Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fall Blog Cleaning

I've had a bunch of items clogging my inbox for the past month or two, so it's high time I cleaned it out and finally posted 'em

Back in August I posted a story about Sony ending its deal to share Spider-Man with Disney/Marvel Studios. Under the terms of their contract, Marvel agreed to produce a series of Spider-Man films, while Sony would receive the bulk of the profits from them. 

When Disney asked for a bigger slice of the pie, Sony took their character and went home, and Spider-Man was no longer allowed in the MCU.

Ah, but not so fast there! Since that initial post, Sony & Disney have kissed and made up, and the deal's back on. Spidey will now make at least two more contractually obligated appearances in the MCU. 

That's good news for Marvel Studios and these new Spider-Man films, as it means we'll get a proper trilogy after all. Even better, the big cliffhanger at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home will be resolved.

I'm glad for fans of the character, but... eh. I find myself not really caring much. I've been a HUGE fan of the MCU since the first Iron Man movie, but... I think I'm over it now. Endgame really did feel like the end of an era to me, and I'm just kind of done with the whole thing. Nothing I've seen in Marvel's proposed Phase 4 excites me, and I just don't see any way they'll ever top the amazing achievement of Phases 1 through 3. 

I know Disney will never let the MCU end, but I honestly wish they would.

R.I.P. to actor Sid Haig, who died at age 80 back on September 21st, 2019. Haig was a horror movie staple, no doubt due to his rather alarming and intimidating appearance. He starred in over 147 movies and TV shows over the years— playing villains, natch— and was beloved by horror fans the world over.

I don't have anything profound to say about him here, other than that I enjoyed his work and he'll be missed. I saw him at a horror convention a few years back, but sadly didn't have any interaction with him. I can confirm that he actually did exist though!

In the end credits of Frozen, there's a line stating, "The views and opinions expressed by Kristoff in this film that all men eat their own boogers are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The Walt Disney Company or the filmmakers."

I chuckled at that line at first, but the more I think about it, I'm not 100% sure it was a joke. In the current SJW PC hellscape in which we live, I could easily see some group of outraged soy boys trying to sue Disney for daring to make an assumption about all men and their booger consumption.

This is the world we now live in, folks.

Earlier this month Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was subpoenaed to testify before the House for something or other— I wasn't really paying attention. Anyway, take a look at him in this news photo. I realize I've got no room talking about someone else's looks, but Jesus Christ! Are we sure that's really Zuckerberg there, and not some sort of dead-eyed, emotionless android his R&D guys whipped up to take his place?

Also, Mark Zuckerberg is currently worth $69 BILLION dollars. Apparently he's decided to save some of that money on barbers by taking a pair of dull scissors and cutting his bangs straight across at the very top of his head. Just like five year olds do when they attempt to cut their own hair for the first time.

R.I.P. to actor Robert Forster, who died at age 78 on October 11, 2019. Forster was a reliable character actor whose career began in 1967. He racked up over 180 movie and TV credits over the years, but his most famous role was probably that of Max Cherry in Quentin Tarrantino's Jackie Brown.

Again, nothing compelling to say here, other than that I enjoyed his work. My favorite Forster film is 1980s Alligator, one of the many "Animals Bite Back" movies that clogged the cineplex after Jaws. Alligator's a B-movie masterpiece, and is criminally underrated in my opinion. You should check it out.

Separated at birth?

R.I.P. to actor Aron Eisenberg, who died on September 21, 2019 at the much-too young age of 50. Eisenberg played Ferengi character Nog on all seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Nog was one of the best characters on DS9, and had one of the more compelling story arcs. He started out as an annoying and shifty teen, but eventually became the first Ferengi to join Starfleet. He fought in the Dominion War and was promoted to Lieutenant in the show's final season.

Eisenberg was born with only one partially-functioning kidney, and suffered from health problems his entire life. He and his long-time girlfriend Malissa Longo eloped late last year, in December 2018. Sad.

Lastly, the War On Halloween is in full swing. In the past month I've read numerous articles denouncing the holiday, as schools all over the country have eliminated it because it's not "inclusive." Then there was the "daddy blogger" (which is apparently a thing) who claims that Star Wars Stormtrooper costumes should be forbidden, due to their connection to Nazi Germany (???). And then there was the dim bulb who said Halloween candy should be banned, because the millions of individually-wrapped fun size candy bars handed out every October create an "environmental disaster." And of course there are the perennial complaints from easily-offended busybodies over their neighbors' "gruesome" Halloween yard displays.

Sigh... It's obvious that the nation's jittery Soccer Moms and constantly-triggered SJWs want to outlaw the holiday altogether. There's no doubt in my mind that they'll eventually get their wish. I give Halloween another five years, tops, and then it'll be nothing more than another pleasant memory ruined by the assholes of the world.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Is It Just Me, Or Is It Getting Crazier Out There?

Welp, I called it!

A couple weeks ago I reviewed Joker, Warner Bros.' inexplicably popular new non-superhero superhero movie. 

In the film, the titular character trudges up and down a set of steep stairs several times, with the weight of the world seemingly on his shoulders. Once he loses his mind and becomes a murderous clown, he dances down the stairs with the grace and ease of Fred Astaire.

It's an iconic moment in the movie, and has already become a recognizable part of pop culture. In my review I predicted it wouldn't be long before the stairs became a tourist destination, as countless fans flocked to them.

Annnnnd sure enough, that's exactly what happened. The instant the film was released, thousands began making a pilgrimage to the stairs, which are located in the Bronx. Some fans are actually coming all the way from overseas just to pose on these dirty inner city steps! Oy gevalt!

The bad part about the whole thing is that these steps aren't there for decorative purposes. People who live in the area actually use them to get to and from their apartments. Or they did, until a month ago. Now they're most likely going blocks out of the way to avoid the nimrods clogging the alleyway.

And from what I've read, the stairs aren't exactly in a safe part of the city. It's probably only a matter of time before someone's stabbed, robbed, shot or all three.

Hopefully Jokermania will fade away soon, so the residents of the Bronx can have their stairs and their lives back again. They used to think life was a tragedy. But now they realize it's a pain in the ass.

It Came From The Cinepex: IT Chapter Two

IT Chapter Two was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by Andy Muschietti.

Dauberman previously wrote Annabelle, Within, Wolves At The Door and Annabelle: Creation.

Muschietti previously directed the bland and mediocre horror film Mama, and somehow parlayed that into a chance to direct the original IT (which I guess is now retroactively being called IT Chapter One).

The film's based on the 1986 novel by Stephen King, and is the second attempt at adapting it to the screen. ABC aired a very mediocre two part TV miniseries version of IT back in 1990.

I like the original film quite a bit, as my appreciation of it has grown over the past two years. So how does Chapter Two stack up? 
Is it anywhere near as good as the first film? Sadly, no. In fact I can perfectly describe it with just one word: "Disappointing."

It Chapter Two is a slow, repetitive and meandering film that plods along like Frankenstein's monster. Numerous subplots are set up but never resolved, and it feels like huge swathes of the film were cut for time. The action finally picks up in the third act, but by then most of the audience will have already checked out.

Also, for a movie that clocks in at nearly three hours, there's very little that actually happens. There's a good reason for that. See, the book bounces back and forth between present and past, as the adult characters recall incidents from their childhoods (the first part of the TV miniseries followed this same structure, more or less).

Unfortunately these new movies stray from that pattern. Chapter One used of EVERY drop of kid material from the book, which left very little to put into Chapter Two. This forced the filmmakers to stretch and expand what was left of the story, resulting in a movie that's needlessly padded.

Worst of all, Chapter Two just isn't scary. At all. Chapter One featured a few reasonably frightening and disturbing moments, but sadly that all goes out the window here in the sequel. In fact, Chapter Two feels more like a comedy at times than a horror movie (due mostly to the presence of Bill Hader).

Again, I blame the source material for this lack of scares. 
I've said it before, but it bears repeating— the first half of the story works so well because it's about kids being menaced by a sinister, supernatural clown. It makes sense that youngsters would be terrified of such a thing.

Once they become adults though, the whole thing just seems kind of... silly. Why the hell are a bunch of forty year olds scared of a stupid clown?

In the end, it doesn't matter what I think, as IT Chapter Two has grossed a respectable $451 million worldwide against its small $79 million budget. That's significantly lower than the first film though, which grossed $700 million worldwide. Maybe audiences got their fill of Pennywise the first time around.


The Plot:
It's been twenty seven years since the tween members of the Losers' Club— Bill Denbrough, Ben Hanscom, Beverly Marsh, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak, Stanley Uris and Mike Hanlon— defeated the evil clown Pennywise in their hometown of Derry, Maine.

It's now 2016. Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty, a gay couple in their twenties, are enjoying themselves at a festival. As they leave, they're viciously attacked by a gang of homophobes. They beat the two men and toss Adrian off a bridge into the river.

As the asthmatic Adrian struggles to catch his breath in the icy water, he sees Pennywise on the shore reaching out to him. Don watches helplessly as Pennywise drags Adrian from the river and kills him.

The next day, Mike Hanlon, the only Loser who still lives in Derry, somehow wanders unchallenged into the crime scene and finds a popped red balloon. He realizes Pennywise, aka the titular IT, has returned and has resumed his killing spree.

Mike contacts the various Losers, who're now all grown and have gone on to successful careers. Unfortunately many of their personal lives are less than perfect. Bill's now a screenwriter, married to an actress named Audra. Ben's a famous architect and no longer a butterball. Bev's a fashion designer who married an abusive man just like her father. Richie's a popular stand-up comedian with a possible substance abuse problem. Eddie's a risk assessor in New York, whose clingy wife is just like his overbearing mother. Stanley's successful and married as well.

Mike reminds them all of the oath they took to return to Derry if Pennywise ever surfaced again. As he does so, each of the Losers flashes back to their childhoods, which they've not thought about in decades (?). This gives the movie a chance to shoehorn the original cast into the plot, even though their story concluded in the first film. The Losers are dubious, but all agree to return. Well, all except Stan, who's so terrified by the thought of facing Pennywise again that he immediately kills himself after talking with Mike.

The Losers arrive in Derry and meet at a local Chinese restaurant. As they talk, they slowly start remembering their encounter with Pennywise, which they've all inexplicably forgotten. Suddenly the gang begins seeing disturbing visions, as their food transforms into tiny monsters. Or maybe it's just a Chinese restaurant with a reeeeally bad health inspection score. If that wasn't enough, their fortune cookies inform them that Stan's dead. They try to kill the monstrous food, but only end up trashing the restaurant.

Richie and Eddie decide to get the hell out of Derry while they still can. Mike pleads with Bill to stay, reasoning that the others will follow his lead. Mike then drugs Bill (!) and he has an expository vision. It seems that millions of years ago, an evil alien entity crash-landed on Earth. A local Native American tribe fought the entity, and eventually created the Ritual Of Chud, which would destroy IT once and for all.

Bill wakes and is convinced that everything he saw during his acid trip is one hundred percent true. As one does. Somehow he convinces the other Losers to stay and perform the Ritual.

Meanwhile we see that Henry Bowers, archenemy of the Losers' Club, somehow survived his apparent death when he fell into a bottomless pit at the end of the previous movie. He was apparently driven crazy by his encounter with the evil clown and has spent the last twenty seven years in a mental hospital. Pennywise appears and conjures up Henry's old switchblade knife, which he uses to escape.

Mike tells the Losers that in order for the Ritual to work, each of them has to find a Horcrux, er, I mean an important artifact from their past and destroy it. The audience then groans with impatience as they realize they're going to have to watch an entire hour of each of the Losers seeking their objects.

Bev goes to her childhood home, which is now occupied by the elderly Mrs. Kersh. She finds an old love letter from Ben she hid years ago inside a wall. Mrs. Kersh then turns into a giant Looney Tunes cartoon character and chases Bev out of the house. Um... scary, I guess? Ben goes to the library, where he inexplicably finds his old yearbook. We know it's his, because he tears out the page Bev signed.

Meanwhile, Eddie goes to the pharmacy and buys an inhaler from the ancient clerk. He's then drawn to the basement, where Pennywise conjures up an image of his gross and greasy mother, who's being attacked by a zombie. Richie goes to an abandoned arcade, where he picks up a game token. He relives an experience where he was accused of making a gay pass at another boy, who turns out to be Henry's cousin.

Bill visits the storm drain where Georgie was killed. He reaches inside and somehow finds the paper boat he made for his little brother decades ago. He meets a boy named Dean who now lives in his old house, and tells him to stay away from the drain and any evil clowns he may see.

Mike picks a stone to represent the rock fight between the Losers and Henry's gang. Eddie chooses a shower cap (don't ask) to represent Stan.

Meanwhile, Bill realizes that Pennywise is going after Dean, and rushes to the Derry Carnival to save him. He's too late though, as he watches the evil clown kill Dean in the hall of mirrors. The death of this stranger stirs up Bill's anger and grief, and he vows to kill IT once and for all. Yeah, that was like the point of coming back to Derry, right? Why's it treated like a revelation? Anyway, he makes a beeline for the old Neibolt house, which contains the doorway to IT's underworld in the basement. 

Elsewhere, Henry Bowers appears at the hotel and attacks Mike and Eddie. During the scuffle, Eddie inadvertently kills Henry with his own knife. That was easy! Apparently the Losers then sense Bills danger or something, and rush to the Neibolt house to help him.

As they enter the house, Pennywise conjures up a variety of scary visions to try and stop them. In particular they're attacked by Stan's head, which has sprouted spider legs in an astonishingly blatant ripoff of John Carpenter's The Thing. After defeating the head, the Losers eat up some screen time climbing down into the pit and squeezing through various caverns and underground chambers. Eventually they reach IT's crash site. They perform the Ritual Of Chud, tossing their personal items into a fire. Naturally it doesn't work, and Pennywise appears and turns into a gigantic CGI clown with spider legs.

Spiderwise tells the others that the Ritual is nonsense and doesn't affect him, and he killed the Native Americans who tried it years ago. The Losers are furious with Mike for misleading them, but their anger's cut short as they're chased around the cave by the evil clown-spider.

Richie accidentally looks into Spiderwise's "deadlights" and is immediately hypnotized. He begins floating into the air, but he's saved by Eddie at the last second. Unfortunately Eddie's impaled in the process. Bill gets the bright idea that they can kill Spiderwise if they refuse to be scared of him, which will render him powerless. Which is exactly how they defeated him last time.

Anyhoo, the Losers all begin taunting and shouting insults at Spiderwise. Amazingly, he looks like his feelings are hurt and transforms back into a clown. They continue raining insults on him, causing him to shrink down to doll size. So Pennywise was actually a balloon?

Bill reaches into Baby Pennywise's chest and pulls out his rotten heart. He crushes it in his hands, killing IT forever. The Losers rush over to help Eddie, but unfortunately he's dead. They're forced to leave his body when the cavern begins collapsing, and they barely make it out in time. The Losers then return to the quarry for a refreshing swim, just like they did in the first movie. Bev realizes Ben was the one who sent her the love letter, and the two kiss. Well, at least they didn't have a gang bang.

We then get a happy ending epilogue, in which Bev & Ben are dating. Richie re-carves "R loves E" on a bridge, indicating he was gay for his pal Eddie, and has finally accepted his sexuality. Bill gets a letter from Stan, explaining that his suicide made the Losers stronger (?). Mike finally moves out of Derry and starts a new life in a sane town.

Amazingly, the end credits don't feature a jump scare indicating Pennywise survived.


• The movie opens with a college-aged gay couple as they're brutally attacked by a group of homophobes. The bullies toss one of the men into the river, and as he splashes to shore he's promptly captured and killed by Pennywise.

Wait, what? I thought Pennywise only murdered & ate children? This college student was well into his twenties. I guess when an evil alien entity wakes from a twenty seven year nap, it can't be choosy about its first meal.

To be fair, I can't lay this flub at the feet of the movie, as this entire scene is pulled straight from the book practically verbatim.

• Speaking of this opening scene, it's apparently caused quite a kerfuffle among the LGBTQ community, as it's given many of them icky bad feelings and forced them to retreat to their safe spaces. Many have even issued "trigger warnings" informing others of the disturbing and brutal scene.

Jesus wept!

I agree it's a violent scene, but that's the point to show that Pennywise's influence has tainted and poisoned the entire populace of Derry. Kind of hard to show the town's under an evil spell without spilling a little blood.

I guess the problem certain people are having is that the violence is against a gay couple. This exposes the dirty little secret of SJWs they always say they're for inclusion and acceptance, but when you treat them like everyone else they cry foul. Equality is actually the last thing they want.

Here's a thought— if you're so sensitive that movie violence causes you to swoon onto your fainting couch, maybe stay away from horror films altogether.

Lastly, my takeaway from this whole thing is: Gays being beaten and killed abhorrent and upsetting. Kids being brutally killed why that sounds just fine.

I'm telling you guys, we're very near the day when the Porch Pals become a reality. 

• If the LGBTQ really wants to get upset about something, how about Richie's orientation? It's heavily implied that he's secretly gay, but once it's established, that particular character trait is never explored and is completely forgotten. Why bring it up at all if you're gonna immediately bury it?

• In the book and the TV miniseries, Mike Hanlon was the Loser's resident history buff. He knew everything about Derry's past and served as a cheap expository device whenever the characters needed info about the town's history. 

For absolutely NO good reason, It Chapter One changed this, giving the role of historian to Ben. Why they made such an arbitrary and misguided change isn't clear. It didn't make a lick of sense, especially since it was established that Ben had just moved to Derry at the beginning of the film. How'd he become an expert on the town's history in such a short period of time?

Plus Ben already had at least other two character arcs going on. He didn't need a third awkwardly grafted onto him. 

Even worse, this change left Mike with little or nothing to do in Chapter OneWait, that's wrong. He literally had nothing to do in the first film. In fact he disappeared from the movie altogether for a good hour, and when he did return he stood silently in the background like a piece of set decoration.

Fortunately in IT Chapter Two, they've reinstated Mike to his proper historian status. He works and lives in the library, constantly researches the town and is the only one who remembers his past and realizes Pennywise has returned.

While it's great to see Mike finally have a purpose again, it makes no goddamned sense in the context of these films. Ben was the history nerd in Chapter One. Why would he abandon his childhood hobby in between films, only to have it picked up by Mike?

I'm betting that after the filmmakers swapped character duties between Mike and Ben, they realized they'd shot themselves in the foot. Chapter Two established that all the Losers who left town forgot their entire childhoods and Derry's history. 

This left them with no choice but to make Mike the town historian again, and hope that the audience wouldn't notice. But we did notice, Andy Muschietti. We noticed.

• By the way, the adult version of Mike Hanlon is played by Isaiah Mustafa. If he looks vaguely familiar to you, there's a reason for that...

He's the Old Spice Guy, whose commercials have appeared during every major televised sporting event for the past five years or so!

• Speaking of the casting, it's the real star of this movie. The producers did an amazing job of choosing adult actors who resembled their tween counterparts. Some work better than others of course, but for the most part I had no trouble telling who the adult actors were supposed to be.

Young Bev's played by Sophia Lillis, and her adult self by Jessica Chastain.

Bill's played by Jaeden Martell and James McAvoy.

Ben was played by Jeremy Ray Taylor and Jay Ryan. This is probably the least convincing pairing, simply because Ben changed so dramatically since childhood.

Richie's played by Finn Wolfhard (that name!) and Bill Hader. As I watched the film I didn't think they looked all that much alike. Looking at them here though, I can see quite a striking resemblance.

The aforementioned Mike was played by Chosen Jacobs and Isaiah Mustafa. Meh, these two don't look all that much alike in my opinion. I have a feeling the casting director just looked for any black male in his forties and called it a day.

Stan was played by Wyatt Oleff and Andy Bean. Another bit of excellent casting here, as the two look quite a bit alike. Too bad they're barely in the film.

Eddie was played by Jack Dylan Grazer and James Ransome. This is by far the best bit of casting in the entire movie, as Ransome looks EXACTLY like an older version of Grazer. In fact if I didn't know better I'd swear I was looking at the same person twenty seven years apart. It's amazing how much they resemble one another.

• More casting bits: In the first film, Eddie's sweaty, unpleasant mother was played by actress Molly Atkinson.

In Chapter Two, we see Eddie's grown up and married a woman who, while not as greasy, is every bit as overbearing and controlling as his mom. In an inspired bit of casting, Eddie's wife Myra is also played by Molly Atkinson! I guess it's true what they say— boys marry their mothers!

• There are a couple of notable cameos in the film as well. When Ben's introduced at the beginning of the movie, there's an associate at his architecture firm whose played by Brandon Crane. He played the young version of Ben Hanscom in the 1990 TV miniseries!

When Bill's introduced, he's on a film set trying to write a new ending for his script. Famed director Peter Bogdanovich plays— what else a movie director, who gives him some much-needed career advice.

And of course Stephen King insists on showing up, as he's done in nearly every TV and film adaptation of his works. This time he plays a pawn shop owner, who sells Bill his old bike.

Unlike the other cameos, King's stuck out like a sore thumb and took me right out of the movie. Stan Lee did the exact same thing of course, and I loved seeing his cameos in the various MCU movies. But for some reason King's appearances have always made me cringe. Most likely because he's just not a very good actor.

• When the cast returned to film IT Chapter Two, director Andy Muschietti was appalled to see that the child stars had all grown and aged dramatically since 2017. According to him, it was necessary to use CGI to de-age them all, and in some cases digitally alter their voices to match their original performances.

For the record, I knew about this going in, but I didn't notice any overt digital manipulation. Maybe if I saw the film again I could spot it, but that ain't happening.

There was a very easy way they could have avoided this problem altogether just shoot the two movies at once. They had to know they were gonna make a second film, and shooting them together would have prevented the kids from growing like weeds between movies. 

It's even more puzzling when you realize these films are from New Line Cinema. They're the kings of shooting multiple movies at once, as they did it for both the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

 Has the town of Derry been evacuated? We see large crowds during the carnival scenes, but other than that, 90% of the exterior shots are completely deserted.

 As I said in the intro, I am not a fan of the adult half of the story, as the idea of forty year olds being scared of an evil clown just seems silly. And much less interesting.

There's also not a lot of adult material to begin with— certainly not enough to fill an entire movie. The filmmakers apparently realized this as well, and had to do some serious padding in Chapter Two. That's why the entire second act consists of the Losers wandering around Derry looking for Horcruxes, er, I mean totems to use against Pennywise.

Seriously, the movie would be ninety minutes if you cut out or at least trimmed down all that crap. I'll be honest, the minute Mike announced they each had to find their own special totems, I audibly groaned in the theater. I knew that meant we'd have to sit through at least an hour of people looking for crap over and over.

 The novel's filled with tons of cosmic and Lovecraftian elements, mainly because Stephen King was coked out of his mind when he wrote it. For example, the titular IT is neither a clown or a spider-thing, but a swirling mass of evil energy. Its mortal enemy is a massive turtle-like creature called Maturin, which literally vomited up our universe after suffering a stomach ache. No, really, King actually wrote that. Both these entities inhabit a realm called the Macroverse.

Fortunately the movie only briefly touches on these ridiculous and ill-advised elements. The last thing this movie needed was Bill having a conversation with a giant space turtle who tells him how to defeat IT.

 In the intro I declared that Chapter Two just isn't scary, and truer words were never spoken. In fact, once the Losers return to the Neibolt House, it turns into a live-action Scooby-Doo movie! Seriously! 

The only thing missing was Richie and Eddie running back and forth in an endless hallway as they're chased by a monster. Or Bill pulling off Pennywise's mask to reveal he's really Old Man Peabody, who's trying to scare the Losers away from the treasure buried beneath the house.

If Pennywise REALLY wanted to scare the adult Losers, he should have dropped the lame evil clown act and appeared as a boss holding a pink slip, a divorce attorney or a doctor prescribing a colonoscopy.

 The scene in which Bev visits Mrs. Kersh (the woman who now lives in her childhood home) was one of the few suitably creepy parts in the entire film. Until Mrs. Kersh turned into a live action Looney Toon, that is. Seriously, what the hell? Rather than being scary, her fright wig hair, comically pendulous breasts and giant, cartoonish googly eyes came off as downright laughable instead.

• Let's talk about the strangest and most baffling part of the film. Inside the Neibolt House, the Losers find the decapitated head of Young Stan in an abandoned refrigerator. They're horrified when Stan's head inexplicably sprouts spider legs and begins chasing them around the house before skittering off the set.

The entire scene is a very obvious shoutout to the "Spider Head" sequence from John Carpenter's The Thing. This goes beyond homage though, as it's virtually a shot for shot recreation of the scene— featuring the exact same camera angles!

And Richie even says, "You gotta be f*ckin' kidding!" when he sees the spider-thing, exactly as Palmer does in The Thing.

I'm utterly bewildered by this entire scene. I get that it's supposed to be an homage, but... why? Why insert just one incongruous tribute in the film, so that it sticks out like a sore thumb. And why The Thing? Don't get me wrong, it's one of my all-time favorite movies. But it has about as much to do with IT as Mary Poppins does.

Once again, I offer my advice to any and all directors out there. It's never a good idea to remind the audience of other, better movies they could be watching instead of yours!

 Speaking of spiders... In both the book and the TV movie, it's revealed that Pennywise isn't really an evil clown. Instead he's an ancient inter-dimensional entity, whose form is so utterly alien that human minds can only perceive it as a giant spider-like creature.

Many fans ridiculed the stop-motion spider in the TV movie. Personally I thought the actual puppet was pretty cool looking— it just wasn't composited very well with the live action.

Anyway, I had a feeling the producers wouldn't go the giant spider route in this film. Pennywise has become the face of this franchise, and audiences can't get enough of him. It wouldn't be good business if he transformed into an alien spider for the last half hour of the movie.

Sure enough, I was right. As the final battle begins, Pennywise begins to grow and sprouts extra legs, becoming some sort of clown/spider hybrid. Eh, I'll allow it. It's a reasonable compromise between the two forms.

• In the third act, Richie and Eddie are deep below the Earth, running from Spiderwise. Suddenly they're confronted by three doors, reading "Very Scary," "Scary" and "Not Scary At All." Richie opens the "Very Scary" door, and is confronted by the horrifying (I guess) lower body of Betty Ripsom skipping towards him.

In case you came in late, Betty Ripsom was one of the children abducted by Pennywise back in 1988. So how can I be so sure they were Betty Ripsom's legs, when the top half of her is gone?

Because if you stay and watch the end credits, you'll see this line in the cast list:

Lola Del Re Hudson..................Betty Ripsom's Legs

That's right! Some lucky little girl was actually credited for playing an ambulatory lower body. That may be the most bizarre credit I've ever seen in a movie. Just think, somewhere in Hollywood right now, a kid's walking around with that on her resume!

 At the end of the battle, Bill realizes the key to defeating Pennywise is to not be scared of him (no problem), as that'll render him helpless. The Losers then stand up to the evil clown and taunt him, causing him to shrink and shrivel into nothing.

Um... wasn't that exactly how they defeated him in the previous movie? Why's this being treated like a shocking revelation? Too bad there's not an IT Chapter Three, so we could see the elderly Losers defeat him the same way a third time.

Also, based on the way Pennywise literally deflates at the end, I guess he's been a balloon all this time?

Unlike its much better predecessor, It Chapter Two is a slow-moving, bloated and overlong exercise in tedium. The filmmakers used all the good stuff in the first film, forcing them to pad this one to within an inch of its life. It doesn't help matters that it's nowhere near as frightening as the first, as the idea of adults running from an evil clown just seems silly. I give it a disappointing C+.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Gemini Man

Gemini Man was written by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke (at least five other additional screenwriters tacked it over the years as well). It was directed by Ang Lee.

Benioff previously wrote 25th Hour, Troy, Stay, The Kite Runner, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (oh, HE'S the one) and Brothers. Benioff and his working partner D.B. Weiss adapted George RRRRRRR Martin's Game Of Thrones to TV, serving as showrunners and writing many of the scripts over the series' eight seasons.

Ray is a prolific writer who previously penned Color Of Night, Hidden Assassin, Volcano, Hart's War, Shattered Glass, Suspect Zero, Flightplan, Breach, State Of Play, The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips, Secret In Their Eyes and Overlord (which I liked quite a bit). Lemke previously wrote Shrek Ever After, Jack The Giant Slayer, Turbo, Goosebumps, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween and received "story by" credit on Shazam.

Lee previously directed Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense And Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Ride With The Devil, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk (the one with Eric Bana that's NOT part of the MCU), Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution, Taking Woodstock, Life Of Pi (ugh) and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

Believe it or not, Gemini Man was first conceived by Darren Lemke wayyyyy back in 1997, and has been languishing in Development Hell for over twenty years! Lemke first sold his script to Walt Disney Pictures in the late 90s, with Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, etc) attached to direct. At one point Harrison Ford, Chris O'Donnell, Mel Gibson, Jon Voight, Nicolas Cage, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood (!), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone and even Sean Connery (!!!) were considered for the lead role of Henry Brogan.

The main stumbling block the film faced was its cloning subject matter. Disney's animation department worked on the CGI necessary to create a younger version of an actor, but the technology just wasn't advanced enough in 1997. Why they couldn't have just found a younger lookalike, or cast a father & son acting team I have no idea.

In 2016, CGI technology finally advanced to the point where it was possible to "clone" an actor, and the project was revived. Disney sold the script to Skydance Media in 2016, and Ang Lee agreed to direct in 2017. Will Smith signed on in the lead role(s), and filming began at long last in February of 2018, some twenty one years after the movie was originally conceived. Whew! Someone reeeeeally wanted to make this film!

So after such an interminable production period, was Gemini Man worth the wait? Eh, sadly no. The script is woefully underdeveloped, and feels exactly like a movie that was written twenty years ago. The plot makes little or no sense, character motivations switch on a dime, there are massive amounts of needless exposition and the dialogue is extremely clunky.

Oddly enough, Will Smith feels like he's phoning in his performance and giving it his all at the same time. He seems dull and disinterested as main character Henry Brogan, but curiously engaged as his clone Junior. Go figure.

Worst of all, for an action movie it's just plain dull. The entire first half of the film is nothing but setup and endless scenes of characters standing around talking. We don't even meet Henry's clone (arguably the whole reason everyone came out to the cineplex) until the halfway point, but by then most of the audience is sleeping soundly in their seats.

I'm starting to come to the conclusion that I just don't care for Ang Lee as a director. His films are visually stunning, but their stories tend to leave me cold. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was gorgeous to look at but little else, and I was bored by his Psychology 101 take on Hulk. The less said about Life Of Pi the better, as I absolutely loathed that film. Sadly, Gemini Man did nothing to change my opinion of his work.

For reasons known only to him, Ang Lee filmed Gemini Man in 4k 3D at 120 HFR (meaning it's shot at 120 frames per second, instead of the standard 24). Lee then fumed and blasted the cinema industry when he found out there was no theater in the world that could play his movie as he meant it to be seen. A scant fourteen theaters in America were able to run the film at its intended 120 frame rate, but at just 2k instead of 4.

OK, that's all on him. You can't film a movie in some super advanced brand new format and then get pissed when no one can play it that way. Personally I'm glad I saw it at 24 frames per second. A few years back Peter Jackson shot The Hobbit movies at 60 frames per second. Most audiences agreed that it made the movies look like cheap soap operas shot on videotape. Who needs that? Films projected at 24 frames look cinematic— like real movies. We don't need fancy new frame rates, thanks, and I don't get why directors are so obsessed with upping them.

Amazingly Gemini Man has managed to gross a respectable $122 million worldwide. Unfortunately it cost a whopping $138 million to make. These days movies need to gross twice their production budgets just to break even. I don't see it making it to $276 million, much less passing that amount, meaning Gemini Man is a certified flop.


The Plot:
Henry Brogan (played by Will Smith) is a fifty one year old sharpshooter/assassin for the US government. As the movie opens he's assigned to assassinate a known terrorist on a bullet train. He plants himself on a hillside with a high powered rifle and waits for the train to fly by. 

Unfortunately a little girl on the train gets in the way, causing Henry to delay his shot. He ends up hitting the terrorist in the neck instead of the head as planned. Either way, the target's just as dead, so I'm not sure why it's a problem. But this minor slip-up, along with the fact he could have killed the little girl, causes Henry to reevaluate his life. He decides to get out of the assassin game.

Henry retires to Georgia and spends his days fishing. While gassing up his boat one morning, he has a meet cute with Dani (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead— or is it Summer Glau?), who works in the dock office. Henry sets sail and pulls up alongside the yacht of his old friend Jack Willis. He tells Henry that the "foreign terrorist" he killed was actually an innocent American scientist. Henry demands proof, and Jack says to talk with a man named Yuri in Budapest.

Cut to government agents Janet Lassiter and Clay Varris (played by Clive Owen), who are listening in on Henry's conversation via spy satellite (?). Varris is the head of the top secret black ops project codenamed GEMINI (we have a partial title!), and realizes Henry just became a security threat. He tells Lassiter they have to eliminate him.

Henry realizes Dani's secretly a government agent tasked with monitoring him, and calls her out. That night agents under Lassiter's command break into Henry's home and he easily dispatches them. He shows up at Dani's place and tells her to come with him if she wants to live (whoops, wrong movie!). They kill the grunts sent after them and speed off in a stolen boat.

Henry and Dani stop at a remote island. There they're met by Henry's old friend and fellow assassin Baron (played by Benedict Wong), who flies them to Colombia for some reason.

Meanwhile, Varris is livid that Lassiter's forces couldn't manage to eliminate one agent. He then sends out his own top assassin to kill Henry. This hitman shows up in Colombia and attacks Henry, and we get a big action setpiece as the two men battle one another with guns, grenades and even motorcycles. 

At one point Henry gets a good look at the assassin, and is stunned to see he looks like a younger version of himself. This younger copy stronger and far faster than Henry, and comes very close to killing him. At the last second the police arrive, and the young assassin scurries off. Henry's arrested and taken to jail.

Cut to Varris' house, where he wakes and sees the assassin tending to the wounds he received in the fight (wait, how the hell'd he get back to the States so fast?). We then find out that this assassin, who's imaginatively named "Junior," is Varris' adopted son. He asks Varris why the man he was sent to kill looks just like him, and Varris tells him not to worry about it and finish the job.

Dani and Baron manage to get Henry out of jail. Henry wonders why the assassin looks like he did at twenty. Dani figures it's Henry's child, but he assures her he has no offspring (which is something he could never know for sure). Apparently the idea of cloning never once occurs to either of these geniuses.

Henry, Dani & Baron then fly to Budapest. Dani takes Junior's discarded hat to a lab, where it's confirmed that he and Henry share identical DNA. Henry finally meets with Yuri, who tells him GEMINI was a top secret cloning project, and the "terrorist" Henry killed was one of its top scientists. Apparently Varris wanted to eliminate the scientiest so he could take over GEMINI and use it to create an army of disposable clones who feel neither pain or emotion. At least I think that's his plan. It's all very vague.

Henry calls his old boss and says he wants Junior to bring Dani safely back to the US, where she'll be cleared of all charges and reinstated as an agent. Junior arrives and collects Dani, but sets a trap for Henry. Dani warns Henry through a tiny spy speaker in her mouth, and Henry's able to take Junior by surprise. There's another big action setpiece battle between the two men, which briefly wakes the audience.

Henry manages to get the upper hand, and explains that Junior is a clone of himself. Shattered, Junior denies the obvious truth and manages to escape.

Junior returns to GEMINI (again, how'd he get there so fast?) and confronts his "father," who confirms he's a clone. He says he's better than Henry ever was, and he loves him more than any father ever loved his real son. And just like that, Junior realizes he's father's an evil bastard, instantly turns against him and sides with Henry.

Junior sneaks out of GEMINI and tracks down Henry, who's just landed back in the States. He tells him he's now on his side, and wants to help him bring down Varris. Henry urges him to quit the assassin game now before it's too late, and make something of his artificial life. Just then the group is ambushed by Varris' forces, and Baron's killed. Furious, Junior attacks Varris and after a brief fight, knocks him out.

Henry, Dani and Junior are then attacked by an even more impressive helmeted assassin— one who's impervious to bullets and seemingly feels no pain. He jumps and parkours around the set in another action sequence. After Henry and the others shoot him several hundred times, the masked assassin is eventually stopped. Henry removes the assassin's helmet, revealing he's an even younger clone of himself— this time genetically modified to feel no pain or have pesky emotions to get in the way of killing. As they watch, the disposable clone slumps over and dies.

Varris wakes and tries to justify his actions, saying his clone army will spare the lives and families of millions of "real" soldiers. Junior's heard enough, and points a gun at Varris' head. Henry begs Junior not to pull the trigger, saying he'll never be able to live with himself it he does. Junior eventually stands down, and Henry instantly shoots Varris in the head. Apparently he figured one more kill won't hurt his already mangled conscience.

Henry meets with his former boss, who spouts an impressive wad of exposition, explaining that the GEMINI Project has been dismantled and there are no more clones anywhere in the world. That was easy!

Henry travels to a local college, where Dani's apparently now a student? I think? It's not quite clear. The two of them catch up, then Henry sees Junior walking through the campus, surrounded by a bevy of female students.

Despite the fact that a couple days ago he was a deadly assassin, he's now started a new life as a college student and calls himself Jackson Brogan. Henry and Dani give him helpful advice, but he tells 'em both to shut it, as he wants to finally live his own life.

• There's not a lot to say about this film, so this'll be brief.

• Be careful not to confuse Gemini Man with The Gemini Man, the short lived 1976 TV series about a secret agent who can control his invisibility through his hip, high-tech digital watch.

Gemini Man takes place primarily in Georgia, Colombia and Budapest. Oddly enough, the crew actually filmed in all those places, rather than faking it with establishing shots and greenscreens. That's mighty unusual these days. 

• Henry meets with his old pal Jack Willis in the middle of the ocean. Even though there's no one around for hundreds of miles, Henry spots the glint of a satellite far above, and realizes they're being monitored. Sure enough, Varris and Lassiter are using the satellite to listen in on Henry's conversation.

Jesus Christ! That is one SENSITIVE microphone? Is that really a thing? Can modern spy satellites really hear people talking on the Earth's surface?
• Will Smith is currently fifty one, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead is thirty four. Glad to see Gemini Man continues the time-honored Hollywood tradition of pairing with love interests half their age.

OK, technically they're not love interests, but Henry and Dani are definitely more than just acquaintances.

• The action scenes in Gemini Man are all well done— it's just too bad there're so few of them and they don't start till the halfway point.

• During Henry's first battle with his youthful doppelganger, he tosses a grenade at Junior. As it flies toward him, Junior actually shoots the grenade at just the right angle to hurl it back at Henry. He then dives for cover a split second before it explodes.

Um... wouldn't shooting a grenade be a really bad idea? Wouldn't that just cause it to explode prematurely? I guess it was gonna go off anyway in a couple more seconds, so you might as well give it a try. It still seems iffy to me though.

• Apparently Junior isn't just a clone, he's also a teleporter. All through the film he flits back and forth across the globe in a matter of minutes. He attacks Henry in Columbia, then shows up at Varris' house in the States an hour or so later. Varris sends him to Budapest, where Henry manages to turn him to his side. He then confronts Varris at his house again, seemingly the same day.

Note that this happens over and over in the film, to the point of absurdity. Either Junior's got a reeeeally fast plane, or he can open some sort of dimensional portal to Varris' home.

• Like everything in this movie, the issue of cloning and just how it works is vague and ill-defined. Junior's supposedly twenty one, right? Based on Varris' dialogue (and the photo of him and a young Junior on a fishing trip), it seems he's telling the truth when he says he raised Junior as his own son. 

That would mean Junior was born or decanted or whatever in 1998. So why is he the only clone? Surely Varris would have tried to make more of them?

And what about the even younger Ninja Henry clone? He looks to be about eighteen. Did Varris raise him as well? Or did he figure out a way to artificially age clones to adulthood in a short period of time.

I think that's what's happening here. Yuri warns Henry that Varris has "made a breakthrough" and is playing God with DNA. Varris also wants an army of Henry clones, and that couldn't happen if they all aged normally. I'm betting he definitely found a way to quickly age them.

Again, none of this is really spelled out in the film, so I'm just guessing here.

• Junior may be the perfect assassin, but he needs to work on his loyalty. He's been raised by Varris his entire life, and considers him his father. Yet Henry spends all of thirty seconds telling him that Varris is bad news, and Junior instantly betrays his father and switches sides. Yeah, that's some lazy writing there.

• At one point Junior asks Henry, "You were born in Philadelphia, right?" Yes. Yes he was. West Philadelphia in fact. Born and raised.

• Obviously Gemini Man's story takes a backseat to the cloning and de-aging FX, which is what the audience came to see. For the most part, they don't disappoint. The CGI looked a little wonky in a couple of scenes, but for the vast majority of the movie they looked flawless. I had absolutely no problem believing I was looking at at twenty year old Will Smith.

I assumed the FX team built a CGI version of young Will Smith's head, then superimposed it over another actor. Nope! While there was an actor on set to provide motion capture and photo reference, the FX crew completely replaced him with an all-CGI Will Smith. Even his clothes! That's pretty impressive.

Despite the fact that it's just not very good, Gemini Man marks an historic moment in movie history. We're looking at the future here, folks. With this new technology, actors need no longer retire, and can keep their youthful looks and pump out movie till the day they die. 

Of course they'll never be able to go out in public or appear at an award show, as the public will be appalled to see their wrinkled, liver-spotted faces. But hey, there's always a trade off.

Now that I think about it, why stop at death? With this tech, Tom Cruise can keep on making Mission: Impossible movies long after he's shaken off his mortal coil. 

Hollywood could even use this technology to create a completely artificial actor! One who never ages,  or fights with his coworkers, or walks off the set in a huff or demands more money. They could whip up the perfect performer and exploit them to their heart's content, with no moral reservations.

There's no doubt in my mind that all of this will eventually come to pass. 

Gemini Man is a vague and underdeveloped throwback, as little or nothing makes any sense. Even worse, for an action movie it's deadly dull, filled with interminable scenes of exposition and people talking. The performances are all over the place as well, as Will Smith phones it in and ends up being out-acted by his CGI doppelganger. The CGI de-aging effects are well done, but ultimately they can't save the film. They had twenty years to make this movie, and this is the best they could do? Oy. I give it an anemic and well deserved C.

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