FlixChatter Review: PET SEMATARY (2019)

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Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence and John Lithgow

A year prior to graduating high school I had seen Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary in the theaters. Yeah – remember those? (I’m looking at you streaming fans). I was on a date and a horror movie seemed like a perfect choice at the time and King’s novels were very popular with the bookish kids in my grade, although I was still wading my way through the first hundred or so pages of The Stand notwithstanding (to pardon a pun). While I recall the slickness of the production, and perhaps a Ramones song or two in the film, it did its purpose but not much else. Scary it was not at the time but I enjoyed seeing Fred Gwynn in a role sans Munster makeup. He was quite good in it.

Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2019 adaptation sticks with the original premise: Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) have moved their family (daughter Ellie and toddler Gage) out to the country to escape the stresses of the big city and in Louis’ case, the pressures of being an ER doc at the city hospital. Once settled in, they discover a makeshift pet cemetery the neighborhood kids created. Apparently, as the film implies, the road that passes through the area takes many pets’ lives.

John Lithgow plays Jud, their amiable, strange and dusty next door neighbor who gives them a vague history of the place and whom Ellie strikes up an innocent friendship. On Halloween, the Creed’s cat Church (after Churchill, funnily one of Lithgow’s famous roles) is killed on said road. Rather than telling Ellie the truth, the couple tells her Church ran away. Jud, conscious of Ellie’s feelings decides to help out by leading Louis to an ancient site in the forest beyond the cemetery and instructs Louis to bury their cat. A day later, Church is reanimated and returns to the house but something isn’t quite right. This is when the story takes a terrifying turn… (I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers).

Now in 2019, as a father of two young kids, I can understand why King considered this novel as awful and terrible and one he was reluctant to publish as “it just spirals down into darkness.” The themes here are familiar: guilt, trauma, denial and grief. However, King’s story and the filmmakers’ use of them with effective means and from a cerebral level is outright horrifying. You could call it a twisted Lazarus or Frankenstein story with dashes of the Golem.

The first 2/3 of the film is all this, effective, dreamlike with a touch of simplicity. It’s a great modern day horror story in the traditional sense with great atmospherics and good performances by Clarke, Seimetz and Lithgow. The last 1/3 of the film settles into predictability but in a sense, it really couldn’t go any other way. When the campiness started creeping in during the film’s finale, I must admit I welcomed it. It gave me respite from the story’s main themes – a sense of relief. While it is a flawed film, the filmmakers’ choice to keep it simple and not inundate it with effects and adrenalized editing is commendable.

At its core Pet Sematary is a family tragedy; loving parents who with their overprotectiveness and good intentions set into motion a terrible chain of events. The worst part is that we can relate to Louis’ actions even in its insanity – above all, when loss is coupled with guilt and denial and not given the right to mourn or grieve thus preventing it from running its natural course. As a horror film, Pet Sematary works quite well. But it is the idea in King’s story that really makes it horrifying at a deep archetypical level.

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So what do you think of PET SEMATARY? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: GLASS (2018)

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Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

I collected comic books as a kid during the late 70s through the 80s. As an introverted 8 year old, comics (from DC to Marvel, to Batman, X-Men, and eventually to graphic novels) provided a sense of wonder and mystery. Even in the post Star Wars 70s and 80s, the comic book medium elicited a kind of excitement that spurred the imagination. With all of the super powers and amazing impossibilities drawn in that wonderful half-tone of ink, words and colors, within those pages was an undeniable humanism to the drama of these characters.

As I grew older, I came to realize that the fantastic isn’t much without the human element. Comics had come to embrace a superhero based in the real-world with real-world problems (divorce, domestic issues, addiction, flawed motives, graphic violence, sex, questionable ethics and morality). M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) is a testament to this realization. Its subtle approach to the fantastic (and very human) superhero reflected the evolution of comics into the millennium.

Shyamalan used simple everyday conversation and situations for dramatic effect, all without the bombast of today’s super-hero CGI excesses that is proving fatiguing (at least to this particular moviegoer) to some of today’s audience. I admit, I still look forward to Avengers: Endgame (I need closure after watching all those other movies), Dark Phoenix (my favorite of all the humanistic superhero sagas of all time), and seeing Spider-Man:Into the Spiderverse proved that there were still creative bounds to achieve. Unbreakable went against the grain back then and still stands today as a great example of an alternate way to portray super-heroes on screen.

Which brings us to 2019’s GLASS: Unbreakable’s official follow-up and semi-continuation of 2016’s very fine SPLIT. Here we pick up where SPLIT left off and 19 years after the events of Unbreakable. David Dunn (Bruce Willis with an understated performance) is now in the private security business along with his son Joseph. Joseph knows of his abilities and assists his father in tracking down criminals. Infamously known as the vigilante “The Overseer”, David’s alter-ego tracks down Kevin Wendell Crumb aka The Horde (James McAvoy in another fine performance) who is still terrorizing the city. Meanwhile, Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass (played by the venerable Samuel Jackson) has spent the last couple of decades in a mental institution under the current care of Dr. Elle Staple (Sarah Paulson).

Shyamalan matches the feel of Unbreakable. There’s nothing flashy here. The actors move the scenes along with a mid-tempo pace that is a welcome change to today’s CGI heavy and music video editing styles we’ve expected in the genre. In the early scenes, it establishes itself “as not of that ilk” so to speak. Things starts out promising – Willis speaks very little, as we would expect David Dunn to be. Dialogue is succinct, albeit comic book like. It’s not Shakespeare – just simple language, avoiding pretense though self-consciously. The film reveals its plot slowly at first and quite entertainingly especially when Dunn finally confronts Crumb/The Horde for the first time. Then as the trailers would have it, Dunn, Crumb and Elijah Price are fated together under Dr. Staple’s care and control. Her sole purpose, to convince the three men they are not superheroes or super-villains, but merely suffering from delusions of grandeur.

And this is where GLASS starts to unravel. This preposterous scenario is handled leisurely and predictably, following the normal template of the Asylum horror flick, with orderlies snuffed out in orderly fashion (pardon the pun). 2 other major scenes detailing our characters escape (because we know they will somehow) made me scratch my head in a “Huh?” moment and not in a good way. Of course Glass wouldn’t be complete without that Shyamalan signature twist ending that was either too preposterous or too predictable. To say anymore would give it away. However, it ultimately left me feeling hollow and unsatisfied. But then again, that could very well be the point: that in this day and age of Marvel and DC motion pictures, we’ve come to expect the expected and in such spectacular fashion, particle explosions and all. Shyamalan has always leaned toward dialogue and images to make a point and it has served him well in his best films. GLASS may belong to the exception of the lot.

Shyamalan’s Hitchcockian cameo in the film seems to make a statement in itself. His line about hanging out with ‘shady types’ in his youth but now changed for the better, could be construed as a veiled letting go of the legacy of his earlier works (mostly the duds that followed The Village back in 2004), and perhaps even Unbreakable itself.

James McAvoy is terrific once again as Crumb but that is a singular positive in what feels like run of the mill performances from Willis and Jackson. In retrospect, McAvoy’s character is the most interesting and believable in the movie. It was enough to carry SPLIT. But GLASS’s fragility, shatters before us. But still I can’t help giving Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt; as if he’s done with the specter of Unbreakable’s success… That instead of that films legacy being a boon, it’s too much of a curse to live up to. That said, I’ll still look forward to what he does next…

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So what do you think of M. Night’s GLASS? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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Directed by Rob Marshall | Screenplay by David Magee

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters

There are few things I hold dear to my inner child’s heart, one of them being Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964) starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Regarded as a classic, the 1964 film succeeded on so many levels. There was Julie Andrews’ groundbreaking performance as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke’s Bert the chimney sweeper is equally lovable (despite his fake cockney accent). There was innovative special effects and animation. There was song and dance and my, oh my, was there! Richard and Robert Sherman’s memorable songs took the film into new heights for a musical and it had so much heart in the performances and execution (never mind P.L. Travers’ objection to the film).

So, when Disney announced a sequel, I was excited, cynical and partly in disbelief. After all, this was the tallest order of the highest magnitude. I came in with low expectations. But that changed a bit when Emily Blunt was cast as she looked ‘practically perfect’ (referencing the perfect nanny herself) in the title role. This time around, Poppins has returned to look after the Banks children 25 years after the events from the 1964 film. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now an adult with 3 young children, is working at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank like his late father before him.

Disillusioned by the loss of his wife a year prior and financial ruin and the threat of losing their family home literally knocking at their door, Michael, along with sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) search in vain to try and find a way to pay off Michael’s loan before the bank (Fidelity Fiduciary mind you) takes their house away. Whishaw is quite good in his early scenes singing A Conversation a touching lament to his late wife. Mortimer looks quite a likeness to the younger Jane Banks so that was a nice touch. However, we don’t see much of her throughout the film. She plays a labor activist, an homage to the elder Mrs. Banks who was a suffragette.

Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack the lamplighter in parallel to Van Dyke’s chimney sweeper. Like Bert in the first movie, he plays Mary’s counterpart on their adventures and performs the opening song and rudimentary lamplighter army sequence (Trip A Little Light Fantastic). Miranda is an accomplished performer and it shows especially with the opening (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky.

Emily Blunt is stunning as Mary Poppins. She holds her own in her rendition of the title character (even to unfair comparisons to Julie Andrews) and also does justice to the material in front of her. Her shining moment is the sweet The Place Where Lost Things Go. Blunt’s dance number with Miranda on A Cover Is Not a Book is exceptional as is the choreography and production. Her performance is noteworthy in this regard and is rewarding to watch.

Mary Poppins Returns is an entertaining, albeit a templated version of the original film down to the character and plot-lines. Its predictability isn’t a total downside as we all know things will turn out all right in the end. But it does feel a bit lacking I suspect from Disney’s too-cautious efforts to make it right. The film is well-crafted down to a T but that meticulousness and dare-I-say bombastic-ness of its musical approach may be its weakest points. Marc Shaiman’s music and Scott Wittman’s lyrics do all they can to match the vivaciousness and grandeur of Richard and Robert Sherman’s work on the first film. But they weren’t able to capture that heart and subtlety that so permeated the original Mary Poppins. There’s no heart wrenching performances like the younger Jane and Michael’s The Perfect Nanny”nor the touching nostalgia of Julie Andrew’s Feed The Birds. This may be an unfair assessment as I believe Mary Poppins Returns stands on its own. But the things that made the original a classic just isn’t quite there.

The filmmakers gathered a great cast but Meryl Streep’s turn as cousin Topsy probably should have been given to Julie Walters, another great actress who plays Ellen the Housekeeper, in a wasted tiny role. But perhaps that is due to too many greats on set. In effect, it’s a valiant effort by everyone involved from the writers, actors, and songwriters. Memorable were the performances but the songs not so much. It’s a great looking film but not the classic that it could have been.

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So what do you think of Mary Poppins Returns? Let us know what you think!

Guest Post: The Red Shoes (1948) Review

Special thanks to my buddy Vince Caro for his excellent contribution!


With the anticipated release of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, the somewhat unmarketable genre (at least in recent years) of the ‘ballet movie’ has been reinvigorated with high expectations. The last such movie I’d seen was The Turning Point (1977), an uneven melodrama which stayed within the subject’s borders: love triangles, competition between diva dancers, leaving the profession and the art’s physical toll on the dancer’s body. Seeing an aging Anne Bancroft as a nearly washed up ballerina sorta gave me the heebie jeebies (in a Betty Davis kinda way). That same year, Dario Argento literally conveyed that creepiness in full with Suspiria with some classic 70s gore.

Moira Shearer as the ballerina Vicky Page

But there is one ballet movie that transcends all others in terms of beauty, tragedy and intelligence but still reminding us of the dancer’s Faustian dedication to their art. The Red Shoes is derived from a Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name, where a demon shoemaker gives a young girl a pair of magical red dancing shoes which forces her to dance against her will, and ultimately to her death.

In the film, aspiring dancer Vicky Page (the riveting Moira Shearer) is discovered by ruthless theater producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) who casts her in a ballet rendition of the Red Shoes. She falls in love with the ballet’s composer Julian (Marius Goring). Lermontov, fueled by his jealousy of the two lovers, forces Vicky to choose between her love for Julian and her love for dance – with tragic results.

The film is shot beautifully in lush color and directed by famous collaborators Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, with magnificent and dreamlike dance sequences. [According to Wiki, to create a realistic feeling of a ballet company at work, and to be able to include a fifteen minute ballet as the high point of the film, they created their own ballet company using many dancers from Britain’s The Royal Ballet.] The film carefully carries us into a magical fairy tale, but never repressing the darkness of human cruelty and obsession. At their first meeting, Lermontov asks Vicky: “Why do you want to dance?” She replies, “Why do you want to live?” This is the core of the film’s heart: when your life depends on your art – what then?

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RTM’s note: Wow, I’m really curious about this now. I just might try to catch this one over the weekend as it’s on Netflix’s Watch Instantly. I love ballet in movies but Black Swan might be too bizarre for my taste. Those who’ve seen this movie, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.