April 2019 Round-Up

Pet Sematary(4/5/2019)

Warning: Review Contains Spoilers

After the wild success of the It movie two years ago it seemed logical that Hollywood would take another wack at some other Stephen King films that had gotten lesser adaptations over the years, but I was surprised to see that the first one out the gate was one whose first adaptation is actually fairly well remembered.  There are certainly aspects of Mary Lambert’s 1989 take on the novel “Pet Sematary” that haven’t aged perfectly but it works in the parts that matter and it follows the original novel quite effectively.  Nonetheless there are certainly things about this update that do feel like an improvement, specifically the casting of the central couple and also the decision to bring John Lithgow in as their neighbor (Fred Gwynne’s performance in the original film is certainly memorable as camp but… yeah, Lithgow is plainly better) and seeing the film play out with modern visual effects and cinematography is not unwelcome.  What was surprising about the movie (or at least would have been surprising if it hadn’t been spoiled by the film’s absolutely wretched final trailer) is that it actually does make some changes to the book and original film and I don’t think they’re entirely for the better.  The increased emphasis on the evil draw of the “sematary” helps explain some of the character motivations, but it also reduces the primal power of someone being driven to madness through grief and all too often is simply used to make the film feel more like a run of the mill haunting movie than the intense tribute to the tale of the monkey’s paw that it was intended as.  Honestly I kind of wish they had just stuck to basics, a more straightforward remake done with this extra craftsmanship probably would have made this the definitive version, instead it’s a flawed effort unto itself.

*** out of Five

The Wild Pear Tree(4/20/2019)

Back in 2014 I came out pretty strongly in favor of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, which would seem to be a fairly uncontroversial opinion given that film’s Palm d’Or win, but that movie wasn’t very widely watched even among people who are inclined towards weighty foreign cinema.  I guess the 196 minute runtime scared people off, and of those who did see it there was certainly a contingent who liked it but weren’t as into it as they were into some of Ceylan’s previous films like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, but from where I sat the movie was a clear triumph.  Then at last year’s Cannes his newest film, The Wild Pear Tree, premiered and mostly got good reviews but didn’t win any awards and I’m not sure it’s even going to get a proper theatrical release (I saw it at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival).  That’s unfortunate because it is a movie that deserves to be seen but I must admit I get why it’s gotten a bit of a cooler reception as I have fairly mixed feelings about it myself.

The film follows a young man named Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) who has just come home from college and is going through something of a quarter-life crisis.  He wants to be a writer but doesn’t have the funds to get his first book published (it’s unclear to the audience if this book is supposed to be any good, I’m guessing “no”) and is ambivalent about following any other path in life.  Sinan is not a likable character and the movie knows it.  He’s whiny and self-centered in a way that many twenty year olds are and the film is in some ways meant to be his coming to terms with the fact that he may not get everything he wants out of life.  In this sense the film is not unlike Winter Sleep, which was about an older man coming to realize that he’s a bit of an asshole, but that guy came to his shortcomings in ways there were more unique and you could better understand why he might be blind to them, this kid by contrast is just kind of grating.  I would say that the film is also a lot less visually striking than Winter Sleep, which was set in a more scenic location and did more with it.  That’s not to suggest that The Wild Pear Tree is a complete failure by any means.  There are individual scenes and extended conversations within the film that are really compelling, a scene between Sinan and a local author that goes on for almost a half hour is a clear highlight, but I’m not sure they all congeal into a full movie that serves as a worthy follow-up to Winter Sleep.

*** out of Five

Peterloo(4/28/2019)

The new film from Mike Leigh is probably the largest scale project he’s ever attempted to mount and this has been greeted with much less excitement than you might expect.  It was rejected by Cannes and ignored by the BAFTAs and it’s critical reception has been mixed at best, which is strange coming from a filmmaker who has almost never made an outright failure.  I’m not sure I’d call this one an outright failure either and I’m generally more enthusiastic than a lot of critics but I can see why this thing might not be for everyone.  The film is a chronicle of the titular Peterloo massacre, an 1819 event where local aristocrats ordered the army to perform a cavalry charge on a group of reformers who were peacefully assembling in a town square in Manchester.  That is the last half hour or so, the rest of the film chronicles the events leading up to this rally and the movement that was trying to increase representation in parliament and repeal the Corn Laws.  This is probably where the movie lost some people given that, well, not everyone is going to find extended conversations about 200 year old British politics to be as entertaining as others.   I also wonder if the film’s reception in the UK was a bit more muted simply because they’ve already heard a lot about this event and the film caused flashbacks to some of the more tedious days of their high school history classes.  However, a lot of this was new to me and I found a lot of the details of how this was organized at the grassroots level to be kind of interesting and I was also interested in the scenes with the aristocrats positively freaking out about what seem like fairly mundane reforms and the way their sheer out-of-touchness led to some very bad decision making.  Of course the film is not even remotely “even-handed” and in some ways it feels more like the kind of thing Leigh’s more outspoken pier Ken Loach would have made.  I also would have liked more of a focus on the aftermath of the massacre what why it did or didn’t inspire change.

***1/2 out of Five

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