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 Film Review: GLASS [Universal]

The essence of the texture of something like “Glass” is taking something that can be so mythic and break it down to its most essential. For the most part of the film, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan captures much of what he found in “Unbreakable”. While not as revelatory as that film and on a significantly lower budget, “Glass” accomplishes much of what it sets out to do. Anchored by a brilliant James McAvoy who more than keeps balance with his older and more seasoned co-stars in Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, the film paces itself well without losing the pathos of the characters. But what seems as a construct (or even more just as an exercise in narrative) can be more seen as a parable of hiding in plain sight of what the general populace can be allowed or trusted to understand.

“Glass” takes place in a much different time than “Unbreakable” but the characters, like many people, are the same. Elijah (aka Mr. Glass) is fascinated by superheroes but knows what role he plays. The Beast that lives within Kevin, McAvoy’s character, is there to protect him, no matter what the damage. And David Dunn is trying to protect the rest of all is us around him. Shyamalan’s direction is the best he has been in years simply because he knows exactly how to pitch these characters but also how to build that story at its bones. If one simply reflects back on the basis of his story which Shyamalan does here, he likely realizes that the simplest progression and thereby resolution can be the truth that sets the characters free. The McGuffin itself, in true Shyamalan fashion, which won’t be revealed here is a little flimsily constructed and needed a bit more exposition but its impact and Night’s ability to push it in this direction under a very restricted budget seems to have reignited what he is capable of (as “Split” obviously showed). Jason Blum, who also produced this film, needs to be given credit as well as he is known for low budget films but also known for making filmmakers think creatively by limiting them. Leigh Whammel said similar when he showed “Upgrade” at SxSW in 2018.

A greater feat was getting Disney to allow Shyamalan to use footage from “Unbreakable” which Night seems to have brokered himself in terms of reaching out. The importance of this undeniably works because there is congruence allowing motion of time and pertinence between 2000 (when “Unbreakable” was made) and 2019. It is no small deal and allows for a sense of connection and depth which might not otherwise be possible (especially since secondary characters from the other two films in the trilogy do play a part). All this said, while not an event film by any means, “Glass” is both forceful and confident without being too egotistical. Many film students can look at this transmutation of a filmmaker and see an interesting path and how inevitably it affects specific decisions both for the better but also at times, against expectation.

In an age of superheroes that, at worst, are simply CG enhanced constructs overarching with myth or, at the best, grand textures of the essence of humanity (yet costing hundreds of millions of dollars to make), it is interesting to see the sequel to a film that started the high concept notion of a superhero do so without the extensive or blown up budgets to accomplish the basic premise. Interesting enough before Night, to give him credit, the one constant is the one and only: Samuel L. Jackson who has found a way to exist in both these kinds worlds from the beginning chords to the present day. The accomplishment of “Glass” is knowing its own true identity which, if one sees the characters as they truly are, is all they could be and more, with an intended impact and meaning.

B+

By Tim Wassberg