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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

The original cinematic take on Stephen King’s supposed scariest novel was a camp-horror hoot—a strange mixture of gore and satire that holds up pretty well today. The new take on Pet Sematary offers more of a straightforward approach to King’s story about humans who can’t deal with death, especially when it comes to pets and family members.

Jason Clarke steps in as Louis Creed, big-city doctor moving to the country, where his wonderful new house is unfortunately bordered by a pet cemetery/Indian burial ground in the back, and a road full of speeding trucks in the front. The death of the family cat leads to an ill-advised burial in the cemetery … which leads to a zombie return of the beloved cat. The cat is followed by a family member, and King fans will be surprised to see who that family member is (as long as you haven’t seen the commercials).

This remake lacks the sense of humor that made the original twisted in a solid, King sort of way. The behavior of everybody in this movie is so stupid that when things are played straight, the story comes off as moronic rather than scary.

Jete Laurence is very good as the young daughter, and John Lithgow is OK with a more serious take on neighbor Jud (played by the late, great Fred Gwynne in the original). The movie drifts away from the original book too much in the end; again, it could’ve used a few more sick laughs.

It’s admirable that the filmmakers were shooting for something other than a note-by-note remake of the original—but by going off-book too much, they lost some of the cruel sting of King’s intentions.

Pet Sematary is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

For the second time in just a month, Netflix has scored again on the Stephen King front (after Gerald’s Game) with 1922, a horrific ghost story starring Thomas Jane—someone who is no stranger to King territory, having starred in Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

Jane plays Wilfred James, a farmer who kills his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), with the help of his lovestruck son, Henry (Dylan Schmid). Of course, Arlette has been murdered in a Stephen King movie—so it goes without saying that her soul will not rest peacefully, and her corpse will be riddled with rather spirited and determined rats.

Jane delivers a chilling, complicated character with Wilfred; he’s a terrible man, yet we can watch him for an entire movie and feel some concern for the welfare of him and misguided kid. Wilfred is one of those men who speaks through clenched teeth, and Jane simply disappears into the character.

Parker doesn’t have a lot of scenes before becoming a scary specter, but she does both the pre- and post-murder scenes well. Schmid is somewhat heartbreaking as the dumb son who goes along with his dad’s dumb ideas and winds up paying the price.

Director Zak Hilditch gives the movie strong atmospherics and creates something that feels faithful to the words and world of King.

1922 is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Now Netflix is chipping in on the effort to make us all forget that filmed adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower with this adaptation of King’s Gerald’s Game, a powerhouse acting job for both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

They play Jessie and Gerald, a married couple who have hit tough times. They attempt to rekindle their relationship on a holiday excursion which includes her getting handcuffed to the bed. Things go bad—like, really bad—and Jessie winds up in a truly precarious situation that involves starving, dehydrating and hallucinating.

The original King novel, of course, finds a way for Gerald to stick around for the whole movie, even after a fatal heart attack, while flashbacks show us additional traumas involving Jessie’s dad (Henry Thomas).

The movie is, appropriately, hard to watch at times, as a hungry dog comes by for a visit, and Jessie searches for ways to get her hands out of those cuffs. (Hint: Things get bloody.)

This is a career-best performance from Gugino, who carries most of the movie on her back. Greenwood is allowed to get deranged in the role, and he does just that. Visits from a ghostly giant give the movie a supernatural twist, and it gets legitimately scary.

This wasn’t one of King’s best novels (he basically ripped himself off with elements of Dolores Claiborne and Misery), but Gerald’s Game does wind up being one of the better filmed King adaptations.

Gerald’s Game is currently streaming on Netflix. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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

Remember when a Stephen King movie was an event? Remember when a John Cusack movie was an event? Remember 1408, the John Cusack/Stephen King movie in 2007 that was pretty badass?

Well, it’s 2016 now, and Cell, the latest Cusack/King vehicle, is getting an on-demand release shortly before a limited theatrical run. Produced three years ago, this film was better off staying on the shelf: It is easily one of the worst adaptations ever of a King story.

Cusack, re-teamed with his 1408 co-star Samuel L. Jackson, plays Clay, a graphic artist estranged from his wife and son. Shortly after placing a call to them on an airport payphone, Clay watches as cell-phone users spazz out and get transformed into a zombie-like state as the result of some sort of pulse sent through the phones.

Director Tod Williams is utterly lost; he makes this a humorless piece of horror-satire wrought with lethargic performances, shoddy camerawork and terrible special effects. The origin of the “pulse” that sets off the zombie apocalypse is never fully explained, and no villain is ever established. The ending is a confusing mishmash of three finales, as if the director couldn’t make up his mind.

Cusack seems pissed to be in this thing, while Jackson is clearly bored and seems resigned to the fact that he signed up for a stinker. Eli Roth was originally slated to be the director, and he left due to creative differences. Maybe he was arguing that a film like this should be crazy and even funny. This film takes itself a little too seriously, and boasts some of the worst editing you are likely to see this year.

The career of Cusack continues to spiral out of control, Nicolas Cage-style

Cell is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you’ve read the 1974 Stephen King novel Carrie, and you’ve seen the 1976 Brian De Palma film, you know that the book and the film are very different.

Well, the new Carrie remake, which stars Chloë Grace Moretz in the role that netted Sissy Spacek an Oscar nomination for the 1976 film, has more in common with De Palma’s film than King’s novel.

King’s novel, about a bullied telekinetic high school girl who endures one prank too many at the senior prom, depicted a series of episodic news reports, flashbacks and interviews, for the most part, to tell the story.

The new film welcomes a few of the novel’s plot points back into the story, although it takes a lot of the same liberties that De Palma took with the novel. In the new version, a few more characters survive the fiery black-prom tragedy—and one character might be pregnant. Otherwise, this feels like a remake of De Palma’s movie rather than a faithful retelling of King’s book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: De Palma went to the core of that novel, massaged its great ideas, and made something akin to a horror masterpiece, with much thanks given to the brilliant Spacek.

Director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry), unfortunately, doesn’t turn in anything that makes a Carrie remake worthwhile. Yes, the new film takes place in the present, where cellular phones and the Internet have become prevalent bullying weaponry—but much of the plot execution remains the same. In a lot of ways, this version even rips off De Palma.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) was a mere 15 years old during the filming—a little young for a high school senior. While Spacek did an exemplary job playing younger than her then 26 years for the original, Moretz looks like a freshman crashing the senior prom.

Still, the Moretz performance is, in many ways, admirable. She captures the pain and confusion of a young girl tormented by her classmates after receiving no valuable life-coaching from her religious-fanatic mother (played here by Julianne Moore in a role originated by the Oscar-nominated Piper Laurie). Interestingly, Goetz also played a tormented teen in this year’s awful Kick-Ass 2.

Moore goes to a darker place with the role of Margaret White when compared to Laurie’s campy, crazy take. This Margaret is far harder on herself (i.e. intentional cutting) and her daughter; she simmers with a dark, disturbing violence that makes her truly hateful. Goetz and Moore play well off each other during the movie’s major confrontation scenes.

As for supporting performances, Pierce gets it right with the casting of Gabriella Wilde as the virtuous Sue Snell, the popular student who regrets bullying Carrie and asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (a charming Ansel Elgort), to escort Carrie to the prom—with deadly results. Judy Greer is OK as the gym teacher who tries to get Carrie through everything in one piece.

On the down side, Portia Doubleday and Alex Russell are mere caricatures as villains Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan (notoriously played by the wild-eyed Nancy Allen and John Travolta in the ’76 version). Their dull portrayals offer nothing new.

The infamous prom scene, in which Carrie goes nuclear after getting doused with pig’s blood, was an operatic, gloriously torturous, expertly prolonged hell in De Palma’s movie. In the new version, the scene feels hastily edited and glossed over with a CGI polish. It totally misses the mark, and is the final reason that this remake is mediocre, at best.

I suppose if you’ve never seen De Palma’s film, the 2013 version might seem better. While the remake is, at times, skillfully made, its resources could’ve been put to a better cinematic use—like, say, an actual big-screen adaptation of King’s great novel, The Stand. A TV miniseries starring Molly Ringwald just isn't enough!

Carrie is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews