Movie Review ~ What Happens Later

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two ex-lovers get snowed in at a regional airport overnight. Indefinitely delayed, Willa, a magical thinker, and Bill, a catastrophic one, find themselves just as attracted to and annoyed by one another as they did decades earlier.
Stars: Meg Ryan & David Duchovny
Director: Meg Ryan
Rated: R
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: With all the love and respect I can offer to Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock, the undisputed queen of the romantic comedy in the ‘90s was Meg Ryan. Through a run of rewatchable hits that started with 1989’s When Harry Met Sally through 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, Ryan was a guaranteed good time at the movies. Unfortunately, her silver streak hit the skids when her personal life crisscrossed with her professional persona on the set of the 2000 stinker Proof of Life. While she had a few near misses in the years since (2001’s Kate & Leopold and an underappreciated remake of The Women in 2008), her career has gone mostly silent.

Ryan stepped behind the camera in 2015, making a modest debut with the period-set drama Ithaca. Surrounding herself with the comfort of longtime costar Tom Hanks and son Jack Quaid, Ryan took a small role but immersed herself in the technical side of the process, and her years in the industry helped her turn in a respectable, if flawed, debut. Eight years later, Ryan returns to her dual roles in front of and behind the camera with What Happens Later. It shows both the growth of an artist stretching in new directions and the sparkle of the charming actress who has been a frequent sick/rainy/snow day companion on-screen to audiences around the world.

Based on Steven Dietz’s 2008 play Shooting Star, Ryan helps adapt the two-hander, opening it up (slightly) to take up more space as it follows a former couple reunited by fate in an airport during a snowstorm. At first, I was nervous that Ryan had worked with Dietz and co-adapter Kirk Lynn and took things too far into fantasy. Changing the names of the characters from Elena and Reed to Willa (Ryan, Joe Versus the Volcano) and Bill (David Duchovny, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines), who cross paths as they are trying to board planes going to the same destinations the other has just come from felt too on the nose. The viewer is already working to decipher if this is straight-up fantasy or a genuine coincidence, but the opening stretch leans hard into wanting you to think it’s operating in some alternate reality where exes with similar-sounding names can meet and hash out their unresolved issues.

Even if I wasn’t aware this was based on a play, the presentational banter and monologuing contained in the script for What Happens Later is a dead giveaway. Still, Ryan and editor Jason Gourson edit the scenes together in a way that breaks up what could be a monotonous conversation that stretches into the echoing darkness of a never-ending night. Filming in an actual airport, cinematographer Bartosz Nalazek has his work cut over for him, especially when it appears there is a mixture of paid background extras and real passengers trying to catch their flight. Look closely in the background (which at times is crudely blurred), and you’ll see people staring directly at Ryan and Duchovny as they walk by or, in one strange instance, filming them on their Smartphones. 

For her part, Ryan slips easily into the carefree Willa. You can see what attracted her to the role in What Happens Later, though, because Willa carries an emotional burden she wasn’t expecting to hold on to for longer than a quick plane ride across the country. The effervescent aura that made Ryan so dang charismatic twenty years ago is still present, and she’s matched nicely with Duchovny, who is operating in a far more relaxed mode than he has in years. The two have a natural chemistry, and if the script gives them a few clunkers to spit out, they’re talented enough to massage them into something meaningful. There’s a third character thrown in the mix, an omnipresent voice of the airline terminal announcer. The credits attribute the voice to Hal Ligget, but let’s say that Ryan hasn’t come to her second movie as a director without bringing a close friend with her.

More than anything, What Happens Later further indicates that Ryan is comfortable returning to her rom-com roots but able to blend the more dramatic flourishes she sought before taking a break from Hollywood. Is the movie destined to be an enduring classic? Hardly, it’s too woo-woo in tone and trips over some production and editing flaws that reveal Ryan’s still gaining her footing in the directing arena. We want her to stick around, so tossing support her way now means we will hopefully see more of her later. 

Movie Review ~ Pet Sematary: Bloodlines

The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1969, a young Jud Crandall has dreams of leaving his hometown of Ludlow, Maine, behind, but soon discovers sinister secrets buried within and is forced to confront a dark family history that will forever keep him connected to Ludlow.
Stars: Jackson White, Forrest Goodluck, Jack Mulhern, Henry Thomas, Natalie Alyn Lind, Isabella Star LaBlanc, Samantha Mathis, Pam Grier, David Duchovny
Director: Lindsey Anderson Beer
Rated: R
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: The more movies that get made out of the novels of Stephen King, the more you grow to appreciate the early standouts that have had a lasting impact. 1989’s Pet Sematary, directed with homespun folksiness by Mary Lambert, had a freaky poster/VHS box that always scared me as a kid. The movie was no slouch either, with hissing cats, evil children, and an infamous moment involving a scalpel that had even the toughest codger biting their knuckle. Lambert returned for a less convincing sequel in 1992, and while there were hopes a 2019 remake would have the guts, alas, there was no glory.

In true Hollywood machine style, the studio heads have returned to the Stephen King well, plucked a tiny sliver of an idea (a chapter from the 1983 novel), and positioned it as a sequel to the 2019 film. The result is Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, a straight-to-streaming project debuting on Paramount+ after premiering at Austin’s Fantastic Fest. While considerably well made, thanks to cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen giving the film a first-rate period look, director and co-screenwriter Lindsey Anderson Beer can’t dig up enough new ideas to resurrect interest.

It’s 1969, and the Vietnam War still hangs like a shadow over the country when the film opens. For the townspeople of Ludlow, Maine, you either stick around and be stuck or get out the first opportunity you can grab. Suspiciously spared from the draft while his peers have been shipped off to war, young Jud Crandall (Jackson White) knows he must go and is leaving to join the Peace Corps with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). His father (Henry Thomas, The Haunting of Bly Manor) is pushing him to leave, knowing the town has certain secrets from its past that won’t stay hidden forever…secrets that are unearthed quicker than anyone can imagine.

Beer and co-writer Jeff Buhler are likely aware that the audience for what is ostensibly a fourth Pet Sematary film would know the established rules by this point. Yet, they appear to want to tailor the mysticisms surrounding the sacred grounds that can bring back the dead to their screenplay. That leads to the graveyard being used more like a battery charging station for the recently deceased instead of a revival location that comes with deadly consequences. 

Eventually devolving into a series of scenes of pointless attacks with little thrill, there’s a lot of energy wasted in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines planting seeds that we know will never grow into anything. In the process, good performances from Thomas and Samantha Mathis as Jud’s mother get lost in the shuffle. David Duchovny and Pam Grier are also phoning it in present, but they look like they have arrived to shoot a movie set in 2009, not 1969. Finally, instead of working to dovetail the film to join up with the 2019 remake, Beer leaves the audience with an awkward finale that may deliver on the blood and guts, but narratively falls flat.

To complete your Pet Sematary experience, check out Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, a fantastic documentary on making the original film!

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines will be available October 6 on Paramount+

The Silver Bullet ~ Phantom


Synopsis: The haunted Captain of a Soviet submarine holds the fate of the world in his hands. Forced to leave his family behind, he is charged with leading a covert mission cloaked in mystery.

Release Date:  March 1, 2013

Thoughts: Coming in like a cross between The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and K19: The Widomaker, Phantom is a bit of a puzzle to me.  First off, for a film about Russians there is a curious lack of any accents.  Second…what is Ed Harris doing in this film…especially starring alongside the overly smug David Duchovny.  While the rest of the cast is peppered with admirable character actors, I kept waiting for this trailer to show me something I hadn’t already seen in better films.  A film destined for a small release, Phantom is going to be a tough sell for audiences that will have more interesting looking fare to see.