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Non-Review Review: Pet Sematary

The horror in Pet Sematary is primal and ancient, both literally and figuratively.

The tropes that power Pet Sematary were already familiar and old-fashioned by the time that Stephen King published the book more than a quarter of a century ago. Indeed, there are extended stretches of the novel when Pet Sematary feels like a game of Stephen-King-related mad-libs: a dash of paternal anxiety here, a sense of existential dread about the American wilderness there, a familiar older character to provide exposition thrown in, and a climax where everything gets very brutal very quickly.

“You just take a left at the Pet Seminary.”

Even beyond the sense of Pet Sematary as a collection of familiar Stephen King elements blended together, the novel riffed on familiar genre elements. There was more than a faint whiff of The Monkey’s Paw to the basic plot, the story of a seemingly wondrous device that could resurrect the dead only for the person responsible to realise that their beloved had come back “wrong” – or, as Jud helpfully summarises, that “sometimes dead is better.” (The novel alluded to this more directly with the story of Timmy Baterman, which is consigned to a newspaper clipping in this adaptation.)

Writer Jeff Buhler, along with directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, clearly understand that appeal. The script for Pet Sematary makes a number of major alterations to the book’s plot, but most are logical and organic, rooted in the realities and necessities of cinematic storytelling more than the desire to change things for the sake of changing them. For the most part, Pet Sematary revels in the old-fashioned blend of Americana and horror that defines so much of King’s work, the mounting sense of dread and the decidedly pulpy sensibility.

The purr-fect villain.

Pet Sematary only really runs into trouble in its third act, and this is arguably a problem that is carried over from the source material despite the major branching choices that the script makes leading up to that point. The issues with the third act are not those of character or plot, but instead of tempo and genre. In a weird way, these third act issues make Pet Sematary feel like a spiritually faithful adaptation, carrying over something of the essence of the book, for better and for worse.

Pet Sematary is at is strongest when building mood and mounting dread, when offering its own shading on the familiar iconography of a haunted and untamed wilderness. Pet Sematary is at its weakest when it is forced to shape that dread into a more conventional horror movie climax.

Shades of grey.

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Non-Review Review: Interstellar

Interestingly, Christopher Nolan seems to have generated a reputation as a rather detached director. Common wisdom around Nolan’s films suggest that the film-maker is perhaps too cold and clinical in his approach to the material; that his films lack warmth or humour. This reputation is probably a result of the director’s fascination with non-linear storytelling. After all, The Dark Knight is his only straight-arrow-from-beginning-to-end film.

Probably also due to the narrative contortions and distortions of films like Memento or The Prestige, Nolan is generally presented as a film-maker who constructs visual puzzle-boxes. His films are frequently treated as riddles to be solved. Consider the discussion of narrative “plot holes” in The Dark Knight Rises that fixates on how Bruce Wayne got around back to Gotham, or the discussion on the mechanics of the final shot of Inception. This approaches to his work tend to divorce the viewer from his films.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Interstellar will likely be Nolan’s most polarising film to date, replacing The Prestige or The Dark Knight Rises. The film offers an extended two-and-a-half hour rebuttal to accusations that Nolan is detached or distant. Much has been made about the attention to detail on Interstellar. The physics on the movie were so exact and precise that physicist Kip Thorne actually made theoretical advances while working on the film.

However, at the same time, one character posits love as a force more powerful than gravity or time. Interstellar might be precise and meticulous, but it is not a film that lacks for an emotional core; it is not a movie that lacks for warmth. Interstellar feels like a conscious attempt to cast off the image of a cynical and cold film-maker.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Non-Review Review: Footloose (2011)

Footloose is a strange beast. On one hand, it copies huge swathes of text from the original film, with lines spoken almost verbatim. On the other hand, the movie has the courage of its convictions, daring to update the story for modern times, adding quite a bit of modern subtext to the film. I think this approach is part of the reason the film works so well, but also its chief weakness. For all its clever insights and wonderful thoughts on the cost of security, it does wind up feeling just a tad heavy-handed. Still, it’s perhaps the best “dance” movie I’ve seen since the original 1984 version, so it must be doing something right.

Everybody cut loose!

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Monkey Business: Could Andy Serkis Win An Oscar?

Okay, I think we all know the answer is “no.” I thought better than to try to pretend there was the slightest hint of even a nomination. However, considering some of the chatter around Serkis’ performance in the superb Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I can’t help but wonder if the Academy will everrecognise motion-capture performances with acting nominations. After all, where does the line end between the performance of the actor, and the special effects work put in by the technical team?

Serkis folk...

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Non-Review Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (try saying that ten times fast) is one of those quirky cult movies that has built up a rather large following in the twenty-five-odd years since its initial release. Not withstanding the wonderfully quirky title, the intentionally campy production design, and perfectly awesome cast, it’s easy to see why the movie may have found the niche which cherishes it so much. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to see to see why the movie never found its footing with a larger audience.

Not so fast, Buckaroo...

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Non Review Review: Cliffhanger

I picked up Cliffhanger on bluray because it was €9 and because I’d never seen it before. My aunt and uncle both suggested that the film would look absolutely stunning in high definition – and they were right. Say waht you (and even I) will about Renny Harlin’s storytelling ability or his difficulties with actors, he does shoot good scenery. The scenery gives the best performance in the film, with the aerial photography give a huge sense of scale to proceedings. Nice mountains, shame about the movie.

No, don't let go! Being in the movie isn't THAT bad...

No, don't let go! Being in the movie isn't THAT bad...

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