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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It Chapter Two gives moviegoers a needed, yet mediocre, conclusion to a saga started by the previous, far-superior film.

Translation: If you saw and liked the first movie, you need to watch this one to get the full story. You’ll also be witnessing a decline in quality.

In a strange way, I’m happy It Chapter Two exists, because it does have some good scares, and Bill Hader rocks as a grown-up Finn Wolfhard. It closes out the Stephen King story in much better fashion than that spider sequence in that TV miniseries. If you look at It as one long movie consisting of two chapters, the overall experience is still cool. But if you look at this sequel as a standalone … it’s a big mess—an editing-room fatality.

The first movie focused on the Losers’ Club as children, concluding with them seemingly defeating Pennywise the Clown (an always-frightening Bill Skarsgard). This one picks up 27 years later, welcoming the likes of Hader (Ritchie), Jessica Chastain (Beverly) and James McAvoy (Bill) to the proceedings.

When evil seems to revisit their hometown, the adult Losers return for a rematch with the morphing clown … and that’s it for the plot. The adults split up, suffer some individual horrors at the hands of Pennywise, then wind up back together for the finale.

A big problem in this movie is that the kids from the first film, who actually play a large part in this one, have aged a lot since the first chapter wrapped. While there have been some nice advancements in digital de-aging, this film does not show that. The kid scenes are a mixture of newly filmed scenes and flashbacks. The kids, often filmed in the dark, look very odd with their digitally altered, disproportioned faces; in some cases, their digitally de-aged voices make them sound like chipmunks. The producers should’ve filmed the extra kid scenes during the original movie’s production, saved themselves some dough on special effects, and had a better-looking movie.

There’s a lot of whining out there about this film’s running time, as it clocks in at 2 hours, 49 minutes. I actually wish director Andy Muschietti would have taken three films to tell this story, because at nearly three hours, this movie actually comes off as oddly rushed and haphazard. There’s talk that the original cut for Chapter Two was four hours long. Perhaps that hour will be restored in a home-video release; it might fill in some gaps and make the experience feel more complete and less compressed.

Hader rules this movie in the same way Wolfhard ruled the original. He’s funny; he’s aces at looking scared; and he can handle the heavy drama. Surprisingly, McAvoy seems a little lost in the role of grown-up Bill, while Chastain doesn’t really have much to work with during her screen time. Hader and Skarsgard make good chunks of this movie worth watching.

After a solid start, the performers run around from set piece to set piece, setting the table for some CGI scares mixed with occasional practical effects. (The old lady freezing during her tea chat with Beverly is perhaps the scariest/funniest moment in the movie, and it required no software.)

Again, I have a feeling It Chapter 2 could be somewhat redeemed by a director’s cut that could reinstall some of the connective tissue between the scenes. Right now, the film is just a bunch of thrill sequences smashing into one another in the second half, with no real sense of direction.

The story of It, as a whole on the big screen, is easily superior to the TV series that came before. It Chapter 2 drags the overall grade for both movies together to somewhere around a B-minus.

It Chapter Two is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The third season is the best yet for Netflix’s Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers’ 1980s throwback series.

Much of the action, including a showdown with the Mind Flayer monster from the Upside Down, takes place in the Starcourt Mall, a mighty authentic wonder of art direction. (Sam Goody and Ground Round make notable appearances.)

Of course, the Russians now play a prominent part as Hopper (David Harbour) tries to protect his adopted daughter, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), from the Reds, demons—and, most notoriously, her new boyfriend, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), who likes to kiss way too much. Steve (Joe Keery) has his best season yet, working in an ice cream store with new cast member and major standout Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) as his co-scooper.

The special effects this time around are top-notch, with more nice nods to John Carpenter, Stephen King and The Blob. Harbour gets a little goofier in this season, and it’s a lot of fun watching his Hopper trying to date Joyce (Winona Ryder).

The finale provides some major cliffhangers for the inevitable Season 4, which could actually wind up in a completely different series. It’s good to see the show make a comeback after a middling Season 2. It’s a total blast, and it features a nice ode to The Neverending Story.

The third season of Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I read It when the novel came out in 1986, and I was underwhelmed. It had a cool premise, but sloppy, overlong, out-of-control prose. That sucker needed some editing.

I had been gobbling up Stephen King books (I’m a big fan of Christine and Different Seasons), but experienced a bit of a lull in interest after his lousy Peter Straub collaboration, The Talisman. I felt like King was overextending himself a bit, and It seemed like a big mess.

In other words … I’m not a huge fan of the source material for the new It film.

I was also not a fan of the wimpy 1990 TV miniseries with John-Boy Walton, Jack Tripper, Harry Anderson and a decent Tim Curry as evil clown Pennywise. It featured that unintentionally hilarious puppet spider at the end.

The good thing about a movie like Andy Muschietti’s It is that the director and his writers can keep core themes that worked, but switch things up and streamline the narrative to make the story work better. As a result, the new It is a triumph.

While the miniseries dealt with both the young and older versions of the Losers Club—the posse of kids who stand up to evil—the new It stands as Part One, completely dividing the kid and adult stories. There’s also a major time change, with the kids’ story taking pace in the late ’80s instead of the 1950s. Thank you, Stranger Things.

The core story remains the same: Children in Derry, Maine, have been disappearing for many years. The film starts with the sad case of Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a little boy in a yellow rain slicker who follows his paper boat to the sewer drain, where he makes an unfortunate acquaintance.

That acquaintance is Pennywise, the dancing, sewer-dwelling clown, played as a most savage beast by Bill Skarsgard. The big difference between Curry’s Pennywise and the new incarnation is that Curry’s Pennywise seemed almost like a normal circus clown—until he sprouted monster teeth and took you out. He was into trickery. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a makeup-cracking, scary demon clown. He has an ability to charm for a short while, but he oozes evil. If you saw him at a circus, you’d be seriously afraid for the trapeze artists and lions. He even drools a little while addressing Georgie … before tearing Georgie’s arm off. At this moment, It immediately declares itself to be an R-rated, no-holds-barred King affair, as opposed to the homogenized TV version.

The kids are great. The standout is Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. At one point, one of the Losers calls her Molly Ringwald. Lillis has that kind of teen-film leading-lady presence. Jeremy Ray Taylor will break your heart as Ben Hanscom, the chubby kid who has a crush on Bev. (Their first meeting is one of the best scenes in the film.)

Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer provide solid comic relief as Richie and Eddie, while Jaeden Lieberher (excellent in Midnight Special) does a damn fine job with a stutter as Georgie’s big brother, Bill Denbrough. As for the bad kids, Nicholas Hamilton is the second-scariest entity in the film as bully Henry Bowers. He’s very real. I’m pretty sure I got in a locker room fight sometime in the 1980s with Hamilton’s Bowers.

Muschietti scores some big scares, especially during a slideshow gone very wrong, and a meeting between the Denbrough brothers in the family basement. (“You’ll float, too!”) It appears there was never a moment when Muschietti and his writers paused and thought, “Say, perhaps that idea would be a bit too unsettling? Maybe it’s a bit much and wrong?”

It: Part Two, while not official yet, is a certainty. As for It: Part One, it takes the best elements of King’s inconsistent novel effort, and comes out a frightening winner.

It is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews