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Movie Review: It: Chapter Two

It: Chapter Two

They say you can’t run from your past. To ignore it is to repeat it.  They also say that the past is a mistress past shared. But I beg to differ. If the past is a mistress that is a terrifying long-limbed clown with yellow eyes, sharp teeth, and a red balloon then (by all means) leave that past behind you. Or better yet, just kill the damn thing. Clowns are creepy as hell!

If you have not guessed by now, I am referring to the second installment, the final chapter of the It movie. A movie I found to be surprisingly heartfelt and emotional when, of course, Pennywise the Dancing Clown was not drooling and about to tear into some young unsuspecting flesh.

Granted, and you many find this shocking; I DID NOT READ THE BOOK. Yet from what I read online this sequel was a faithful adaption to the novel with some minor changes. The start of the movie was brutal and jarring. If you read the book, you will know exactly what I’m referring to. The scene at the carnival was a gut punch to my soul; a still relevant reminder to what marginalized people deal with today. The irrational “need” to attack those who are different than you, those who do not fit, those who do not conform is still being perpetrated by monsters in 2019.  And the scary thing about it they look just like you and me. Yes, my heart broke, but it would not be the first time during the course of this movie.

But let me slow down. And focus on the bigger cast— the Losers Club. I found myself thoroughly touched by the bond between them all grown up, collectively successful, but united by a shared history drenched in blood, terror, and red balloons. Each and every actor has brought this authenticity to their respective characters. And can I say that the casting was top notch?!

Actually, I found myself smiling when they all met up at (slight spoiler) the Jade of the Orient. The passage of time was stamped out as these grown friends laughed and reminisced about the good times shared in that fateful summer of 1989. Sure, there were not many, but enough to forge a bond borne of commitment, sacrifice, unity, and, well, blood. Literally. They consecrated a pact that fateful summer which led to them reuniting 27 years later once Pennywise emerged from his deep slumber to terrorize Derry, Maine once more.

As stated before, I found each character of the ensemble cast to be enjoyable. None without their flaws to balance their inherent strengths. The adults building on what their younger counterparts began in the first movie that was released in 2017.

It: Chapter Two

Bill Denbrough played by James McAvoy was still very much the leader of this ragtag team of muta… er… misfits in 2019 as eh was in 1989. I love how he was willing to lend an open ear and open heart once the truth emerged behind the reason for their reunion. I was waiting for the stutter and was not disappointed. McAvoy played the hell out of the role and I loved when he got distressed which made him even more determined to do what was right. And, guys, that Funhouse scene with the mirrors will give you a nightmare.

Beverly Marsh played by Jessica Chastain continues to be the enigmatic, flame-haired siren. Broken by her father, but still very much a survivor which you see early on in the movie. I love Jessica. She always brings a vulnerability and softness to her roles. Yes, even kinda in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. But the less said about that movie the better. “Your hair is winter fire, January embers.” This line suddenly reminds me of Jean Grey. Jessica would have been great… Malachi, focus!

Mike Hanlon played by Isaiah Mustafa was easily the heart and soul of the group. At least to me. As expected with him being the librarian, he was also their memory and purpose. Having lost his family early on to a fire, it was no surprise that he bonded so deeply with the other Losers. He was fierce, determined, and relentless in the pursuit of knowledge necessary to calling back his family not borne of his flesh to combat an evil so alien and corrosive. He had that—wait for it— “Old Spice” about him. Lol.

Ben Hanscom played by Jay Ryan, to me, was great casting on so many levels. For starters, I love how the “ugly duckling” (ugh, I hate that term) became this swan with, well, abs. If you are at all familiar with what I am talking about then you already know. If not, check out CW’s “Beauty & the Beast”. You’ll thank me later. But just like his younger counterpart, Ben was the sweetest, most adorable, and sensitive Loser of them all. Content to remain on sidelines even as shown with his introduction into the movie. He remained the same at heart even though he transformed everything else about his life. He is the poster boy for the “Glow Up”. I am envious.

Eddie Kaspbrak played by James Ransone intrigued me. He was another one who was cast perfectly. For his entire life fear restricted him. Sterile environments kept him imprisoned. But you see his character start to evolve throughout the course of the movie which was a beautiful sight. His one-liners were on par with Richie Tozier’s. I am always here for some good banter. But yes, he turned out to be the bravest one. Go figure.

Richie Tozier played by Bill Hader was such a treat! His introduction made me turn my face, but the follow up had me laughing hysterically. And this is something I would do throughout the movie whenever he opened his mouth to say anything. Levity in such a dark situation is needed. “Gallows humor” is what they call it, right? His humor hid a certain truth which was acknowledged in this movie. Fans of the book have already discussed this online. The memes are amazing. Look them up!

Stanley Uris played by Andy Bean was easily the most fragile of the Losers Club then and now.  Oh, and also great casting yet again! I admit I was shocked at a revelation (again, I did not read the book), but he showed that he was the true visionary and perhaps the most in touch with himself. But what do we do to visionaries in fiction? What do we do to them so that others enjoy life more? I will give you a moment. 

It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown by Alexander Skarsgård was AMAZING.  Alexander is easily the creepiest of the famous Skarsgård brothers. If you’ve seen Netflix’s Hemlock Grove you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Already super tall at 6’4 and in that tattered attire, Skarsgård truly set himself apart from Tim Curry’s iconic Pennywise. Bone-chilling with the wine-colored eyes promising death, this is not one clown you want to make a balloon animal for you. I foresee a plethora of Pennywises this Halloween. I am prepared for the Ritual of Chud if need be.

Before I bring this to a close, I want to tell you about a scene that has been shown in the trailers. A scene meant to scare us, but instead, it had me literally lol’ing in the theater. THE OLD WOMAN. Omigawd. The blank stare, her peeking from around the corner, and her lil naked shimmy while having a seizure, gave me life! I see her dance being all the rage at cookouts.

Anyway…

I recommend that you go see It: Chapter Two. You will jump at parts of the movie. You will even laugh. But you will definitely see the genuine hard work breathed into this film by the cast and crew. It sheds light on past childhood trauma and how it can echo throughout our adult lives. But like that old woman said “nothing ever stays dead ”.

Movie Review: Molly’s Game

mollys game posterAaron Sorkin‘s newest film (and his directorial debut) is super Sorkin-y. Fans of his previous work will rejoice and enjoy this film, as well as recognize some of his most favorite tropes.

Jessica Chastain plays the eponymous Molly Bloom in this true story of how a former Olympic level skier ended up running one of the most exclusive poker games, first in Los Angeles and then New York. Her clientele included movie stars, tech gurus, musicians, wealthy financiers, and. . .  the Russian mob. This, of course, brings the FBI down on her, and most of the movie is told in flashback as she and her lawyer (Idris Elba) go through the government’s case against her.

This combination of courtroom drama, sports, and emphasis on quick, quippy dialogue is classic Sorkin. In fact, the opening scene that sets up Molly’s story is perhaps one of the most quintessentially Sorkin-y things possible, almost bordering on self-parody. Other of his favorite tropes that show up? Drugs/addiction, therapy, and honor. He did everything but start quoting Gilbert and Sullivan, although he does make several references to Arthur Miller and James Joyce.

Sorkin is a masterful scriptwriter– a lesser scribe might have gotten bogged down in explaining to us all of the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em poker. But because Molly comes in as a neophyte to poker, we get to go on her journey with her. Instead of getting bogged down in the intricacies and odds of each hand, they speed through the more technical aspects with the help of some clever on-screen tutorials. It’s not quite Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining the math behind credit default swaps in The Big Short, but almost as good. For an example of how not to handle these scenes, you can see Casino Royale where James Bond’s friend Mathis explains every hand of poker to Vesper, deflating the tension of one of the more intense scenes of the film in what is otherwise an almost perfect film.

Chastain and Elba shine with real chemistry, although in some of the longer monologues Elba’s accent come through a little bit. Another standout is Michael Cera, who plays a certain movie star Molly only refers to as “Player X” (one of the key plot points in Molly’s refusal to name the people who played in her game) and has the most interesting character arc in the film. Cera plays one of his fellow actors with a joy and contempt rarely seen, and it makes you wonder what personal interactions Cera may have had with this person in real life to color his portrayal.

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The actual Molly Bloom and the book Sorkin based his screenplay on.

But what you really get is a slice of just how awful people are in each of these industries. Sorkin skewers the way the rich and powerful all treat people as things, as commodities to buy, as things to be replaced when you tire of them. And as awful as the mobsters in the movie are (actually most of them are nice guys, giving Molly deniability she knew they were in the mafia), it’s the Hollywood and Wall St. guys who are undeniably the worst.

Molly’s Game becomes a sort of populist critique of the 1% voiced by the most hoity of the toity elites, Sorkin himself.  This is neither new nor unexpected territory for him — after all, he gave us President Jed Bartlett on The West Wing as a sort of proto-Obama when Barack was still an unknown state senator and law school professor.

This movie was going along great until its near-climax, when Kevin Costner shows up as Molly’s estranged father to explain the movie. As a trained psychiatrist and college professor, he gives her a “three minute therapy session” to explain her motivations to us in case we weren’t paying attention. The scene is eyeroll and cringe-worthy, immediately derailing this from Oscar-worthy to. . .  “Well, that was really good.” Pro-tip: If you want to take a five minute bathroom break when Molly goes to the ice skating rink, you will enjoy the movie more. It’s seriously that bad.

Despite Costner-interference, this is a sort of “Peak Sorkin” moment. It’s great to see him directing his own films, though one wonders if teaming with a more skilled director would instruct him to tone it down a little (and get rid of the Third Act Deus Ex Therapist). But the rest of the film is amazing.

Fans of Sorkin will enjoy themselves, and other audiences will also likely have a good time. Oscar buzz for this film for Chastain, Elba, and Sorkin himself are warranted. Just beware the Costner.

4 out of 5

Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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Snow White and The Huntsman was a passable film. The script was kind of bad but what made up for it were the wonderful cinematography, visual effects and, most notably, its production design. It was also consistent. Now, four years later, we have a new film in this franchise and one less Kristen Stewart.

To be perfectly honest, The Huntsman is not as bad of a film as most critics make it out to be. It is true that there are more flaws than strengths here but if you simply switch off your analytical part of the brain, which is quite difficult, you could enjoy the film. I know I certainly didn’t hate it. However, I didn’t love it either.

Winter’s War is not only a sequel to the 2012 film but also a prequel. Meshing the two in one sounds confusing because it is. The events take place sometime after Snow White but also before as it tells a different story. I said it was confusing, right? Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Eric/ The Huntsman and does a good job. Actually, outside of his Marvel films, he has never really has a hit. Blackhat was flat out terrible and did accordingly at the box office and In The Heart of The Sea, albeit a good film, also failed to meet expectations.

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Here he, more or less, resembles Han Solo; he is just as witty and awesome. In fact, I am wondering why nobody’s considering him for the standalone Han Solo film. He has the chops, and looks, to do great. He was the comic relief of the surprisingly dark film and the only thing he didn’t nail was the accent. It was supposed to sound Scottish but every now and then will change. This is part of the inconsistency I mentioned earlier.

Jessica Chastain is also very good here but has the same problem Hemsworth has–her accent constantly changes and takes you out of the movie. Her character is a bit flat as her motivations are not particularly clear or logical. While I loved her in Interstellar and didn’t think she did a good job in Crimson Peakquite enjoyed her portrayal of Sara.

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Emily Blunt is an odd case in this film. While I swear this woman is capable of playing anything, I don’t really believe the role of Freya was the best choice for her. Frankly, I think it would have been much better had Blunt and Chastain’s role been reversed. While the latter managed to be believable, I reckon Emily would be a better fir for a warrior as she nailed her scenes in Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario.

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Finally, the most interesting and drawing character, Charlize Theron is just made for this role. Indeed, she can also play all sorts of roles but Ravenna is where she’s really remarkable. She brings so much to the character and wearing these gorgeous gold and black dresses (gowns?) and is stealing every scene she’s in. What disappointed me was that she is not in the film nowhere near as much as the trailers suggest.

The trailers were partly the reason the film was predictable. What was supposed to be a shocking reveal in the end of the film was shown in all three trailers and barely, if at all, had any emotional impact. Also, they are a bit misleading. They led me to believe that this was more about the two sisters and less about the Huntsman, and in all fairness though, this would have made a much more enticing film.

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When it comes to the film as a whole it feels incomplete, rushed and a bit tedious. Even though there is plenty of action, and one fight scene in particular stands out as it has only sound effects and no music, The Huntsman is a bore for people who expect more story. As I said, it is spoiled far too much in the trailers. I didn’t have high expectations of this film, but it was underwhelming.

Winter’s War is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan who was the visual effects supervisor of the previous instalment. This is his first feature film and for a first-time director he has done a respectable job. While the film fails on script level it is simply stunning to look at; the cinematography and production design are just as phenomenal as they were in Snow White and The Huntsman. Nonetheless, I feel that this film has a reduced budget as the visual effects at times are a bit spotty when it comes to exteriors. Other than that I don’t really have a problem with them. One memorable moment is when the two queens go face to face with each other and start fighting. There are quite a few interesting and imaginative ways in which the powers of Freya and Ravenna are used.

Although The Huntsman: Winter’s War might not be as good as the previous film it has a stellar cast and, mostly, opulent visuals that almost make up for the terrible script. Moreover, some inconsistencies make the film convoluted and it is as though the director and the writers couldn’t agree on which part of the story they should focus on so what we get is an overly complicated but not exactly appealing movie.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Movie Review: Interstellar

interstellar-photos-pictures-stillsAfter seeing the first few trailers, I was psyched to finally see director Christopher Nolan‘s new movie Interstellar. Written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, the movie is a mess of a film that attempts to do too much, and does none of it well.

The world is dying, and a team must head through a mysterious wormhole to explore worlds that might hold the key the mankind’s salvation. Headed by Matthew McConaughey‘s Cooper, the team includes Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Doyle played by Wes Bentley, and Romilly played by David Gyasi. The cast also includes Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, and more. That star power, that directorial and writing pedigree, and the subject, we should have an instant classic. Instead the film is my biggest disappointment so far of 2014.

Where to begin with the issues…. the film can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 2001? Is it a visual follow up to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity? It attempts to be both, and throw in Contact and a little bit of Nolan’s breakout Momento too.

If the film instead focused on one or two items, it could have been brilliant, but instead it’s a muddy mess. At times we see flashes of the horror in space that was 2001. At other times we see what could have been a movng story about family and loss. But, with a twist ending that makes Contact look like a solid payoff, and visuals that fall flat compared to the directorial amazement that was Gravity, and you can see where I’m going with this.

Nolan at times is visually amazing. Nolan often times puts out a fantastic concept, or concepts, that don’t quite pan out in the actual story. As a director and writer Nolan to me is more hype than delivery. The film felt like an art film student given a big budget. He’s a hi-brow Zack Snyder, who also delivers fantastic visuals and stories and characters an inch deep. Nolan is Snyder for the artistic set, who enjoy debating philosophical concepts through movie visuals, and in it all miss the mark and come off as too good for a popcorn blockbuster. Think the counter jockeys of High Fidelity debating interstellar travel and the bending of time and relativity.

Interstellar will be a movie that polarizes folks. They’ll either love it, or they’ll hate it. I’m clearly in the latter.

Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Plot: 5 Overall: 6