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4 stars

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Director Andy Muschietti’s knows his way around a spook story, as evidenced by his very creepy Mama, and with the aid of a troupe of incredibly gifted child actors and the can’t miss image of a clown roaming the sewers, he delivers the goods.  The film rocks you with jump scares and terrifying imagery as Pennywise hunts his prey, and Muschietti covers his doomed Maine town in dread.  Yet, the relationships between the children are authentic and sweet, engendering empathy and bolstering a critical plot point in combating the evil that lurks below.

My orthodontist used to have his walls covered by clowns of every shape and size, a decor choice which contributed to my crooked teeth.   In every clown on that wall was a potential Pennywise, a diabolical trickster and eater of souls with a gift for gab that could entice vulnerable kids to their doom.

But enough about me.  Muschietti’s Pennywise is as indelible and monstrous a film character as I’ve seen.

There are a few weaknesses.  The film is too long, and as my son pointed out, they could have done with one less child character.  There are also a few script clunkers, such as when one of the children mentions that the town has six times the national average in missing people, and a higher percentage for kids.  Such a town would be dead, not seemingly thriving.

Last, Stephen King hates adults.  That is all well and good (who doesn’t?), but the conceit is hackneyed.  As with most King stories centered on kids, in It, every adult is cruel, abusive, distant, crazy and/or a molestor, which is meant to underscore the vulnerability of the children, but really, only serves to cheapen the story.

Still, this is well worth the $235 it currently costs to attend a movie.

 

 

 

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The first 20 minutes of this movie serve as a primer as to how to get a comic book flick started. Simple, short scenes introduce our characters, several pop hits set the mood for the time (late Vietnam era), and away we go to confront King Kong.  When a Vietnam helicopter pilot sees Kong, he laconically remarks, “is that . . . a monkey? “. Indeed, it is, and he is big and he is angry.

Death and destruction follow, our fearless survivors work assiduously to get off of Kong’s island while at the same time dealing with their own issues, and the entire endeavor is laced with fun, primarily in the form of John C Reilly, who has been abandoned on Skull Island after his fighter went down during World War II. So he’s a little loopy.

It gets a little ragged at the end, and the emotional connect between Kong and his new gal (Brie Larsen) is rushed, but this is loads of fun.  The likes of Zack Snyder should take note. It’s a monkey. A big monkey. Just like Superman and Batman are not real people, there is no need to delve deeply into their anguish, deepest thoughts, and societal implications. Lighten up.

My family took me to this yesterday, and while it lacks the fresh inventive feel of the original, quintessential summer flick, it is still a treat. The sense of humor is intact, the characters remain winning, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax again steals the picture, and Groot is now Baby Groot, so darling that the most vicious murderers in the galaxy cannot do him in because, as their leader freely admits, “it is too adorable to kill.”  The story is a bit ragged – Peter Quill’s father (Kurt Russell) is introduced and his plan is both overly apocalyptic and not necessarily reliant on the involvement of the Guardians.  The sentiment is also a bit heavy; a lot of pain is expressed within the theme of family interrupted, creating one too many lumps in the throat for a damn Marvel movie.  Still, a lot of fun.

Isabelle Huppert (nominated for best actress) is a successful video game designer who is, in the film’s first scene, brutally raped. The twist is that she is already so cynically wired and self-loathing that the act does not have the consequences one might expect.  In short, she’s a tough-as-nails cookie, central to the maintenance of her successful business, dolt of a son, needy ex-husband and outrageously libertine mother.  She is also brazenly selfish, carrying on an affair with the husband of her best friend, with whom she has an almost romantic relationship.

So, when her rapist begins to text her and even break into her house to leave “mementos”, she is as much intrigued as terrified.  The result is, at its best, a Hitchcockian sexual thriller and sly comedy of manners, and, when the mystery is solved, at worst, a smugly self-satisfied weirdo tale.  All in all, a solid film by Paul Verhoeven (Black Book, Robocop), who has made a career sticking his thumb in the eyes of traditional sexual mores, usually with a taste for the violent.  Huppert is nothing less than commanding.

The politics of the film are also interesting. It has been dubbed by many critics as a “rape revenge” movie, but it is really a great deal more complicated than that.  I am guessing the moniker was affixed to ward off much of the picture’s untidy political incorrectness (as one progressive reviewer unsurprisingly notes, this is a “male filmmaker’s lurid, repeated depiction of violence against a female character, one who is defined, almost entirely, by her relationship with men, shown in nightmarish detail”).  If someone brought this baby on to an modern American campus, the viewers would likely be institutionalized and those responsible tarred and feathered.

Filmed in the Amazonia region of Columbia in black and white, director and co-writer Ciro Guerra give us the life of a shaman, Karamakate, as a young and old man making the same journey, to find the rare plant yakruna.  The first trek is on behalf of a dying German ethnographer who has contracted a disease only the plant can cure; the second occurs 40 years later, as an American explorer seeks the plant for its rubber yield, a find that will aid the U.S. in World War II.  The young Karamakate is angry, as he points out the wreckage inflicted upon his home by the encroachment of the whites (essentially, the “rubber wars” of Chile and Peru, which resulted in the enslavement of some indigenous tribes).  In his second journey, he is wiser, resigned to complete a task unfinished in his youth.

This is heavy stuff with a strong reliance on Joseph Conrad.  Indeed, a Jesuit mission happened upon by Karamakate in his youth becomes a Kurtzian religious cult of a Jim Jonesian quality in the 40 years that passes.

The film drags a bit, but the back-and-forth keeps the pace quick enough.  The culture clashes are memorable and the political import, if not subtle, is fleshed out.  More importantly, save for a cheezy drug trip that feels more like Epcot than kissing the sky, the look of the picture is gorgeous.

A brilliant, haunting and meaningful re-creation of the 1966 University of Texas Tower spree shooting that melds old footage, modern day interviews, and animation, the last of which renders the victims, witnesses and heroes in a classic imprint. Gripping and poignant, without a hint of inauthenticity or exaggeration, documentarian Keith Maitland gets you into the head of the terrified people pinned to their spots by fear as well as those who overcame it and risked their own lives to save others and/or ascend the tower and kill the sniper. Maitland has said he opted for animation “to show the geography of the campus” after being told that actual re-creation would not be permitted, but the use of animation to show the interviewees in their younger guise adds to the dreamlike, unreal quality of the event.

The film is stubbornly focused on the terrorized and refreshingly devoid of interest in the murderer, thereby avoiding the grotesque algorithm that revels in the psycho and makes everyone else a statistic. With the exception of a truly discordant and moronic “we have met the enemy and he is us” clip from Walter Cronkite, there isn’t a misstep in this picture. It was premiered for television on PBS Tuesday so it may still be available.

Denzel Washington’s film adaptation of the Broadway play is expertly cast, and his performance as the imposing and haunted patriarch Troy Maxon is both mammoth and intricate.  Washington’s turn is equaled by the performances put in by Viola Davis (as his long-suffering, devoted and stoic wife), Mykelti Williamson (as his mentally-impaired brother), Stephen Henderson (as his lifelong friend) and the rest of the cast.  August Wilson’s screenplay, adapted from his own stage play, crackles with raw and poetic renderings of regret, loss and anger.  As Maxon stalks his family and curses the sky from his tiny rowhouse backyard, he seems to become smaller and more vulnerable in each scene.  His ethos of “trust no one, owe no one” becomes more minimizing as the film progresses.

All that said, this tale of a familial Goliath negotiating his lost opportunity, youth and vigor, as well as his brutal past and his current-day demons, has a few slow spots, and while Washington’s direction is capable, there is no compelling reason to see what is essentially a stage play in the movie house.   Wait for DVD/streaming and enjoy.