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Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (2019)
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (2019)
2019 | Crime, Drama, Family
Boring Mansion Mystery
Sleuth Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis) is tasked with getting to the bottom of a haunting mystery at the Twin Elms mansion.

Acting: 9
For the most part, Lillis’ performance is solid in her role as Nancy. She shows her range throughout the movie and you can easily understand why she was given the leading role. Fortunately she is at the helm of the majority of the movie because most of the actors were just “meh” in their roles. Their cardboard delivery gave the movie more of a Lifetime movie feel than a feature film.

Beginning: 10

Characters: 8

Cinematography/Visuals: 2

Conflict: 5

Genre: 1

Memorability: 2
Memorable? The main thing I remember is falling asleep not once but TWICE while watching the movie. There is nothing here that really stuck out for me, neither good nor bad. Wait, I do remember one thing: Waiting for the movie to be over.

Pace: 5
The movie had a tendency to drag on, shot for shot. You think you’re going to get to delve mostly into the mystery, but it somehow devolved into a “daily life” routine type of movie. There was a lot of Much Ado About Nothing as the film drags on. Weak pacing was a huge contributor in killing the whole vibe.

Plot: 2

Resolution: 2

Overall: 46
Yikes. Talk about a movie that is hard to stomach. If your kids ask to see Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, suggest something else. By the time you get to the meat of this movie, you won’t care anymore.
I Am Not Okay With This
I Am Not Okay With This
2020 | Fantasy
Proof that Netflix can rule your life, in an OK way, I guess. Every time I have dropped in for the last two weeks, this is the show they went out of their way to push on me. I watched the trailer and thought hmm, I don’t get it… but after relentless publicity I ended up watching the entire first series within 36 hours of its release on February 26th. Which is easy enough to do, as the entire first series only lasts 2 1/2 hours, in 7 x 23 minute easy to swallow episodes. Another nice tactic for the attention deficient generation.

Based on the graphic novels of Charles Forsman, who also gave us The End of the F***ing World – an equally dark edged teen angst story, that has had 2 full seasons of similarly short episodes. It also continues the partnership of that series’ main director, British born Jonathon Entwistle, who seems happily stuck with this genre on his, as yet, limited CV. It stars the quirky charm of Sophia Lillis, best known from the It reboot movies, and Wyatt Oleff, also plucked from that franchise. And, oh yeah, it shares production credits with a small show called Stranger Things; so it has a pop culture pedigree 100% guaranteed to attract a young audience.

In terms of tone and direction, it does wobble at the beginning, but also shows a lot of promise, thanks largely to the watchability of Lillis, who is perfectly cast as a nervy, nerdy teen with a lot of smarts, but not too many friends. The humour is black, the satire subtle, and the delivery is disarmingly adult; on the surface this is a high school comedy, but underneath it is a fucked up, biting exploration of grief, paranoia and anger (mis)management – it pushes boundaries on content, visually and in use of language that only Netflix can endorse and get away with. Which of course is what audiences want!

The premise is that after the suicide of her father, 17 year old Sydney Novak is having some emotional issues beyond the normal teenage stuff of zits on your thighs. As she keeps a secret journal to document her worries and thoughts (heard in voice-over consistently, giving it a definite graphic novel thought bubble vibe) we are in from the start on the possibility she may have a dubious superpower linked to being pissed off.

It takes a while for that aspect to kick in, however, so don’t expect big, showy, superhero set pieces; this is a comedy drama that borrows from every teenage trope available, and is focussed more on the troubles of high school, a single mom and general growing pains. It is funny – I laughed, and found it a charming mix of something really modern feeling, but with retro vibes; it is clearly 2020, but could be 1985, a trick Stranger Things has taught them well.

Really, it is almost all over before it gets started, with these brief episode times – which is smart; no time to waste, so it moves along, and is always endearingly entertaining. In essence, what we have here is a 2 1/2 hour pilot show, chopped into bite sized chunks and released as a tease for the main show, which will be series 2. Think of it as an origin story, if you will. Undoubtedly, that 2nd series is already on the way. Early critical response is solid, and in about another month you will be hearing everyone and their cat talking about it, for sure.

The lack of originality didn’t massively bother me, as you could see what they were trying to do with it, and the large appeal is to recreate a teen world that feels familiar and comfortable, and then play with those preconceptions, choosing the right moments to flip it upside down. Which eventually it does. The final episode of seven is an absolute doozy! Talk about teasing cliff-hangers! They really know how to keep us hooked!

The best thing about it, by a country mile, is the obvious star quality of Sophia Lillis, who must surely use this as a stepping-stone to a fine career, if she can master the emotional scenes as well as the charming quirky ones, at which she already excels. She reminds me a lot of Ellen Page, without the unlikely gravitas… yet. There is time to mature. I will be there for season 2 for sure, so it will be exciting to find out where it all goes next – this is a big opportunity for a BIG little show. I am only half sure they won’t fuck it up…
It (2017)
It (2017)
2017 | Drama, Horror
IT is very good
I met the clown and IT is...fascinating, gripping, thrilling, humorous, intense and good. it scary? Sure...scary enough, but this adaptation of Stephen King's bestseller is much, much more than a scary movie.

One of the best screen adaptations of a Stephen King book, ever, IT tells the story of a group of13 year olds in Derry, Maine (one of the main towns featured in a variety of King's stories). It is 1989 and children have been going missing at an alarming rate. The adults in the town seem impassive about this, and when the younger brother of one of the gang goes missing, this "Loser's Club" investigates. What they find is a horrifying evil at the center of it all.

Like the plot of this film, there is much, much more going on in this film than what that last paragraph suggests, for this story is not only about the mystery of the missing children, it is a loving look back at childhood, friendship, caring and bonding. Think of this film as STAND BY ME meets...well...a killer clown.

And the clown IS killer. As played by Bill Skarsgard (TV's THE CROWN), Pennywise The Dancing Clown is slyly sinister, drawing the children in as a spider would a fly. It is only when the children are close (and alone) does he drop the guise of niceness and pounce. This is an intense and terrifyingly terrific performance, keeping the fine line between realism and camp (a line that Tim Curry trounced all over in the TV Mini-series version of this material in the 1980's).

I'm a big fan of Stephen King's writing (having read nearly all of his books and short stories) and I walked out of the theater thinking "finally, someone figured out the right way to make a Stephen King thriller work on the screen" and that someone is Director Andy Muschietti (MAMA). He guides this film with a strong hand, not wavering in his vision or sense of purpose as to where (and how) he wants this story to go. He let's the young actor's lead this story, with Skargard's clown pouncing every now and then. This works well, especially when infusing something that is sorely lacking, typically, in these types of films - humor.

And the humor, mostly, falls into the hands of Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard, STRANGER THINGS). He is an absolute bright spot injecting just the wrong (or maybe it is right?) comment in a tense situation, just as a 13 year old boy would do. As part of the "Loser's Club", he holds a bright spot in keeping things together when the mood threatens to get too grim or dire. And grim and dire is what is following this set of "Loser's", a veritable "who's who" of loser stereotypes. There is the "fat kid", Ben Hanscome (Jeremy Ray Taylor, ANT-MAN, in a sweet performance), the "always sick kid with the overbearing mother", Eddie Kasbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), the "Jewish kid", Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and the "Black Kid", Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs).

But the heart and sole of this film is the two main leads of the "Loser's Club", Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, star of two criminally under-viewed gems MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and ST. VINCENT) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis, a relative newcomer that bears watching in the future). Both are harboring deep, emotional scars - Bill blames himself for the death of his brother by Pennywise and Beverly is (wrongly) viewed as a 13 year old slut by school rumor and innuendo and is sexually harassed by her father. The relationship between these two and the rest of the Loser's Club is the real treat of this film and the actor's are up to the challenge to draw us in and care about what happens to them when they are, ultimately, separated and confronted by Pennywise.

I was surprised by how little graphic gore there was in this film (though there is plenty of blood) and there is a little too many "jump scares" for my taste, but these are quibbles for a very good, very intense "scary film".

I floated out of the cinema after seeing this film You'll float too.

Letter Grade: A-

8 (out of 10) stars and you can take that to the Bank (ofMarquis)