Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

It Chapter Two gives moviegoers a needed, yet mediocre, conclusion to a saga started by the previous, far-superior film.

Translation: If you saw and liked the first movie, you need to watch this one to get the full story. You’ll also be witnessing a decline in quality.

In a strange way, I’m happy It Chapter Two exists, because it does have some good scares, and Bill Hader rocks as a grown-up Finn Wolfhard. It closes out the Stephen King story in much better fashion than that spider sequence in that TV miniseries. If you look at It as one long movie consisting of two chapters, the overall experience is still cool. But if you look at this sequel as a standalone … it’s a big mess—an editing-room fatality.

The first movie focused on the Losers’ Club as children, concluding with them seemingly defeating Pennywise the Clown (an always-frightening Bill Skarsgard). This one picks up 27 years later, welcoming the likes of Hader (Ritchie), Jessica Chastain (Beverly) and James McAvoy (Bill) to the proceedings.

When evil seems to revisit their hometown, the adult Losers return for a rematch with the morphing clown … and that’s it for the plot. The adults split up, suffer some individual horrors at the hands of Pennywise, then wind up back together for the finale.

A big problem in this movie is that the kids from the first film, who actually play a large part in this one, have aged a lot since the first chapter wrapped. While there have been some nice advancements in digital de-aging, this film does not show that. The kid scenes are a mixture of newly filmed scenes and flashbacks. The kids, often filmed in the dark, look very odd with their digitally altered, disproportioned faces; in some cases, their digitally de-aged voices make them sound like chipmunks. The producers should’ve filmed the extra kid scenes during the original movie’s production, saved themselves some dough on special effects, and had a better-looking movie.

There’s a lot of whining out there about this film’s running time, as it clocks in at 2 hours, 49 minutes. I actually wish director Andy Muschietti would have taken three films to tell this story, because at nearly three hours, this movie actually comes off as oddly rushed and haphazard. There’s talk that the original cut for Chapter Two was four hours long. Perhaps that hour will be restored in a home-video release; it might fill in some gaps and make the experience feel more complete and less compressed.

Hader rules this movie in the same way Wolfhard ruled the original. He’s funny; he’s aces at looking scared; and he can handle the heavy drama. Surprisingly, McAvoy seems a little lost in the role of grown-up Bill, while Chastain doesn’t really have much to work with during her screen time. Hader and Skarsgard make good chunks of this movie worth watching.

After a solid start, the performers run around from set piece to set piece, setting the table for some CGI scares mixed with occasional practical effects. (The old lady freezing during her tea chat with Beverly is perhaps the scariest/funniest moment in the movie, and it required no software.)

Again, I have a feeling It Chapter 2 could be somewhat redeemed by a director’s cut that could reinstall some of the connective tissue between the scenes. Right now, the film is just a bunch of thrill sequences smashing into one another in the second half, with no real sense of direction.

The story of It, as a whole on the big screen, is easily superior to the TV series that came before. It Chapter 2 drags the overall grade for both movies together to somewhere around a B-minus.

It Chapter Two is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There’s been too much “more of the same” at theaters this summer. Flat big-budget blockbusters and sequels without an ounce of creativity or originality keep being churned out of the Hollywood industrial complex, delivering an astounding amount of expensive, vapid horse shit.

Sausage Party, the animated hellcat from writer-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is the first big studio film in a long time that is screaming with originality. It’s a profanity-laden, blasphemous middle finger to the movie-making establishment that thinks it’s OK to turn out sequels and comic-book movies that suck—because the studios know people will shell out for them anyway. Sausage Party couldn’t be more fun, and it’s a film like nothing you’ve seen before.

In a sunny supermarket, a bunch of vegetables, hot dogs and buns wake up and sing a happy song, convinced that today will be the day they are chosen by humans to enter the Great Beyond—the world on the other side of those automatic sliding doors.

Frank (the voice of Rogen), an optimistic hot dog with teeth like Seth Rogen, longs for the moment he can leave his packaging and “fill” his sweetheart, a bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). That moment seems to be imminent when they are selected and placed in a cart—but things quickly go awry: Frank and Brenda are left behind on the supermarket floor, while their friends soon find out that things in the Great Beyond are far from great.

On top of being super-profane, Sausage Party is incredibly violent, with various food things and condiments suffering unthinkable, heinous fates. (What happens to heads of lettuce and baby carrots is particularly nightmarish.) Rogen and Goldberg have found themselves a little loophole: The main characters aren’t humans or animals, allowing for nonstop carnage within the confines of an R rating.

That loophole also allows for a food orgy that would be too much for your average porno, yet there it is—a bunch of characters openly fornicating in just about every way possible on a big screen playing next door to Finding Dory.

If you’re a parent out there who takes kids to the movies simply based on the poster, you are in for the shock of your life. However, the first word in this movie is actually “shit,” so you should know early on that the wrong entertainment has been chosen for the day.  (Unless, of course, you and your kids are truly twisted, in which case … have at it!)

Other exquisite touches include a main villain that is a total douche … and by total douche, I mean he’s actually a douche, voiced by Nick Kroll. He’s also a leaky douche, so his thing is to suck replenishing juices out of his prey—sometimes in a way that is most provocative.

James Franco is on hand as the voice of a druggie experimenting with bath salts, while Edward Norton voices Sammy Bagel Jr., a bagel who plays a pivotal, perverted part in that food orgy. Rogen/Goldberg mainstays like Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz and Danny McBride all have roles, and they all contribute to make this the most outrageously insane Hollywood comedy since, well, their own This Is the End (2013).

What makes Sausage Party a cut above your average stoner-movie-full-of-food-items-screwing-and-being-murdered is that it also takes some smart swipes at organized religion and politics. Yes, this movie makes you think—a lot more than you would expect from a movie that features a taco going down on a hotdog bun.

I heard Rogen on The Howard Stern Show saying he thinks Sausage Party could be a franchise ripe for sequels. Just how he thinks he can top this madness is beyond comprehension … but I will certainly be in line to find out when he tries.

Sausage Party is playing at theaters across the valley.

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It’s now been nine years since The Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer—made its cinematic debut with the cult-fave Hot Rod.

The trio’s new film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, gives them a chance to play in their favorite sandbox: the music world. The result: what feels like the first fully realized Lonely Island movie. Given how damn funny the movie is, let’s hope there are many more to follow.

All three members of The Lonely Island contribute as writers and performers, while Taccone and Schaffer handle directing chores. The movie takes the mockumentary route, spoofing bio films from the likes of Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers and Katy Perry.

Samberg headlines as Conner 4 Real, a former member of boy-band/rap-group The Style Boyz, who has gone his own way with a solo career. Following that initial success, Connor’s latest solo album is tanking (Rolling Stone gave it a shit emoji), and he’s panicking. He goes on tour with an opening act that is better than him; he gets sponsored by appliances that play his music when you operate them; and overall, he is basically selling out.

The movie features what Lonely Island does best—silly parody songs. “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” has Conner reminiscing about a girl who wanted him to do her with the military efficiency showed by the U.S. Navy SEALs who shot Bin Laden in the head. “Equal Rights” is Conner’s sad attempt to ally himself with the LBGT community; he subliminally reinforces his heterosexuality throughout the song.

The film revels in the random and weird, including a sequence in which Conner has to sign somebody’s dick through a limo window (a dick that, according to many stories on the Internet, belongs to the film’s producer, Judd Apatow), and a wedding proposal gone bad when the wolves supplied by a “Party Wolves” website become agitated by Seal’s singing voice.

A running gag riffs on Danger Mouse and Daft Punk, with Conner’s DJ—former Style Boyz member Owen (Taccone, in his best screen role yet)—wearing a cumbersome helmet that shoots out blinding light and a roar. There’s also the final Style Boyz member, Lawrence (Schaffer), who left the group during a rancorous split and became a farmer (perhaps a poke at former R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry). Some of the movie’s best moments involve him being interviewed in his shed among his drab woodwork.

Other players include the great Tim Meadows as Conner’s shifty manager; Bill Hader in a quick but welcome cameo; and Chris Redd as Conner’s wild-eyed opening act, Hunter, who may or may not have orchestrated a gag that makes it appear that Conner has no dick. Yes, there’s a lot of dick humor in this film. This film might be the all time king when it comes dick humor.

Oh, and there’s also a blessed appearance by the one and only Michael Bolton. The Lonely Island are so cool they’ve made Michael Bolton cool. MICHAEL BOLTON.

Samberg finally gets a worthy follow up to Hot Rod, and he is on-the-mark funny during the entire film. Taccone, who rocked it as Chaka in Land of the Lost, shows off his versatility as the film’s funny emotional core. The big surprise is Schaffer, coming out of the shadows of Lonely Island to show off some major comic timing and acting chops.

Sadly, Popstar looks like it’s bombing, big-time, at the box office, so there you have it. Some people make a comedy that’s funny from beginning to end—and they get their ass kicked by a bunch of sewer dwelling turtles.

Hey, if it’s turtles you are looking for, Popstar features a turtle prominently. Yes, it’s a barfing turtle with a serious bone disorder, but it’s a turtle all the same.

Big box office or not, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping will eventually be regarded as a beloved look at a music world gone completely nuts. Years from now, people who passed on this in the theaters will catch it on TV and give it some life.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Trainwreck offers the hilarious Amy Schumer her first starring vehicle, with a screenplay she wrote under the directorial tutelage of Judd Apatow. This movie signals the arrival of Schumer as a cinematic force.

She plays Amy, a magazine writer playing the field in New York—and doing it rather sloppily. When she’s assigned a story about a sports-medicine doctor (Bill Hader), she unexpectedly falls for him, which puts her plan to just fool around into flux.

Schumer crafted a run-of-the-mill romantic-comedy plotline with her screenplay, although it’s peppered with profanity that is sometimes beautifully shocking. She shows that she has the ability to nail the laughs—but she can also bring the emotional stuff, too. She has a funeral scene that is, dare I say, sublime.

Hader is his always-terrific self as the shell-shocked boyfriend who is just trying to bring some stability into Amy’s life, and Colin Quinn is terrific as her retirement-home-dwelling father.

The storyline is a little weak and predictable, but Schumer and Hader are awesome together, so that makes this very much worthwhile.

Trainwreck is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Animation directors don’t get a lot of kudos. Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) is probably the best-known and most-celebrated director in the lot, and he deserves the accolades. John Lasseter gave us the first two Toy Story films, which earns him forgiveness for Cars 2.

It’s time to now sing the praises of Mr. Pete Docter, the director of Up, perhaps the greatest animated movie ever made—and now the man behind the wonderful, imaginative Inside Out. Docter (who also directed Monsters, Inc.) has an amazing knack for conveying real emotion in animation. This is a guy who had audiences crying within mere minutes during the opening of Up, and now he’s created a film that deals specifically with emotions in a hilarious and innovative way.

Inside Out is a masterpiece, not only because it looks fantastic, but also because it generates real, genuine feelings. It also has some of that blissful, bizarre insanity that made Up such a winner. There are creations in this movie that burst with genius energy.

The movie goes inside the mind of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), a girl who is displaced from Minnesota to a small house in San Francisco with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). Inside Riley’s mind, we see her emotions, each of which is represented by a character: Amy Poehler as Joy, Bill Hader as Fear, Lewis Black as Anger, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Mindy Kaling as Disgust.

Other amazing ideas within this brilliant film’s universe: Riley’s memories take the form of little crystal balls with life occurrences playing inside them. Different islands of her mind represent family, goofiness and, her favorite sport, hockey. Finally, there’s the subconscious/dream factory, where discarded imaginary friends and creepy party clowns hide.

Along with being very funny, the film bluntly addresses the loss of memories as we grow up; how core memories can be forever tainted with sadness; and just how important sadness is to any human being. It’s all handled in a very Pixar way—which does not mean whitewashed. At times, the film is quite brutal and startling. This is what places a Pixar film a cut above the rest, including the best of the Disney animated films: There’s a level of complexity here that you won’t find in your average family film. Parents: Expect to have some big discussions with some of your more alert kids after taking them to see this one.

Poehler’s Joy is visualized as a bright blue and green pixie akin to Tinker Bell. It’s her voice that anchors this movie—this is one of the great animated film performances. Hader’s gangly and nervous Fear joins Black’s volcanic-red Anger to provide most of the film’s comedy. A sequence in which Fear gets bored watching one of Riley’s routine nightmares is big highlight.

Sadness—a roundish, blue, bespectacled orb—seems to be a threat throughout the movie, as she tries to touch and taint memories. This proves to be somewhat of a fakeout by the film’s end, when we find out her true destiny in Riley’s upbringing.

As he did with Up, Docter has put together an animated movie that impresses during every second, and surprises at every turn. His animated work has more layers than most dramatic live-action affairs. We are only halfway through the year, but I see Docter as a top candidate for year-end Best Director honors. As of right now, he’s made the year’s best movie so far.

Hold on, because Inside Out is the first of two new Pixar films this year: The Good Dinosaur is set for release at Thanksgiving. I can’t wait.

Inside Out is playing in various formats at theaters across the valley.

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Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader take their careers to the next level with The Skeleton Twins, a film that lets them prove their talents go way beyond things that are just funny.

Craig Johnson’s second directorial effort has some intermittent laughs, but it gets a lot darker than one might expect from a film starring the Target Lady and Stefon. The stands as one of the year’s greater—and more complicated—family dramas.

The two play twins, long estranged, who wind up back in each other’s lives. Milo (Hader) tries to commit suicide in L.A. after breaking up with his boyfriend. His twin sister, Maggie (Wiig), is preparing to do the very same thing in New York when the call comes in that Milo is in the hospital. After an awkward reunion in a hospital room, Milo heads to New York with his twin sis to lay low.

The two, both very depressed, try to rekindle their relationship while coping with their own self-destructive impulses. Maggie is cheating on her affable husband (Luke Wilson), while Milo tries to re-enter the life of the former high school teacher (Ty Burrell) who slept with him when he was underage. The time Hader and Burrell spend onscreen together is mighty awkward.

Wiig and Hader make a convincing on screen brother and sister. Their characters clearly love one another, but are certainly capable of severely hurting each other. We find out late that some major wounds from high school goings-on haven’t fully healed, and the resultant fiery scenes are very well-played. Hader and Wiig have natural sibling chemistry, no doubt something that developed over their years together at Saturday Night Live.

Johnson provides them with a couple of funny scenes that allow them to really cut up, including a lip synch of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” and a sequence involving laughing gas. The scenes offer some welcome contrast to the more heavy stuff.

I can’t say this film contains the best Hader performance ever, because he did play that pot-smoking guy in the beginning of Pineapple Express, and I’m not sure anything will ever top that. Still, Milo is a great character—sensitive and sweet in moments, but also nasty, sarcastic and vindictive at times. Hader shows that he has the potential for a long dramatic career ahead of him, following in SNL brother Will Forte’s footsteps. (I now want to see a movie in which they play brothers.)

Wiig, without a doubt, is the best dramatic actress to emerge from Saturday Night Live. Her work in Bridesmaids may’ve garnered big laughs, but there was an edge to that performance that showed she could handle emotionally rich material. Her Maggie is a bit despicable, but always sympathetic, and Wiig does not hit one false note. If she keeps this up, she’s going to start pulling down Oscar nominations.

Wilson helps fuel some great scenes with his optimistic and somewhat simplistic character. He’s a likable dummy who believes he’s married to the greatest girl in the world. You always know he has a rude awakening coming. Burrell basically plays a creep with no redeeming qualities—and he does it well.

By the way, all of you folks who used to complain about the Wiig years on SNL: Did you see the SNL season premiere? Are you missing Wiig yet? Holy hell! I know this is off the subject, but I had to get a dig in. Lorne Michaels … you and your crew are slumming!

We are heading into that time of the year when some movies bring wonderful, brilliant surprises. Hader and Wiig will surprise you with this one.

The Skeleton Twins is playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342), the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Maggie Carey has put together a shockingly naughty sex comedy set in the early ’90s and featuring female protagonists. In The To Do List, Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Safety Not Guaranteed) continues her cinematic wonder streak as Brandy, a class valedictorian and super-virgin.

After some discussions with her best buds (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), she decides she needs to make a sex “to-do” list to ready her for the rigors of college life. This results in a lot of awkward sex acts among high school grads, with some of them performed by best bud and secret admirer, Cameron (Johnny Simmons).

Brandy gets a summer job as a lifeguard, where she pines for Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) and works for a deadbeat boss (the hilarious Bill Hader; he’s Carey’s real-life husband). Plaza proves that she is game for anything, including a fantastically crude play on the Caddyshack “doodie” scene, and all sorts of bodily fluid exercises.

Clark Gregg may be this year’s funniest movie dad, and Rachel Bilson scores uproarious laughs as Brandy’s bitchy sister. However, when it comes to the film’s supporting performances, nobody beats Hader, who does his best screen work to date. He has a scene—one in which he is simply being woken up—that is sheer comic brilliance.

Carey is a great comedy writer, and I’m anxious to see what she comes up with next. This offering brings to mind great sex comedies like Risky Business; it’s a major relief from more recent sex comedies like the overrated American Pie series.

As for Plaza, master of the deadpan, she is one of the more enjoyable comic actresses working today. If you haven’t seen her in Safety Not Guaranteed yet, see that movie as soon as possible.

Special Features: Carey and Hader provide a commentary. You also get outtakes, deleted scenes and an interview with Carey.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is animation done with all the style and grace of a spastic colon saturated with hot sauce.

While the first film had a reasonable amount of charm, this goes haywire from the start. Bill Hader returns as the voice of Flint, the over-excited inventor who, in the first movie, managed to inundate his hometown with giant food storms thanks to his crazed invention. Now, the machine has gone nuts, creating a race of living food, including cheeseburger spiders and dolphin bananas.

The film is intolerably frantic, with a plotline that is scattered beyond reasonability. It’s hard to follow—but it does have the occasional fart and poop joke to make the kids laugh.

The only character I managed to enjoy was a jittery monkey trying to put out a sparkler—and that accounts for about 30 seconds of the film. Don’t waste your time—and your kids probably won’t like it, either.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Maggie Carey has used compelling female protagonists to put together a shockingly naughty sex comedy set in the early ’90s.

Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Safety Not Guaranteed) continues her cinematic wonder streak as Brandy, class valedictorian and super-virgin. After some discussions with her best buds (Sarah Steele and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), she decides she needs to make a sexual “to-do” list to ready her for the rigors of college life. This results in a lot of awkward sex acts among high school grads, with some of them performed by best-bud and secret admirer, Cameron (Johnny Simmons). Brandy gets a summer job as a lifeguard, where she pines for Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) and works for a deadbeat boss (the hilarious Bill Hader, Carey’s real-life husband).

Plaza proves that she is game for anything, including a fantastically crude play on the Caddyshack “doodie” scene, and all sorts of bodily-fluid exercises.

Clark Gregg just may be this year’s funniest movie dad, and Rachel Bilson scores uproarious laughs as Brandy’s bitchy sister.

As far as summer films go, this one has the most laughs per minute—and I can’t wait to see what Carey comes up with next. She writes a mean script.

The To Do List is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews