Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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+.

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