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Sat09192020

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Sophia Lillis stars as Sydney Novak, a character who comes off as a distant cousin of Stephen King’s Carrie in I Am Not Okay With This, a seven-episode series on Netflix.

Sydney is going through some growing pains at her high school—most notably the newly discovered ability to physically wreck things with her mind when she gets a little too worked up. As she tries to figure out who she likes best in her class, she also tries to figure out what’s going on with the superpowers that seem to be emerging from within. Once she gets that all explained, she can then concentrate on the big dance.

Lillis is her typical good self as Sydney, while Wyatt Oleff is hilarious as the geeky, pot-smoking Stanley, who has eyes for Sydney—but not to the extent where it will keep him being a good friend. Instead, the two work together to figure out Sydney’s superpowers, and whether or not it’s a good idea for them to go on dates.

Co-developed by Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the Fucking World) and Christy Hall, the show is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a good showcase for the leads.

I Am Not Okay With This is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Robert Eggers is two films into his feature-directing career, and people are already trying to rip off his style.

Gretel and Hansel shoots for the slow-burn, deliberately paced, lushly photographed style that Eggers employed in his 2015 masterpiece The Witch. While director Osgood Perkins has put together a movie that looks OK, the script by Rob Hayes provides little to nothing in the way of chills—the movie is all atmospherics with little substance.

On the verge of starvation centuries ago, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is kicked out of her home with little brother Hansel (Sammy Leakey) in tow. They head into the forest where the only meal they have is hallucinogenic mushrooms—yes, they trip out—until they come upon a house inhabited by a strange old lady named Holda (Alice Krige).

Holda is all by herself without a supermarket in sight, yet her table is full of freshly baked and roasted goodies. Hansel and Gretel, just like in the fairy tale, settle in for some good country cooking. Little do they know that the obviously evil Holda (I mean, look at her—she’s definitely a witch) has nefarious plans for the two that involve a different kind of mealtime.

As the kids stuff their faces, Holda seems to ponder some sort of witch-training future for Gretel. Gretel has “visions” that suggest she could have witchcraft in her blood, so Holda encourages her while Hansel moves closer to the roasting oven. Will Gretel get hold of herself before Hansel achieves an uncomfortable melding with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? Trust me: You’ll be so bored that you won’t give two shits.

You won’t be scared, either. There are a couple of foreboding shots involving a witch standing in a pinkly lit forest, and one involving entrails changing into baked goods; these show potential. Otherwise, the film is mostly two kids talking to each other about scary things, and those same two kids walking around, during which things should get scary, but don’t.

In an effort to make more money, Orion Pictures and Osgood have gone with a PG-13 cut—which makes no sense. There’s nothing about this movie that would appeal to fans 13 and under. Lillis was one of the stars of It, which was a hard R. An R rating could’ve generated some creeps and scares—whereas this movie chickens out.

Lillis is good here, even though her role is almost a complete copy of the one played by Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. Krige has the makings of a scary witch, but she’s required to do little more than sit at a table and speak ominously.

You would think that an adaptation of a classic fairy tale about kids being roasted in an old lady’s oven and then eaten would be Fright City—but nope. This one is about as scary as a jar of pitted olives.

The film is flattering to Eggers in that it’s proof that he has already established a genre style—gothic horror filmed in greys and browns—and that people are trying to ape it like a lot of ’90s directors tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino.

On the bright side, the film is much better than the Jeremy Renner vehicle Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That film may always stand as the worst adaptation of the story. Gretel and Hansel is just boring, not bad to the core. Still, boring is bad—and horror fans need not waste their time.

Gretel and Hansel is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I read It when the novel came out in 1986, and I was underwhelmed. It had a cool premise, but sloppy, overlong, out-of-control prose. That sucker needed some editing.

I had been gobbling up Stephen King books (I’m a big fan of Christine and Different Seasons), but experienced a bit of a lull in interest after his lousy Peter Straub collaboration, The Talisman. I felt like King was overextending himself a bit, and It seemed like a big mess.

In other words … I’m not a huge fan of the source material for the new It film.

I was also not a fan of the wimpy 1990 TV miniseries with John-Boy Walton, Jack Tripper, Harry Anderson and a decent Tim Curry as evil clown Pennywise. It featured that unintentionally hilarious puppet spider at the end.

The good thing about a movie like Andy Muschietti’s It is that the director and his writers can keep core themes that worked, but switch things up and streamline the narrative to make the story work better. As a result, the new It is a triumph.

While the miniseries dealt with both the young and older versions of the Losers Club—the posse of kids who stand up to evil—the new It stands as Part One, completely dividing the kid and adult stories. There’s also a major time change, with the kids’ story taking pace in the late ’80s instead of the 1950s. Thank you, Stranger Things.

The core story remains the same: Children in Derry, Maine, have been disappearing for many years. The film starts with the sad case of Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a little boy in a yellow rain slicker who follows his paper boat to the sewer drain, where he makes an unfortunate acquaintance.

That acquaintance is Pennywise, the dancing, sewer-dwelling clown, played as a most savage beast by Bill Skarsgard. The big difference between Curry’s Pennywise and the new incarnation is that Curry’s Pennywise seemed almost like a normal circus clown—until he sprouted monster teeth and took you out. He was into trickery. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a makeup-cracking, scary demon clown. He has an ability to charm for a short while, but he oozes evil. If you saw him at a circus, you’d be seriously afraid for the trapeze artists and lions. He even drools a little while addressing Georgie … before tearing Georgie’s arm off. At this moment, It immediately declares itself to be an R-rated, no-holds-barred King affair, as opposed to the homogenized TV version.

The kids are great. The standout is Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. At one point, one of the Losers calls her Molly Ringwald. Lillis has that kind of teen-film leading-lady presence. Jeremy Ray Taylor will break your heart as Ben Hanscom, the chubby kid who has a crush on Bev. (Their first meeting is one of the best scenes in the film.)

Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer provide solid comic relief as Richie and Eddie, while Jaeden Lieberher (excellent in Midnight Special) does a damn fine job with a stutter as Georgie’s big brother, Bill Denbrough. As for the bad kids, Nicholas Hamilton is the second-scariest entity in the film as bully Henry Bowers. He’s very real. I’m pretty sure I got in a locker room fight sometime in the 1980s with Hamilton’s Bowers.

Muschietti scores some big scares, especially during a slideshow gone very wrong, and a meeting between the Denbrough brothers in the family basement. (“You’ll float, too!”) It appears there was never a moment when Muschietti and his writers paused and thought, “Say, perhaps that idea would be a bit too unsettling? Maybe it’s a bit much and wrong?”

It: Part Two, while not official yet, is a certainty. As for It: Part One, it takes the best elements of King’s inconsistent novel effort, and comes out a frightening winner.

It is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews