Pet Sematary


Viewed – 10 April 2019. Cinema

I went into this with expectations dialled down mostly because I don’t consider the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel all that great. However, a remake is a chance to improve upon a concept so there’s every reason to hope this one fairs better. A doctor (Jason Clarke) and his family move to a rural town and soon befriend the kind old man across the road (John Lithgow) who eventually introduced them to the Pet Cemetery in the woods, located on the family’s land. However following an unfortunate incident involving the pet cat and a lorry, the old neighbour suggests burying the animal beyond the pet cemetery. So of course, the cat comes back and sets in motion a spiral of increasingly macabre events.

Pet Sematary

The movie quickly resorts to cliches like ‘we should never have moved here’ way before that sort of thinking seems reasonable. Also, John Lithgow surprisingly fails to have the screen presence of the originals Fred Gwyn with delivery for such iconic lines as ‘the soil of a man’s heart…’ and ‘sometimes dead is better’ coming off rather half-arsed. However Jason Clarke is decent aided by a memorable turn from Jeta Laurence as his daughter. Flashbacks to the wife’s memories of twisted-spine sister ‘Zelda’ is also cranked up in the freakiness and jump-scares department and really, turns out to be the movie’s most disturbing aspect. Also changes to the final act help explain-away some of the more ludicrous developments of the original, but also come off as even sillier somehow.

So this remake wasn’t terrible and at times genuinely scary, but like the original … I can’t help but feel that the concept is overall flawed.

Verdict: 3 /5

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The Highwaymen


Viewed – 02 April 2019. Netflix

You’d think a movie based on a notorious true story and starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, would be a sure bet. However this thriller told from the perspective of two former Texas Rangers, pulled out of retirement to put a stop to Bonnie & Clyde was surprisingly ‘meh’.

Costner & Harrelson make for an good pairing however, and their banter and slightly bumbling approach to an off-the-books investigation proves the main enjoyment of the film. You see, despite an atmospheric setting and authentic sense of time and place, the movie really plods along, barely even showing the legendary bank robbers, especially ‘in the act’ and by focusing more on these has-been lawmen the movie fails to be as riveting as the subject might suggest. It’s also one of those very vague movies when it comes to various clues and important details leading to finally locating Bonnie & Clyde – which proves rather frustrating. In addition, the real-life fame and hysteria that surrounded the murderous criminals is only slightly touched upon.

There’s entertainment to be had here, but overall this was a missed opportunity.  Another so-called Netflix original that underwhelms … I’m sensing a pattern.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

Ring


Viewed – 22 March 2019. Blu-ray

Following the mysterious deaths of a group of students, a rookie female reporter investigates links to an urban legend revolving around a cursed video tape. The movie that started it all. An international sensation that spawned several sequels as well as an American remake. So how does this 1998 original hold up? Well, what Japanese horror does well and this does equally well is that ‘unsettling stillness’. Dark Water, by same director Hideo Nakata, avoids clichéd jump scares or gore, favouring gradual menace this movie cemented and made a genre all its own. Add influences from traditional Japanese folklore, and traditional detective stories as well as Japanese ghost stories spawned what we now know as J-horror.

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More an eerie drama than full-on scare-fest, this feels rather lightweight despite its reputation, even though that slow burning ticking clock plot device helps deliver a sense of dread that makes that famed, often satirised and copied ending all the more powerful. However, performances are largely only passable and often overly theatrical.  Thankfully, Nakata’s direction is restrained but suitably creepy, helped by a great sense of unease if avoiding full on chills mostly., and that incredibly effective, freaky soundtrack does crank up the horror.  Yet overall, this is rather dated today and the plot doesn’t make much sense, leaving many questions unanswered.  A girl trapped in a well, a curse, deaths but er… how does that connect to videotapes? It seems to me like a convenient plot device.  It’s also  to me this was a clear influence on recent cult hit ‘It Follows’ amongst other movies.

The new 4k restoration from Arrow Video boasts a decent picture with effective sound treatment in DTS HD master audio 5.1. The movie is rather stilted and bland to look at yet this only adds to it’s atmosphere. Extras consist of a fascinating commentary from film historian David Kalat. We also get a complete version of the cursed video (date you watch it?) and several worthwhile featurettes.  There are also trailers and a photo gallery. Decent treatment for a classic that whilst diluted by modern standards, still deserves its place in horror movie history.  And yes, I prefer it over its Hollywood remake.

Verdict:

(the movie). 3.5 /5

(the Blu-Ray)  4 /5

Bohemian Rhapsody


Viewed – 12 March 2019  online-rental

I’ve come to this with quite some anticipation, not only for the fact that any movie involving the British rock band Queen was going to be an interesting story but also following the Oscar nod given to Mr Robot’s Rami Malek for his portrait of Freddie Mercury … this just became more and more an essential prospect.  Charting the band’s 1970s origins right through to their legendary appearance at Live Aid in 1985, this mostly focuses on the personal battles of Mercury, his sexuality etc., whilst also touching on the bands on off struggles for creative freedom.

Bohemian-Rhapsody

Malek, a little young looking to fully get away with the role and not the most eloquent of speakers (thankfully Mercury’s actual voice is dubbed over for the singing) still does a good job mimicking the iconic star’s flamboyant mannerisms and also handles emotional scenes convincingly.  Additional casting for the band members is also rather uncanny (especially Brian May).  Director Bryan Singer has delivered an absorbing, respectful yet not glossed-over biopic that although not fully capturing the attention Queen got especially in the early years (little word on record sales or chart success), manages to showcase who Mercury was and just how good the music was, leading to a feel-good if bitter-sweet ending that I’ll admit got me teary eyed.

It may bunny-hop over significant moments in their discography such as a collaboration with David Bowie or their involvement with the Flash Gordon soundtrack, but overall this was fascinating, entertaining and made me appreciate Queen all over again.

Verdict: 4 /5

The House That Jack Built


Viewed – 05 March 2019. Blu-Ray

Matt Dillon, who first caught my attention following his star-making role in cult favourite Drugstore Cowboy returns after what seems to have been a long absence from the movie scene. Hats off to him for choosing such a controversial role as ‘Jack’ a man recanting five incidents during a twelve year history as a serial killer.

The House That Jack Built

One of those movies that instantly stirred up controversy following it’s Cannes debut. With a myriad of clever, baffling and disturbing references in an attempt to explore a damaged mind, both revered and reviled director Lars Von Trier’s movie is equal parts challenging, shocking and decidedly clever. Structurally with Jack’s repeated attempt to build a house whilst at the same time descending into madness is a work of ingenious symbolism. In amidst harrowing depictions of breast-slicing or strangulation there’s also a surprising and welcome amount of satire and dark comedy (returning a rigpr mortis-stricken body to the scene of the crime, OCD cleaning up), that comparisons to American Psycho or French thriller Man Bites Dog are valid. However, one scene involving a mother and her two little boys challenged even my admittedly far reaching boundaries.

Dillon is fantastic and very convincing as this unfeeling sociopathic killer and in different material (or if he was Anthony Hopkins) might have got the Oscar nod. Yes, Von Trier gets self-indulgent in his artistic flourishes, throwing in German expressionist-like imagery and footage from the holocaust as well as his own movies to hammer home various points about art and violence. Yet along with Jack’s narrated conversations with disembodied confidant ‘Verge’ … what we ultimately get is a very unique take on the serial-killer subject, meaning I came away rather impressed.

Verdict: 4 /5