If I could tell my 19-year-old self discovering superhero comics in college exactly how good their big screen adaptations would become, I wouldn’t believe me.
I saw “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) tonight with expectations that were very high. It was still better than I thought it would be. It was easily better than last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (although I think of them as two halves of the same epic movie). I don’t pretend to be a film expert, so take this as speculation — I personally think the pair of “Infinity” films have made comic-book movie history in the same manner as the original “Superman” (1978), Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012).
I don’t really want to make any more observations, because I’m too afraid of inadvertently posting spoilers. But I will say that there is a massive tonal change between “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” The banter and humor of the former is largely left aside, and this concluding story is darker and far more emotionally sophisticated. It’s moving. It feels strange to write here, but I kept thinking during the movie that this was a more “grown up” Marvel film.
And it is EPIC. I honestly can’t imagine how Marvel can top it with future films. There is an action set piece that made my jaw drop. I can’t say more.
“Pet Sematary” (2019) is an unnecessary remake, but still a decent one. I personally prefer the flamboyant 1989 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel; it was more garish and stylish, if a little campy. (And its flashback sequences involving one character’s deceased sister are priceless horror fare.) But this sleeker, more restrained update is nonetheless still made and sometimes pretty scary. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.
The writing and directing are generally good, even if certain jump scares were so heavy-handed that they were nearly laughable. (The script wisely capitalizes on the universal, existential dread of mortality, as the first film did.) There are few new bells and whistles here; the 2019 film instead tries to distinguish itself with a key variation in the plot of King’s eponymous 1983 book. (I won’t describe it here, as I’m not certain whether it is a spoiler. But this change isn’t “shocking,” as The New York Times’ headline proclaims; it’s simply a basic story alteration.)
The cast is roundly quite good. A surprise standout for me was Amy Seimetz, who plays the mother of the story’s troubled Creed family with surprising power and nuance. She’s a damned excellent actress. And I was surprised to learn that I failed to recognize her as one of the doomed spacefarers from 2017’s “Alien: Covenant” — another role that required her to portray apprehension and panic.
There were two possible nitpicks that occurred to me as I watched “Pet Sematary,” but these probably aren’t the fault of the filmmakers, as they likely stem from the literary source material. (I read the book several times, but I was a young teenager when I did so.) As an adult, I am only a fuzzy on two story elements:
How is the character of Victor Pascow (played here by Obssa Ahmed) able to offer help to the troubled Creed family? Can anyone in his circumstances do so? Might others step forward as well? Why should Pascow be uniquely motivated? (I am again trying to keep this review spoiler free.)
Why is the mother’s traumatic childhood a factor in the story’s present? It’s … mostly tangential, right? It is a compelling character element, and portrayed beautifully by Seimetz. But I don’t fully understand how it seems to affect what transpires before us.
One final note — I’ve seen a few people on the Internet compare John Lithgow’s performance to that of Fred Gwynne in the 1989 film. (They both play the character of Jud, the family’s elderly neighbor.) Lithgow is predictably wonderful here — especially when Jud is showing kindness to the young daughter (played charmingly by Jete Laurence). But Gwynne was better, because he was so perfectly cast. It was a role that he was born to play.
I’m all for a good vampire story. But this isn’t a particularly good vampire story.
Or, at least not yet, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong — the premiere of “The Passage” wasn’t the worst hour of television I’ve ever seen. I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for being somewhat average. It has two good leads in Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney. Gosselaar is no Laurence Olivier, but he’s good enough, and he looks and fits the part. He seems like an excellent physical actor in the premiere’s brief action sequences, which weren’t altogether bad. Sidney is downright terrific — and she’s an adorable kid too.
The show also has a great plot setup going for it, which I won’t spoil here. It’s based on a trilogy of dystopian horror novels by Justin Cronin, which actually sound like some quite interesting books. There are even a couple of sly references to well known horror films like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) and “28 Days Later” (2002).
Regrettably, however, “The Passage” suffers a lot from rushed and clumsy storytelling. The script is a poor one, with a lot of awkward exposition and forced emotion. (It shares a weakness with this year’s vastly superior “Bird Box,” in that it tries to fit too much of its source material into too little screen time.) It falls well short of being scary, too, which is probably what will alienate modern horror fans, unless it improves. (This is a primetime network TV show, and isn’t any more frightening than the average episode of “Star Trek.”)
Weird world — Gosselar is none other than the Zack from “Saved By the Bell” (1989-1993). And am I the only one that thinks he is the spitting image of Chris Pratt in a lot of shots. I almost thought it was Pratt from the ads.
Oh, god. Oh, god. This … this is evidently what passed for the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe in 1989. (This is the company’s float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.)
Can I be blamed for not getting into superhero comics until college? When portrayals like this represented the genre to the general public?
Dear God, what have they done to Dr. Doom?? And is that misshapen, dirty aluminum golem supposed to be the Silver Surfer?! And they’re all in a … multi-level mausoleum? A crumbling clock-tower? A haunted castle that inexplicably has a manhole right outside its entrance? Huh? Wha?
Hey, this was nearly two full decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, it was the very same year as Tim Burton’s “Batman” — and that is actually the first bona fide modern superhero movie that I can think of without googling it. The genre had a long way to go.
Omni in the 1980’s was an absolutely unique magazine dedicated to science fiction and science fact — it was always weird and occasionally wonderful. Its content was consistently a good deal trippier than anything you’d find in more mainstream contemporaries like Scientific American or Discover — futurism, the paranormal, and short stories that were pretty damned abstract. (I remember Patricia Highsmith’s “The Legless A” being a real head-scratcher for me.) And the covers to Omni were frequently awesome.
I had a subscription around 1989 or so — I believe I got a year’s subscription as either a Christmas or birthday present. I still remember it arriving in the mailbox. I think I had all of the issues you see below — except the third one. That issue is from January 1983, and I never had it. I’m including it here because it’s too interesting not to share.
Stephen King fans will recognize Don Brauitgam’s artwork for the cover of King’s classic 1978 short story collection, “Night Shift.” Brautigam apparently sold it to the magazine later. (Interesting, too, is the similarity of the artist’s name to a key character in King’s subsequent “Hearts in Atlantis” and his “The Dark Tower” series — the kindly psychic, Ted Brautigan.)
Anyway, if you were geeky enough to enjoy this back in the day, the entire run of Omni is currently available at Amazon for $3 a pop. It was available online for free for a while, and I think you can still find all of the short stories uploaded in pdf if you google them — I found a bunch, including Highsmith’s story. (I wonder if I’d get a better sense of it if I read it today.)