CVIndependent

Wed10232019

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

Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, placing another pin on her action-hero lapel after her ferocious turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

As Lorraine Broughton—an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin as the wall begins to fall in the late 1980s—she showcases her ability to kick people through walls with the best of them. She also knows how to use a freezer door as a weapon.

Directed by David Leitch, one of the directors of the original John Wick and the future director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks were flying. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real, and he choreographs action scenes that stand as some of the year’s best. When Charlize lands a blow in this movie, you feel it.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film does drag at times, especially when Lorraine does the standard interrogation-room scenes, with Toby Jones and John Goodman drilling her for answers. Atomic Blonde could’ve used some tightening in the edit room; instead, one must wade through the shallow parts.

Lorraine tells her story in flashback as she hunts for a list containing nefarious info about her and her fellow agents—a list that could continue the Cold War for decades to come. Her hunt includes interactions with unorthodox agent David Percival (James McAvoy), somebody who mixes his espionage with partying—and trafficking in the black market for Jordache jeans.

Theron and McAvoy are good together onscreen, and their dialogue scenes are some of the best scenes that don’t involve teeth getting broken. As for the bone-crunching action, there’s a sequence in this movie that rivals a Logan scene as the best of the year thus far. Leitch coordinates a battle that starts in a building and culminates with a car chase, viewed as if it were all done in one shot. It’s an exhaustive exercise in how to keep fighting while falling down stairs, getting shot and getting your face kicked in. Even if the rest of the movie consisted of Theron and McAvoy gardening and sipping herbal teas while listening to a ballgame on the radio, Atomic Blonde would still be worth seeing for that scene. It’s classically good.

McAvoy, having a great year with this and Split, has elevated him himself from amusing curio actor to heavy hitter in 2017. He’s a nut in this movie, as was the case in Split. He’s an actor who is willing to take some risks, and they are paying off. He also might win the award for Best Strained Dialogue Delivery While Keeping a Cigarette in One’s Mouth Through a Major Ass-Kicking.

As good as he is, you won’t go to Atomic Blonde to see McAvoy. This is Theron’s vehicle, and she owns it. Theron, an Academy Award-winning actress who can dramatically spar with the best of them, is a physical performer in league with the best. In this movie, she’ll convince you that neither Conor McGregor nor Floyd Mayweather would stand a chance in the ring with Theron.

Late ’80s playlists are sure to spike on streaming services thanks to the film’s soundtrack, which includes David Bowie, Queen, Falco, ‘Til Tuesday, The Clash and, quite notably, George Michael. (His “Father Figure” is put to astonishingly good use in that classic scene I mentioned above.) Leitch and company find great ways to make the music part of the film, and while I probably never needed to hear “99 Luftbalons” again, the presence of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” is much appreciated.

The summer movie season is coming to a close, and while Atomic Blonde isn’t one of the summer’s best, it does have a couple of the summer’s best scenes. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to warrant another Atomic Blonde movie, but there’s definitely room for more movies with Theron hitting people in the face with freezer doors. She’s quite good at it.

Atomic Blonde is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The key to M. Night Shyamalan’s recent success seems to be a limit on the amount of money he’s allowed to throw around.

After working with sizable budgets on big projects like The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Happening, Lady in the Water and The Village—all of which sucked major ass—Shyamalan almost made a good movie for $5 million with The Visit.

Now he’s finally made his first good movie since Signs back in 2002 with Split, a down-to-the-basics, creepy thriller propelled by excellent performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. The film—with a $10 million budget, according to IMDb—reminds us that Shyamalan can be quite the capable director (and writer) when he isn’t getting too carried away.

Taylor-Joy, so good in recent horror masterpiece The Witch, plays Casey, an introverted, outcast high school student attending a birthday party for Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) simply because she got a “mercy invite.” Casey’s stuck after the party, so Claire’s dad offers her and another friend, Marcia (Jessica Sula), a ride home. That ride never gets out of the parking lot, because a strange, angry man (McAvoy) winds up in the driver’s seat and sprays the girls with a chemical. They wake up together in a prison cell.

McAvoy’s character, as you know from all the trailers and previews, is suffering from a form of split-personality disorder. In addition to the man who kidnaps them, he’s a stately, mannered woman; a 9-year-old child; and several others. One of those others plays a big part in making this film more than just a psychological thriller.

McAvoy is bone-chillingly good here, seamlessly segueing into each personality, and giving each one an original vocal and physical spin. In ways, this plays out like a modern-day Psycho, with a few more personalities thrown in, and without the shower scene.

While in the Hedwig persona, McAvoy has a memorable dance scene—a welcome funny break in the movie. McAvoy even saves what could have been a hokey finale by delivering his final major monologue with such ferocity that we buy into it. McAvoy’s great work here has a place alongside Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Kathy Bates in Misery.

The last act of the movie, when Shyamalan takes things into strange monster-movie territory, is truly scary. I won’t give away any secrets; go see the movie, and have some fun with it. Well, “fun” might not be the right word. It’s pretty freaking bleak.

Taylor-Joy is becoming a new kind of “scream queen.” She has an amazing array of expressions, and Shyamalan takes advantage of this. Rather than shrieking her face off as the terrorized often do in horror movies, Taylor-Joy is a restrained, conflicted kind of horrified. What she lacks in volume, she makes up for in major intensity.

Following up her terrific performance in The Edge of Seventeen, Richardson takes the normally vain “popular” character in horror films and gives her a lot of depth and smarts. Betty Buckley does well as a therapist (basically this film’s Dr. Loomis, although less crazed) trying to help the McAvoy characters handle their afflictions. Shyamalan himself shows up for a fun cameo, and stick around for the credits, which include a powerful Easter egg.

Given his current trajectory, Shyamalan could be one or two films away from giving us another masterpiece. Split is one of his best, and proof that we weren’t all crazy back when we figured he would do great things behind a camera.

Split is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After scoring a huge critical and box-office success in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past—Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise—20th Century Fox wisely brought the director back for X-Men: Apocalypse.

However, in an utterly baffling move, Fox cut the budget for the current installment, while padding the cast and upping the action. (Well, this is the studio that screwed up The Fantastic Four, so maybe the shortchanging of a reliable franchise isn’t all that surprising.)

The result: Portions of the movie look much sloppier than Singer’s usual offerings, with quite a few moments featuring cut-rate-looking CGI. The movie alternates from looking great to looking terrible. The flaws eventually pile up, and while there are some nice, enjoyable stretches, X-Men: Apocalypse is a mess in the end, despite powerful work from Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and a great performance by new-to-the-franchise Oscar Isaac as the menacing villain, Apocalypse.

Before the opening credits (which, by the way, look like shit), we get a quick back-story for Apocalypse. En Sabah Nur, an ancient Egyptian, morphs along with some sort of ancient mystical being, thus becoming the world’s first mutant, or something like that. He’s then buried under a crushed pyramid for centuries. Cue the cheap-looking opening credits.

Cut to the 1980s, 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past. A bunch of random people are standing around chanting in the pyramid ruins, and En Sabah Nur awakens as Apocalypse, a blue monster that looks like a cross between Jeff Bridges in Tron and the Emperor from Star Wars. Even though he’s buried under a bunch of makeup and voice modulation, Isaac makes every moment count. He looks like he’s having a lot of fun.

The same goes for Fassbender, whose Erik Lehnsherr has been masquerading as a mild-mannered factory worker in Poland since the events in Washington, D.C.; he’s happily married with a daughter. Erik is loving life—but when Apocalypse awakens, he causes an earthquake that jars something loose at the factory. Erik stops an object from falling on a friend, thus blowing his cover—and starting a series of events that leads him toward becoming the evil Magneto.

Apocalypse builds an army of four (like the four horsemen), including Magneto, Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn). They jet all over the Earth in some sort of energy bubble (kind of like Bill and Ted in their phone booth), eventually winding up at the school run by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Xavier has a power that Apocalypse craves—and this leads to all sorts of wham-bam, chaotic showdowns involving crumbling buildings and telekinetic battles.

With all of this going on, Singer tries to make time for a back-story involving Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) while also upping the screen time of Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Oh yeah, the film also features an upstart actress by the name of Jennifer Lawrence, doing her Mystique shtick. There’s even memorable sequence involving Quicksilver (this time set to a Eurhythmics song) during which the guy with knives shooting out of his knuckles makes a big, if forced, cameo. In other words: Singer tries to do too much, and the movie wears out its welcome with its 144-minute running time.

The weakest of the new entries is Turner as Jean Grey. The Game of Thrones actress is simply outmatched by the talent around her, and fails to make her Jean Grey compelling. She’s just kind of pouty and grouchy. Lawrence is fine as Mystique, but her storyline feels tacked on.

Had the movie spent a little more time with Magneto and cut back on some of the characters, X-Men: Apocalypse could’ve been another worthy entry, thanks in large part to Isaac. It’s ultimately a near-miss, and the worst movie in a franchise that hadn’t previously delivered a bad film. (Yes, I was OK with the third one.)

Whatever happens next, it might be time for Singer to take a sabbatical from X-Men.

X-Men: Apocalypse is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The X-Men franchise has taken the time-travel route made popular by James Cameron’s Terminator movies and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) partakes in a unique form of time-tripping—and the result is the best film in the series since X-Men 2.

Another big contributor to the awesomeness of the latest installment is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair. Singer piloted the first two X-Men films; he has a nice command of the characters in both their old and younger incarnations. It’s good to have him back.

The film starts in the future, where the likes of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine have been reduced to hiding out in a dark, apocalyptic world where their enemy is a vicious robotic force called the Sentinels. Things are looking bad for the mutants.

However, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has perfected a form of time travel in order to mess with the Sentinels. It involves time-traveling in one’s own mind back to a particular point in memory where the traveler can mess with the fabric of time. She can only send somebody back for a few minutes or so due to brain trauma—but then it strikes the X-Men that Wolverine has instant healing powers.

Wolverine therefore travels back to the early ’70s, before the Sentinels go into production, and before Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) commits a murder that will doom the future. It’s a nice chance to see Wolverine with his bone claws again, and it creates an opportunity to combine the two recent X-Men casts.

Most of the action takes place in the past, so the X-Men: First Class cast gets most of the screen time. That means more of the terrific Michael Fassbender’s take on Magneto, who is being held in a prison underneath the Pentagon for allegedly having something to do with an infamous magic bullet. James McAvoy actually steals the show as young Xavier/Professor X, who has found a solution for his crippled legs—but it has a truly bad side effect.

Peter Dinklage has a pivotal role as a creator of the Sentinels; Dinklage always adds a level of class to any project. The film also allows a funny take on Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho), who finds himself in the middle of the whole mutant public-relations fiasco.

While Lawrence gets plenty of screen time as Raven, we never do see Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. We do get a brief, brief glimpse of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. (More scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor, according to Singer.) There are more than 30 seconds of Halle Berry’s Storm in the film, which means there’s more Storm in this movie than anybody really needs.

A welcome cast addition is Evan Peters as the speedy Quicksilver. One of the film’s best sequences involves how it looks to Quicksilver, through his eyes, as he rearranges a gunfight with his fingertips in a half-second. We see it in slow motion, with much comedic detail. It’s brilliant.

This film basically allows the X-Men universe to jettison X-Men: The Last Stand, a film made by Brett Ratner; it was not a favorite with fans. I didn’t hate the movie, but it stands alongside the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine as one of the weakest movies in the series.

As is the case with Star Trek, the whole system has been reconfigured with X-Men, and all options are open for future films. Is there chance they can use the whole time-travel thing on the Matrix movies, and fix those screwed-up sequels?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is playing in regular and 3-D formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

James McAvoy delivers his best performance yet in this morally vacant take on the sick novel by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).

McAvoy stars as Bruce Robertson, a Scottish cop strung out on drugs who is hearing voices in his head, hallucinating and behaving very badly. At the center of the film is a murder mystery that provides a final twist which cements the movie’s nutball pedigree.

McAvoy essentially gets to do his own riff on the Bad Lieutenant (a role that served both Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel well); he is able to go completely gonzo. What makes his turn different is that the movie allows him to have some truly genuine, emotional moments mixed in with the mayhem. This results in a surprisingly balanced, well-modulated performance despite the subject matter.

The supporting cast includes Jamie Bell as a fellow cop with a small member, and Eddie Marsan as Bladesey, a tightly wound member of the force who is Robertson’s best friend while also being one of his saddest victims. Robertson’s prank phone calls to Bladesey’s wife, Bunty (Shirley Henderson), are hilariously vile, and clearly indicate that Robertson doesn’t value Bladesey’s friendship all that much.

Bruce Robertson is one of those unreliable narrators, like Ed Norton’s narrator in Fight Club, who make viewing a movie like this a blessed adventure. You’ll never really know what’s truly going on until those final credits roll.

Filth is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing