Thursday 21 November 2019

The big picture: Doctor Sleep, Sorry We Missed You, Brittany Runs a Marathon

Cert: 16. Now showing

Rebecca Ferguson introduces a hint of fun to 'Doctor Sleep'
Rebecca Ferguson introduces a hint of fun to 'Doctor Sleep'
The gig economy: Katie Proctor and Kris Hitchen

Although greeted with mixed reviews on its release in 1980, The Shining would end up leaving a long and indelible mark on cinema while also chiselling Stanley Kubrick's name into the list of the century's greatest visionaries.

From its opening tracking shots over the Montana wilderness, the film brewed a sense of weighty psychological dread as Jack (Jack Nicholson) decides the best thing for his writer's block is to relocate with wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to a remote mountain-top resort to care-take while the facility shuts down for the winter season.

They are not alone, of course, and besides the cast of ghosts sharing the endless corridors with them, the building itself comes to feel like a monster trying to ingest them. Danny's psychic abilities are the 'shining' of the title, giving him increased awareness of what stalks them. However, by the time of the film's romping climax, the real threat turns out to be much closer to home.

Nicholson's unhinged, lupine performance as a man coming undone at the hands of dark supernatural presences (or is it his own mania? You decide), as well as a shrieking Duvall as the wife trying to protect Danny from his predations, are now canonical, as much a part of high-brow film studies as they are any number of parodies and axe-wielding send-ups.

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But it was in Kubrick's wide-angled symmetry shots and slow tracking that a feeling of deep, cold unease set in. The US filmmaker needed to deliver a blockbuster that would make up for the box office losses of Barry Lyndon (1975), but given his reputation for being an obsessive and paranoid perfectionist, the feeling of everything in The Shining being laced with intent and significance has proven impossible for it to shake off. In fact, so much has since been read into areas of repetition and continuity error in the work that it even gave rise to Robert Ascher's 2012 documentary Room 237, which went through the often bemusing range of tinfoil-hat theories that a huge cult following had constructed around the horror classic.

Stephen King "wasn't crazy" about Kubrick's take on his 1977 novel, but he has given his blessing to this follow-up based on his own 2013 sequel of the same name, written after the horror giant found himself wondering whatever happened to the boy who survived the nightmare .

Mind you, King is now a cheerleader for any large and lucrative adaptation of his books (It, The Dark Tower, Pet Sematary) even if critics tend to differ. Also consider just how referential Mike Flanagan's film is to The Shining, from reviving the shocking blue of Wendy's dressing gown to the sets, backdrops and orchestration brought forward from 1980. The final half-hour, meanwhile, is laughably faithful to Kubrick's on an almost shot-for-shot basis.

Up to then, some good work is done. Danny (Ewan McGregor, in third gear the whole way) has grown up but still carries the trauma of what happened in the Overlook Hotel some 40-odd years ago. He overcomes his hard drinking and starts managing the hauntings that are visited upon him, and tries to start again in a small town. But his special powers - his 'shine' - bring him into psychic contact with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with similar abilities.

The two are brought closer together by the impending threat of the True Knot, a group of immortals who kill those with the shine before feeding on it. Leading them is Rose (Rebecca Ferguson with a faintly Irish accent), who is hell-bent on capturing Abra to harness her potency.

McGregor is glum and functional as the grown-up tricycle enthusiast, while Ferguson has great fun licking lips and arching eyebrows. The slow oppression of The Shining is replaced with airiness and adventure (there's even a gunfight at one point).

But part of what made Kubrick's original so transfixing is how little it told you.

Doctor Sleep seems at pains to explain every how and what of its supernatural caper, so that by the time we're zooming back over that same lake and mountain road, you feel like you've just been led on an elaborate scenic route to "Here's Johnny!".

★★★ Hilary A White


Sorry We Missed You

Cert: 15A; Now showing 

The gig economy: Katie Proctor and Kris Hitchen

According to Dante's Divine Comedy the line  'Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here' is to be found inscribed over the gates of hell. It might well preface Ken Loach movies too - for uplifting they are not.

Now 83, advancing years have not made him misty-eyed, and his latest film, which sees him direct a screenplay by fellow dark realism specialist Paul Laverty, is as devastating as anything he has made before.

It is not then for anyone looking for a fun night out - but it is a beautifully crafted and acted indictment of how modern economic practice is destroying people.

Newcastle father of two Ricky (Kris Hitchen) wants to become a freelance delivery driver. He will be working for a company in terms of jobs and targets, but self-employed if anything goes wrong. He sees it as an opportunity to further his family, get back what they lost, get them into their own home as opposed to renting. His wife Abbie (newcomer Debbie Honeywood) is a nurse with similar work pressures. They love each other, they love their two kids and really want to help their son Seb (Rhys Stone) when he starts to go off the rails.

These are good people. But good things don't always happen to good people, especially in the current economic reality.

★★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Brittany Runs a Marathon

Cert: 15A. Now showing 

We've been here before: the singleton, ambling through life and unable to get her act together between nights out and battles with the weighing scales. Brittany (Jillian Bell) sees her GP in the hope of scoring some Adderall, only to be told she has to take herself in hand or risk fatty liver disease.

With her job as a theatre usher bringing in meagre takings, gym membership is out. So she begins running, slowly at first, but soon finds lung capacity and self-determination increasing steadily. But the path to self-improvement is laced with obstacles, none bigger than oneself. As with most of these things, the problem with Brittany lies in the mind more than the body.

Just as you find yourself tiring of writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo's debut and its millennial US humour and zero-to-hero tropes, it asks one or two interesting questions about body image and self-worth issues that give it substance. Sturdy, if light on surprises.

★★★ Hilary A White

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