FlixChatter Review – IT Chapter Two (2019)

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman

It Chapter 2 takes place 27 years after the first film. When children again start mysteriously dying in Derry, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls his childhood friends (James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh, Bill Hader as Richie Tozier, Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak, and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris), to return to their hometown and finally defeat the fear-hungry entity that terrorized them in the form of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) all those years ago.

The highlight of this movie is absolutely its stellar cast. Everyone has excellent chemistry and genuinely feel like lifelong friends, especially Bill Hader and James Ransone. The actors clearly studied their younger counterparts thoroughly, because past just looking similar to them, their mannerisms mirror those of their younger counterparts incredibly well; my cousin pointed out that James McAvoy is slightly duck-footed when he walks, the same way young Bill (Jaeden Martell) is. All of the actors give impressive performances, but Bill Hader is the stand-out; while he’s as hilarious in this movie as anyone who has seen him on SNL would expect, he also gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance toward the end.

(L-R) Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan

My main complaint with this movie has to do with its length. It’s nearly three hours long, and while the first one was pretty long too-about two and a half hours-this one felt much more padded. There were several flashbacks to the kids having additional encounters with It, and while the scenes were mostly well-done, and it was nice having more screen time with the talented young actors, it felt like the filmmakers were just trying to squeeze in more scares. This is especially frustrating when the time focused on unnecessary flashbacks could have been used to flesh out parts that were mostly glazed over-Bill’s relationship with his actor wife Audra (Jess Weixler), Bev’s struggles with her abusive husband Tom (Will Beinbrink), and pretty much all of Mike’s background.

One of my main problems with the first movie was how little development they gave to Mike, and I had hoped that would change in the sequel, since he’s the only member of the friend group who stayed in Derry and is responsible for bringing them back, but he’s once again sidelined; I’m pretty sure we go nearly an hour without seeing him onscreen after the group’s reunion. Even his big scene from the book with former school bully/current psychiatric hospital escapee Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) is cut very short.

That last bit brings me to my other big complaint about the movie: there are several parts played for laughs that shouldn’t have been, especially most of the scenes with Bowers. His brief attack on Mike is handled more seriously, but the majority of his scenes, as bloody as they are, have this weird comedic tone that doesn’t mesh with this character that has been established as a genuinely intimidating figure. It’s not like this movie lacks for comedy-as scary as it is, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments-so I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt the need to inject humor into non-humorous situations.

While I have my issues with trying to pack in extra scares in this movie, I did still enjoy them. There are plenty of slow burning, suspenseful scenes, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and creative and unsettling imagery. The famous fortune cookie scene is frenetic and terrifying, Bev’s unnerving encounter with the strange old woman (Joan Gregson) in her old apartment is exquisitely tense, and there’s a moment toward the end involving young Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) that really made me shudder.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoyed It Chapter 2. It’s scary, funny, heartfelt, and well-acted. While I think the first movie is a little better (or at least more succinct), the second movie is a satisfying follow-up and a wonderful conclusion to a great horror story.

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Have you seen IT Chapter Two? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Pixar’s Inside Out (2015)

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Ever since Pixar came out with Toy Story in the mid 90s, I’ve been a big fan of Pixar films. What I love about most of them is behind the imaginative concepts and inventive visuals, the stories aren’t devoid of heart. Well, that principle is in full display with this latest movie.

This time, the protagonists aren’t people, animal or aliens, but the emotions that reside within an 11-year-old girl, Riley. As if a preteen girl’s life isn’t complicated enough, being uprooted from the Upper Midwest all the way to San Francisco certainly is a big adjustment. Watching Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness bicker with each other on how to best navigate Riley’s new environment is a real blast!

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The fact that the young protagonist is from Minnesota makes it extra amusing for me. I didn’t realize that at first but I suppose the scenes with all the snow, the family going skating and the fact that Riley LOVES hockey should’ve been a major giveaway. Pixar really immerses you into their imaginative universe here. The headquarter where the four major emotions operate in is so fun and inventive, such as how each memory is stored within this glowing orb and the whole process of how it gets sent up the memory tube. There’s also Riley’s Island of Personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island, each powered by Riley’s core memory.

InsideOut_IslandOfPersonalityFiguring out how Riley’s internal *universe* work is part of the movie’s charm, and of course, the four emotions are such a hoot. I absolutely adore Joy who’s now become one of my favorite Pixar characters. Amy Poehler is the perfect choice to bring her character to life. She utterly lives up to the name in every way… an absolute joy to watch and listen to. The voice work is stellar all around, as to be expected in a Pixar movie. Nice to see so many female voice cast, too. Mindy Kalling as Disgust is delightfully snarky and Kaitlyn Dias as Riley is appropriately bubbly and full of angst, as you’d expect every preteen to be. Bill Hader is perfect as Fear and Richard Kind is memorable as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong who’s a bizarre combination of an elephant, a cat, candy, and a dolphin. Oh and it cries candy, it really doesn’t get more adorable than that!

InsideOut_JoySadnessBingBongFor anyone who’s ever experienced moving to a new town at a young age, forced to abandon the friends and environment we’ve grown to love, we can certainly identify with Riley. But truly, Inside Out‘s is relatable no matter what age you are because we’ve all experienced growing up. The movie mostly takes place within Riley’s head, but occasionally it goes into the mind of Riley’s mom and dad. The one that gets the most laugh is the closing credit sequence when it zooms inside the mind of dogs and cats. Boy I could watch an entire movie of a cat version of Inside Out! Now there’s a spinoff idea. Oh and I have got to mention the hunky Brazilian Helicopter Pilot, that bit was hilarious and I certainly can relate to THAT 😉

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This film’s concept is brilliant and inherently challenging one as it deals with the psychology and science of the brain which, if not handled well, could easily be quite boring. Yet directors Pete Docter (who I just realized is a Minnesota native) and Ronaldo Del Carmen somehow made all the science stuff so whimsical and delightful, without forgoing accuracy. Per this article, Pixar worked with UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, an expert on the science of emotion, which I think help flesh out the animated personifications of the four major emotions depicted in the film.

Final Thoughts: I had a lot of fun with this one. I’d think this movie would appeal to both kids and adults, though I’d imagine parents of preteens/teens would get a real kick out of this. Inside Out is not just an entertaining family fare, but it’s also an affecting one that gives us an insight into our humanity in the most delightful way. Not sure yet how this movie will rank amongst my all time animated favorites like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall•E over time, but this is definitely another winner from Pixar.

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Have you seen Inside Out? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

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It seems that a straight love-themed drama is hard to come in Hollywood. Instead we see romance as part of another genre, i.e. romantic comedy, romantic thriller, romantic sci-fi and so on. It’s even more rare to see a love story in a three-film format, not a trilogy mind-you, but the same story told from three different perspective [as you can read in my spotlight here] where director Ned Besson shot three films from his and her perspective, then created a third – more marketable – version, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.

So who’s miss Eleanor Rigby? You might be inclined to think she ‘disappears’ in the same sense as Gone Girl, but no that’s not the case here. But the title makes sense as the film progresses, which is unfolding in an unhurried pace that is far from boring. It opens with a gorgeous young couple, Eleanor and Conor, running off without paying their bill at a restaurant. It’s apparent the two are blissfully in love, which makes you wonder all the more what happen to such a seemingly jubilant marriage. Besson didn’t immediately fill in everything about the incident that trigger the relationship’s collapse, which can be at times frustrating but it also made me appreciate the journey with the characters. 

EleanorRigbyStills1I read afterwards that Besson apparently had a relationship with the lead actress, Jessica Chastain, and that in a way the story is somewhat biographical. Perhaps that’s why I think Chastain is so perfect in the role, though I think she would be anyway without their history. She’s the kind of actress whose got such a captivating screen presence, both strong and vulnerable, as well as being able to remain likable even if her character isn’t always so. In fact, at times I feel like perhaps she’s being unreasonable. What could be so horrible that made her decide to take such drastic measures? I feel that Eleanor chooses to drown in her own grief despite being surrounded by such a supportive family, which I think is still a privilege as not many people would have such a privilege. Yet I couldn’t dislike her and I attribute that to Chastain’s soulful performance.

On the other side is James McAvoy as Conor, the *jilted* husband who tries to win her back. McAvoy is such a capable actor, I always think that given his resemblance to Gerard Butler, the two could be brothers, but he’s the kind of performer I wish Butler could be. McAvoy could juggle big-budget Summer movies like X-Men Days of Future Past, in an iconic role no less, yet he can still *disappear* [pardon the pun] into an entirely different role here. Like Eleanor, Conor is a flawed character who struggles with his crumbling marriage as well as his frosty relationship with his dad. I’d have to say I prefer McAvoy in dramatic fares and I hope he does more stuff like this where he plays a regular guy.

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I feel that under less capable hands, both Conor & Eleanor might not have been as captivating nor as convincing in conveying deep emotional heartbreak. Even in quieter moments, both actors can hold your attention and they definitely get you involved in their story. It definitely helps having a solid supporting cast, I especially like Viola Davis as a college professor who became Eleanor’s unlikely confidant, as well as Ciaran Hinds & William Hurt as the father of Conor & Elinor, respectively. Bill Hader provides somewhat of a comic relief as McAvoy’s BFF. He’s ok but I feel that their scenes felt too much like a traditional *ingredient* of a typical rom-com, so it feels like a weak link in an otherwise unconventional drama.

It’s a small quibble though, the film does a lot of things right in that it really got you involved in the characters’ journey. As I’ve been married for some time to my college sweetheart, it definitely made me think about what I’d do if this circumstance were to happen to me. There is a moment in their apartment where barely any word is spoken, but it was such a heart-wrenching and delicate moment between the two. Yet I don’t feel manipulated into feeling something that’s superficial, there’s no sweeping music to tug your heartstrings, it was all the result of being invested in the story. That said, the music/songs are quite enjoyable and fit the theme of the film nicely. As I mentioned before, I love that Besson took his time to reveal the incident that propel the story. He give you some subtle hints throughout so you can take a guess what happens but the details remain open-ended.

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Overall I’m impressed by Besson’s feature film debut, and applaud him for trying something different w/ the format. I like how intimate and personal this story feels, brought out by authentic and compelling performances of the two main actors. The cinematography of NYC is gorgeous and it shows a warm, even personal side of the city that complements the story. I’d be inclined to check out the His/Her version when they’re out on rental, that’d give me more insight into both characters and their story. It’s too bad that reportedly the film didn’t do well at all at the box office (per The Wrap) as I’d love more people to see this film. I was hoping that Besson, as well as McAvoy & Chastain get some nominations come award season, but that seems unlikely. In any case, I highly recommend this if you’re in the mood for a character-driven drama with splendid performances.

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Thoughts on this one? If you have seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.