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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Pet Sematary

“The Professor” and “Little” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Anyone who knows the devastating, soul-crushing agony of losing a loved one (and the way life works is that eventually that is all of us) will understand the temptation at the core of “Pet Sematary.” Whether the loved one is family, friend, or pet, love is love and loss is loss. It’s not easy letting go. If offered the opportunity to spend more time with a deceased loved one, it would be hard to pass up.

Dealing with death and grief are strong themes in this second adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Parents Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) have differing views on how to approach the subject with young daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence). Louis favors a more direct nihilistic approach, while Rachel believes in an afterlife. Neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) has an even wilder idea. After Ellie’s beloved cat Church (played in the movie by four very similar looking and very well-trained felines) is hit by a truck, he takes Louis beyond the local pet cemetery to bury the animal in a special place. Later that evening, Church comes back—but he’s not the same.

There’s a bit of a “road to hell is paved with good intentions” theme surrounding Jud. Ellie befriended the doddering old fool like no one had in years, and he wanted to see the girl be happy. Still, he knew what could happen and said nothing. Regardless of his somewhat flexible and ambiguous morality, the character of Jud--much like in the first adaptation from 1989 when he was played by Fred Gwynne--is the best character in the movie. Lithgow makes the role of kindly old man with dark secrets his own, and even does a decent job taking a stab at the quintessential New England accent.

The second best character in the movie is the setting. The woods of Maine are deep and spindly. They would be intimidating during the day. But filmed at night, with fog, and with a convenient amount of moonlight so characters can see where they’re going and what they’re doing, the atmosphere is chilly and unsettling.

With such a great setting, compelling story, and interesting characters, “Pet Sematary” would have done better to trim off some of the excess. The pet cemetery that is part of Rachel and Louis’s property is first introduced when Ellie sees a procession of children heading toward it wearing pagan ritual masks. These masks show up now and again, but are never fully explained and aren’t integral to the plot. Why set up something this enticing and never pay it off?

Same goes for the lore surrounding the Wendigo, a mythical flesh eating demon that Native American tribes believed lived in the woods. It’s hinted at, and in one scene looks like it might show up, but the idea goes nowhere. It would have been better to either pay it off or excise it entirely. The latter would have been fine, since it’s not needed for the story and just adds another layer of complication that interferes with the narrative.

While “Pet Sematary” stands just fine on its own, many who have seen the 1989 original may ask if seeing the remake is worth it. Yes, it absolutely is. This version does an excellent job at setting itself up as an original adaptation. It has the same themes and basic plot as the first movie, but with its own twists. Rachel’s history with her sister is given more screen time. There are some key scenes that play beat for beat like the 1989 movie, but then expectations are subverted in a clever, entertaining way. The end credits even include, as they should, a cover of the classic Ramones song “Pet Sematary” that came from the first movie. What I say about the song cover is what I will say about the movie: It may not be on par with the original, but it’s still pretty darn good. Rent it.

Also New This Week

The Professor

I am in a way hard-wired to be drawn to a movie like “The Professor.” It’s about a man named Richard, played by Johnny Depp, who finds out he has stage four cancer and only has six months to live. With this news, he decides to live his life hedonistically and do and say all of the things that living his day to day existence as an English professor at a prestigious New England university prevented him from doing. This premise is eerily similar to one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, a 1952 Japanese movie and previous pick of the week called “Ikiru,” directed by Akira Kurosawa, in which a city council man finds out he is terminally ill with cancer and seeks to do something meaningful with his life before he dies.

Writer-director Wayne Roberts is no Akira Kurosawa. Much like in Kurosawa’s movie, the main character decides to live it up and acts reckless once he hears the news. However, in “The Professor,” the character development ends there. He just stays in his “do what thou wilt” phase. There are some hilarious and cathartic scenes, like when Richard dismisses 75% of his class because he hates business majors, feminist drivel, and students who wear sweatpants, or when he calls a support group a “circle jerk.” Then there are others that are odd, like when he allows a gay student (Devon Terrell) to perform fellatio on him, or the fact that his gardener is his emergency contact rather than his dearest, closest friend Peter (Danny Huston). Yeah, it’s funny, but it’s also really weird and doesn’t quite mesh with his character.

It doesn’t help that the last third of this 90 minute movie drags considerably. Except for a fairly well-written and very well-acted speech performed by Depp, it’s monotonous as we get one scene rolled out after another of melancholy, melodramatic good byes. It’s one of the slowest rushes to the end I’ve ever endured. Stream it, watch the first hour on normal speed, and with the exception of Depp’s speech, watch the last half hour on 2x speed. Thank me later.

Little

The high concept pitch for “Little” was probably something like: The movie is “13 Going on 30,” but in reverse, as 38-year-old Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) treats people meanly and is cursed to go back to her middle school self and be played by young actress Marsai Martin. Now, the one who she treated the worst, her assistant April (Issa Rae), is the one she needs to rely on to help her.

The premise is fantastical and the plot is weak and predictable with side characters that go nowhere, but the movie is funny--particularly in the post-transformation scenes with Martin and Rae. The have good chemistry together and know how to play off of one another. Plus from now on whenever someone says “BMW,” I’ll have two definitions: It’s either a car from the Bavarian Motor Works or an incident of a Black Mama Whoopin.’ Rent it.

More New Releases: “After,” in which a young girl falls for a guy with a dark secret and the two embark on a rocky relationship; and “Tuff Turf,” a more violent than usual teen movie from 1985, in which a young man played by James Spader moves to a new school and attracts the girlfriend of a gang leader, and Robert Downey Jr. plays the drums.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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