Pet Sematary

Pet-Sematary-1

That delicious discomfort that drives us to watch scary movies! Hey, it’s a Stephen King story. Which means Pet Sematary has plenty of creepy elements to make an audience tingle with uneasiness.

Weird noises. Flickering lights. Doors that shouldn’t be opened but are opened anyway. Haunting flashbacks. A gory injury. A mysterious neighbor. And the discovery that a new home is nearby to a pet cemetery with a misspelled sign.

As with the recent film Us, a family unit of mom, dad, daughter and son pulls into a new house where all seems idyllic. Also, as in Us, the mom has dark memories of a frightening episode of her life.

Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) are parents to Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Louie Lavoie). The crusty neighbor is Jud (John Lithgow).

The new home is on the edge of the woods, on the edge of a small town in Maine. In short order, Ellie takes a walk into the woods to check out the pet cemetery and the strange wall of tree branches where she has her first encounter with Jud.

When the family’s cat dies, Jud leads Louis to a burial ground beyond that wall. The cat’s interment sets off the events that lead to some grisly outcomes.

Does Pet Sematary break new ground in filmmaking? No. But co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have constructed an entertaining 100 or so minutes of scary, suspenseful storytelling. And it’s always fun to see John Lithgow onscreen.

Don’t expect a revelation. Or a classic. But the newest version of this Pet Sematary, sourced from Stephen King’s book, is good, creepy fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interstellar

 

“Time is a flat circle,” said Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle in TV’s True Detective last winter. In Interstellar, McConaughey’s character Cooper is concerned with time, space, gravity, wormholes, black holes, extra dimensions as well as family and love. It’s a sci-fi fantasy filled with suspenseful adventure, memorable spectacular effects and heartfelt philosophizing about the fate of our species.

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest movie is big, loud and ambitious. In an IMAX theater, with speakers aplenty, you almost feel the G forces of Interstellar‘s space travel scenes. Hans Zimmer’s score is not shy about bringing emotion and volume. The composer is a certain Oscar nominee.

Cooper is a widower with 2 kids, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Their welfare is his #1 concern. He’s a former astronaut, now working as a farmer in a Kansas-looking flatland. (Plains scenes were shot in Alberta.) Dust storms—not unlike dustbowl storms of the 1930s—have ruined all crops on earth, save corn. The planet is in big trouble.

When mystical happenings occur, young Murphy suspects ghosts. Her dad suspects something more physical. Magnetism, gravitation anomalies or other forces lead him to a hidden fortress in the mountains where he finds… NASA!

The population has become so disenchanted with the U.S. space program that history books have been revised to tell of moon landings that were staged in an effort to bankrupt the Russians. So, NASA has gone underground, literally.

In short order, Cooper’s former boss Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) recruits him to fly a mission to Saturn where a wormhole appeared a few decades back. Earlier brave astronauts made it to the other side of the wormhole; Cooper and crew are charged with bursting through, checking on the prior travelers and determining if three particular worlds in that new dimension are suitable for sustaining human existence. Is their mission to save their own families or to save the species?

Cooper’s crew includes Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Dr. Brand’s daughter, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi). After 2 years of travel, they touch down in shallow water on a new planet. Shortly after exploration begins, an enormous wave approaches, leading to a harrowing escape. They go off to a new, very cold planet where they find Dr. Mann (Matt Damon in an uncredited role) in suspended animation. Events there lead to another hasty exit.

Interstellar’s final act involves many back-and-forth cuts between events in space and those on earth. Our heroes have not aged significantly during their time in space, but back home, Cooper’s kids have become adults (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck). The earth continues to be ravaged by dust storms. Meanwhile, beyond the wormhole, Cooper and crew work to define and to achieve satisfactory results.

Nolan’s Interstellar (co-written by the director and his brother Jonathon AKA Jonah Nolan) is a gigantic movie, clocking in at 2:45. It is efficiently made. Scenes that don’t necessarily advance the story help delineate the characters and the settings.

Some notes about Interstellar: The underground bunker where NASA is based reminds me of a Bond villain’s lair. The excessive exposition about time and math and gravitational anomalies quickly becomes tedious—I wonder if Steven Hawking will pause the DVD to see if their blackboard formulas are correct.

The little girl who plays the child version of Murph looks like a young Anne Hathaway. A few of the film’s effects recall similar bits in Nolan’s Inception. I loved the cool robots TARS (voiced by Bill Erwin) and CASE—loyal servants and deftly mobile. The cast also includes Topher Grace as adult Murph’s doctor friend and John Lithgow as Cooper’s father-in-law.

Interstellar is not the best movie I’ve seen in 2014 but it has enough going for it to merit an Oscar nomination. Nolan should receive a best director nomination. McConaughey is a possible contender for best actor. Effects, makeup and sound production crews could be taking home awards as well.

I think audiences will enjoy Interstellar because it infuses science with humanity. Last year in Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone talked about her earthly concerns; in Interstellar Cooper’s family is onscreen and is a major part of the film. Interstellar plays on our survival instinct. Several times in the film, Caine’s Dr. Brand quotes Dylan Thomas’s poem about fighting off death, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Interstellar does not go gentle. It rages against the dying of the light.

 

 

 

 

 

This Is 40

Some really funny lines and situations, some great supporting acting performances and two attractive leads should make for a great movie. Instead, This Is 40 is more of a movie stew.

This Is 40 is like a big, bloated sitcom. An R-rated sitcom with F-bombs liberally sprinkled throughout. There’s enough going on here to provide story frameworks for at least a half-dozen sitcom episodes.

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are Pete and Debbie. Both are about to turn 40. Their lives are filled with messy situations. Their sex life is losing sizzle. Pete’s record label is hemorrhaging cash. Debbie’s boutique has an employee stealing money. Their kids are borderline obnoxious. Their fathers load them with more baggage.

Pete and Debbie each have little secrets that they don’t share with one another, like Pete’s obsession with cupcakes and Debbie’s sneaking off to smoke. They also do not fully disclose their respective financial issues.

And Debbie lies about her age. So the climactic 40th birthday party is just Pete’s party (not a joint affair, like they’ve had in past years).

The strongest performances in This Is 40 come from Albert Brooks as Pete’s dad, John Lithgow as Debbie’s dad and Melissa McCarthy as a parent the couple has an issue with. As she did in Bridesmaids, McCarthy steals the show.

Director/writer Judd Apatow delivers a movie that runs 2 hours and fourteen minutes, a bit too long. Judicious use of the editing blade could’ve easily trimmed this into a tighter, more focused movie.

This Is 40 will make you laugh. It may portray situations like some in your own relationship. With the right personnel, This Is 40 could easily transition into a successful TV series. It has a lot of the right stuff, but just a little too much stuff to be as good as it could’ve been.

 

 

The Campaign

If you’ve waited for the sequel to “Talladega Nights,” this is it. Ricky Bobby has changed his name to Cam Brady and been elected to the US Congress. His fuzzy, dim-witted counterpart has morphed from John C. Reilly to Zach Galifianakis.

“The Campaign” is not just hilariously funny, it’s also a clever satire of the US political system and the way we elect candidates. You’ve seen tons of negative ads recently here in St. Louis. Maybe you’ve wondered just how low a candidate would go to slam his opponent? You’ll howl when you see how low in “The Campaign.”

Will Ferrell as Cam Brady is a standard issue congressman who keeps getting re-elected and figures to be run unopposed again this year. But two wealthy brothers who are moguls with political clout (played by Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow) draft a yokel named Marty Huggins to oppose him.

Galifianakis as Huggins is a likeable dweeb, who benefits from a Cam Brady campaign miscue and moves up in the polls. With help from a seasoned campaign manager played by Dylan McDermott, he actually becomes the favorite to win. Then the campaigning goes really negative.

As in “Talladega Nights,” there’s a strong cast of sidemen and women. Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager, Brian Cox as Marty’s dad and Sarah Baker as Marty’s wife all turn in good performances. But they are trumped by Karen Maruyama who scores huge laughs as a housekeeper with an interesting way of saying things.

Not everything works in “The Campaign,” but the funny and often outrageous developments will keep you engaged and entertained for the movie’s hour and a half run time. Cast your vote at the box office today.