Come Play with us, Danny

Doctor Sleep brings The Shining back to life (in more ways than one). Since Stephen King notoriously hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his horror classic, no one knew how a sequel could be made. King wrote Doctor Sleep in 2013 as a direct continuation of his novel. So respected modern horror director Mike Flanagan compromised between both visions. Although I’m a big fan of The Shining, Doctor Sleep is part King weirdness and part Kubrick nostalgia. Characters are recast without feeling like an imitation and the Overlook Hotel is recreated just as well as in Ready Player One. Jack Nicholson obviously doesn’t return.

Danny Torrance and his mother Wendy deal with the aftermath of The Shining. The ghost of Dick Hallorann tells Doc more about the “shining” since he was supposed to be alive in the novel. Danny literally locks up his trauma and grows into an alcoholic Ewan McGregor. Even though I was more invested in Shining references, the sequel story is interesting enough on its own. Flanagan fills the 2 hour & 32 minute runtime with a creepy atmosphere, strong characters, another mangled hand, and a refreshing absence of jump scares. The King weirdness is the ambiguous nature of “shining” and a nomadic cult of psychic vampires that feed on the “steam” of children. Rebecca Ferguson turns Rose the Hat into a memorably intense villain.

With a few exceptions, the True Knot don’t have a lot of characterization, but I knew I’d be uncomfortable if children were involved. Dan cleans himself up and gains the titular Doctor Sleep nickname as an orderly. A new “shining” kid named Abra Stone played well by newcomer Kyliegh Curran befriends Danny with messages of “REⱭЯUM.” Together they seek to stop Rose the Hat in a very familiar location. The Overlook climax wasn’t in the book, but it is technically part of the original. Danny ends up with an axe, the twins return, there’s a bloody elevator, the naked woman, and other iconic moments are brought back just to adapt the true end of The Shining. Doctor Sleep can’t always bridge the gap, but fans like me should be pleased.

Doctor Sleep

Dan sees REⱭЯUM on the mirror

Preceded by: The Shining

Drummer’s Ear

Sound of Metal is a drummer’s worst nightmare. Similar to Whiplash, Sound of Metal is an angry drumming movie that deserved Best Picture (but unsurprisingly didn’t win). I’m not a heavy metal fan, but I knew I’d like Sound of Metal as soon as I learned about it on Amazon Prime. The very simple premise follows the struggle of a heavy metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing. I didn’t think much of Riz Ahmed beforehand, but his performance is captivating. Ruben Stone feels like a genuine hard rocker and former addict with an underground band.

Olivia Cooke is similarly dedicated to playing the band’s singer/guitar player and Ruben’s emotional rock Lou. Ahmed earns his Best Actor nomination by exploring the five stages of grief. Denial comes when Ruben first starts to lose his hearing. There’s no way Sound of Metal wasn’t going to win Oscars for Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Hearing loss is effectively captured with scenes of complete silence, entire conversations with no sound, and subtitles only coming in when Ruben learns sign language. Ruben experiences anger multiple times throughout, but Lou helps him by finding a community for the deaf.

Bargaining is mostly seen as Ruben looks for ways to keep drumming. His primary goal is trying to get a cochlear implant procedure. Paul Raci centers the movie as the head of his shelter’s Christian organization for the deaf. Raci earns his Best Supporting Actor nomination as a real life coda with deaf parents. They clash over opposing viewpoints, but Joe does everything he can to help Ruben. Depression comes near the end when Ruben doesn’t get exactly what he wants. Finally ending with a beautiful moment of acceptance. Sound of Metal speaks from the heart.

Sound of Metal

Ruben drums

The Turing Machine

The Imitation Game highlights an often overlooked part of history. The 2015 Academy Awards is the first show where I watched every film nominated for Best Picture. The Imitation Game was last on my list, because I thought it would be boring. Little did I know how fascinating cryptography would be. Alan Turing was an English mathematician turned cryptanalyst who asked the important question “Can machines think?” His theory led to the invention of one of the earliest computers. Though Turing faced great difficulty as a homosexual in the middle of World War II.

The Imitation Game is a suitably thrilling war movie fought behind the scenes. Some complain that Turing’s sexuality is underplayed, but that’s not the key focus of the story. Any romantic feelings are hinted at during Turing’s school boy days. Benedict Cumberbatch proved himself as a serious Oscar contender. Although the film may not be 100% factual, Cumberbatch captures Turing as a socially awkward loner. He and other cryptographers are hired to break the Nazi Enigma machine. Which sends coded messages that could be vital in winning the war. So Turing built a machine capable of outthinking Enigma.

Equally important is Turing’s non-romantic relationship with Joan Clarke. Frequent historical actress Kiera Knightly was also nominated for her effort. Clarke faces her own share of adversity as the sole female cryptanalyst, but she forms a bound with Turing that helps complete his work. Of course the truth comes out and it is distressing to see Turing endure chemical castration. Although it cost him a great deal, Turing’s machine was a major victory for all involved. Making The Imitation Game a story worth telling.

The Imitation Game

Alan Turing and his machine

Operation Neptune Spear

Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the decade long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. It was the natural follow up to The Hurt Locker for Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow and her journalist screenwriter Mike Boal. Their original intention was to make a film about the 2001 Battle of Tora Bora, but all that changed when bin Laden was killed. Zero Dark Thirty was released only a year after 2011 Operation Neptune Spear. The military themed movie was met with understandable critical acclaim and Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. It only won Best Sound Editing in a rare tie with Skyfall.

Although Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t without controversy. However factual, I view the film as matter of fact without getting into any moral or political discussions. Although I was 6 years old, I was too young to fully understand 9/11. I remember learning about bin Laden’s death very clearly. Zero Dark Thirty only depicts 9/11 as an audio recording. The true focus is on the almost obsessive manhunt by fictional CIA analyst Maya Harris. Jessica Chastain commands attention throughout. She’s joined by an all-star cast that includes Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, and Jason Clarke as fellow CIA officers.

The latter participates in uncomfortable torture methods in order to extract information. Most of the time is dedicated to finding any lead connected to bin Laden. Other terror attacks follow before the Abbottabad compound is located. The Navy SEAL compound raid is a highlight of the movie that captures the tense atmosphere in total darkness. SEAL Team 6 consists of Joel Edgerton and majority Marvel actors like Chris Pratt, Mike Colter, Frank Grillo, and Callan Mulvey. Bin Laden’s death brings a sign of relief, but the impact will never truly go away. Zero Dark Thirty does the best with the facts it was given.

Zero Dark Thirty

Maya Harris oversees Navy SEAL Team 6

Tra-La-Laaa!

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is packed with action, thrills, and laffs! Although I was 22 at the time, Captain Underpants was something I had to watch in theaters. Unlike the previous DreamWorks Animation movie starring an underwear clad hero released in 2017, I already knew what to expect from Captain Underpants. I’ve been reading Dav Pilkey’s epic novels since middle school. I mostly ignored them in elementary school, but I found them hilarious and relatable when I gave them a chance. Like the main characters, I myself created my own superhero comics at a young age. Knowing they were making a movie was both unexpected and overdue. DreamWorks made The First Epic Movie cheap, but very faithful to the books.

The cartoony drawings are nicely computer animated and the potty humor is very much intact. Your enjoyment of the movie depends on how you feel about the source material. The cast of comedians is fitting, but not at all what I imagined. The adult Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice 4th graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George is the kid with the tie and the flat top and Harold is the one with the t-shirt and the bad haircut (remember that now). Like the books, they’re best friends who love pranks and making comics at Treehouse Comix Inc. Their crude comics are recreated with fun traditional animation and the “Flip-O-Rama” is even used in a graphic action scene. Ed Helms is a mean, but surprisingly sympathetic principal Mr. Krupp. A romantic subplot is added to humanize him a bit more.

Like the book, Krupp is hypnotized into thinking he’s the greatest superhero of all time! Although Captain Underpants steals the show as a dimwitted superhero, the friendship between George & Harold is the heart of the movie. They hilariously try to keep their principal out of trouble, but a classic villain gets in the way. Unlike his starring book, Professor Poopypants plots to eliminate all laughter. Nick Kroll voices a mean villain, but Jordan Peele voicing the nerdy tattletail Melvin Sneedly is more unexpected. Laughter saves the day and Captain Underpants gains powers in the process. Ending with terrible talking toilets and an appropriate song from Weird Al Yankovic. Captain Underpants will win over the young and the young at heart. “Tra-la-laaa!”

33. Captain Underpants

George and Harold laugh at Captain Underpants

Mad Wealthy Orientals

Crazy Rich Asians is something I may never truly understand. Since I’m not crazy, rich, or Asian. I don’t have to relate to something to enjoy it, but I feel like Crazy Rich Asians would’ve been overlooked if not for its cast. Based on the book by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is the first Chinese American movie released by a major studio in decades. Although executives were nervous, the movie was a box-office success with Awards attention. The more hype it got, the more likely I was to be disappointed. Director Jon M. Chu wasn’t exactly that beloved beforehand. I love rom-coms, but I don’t see them in theaters no matter who stars in them. Even the 91% Rotten Tomatoes consensus called it formulaic without truly criticizing the movie.

I do think Crazy Rich Asians has merit outside of its all-Asian cast, but that still doesn’t make it less cliché. The cinematography is beautiful with epic Singapore landscapes and a magical wedding. The cast is impressive, but I can only follow so many extended family members. Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu plays likeable leading lady/college professor Rachel Chu from a working class family. She somehow never knows that her handsome British-Chinese boyfriend Nick Young played by newcomer Henry Golding is crazy rich after 1 year of dating. They do get romantic, but the focus is really the status struggle between Rachel and Nick’s family.

They attend his friend’s wedding in Singapore where she comes in direct conflict with his old fashioned Christian mother Eleanor. Michelle Yeoh elevates the material past the disapproving mother cliché. Other family members receive attention, but I was most interested in Gemma Chan’s subplot as Nick’s cousin Astrid. She feels genuinely classy and her problems are sympathetic. I have nothing against rich people, but they do feel obnoxiously wealthy at times. As for the comedy, I’ll never understand the appeal of Awkwafina. Ken Jeong was funnier in one scene than she was in the entire movie. The use of Mahjong in the climax feels appropriately unique, but there’s still a last minute grand romantic gesture on an airplane. Crazy Rich Asians just barely elevates its familiar story for me to commend it.

Crazy Rich Asians

Rachel Chu and Nick Young look lovingly

Cookies are for Closers

The Boss Baby is literally for babies. DreamWorks Animation isn’t known for its consistency, but I never expected a movie centered on a baby in a business suit. The Boss Baby is mostly based on a picture book of the same name. It’s a straightforward metaphor for newborn babies that feel like the boss of the house, but the movie is a lot weirder than you might expect. So weird that I was very confident in skipping The Boss Baby in theaters. Until my brother and I gave in to all the attention it was getting. Although The Boss Baby has its moments, they’re either too adult or too childish for me to be fully invested. With a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’ll never understand how it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.

I’m a big fan of Rugrats, but other properties like Baby Geniuses prove baby movies are a tricky thing to get right. Frequent DreamWorks collaborator Alec Baldwin now voices a literal boss baby named Boss Baby. I’ve never seen Glengarry Glen Ross, so most of the office humor doesn’t appeal to me. The only thing I can relate to is the brother dynamic between Boss Baby and his new brother Tim Templeton. The seldom seen Tobey Maguire voices an older Tim who narrates his childhood in an over exaggerated way. Tim often speaks to a Gandalf-like alarm clock and has many fantasies. The computer animation is simple with stylized imagination sequences. Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow voice his parents who always sing “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney.

It’s only when Boss Baby is discovered that things get really bizarre. Turns out all babies are made at Baby Corp where they’re either assigned to a family or management. They stay young by drinking special baby formula, a pacifier can astral project people to his office, and Tim actually questions whether Boss Baby is the baby Jesus. He conducts meetings with his fellow babies Jimbo, Staci, and the Triplets to solve a love crisis. His mission is to prevent Puppy Co. from taking all the love away from babies. You can’t make this stuff up, but I do wish it were more clever. There’s still several poop jokes and more baby butts than I’d expect to see in a kids movie. Steve Buscemi voices the villainous Puppy Co. CEO out for revenge. He sends his burly goon after the brothers as they go on an adventure to save babykind and maybe bound along the way. The Boss Baby delivers what it promises.

32. The Boss Baby

The Boss Baby

Followed by: The Boss Baby: Family Business

Can’t Stop the Feeling

Trolls shouldn’t work as well as it does. I’m not trolling when I say Trolls is the most surprisingly fun original DreamWorks Animation project in recent memory. After Home gave me too many red flags, I very nearly skipped Trolls as well. I remember thinking it was very bizarre to make a movie based on the creepy troll dolls I had when I was a kid. The colorful approach and poppy soundtrack made it seem less like something I needed to see in theaters. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it anyway. The computer animation is simple, but vibrant like a glittery pastel scrapbook come to life. All trolls retain the trademark tall colorful hair of their namesake. Along with a big nose, big ears, and often exposed butt.

Trolls are an overly happy race that do nothing but sing, dance, and hug. Their natural enemy are a fictional race called Bergens that believe in eating Trolls to be happy. The celebrity voice cast is a mix of musically talented entertainers and frequent animation collaborators. After Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick was the perfect upbeat choice for sweetly naive Troll Princess Poppy. Her fellow Trolls are voiced by the likes of James Corden and Gwen Stefani, but they aren’t given a lot of attention. There are big Trolls, small Trolls, glitter farting Trolls, and an odd Troll that looks like a giraffe. All of Poppy’s partying attracts the attention of evil Bergen chef Chef voiced by Christine Baranski. So Poppy is forced to team up with her overly cautious polar opposite Branch voiced by returning DreamWorks collaborator Justin Timberlake.

Their journey is fraught with pipe cleaner spiders and sarcastic clouds. Although most jokes are juvenile, it’s too creative not to laugh out loud. The Bergens are led by the easily fooled young King Gristle Jr. voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Poppy, Branch, and the rest of the Trolls use everything they know about happiness to keep from being eaten. Including help lovesick scullery maid Bridget voiced by an unrecognizable Zooey Deschanel. Until they’re all betrayed by a zen Troll fittingly voiced by Russell Brand. Poppy & Branch of course come to together in the end through the power of music. As a jukebox musical, Trolls is full of catchy hits. The catchiest song is easily the Best Original Song nominee “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” As kid friendly, party filled DreamWorks movies go, Trolls can’t stop my feeling of enjoyment.

31. Trolls

Poppy and Branch sing

Followed by: Trolls World Tour

The Chivalric Code

The Kid Who Would Be King is a noble and true take on a classic for the modern world. I don’t think there’s ever been a truly definitive movie about King Arthur. I’ve always known the basics of the story, but The Kid Who Would Be King really made me appreciate Arthurian legend. Although the idea of kids becoming knights of the round table is admittedly silly, the movie is surprisingly epic. Director Joe Cornish does for fantasy what I assume he did for sci-fi with Attack the Block.

I’m so glad I decided to go see The Kid Who Would Be King by myself. Moreso when I realize it was the second to last 20th Century Fox film before the Disney merger. Which is ironic considering how Disneyfied the movie feels. Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy Serkis is a strong child lead as Alexander Elliot. He mirrors Arthur’s journey in modern day England. Alex pulls Excalibur from a stone pillar, meets a young Merlin in disguise, unites friends & bullies to his roundtable, and sets out to vanquish the evil enchantress Morgana.

Bedders, Lance, and Kaye are a likeable bunch of schoolmates who similarly mirror Bedivere, Lancelot, and Kay respectively. They learn all about the important Chivalric Code to remain honest and virtuous in their quest. Rebecca Ferguson is a menacing Morgana and Sir Patrick Stewart was born to play Merlin. Although Merlin’s younger actor steals the show with his magical snaps and British humor. The young knights learn to fight in time for an eclipse that requires the entire school’s help. The Kid Who Would Be King is honestly a fun, heartfelt, action filled King Arthur for kids.

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING

Merlin casts a spell on Excalibur

The True Meaning of Smekday

Home is the worst DreamWorks Animation movie I’ve ever seen. I know most people say Shark Tale or Bee Movie, but I can never hate anything I grew up watching. I was 19 when Home came out. Despite my brother and I promising to always see computer animated DreamWorks movies in theaters, I could tell we weren’t the target demographic. Home is based on a 2007 children’s book called The True Meaning of Smekday. Although a movie adaptation was nearly called Happy Smekday!, they went with the extremely generic Home instead. A short titled Almost Home was shown with Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Rio 2. The 4 minute short is funnier than the hour & a half long movie.

Home feels like it appeals to the lowest common denominator. The animation is basic and kid friendly, the humor ranges from childish to nonsensical, and the music is contemporary. The Boov are a silly alien race with generic alien speak, bubble technology, and skin that changes color based on mood. Jim Parsons voices your basic overly excitable alien Oh. I’m not a Big Bang Theory fan, so I found him annoying in the role. The cowardly Boov peacefully relocate humans to Australia, except for the oddly named Gratuity “Tip” Tucci and her pet cat Pig.

Rihanna voices the first black female DreamWorks lead, but not even she can save the movie. Fellow popstar Jennifer Lopez voices Tip’s lost mother Lucy. I love both singers, but it feels self-aggrandizing to see characters grooving to their own music. Tip & Oh form an unlikely friendship when Oh foolishly invites the entire galaxy to his party. Including the Boov’s sworn starfish enemy the Gorg. They’re pursued by the Boov’s selfish leader Captain Smek voiced by an eccentric Steve Martin and their police officer Kyle. So Tip & Oh travel in a flying car powered by music and slushies. Most of the action is chaotic and any attempt to be heartfelt doesn’t land. Home is further proof that aliens and Rihanna simply don’t mix.

29. Home

Tip (human) and Oh (alien)