Serenity 2019 ***

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Matthew McConaughey’s attempts to destroy his own considerable reputation as an Oscar-winning actor reach Nicolas Cage levels with writer/director Steven Knight’s Serenity, a twisty-turny sea-bound thriller that jumps the shark in brain-bending style. The trailers promise a straightforward Dead Calm murder-mystery, with the star as Baker Dill, a sea-captain eeking out a living on his boat Serenity in and around the posh resort of Plymouth Island. Femme fatale Karen (Anne Hathaway) seems to be luring him into something, but what? When Karen’s boorish husband Frank (Jason Clarke) turns up, Baker Dill sees a chance to set Karen free, but is she all that she seems? Once the final twist of Serenity has unspooled, audiences are likely to feel that none of the characters are what they seem, and not in a good way. Without giving the game away, Baker Dill’s discovery that not only he nor the world he lives in are real creates far more questions that it answers. Films like The Magus or Jacob’s Ladder have toyed with the nature of reality, but the over-heated melodrama in Serenity gives way to abstract cosmic ruminations in a glib, silly way that should provoke mirth in all those unlucky enough to set sail in with her crew.

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Pet Sematary 2019 ***

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Nostalgia isn’t always what it used to be; one of Stephen King’s best books made for a pretty average film in 1989, and this 2019 revision actually improves on the original without ever approaching the heights of the text. Jason Clarke brings his signature intensity to Louis Creed, a doctor who moves with his wife and children to idyllic Maine, only to find that there’s a highway at the bottom of the garden where heavy trucks pass by. This scenario is laced with dread; no matter how hard Creed has worked, no matter how stable the relationships his life is built upon, death, sudden and decisive, lies only a few baby steps away from his house, and nothing he can do will avert it. Of course, when tragedy strikes, there’s an ancient burial ground around which offers him a chance at apparent salvation, but only delivers a brief respite before something cruel comes down the pike. Pet Sematary’s narrative body-swerves the climax or the original book and film, apparently with King’s blessing, and puts something more cinematic in it’s place. John Lithgow plays a more grounded version of Fred Gwynne’s old codger who knows all the secrets, and plot-holes aside, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer’s film manages to deliver the nasty thrills that the dark story demands.