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IR Film Review: IT CHAPTER 2 [Warner Brothers]

The undeniably draw of the story of IT is the narrative of the community prevailing over the tyranny. The first chapter had a dexterous draw to the children of the 80s. The archetypal structures that had made “Stranger Things” a success were fully embodied by Stephen King many years before albeit in a different time. When the miniseries was made in the 90s, it used a different reference. But, as with this film, it used the innocence and naïveté of youth to propel the story. Now with the introduction of Chapter 2, it progresses the idea to modern times…and while it does not portray an essence of exactly today, it nonetheless feels now which sometimes can interrelate too closely for a sense of closure in a narrative. Pennywise in the first film was that aspect of the unknown, that personification of fear that cannot be contained. Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal in that film was a new way to see this permutation of fear that preys upon children’s misunderstanding of the unknown. While the adult actors reflect their characters well, it is not as key to the journey.

The first movie was a quest in a way, while the second film is more about placing the puzzle pieces together. The inherent structure of the book worked more in jumping in tandem between young psychology and mature thinking. That dynamic was not possible at first as it was not guaranteed the first film would be a hit. Its connection is what drew bigger actors like Jessica Chastain, who had worked with director Andy Muschetti on her early film “Mama” as well as her longtime friend and collaborator James McAvoy. Most of the rest of the kids save for Bill Hader as Richy are unknowns per se which allows the audience to buy into the belief of them returning more fully. The most effective element here is the transition in location between the young and old versions in key sequences. These are the segments of the film that truly work without seeming that it is rushing to tie up loose ends. Sequences like those in a funhouse which should illicit more dread don’t seem as powerful as they should be. Skarsgard as Pennywise, doesn’t have as much as a presence as in the first one, and is missed in many ways as the story, in adhering to King’s narrative, uses his continual use of Native American lore more as a central context. This idiom, which at times is overused in King’s narratives, is used perhaps to plug a narrative hole in comparison to perhaps “Pet Sematary” where it was more essential to the story. And at other times, like in “Dreamcatcher”, it can work quite well. Here however it is not explained enough to make full sense to the casual viewer, or even one familiar with the world.

The aspect of the subconscious especially involving the memory of the Losers, is adequately played but not as fulfilling as it should be. The best example of all cylinders working without the filmmakers worrying too overtly about the plot is when the gang comes back together at a Chinese restaurant in Derry (this was also the scene that was teased in the recent theater re-release of the first film). This scene paints the dread of Pennywise still apparent from the first film but also perfectly encapsulates the details of the grown characters as adults. Balancing these two worlds however is tricky while also keeping to audience expectations. “It Chapter 2” tries in many ways to live up to the original but it is a different construct. It is about how people understand aspects when they are older versus perceptions when they are young. While it does an admirable job of placing those story points in play, its delivery simply does not live up to the first film, through no fault of the actors or story but simply because of the trajectory placed against it.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: DARK PHOENIX [20th Century Fox/Disney]

The essence of the X-Men mythology has placed it with some ideals of archetypes but, with some of the actors involved, the texture of nuance is always an interesting progression in what is embraced and what is shown below the surface. This reviewer did interviews for “X-Men: The Last Stand” back in the last iteration of the cast before “First Class” but also visited the set of “X-Men: Apocalypse”. With “The Last Stand”, the approach involved the aspect of Jean Grey as well. However unlike Famke Jannsen’s iteration, there seems a times a lack of stakes or perhaps disconnection from Sophie Turner’s inhabiting of the character, much in the way of Captain Marvel in “Endgame”: she is so indestructible that the balance of her take down is somewhat like ants trying to destroy gods . That said, this installment is the most engrossing since “First Class”. The inclusion of Jennifer Lawrence works simply because of the structure of what it is setting up and that allows in true form the most connective tissue that motivates all the characters. Whether it be Tye Sheridan’s Psyclops or in a more pronounced fashion Beast played by Nicolas Hoult, “Dark Phoenix” has some more true acting from these performers because the entire proceeding is not overtaken by visual effects unlike some of the iterations before. It comes off more practical.

Also the characters, even more so, seem to engage in their baser desires at times which makes them more fully realized. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto seems both more conflicted but also at times more brutal than before. When he emerges in terms of his focus, it is interesting because it you can see him fighting against his own instincts (even though his character comes off more as supporting). James McAvoy as Professor X also has a more dynamic approach because his character is not the all wise. He makes mistakes and ego plays a part in this outing. These are superheroes but they are flawed and that is what this picture is allowing (perhaps in a darker way than perhaps Disney would approach it at a different time). Even Nightcrawler becomes brutal in a way not seen since “X2” when he was on the opposite viewpoint. That said, the story timing conversely is, at times, erratic. However this does not take away from the emotional notes. What scattershots the beats is Jessica Chastain and her minions. Chastain is on point in terms of her performance but there is not a reflective basis of her motivation. Her character’s origins are left to the ether which works to a point but not in the final revelation. “Dark Phoenix” in a great way handles many emotional beats in a way far superior to some of its predecessors thanks in part to director Simon Kinsberg who understands this mythology and the characters through and through. But endings, especially of an era, never are clean. They are messy. “Endgame” tried to do everything and reflected emotional but many plot holes still remained. “Dark Phoenix” writes a different story than the one previous to “The Last Stand” but in doing some creates something more contextual even if the final shot reflects a vague contentment.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR Book Review: THE MARTIAN [Broadway]

martian

Self publishing a novel is always a tricky thing. Normally looking at a novel for review I usually select a pre publish gallows copy so there are no pre-ordained expectations. “The Martian”  [Andy Weir/Broadway/385pgs] is an interesting example in this regard. I heard about it in a slingshot fashion. The movie has already been shot but I barely looked at the trailers. I had a perception of Matt Damon playing stranded astronaut Watney and Jessica Chastain playing Commander Lewis but beyond that and the fact that Ridley Scott was directing, it was pretty unsaturated in my mind. The thing is what kind of book would pull people in like this. Plus add the fact that both of the lead actors had just been in “Interstellar”, a fairly complex outing, and yet they jumped back into another parallel space arena. The two stories couldn’t be more different but, in a way, they are the same as well. The main character is searching for his identity integrating into an unknown arena. The difference becomes one between the two pictures of philosophy versus practicality. Each one denotes the idea of survival. But the way this book is built will be interesting to see in translation. A similar study would be to look at the film “127 Hours” which tells of a man surviving on a hiking trip. It was modestly budgeted and used some reflective video elements to buffer the time. The interesting device here is that for the first quarter of the book and much of it throughout, the story is told in diary journal entry. For a good part of the novel, Watney is with nobody and his communication with NASA is limited to none. Most of the time, voice over can be attributed to lazy filmmaking but here it is key to the narrative. The trick will be pacing and balance. “127 Hours” was a different exercise. “The Martian” is likely a 150 million dollar movie with a good amount of special effects (though not as much as some), a couple movie stars and the director of “Blade Runner”. Tricky. (As Watney would say) You bet.

But I digress. And that is the great thing Watley does in this novel. He makes fun of himself. His quips in his journals, to himself, to NASA and his crewmates. These quips are great and full of witty and non politically correct humor at times. This is what makes this novel the crossover sensation that it has become. Humor. That is what this novel has that many science fiction novels don’t get. Humor. At many points, I found myself laughing myself because some of his thoughts are just so dead on…and yet they are placed in while describing a distinct technical process. It makes for a quick read and releases the pressure valve. Watmey jokes about disco and countless other elements. These points are great because they are character related and ground the character so that even if he is on a planet by himself, you can identify with him. There doesn’t need to be some large scale action sequence. This is a much simpler story than say “Red Planet” and “Mission To Mars” and infinitely and likely more effective. It is more similar in tone at times with the novel of “Contact” which oddly enough, with its original story, mirrored “Interstellar” in a way. And like that movie (“Contact”) which I read in similar sequence to this novel, the resulting movie, no matter how good or bad it is, will effect the engaging experience the book was. From simple beginnings as Weir started with this book, comes an epic story which works in its ability to explain the most complex of current equations: traveling and surviving an another planet within our reach, in a grounded, intriguing, funny and practical way.

A

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