It: Chapter 2 (2019)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman

Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, and Bill Skarsgård

Is It good? Does It get better or worse? How much money did It make? Should I see It before I see It 2? I will answer these confusing questions and more in my review of blockbuster horror sequel, It: Chapter 2.

As horror sequels go, this is one of those perfect studio no-brainer scenarios. Hey, we have the rights to remake this film adaptation of this really beloved horror novel, and we just have too much material! Let’s make two movies. Better yet, let’s split the films so that the first one covers the children storyline, and the second covers the adult plot. Brilliant! And that’s how the highest grossing horror film of all time came to be.

That’s right, as readers of Stephen King’s bestselling novel know, every 27 years, a monstrous demon and “Eater of Worlds” comes to feed on fear, preferring children because their fears are easier to elicit. To the kids from the first film, this demon manifests as a dancing clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who preys on them until they seriously wound it, sending it back to the nether-regions from whence it came…until now. 27 years later, The Losers Club is all grown up, but the past is not done with them yet.

The film opens with some really effective horror that gets the attention of Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of the Losers Club who remained in Derry, Maine. The event reminds Mike of the pact they all made as kids after vanquishing Pennywise; if it comes back they all come back. And remembering is key because it turns out if one leaves Derry, the memory of what happened there fades away, so Mike is the only one who fully remembers what happened all those years ago. The film’s first act essentially follows Mike’s contacting of each member of the group convincing each to return, moving the plot forward as well as reintroducing us to each of the characters, all now grown adults. The casting of the adult characters is very spot on including the aforementioned Mike, chubby intellectual, turned hunk Ben, (Jay Ryan), chatterbox Richie (Bill Hader), asthmatic Eddie (James Ransone), neurotic Stanley (Andy Bean), ringleader Bill (James McAvoy), and outcast Beverly (Jessica Chastain). This first section of the film is quite engaging and works very well as both character and plot driven story that balances humor and drama nicely.

Unfortunately, when they are all inevitably reunited, the movie starts to drag a bit. The film wisely continues to play games tonally with the audience. One moment we’re gripped with intensity and another, we’re laughing (this tone is perfectly signified by the Stephen King cameo mid-way through the film). Unfortunately, while the Pennywise threat is real, and the conflict is clear, I didn’t feel the critical nature of what was at stake this time around. There’s an odd sense surrounding the action in this film in terms of what is experienced by individuals, what is experienced by the group, and what is really happening in the physical world. This confusion distracts from the action lessening the film’s impact. An impact that has tremendous potential. It was conceived by Stephen King to be a novel about primal fear – the things that scare us as a child and how those things stay with us and haunt us long after. I’m not sure the execution quite hits the mark when all is said and done. However, I do think the sequel is serviceable and most will walk away satisfied and entertained, as long as they can tolerate the nearly three-hour running time! B

It: Chapter 2 is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 49 minutes.

Inside Out

inside outDirector: Pete Doctor

Screenwriter: Pete Doctor, Ronoldo Del Carmen

Cast: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, and Mindy Kaling

No one goes to the movie theater during the summer and expects to see something cerebral. Well Inside Out, the latest release from Disney’s Pixar studios, has decided to bring the brain, literally.

Inside Out is the fifteenth feature length film from Pixar and it is easily the best since 2009’s Up. And that makes sense, since writer/director Pete Doctor is responsible for both films. As far as plot goes, Inside Out is like a cleaner version of the final vignette from Woody Allen’s 1972 comedy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask). If that’s too old of a reference for you, then it’s like a smarter version of the 1990’s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head. If you’re like everyone else and you didn’t watch Herman’s Head, then it’s about a young girl named Riley who struggles to cope with her parents’ decision to uproot her from her happy life in Minnesota and move her out to San Francisco. The catch is that Inside Out gives us a glimpse into Riley’s brain, where it is revealed that her emotions are actual beings that interact and conflict in order to form her personality. Joy (Amy Poehler) heads up the team, which consists of Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). When an accident causes Joy and Sadness to be ejected from “headquarters,” it leaves Fear, Anger, and Disgust in charge causing Riley to experience an emotional crisis.

As readers of mine know, when it comes to children’s movies, I ask myself three questions: Is it enjoyable and appropriate for kids? Is it meaningful? Will it at least amuse adults? Pixar Studios has been uniquely successful at balancing these elements for years, and Inside Out is no exception. In fact, this may be the most adult-friendly film the studio has ever produced, and they made a film with a 78-year-old protagonist! Kids will enjoy the animation, fun characters, bright colors, and surface story, but this is a very intelligent allegory on cognitive process and the complexity of emotion – particularly with the role of sadness. It also has a Chinatown joke.

In a summer bound to be full of emotionally shallow films, here is one that will make you think and make you feel. It will also explain why you can never get that annoying TV commercial jingle out of your head.  I’ll admit, I’ve never been an 11-year-old girl, my parents never moved me across the country, and I’ve never met an emotion in person, but I had no trouble relating to every aspect of this film. This is a cleverly executed film that also has a lesson or two to teach about empathy. If only Herman’s Head had seen Inside Out first. A-

Inside Out is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes.

The To Do List

ImageThe easy comparison is that The To Do List is “American Pie in the female voice.”  In a nutshell that’s pretty much it, but writer/director Maggie Carey is cognizant of the likely association to the 1999 raunch-fest and offers enough deviations to keep it original…enough. 

Aubrey Plaza makes her feature lead actress debut as 1993 valedictorian Brandy Klark who is looking to spend her summer before college shedding her bookish persona for one who is on a sexual agenda.  This “agenda” is the driving force for the film as Brandy chooses to transfer her obsessive determination towards schoolwork to checking off items on an expansive list of sexual acts culminating in actual intercourse with hot college guy, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). 

Brandy’s summer job as lifeguard at the local pool where Rusty works allows her to stay close to the man of her list as well as allow for the addition of a number of funny supporting roles from familiar faces like Bill Hader, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Andy Samberg.  Brandy’s decision to go on a sexual quest is also propelled by her being a virgin surrounded by more experienced friends and a sexpot sister (Rachel Bilson).  The “list” element is very funny and the film is at its best when it is being outrageous (the freeze frames are hilarious).  Furthermore, the 1993 Boise, Idaho setting creates some excellent opportunities for some great Midwestern 90s gags.  Writer/Director Carey purposefully cites and references some classically shocking cinematic films in order to proclaim the company she hopes this film will keep: American Pie, Caddyshack, and Pink Flamingos to name a few.

I’m not yet a parent, and I don’t consider myself old or closed-minded, but I can’t help but sense a real shallowness in Brandy’s endeavor.  A bright girl victimized by peer pressure with a moral that sex is just sex is hard to get behind, even for a self-proclaimed outrageous comedy. The film’s issues lie in its oddly cold and indifferent attitude towards sex, love, and humanity in general.  These decisions seem to be made in order to distance the film from some of its predecessors, but the film’s final act is far from romantic and actually, rather ugly.   

The To Do List has some great comedic moments and Plaza is pretty fearless in her performance.  The film does accomplish some enjoyable outrageousness and reveals the budding talent of Maggie Carey as new voice in the envelope pushing comedy.  However, the tone is as awkward as its protagonist and actually goes as far as to present some very judgmental views towards making good and reasonable choices.  C+

The To Do List is rated R (obviously) and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.  Comedy is hard, and the film is moderately successful, but it is not a must see.  Expect The To Do List to gather its audience as a DVD commonly found at sleepover parties.  Also, it appears this film sat on the shelf for a little while since its actors are noticeably younger.  Look out for an infantile Nolan Gould (who plays Luke on Modern Family).

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