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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.
  
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.

But...is 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)
  
It: Chapter Two (2019)
It: Chapter Two (2019)
2019 | Horror, Thriller
Hader steals the film
The "secret sauce" of the first chapter of IT (based on the horror novel by Stephen King) was NOT the gore or scares that were thrown at the audience, it was the characters and the performances that made that first film work. The young members of the "Loser's Club" - and especially the young actors populating these characters - created people that you wanted to root and cheer for throughout their ordeal with Pennywise the Clown and the bullies of Derry.

So...it should have been a "no-brainer" for Director Andy Muschietti and the filmmakers to repeat that pattern - it worked very, very well. But, somewhere along the way they forgot what made the first film good and Muschietti and new screenwriter Gary Dauberman decided to focus on the horror, gore and frights and let their talented group of adult actors inhabit the characters with little (maybe no) help from the screenplay.

And...the result is a "fine" film that wraps up the first film just "fine", but ultimately falls short of that first film and definitely falls short of what "could have been".

IT: CHAPTER TWO picks up 27 years later when Pennywise the Dancing Clown comes back (per his cycle) to terrorize the children of Derry once again. The Loser's Club from the first film band back together (per their pact at the end of the first film) to battle - and finally destroy - this dark threat.

The filmmakers pull a strong group of actors together to play the adult versions of the Loser's Club - headlined by Jessica Chastain (ZERO DARK THIRTY) as the adult Beverly Marsh and James McAvoy (Professor X in the recent run of X-MEN films) as the adult Bill Denborough. I find McAvoy to be (for the most part) a solid, if unspectacular, actor and he is true to from here. Solid, but unspectacular in a role that was written that way. Chastain, perhaps, is the biggest disappointment for me in this film as the young Beverly Marsh (as portrayed by Sophia Lillis) was the highlight of the first film but here this character is...bland and somewhat boring. I don't fault Chastain (an actress that I usually enjoy very, very much), I blame the screenplay which saddles these two characters with an underwritten "love triangle" with the adult Ben Hascombe (Jay Ryan - somewhat of a newcomer, who has smoldering good looks, but not much else going for him). It was rumored that Chris Pratt was circling this character (I would imagine he walked away when he saw the screenplay). That's too bad, for he might have brought some life to all 3 of these characters.

Faring better is the usually reliable Isiah Mustafa (TV's SHADOWHUNTERS) as the adult Mike Hanlon, the only one of the Loser's Club who stayed in Derry to keep a vigilant watch against Pennywise' return. He has a haunted air about him - certainly in keeping with the the past that only he remembers. And Andy Bean (SWAMP THING) has a nice couple of moments as the adult Stanley Uris.

The only truly interesting dynamic of the returning Loser's Club is the characters and love/hate relationship between the older Eddie Kaspbrak, the hypochondriac (played by James Ransome, TV's THE WIRE) and smart-mouth Richie Tolzier (inhabited by SNL vet Bill Hader). While Ransome's Eddie is quite a bit more interesting than he was as a youth (and that's no slight on Jack Dylan Grazer who played the younger Eddie, I just found Ransome's portrayal more nuanced and somewhat more interesting). But it is Hader who steals this film. His Richie is constantly using humor to cover his emotions building on the interesting characterization that Finn Wolfhard brought to the younger version and giving us more. Hader is a master comedian, so handles the comedy parts as deftly as you would think he would, but it is when the other emotions - fear, rage, love - come barreling out of him that Hader elevates this character (and the movie) to a higher level. I would be thrilled if Hader was nominated for an Oscar for this role - he is that good.

Also coming back are all of the "kids" from the first film to flesh out some scenes - and set up some other scenes/moments by the adults - they are a welcome addition and shine a spotlight at how weak - and underwritten - most of the adult characters are in this film.

Bill Skarsgard is seen quite a bit more as Pennywise - and that makes him less menacing and threatening (but still scary) and there are 2 fun cameos along the way by 2 prominent individuals, so that was fun.

There is a running gag throughout the film about author Bill Denborough (the surrogate for Stephen King) not being able to write a decent ending - a critique that King receives constantly - and they changed the ending of this film from the book. I am a big fan of the book, but would agree that the ending of the book was not that good, so was open to this trying a different way to end things...and...this new ending lands about as well as the original ending (oh well...).

But that's just a quibble, for by that time you've ridden with these characters for over 5 hours and while the first chapter is stronger than the first, the journey is good (enough) for an enjoyable (enough) time at the Cineplex.

Come for the Loser's Club and the scares - stay for Hader's Oscar worthy performance.

Letter Grade: B+

7 (out of 10) stars and you can take that to the Bank(ofMarquis)
  
It: Chapter Two (2019)
It: Chapter Two (2019)
2019 | Horror, Thriller
I’ve always been a fan of Stephen King movies, even some of those that were not particularly good or well received. For someone who is a fan you think that would inspire me to pick up at least one of his books to get a feel for what the author truly intended over the stripped down,

“Hollywood-ised” versions. I can’t put my finger on why I haven’t, it’s not because the size of many of his novels are daunting, it’s more that as a reader I’m just not a horror book fan. So when it comes to sitting in on a Stephen king movie I have to rely on the story by it’s modified merits then to compare and contrast what IT does well (or not).
Like many before me, my first movie experience of IT was the classic mini-series featuring an incredibly creepy (and non-CGI’d version) of Pennywise portrayed by the extremely talented Tim Curry.

I even went out and purchased the mini-series before I went to see the first chapter of the remake of IT, just to see how those two compared. IT: Chapter One introduced us in great depth to the teens of the original losers club. A group of misfits, who went on their own personal crusade to attack and kill the nefarious clown while saving one of their own. A strong pact was formed and an oath sworn that if IT ever returned to Derry that the group would once again join together to put a stop to IT for good.

IT: Chapter Two picks up 27 years later, the group has moved on with their lives, all except Mike (Isaiah Mustafa as an adult and Chosen Jacobs as a younger version) who has felt a sense of responsibility to watch over the town and research how to kill IT if IT were to ever return. A horrific killing of an adult at the fair and subsequent disappearances of children alert Mike that the plague that has befallen Derry for generations has returned to feed. Mike reaches out to each of the losers reminding them that something they have all feared has come to pass.

Each when notified experience a fear that is indescribable yet for some reason the groups memories of the past have become clouded.

The now adult losers (with several flashbacks featuring the original cast) come together to remind themselves of the past, and the pact they made to protect the future. Featuring a star studded cast, Mike, Bill (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell), Beverly (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff), must battle their lost memories, their fears and the very real danger if they are to save Derry and themselves.

IT: Chapter 2 continues the incredible character building that Chapter 1 began. Where each of the young actors were perfectly cast as their book counterparts, their adult versions could easily be mistaken for the grown-up versions. This is the area where IT shines the most, the story of the losers who have grown and moved away, yet still share the unescapable bond of friendship. While an older Bill struggles (much like Stephen King himself) to come up with good endings to his stories it’s what he writes at the end of IT: Chapter 2 that really sums up the movie as a whole. To summarize, there are no good friends or bad friends, there are only friends, and chapter 2 is an example of how you take a band of misfits and turn them into heroes.
Sadly, for all the things IT does from a character side, it tends to drag on and over CGI its monster side. Pennywise the clown (portrayed brilliantly by Bill Skarsgård) brings with him all the creepiness and fear that the movie needs, even posters of his maniacal self is promoting lawsuits in other countries due to his ability to scare small children. So, it seems a bit disheartening that the studio felt it was necessary to go overboard with their CGI budgets. Many scenes go from being creepy and scary to simply being silly when our favorite clown is turned into a giant naked hag like figure. This is where I felt the mini-series did a far better job, due to its limited budget and shorter time requirements it allowed for the viewers to imagine the evil and not see it thrown out for the world to see.

IT: Chapter 2 also drags out far longer than it needed to. Make sure you get your bathroom breaks in, because the film, not counting previews, is just about 10 minutes shy of being three hours. I’m normally not one to complain about the length of a movie, as I’d rather they tell the story they want instead of trying to compress it into a shorter run time. However, in this case, it seemed entirely wasted on an overabundance of clown mutations and an extremely drawn out final battle. It’s unfortunate, because one of the most unused (and potentially interesting characters) Henry Bowers (Teach Grant/Nicholas Hamilton) is given only a few minutes of screen time and ultimately adds nothing to the movie as a whole. As I stated earlier, I haven’t read the novel, but I have to assume that he played a far bigger role in the book.

As it stands in the movie, his character is both unnecessary and completely ineffective at whatever he was attempting to do. I think some of the time taken away from the battle scenes to flesh out his (or other supporting characters) would have be time better spent.

IT: Chapter 2 is a good movie, that with some reduced special effects and better time management is just shy of being a great movie. The story of the kids, now grown up, is one of forgiveness, bravery and love. It shows how true friendship can overcome distance and time and that those things never truly vanish, even if the particulars of what separated you in the first place is a bit fuzzy. Horror movies with outrageous budgets tend to lose the spirit of what makes a true horror movie scary…it’s rarely about the effects, and more about the imagination.

That’s what makes the books typically so much better than the movies, after all, each one of us imagines our own version of what truly scares us (although clowns tend to be scary regardless of how they are portrayed). IT: Chapter 2 provides a satisfying ending to a story that began a few years ago, it suffers a bit from its budget and its use of CGI effects, but it’s still a story of what all of us losers can accomplish if we band together.