is adorbs
The chalk
When the bodies are found

Also, the movie was both written and directed by a woman. YES!!!! I’m always excited to see more horror crafted by women!

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Well, here we are, folks: the end of the Mission: Impossible line, at least, until 2021. Fallout is the sixth film in this franchise; it’s also, as you may remember, the reason Mek and I decided to do this rewatch in the first place. Because while critics last year unanimously praised the film, even proclaiming it the best in the series, Mek and I were somewhat less enthused.

Now that I’ve recently rewatched the previous five films, it’s time to give Fallout a second chance and see if the critics were right all along.

Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yes, definitely

One of the unusual things about the M:I movies is that every single film has been directed by a different dude, at least, until this installment. Christopher McQuarrie, who saw considerable success with Rogue Nation, decided to come back for Fallout, and considering how phenomenally well Fallout did, it’s no surprise that he was asked back for M:I – 7 and M:I – 8. Initially, I was excited about this, considering how much I loved Rogue Nation, and indeed, many of my favorite things about that film (amazing fight scenes, awesome car chases, Badass Ilsa Faust) reappeared here.

Unfortunately, other aspects of this film feel more like inferior echoes than cool trademarks, like, I’m pretty done with both “the CIA doesn’t trust the IMF” and “hey, let’s frame Tom Cruise again!” The plot’s a bit thin here, and I sort of wish we hadn’t brought Solomon Lane back so soon, either. Though as far as villains go, he’s actually less of a problem for me than Henry Cavill, who I like in the role, except for how the role doesn’t really work. Like, as a jerk CIA assassin, Cavill’s actually pretty great; unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to be a secret bad guy, which is . . . fine, I guess, though it’d be nice if there were some other suspect in the running besides Angela Bassett. (Much like Laurence Fishburne in Mission: Impossible III, Bassett is far too obvious to actually be the traitor.) Still, Cavill is enjoyable as a frustrated second banana villain, too; the part where he gets in (Fake) Solomon’s face, all, “Why do you have to make this so fucking complicated?” works for me on, like, a spiritual level. But I also don’t for a second believe he’s the same dude who wrote a fucking apocalyptic manifesto; like, I get it, people have layers; I’m not saying you can’t break heads and write manifestos, but this guy ain’t it.

Angela Bassett, sadly, is somewhat wasted in the role; she owns what little screen time she has, but is given virtually nothing to do, as she’s mostly here to play the role of Bureaucratic Antagonist that Alec Baldwin played last movie. Baldwin, meanwhile, has rapidly transformed from Reluctant Jerkface Ally to Personal Cheerleader for the IMF, and it’s a problem for me, one, because I absolutely don’t buy it (seriously, they also did this same shit with Fishburne in Mission: Impossible III), and two, because the writers might as well have given Baldwin a shirt that said “DEAD MEAT” on it. And even if you weren’t sure from the get-go, you probably figured it out when our heroes welcomed Baldwin to the team, like, seriously, folks. I remember sitting in theater, thinking, Ha-ha, okay, YOU’RE dead. And it can be hard to appreciate a heroic death when you see it coming at a million paces. Everything about Hunley in this movie felt artificial AF.

That all being said, I do enjoy Fallout more than I did on first viewing. It’s honestly an extremely solid action film, and there’s a whole lot about it to both enjoy and admire. The bathroom fight scene is easily one of my favorite fight scenes in the whole franchise. The car chase through Paris is incredibly well done; despite taking up a significant amount of screen time, the sequence is broken up into manageable chunks and otherwise edited so beautifully that I never found myself fidgeting or wondering how long this would go on for. Other action movies, take note: this is how you do a car chase.

I also absolutely adore the addition of Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow, AKA, Max’s daughter. I was not expecting such a tie-in from the first film, and I think they nailed the casting here; Kirby is such a wonderful combination of posh, mercenary, hungry, and wild, and I will be sorely disappointed if she does not show up in future films. Benji and Ilsa, too, remain my absolute favorites, and I am all about scenes with these two working together, saving each other’s lives, etc. Give me more platonic world saving, please! I am always here for it, and Fallout, disappointingly, doesn’t focus on the team dynamics nearly as much as the past two films. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for a good team dynamic.

Finally, I am genuinely impressed with how Ethan and Julia’s relationship wraps up here: Fallout officially closes the chapter on their romance without killing off Julia or turning her into some bitchy, shrill, bullshit version of herself. They still can’t be together, but it’s okay because they’ve both moved on. She’s not bitter about how her life has turned out; on the contrary, she’s in love with another man, doing the work that she wants to be doing, and is grateful that meeting Ethan allowed her the opportunity to find her happiness and purpose. It’s genuinely so refreshing to see such a positive, healthy end to a fictional romance. It’s rare that love interests are treated with this amount of consideration. Even if I had absolutely hated Fallout, I would respect the movie for this bit alone.

Which leaves us, at long last, with our Best to Worst of the M:I Movies:

The Final Ranking (as of 2019)

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
4. Mission: Impossible
5. Mission: Impossible III
6. Mission: Impossible II

If you’ve been enjoying these reviews–or hell, if you just happened to read this one–please comment and let me know! It’s always nice to have confirmation that I’m not just analyzing into the void. Plus, if you have suggestions for what movie series or body of work I should cover in my next Mega Re-Watch, I want to hear them! (Just don’t say Marvel. Please, anything but Marvel. After I see Endgame this week, I suspect I’m going to need a serious Marvel break. NO ENDGAME SPOILERS, PLEASE.)

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

We’re closing in now: only two films left to discuss in this Mission: Impossible Mega Re-Watch! (Well, until 2021, anyway, which is when M:I – 7 is currently scheduled to release.) First up is Rogue Nation, a movie notable for many fine qualities, but none more important than its introduction of Ilsa Faust.

Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Not really

It’s been roughly four years since I first saw this movie, and–much like with Ghost Protocol–my feelings about it are largely unchanged, except that I like it even more than I did on first blush. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have one or two minor grievances: Luther and Brandt tracking down Ethan by concentrating their search on Ilsa, who they know Ethan implicitly trusts because of the way he sketched her, continues to be bullshit, like, this is just ridiculously, ludicrously dumb. The fact that Ethan and Benji survive this one car accident is equally ludicrous, although admittedly, it’s also pretty standard action movie fare. And it’s true that Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is essentially just a gussied up Moriarty, but I’m mostly okay with it because his clear agenda and mildly creepy line deliveries still make him easily one of the best villains this franchise has ever had. Obviously, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but still, Lane works for me–at least in this particular movie.

Pretty much everything else I have to say is overwhelmingly positive: the action scenes–from the great fight sequences to the various heists and car chases–are all spectacular. I’m definitely a sucker for everything during the Sydney Opera House Mission. The humor continues to work well: Rogue Nation nails that comedy and team camaraderie from the very first scene and only builds on it throughout the film. I especially love the scene where Benji tells Ethan he won’t be left behind. In general, I continue to adore Benji, considering he essentially plays the damsel in distress here, right down to being menaced by some unnecessary, up-close villain leering.

Still, it’s really Ilsa Faust who makes this movie for me. She’s just such a great, complex heroine: badass, funny, has her own agenda. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she saves Ethan’s ass no less than three time in this movie. And I love that while there’s a certain amount of romantic/sexual tension between the two, Rogue Nation never wastes time getting them together or dropping the L bomb–not because I hate romance, but because you know it would’ve been rushed as hell and deeply unconvincing in this tightly plotted film. By delaying said romance until later installments, Rogue Nation actually provides a much better foundation for Ilsa and Ethan’s love story.

As great as Ilsa is, though, the best, most ridiculous line in this whole movie still goes to Alec Baldwin, who calls Ethan Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny,” a description I’m still very seriously considering putting on my business cards. People. It is sublime. There will never be a funnier, more perfect moment in this franchise than this.

Of course, considering that Ilsa repeatedly saves Ethan’s life in Rogue Nation, perhaps Alec Baldwin is actually describing the wrong spy here.

The Current Ranking

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
3. Mission: Impossible
4. Mission: Impossible III
5. Mission: Impossible II