It (2017)


A young boy is about to float forever.

(2017) Horror (New Line) Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Mollie Jane Atkinson, Steven Williams, Elizabeth Saunders. Directed by Andy Muschietti

Childhood can be a rough time, particularly that transitional time moving from childhood into the teenage years. As we go through that transition there are no instruction manuals, no online courses; we simply have to feel our way through. Of course, this transition is made all the more difficult when you and your friends are being stalked by a malevolent clown.

One rainy afternoon Georgie Denbrough (Scott) is playing with a toy boat his big brother Bill (Lieberher) made for him in the rain gutters near his home in Derry, Maine. Georgie idolizes his big brother and Bill loves his kid brother fiercely; unfortunately, Bill has a bad cold and can’t watch over his kid brother who loses his boat in a fast current that takes it down a storm drain. There dwells Pennywise (Skarsgård) the clown and there Georgie will meet a grisly end – but his body will never be found..

It’s summer and things are the same and different around Derry. Kids, like Georgie, are disappearing and while it is noticed, it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of urgency. That’s mainly because the adults in town are monsters just a shade below the level of Pennywise; Bill’s stutter has become even worse since Georgie disappeared and his father (Pounsett) Bill is pretty sure doesn’t think he can do anything right. Eddie Kaspbrak (Grazer) has become a hypochondriac thanks to his hand-wringing overprotective mom.

Mike Hanlon (Jacobs) is queasy at the thought of killing the lambs his father provides to local grocery stores and butchers and Richie Tozier (Wolfhard) is as annoying as they come and swears like a sailor. Stanley Uris (Oleff) is terrified he’ll mess up at his upcoming bar mitzvah under the stern gaze of his rabbi father but worst of all is Beverly Marsh (Lillis) whose dad (Bogaert) is sexually abusing her. It’s really tough to be a kid in Derry.

But Bill has figured out that Pennywise, with his signature red balloons, is the culprit behind the disappearances, especially after new kid Ben Hanscom (Taylor) looks into the history of Derry and discovers that every 27 years there is a rash of kid disappearances – and it happens to be 27 years since the last group. And clearly visible in some antique photos of Derry – Pennywise the Clown.

They’ve tracked the clown to an abandoned house on the site of an old well which leads into the tunnels and sewers of Derry which is the domain of Pennywise now. There they will find out the fate of the missing children – and confront the demonic clown on his own tuff.

As everyone knows, this is one of Stephen King’s iconic novels. It was made into a miniseries back in 1990 with Tim Curry famously in the role of Pennywise. That’s about when the current It is set – an update of about 20 years. Appropriately enough, it has been 27 years since the miniseries – the exact number of years between kid killings in the book and in the miniseries and now in the movie. Make of that what you will (I make of it coincidence but a terrific marketing opportunity).

There is a bit of a Stranger Things vibe here and it’s not just because Wolfhard, an integral part of the acclaimed Netflix series cast, is also in this one. The camaraderie between the kids is genuine and unforced and while it is set basically in the same era as Stranger Things there are some critical differences – It isn’t as wedded to its time frame as the TV show is and in some ways that’s a very good thing.

In fact, the ensemble cast does a bang-up job and in particular Lieberher and Lillis show the most promise and give the most satisfying performances while Wolfhard is a natural as the wise guy Richie Tozier – a part not unlike the one he plays in Stranger Things but enough of the comparisons. These are definitely two very different animals.

Pennywise is something of an iconic villain, the killer clown to end all killer clowns. Curry made the part his own back in 1990 and his performance is still one of the great monster portrayals in the history of the genre. Skarsgård is inevitably going to be compared to that performance and quite frankly, while he’s a very good actor in is own right he just doesn’t have a chance between the passage of time that makes memory fonder and the fact that Curry is so universally adored. That’s not that Skarsgård doesn’t do a great job – he does – but he simply can’t compete and he is kind of forced to by circumstance.

The special effects are for the most part special indeed and while the scares aren’t many they are entirely effective when they do come. There is a reason why this movie has been so successful at the box office and one viewing of it will tell you what that is. It isn’t the best horror movie of the year – it isn’t even the best Stephen King adaptation of the year – but it’s a very good movie that should get your Halloween scare needs easily met.

REASONS TO GO: The young cast does an exceptional job as an ensemble. The special effects are quite impressive.
REASONS TO STAY: Although Skarsgård does a pretty decent job, he’s still no Tim Curry.
FAMILY VALUES: As you would expect there is a good deal of violence and horrific images, gore and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Had the biggest opening weekend gross of any horror film ever; went on to become the all-time highest-grossing horror film ever.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/31/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Clowntown
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness concludes!

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The Zero Theorem


Qohen Leth parties like it's 2099.

Qohen Leth parties like it’s 2099.

(2014) Science Fiction (Well Go USA) Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, Matt Damon, David Thewlis, Ben Whishaw, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rupert Friend, Peter Stormare, Dana Rogoz, Madison Lygo, Ingrid Bisu, Naomi Everson, Radu Andrei Micu, Tudor Istodor, Olivia Nita, George Remes, Iulia Verdes, Alin Olteanu, Margarita Doyle. Directed by Terry Gilliam

The more complicated life gets – and make no mistake, it grows more complex with each passing day – the more we struggle to make sense of it. If you think it’s bad now, just imagine with those living in the future are going to have to contend with.

Qohen Leth (Waltz) is an office drone who has all sorts of issues. He’s a bit of a hypochondriac, sure that he is dying. He refers to himself in the second person – we instead of I, us instead of me. He works for Mancom, a company that makes some kind of software that brings convenience – or nothing at all. He is a data cruncher which in the future involves a Tetris-like placing of data squares into geometric city-like constructions, while furiously pedaling a flywheel. Data is transferred in vials of liquid. Being an office worker in the future sucks.

Qohen lives in an abandoned church infested with rats and pigeons, leaking from the roof and looking inside like a bomb hit it. He sleeps in the pipe organ and really would prefer to work at home, having no love for his fellow man. He’s also obsessed with a phone call he is sure is coming – one which will explain to him What It All Means and what his place in the grand scheme of things is. He’s twitchy, neurotic and in short, the very model of a modern Major General.

He asks his boss Joby (Thewlis) to get him permission to telecommute which doesn’t seem likely; the company likes keeping track of its workers. Qohen also meets Bainsley (Thierry) at a party thrown by Joby that Qohen goes to reluctantly, mainly to try and get a one-on-one audience with Management (Damon), the reclusive CEO of Mancom. He doesn’t know how to handle the forward Bainsley and although she gives him her card, there doesn’t seem to be any future for a relationship there. However, he is successful in getting time with Management (who wears clothing to blend into the decor) and at last is given a project he can work on at home.

New equipment is installed in his cluttered cathedral, mainly by the genius level Bob (Hedges) who turns out to be the son of Management (now doesn’t that sound like an office-based horror flick?) who addresses everyone as Bob because he doesn’t have time to learn their names. But he really isn’t a bad sort.

In the meantime Qohen is doing strikingly well with the project and getting close to making it work and things with Bainsley are turning out superbly, particularly when they meet on a digital beach where the sun is eternally setting. Life is good online at least.

But the closer Qohen gets to completing his project, the more frustrated he gets and the more he begins to retreat back into his shell. As it turns out, the project is about mathematically proving that everything equals nothing, which proves that there’s no point to life. The chaos this will create Mancom will profit from. And so it goes.

This has director Terry Gilliam’s thumbprint all over it, from the details, the somewhat wacky atmosphere that has marked all his work from his time as the only American member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus through his visionary career. Gilliam is certainly an acquired taste; not everyone gets his sense of humor and clearly his films don’t make a lot of money with few exceptions (Time Bandits being one). However, his work can be startlingly good and when it works he is one of the best directors living today. Even throwaway lines – an advertisement for the Church of Batman the Redeemer – can bust me up laughing.

Waltz, head shaved and twitchy, is terrific here. You get the sense that this is an individual who is in deep pain and takes great pains to make sure he remains so. There are some hints that give background into his psyche  but clearly this is a man who in our society would be undergoing all sorts of therapy and might well be committed. He seems to fit in real well in the future.

He gets some fine support, particularly from Hedges whose Bob becomes good friends with Qohen in an oddball way, and Thierry who is beautiful and charismatic as the love interest. All of the characters show some sort of vulnerability at some point, wearing masks to hide their pain. Qohen is a little more up-front about it. Management, being management, shows no weakness.

Visually this is an amazing movie, from majestic scenes of a black hole to the rotting interior of Leth’s home and the clever scenes of what is supposed to be London (maybe) in the near future but is more than likely Bucharest. There is a definite steampunk look to the film which is kind of a thing this year in indie films.

This hasn’t received any sort of release yet, although the movie’s website is promising a summer release. I hope that the distributors deliver on this; this is a movie that should be seen, by Gilliam’s fanbase if by nobody else. This is among his very best films which makes it a classic in the making, so serious film buffs should check this out even if they aren’t especially fond of Gilliam’s work.

REASONS TO GO: When it hits the mark, it’s mind-blowing. Terrific set design and Waltz is terrific in a very different role than you’re used to seeing for him.

REASONS TO STAY: As Gilliam films are prone to do, they can meander sometimes. If you don’t like Gilliam’s films, you won’t like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some expletives here and there as well as some sexuality and brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the park scene, screenwriter Pat Rushin (who also teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida) can be seen on a bench writing on his briefcase; he’s actually writing motivational lines that scroll across the computer screen in the cubicles during a different part of the film. His wife can also be glimpsed reading a newspaper.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/2/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brazil

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Railway Man

The Switch


The Switch

Jason Bateman is a little too happy to be holding someone else's sperm.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Miramax) Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Thomas Robinson, Todd Louiso, Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Elrod, Kelli Barrett, Bryce Robinson, Edward James Hyland.  Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon

In the 21st century, families and children are becoming more and more complex as technology whizzes ahead of our moral compasses which are spinning like a top trying to keep up. The fact of the matter is that we are going to run into all sorts of grey area situations if we’re not careful.

Kassie (Aniston) is a TV producer pushing 40 who loves her job which has interfered with her romantic life. Now seeing her biological clock ticking down to zero and no boyfriends in sight, she has made the decision to be artificially inseminated. To that end, she has chosen a donor from an Internet ad – Roland (Wilson). He’s tan with nice teeth and a gosh darn kind of attitude, but there’s one problem – he’s not Wally.

Wally Mars (Bateman) is Kassie’s best friend. He’s also got a list of neuroses that would stump the editors of Psychology Today. A shameless hypochondriac and commitment-phobe, he and Kassie hang out together and do all sorts of things together. They’re definitely best friends and you get a sense that both of them want more – they just don’t know how to get there from where they were.

So when Kassie throws a party to celebrate her impending motherhood, Wally is a little uncomfortable with the crassness of the proceedings and to be honest, with the thought of losing his friend. Drunk, he goes into the bathroom only to find the sperm sample that will be transported to the hospital later that evening. You can guess what happens next (no, you really can – it’s in the trailer).

For those who can’t guess, through a series of imbecilic drunken moves, Wally accidentally spills the other man’s seed (and wouldn’t Freud have a field day with that) and resolves to replace it with his own, using a magazine cover of Diane Sawyer as wacking material, which must make for the most uncomfortable time Diane Sawyer’s ever had at the movies.

Frustrated with her best friends inability to support her decision and with a job offer in Minnesota, Kassie slips through Wally’s fingers despite the best intentions of Wally’s friend and co-worker Leonard (Goldblum) who tries to urge Wally to pursue the woman he obviously loves; Wally’s fears won’t allow that to happen.

Years later, Kassie returns with son Sebastian (T. Robinson) in tow. However, Sebastian has many of Wally’s mannerisms – and hypochondria. Wally is torn between telling Kassie the truth – with impending nuptials to the would-be baby daddy Roland hanging overhead, or letting her find her own happiness.

Like many romantic comedies, there is a certain formula here but in defense of the directing team of Speck and Gordon, the movie derives from a short story which has a lot to do with the formulaic aspects of the film. However, the movie also keeps that framework to a bare minimum, allowing the story to go off on a few tangents which are happily received.

So we have an interesting teaming of Bateman and Aniston, chemistry that you wouldn’t think works. And for the most part, it doesn’t. However both are undoubtedly charming and it takes them both a long way in this movie. It’s another typically Aniston role with a professional woman “saving” a man in his 40s and let’s face it, no movie that relies on Aniston’s charm is going to be all bad.

Bateman has rapidly become one of the most reliable comedic leads in Hollywood. Part of his strength is his ability to stretch into a variety of roles, from genuine nice guy to unapologetic schlubb. He’s not super-handsome and he doesn’t have the natural comedic talents of Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, but he does comedy well. He can be both straight man and punch line deliverer, and occasionally is both at once.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jeff Goldblum. Always a quirky character actor, he steals scenes with the rapacity of a Wall Street CEO. He’s developed into a fine character actor, and I hope we see him far more often onscreen than we have been.

The problem here is that this movie wants to be a sitcom at times and at others wants to be an R-rated comedy. I really really wish they’d gone for the latter; I think the movie would have worked much better in that venue. Still, it’s a solid movie that has some rather adult themes and some moments of sheer brilliance, but not enough of them to make this a classic. For one thing, it’s subverted by its need to be a PG-13 comedy. Why any studio executive wanted to make a romantic comedy about artificial insemination a PG-13 is beyond my feeble brainpower.

WHY RENT THIS: Bateman does a crackerjack job as the neurotic lead. Goldblum is a crack-up, stealing scene after scene.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sitcom-ish at times. It might have worked better as an R-rated comedy.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are certainly mature and there is a good deal of sexuality including some nudity. There’s also a fair amount of bad language and a scene or two containing drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first movie to be released by Miramax after being sold by the Walt Disney Company.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a blooper real along with all the usual suspects.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49.8M on a $19M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hellboy: The Golden Army