Saturday, September 21, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 7

Wasting no time, we jump right in, beginning with:
Jennifer's Body (2009)

This art came with my Blu-ray as an insert.  Pretty cool.

I don't know if y'all remember this, but Megan Fox was a pretty big deal for a while there.  She blew right the hell up thanks to Transformers, what with Michael Bay encouraging everyone man in the world to rub one out while fantasizing about her.  Implicitly, if not explicitly.  I have no doubt that an entire generation of boys -- and not a few girls -- have now grown up with her in mind as some sort of pinnacle of hotness, and who can blame them?
Being not of that generation, I always kind of felt indifferent toward Fox, myself.  This was based largely on how much I detested those Transformers movies (especially the godawful second one, beyond which I saw no farther); I just flat-out rejected every bit of that crap.  So when Jennifer's Body came along, what it looked like to me based on the marketing was a standard-issue hot-girl-sploitation horror flick, but written by the lady who'd written the somewhat overrated (in my opinion) Juno.  Put those things together and for me, that equals taking a pass.
I've been hearing things over the past year or so that made me feel as if I might have had the wrong idea of what the movie was.  So I put it on my list for this year, and having now seen it, I'd have to say that I was VERY wrong about what the movie is; I mean, it is what I thought it was, but it's also much more than that.
Here's what it's about.  Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox) have been friends since childhood, but are very different people; Jennifer is like the Wikipedia page for "hot," whereas the surprisingly-not-very-aptly-named Needy is ostensibly a bit dowdier and geekier.  She's not, really; but she kind of seems like she is.  Actually, she doesn't even really seem like she is; she just seems like she seems like she is.  There's an undercurrent of sexual attraction between the two, as well.  Everyone seems to be aware of it, but neither of them seems particularly inclined to worry about it or to act on it, with the implication being that Jennifer uses it as a tool against Needy in order to get what she wants.  For example, if she wants Needy to go to a "club" with her to see a band even though Needy has plans with her boyfriend, Jennifer pulls out a wee bit of non-flirtation flirtation and the next thing you know, they're going to the club.  Once there, Jennifer begins trying to pick up the lead singer of the band, who is more than happy to be picked up, especially since the band is on the prowl for a virgin to sacrifice to Satan in order to catapult themselves out of the realm of struggling indie-rock group and into the level of Maroon 5 type stardom.
If any or all of that sounds dumb, well, I get it.  I mean, who could possibly look at Megan Fox's Jennifer and think that girl is a virgin?  We overhear two of the band members discussing that very thing, and the lead singer's hypothesis is that she's just like every other girl like that he's ever met in a small town: she's nothing more than a surface appearance of wildness.  His bandmate is rightly skeptical of this.  Unbeknownst to them, Needy overhears the conversation and is rightly angry on her friend's behalf, but she makes a crucial mistake: she thinks they are talking about Jennifer potentially being a virgin as a bad thing, a thing that would cause them not to want to pick her up.  So she confronts them and says, hey, you know what, my friend is a virgin, you creeps.  She reports all of this back to Jennifer, who amusedly reveals that she's "not even a back-door virgin" anymore (a young Chris Pratt apparently took care of that in his role as a police cadet).  She ends up going with the band in the wake of a fire that burns the bar down (!), and, as well will find out later, they sacrifice her to Satan.  However, since she wasn't entirely a virgin, she stays alive, cohabitating with a demon that drives to feed on human flesh.  Let the murders of high school boys commence.
There's a lot of interesting things going on in this movie, one of the first of which comes back to the conversation in the bar about Jennifer being a virgin or not.  Jennifer prior to the demon possession or whatever is kind of a c, but she's also unmistakably that.  You don't know this girl without knowing who and what she is; so if you can't or don't deal with that, that's probably on you.  And in this scene in the bar, EVERYONE makes an assumption about who Jennifer is and what she wants.  None of them get it right, and thanks to the fact that the resultant miscommunication dooms Jennifer to being partially murdered (I don't know how else to put that), in many ways Jennifer's Body is a tragedy with her as the victim.  She can't be held liable for her actions post-possession; she can only be held liable for what she does prior to that, and she's blameless.  She's manipulative, yes, and she's clearly a slut.  So what?  Man, sluts are a godsend.  I assume; they never would have anything to do with my lame ass, so I wouldn't really know.
The point is, Jennifer is super hot, yes; and she's super confident, yes; and she's proactive in going after what she wants, yes.  How is any of this a bad thing?  Okay, fine, underage drinking and whatnot, illegal, yada yada yada.  Beyond that, and the mildly treacherous way in which Jennifer manipulates Needy, I can't find any fault in the way she behaves.  But because the lead singer sees her and assumes the way she behaves must be a deception, and because Needy then feels the need to lie about who Jennifer actually is, Jennifer's ability to control her own image is removed from her hands; and she pays a steep price for it, as, eventually, will numerous other people.
Pretty much the entire rest of the movie plays out in similarly thought-provoking fashion, with Diablo Cody's sometimes razor-sharp and sometimes too-eager-to-please dialogue backing it up.  I'd say the dialogue is about 75% great and 25% swing-and-a-miss, but any screenplay that contains the observation "I've got the cops in my back pocket, Needy; I'm fucking a cadet, remember?" is a winner in my book.  Elsewhere, a guy invites Jennifer to go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show with him and she declines on the grounds of not liking boxing movies; great.  One of the band members makes a sort of approving indication when he finds out that Jennifer is going to be killed with a Bowie knife, and the movie is smart enough to not spell out the fact that he clearly thinks it's got something to do with David Bowie.  Jennifer denounces PMS as a myth started by the "boy-run media."  
There's some fucking gold in this screenplay, man.  And some pyrite, too, but enough gold that I do not care one bit about the moments that don't work.
In case you can't tell, I loved this movie.  Top to bottom, just great stuff.  Yes, yes, Megan Fox is lava-level hot; but she's also really good in this movie.  It would be easy for Jennifer to come off as a stereotype or a cartoon (I'm thinking of late-series Robert Englund performances as Freddy, all posturing and playing to the back of the auditorium), and she never does.  Even in her most monstrous moments, Jennifer never ceases to be an individual, one who is complicated and shallow at the same time, one who both is and isn't all surface.  It's a great role, and Fox kills it.
Amanda Seyfried has the less showy role, but she's also great.  She clearly cares about her friend but is also palpably jealous of and resentful toward her.  Much of this seems to me to be the result of the sexual feelings she possesses for Jennifer but has never gotten around to working out, but I think the larger issue is that she just hasn't figured out who or what she is in the broader sense.  Hey, some people never do; so if she's still in high school and hasn't, well, that's no mark of shame, is it?
It all ends in a satisfying manner, too, which is always a welcome note.
Finally, I'll add that I watched the theatrical cut.  There's an unrated cut which is five minutes longer; no idea what it adds.  The next time I watch the movie -- probably next year -- I'll check that out.
So part seven is off to a strong start indeed!  Let's see if we can keep that momentum going with (pulls title out of the hat)...

Friday, September 20, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 6

Let's see how our luck fares in part six, beginning with:
Glass (2019)

I wanted to love this, and would have settled for liking it.  And for about two thirds of it, I did the latter.  By the time the big twists began showing up, though, I'd come to the same conclusion most people seem to have reached when the movie was released earlier this year: that Shyamalan had dropped the ball big-time, and in so doing squandered a good part of the goodwill he earned back with Split.

I'm reluctant to go into details on how and why that is.  I guess I kind of have to, though, so if you don't want to know how it all ends, skip to the next movie.

I have not seen Unbreakable in a long while, but as of the last time I did, I thought it was a bit of a masterpiece.  I think about most of Shyamalan's first run of hits that way.  It all just plain works for me, up to and including the reveal at the end that Mr. Glass has been a villain who orchestrated the train derailment in order to prove to the world that superheroes exist.

One of the big problems with Glass is that the movie seems to suggest that in retrospect, this was an act of good on Elijah's part.  Glass ends with some of the subordinate characters releasing footage of the Overseer and the Beast duking it out, and the idea is that their battle proves conclusively that superhumans exist.  The events of Glass have been orchestrated by Elijah to lead to this, and he feels, I guess, that this is going to make the world a better place or something.  The movie sure does seem to be taking his side on that, and if that's the case, then the movie is saying that when Elijah killed all those people in that train crash in Unbreakable, that's retroactively in service of the greater good.

Nope.  I'm out, M. Night.  I can't get with that, my man.

I also can't get with the bizarre decision to climax the movie by killing not only Mr. Glass, but both David Dunn and the Horde as well.  As a plot development, that simply does not work for me.  Not for this particular movie, at least; maybe some other, better version of it might have earned that sort of thing, but this one absolutely does not.

There are probably other things I could complain about, but what's the point?  The movie doesn't work, and that's just all there is to it.  This fact is mitigated somewhat by the fact that it's relatively well made.  The acting is good; I mean, of course it is.  But that only helps so much.  Samuel L. Jackson is given virtually nothing to do until the movie is about an hour in, which is an odd decision; Bruce Willis is fine, but he's also given relatively little to do; James McAvoy is excellent, but he's playing too many of the same notes he played in Split.  Between this and It: Chapter Two (and, I assume, Dark Phoenix, although like the rest of the world I opted not to see that), it's been a rough year for McAvoy-starring sequels.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 5

Amazing how many movies a guy can watch in a day if he's on vacation.  Too bad that can't be a permanent condition, ain't it?
We begin part five with:
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
I first heard about this documentary via an episode of The Losers' Club podcast on which executive producer Tananarive Due appeared.  It sounded well worth my time, and guess what?  It was.
The documentary bounces back and forth between several avenues of exploration for the topic, such as discussing the cultural conditions which shaped the depictions of black people both in horror cinema and cinema overall; the rise of black-centric horror films (especially those made my black filmmakers); tropes of blackness you can find in horror films; and the gradual shifts in portrayals that came about in the '90s, '00s, and (especially) '10s.
The danger of a documentary like this for a guy like me is that it will give me a bunch of films to watch that might not have previously been on my radar.  I'd also say that I now want to see Ganja and Hess, Tales from the Hood, Def By Temptation, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, and Bones.  Oh, and The People Under the Stairs and The Girl with All the Gifts.  I already wanted to see Blacula; just haven't managed to do so yet.
Some of the interviewees include Ken Foree, Keith David, Ernest Dickerson, Tananarive Due, Tony Todd, and Jordan Peele.  Peele, not unexpectedly, has many interesting things to say; so do all of them.  I was tempted to take a whole bunch of notes and write about this one at some length, but decided against it.
A few things that stood out, though:
  • Hearing people who were there discuss the impact of Duane Jones' starring role in 1968's Night of the Living Dead is compelling stuff.
  • Kubrick's The Shining gets trash-talked a bit -- somebody let Stephen King know!  (It's the dispatching of Dick Hallorann which is objected to, though Scatman Crothers' performance is rightly praised.)
  • Ernest Dickerson tells a charming story about seeing Snoop Dogg blush because he got to kiss Pam Grier while filming Bones.
  • Candyman is both praised and criticized, the former for obvious reasons and the latter for perpetuating certain stereotypes and for having Candyman commit the (admittedly not-entirely-logical) murders he commits within the black community of Cabrini Green.  I've not seen the movie in a long while, so I don't know how I feel about that.  But hopefully it's on the docket for this season, so maybe we'll come back to that.
  • Jordan Peele and some of the other interviewees talk about the decision to NOT have Chris get shot and killed or end up in prison at the end of Get Out.  I'd heard Peele talk about this before, and while part of me feels that the ending he went with is more fantasy than it is reality, I have to say ... it's a good fantasy.  A useful one.  And Tananarive Due is compelling as fuck when she says her own version of that sentiment, adding that she'll happily go the rest of her life without seeing another movie about black men in prison.  I'm not one for taking subject matter off the table, personally, but ... I mean, when you put it like that, in the way she puts it, I can't do much other than nod along in agreement.  Anyways, that shit with Rod at the end of Get Out is pretty damn funny, so I think Peele got it right, for any number of reasons.

Plenty more to say, I'm sure, but that's what I remember.  I'm up incredibly late tonight -- it's today now (9:51 AM!) --  so my brain is in pre-shutdown mode.  More than it usually is, I mean.  (That's kind of the default mode these days.)  So I'll wrap this one up, and -- in a move that will jump me forward several hours (I'm going to damn SLEEP now) and you forward a mere sentence -- we'll move on to the next film.

Which is:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 4

*utters unspellable sound of disgust*
Lurking Fear (1994)
Well, it's better than R.O.T.O.R., I'll give it that.  But let's face it: the odds are not nonexistent that my apartment could get hit by a meteor or something tomorrow, and would I really want the people who remain behind after I am gone to be able to say that I spent 76 of my final minutes on Earth watching Lurking Fear a second god damn time?!?  Because I watched it once already, back in the early days of 2016, when I had this to say about it:
This one has Jeffrey Combs; Jon Finch, the guy who once starred in the late-career Hitchcock film Frenzy; Vincent Schiavelli, playing a creep; Ashley Laurence, seemingly channeling Linda Hamilton, or trying to; decent creature design; and virtually no connection to Lovecraft's story "The Lurking Fear."  It's about a town somewhere that is infested by subterranean mutants, none of whom seem to have intentions of doing much beyond lurking, apart from the occasional bout of yanking people into the walls or under the floors.  I think they kill them after that, but I can't be sure.

Into this mix enters a redneck ex-con who is sent on a treasure hunt by an undertaker, and who is followed there by some gangsters.  The movie is lousy from the opening frame, and never gets any better, although some of the performances are okay.  I mean, Jeffrey Combs is squandered, but he's still Jeffrey Combs.

Skip it unless you are a completist weirdo.  Or even if you are, quite frankly.
Those are fair and just words, 2016 Bryant; you spoke true.  
In case you are wondering, dear reader, why I bothered seeing this softened turd of a movie a second time, I'll tell you: because I was stupid enough to think that I needed it on Blu-ray.  You know, for my Lovecraft collection.  And then I felt like that meant I needed to actually watch it again.  THIS is the kind of decision-making that has kept me single, y'all.  (And from the it-actually-gets-worse files: the audio goes out of sync at some point.  How these things happen on home video releases is a mystery to me, but they do occasionally happen.)
Somebody please tell me if there's a strong chance of meteors.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 3

We begin part three with:
The Frighteners (1996)

I saw this in a theatre when it was released in 1996, presumably due to one of the following facts:

  • I'd started working at a movie theatre that summer and was still in see-everything-due-to-it-suddenly-being-free mode;
  • I was intrigued by the Back the Future connection provided by star Michael J. Fox and producer Robert Zemeckis;
  • I was intrigued by the presence of composer Danny Elfman;
  • or, most likely, some combination of all of those factors.

I don't remember for sure, but I do remember being underwhelmed by the movie.  Didn't hate it, just didn't really get much out of it.  Granted, I wasn't into horror movies at that time (with a few exceptions, mostly in the form of Stephen King movies).  I'd never seen any of Peter Jackson's stuff, and I had no idea who Jeffrey Combs was.  So maybe it was that that threw me off.
I watched the movie again on DVD at some point after Jackson had been announced as the director for the upcoming trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings.  Still didn't get much out of it, and that was the last time I saw it ... until now.
And doggone it, it's still not sticking to me.
It's not a bad movie.  There's nothing -- with the possible exception of mildly dodgy (though decent for the era) CGI in a few places -- that I can really complain about.  It just never quite amounts to anything.  I've got a few notes about that:
  • Michael J. Fox is fine.  I'm not sure he was the right guy for the role, though.  Could someone a little schlubbier and more pathetic have had a greater impact?  Maybe.  Fox is fine, he's just not inspired.  He was inspired in Back to the Future; here, he's just ... fine.  But you can do worse, for sure.
  • Trini Alvarado is similarly fine in the lead female role.  She looks like they wanted to cast Andi MacDowell, who proved to be unavailable, but she's lively and tenacious.
  • Jeffrey Combs -- who, as I mentioned, I'd never seen in anything (though he was already a genre legend by this point) -- IS inspired as the FBI creep.  I think he's doing what the movie wanted to be, but director Peter Jackson kind of kept his gloves on for most of the movie, possibly to its detriment.  I think there was a darker and much stranger version of this movie that wanted to get out, and leaked out a little bit via Combs.
  • Dee Wallace Stone is also quite good here.  I mean, she always is, right?  But she seems to relish getting to go full-tilt into crazytown toward the end.  Un-fun fact: her husband, Christopher Stone, died of a heart attack while she was in New Zealand making this movie.  Bear in mind, now, this is a movie about a string of unexplained deaths which come by what appears to be heart attacks.  Creepily, Dee Wallace Stone's credit at the beginning is on screen while someone is talking about people being impacted by the unexplained spate of heart-attack deaths.  This is something an editor ought to have avoided, methinks.
  • The music by Danny Elfman sure does sound like music by Danny Elfman.  This, too, fails to stick to me.  This was around the point in time when Elfman began -- to my ears -- to lose a step and to forget how to write memorable themes.  His score here is mostly sonic wallpaper.  Again, it's not bad; it's just not memorable.
  • Troy Evans -- who I think of from his small role in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers -- plays another cop.  He's fine.
  • Jake Busey makes a fairly strong impression as the dead serial killer.  Mass murderer?  I'm going with serial killer.
  • The backstory involves a mass shooting.  You'd have a hard time getting that into a spookshow like this (one aimed at a wide audience) these days.
  • There's a director's cut on the Blu-ray which runs an additional thirteen minutes.  I didn't watch that, I watched the theatrical cut.  However, at some indefinite point in the future, when I watch the bonus features, I'll give that director's cut a try.  Due diligence and all.

For now, that's all I've got to say about The Frighteners, apart from this: it's one of those movies that I can't say I have any particular affection for, but which I don't begrudge anyone for loving, if they do indeed love it.  And there must be people who do.  I appear destined not to be one of them, but so be it.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Great Events Turn on Small Hinges: Reading ''The Institute''

Rather than a coherent review of The Institute, let's do this:
September "10," 2019 ("The Night Knocker," pages 1-40)

Well, The Institute came out yesterday, and I'd have begun reading it lickety-split if not for the fact that I had a doctor's appointment in the early afternoon and work at night.  I'm a night-owl type, and had to get up "early" for the appointment -- with a sleep specialist -- which meant that while I had a couple of hours during which I could have started reading the novel, I'd have been tempting Hypnos to descend upon me if I'd dared sit down in a chair.  That's a pretentious way of saying I'd have drifted off to the land of serial micronaps.  Not the way one wants to dive in to a new Stephen King novel.
And so, I waited until after work to begin.  Technically, it's September 11 now, but for me it's still the 10th, so that's how I'm dating this entry.
Whatever the date, I've now got 40 pages under my belt, and am here to report on it.
The novel begins with a short-story-length section called "The Night Knocker" that is all about a guy named Tim Jamieson.  He's a former policeman from Florida who has hitched his way up to South Carolina after getting canned from his job thanks to an unfortunate incident going viral.  The thing that got him canned is pretty innocuous as far as publicly-disgraced-cops go, but it got him canned nonetheless.  Some inner voice has put him on the road, however, and he's ended up in a tiny town called DuPray, where he applies for a job as a "night knocker" with the town police force.
I just gave the phrase "night knocker" a vigorous Googling (meaning I went five pages into the search), and what I found consisted almost entirely of reviews of this novel, plus a couple of seemingly-obscure songs.  So maybe there's a law-enforcement position known as "night knocker," but I didn't immediately find any evidence of it; which suggests to me that King is pulling a fast one on us kinda like he did with that "fifth business" business in Revival.  Fine by me, Uncle Steve, you rascal.
The "night knocker" position is basically just a night-patrol security guard who walks around the little town keeping an eye on things.  Tim doesn't get a gun, doesn't even get a nightstick; can't even make arrests when and if the need arises.  What he can do is call a real cop.
King makes all of this instantaneously compelling.  He's at his best here, especially once Tim gets to DuPray and King begins introducing subordinate characters.  Virtually all of them pop immediately, and I can only assume that some of the seemingly-random things which happen in this introductory section will come back into play later on.
An amusing Easter egg comes into...
Now, Bryant, hold your damn horses.
I'm not that big a fan of the rabid Easter-egg collecting that has descended upon King fandom in the past decade or so.  In point of fact, I find it chapping my ass on occasion.  This is mostly true only of the movie adaptations, but still, can I un-shame-facedly launch myself into an observation about Easter eggs, knowing how annoyed I was by the ones in, say, the Hulu 11.22.63?  Would that be the right thing to do?  What would that say about me?
The answers to those questions are: no but I am willing to fight through it; on the fence, leaning toward yes; and who gives a fuck?, in that order.
Anyways, this is a really good Easter egg.  There's a mention of a convenience store in DuPray called Zoney's Go-Mart.  It sounded familiar to me, and the second time it was mentioned, I remembered where I'd heard it from before: Kelly Braffet's novel Save Yourself, in which it is one of the primary locations.  If you didn't know, Kelly Braffet is King's daughter in law by virtue of being married to Owen.  So this is a pretty excellent example of Big Steve giving a subtle shout-out to a family member.  You should read Save Yourself, by the way; it is fucking great.
I turned to Google yet again to make sure that Zoney's wasn't an actual convenience-store franchise that I was mistakenly crediting Braffet with creating, and while performing that research, I found out some things I'd apparently forgotten: that King had already included Zoney's in his Bill Hodges novels, as well as The Outsider and Elevation.  Not only that, but Owen King mentions a Zoney's in his 2013 novel Double Feature ... which actually preceded Save Yourself in publication by a few months.  Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say that it was Braffet who created it, and Owen who paid tribute to it in his own book, which simply happened to hit shelves first.
Regardless, I approve of all of this.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 2

We begin part two with a part two:

It: Chapter Two (2019)

I was a big fan of the first part of director Andy Muschietti's take on It, so I've been looking forward to Chapter Two ever since.  This might help to explain why I was more disappointed by this movie than by any I've seen since Spectre.  Put simply, It: Chapter Two is a crushing disappointment, one which squanders nearly all of the goodwill generated by the first film.

The cast of adult Losers is game; in no way is any of this their fault.  To a person, they do good jobs.

Nope, the blame here must be pinned squarely on director Andy Muschietti, who shows virtually none of the flair he demonstrated with the first film.  Also in for a pounding: screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who does not understand what makes King's novel tick.  Please keep this hack away from any further King properties (such as 'Salem's Lot, which he is currently adapting for producer James Wan).

I'm sure you guys are expecting more details from me; I apologize for failing you in that regard, but I don't want to spend any additional time with this misfire of a film than I have to, at least for now.

UPDATE:  My opinion on the movie has softened somewhat in the couple of days since I saw the movie.  I'm still disappointed by it, and I still have problems with it of both a macro and a micro nature, but there are so many good scenes that I feel it would be irresponsible of me to suggest the movie is a complete failure.  It's not that.  I stand by my assessment that it's a disappointment, or at least that it was a disappointment for me personally.  But I acknowledge that it might be the kind of thing that grows on me over time, once the initial shock of immediate letdown has dissipated.  Or maybe not; maybe my disdain for it will only grow over time.

Impossible to say for now.  So that's where we'll leave it.  I'll certainly have a quite a lot more to say about this movie one of these days.  That day is not this one.

We move on to an acknowledged misfire, but one that I kind of enjoy:

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 1

It's been kind of a rough year for the staff here at The Truth Inside The Lie.  Which is a way of saying I've had a rough year.  Not in any kind of interesting way, either!  Nope, no illness or unemployment or divorce or being Tweeted about or getting caught in a MeToo transgression or anything interesting.  Am I depressed?  That's debatable, I suppose; but it feels to me like if I said I was, I'd be insulting people who do legitimately suffer from depression.  So ... no, I don't think I am.
But I sure have been down a lot, y'all.  And for a good long span of months there, I found myself entirely incapable of tamping that down.  That seems to have settled down, though; finally.  And in fact, in some ways I'm beginning to find myself feeling optimistic for large chunks of the day.  Am I suddenly happy?  Well, let's not get carried away or nothin'.  Let's say I've been feeling content; if so, I've been feeling more content than I have in a pretty good stretch of time.
Still, this is a respite after a somewhat grueling few months, and I find myself in need of some manner of holiday.  The best one that's close is Halloween; it's not for nearly two months yet, but fuck that, we're starting that shit today.  I typically start in late September, but that's just not going to do in 2019.  2019 calls for an extended Halloween season, possibly on the back end as well as on the front.

With that in mind, here come some capsule reviews.  Gonna be a LOT of these posts coming down the pike the next few weeks (I hope).  Spoiler warning for each and every title, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know, skip on down the line.
We begin with:

Pet Sematary (2019) 

I had mixed feelings about the new Pet Sematary when it came out this spring.  I didn't like it all that much, but neither did I dislike it.  I felt indifferent toward it; not the reaction one hopes for, but heck, one can do worse.  If you want to hear me try to talk these indifferent feelings out, here's a podcast where I did just that (as backup to Lou Sytsma).
As I'm guessing I mentioned in that podcast, I have been feeling ever since seeing the film that I owed it a second look.  That look has finally come, and the verdict...

Is pretty much the same as the first time.  This is a really strange case, because there is very little in the film that I dislike at all, much less vigorously.  I can name a single shot: Louis bellowing with rage while burying Ellie.  Even that is something I can rationalize.  Oh, and I guess I'd say that Pascow is a washout for me, as well as the non-presence of the wendigo.  Maybe a few beats in the Zelda subplot are a little weak, too.  But most of these things are intellectual problems for me, not things which actively bother me while I'm watching the film.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can think of quite a few moments that work for me very well, from the very beginning to the very end.  They work for me in the moment, and they work for me in my memory.  Why, then, does the movie play like something which is less than the sum of its parts?

It's a question I'm not going to be able to answer tonight; I think this one is going to require some unraveling, which means a deep-dive, and I've got no stomach for a deep-dive just now.

I'll give you my hypothesis, though.  I think a case of all the behind-the-scenes filmmakers having good intentions, and being talented people, but not quite taking the proper amount of care in deciding what this movie needed to be.  Put another way, I think everyone involved wanted to make a great new version of Pet Sematary because they wanted to honor the old version, but failed to truly figure out a plan to distinguish new from old.

I think they thought they had done exactly that in having it be Ellie who dies in the new movie.  The more time I spend with that decision, the more I like it.  It actually seems quite natural to me; I'm not sure it isn't a better idea than having Gage die -- at least as far as filmmaking goes.  The fact that Miko Hughes works as Gage in Mary Lambert's original film increasingly seems like a miracle; replicating that was a high enough bar as to be practically impossible.

No, the Ellie thing works for me.  But what else does the movie do to set itself apart?  Very little.  And while most of what it replicates works, little of it works at a high enough level to sever the umbilical cord which connects this infant version to the mother original.  I love the new Church; but I love the old Church, too, and so while it's satisfying to see a different one, it's not THAT satisfying.  Right?

Jason Clarke is good as Louis (a few wonky accent moments excepted), and in fact he's significantly better than Dale Midkiff was; but it's not enough to send the movie into the stratosphere, because the two men are essentially doing the same thing -- one at a higher level, yes, but so what?  Same goes for Amy Seimetz as Rachel, who is such a better actor than Denise Crosby that it's not a conversation worth having.  AND YET ... I like Denise Crosby in the original, so even though I love Seimetz here, it's somewhat irrelevant.  And in the case of John Lithgow as Jud, he's very good; but he can't hold a candle to Fred Gwynne as Jud.

The movie even ends with a competent but utterly uninspired cover of the Ramones song which ended the original film.  Why?  Who thought that was a good idea?

Ultimately, I remain indifferent to the film.  But I found it be painless enough to watch a second time, which means it's in my good graces; it's not my favorite student in the class, but I'm not sending it to the principal's office just for that.  What am I, a monster?

Graveyard Shift (1990)