IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)
It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them.
Second half is again well directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote It: Chapter One. Like the first film, this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals and some really cool monsters and ghouls, but is never really all that scary. There are some very effective moments and good jump scares, but, again, the movie never really gets under your skin or really grabs you. It’s quite entertaining, but there are also a few scenes, like Richie’s meeting with Pennywise in a park, that are a bit too over-the-top for their own good and come across as borderline silly. The film can be very gruesome and never feels nearly as long as it’s 169 minutes, though the inclusion of a sub-plot with grown-up bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed like overkill and could have been removed with no harm to the story. The FX are top notch and we even get some background on Pennywise and what he really is and where he came from. To some this might remove some of his mystique, but it also moved this more into monster movie territory, which for others, is just fine. There was a great homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a very amusing cameo from a certain world famous author. As stated, it is more of a monster movie this time than supernatural thriller and that also made it a bit more fun and action oriented, though, again, never really as scary as it should have been.
The cast are again strong. McAvoy is very good as the adult Bill and seems to be the one most strongly onboard to confront Pennywise again. He is still tormented by guilt over Georgie. Chastain is a solid actress, no matter what the role and really gives Bev a strong emotional core. She’s still traumatized by her father and the choice of an abusive husband proves it. Pennywise isn’t the only demon she must face down. Hader is good as RIchie, who is now a stand-up comedian. He uses humor to hide his fear and still conveys much of his feelings in sarcasm. Hader shows some solid dramatic chops here. Isaiah Mustafa is noble as Mike, the only one to remain on watch in Derry. He also believes he knows how to stop the monstrous clown and uses that to convince the others to join him. Ryan is solid as the now skinny and sexy Ben. He still has a soft spot for Bev and is still in some ways insecure. Ransone is also good as the cowardly Eddie and makes his journey to overcome his fears work very well. Andy Bean has a brief few moments as Stanley, but makes them count to give his early death emotional resonance. All the young actors who portrayed the characters as kids also return in flashbacks. As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has even more to do this half and it is in this second part that he really makes this incarnation of the character his own. The young actors who played the characters as kids, all return in flashbacks.
Overall, this second chapter was an entertaining flick, but still wasn’t all that scary. Andy Muschietti directs well and has a great visual eye, as well as, takes a few risks this time with the carnage. The cast all perform strongly and there are plenty of effective scenes to entertain. The film can also be a little too over-the-top at times for it’s own good, like a Chinese restaurant scene, and a few of these scenes do skirt a little close to being silly. It does keep one involved, despite being almost three hours long, though a few things here and there could have been trimmed with no harm to the proceedings. A solid mainstream horror and will most likely repeat the success of It: Chapter One.
3 (out of 4) red balloons.
Trainwreck is a bit of a return to form for director Judd Apatow, who hasn’t made a really funny movie since Knocked Up. Film tells the story of Amy (Amy Schumer, who also wrote) a party girl who uses her wild ways to avoid getting truly close to anyone. That is until a writing assignment (Why do all these movies feature lead’s who work for magazines?) introduces her to dorky sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Now faced with possible true love, will Amy’s self destructive behavior ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to her?
Obviously, a big factor in why this routinely plotted romantic comedy works is it’s feisty, funny leading lady and the cast she is surrounded with. Schumer’s script is also legitimately funny and not only has some laugh out loud moments, but has some actual wit behind the more vulgar humor…a condom story Amy tells at a baby shower is particularly hysterical. She and Bill Hader have an off-beat chemistry and helps keep us engaged even as the move is about 15 minutes too long and gets a bit too sentimental for it’s own good. Also stars Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton and some surprisingly funny appearances by WWE Superstar John Cena, as a muscle-head Amy’s dating and a scene stealing LeBron James as himself.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who has given us more than one classic, this flick has quite an engaging cast and might have been a good movie, if it ever decided what it was about. Is it about military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) helping billionaire entrepreneur Carson Welch (Bill Murray) get his communications satellite in orbit?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to uncover what’s in the satellite’s secret payload?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to win back former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who’s in a troubled marriage?…Is it about Gilcrest falling in love with the military aide (Emma Stone) acting as his Hawaiian liaison?…or is it about Gilcrest discovering the daughter (Danielle Rose Russell) he never knew he had?…we don’t know and neither does the movie! Add in some rambling dialogue sequences that go on and go nowhere and you have a waste of 105 minutes and a very solid cast…not to mention beautiful Hawaiian locations. Also stars, Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride as military officers. An oddly schizophrenic screenplay and very haphazard direction from a filmmaker who can direct stuff like this in his sleep…and maybe this time he did!
THE DEVIL’S HAND (2014)
While presented in all seriousness by director Christian E. Christiansen, from Karl Mueller’s script, this Amish set slasher/supernatural horror comes across as fairly silly and very cliché. The story has a prophecy of a coming evil being fulfilled when six girls are born on the same night, in the same Amish village on the sixth day of the sixth month. One mother fearing she has unleashed this evil, murders her child, but the other five are left to be. We pick up as they all are about to turn 18 and now someone…or something…is killing them off. Film is actually fairly well directed, but just can’t rise above the familiarity of these type of ancient prophecy flicks such as the village elder (Colm Meaney phoning it in) using his people’s fear to control them and the rebellious girl (Alycia Debnam-Carey) breaking the rules to investigate…and date a boy from the outside. We’ve seen it all before and better. It was never boring, but never scary or suspenseful either. Also stars Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter who visibly looks like she would rather be anywhere else but in this movie. The young cast members, including Adelaide Kane, give it their all and there is some decent bloodshed, so that helps a bit. Not unwatchable, just nothing special.
THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)
Directed by Craig Johnson, from a script he co-wrote with Mark Heyman, this indie comedy/drama follows the indie formula fairly closely by inhabiting an emotion-filled story with eccentric and dysfunctional characters on a journey to discover themselves. It is the story of estranged twins, the suicidal Milo (Bill Hader) and the married but unfaithful Maggie (Kristen Wiig), who are reunited when Milo attempts to kill himself. Milo comes to upstate New York to live with Maggie and her clueless husband (Luke Wilson) and they learn to love themselves and each other. And as in a lot of these films, there are some character revelations, but ultimately the film really doesn’t go anywhere story wise, though it’s not really meant to. While I found a lot of it to be cliché for these type of flicks, even though I do have a soft spot for indie films, I did find it worth watching for the acting from Hader and Wiig and the film is never dull and can be subtly funny at times. The two leads are superb and both play roles a bit different than we are used to seeing them in and they have great chemistry together and it makes all the clichés work. So, I recommend it for an enjoyable 90+ minutes of two underrated performers creating two very offbeat, but ultimately likable characters and personally I loved all the Nyack, New York locations, especially during the Halloween set sequences.
Finally caught up with this interesting, involving and slightly whimsical Spike Jonze flick and found it a very enjoyable, offbeat and heartfelt movie. The story takes place in a not too distant future and focuses on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes letters for others for a living and has just suffered a heartbreaking separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theodore, in his loneliness, buys a computer operating system with an artificial intelligence made to learn and adapt to their owner’s wants and needs. Theodore chooses a female voice and the OS chooses the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). But, the more time Theodore spends with Samantha, the more their relationship grows and the more Theodore thinks she’s all he needs and starts to fall in love with her. And Samantha feels likewise but, as Samantha grows and evolves and begins to experience new emotions and desires, will Theodore be all she needs?
Writer/director Spike Jonze delivers a rarity, an intriguing and very original romantic-comedy, a sub-genre that is one of the least adventurous genres and one that rarely steps outside the stale formula. He presents the idea of a computerized operating system that becomes such a perfect fit for it’s owner that it creates an emotional attachment, becoming a friend and a lover. Especially poignant, as it does so at a time where Theodore is wounded and afraid to connect with others of flesh and blood including his cute best friend Amy (Amy Adams) who has also recently gotten a divorce. Of course Jonze is making a comment on the increasing reliability on personal computers and cellphones, which almost seem to be a more important part of our lives then our friends and loved ones. We seem to spend more time communicating with and through our computerized devices and less and less actual time socially interacting with those around us. Why commit to the emotional investment of talking to someone face to face when we can text or E-mail and be done with it. Jonze gives his cautionary tale of loving our gadgets too much a very subtle and sly sense of humor and filmed his romance in the city of Shanghai to give it that futuristic look. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema accents Jonze’s colorful but slightly sterile future and there is a very effecting score by the band Arcade Fire that really embellishes the atmosphere and mood set by Jonze’s deft direction and clever story.
The cast is wonderful with Phoenix creating a very strong character in his Theodore, a man with his own intimacy issues who is wounded by the collapse of his marriage and afraid to start looking again and thus finding the perfect mate for his current emotional condition in the artificial intelligence that grows to suit his every need, Samantha. As the voice of Samantha, Scarlett Johansson gives a wonderful performance as an intelligence that is learning new emotions and experiences and who falls in love with the man who teaches them to her. She has only her voice to convey her feelings and does a simply amazing job of portraying the wonder of discovering new emotions and the joy of love for the first time. She and Phoenix make this work. If either of their performances were off, the film would simply have not come together and so well. We also get another strong performance by Amy Adams as the nerdy Amy, Theodore’s best friend and a person he cares for more then he wants to admit. The actress has become quite the chameleon. Rooney Mara is fine as the estranged wife who still haunts Theodore in his thoughts and has a really nice scene with Phoenix as they hesitate when the moment to finally sign the divorce papers comes. A very effecting and real sequence as they both must face the fact that it is indeed over. There are also some eccentric supporting performances by Chris Pratt as the quirky receptionist at Theodore’s job, Olivia Wilde as a pretty blind date that Theodore wasn’t quite ready for and Portia Doubleday as Isabella, a beautiful young woman who wants to act as the surrogate for the bodiless Samantha. A very eclectic and strong cast that really make Jonze’s vision work very well.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s a heartfelt romantic comedy as it is an original one. It is also a cautionary tale about becoming too close to our computerized gadgets and letting our flesh and blood relationships fall to the side. It is well directed, intelligently written and has some wonderful and understated performances by all the cast. A very unique indie film and a real treat. Highly recommended! Also features vocal cameos by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.
MonsterZero NJ extra trivia: Pretty actress Portia Doubleday who plays the surrogate Isabella is the daughter of actor Frank Doubleday who played the creepy Romero in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York!
3 and 1/2 Scarlett’s.