Pet Sematary (2019)

PET SEMATARYI’m not one of those that believe the 1989 Pet Sematary is a great horror movie; I wrote a post last year when I rewatched it that expressed my mixed feelings about it. So it may not seem too a great surprise to anyone that I actually quite liked this, considering that when it came out it was blasted by those that ranked the original highly. To be frank, although I enjoyed the original book when I read it many, many moons ago, having mixed feelings regards the 1989 version I really didn’t expect very much of this film- well, chalk it up to another case of diminished expectations and all that.

I would imagine that the reasons I was pleasantly surprised by this film are the same reasons why champions of the original disliked it. I thought the cast was better in this version, particularly Jason Clarke, John Lithgow and Jete Laurence (I wasn’t enamoured by the 1989 cast who seemed pretty wooden to me), and I quite liked how it diverted from both the 1989 film and indeed the book in its latter stages (why remake a film and slavishly regurgitate the same old events/tropes?), at least offering something ‘new’ (for better or worse) to give some purpose for its existence. I would imagine fans of the original were quite appalled by some of the changes, but to me it felt like the directors (Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer) were using them as cheeky nods to audience  expectations and. yeah, whats the point of a remake if you don’t do something different?

In fact, the only thing I really, really missed in this version was the originals evocative Elliot Goldenthal score, which ranks as one of my very favourite horror soundtracks (Christopher Young’s score here is no disaster but it doesn’t really imbue the film with its own character, it feels more generic- although I have to confess Goldenthal’s score shares a lot with Goldsmiths Poltergeist). I also think this film was a little short, even though it ran a little over two hours, as I think while it maintained most of the beats of the original story I think it needed more character moments, to help cement the mood and effectiveness of the scares. Empathy, afterall, is everything in a horror movie- its no good being assailed with jump scares and gore if you don’t really care very much for the protagonists. Another twenty to thirty minutes, I think, would possibly have improved the film no end. For one thing, the last third of the film feels so rushed it unfortunately seems to lose some impact, even though I welcomed how it diverted from what I expected. ironically, its almost as if the film-makers lost confidence the more they moved away from what happened in the original book and film.

So anyway. I think there were many positives in this film. Sure its not perfect (maybe a third attempt in another twenty years will finally get it done right) but on the whole I thought it was an atmospheric, good old-fashioned horror yarn and really enjoyed it. Hmm, diminished expectations and all that might be the answer to anyone considering watching this film- give it a shot and you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

 

The Crown – Season One (2016)

crownAnother Elizabethan drama about a young Queen in a man’s world whose reign marks a turning point for the British Empire and the dawn of a new era. We’ve seen this before, right? Not exactly- we’re not going back to the 16th Century for one thing; this is far more recent history, for this story is about Elizabeth II, and the (miss)fortunes of a fading British Empire following the Second World War, and the role of the modern monarchy in this new world.

I will say this- I didn’t expect to enjoy this series as much as I did. As an historical drama recreating the 1930s/1940s and 1950s Britain, this is a very accomplished effort, not withstanding historical accuracy regards the Royal Family etc. It is clearly drama more than documentary -although there is some surprising truth in what it portrays- but it is very accomplished technically and the ten episodes are well written. For a modern epic drama it is pleasantly restrained regards graphic indulgence or sensalitionism. More Downtown Abbey then than Game of Thrones, to be sure, and none the worse for that. The contemporary tendency for television dramas to go for excess and strain credibility (as Hard Sun recently did) is in little evidence here. While it may seem more establishment fairytale than council estate reality, Americans lap this stuff up and us Brits often like to lose ourselves in Downton dreamland in the face of the present-day soap opera of Brexit Westminster.

Personally speaking I’m far from a Royalist and have little affection or interest in the modern generation of  privileged Royal elite that ‘graces’ our Isle, but all my life I have lived during the reign of Elizabeth II and its difficult to ignore the fact that she has been this constant figure in my lifetime, for good or ill.  She represents the England of my childhood of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly her Jubilee of 1977 when I was in the Scouts – we had a street party and felt a real sense of community that feels as long gone as, well, my childhood. The inevitable pangs of nostalgia mean something I guess, but in any event, I have, if not affection, then some grudging respect for her if only for what she represents of my childhood: those rose-tinted images of simpler times, less murky politics and social responsibilities. Certainly it is clear from the ten episodes of this first season (of six, apparently) that she has lived through historic times and seen/met many historic figures: perfect recipe for historical drama on television, anyway.

Claire Foy is excellent in the lead role (it seems such a long way from Little Dorrit) , though Dr Who seems rather bereft of his Tardis as the Duke of Edinburgh, but the real surprise is John LIthgow as the raging-against-ageing Winston Churchill, whose story proves just as interesting and involving as that of the Queen. If anyone were to tell me that Lithgow could pull off Churchill I wouldn’t have believed them, but he manages with considerable aplomb, damn near stealing the show. The strangest casting decisions sometimes work.

As a whole the rest of the cast manage well enough in fairly routine character roles that seldom really surprise but it is all very entertaining. In the old days this would be the staple of BBC drama and watching this I always had a nagging feeling that this sort of thing is exactly what the Beeb should be doing, but considering the cost and scale of this enterprise perhaps it’s just another sign of the changing times this being a Netflix production. It’s certainly is much better than I had originally expected and I quite look forward to seeing season two.

Raging at Cain

cain2017.11: Raising Cain (1992), Blu-ray

Brian De Palma is some kind of crazy guy. He’s like Hitchcock without the ‘Caution’ button. I mention Hitchcock because De Palma is obviously so devoted to mimicking him through so many of his films. Hitch fashioned these great thrillers full of manipulation and sleight of hand but he knew where to draw the line, whereas de Palma has always happily crossed it, hopelessly inspired/devoted to making bizarre dreamscapes of Hitchcock movies. They don’t feel real, don’t even feel like films Hitchcock might have made, but rather films Hitch might have dreamed in his sleep after a night in the wine cellar. The same way that De Palma’s Obsession feels like a drunken nightmare version of Hitch’s Vertigo.

I’m in two minds about Raising Cain. Which is quite apt really, as its a film about multiple personalities. I should start at the outset by stating that I watched the director’s cut (or to be more precise, the non-director’s reassembly of the theatrical cut) and only afterwards watched some of the theatrical to get a grip of the changes. Basically, the theatrical cut is pretty much a chronological edit of the events of the story, whereas the other cut moves sequences out of order, heightening the mystery and sense of dreamlike weirdness. Neither version makes for a great film, although De Palma aficionados might maintain the directors cut is a great De Palma film (something else entirely?). It is generally considered to be the definitive version, which is why I elected to watch it first.

Fans of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn might find much to enjoy in Raising Cain. There are many viewers these days quite happy to watch obtuse, lazily written and nonsensical films, as if not having plots or old-fashioned arcs or believable characters is actually a bonus, and style is everything. It pretty much sums up De Palma at his worst. His direction is never subtle, and his sleight-of-hand, such as intense distorted close-ups and off-kilter camera angles and slipping into slow motion now and again, always draws attention to itself, as if the style is the be-all and end-all. Which might be used as an excuse for the lazy writing and underwritten characters. The dreamlike sensibility of this film is only exacerbated by characters never behaving remotely normally. The cops, for instance, never talk or act or ever convince as being cops.

The story is.. well, what is it? Three arcs seem to run through the film and neither of them convince, neither have any foundation. Carter Nix (John Lithgow),  is a child psychologist who ‘suffers’ from having several personalities in his head, one of whom is a serial killer. His wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) is a doctor slipping back into a previously-aborted affair with a child patients father. And then there’s something about children being kidnapped for psychological experiments by Carter Nix’s own father (also played by Lithgow) who is believed to have died years before. There is no chemistry between Carter or Jenny, and her tryst doesn’t really convince either. Lithgow does a sterling job at chewing up the scenery in his three (or is it four?) roles. Davidovich blankly stumbles around like a horny frustrated wife in a permanent mills & boon daydream. De Palma runs amok with his POV camera and weird shots and film speeds. Nothing ever feels remotely real. We don’t understand why Jenny feels the need to stray or is unfulfilled with her husband, we don’t understand why Carter is even with her or why he does what he does, we don’t understand why the cops are so clueless or disinterested (some retired ex-cop seems to hang around the office until he barks up about a past case involving Carter’s father that kicks the ‘plot’ forward). Or why some guy in a van with a harpoon sticking out the back keeps moving backwards and forwards in a carpark waiting for the inevitable to happen. Or why it is prefigured by Jenny having a dream of losing control in her car and getting impaled by a statues spear.

So as a ‘normal’ film the film  doesn’t work at all. But as a dream put on film -unfocused, slipping forwards and backwards in time, repeating moments with dreams within dreams, it does offer a rather strange and compelling experience. Its like something De Palma dreamed one night turned into a movie, or what it would be like if we could plug into, Brainstorm-like, into someone’s dream. Is it Jenny’s dream?  I’m certain this film has its fans, as well as its detractors. I’m just not sure which camp I’m in yet. Its either utter rubbish or a work of genius.