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

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IR Film Review: GODZILLA – KING OF THE MONSTERS [Warner Brothers]

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The texture of a monster movie relies on its sheer size but the diametrics of destruction have a certain threshold of believability and therefore, art in a way. Sometimes with certain dialogue it is better to say nothing at all, than risk an essence of impact. “Godzilla: King Of The Monsters” suffers from this ailment in numerous and many ways. Even though the texture of some of the large monster scenes is indeed impressive, the core family story that is supposed to fuel it with Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown just falls flat mainly because of confused motivations and simply bad dialogue. “The MEG” functioned in this same way but with more of a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor but that cannot save a bad script. Now popcorn movies can be just that but they can be done with that sense of weight. The first “Godzilla” made by Gareth Edwards took a different approach with Godzilla in terms of the mystery and especially with the Bryan Cranston family angle, it definitely gave it a sense of stakes. Here it switches it around but Farmiga’s character who is motivated by loss is one sided. Vera is an exceptional actress but one cannot save bad motivation. Kyle Chandler, so great in “Wolf Of Wall Street”, seems exceptional cardboard and flat here. Millie Bobbie Brown is the only that seems to understand or at least try to impact what she is doing but she seems like she is doing almost a different movie or script than what is being filmed. Her part works. In essence, this is likely the fault of the director.

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Michael Dougherty wanted to take the film to a different tone than the first one with this sense of scale. But oddly enough Godzilla had much more a sense of scale in the Gareth Edwards’ version. Another actor that understands what film should be created is Ken Watanabe, He has a sense of weight and genuinely a sense of loss for what Godzilla could be. His solo scene where he confronts Godzilla is perhaps the high point in the movie. The overall dexterity of the film though lacks cohesion as if the director was more interested in the sequences than the actual story. That is fine in certain cases but it really creates a separation of definition when the motivations come off as a laughable. There is somewhat of a happy medium somewhere between what Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was and this. One is a disaster movie and one is a perception on survival. The aspect here that should inspire comes out as schlock.

D-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: POKEMON – DETECTIVE PIKACHU [Warner Brothers]

Heading into “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” without a necessary knowledge of the world at all doesn’t take away from its enjoyment as its metaphoric parallels definitely key into many universal themes. Going into the film with no true ideal beyond the fact that Ryan Reynolds was playing said Pikachu gave an interesting structure but not decidedly so. Justice Smith in the initial viewing does bear an undeniable resemblance to Will Smith who he is indeed not related to but this is only a compliment since the acting chops are there, though his technique needs to fall away since the inherent charisma shines through. It also makes the eventual resolution play quite well. While the reasoning of the Pokemon makes sense, it is only in later scenes including with a newspaper intern and her pokemon: a very nervous duck that it indeed registers almost as an Id of the person it connects with. This allows many of the scenes to work quite well. Reynolds did motion capture but was not on set per se but it is quite intensive how well it is created to make it feel that way. Pikachu is inherently Reynolds persona but it would have been nearly impossible to make it work in the room simply because of the size of the character.

Backing away from the technical though, a lot of the scenes feel organic while others are implemented for maximum FX effect. The ending is decidedly overwrought but the break in and escape from a facility from its trajectory to overall impact actually gives a true conception of the world, heart and all. It is in that moment that the Pokemon universe, even to the untrained, feels symbiotic. Reynolds slightly off-cut humor, which still stays inside PG bounds, works well though it would be interesting to perceive how much was improvised or actually recorded before the film shot. Justice’s reactions are fairly believable but it is interesting to debate what came first: Reynold’s performance or his. Reynolds also offers a bit of drama at one point which sometimes he downplays because there is a small divide between snarky and melodrama. Nevertheless the inherent themes of the film ring true even if the ending battle (despite having a hark back to the original 1989 “Batman” film) feels slightly empty. That said, “Detective Pikachu” plays the gamut of a complete story within the Pokemon gumshoe genre while still appealing to a multi-national and generational audience.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: SHAZAM [Warner Brothers]

The texture of a movie like “Shazam” is to find the balance of tone that creates an interesting diametric and dynamic. Overall in actuality, the movie is a mixed bag with enough energy and might to make it entertaining but with not enough originality to make it transformative. There is a no awesome “ah-ha” moment and, in many points, it devolves into simple fanboy structure without a necessity for logic. Now granted when these are functioning as montages with 80s songs, it can connect. But in comparison to say “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, there is no heart. The intention at the focus of the story about family should feel more connected and meaningingful. The director and star Zachary Levi are certainly trying but you almost see too much of their effort on screen which means it wasn’t inherently natural. Levi is very earnest…maybe too much so though he does convey the awkwardness of Billy Batson very well. The construct of the conflict itself is basic…and perhaps it needs to be but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels at many points unfulfilling.

The actual introduction to the movie which introduces another character has much more breathe of thought but that too is wasted in that character’s development. Mark Strong’s role as an adversary comes off as hollow. It could have been a deep seated regret and texture of family that really would have given the film more texture. Many aspects in this regard seem unfinished. “Shazam” is not a bad film…it just seems very incomplete. And again the aspect of heart and tone within DC, even the standalone films which worked to a good degree in “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” doesn’t connect here. Sometimes, the film goes very dark in places without that balance…and, as a result, feels empty. Even the final sequences which should reflect a culmination seems almost haphazard. But as a takeback, it is great to see a superhero movie like this made since “Shazam” is the most likable superhero at times but seeing these flaws on screen instead of that perfect role model shows that we are all fallible.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE LEGO MOVIE 2 – THE SECOND PART [Warner Brothers]

As franchises evolve, so do their storylines. Simple is better but when dealing with mythology (and, even more daringly, pop culture), time is very finite but it is also finding the balance of two worlds, between demographics, between ages, sometimes even between genders. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” uses the essence of playtime as a perception for the travels of Emmett through the essence of his human counterpart. While it is an interesting construct, sometimes the interplay can be a little haphazard. The key might have been never showing the live action faces. That jarring perception between reality and animation can be tricky. Here, the essence of the plot, unlike the first one is not just welcoming a new person into the world but also growing up and learning to share. That definitely supplants an interesting tone since one side of the coin is male (think apocalypse) and the other side is female (outer space, filled with the notion of love with a bit of darkness). This texture again can work well but there is never a brilliant moment despite the overarching structure.

Chris Pratt, as always, brings his game, but what is real great as the secondary character Rex Dangervest is that Pratt infers a pretty dead on impression of Kurt Russell/Jack Burton into the mix. Granted the lines aren’t anywhere near as sarcastic or funny as “Big Trouble In Little China” but there is that sense of connection (to “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2” anyway). This part of the story is the most engaging because it is the story of the Id and unfurls a slightly darker tone. On the reverse, Tiffany Haddish as the alien queen brings a sort of sass, though the musical sequences can be a bit schmaltzy even in their attempt at being sardonic. With a darker texture, there were little glimpses of “Audrey II” in “Little Shop Of Horrors”. Will Arnett continues his disassemblage of Batman, whose lines land the most laughs, likely because of improv at times. Alison Brie as Unkitty is fun but limited in her scope. Nick Offerman as Metalbeard fares a little better but because the film needs to move at a brisk pace sometimes character development gets less priority than the next sequence. The eventual resolution plays at nostalgia but the build at the pinnacle of the second act is a tricky essence to write out of. It uses 80s strategy in terms of balance despite plot holes. Ultimately “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is fun but not very transformative.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE MEG [Warner Brothers]

“The MEG” is a monster movie in perception of what it might be. The book it is based on, by local South Florida writer Steve Alten, works in many structures as a quick read with a pulpy sort of feel. The tricky aspect is finding the tone. Like “Sahara” and its protagonist before, it is taking larger-than-life situations and making them both fun and with stakes. “The MEG” was originally labeled to be an R-rated romp probably playing more to its cousin: “Deep Blue Sea”. Granted it would be a different movie but the ideal is the story is about a huge shark. The tone rings closer to a movie like “The Core” which is superior in many ways simply because the stakes feel higher. The characterizations here are not bad but played way up on the cheesiness factor, specifically with the Chinese characters. Granted the sentimentality is more akin to the tone of Chinese cinema. That is the interesting perception here of the film. Since it was financed heavily by Chinese investment, it needs to reflect that ideal. This is the changing economics of the movie business. The movie is also set on the cusp of Asia and its main female protagonist and center of what is the film’s heart is Chinese.  This is not originally how the book was conceived. It was set near San Diego even though the money of the big investor was Chinese (even though the big money here is shown by an American billionaire). While an interesting experiment, the film definitely loses a lot of what edge it could have had but then it would be a different monster.

The interesting business question, just to make the point, is that the film could have been made for less and thereby not have to make as much to break even. This is an interesting quandary. Star Jason Stathan has stated in the press that the script they made was completely different than the movie he originally signed on for. Some of the scenes are really thrilling to be honest but never scary. It almost feels like a lower budget serial of old. Acting is fairly broad but soft in many ways since the dialogue is so matter-of-fact. It tries to be witty but most times falls flat. Granted many in the audience seemed to enjoy this aspect. It is always a tricky thing between criticism of what a movie can be and what an audience actually responds to. The situations in the movie are mostly implausible but that can be suspended from the early scenes. An interesting comparison comes in when looking “The Abyss” (1989, dir. James Cameron) since some of the scene points in “The MEG” have parallels. Even though something similar happens here, nothing can compare to the resuscitation scene in that former movie. Some of the best acting in a would-be summer blockbuster ever was in that scene. Here, in the beginning (post opening credits), there is a sacrifice that works well (but on a smaller scale) but then goes by the wayside. Greater mythology is sacrificed and the movie, while a fun romp at times, feels emptier of a bigger world. Maybe that is an alright resolution and expectation though.

C-

By Tim Wassberg