Review of “IT Chapter 2”

The Losers Club has returned to Derry, but it isn’t a happy reunion. All but one of the childhood friends has moved away in the 27 years since they defeated the demon clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) works in Derry and has been keeping an eye out for any strange murders. As the Derry Carnival is starting, a young gay man is beaten by local youths and thrown off a bridge into the river. Pennywise pulls the man out of the river and bites out his heart. Body parts of the young man are found, and Mike hears of the death on the police scanner. When he investigates the scene, he knows Pennywise is back. Mike contacts the rest of the Losers: Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) has all moved away and found successful careers and variously successful relationships. Also, they’ve all mostly forgotten their lives in Derry. Mike contacts each of them and they all return to their childhood home, except for Stanley. Mike explains Pennywise is back, but he has a plan to kill the clown once and for all. Mike spent time with a local Native American tribe and believes he has learned enough of their magic to kill Pennywise. The rest of the gang is skeptical and most plan on leaving, but Mike convinces Bill the plan will work and their experiences since returning to Derry leads them to believe they must try.

“IT Chapter 2” was one of my most anticipated films. I loved “IT Chapter 1” and was looking forward to diving into what promised to be a carnival haunted house full of scares and suspense, plus some humor, as the adult versions of the Losers Club would likely mirror their childhood counterparts to a great degree. Director Andy Muschietti crafted a winning formula in the first film, set box office records for a horror film and was deeper than most scary movies with believable relationships between believable characters. Perhaps my expectations were too high for the sequel, as “IT Chapter Two” isn’t the kind of carnival ride I was hoping for.

Translating a dense work like a Stephen King novel in a movie script must be a daunting task. King is not known for his economical prose. “IT” also contains a sex scene between the Losers that would have been difficult to put on screen in a form audiences wouldn’t find offensive. As with all book-to-screen adaptations, material must be cut, combined and truncated to fit within a film narrative. While this was successfully done in the first film, apparently meeting with approval from King himself, the second film may have tried too hard to avoid cutting material thought too important to be left out. “IT Chapter 2” suffers from having too much material to choose from.

The film moves at a leisurely pace, never feeling like it was in any hurry to get from one Pennywise kill to another. While starting with a bang, the movie then takes its time by reintroducing us to the adult versions of the Losers Club. Each is allowed the time to establish how much of their childhood character remains and all but one is instantly recognizable. The adult Ben Hanscom is tall and buff and easily speaks his mind to those in power. He’s a successful architect with six-pack abs. Otherwise, all the Losers maintained the characteristics of their youth. Under pressure, Bill still stutters, Eddie is still a hypochondriac with a wife similar to his mother, Beverly has married an abuse man similar to her father, Richie still has a smart mouth that makes him a hit as a standup comic, Mike is stoic and smart, working in the library in Derry, and Stanley is still shy and frightened of almost everything. These reintroductions take a while and are somewhat duplicated by a scene where they meet for the first time back in Derry at a Chinese restaurant. Between this and the parts of the movie where they go looking for totems from their past to sacrifice in a ritual that may lead to Pennywise’ demise, the movie spends a great deal of time showing us who these people are, and were, as there are flashbacks to when they were kids. Much of this feels redundant, as we’ve seen the first movie and know these kids as well as we ever will. Since none of them seem to have grown much emotionally, spending a great deal of time showing us who they are now is a waste.

These long stretches of character time are broken up by appearances from Pennywise and the monstrous forms he assumes. He becomes a giant statue of Paul Bunyon, a gangly old naked witch, a leper, Bill’s dead brother Georgie, and the decaying corpse of Patrick Hockstetter, a victim from the first film. These moments are the best parts of the film as we see the Losers Club facing their fears and usually screaming and running away. I realize a horror movie must have the quiet times to set up the scares, however, “IT Chapter 2” takes so much quiet time that the scary parts feel like they don’t last long enough to make it worth the wait.

Much like the first film, “IT Chapter 2” isn’t that scary. The first film did a great job of building tension and dread even if the monster moments weren’t that shocking. Perhaps knowing what was coming (the appearance of Pennywise and its other forms) took the edge off the scares. Maybe they weren’t set up as well as the first film. The only time I was truly frightened was when Beverly went back to her father’s apartment to retrieve the postcard with Ben’s love poem. She had to pry off a baseboard and some large cockroaches scurried out. That moment made me jump. Otherwise, “IT Chapter 2” lacks any significant scary moments.

Some of the CGI monsters in the film aren’t very good. The old naked witch is clearly animated, along with a monster that faces off with Eddie in the basement of a pharmacy. It’s like they didn’t have time to finish the CGI to make it look the best they could. Maybe they didn’t think they needed to put the finishing touches on the texture of the skin or the oozing of the rotting flesh to get the point across. I knew what I was looking at, but also knew it looked fake.

Finally, and I won’t spoil anything, the ending seemed silly. They are battling an immortal enemy and the way they face off against it was similar to a playground fight. It left me feeling I’d wasted my 2 hours and 45 minutes and also threw away the goodwill from the first film. As I’ve gained more distance from the movie, I’m writing this more than 24 hours since I walked out of the theater, I’m discovering more aspects of the film I find lacking.

“IT Chapter 2” is rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material. We see a gay couple beaten up with one thrown off a bridge into a river. Pennywise mouth grows rows of sharp teeth that kill three people on screen, with one victim exploding in a spray of blood. There are two stabbings, one in the chest and one in the face, and a hatchet is buried in one person’s head. One person is buried alive and another is locked in a bathroom flooding with blood. A character is impaled with a giant claw. Pennywise, the form of a child is drowned then, in another form, shot in the head. The crude sexual material is the insults hurled between Eddie and Richie. Foul language is common.

A bright spot in the film is the performance of Bill Hader as adult Richie Tozier. Hader is the expletive-filled voice of reason amongst the Losers. He is the everyman that says what everyone else is too polite to say. Hader and James Ransone (adult Eddie) play off each other well and is the closest thing we have to the energy and memory of the first film. Sadly, those two and Skarsgard’s Pennywise are all that will remind you of “IT Chapter 1.” The rest of the film is otherwise a lifeless slog that squanders a very good cast and a terrific villain.

In my video review I gave the film three stars but, in a first, “IT Chapter 2” is now downgraded to two stars. It is a disappointment.

Two new films open this week. One is an arthouse mystery while the other features Jennifer Lopez as a stripper. I wonder which one I’ll see. Whichever, I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Goldfinch—

Hustlers—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Saban’s Power Rangers”

Angel Grove’s star high school quarterback Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets himself in some trouble with the law, has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is forced to serve Saturday detention at his high school. There he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic science genius that blew up his locker, and saves him from a bully. Also in detention is cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), new girl Trini (Becky G) and quiet but crazy Zack (Ludi Lin). The five have nothing in common but all wind up at the gold mine that provides most of Angel Grove’s jobs. There, Billy sets off an explosive that exposes a glassy rock face. Taking hammers to the glass the five find five glowing coins, each showing a different color. Mine security begins chasing the teens and they all get in Billy’s mom’s van. They try to get past a railroad crossing before the train gets there but mistime it and the van is struck dead center. The next morning, all the teens wake up in their own beds with no memory of how they got there and they all discover they have increased strength and speed. Returning to the mine they find an underground complex that begins to come to life as they enter it. They are soon approached by a robot calling itself Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and he introduces the five to an alien whose essence has been encased in a computer allowing him to communicate with them via an interactive wall. The alien is named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and he used to be the leader of a team of five heroes that travelled the universe to protect life from evil. Zordon explains that one of his team turned evil and decided to use her powers for her own gain. This evil creature is named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and she is somewhere on Earth regaining her strength and preparing to try and steal the Zeo crystal. Every planet with life on it has a Zeo crystal. If that is removed, all life on the planet will cease to exist. Zordon tells the five teens they most form a cohesive fighting team to protect the Zeo crystal from Rita and any other threat. They must become the Power Rangers.

“Saban’s Power Rangers” is a mashup of “The Breakfast Club” and “The Avengers.” It takes the basics of the cheesy Saturday morning “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (and all its various spinoffs) and turns it into the movie equivalent of YA fiction. We get a diverse and appealing group of young, troubled characters that are directionless and looking for meaning in their lives. When the possibility of becoming superheroes is presented to them they fight it every step of the way and only become a team when faced with a massive crisis. “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner” all began their lives as YA novels and all have similar character arcs. With its start as a Japanese-turned-American kids show, “Saban’s Power Rangers” has a bigger hill to climb for audience credibility than these other properties and it doesn’t quite have enough steam to get over the top.

The effort to turn this show into something palatable for movie audiences gets hamstrung right from the start with the names of various entities: Rita Repulsa, Putties, Zords, Morphing, it all sounds like the kinds of things my friends and I would come up with in grade school for our made up space alien battles. Simply saying the names of some of these things with a straight face should be considered a victory by these actors.

The group gives it their best shot and tries to make the material as grown up as possible; however, the come-to-Jesus moments of the movie are a bit embarrassing. The campfire scene where they all (except Kimberly) confess their deepest fears and biggest flaws mostly belongs back on Saturday morning TV. While the scene is earnest it is also extremely sappy. The problems a few of these characters have are serious and relatable (ailing mother, no money, pressure from parents to succeed) but the rest is generic high school garbage that doesn’t rise to the level of meaningful drama.

This is also the scene where we learn Trini is a lesbian. She doesn’t say it herself as that is left to another character. Also, the word “lesbian” is never said. Trini is asked if her parents are constantly on her about “boy troubles.” Her reaction gets that amended to “girl troubles” and everyone understands what THAT means. That is the only reference to her sexuality in the whole film and it is never brought up again. We also never see Trini with anyone outside the team so the celebrations of having a LGBTQ superhero are a bit premature. Also, any protests or boycotts of the film over this are the very definition of overreaction as you almost have to figure out what they are implying to fully understand.

Adding to the overly earnest high school semi-drama nature of the story, there is a level of silliness and cheese left over from its Saturday morning beginnings that simply cannot be knocked off. While watching giant robots fight against giant monsters made of gold might sound exciting on paper, the execution left me a bit underwhelmed. There was a nice move that is a callback to an earlier training scene but otherwise it is unimpressive. Also, the level of destruction wrought by both the bad guys and the good guys might turn the townspeople of Angel Grove against their hometown heroes.

“Saban’s Power Rangers” is rated PG-13 for language, action and destruction, sequences of sci-fi violence and some crude humor. There are fights between the Power Rangers and holographic putties as well as real ones. The battle between the Megazord and Goldar causes a great deal of destruction of property but no obvious human injuries. A joke early on about a teenage boy milking a cow that was actually a bull becomes a bit graphic. There is scattered foul language but it is mild and infrequent.

The heroes of many people’s youth have been modernized and somewhat matured in “Saban’s Power Rangers.” They are facing more contemporary problems like discovering their sexual identity and dealing with peer pressure and over-exposure in social media. Despite all that effort, the characters still feel like they would be more at home in an after school special than on a movie screen. While it isn’t as bad as I was expecting, “Saban’s Power Rangers” needs more powerful and believable characters, problems and storytelling.

“Saban’s Power Rangers” gets three stars out of five.

Check out my review of the new sci-fi thriller “Life” at the WIMZ website:
http://wimz.com/blogs/stan-movie-man/1723/review-of-life/

This week, two new movies hope you’ve already seen “Beauty and the Beast.” I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Boss Baby—

Ghost in the Shell—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Sausage Party”

In the Shopwell supermarket, the food is fresh…and alive. While the shoppers cannot see the smiling faces of the meats, produce, canned goods and other items, they are sentient creatures that have hopes and dreams for their future. The shoppers in the supermarket are considered gods by the food and being purchased means going to heaven where the gods will love and take care of the food for eternity. One of a 10 pack of sausages, Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) is in love with a bun stocked next to him in a Fourth of July sale display. Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Frank believe they are meant to be together in heaven where they can finally have sex. A bottle of honey mustard (voiced by Danny McBride) is purchased but returned to the store and tells the other foods that they’ve been told a lie all their lives. The gods don’t love and take care of them instead they consume them. When honey mustard is about to be purchased again by shopper Camille Toh (voiced by Lauren Miller), along with Frank and his fellow sausages and Brenda and the rest of the buns in her pack, he decides to kill himself by jumping out of the cart. Frank tries to hold on to him and nearly falls out himself. Brenda grabs Frank in an attempt to save her love. The cart is involved in a mishap and some items tumble out including Sammy Bagel, Jr. (voiced by Edward Norton), Lavash (voiced by David Krumholtz) and Douche (voiced by Nick Kroll) among others. Furious that he isn’t getting to go to heaven with the god that chose him, Douche vows revenge on Frank and Brenda. Meanwhile, Frank, Brenda, Bagel and Lavash try to get back to their respective aisles before the store opens again the next morning while avoiding the Dark God Darren the store manager (Paul Rudd) and being thrown in the dumpster. Along the way, Frank begins to question everything they believe about the gods based on what honey mustard said and starts a quest to find the truth.

“Sausage Party” is a very silly, filthy, raunchy and vulgar movie; but it uses all the smut to hide a deeper layer that questions blind belief, racial stereotypes and sexual classifications. It is on its surface a juvenile adult comedy. Given a bit more thought, it is an intelligent challenge to the preconceived notions many of us live by without a second thought. It is a film that will anger many people and could possibly be the target of misguided boycott attempts. Despite it being animated, “Sausage Party” might be one of the more subversive films I’ve ever seen.

While “Sausage Party” works on levels deeper than what is on the surface, that surface has to be funny to get the message across. Writers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir have packed their screenplay with plenty of jokes along with visual humor to coax the audience into taking the journey into deeper territory. There are food puns aplenty in the script along with a fair amount of drug humor (which turns out to be very important to the story later on). Dirty jokes run the gamut from mild comments about filling buns with sausages to more direct and vulgar remarks about the size of various types of produce and where they could and couldn’t fit. It is not a film for the easily embarrassed or those that consider themselves to be prudish.

The laughter eases what could be for some a painful trip into realms that give many people comfort. Is there a God? What happens after this life? Why are my beliefs any more correct than those of another person? Why should I care what happens to people that are gay, straight, trans, white, black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian or any other sexual identity, ethnicity or religion? These questions have been asked for centuries and continue to cause anger and division amongst us to this day. The film asks the simple question of why it matters to any of us what someone else believes. How does what someone thinks or who someone loves or what someone worships adversely affect anyone else? Why should we hate or try to change people simply because they are different? Maybe this is considered a hippie or humanist way to think and ignores the teachings of the Bible or the Koran or the Torah or any other religious text. But consider this: It’s ok to not share someone’s belief system. Live your life and don’t feel like you are the world’s moral center, responsible for the actions of others. That, in essence, is the story of “Sausage Party.”

“Sausage Party” is rated R for pervasive language, drug use and strong crude sexual content. The crude sexual content ramps up near the end of the film with an all-out food orgy. There are plenty of sexual jokes made throughout the film. Drug use ranges from smoking marijuana out of a kazoo to bath salts. Foul language is common from about the first sentence of dialog all the way through the movie. There are also incidents of violence against humans and food including a beheading.

Seeing “Sausage Party” with your brain turned off and just going in for the laughs is perfectly alright. It is very funny and there are plenty of points where you likely will laugh out loud. There are also moments where the deeper meaning of the film will shine through and you may actually have a serious thought. Don’t let that dampen your fun with the film; just know there’s more going on under the surface.

“Sausage Party” gets five stars.

This week theatres will be filled with an historical remake, an animated fairy tale and a couple of gun runners. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Ben Hur—

Kubo and the Two Strings—

War Dogs—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Inside Out”

Growing up is never easy even if your parents don’t move you across the country far from everything and everyone you’ve ever known. My folks lived in the same house for 50 or so years. The year after I got married my wife and I moved to a small town in the Florida Panhandle. It was a less than pleasant experience for the three years we were there but we look back on it with a fondness that comes with hindsight and maturity as we realize everything we experienced there helped make us the people we are today. Your whole life is like that from, to paraphrase from literature, the best of times and the worst of times, you learn how to deal with both success and failure. It’s the pain that makes us appreciate the good times. Learning that lesson seems a bit unfair when you are young as we all want just the positive and feel the negative is something to be avoided. I don’t go looking for failure so I can appreciate success that much more but it usually finds me whether I like it or not. In the latest from Disney/Pixar, “Inside Out,” a young girl learns some valuable lessons and the parts of her personality that color her memories learn even more.

Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is your average 11 year old girl. She loves her parents, loves to play hockey with her friends and loves her life in Minnesota. That all changes when her mom and dad (voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move the family across the country to San Francisco for a business opportunity, forcing Riley to leave her friends and everything she’s ever known behind. The move throws Riley’s emotions into turmoil but they try to make the best of it. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is the self-appointed leader of the team made up of herself, Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader) and Anger (voiced by Lewis Black). Together they make up Riley’s personality and oversee the creation of her memories. Joy believes every memory should be a happy one especially the core memories that make up the base of Riley’s personality. Just after the move, Sadness touches one of Riley’s core memories turning it from happy to sad. Trying to correct the problem, Joy and Sadness, along with all of Riley’s core memories, get sucked up into the pneumatic tube that transfers memories into long-term storage. Now only Disgust, Fear and Anger are left in the control room and try as they might, they cannot keep Riley on an even keel. She begins to act out, argue with her parents and withdraw from the world, saddened by leaving her old life in Minnesota. Joy and Sadness must be careful navigating their way back to the control room so they don’t lose Riley’s core memories in the giant chasm where old memories go to die. They get some help from Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) but still struggle to get back where they belong and thanks to a misguided idea by Anger, Riley is planning to runaway back to Minnesota…alone.

We expect any Disney/Pixar film to be entertaining and nice to look at but they usually surprise us with the amount of depth and intelligence these “kids’ movies” contain. “Inside Out” is no exception to this and may be the smartest film in the studio’s long and illustrious history. Without talking above the heads of the core audience but not talking down to the adults, “Inside Out” manages to tell a simple tale in a way that is illuminating and far more clever than one usually gets from an animated film. It doesn’t hurt that it is beautiful to look at and more than a little funny.

While the entire voice cast is great the stand out has to be Lewis Black as Anger. Best known for his aggressive standup style and his rants on “The Daily Show,” Lewis Black is perfectly cast as the stumpy, red-bodied Anger. His line delivery mixed with the perfect animation makes Anger, who could have been grating and annoying, the character you wish had been the focus of the film. You may have seen a trailer where Anger asks if he can use the curse word Riley knows. In the trailer it’s funny but in context it is much funnier. You would think Anger, stomping around with the top of his head glowing then bursting into flame when he reaches his limit, should really be the one in charge of the group. I understand why he isn’t since this is a movie for children and that would send the wrong message. Maybe if there is a sequel, Anger and Joy will have a power struggle over who is running things. Lewis Black is certainly the reason many adults will enjoy the film.

Parents will also appreciate the story as it develops during the course of Joy and Sadness journey through Riley’s mind. The two learn lessons about their place in Riley’s life and their relationships to each other. While many people think and speak in absolutes such as, “Everybody thinks like this” and “Nobody wants that,” that simply isn’t how life works. While a majority of people may think one way or the other or do one thing or another, there are always those that have differing opinions and preferences. Joy believes all of Riley’s memories should be happy and is most contented when, at the end of the day, the group of memories transferred to long-term storage shares her color of bright yellow. Any that are Disgust’s green, Fear’s purple, Anger’s red or Sadness’s blue means to Joy she is a failure. The story shows that life isn’t just happiness. Sometimes, other feelings make up our memories and hence our personalities and that’s the way it should be. It’s a lesson many adults could stand to learn as well.

Prior to “Inside Out,” the short “Lava” played. It tells the story of a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that watches the pairs of animals in love and wishes he had a companion as well. Pixar is terrific at telling heart wrenching stories in just a few minutes and they do the same with “Lava.” When it ended there were sniffles scattered around the theatre and it wasn’t allergies. If either “Lava” or “Inside Out” doesn’t at least make your eyes misty you have no soul.

“Inside Out” is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. The concept of upheaval and moving across the country to a scary house with a dead mouse in the corner might upset especially sensitive children. There is a train wreck shown that exposes some characters to a chance of physical danger. A character makes the ultimate sacrifice to save another and that was quite a gut punch for me personally. Foul language is, of course, not an issue.

From its imaginative depiction of the mind and the fairly realistic portrayal of a preteen girl in turmoil to some especially perfect voice acting, “Inside Out” may be Disney/Pixar’s best film for both a combined child and adult audience. It is so good, so funny, so well rendered, so moving, it should rank right up there as one of the greatest Pixar films in its history. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

“Inside Out” gets five glowing bright yellow stars out of five.

Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Dope—

Max—

Ted 2—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.