Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Weeklings "3" is Terrific Power Pop

The Weeklings may be based in the United States, but the hearts of this superb rock and roll quartet beat to the sound of The British Invasion, and their souls are sonically inspired by The Beatles. The group features veteran rockers Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, Joe Bellia and John Merjave, aka Lefty, Zeek, Smokestack and Rocky Weekling. The Weeklings are top-flight interpreters of The Fab Four’s fabled catalog, and also the writers and performers of fantastic original tunes such as “Stop Your Running Around.” Their 2016 release, Studio 2, was produced at that legendary Abbey Road location where the Beatles recorded much of their now legendary music. That extraordinary album, the group’s sophomore release, balanced original tunes like “Little Elvis” with deep cuts from the Lennon-McCartney catalog, including “Love of the Loved,” originally recorded by Cilla Black.
Cover Image Courtesy Jem Recordings

The band’s latest release, 3, is another excellent collection of rock and roll tunes, featuring wonderful songs like  “Baby Let Me Take You Home” and “I Want You Again.” The shimmering production of the disc, and the superb playing by these supremely talented rockers provide the listener with an injection of ear candy that will delight power pop fans. The eleven tracks span the rock and roll spectrum, from the rockabilly-esque “1000 Miles Away,” to the Badfinger-styled “In The Moment.” There’s even a touch of the modern rock sound on “Running Away” and the stellar title track.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Weeklings album without some classic British Invasion tunes, and on you’ll find the band’s very cool version of The Beatles “Baby, You’re A Rich Man” as well as a fantastic cover of The Easybeats classic “Friday On My Mind” featuring guest vocalist Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermit’s. Those two songs alone are worth the price of admission for music acolytes, but the brilliant originals such as the hard-driving rocker “Running Away” and the lovely Raspberries-ish ballad “I Got The Love” are the icing on the cake on this must-have release.
is a terrific album that should be spinning on heavy rotation on your music device of choice. This album is an early candidate for one of the top ten power pop releases of the year, so head over to www.weeklings.com or www.jemrecordings.com for more information on the record, as well as the earlier releases by The Weeklings. The band will be on tour this year to support the album, so keep an eye out for live dates in your area by the group, who are well regarded for their energetic live shows. The Weeklings are an outstanding band whose work pays tribute to the classic rock sound while imbuing their sound with a fresh spin that carves out its own niche in today’s music world. So what are you waiting for? Immerse yourself in the magnificent songs of Lefty, Zeek, Smokestack and Rocky as soon as possible!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Star Wars and The Perils of Fandom

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
I recently saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and I’m still unpacking my reactions to the film. There are a lot of thrilling moments, and writer Chris Terrio and director J.J. Abrams provide long-time fans with a bunch of cameos and callbacks in this last chapter in the “original” nine-chapter saga that was begun by George Lucas in 1977. But after seeing the movie, it also got me thinking about fans, and their love-hate relationship with the films, TV series or books that they’re fans of, whether it’s Star WarsStar Trek, Marvel superheroes, or James Bond. When I saw the original Star Wars on the big-screen back in 1977, I was captivated by the unique way Lucas combined the excitement of old-fashioned adventure serials, science fiction, and fantasy, while adding a dose of mysticism and philosophy to the mix. I loved the movie, and couldn’t wait for more adventures featuring these now beloved characters.

Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Chapter IV: A New Hope) went on to become the most successful movie of all time, and of course, it spawned two sequels. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. When Empire premiered in 1980, audiences were shocked and surprised when the identity of Luke Skywalker’s father was revealed. Many fans picked apart the clues and inconsistencies between the original film and Empire, noting that Lucas (despite insisting otherwise in interviews throughout the years) couldn’t have planned this from the beginning, and that he was changing things as he went along. Many fans also decried Lucas’ habit of tinkering with the films themselves, changing them slightly (and in some cases not so slightly) upon their re-releases over time, including the infamous “did Han or Greedo shoot first?” debacle. Fans have debated these issues with the original trilogy ever since.

After the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, we didn’t see any new entries in the Star Wars cinematic saga until the highly anticipated release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, which kicked off the “prequel trilogy” aka Chapters I-III of the series. While the films featured dazzling special effects and some thrilling moments, long-time fans complained about cardboard characters, the tone of the performances and the general direction of the story. A trilogy that should have charted the powerful and emotional journey of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader didn’t have the impact it should have for many viewers, thanks to their perceived shortcomings of the films. Despite these complaints, the movies made a ton of money, and brought many younger fans to the Star Wars universe, I have a friend who mentioned at the time that his kids loved these movies, the way we loved the original trilogy. Still, these “prequels” left a bad aftertaste for a lot of long-time fans, and other than some animated series and other spinoffs, the screen went dark again in the Star Wars universe for a while.

Then in 2012, it was announced that Lucas was selling the rights to Star Wars to Disney, and a new series of films was planned, including Chapters 7-9, which would finish off the original nine-film saga. J.J. Abrams (LostMission: Impossible, Star Trek) was brought on board to write and direct, and The Force Awakens was released in 2015. Simultaneously a love letter to the fans and an expansion of the universe, the film was a phenomenal success, leading to a sequel, The Last Jedi, in 2017. Then the hardcore fans went ballistic again. Writer-director Rian Johnson put his own stamp on the saga, changing some plot threads and pointing the saga in a more downbeat direction (much as The Empire Strikes Back had in 1980) and drew the ire of fandom. Critics and fans were sharply divided, but the film was still a success at the box-office, Meanwhile, a series of Star Wars spinoff films was launched, with Rogue One (the story of the Rebels who stole the Death Star plans) and Solo(a Han Solo origin story), with more standalone films were planned. While Rogue One was a success, Solo had a troubled production; original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) were fired and Ron Howard was brought in to finish the film. Solo proved a disappointment at the box office, and further spinoffs were put on hold. Meanwhile, after the fan backlash regarding The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams was brought back to direct the final film in the trilogy, ultimately titled The Rise of Skywalker.

Which brings us full circle to the current release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Once again, fandom has been divided on the film. Many have noted it feels like a pullback from the darker themes of The Last Jedi. Some characters that were significantly featured in that film essentially have cameos in this one, and some plot points were clearly re-worked or ignored. I enjoyed the movie, and thought it brought the saga to a decent conclusion, with some emotional touches and goodbyes to long-time characters. There are certainly a lot of crowd-pleasing moments and exciting sequences, but how much of the story was driven by the backlash regarding The Last Jedi? The trick of dealing with a property that has a legion of fans is that its those very same fans that clamor for new adventures which further develop their favorite characters who will then decry the changes made when filmmakers attempt to put new spins on these tales. It’s a very difficult road to walk. Just ask Rian Johnson, whom I feel is unjustly maligned for his work on The Last Jedi. The film has its issues, to be sure, (just as The Rise of Skywalker does) but he was making an admirable attempt to move the Star Wars saga in a new direction.

There’s a lot to like about The Rise of Skywalker. Given what was presented in the first two chapters of this trilogy, it’s probably the best conclusion one could hope for, and it does provide closure to this part of the saga. If you can believe the stories in the press, Star Wars films are going to take a break on the big-screen, and the current saga will play out on the Disney Plus streaming platform, with spin-off series like The Mandalorian, which successfully sidesteps a lot of the “ fan expectation” issues by telling an exciting standalone story, which still pays homage (quite a bit of it, in fact) to the history of Star Wars. As time goes on, for franchises such as Star WarsStar Trek, or the superhero films from Marvel and DC, I hope that the artists entrusted with continuing these stories will feel free to put their own imprint on these classic adventures. After all, since the beginning of storytelling, the tellers of tales have brought their own vision to these sagas, whether it’s the Arthurian myth, the stories of mythology, Sherlock Holmes, or modern day heroes like Spider Man, Batman and James Bond. Of course, the fans should be considered when new versions of these stories are produced, but should they be the only barometer of how these tales are told? As for the companies that produce and release these films, let's hope they have the wisdom to let these stories be told, and not only be concerned with making a profit. There’s room for many interpretations of these tales; and as long as they’re well crafted, they should be embraced.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Journey (and Music) of Elvis Costello

Rock stars that write their autobiographies face a difficult prospect. Countless authors, politicians, scientists, athletes, and actors have done it with varying degrees of success. While a person's life and accomplishments are often worthy of note, crafting an enthralling and relatable narrative that a reader can empathize with is often difficult. But it's not an impossible task. Bruce Springsteen's powerful Born To Run, Patti Smith's transcendent Just Kids, and Keith Richards' enjoyable, supremely Keith-esque Life have all garnered acclaim from both readers and reviewers. I recently caught up with Elvis Costello's Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, which was originally published in 2015, and it's a captivating, engrossing read.

I'm a long-time fan of Costello's, and the book (like his music) is literate, witty, dark, joyous and yet it's often laced with a bit of melancholy, as well as the weight of lessons learned. He shares his life story in a non-linear fashion, jumping around in time to detail pivotal moments, while simultaneously telling the story of his father, who was also a musician. Costello also recounts the creation of those memorable early records with the Attractions, such as This Year's Model, Armed Forces and Get Happy!! as well as sharing his fascinating recollections of his meetings (and musical collaborations with) George Jones, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Lee Lewis. You may want to have a notebook (or iPad) handy while you read, as throughout the book he talks about the songs, music and artists that he loves, and which still inspire him.

Costello openly discusses his failings, and doesn't shy away from the fact that in his earlier years he was drinking too much, and often looking for trouble. He touches on the infamous incident where he allegedly made racist comments about Ray Charles and James Brown in a bar in Ohio, for which he later apologized. As he says in the book: “I’ll have to take the word of witnesses that I really used such despicable racial slurs in the same sentence as the names of two of the greatest musicians who ever lived, but whatever I did, I did it to provoke a bar fight and finally put the lights out.” He briefly touches on his marriages and his personal life, and acknowledges that his reckless side and "angry young man" persona had finally quieted down by the time he married his third wife, singer Diana Krall, in 2003. While he shies away from writing too much about his current family life, what he does share is filled with emotion, as are the moving passages about his early life.


There are other compelling stories in the book, including Costello's recollections of his work on non-rock and roll projects with Allen Toussaint, The Brodsky Quartet, The Roots and his marvelous collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted from Memory. He also talks about Spectacle, the short-lived but insightful music-themed television show that he hosted, which featured artists like Levon Helm, Bruce Springsteen and his long-time pal Nick Lowe. The book's six hundred plus page length may seem daunting at first, but Costello is as talented a wordsmith on the page as he is on record. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink is a comprehensive, fascinating and engrossing look at the journey (and the music) of Elvis Costello. If you're a fan, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Before I Wake: An Emotional Ghost Story

Writer-director Mike Flanagan has been making a name for himself as a purveyor of well-crafted horror tales in the last few years, with strong projects like the recent big-screen version of Stephen King's novel Doctor Sleep, as well as the successful Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. Other projects helmed by this talented filmmaker include Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil and another King adaptation, Gerald's Game. One of his best films is 2016's Before I Wake. This compelling drama, laced with elements of horror and fantasy, tells the story of Mark and Jessie Hobson, a couple who are dealing with the loss of their son Sean in a drowning accident. They decide to become foster parents to Cody, a young boy whose been through a succession of foster homes. Soon after the boy moves in with Mark and Jessie, it becomes apparent that Cody has a supernatural gift that makes his dreams become reality. Strange and wonderful things happen when Cody falls asleep.

Kate Bosworth & Thomas Jane
Cody's power is initially seen as something positive, as he manifests lovely images of butterflies, and a ghostly version of Sean, which disappear when Cody wakes up. Jessie, in particular, is fascinated by these dream images. She becomes obsessed with using Cody's power to reunite with Sean, and assuage her grief. But there's also a nightmarish figure that Cody calls "The Canker Man" who haunts his dreams. This causes Cody to use energy drinks and other means to keep himself awake. Mark tries to convince Jessie that using Cody's power to see their late son is wrong, and that they should focus on helping Cody. Meanwhile, it appears The Canker Man is getting stronger, as the terrifying figure makes a child who's been bullying Cody at school disappear when Cody falls asleep there.

When Mark disappears while trying to help Cody during one of his nightmares, Jessie starts looking into Cody's past, and finds that mysterious events have occurred at his previous foster homes. Can Jessie help Cody overcome his fears and conquer his demons? Who is the terrifying Canker Man, and what is his connection to Cody? The answers to those questions are powerful and moving, and the story reaches a satisfying conclusion, grounded in a new beginning for Cody. The acting is strong, featuring excellent performances by Kate Bosworth as Jessie, Thomas Jane as Mark, and Jacob Tremblay, who's terrific as Cody. Annabeth Gish is quite good as a social worker who's assigned to Cody's case. Dash Mihok and Jay Karnes are also solid in supporting roles. The film features some beautiful images, as well as some scary and unsettling ones, courtesy of the vivid work of cinematographer Michael Fimognari.

Before I Wake is a well-written (by director Flanagan & Mike Howard) film about dealing with the ghosts of your past. The movie has a deeply emotional core, and anyone who has suffered a loss can empathize with the feelings that Mark, Jessie and Cody are dealing with in the story. While this is a supernatural horror film, it's also a thoughtful examination of grief, loss, love and redemption. I think it's one of Mike Flanagan's best films. He's truly establishing himself as one of our best contemporary horror filmmakers, and it's easy to see why Stephen King sings his praises. Both men share a talent for telling stories featuring strong, relatable characters whose inner strength is tested when they're faced with otherworldly occurrences. Before I Wake is available for streaming on Netflix. Here's a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho2Z0LtXsbY.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Five Films from the "Godzilla-verse"

Godzilla first stomped his way into theaters in 1954, and recently returned to the big-screen in Godzilla, King of The Monsters, the latest entry in Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse series. The giant monster with the radioactive breath began life as an allegory for the dangers of the nuclear age, but he’s gone through a lot of changes over the years, going from city stomping villain to world-protecting hero. If you grew up watching the 1960s and 1970s (or even some of the 1980s and 1990s) films produced in Japan by Toho Studios, either in theaters or on television, you probably realize that long before Marvel and DC had shared cinematic universes, Godzilla and his friends (and sometime enemies) shared the screen together a number of times. Here’s a brief look back at a few of the best kaiju (aka giant monster) team-ups.

5Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001) 
Shusuke Kaneko, who also helmed a trilogy of films that re-imagined Godzilla’s rival monster Gamera, directed this 2001 entry, which pits Godzilla against Mothra, Barugon and Ghidorah, who’s a hero this time. In an offbeat touch, which probably helped inspire this past summers American kaiju entry, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, Mothra, Ghidorah and Barugon are portrayed as ancient protective spirits of the earth. This film ignores all of the sequels up to that time, acting as a follow-up to Gojira, the 1954 original, and returning Godzilla to his villainous roots. Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack is one of the more creative and interesting Godzilla films of this later period, and is definitely worth a look.

4. Destroy All Monsters (1968)  This movie is often cited as a favorite by kaiju fans, mostly for the sheer number of monsters depicted onscreen. An evil group of aliens called the Kilaaks take control of all of Earth’s monsters and order them to wreak havoc on humanity and help them take over the planet. When a group of scientists are able to break the aliens’ hold over the monsters, the Kilaaks bring in Ghidorah, the dragon-like monster, to duke it out with all of the others. This leads to an all-out battle in the latter part of the film. Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and a bunch of other kaiju team up to save the world from Ghidorah and the Kilaaks. Directed by Ishiro Honda, who helmed many genre films for Toho, Destroy All Monsters was remade (sort of) in 2004 as Godzilla: Final Wars, in order to celebrate the Big G’s 50th anniversary.

3. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) – Ghidorah first showed up in this entry, in which Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan join forces to defeat the powerful space monster. The colorful story has elements of gangster films, sci-fi movies and monster flicks all rolled into one. Ghidorah has a pretty cool entrance here, a sequence which was re-used in later films. The dragon-like monster would go on to become Godzilla’s archenemy, appearing in a number of sequels right up through the 1990s. This is also the film where the pair of tiny fairies from Mothra act as interpreters for the monsters when the human heroes of the film ask them to plead with the kaiju to help us defeat Ghidorah.

2. Invasion of Astro-Monster, aka Monster Zero (1965) – This one features Godzilla and Rodan squaring off against “Monster Zero” at the behest of aliens from Planet X. These seemingly benign aliens offer Earth a cure for all diseases if we’ll let them “borrow” Godzilla and Rodan to defeat Monster Zero. But Monster Zero turns out to be Ghidorah and the aliens want to use all three monsters to conquer Earth. It’s up to a pair of heroic astronauts (played by Toho veteran Akira Takarada and American star Nick Adams) to stop the aliens. Invasion of Astro-Monster features giant monsters, spaceships, aliens, and Godzilla doing a victory dance after beating Ghidorah! The film wasn’t released in the United States until 1970, but like many of the other Godzilla movies of this era, became a television staple in the 1970s.

1. Mothra vs. Godzilla, aka Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964) – In the 1960s series, this film was the last time Godzilla appeared as a villain. After battling King Kong in the previous entry, King Kong vs. Godzilla, here the Big G battles Mothra, who had made a successful debut in a solo film in 1961. The American version of this movie features a scene in which Godzilla battles the military, which was not included in the Japanese release. Mothra vs. Godzilla is well-directed by Ishiro Honda, and also features the iconic music of Akira Ifukube and the special effects mastery of Eiji Tsuburaya. These three men were probably most responsible for the success of the series in the 1960s. One of the best among the first group of sequels, with the script by Shinichi Sekizawa weaving some deft satire on commercialism into the story.

All of these films are available on DVD and Blu-ray in various editions, and for online streaming. If you’re a life-long kaiju fan or just getting into these movies for the first time, these are some of the most enjoyable entries in this long-running series. Here’s a trailer for the recent Criterion Collection box set, Godzilla, The Showa Era Films, 1954-1975, which includes the films numbered 1-4 from this list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg-jDhwLH10Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack is available separately on DVD and Blu-rayHere’s the trailer for that movie; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl9Xh7DtiTo. Fire up the popcorn and settle in, and have yourself a Godzilla-verse fest with these fantastic monster flicks!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Second Coming of "Suspiria"

If you’re a serious horror fan, you’ve likely seen (or at least heard of) Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria. The terrifying story of a witches coven operating out of a ballet school in Germany is one of the director’s most revered films. The movie evokes a deep sense of terror and dread. Suspiria has atmosphere to spare, and plays like a nightmare captured on celluloid, set to a pulsating score by the rock band Goblin. The film also features a rich palette that bathes scenes in a spectacular array of phantasmagoric colors. The movie was followed by two (sort of) sequels, Inferno and Mother of Tears, both of which further explored the mythology of the Three Mothers, immortal witches whose power allows them to manipulate mankind behind the scenes. Suspiria has been an inspiration for an entire generation of horror filmmakers. Director Luca Guadagnino, best known for his Oscar-nominated film Call Me By Your Name, helmed a remake of Argento’s groundbreaking thriller in 2018. It’s an alluring, frightening, fascinating and intense re-imagining of the original story.

Tilda Swinton in Suspiria
The film is set in 1977, the year of the original version’s release. It follows the story of Susie Bannion, a young dancer, who arrives in Germany to study at the prestigious Markos Tanzgruppe. The school has a sterling reputation, but there is something odd about the place. One of the students, a dancer named Patricia, has disappeared under very mysterious circumstances. She tried unsuccessfully to convince her therapist, Dr. Klemperer, that there was an evil presence at the school. Susie becomes an integral part of the dance troupe, and forms a bond with Madame Blanc, the artistic director of the academy. It turns out the school really is hiding a secret; the teachers are all witches, under the control of Helena Markos, an ancient being who needs a new host body in order to survive. Susie’s name is at the top of the list for this role, despite Blanc’s misgivings about sacrificing her. As mysterious events and horrible deaths occur, it becomes clear that there is a struggle between Blanc and Markos for control of the coven. Meanwhile, Dr. Klemperer is attempting to uncover the secrets of the academy, but his discoveries may come at a terrible cost.

This new take on Suspiria offers some startling and truly unsettling moments. The dance sequences are unusual and uniquely choreographed. A scene early on where Susie’s movements in her audition mirror the wounds inflicted on Olga, a dancer in another area of the school, is strikingly photographed, as is a group dance sequence later in the film. In contrast to Argento’s use of wild colors, Guadagnino offers a muted palette, though he does use splashes of color for strong effect in several scenes. His direction is excellent, as is the stylish work of his production team. The largely female cast is superb, with Dakota Johnson coming into her own with a strong performance as Susie. The one and only Tilda Swinton is fantastic as Madame Blanc. There's also fine supporting work from Chloe Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Mia Goth, and...Swinton, who not only plays Blanc, but also portrays the male Dr. Klemperer and the aged Helena Markos! Jessica Harper, the star of the 1977 version, makes a cameo appearance late in the film.

The story is more linear than the original, which was a triumph of dazzling style over narrative. Screenwriter David Kajganich focuses the core of the story on the strength and power of the female spirit, and its capacity for both good and evil. There are some elements (like a political terrorism subplot which draws attention away from the main story) that feel unnecessary, but overall the slow build to the terrifying, blood-drenched finale is well done. There are a couple of clever twists that help this version stand apart from the original. The effective and understated score is by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Swinton has called the movie a “cool cover version” rather than a remake, and that’s an apt description. If you’re in the mood for a different kind of horror experience, check out Suspiria. Guadagino’s film has sharply divided critics, as well as fans, and definitely evokes some strong reactions from viewers, but I feel it's worth checking out. The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime, as well as for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray. T. Here’s a link to the trailer for the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6QKRl56Ok.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Doctor Sleep: Mike Flanagan Unites the Iconic Worlds of King and Kubrick

The Shining is one of Stephen King’s most beloved novels. For many readers, it’s the work that cemented their interest in King’s writing, and turned them into long-time fans. Stanley Kubrick released a film version of the book in 1980, and that eerie, visually stunning movie (featuring Jack Nicholson) is now regarded by many as a classic of horror cinema. Except that is, for Stephen King. He intensely disliked the movie, and the changes Kubrick made to his original story. King has both spoken of and written about his disdain for the Kubrick film over the years. He even wrote the teleplay for an ABC TV movie remake in 1997 starring Steven Weber that stuck closer to the novel. The author’s most notable rebuff of Kubrick’s take on his story is the novel Doctor Sleep, which was published in 2013. The book, a sequel to The Shining, follows a grown up Danny Torrance as he struggles with the ghosts of his past, and his terrifying childhood experience at the Overlook Hotel. The novel garnered positive reviews from critics and fans, and in his introduction, King recalls his dislike of the Kubrick film, and how he wanted to complete Danny’s story in his own way, essentially ignoring the movie. Doctor Sleep was a huge bestseller, and a film version was inevitable.

Who would tackle this adaptation of King’s work? After the project was stuck in development hell for a while, writer-director Mike Flanagan took on the job. Flanagan, who made a splash with the chilling Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, and also helmed a well-received version of King’s novel Gerald’s Game, pitched a unique idea. He wanted the film version of Doctor Sleep to pay homage (and stay true to) to King’s version of The Shining, as well as the style and iconography of the Kubrick movie. He presented his ideas to Stephen King, and the author signed off on the concept. It helped that King had liked Flanagan’s film of Gerald’s Game, and was a fan of The Haunting of Hill House. The cinematic version of Doctor Sleep is currently in release, and it’s a chilling treat for fans of King’s novels, and Stanley Kubrick’s film. 

The movie charts the journey of an adult Danny Torrance, who’s never gotten over the trauma caused by the nightmarish events he and his mother endured when the dark forces of the Overlook Hotel possessed his father. Danny’s an alcoholic, and drifts through life on a series of benders and one-night stands. The spirit of Dick Halloran (who also had the power of the shining, and befriended Danny at the Overlook before he was killed by Danny’s father) visits Danny and teaches him how to use his gift to put his fears and nightmares to rest. This helps Danny turn his life around, and he settles down in New Hampshire, gets a job, joins Alcoholics Anonymous and makes some new friends. He works at a hospice facility, where he quietly sits with patients about to pass on, guiding them to the next world, thus gaining the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

Ewan McGregor and Carl Lumbly

Meanwhile, a nomadic band of killers (called the True Knot) led by the beautiful but deadly Rose the Hat, hunts down children who have the shining and robs them of their life force. This group of “energy vampires” prolongs their own lives by feeding off these innocent children. In one of the film’s most chilling and unsettling sequences, they drain the energy of a young boy who they’ve stalked and captured. This puts them on a collision course with a young woman named Abra, who can see what they’re doing thanks to her own gift of the shining. The problem is, it's a two-way connection: Rose can see Abra as well, and feels the depth of the young girl’s power. Abra connects with and befriends Danny, while Rose plots to find her and take all of her energy for the long-lived members of the True Knot. Danny decides to help Abra stop these monstrous beings, and end their reign of terror. His decision to aid Abra will not only put him in the crosshairs of Rose and the True Knot, but will bring him face to face with his deepest and darkest fears at the one place he thought he’d never return to: the Overlook Hotel. The climactic showdown will bring the nightmares of that evil location back into Danny’s life, as he and Abra try to end Rose's reign of terror.

Flanagan and his crew do a fantastic job melding together the worlds of King’s novels and Kubrick’s film. The spectacular production design effectively recreates the memorable backdrops of Kubrick’s movie. Flanagan also seeds the film with elements of Kings original novel that weren’t used in Kubrick’s version, which should please the author’s fans. The cast is superb; Ewan McGregor is quietly effective as Danny, Carl Lumbly projects a strong and supportive presence as Halloran (a role played Scatman Crothers in the original film), and Kyliegh Curran has an ageless, ethereal quality as Abra. There’s also fine supporting work from Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Zahn McClarnon, and Carel Struycken. But it’s Rebecca Ferguson who steals the show with her by turns sensual, sadistic, charming and terrifying portrayal of the evil Rose. 

The film runs two and a half hours, but you never feel like the story is dragging or losing its focus. Doctor Sleep is an atmospheric, haunting tale that slowly builds to a crescendo of terror in it's climax at the iconic Overlook Hotel. One caveat: there are characters and plot elements of the Doctor Sleep novel that are either compressed or eliminated, mostly for the sake of narrative flow. It’s clear that if they'd done a full adaptation of the book, the film would have run five hours or more. Writer-director Mike Flanagan pulls off a nearly impossible task here, staying true to the spirit of both King’s and Kubrick’s visions, and adding a bit of his own unique take on the material. There are also some wonderful easter eggs for fans of King's work spread throughout the film. Doctor Sleep is so good that you’ll wish that he would adapt even more of King’s work for the screen. Here's the trailer for the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOzFZxB-8cw.