Movie Review ~ IT: Chapter Two


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.

Stars: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård, Xavier Dolan, Will Beinbrink, Teach Grant, Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer

Director: Andy Muschietti

Rated: R

Running Length: 169 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Two years after IT: Chapter One took the late summer/early box office by screaming storm, we find ourselves in a similar situation upon the arrival of its sequel.  Like its predecessor, IT: Chapter Two is being released at the very tail end of a mostly bummer summer of sputtering sequels and non-starter indies.  At this point in the year, the hunger for something high quality that isn’t seeking Oscar gold (or is it?) but just wants to entertain is, I must admit, quite appealing.  Re-watching Chapter One in anticipation of Chapter Two, I was struck by how well that earlier film scooped up the audience into its spell and had high hopes the second chapter would continue with that same magic.

In my review of the first film I wondered why the studio didn’t have a little more faith in the property and shoot the entire novel back-to-back instead of disrupting its non-linear plot in favor of more straight-forward storytelling. Instead, Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema, still wary after a troubled start to the project when the original writer/director left, decided to test the waters by filming only the first of a planned two-part movie.  The film was a gigantic hit (rightfully so), made a few stars out of the kids, and almost immediately had fans compiling their dream cast for the follow-up that quickly got the greenlight.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club bested Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård, Atomic Blonde) and most have moved away from the tiny town of Derry, Maine.  Mike (Isaiah Mustafa, The Three Stooges) is the only one that has stuck around, living above the library and keeping watch for any strange occurrences that might be tied to the evil he faced with his friends when they were tweens.  Receiving a fairly targeted message at the scene of a horrific crime that confirms his worst suspicions, Mike tracks down his long-lost pals who have all strangely forgotten the summer of the clown and they oath they made to return.

Overcoming his stutter and becoming a successful novelist and screenwriter, Bill (James McAvoy, Split) is more than happy to vacate the set of his latest movie where he’s having trouble getting the ending right.  Beverly (Jessica Chastain, Lawless) escapes her violent husband/business partner in order to keep her promise, while foul-mouthed stand-up comedian Richie (Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins) leaves his tour and heads for Maine.  Eddie (James Ransone, Sinister) and Ben (Jay Ryan) have no problems getting out of their stuffy corporate jobs and away from the drone of their daily lives.  Only Stanley (Andy Bean, Allegiant) finds it harder to return for reasons I won’t spoil here.

When the gang has gathered back in their hometown and Mike levels with them about the evil that has reemerged, the memories come flooding back and it’s here the movie starts to fray. Up until that point, writer Gary Dauberman (Annabelle Comes Home) and returning director Andy Muschietti (Mama) have been pulling the rope tighter and tauter around the group, giving them all warning signs that danger awaits them all.  Once they all arrive, however, there’s a fracturing isolation that occurs which gives each person an individual mini sub-storyline to follow and the movie curiously goes slack.  Seems that Mike has found out a way to destroy the entity that has been feeding off of Derry residents for hundreds of years and he needs his friends to split up and gather a personal “artifact” from that summer that was important to them.

This gives each actor their own stretch of time to be the star of the film and not everyone uses their time wisely. Surprisingly, it’s the biggest stars that fare the worst with McAvoy whipping himself into an absolute frenzy at inopportune times, coming off as bug-eyed and hysterical instead of terrified.  Chastain is right behind him feasting on the scenery and she and Hader fight over which high emotional moment to gnaw on next.  (There is a serious campaign to get Hader an Oscar nomination for his work here and, while I’m a fan, that’s totally bonkers.  This isn’t even an Oscar-adjacent performance.) All three become, frankly, grating as the movie extends which makes the restrained and nuanced work Ransone, Ryan, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Mustafa, seem even more welcome.  These character “adventures” feel like the chapters they are in the book, personal moments that have slight ties to the greater action but are largely drop-in and drop-out scenes.  The same scenario is repeated later in the movie when the adults get thrown into their own personal horrors.  What started in 2017 as a scary riff on Stand by Me turns into a tricky re-working of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

What’s really missed are the child actors from Chapter One and, though they have been brought back for this second installment they aren’t…quite the same.  Over the past two years the kids have done what kids do at that age: they grow.  Via digital scrubbing and voice modulating, the performances have been youth-ized and the results are often creepier than Pennywise.  You know the voice matches the actor but the face doesn’t look right so it’s all strangely out of whack.  Only Sophia Lillis seems to have escaped the airbrush and thus her performance feels the most grounded and real.  When the action switches back to the adults, you can see the work the older actors have done to match their younger counterparts and, for what it’s worth, the casting is spot-on.  I just kept wondering what would have happened if they waited 27 years to let these younger actors grow into their older selves.

As is the case with most sequels to horror films, the scares have to be bigger and more frequent and IT: Chapter Two definitely falls in line with expectations  The trouble with that is there is no build up to a scare almost anywhere in the movie.  Sure, there is some disturbing imagery and a few jolts but none come close to the satisfying and expertly orchestrated thrills elicited from Chapter One.  It’s like in Jaws.  Once you’ve seen the shark, you’ve seen the shark and it’s all about the attack from then on.  Now that we are familiar with Pennywise and have seen so much of him, there’s less menace to be had, even though he does bare that hideous maw with rows upon rows of razor teeth multiple times in the film.

There’s a fairly large amount of iffy CGI on display, as well. Though the protracted finale of the film features the most well-rounded effects of all, there are numerous nightmare creatures conjured up by Dauberman and Muschietti that are simply goofy to look at.  An abundance of grotesque creepies emerge from the darkness throughout the movie and few have the same impact of the simple image of Pennywise staring out of the dark at an unsuspecting child.  An effective (if extremely hard to stomach) opening sequence at a country fair and a later scene underneath the town bleachers are good reminders of how Muschietti can extend tension to its most enjoyable breaking point.

At 169 minutes, the movie either needed to be 40 minutes shorter or 60 minutes longer. Were it shorter, Muschietti could have trimmed up some redundant character bits in the third act that feel like extra padding.  Had it been longer, we could have spent some more time with the Losers Club and their lives outside of Derry.  There’s too little of their current lives shown to give us a proper introduction so we have to almost base our knowledge soley on what we remember from the original film.  What I do appreciate is Muschietti’s attention to small details from the book and within his vision of the film.  I’ll  have to give the movie a second watch, but there’s usually something not quite right going on in the background of scenes that most viewers won’t catch on the first viewing.  It’s also a nice touch to have Eddie’s nagging wife played by the same actress who was his mother in Chapter One.  There are also two very funny cameos, one in particular that had our audience cheering.

There’s rumors of a supercut that might happen that would combine both movies into one and I’d be fascinated to see how that would come together. I’d definitely recommend this movie, sequel flaws and long running time aside, because of the way it nicely concludes what was started back in 2017.  If only everything was done at the same time and the filmmakers didn’t have that extra year to get too zealous with their plans for IT: Chapter Two.

The Silver Bullet ~ IT: Chapter 2



Synopsis
: Twenty-seven years later, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.

Release Date: September 6, 2019

Thoughts: Back in 2017, Warner Brothers took a risky move by remaking Stephen King’s IT as a big screen endeavor. Though the television mini-series had unquestionably not aged well it still held a soft spot in the hearts of many a fan.  Thankfully, the gamble paid off and director Andy Muschietti (Mama) delivered not only a scary as hell horror film but one that also captured King’s nostalgic tones as well.  The performances were far above average considering that most of the kids were unknowns and that helped keep the tension up throughout.  Two years later comes the concluding chapter featuring the members of the Losers Club that have grown up and are revisited by a vengeful evil that has been waiting for them for many years.  The first teaser trailer is a doozy too, crafted mostly as a scene between Jessica Chastain (The Martian) and a creepy lady that lives in her childhood home.  I found myself slowly inching away from my desk as it went along not sure where it was taking me.  Here’s hoping this sequel seamlessly branches off the first film and ends with the kind of bang it deserves.

31 Days to Scare ~ Kristy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a college girl alone on campus over the Thanksgiving break is targeted by a group of outcasts, she must conquer her deepest fears to outwit them and fight back.

Stars: Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, Erica Ash, James Ransone, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Matthew St. Patrick

Director: Oliver Blackburn

Rated: NR

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Review: You know how sometimes Netflix will exercise its info gathering muscle by sending you an e-mail letting you know they just added a movie you’d like?  Based on my viewing preferences, I’m always getting a notice about some indie horror flick making its debut on the streaming service.  If I’m honest, most of the suggestions remain that way, sure I may add them at the time but they quickly get pushed further and further down my queue.  For a while there though, they were nicely on target and steered me toward a few winners.  Now it’s my turn to share the wealth.

After suffering through 2012’s The Apparition, I made a pact not to let myself be exposed to another Ashley Greene (Wish I Was Here – another movie I loathed) film.  That particular movie made me so mad I felt justified in holding a grudge against all involved…but when Kristy became the latest suggested title from my good friends over at Netflix I decided to give her another shot.

Feeling very “now” (which means it’ll be dated in several years), Kristy is a thriller heavy on atmosphere resting squarely on the shoulders of its leading lady (Haley Bennett, The Magnificent Seven).  Greene plays the leader of a gang of cyber cultists that hunt and kill random females they dub with the moniker ‘Kristy’.  With no motive to speak of, it’s impossible to look for meaning in their murder-for-sport thrill-kills and the overall brutality to all that stand in their way makes Greene and her crew into fairly nifty villains.  Unfortunately, their latest target is Justine (Bennett, a strong heroine) and she’s not going down without a fight.

It’s the Thanksgiving break and college-student Justine doesn’t have the money to make it home.  Her boyfriend  (Lucas Till, Stoker) and roommate (Erica Ash) have family obligations so aside from a friendly security guard (Matthew St. Patrick) and a solitary maintenance man (James Ransone, Sinister) she’s has the entire campus to herself.  Needing some sustenance for the long weekend, Justine makes a late night convenience store dash where she has a run-in with Greene.  The murder mob follows Justine back to her deserted dormitory and over the course of the evening the bodies pile up in most gruesome ways.  Working from a tight script by Anthony Jaswinski (The Shallows), director Oliver Blackburn keeps the tension high, working the shadowy corridors and security-lit grounds to his advantage.  The campus is wide-open but feels like a prison as Justine scrambles for safety while the four-person posse goes on safari for another ‘Kristy’ to add to their trophy wall.

I look at Kristy now as a nice make-up for me and Greene, because this was one hell of a solid movie that deserved a bigger audience.  Admittedly, I imagine the film plays better at home than it did in whatever limited release it had but this is competent filmmaking surpassing much of the lame big studio fare topping box offices throughout the year.  For the extra brave, I’d suggest watching this one alone late at night in your basement, just for the added thrill of it all.

Movie Review ~ Oldboy (2013)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.

Stars: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, James Ransone, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff

Director: Spike Lee

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’m always amazed when a director with an impressive list of credits lines up a remake as their next project.  Some directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, remade their OWN films and that practice still happens occasionally today with a foreign director helming an American version of the film they popularized on their home soil.  Then there are the directors that take on Hollywood studio adaptations of foreign products for American audiences.

For me, I get the impression that these US directors choose these foreign films to remake as a way to say “This was good but I can do it better”– though they very rarely can.  If anything, they wind up creating a film that’s just as good but can exist in the same universe as their overseas counterpart as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  That film was a tremendous success in Sweden and had David Fincher as a director when it jumped shores…both films are impressive and I’d watch them back to back if the spirit moved me to do so.

It’s strange, then, that Oldboy even happened at all.  Nearly a decade old when discussions for the remake began, it’s easy I suppose to see why it attracted the attention of Hollywood and director Spike Lee.  The 2003 original, Oldeuboi, had amassed a certain fervent fan base in America thanks to an impressively twisted narrative, strong performances, and skilled direction from Park Chan-wook (Stoker) which bumped it to a level of sophistication that set it apart from its more minor peers.

Lee has been a troublesome director as of late, known more for his ranting outbursts toward fellow filmmakers than he was for making some important films in the early 90’s.  With a flagging career and a penchant for taking forever to finish his work, the revenge thriller Oldboy seemed almost too easily commercial for the director to latch onto.

If Lee had done something, anything, of interest with the material then I could maybe get behind an argument for this remake moving forward.  Though the film does have some classic Lee elements on the technical side, it’s lacking the depth that he’s brought to his earlier efforts like Do the Right Thing and more recent work like documentaries surrounding the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  His work in Oldboy winds up feeling like a director-for-hire and it permeates every level of the film.

It’s a shame, then, that Josh Brolin (Labor Day, Men in Black III) is so good in the leading role of a man without scruples that’s abducted and held in confinement for twenty years by an unseen captor.  It’s within these shoddy walls that he watches a television news report where he finds himself the number one suspect in his wife’s death.  With his young daughter in foster care and his life seemingly over, there’s not much more for him to do but wait to die…until he awakes one day in a field, free.  Or so it seems.

Up until the man is released the film follows the original quite closely.  It’s after Brolin is let loose that the film takes an approach that favors more explanation than necessary and less of the ominous mystery surrounding a menacing caller employed to good effect in the original.  In Brolin’s quest for answers to why he was held, there’s still a plethora of well staged fight sequences with one of the central passages of the original being recreated, Spike Lee-style, with sweeping cranes that allow little to no cuts in action.

The violence is way more visceral in the remake and that’s where Lee lets down the film a bit.  It’s as if Lee needed to justify Brolin’s revenge by allowing him to enact sadistic acts of violence toward anyone/everyone that may have been involved only remotely.  That didn’t work for me…especially when Brolin is cutting sliver sized chunks of flesh from the neck of an Oscar nominated actor in a wacky cameo role.

A Florence Nightgale-like nurse played by a sleepy-looking Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) is an unlikely ally for Brolin and her involvement with him never makes a whole lot of sense.  He’s bad news and she can tell but either she loves a charity case or chunks of her storyline were excised in order to speed the film along.  (Side note: the 105 minute film was cut down from a reported three hours, perhaps a director’s cut will give the film more shape).  Sharlto Copley’s role is one I can’t go into much detail on but Copley (Elysium, Europa Report) winds up doing a great disservice with a cartoony performance in what could have been a much more engaging role.

Screenwriter Mark Protosevich gets points for largely keeping this remake in alignment with the events of the original film…including its controversial dénouement.  I’d also say that while the ending winds up looking poles apart than its inspiration, what Protosevich lands on could arguably be called the very same ending just under different circumstances.

If you’ve never seen the original film Oldboy is based on, I’d guess you’d find yourself mostly engaged in this revenge crime drama which, faults aside, is quite well made and executed.  Fans of the original also shouldn’t be concerned that their precious film has been tarnished nor should they riot at some of the changes employed here.  Still…it’s a remake that didn’t need to happen.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Oldboy (2013)

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Synopsis: Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked up into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.

Release Date:  November 27, 2013

Thoughts: The first trailer for Spike Lee’s remake of a gritty (and highly praised) 2003 Korean film shows some promise.  If his latest work follows in the steps of the original, expect a brutally twisted tale of revenge that takes no prisoners.  It looks to be a well cast outing for Lee who has become known lately more for the feuds he gets into with fellow filmmakers than for the quality of his movies.  I’ve always been on the fence with his films, finding that they range from the excellent to the excessive with not a lot of middle ground to be found.  I’m intrigued at the presence of Josh Brolin (Men in Black III, Labor Day), Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) and Samuel L. Jackson (Marvel’s The Avengers), all risk taking actors that might just be the perfect fit for what Lee has planned.  We shall see.

31 Days to Scare – Sinister

The Facts:

Synopsis: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Nicholas King, Clare Foley, Victoria Leigh, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D’Addario

Director: Scott Derrickson

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: This year has been a curious one for horror.  We started off on shaky ground with The Devil Inside, found some good scares in The Woman in Black, were puzzled by Silent House, discovered the wonderful Cabin in the Woods, avoided The Raven, hated The Apparition, were impressed with The Possession, and enjoyed our trip to The House at the End of the Street.  Now, 2012 is showing that it still has one last scare up its sleeve with the devious Sinister…well at least until Paranormal Activity 4 comes out next week.  

While it doesn’t have has many secret plot points like Cabin in the Woods, I’m still going to keep this as relatively spoiler free as I can.  I’d encourage you to skip viewing the trailer or TV ads as they do give away some of the scares that don’t play quite as well if you know what you’re going to see.  What the ads don’t show is that the film goes beyond being merely scary and dips its gnarled toes into the genuinely unpleasant category. 

The startlingly youthful looking Hawke plays a washed up true-crime novelist that had his 15 minutes of fame a decade ago and is on the hunt for his next shot at the big time.  Dragging his family to a new town and new home, he is focused on delving into the mystery surrounding a murdered family and a missing child.  What he finds in the attic sets into motion a series of events/scares/spooky occurrences that leave you wondering why anyone would stick around to see what’s going bump in the night.  More than a few times when a loud noise would awaken a family member I silently said to myself “I’d be outta there” and thought that I would happily stay in a Holiday Inn for the evening instead.

Whereas the majority of horror films are interested in the easy scare, Sinister seems to be more invested in fashioning increasingly disturbing situations to present to its audience.  From frame one, the audience is placed in the role of voyeur to acts of violence that are pretty horrific in their, ahem, execution…especially in that they involve the wholesale murder of adults as well as children.  For some, I think the film will be too much to take and several of the images still linger in my mind after a restless night of tossing and turning.   

Sinister distances itself from the run-of-the-mill horror film in a few appreciated ways.  There seems to be equal weight given to the scares and character development…maybe a little too much so.  Though director/screenwriter Derrickson (who also wrote and directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose) writes well, a few of these extended familial arguments go on a little too long and are a tad too repetitive to land as well as they should.  That’s overall a fault of Derrickson the director who probably could have trimmed these scenes and not actors like Hawke and Rylance who do their best with overtly hokey-pokey dialogue.

Derrickson isn’t afraid to let the film be talky at a few select points but there are some times when less is more.  Too often actors will inexplicably narrate what they are doing or thinking…a gimmick used when the director doesn’t know how else to convey something to their audience.  Why does Hawke write and speak the line “Where is Stephanie?” when we already know that’s the crime he’s investigating.  Also, a sage local yokel cop (Ransone) is good comic relief…until you understand that he’s really just an onscreen guide for audiences that haven’t been able to keep up.

At its core, the film is a mystery waiting to be solved and if you’re like me you’ll catch on pretty fast what’s happening.  The film makes a sharp left turn about halfway through and though the film becomes less and less interesting after that it doesn’t become less effective.  Thanks to an eerie and dissonant sound design and clever misdirection, you’ll probably get the scares you’re looking for at one point or another.  I absolutely was caught off guard a few times and nearly levitated out of my seat along with the rest of my group. 

Delivering the scares it promises in addition to some added nightmare-inducing images, Sinister is a solid horror film from a team of players that take a sick fascination at pushing the limits of our will.  I wanted to look away several times but couldn’t take my eyes off of what was unspooling onscreen.   It’s a pretty bleak and unforgiving film overall so make sure you go into it prepared to get yourself back to a happy place somehow after.