With the 50th Annual San Diego Comic Con in full swing, Warner Bros. is wasting no time in showcasing their wares. Here we have the final trailer for Andy Muschietti’s IT: Chapter Two. The more I see of this, the more I’m amazed by the casting choices. James Ransome (Eddie) and Bill Hader (Richie) really feel like the perfect matches for their roles so far. Granted, the trailer is just a taste of what we’ll see later on, but I’m hopeful.
IT: Chapter Two finds the members of the Loser’s Club returning to Derry, 27 years after their first encounter with Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Will they be able to get past their fears? Can they recreate the magic they had? Will they avoid the deadlights?
It: Chapter Two, also starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, and Isaiah Mustafa, opens in theatres on September 6th.
In the movies, child geniuses inevitably turn out to be little creeps at that’s certainly the case with The Book of Henry.
Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is an 11 year-old with an exceptional IQ, which essentially means that it’s supposed to be cute when he talks down to people and treats them like shit. In fact, Henry is such a genius that he’s managed to make a lot of money on the stock market and he also invents stuff. He practically raises his younger brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay, who is as authentic as Lieberher is overbaked). He also takes care of his mom, Susan (Naomi Watts). Susan’s a waitress because it’s a rule of movies like this that the single parent of a child genius will always either be a waitress or a physicist. There’s really no middle ground. Anyway, Susan appears to be destined to be forever single but she says that’s okay because Henry is the only man she needs in her life.
Anyway, Henry lives next door to the Sickleman family. You know that’s going to be a problem because, in the movies, good people never have names like Sickleman. Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris) is not only the police commissioner but he’s also not a very good neighbor. He’s the type of neighbor who complains if the leaves from your tree gets in his yard. He’s also not really comfortable living next door to a child genius. It’s probably because Henry is kind of a condescending jerk.
Henry suspects that Glenn is abusing his stepdaughter, Christina (Maddie Ziegler, who is best known for Dance Moms). However, before Henry can do anything about it, he has a seizure dies. Uh-oh, turns out that Henry had a brain tumor! A genius killed by his own brain. So. Much. Irony.
However, before he died, he left behind a book and recorded instructions for Susan. It turns out that Henry knew he was going to die because Henry was a super genius who could see the future. (At least, I assume that’s what happened.) So, he decided that his mother should murder Glenn and he even came up with some helpful instructions for how she could do it and not get caught.
Now, let me ask you a question. If you discovered that your recently deceased son spent the last few days of his life plotting how to murder his neighbor would you…
a) Destroy all the evidence and pretend you never saw it
b) Shrug and decide to grant his last wish by following his instructions and killing the neighbor?
I mean, let’s think about this. By all evidence, it would appear that Henry was a sociopath. Even if you accept the idea that he had to kill Glenn to save Christina, you still also have to accept the idea that he coldly and methodically plotted out the perfect way to commit a murder and then, realizing he was going to die, he decided that his mom should commit the murder instead.
This is the type of material that a director like David Fincher, Michael Haneke or Lars Von Trier could have a lot of fun with. However, The Book of Henry was directed by Colin Trevorrow and he takes this weird sentimental approach to the material. Instead of freaking out over having raised a sociopath, Susan immediately starts to follow all of his instructions. What’s amazing is that, even in the recording he made for his mom to listen to after his death, Henry is still a condescending little jerk. At one point, from beyond the grave, Henry directs his mom to take a right turn. Then he adds, “No, your other right.”
But what really gets me about this movie is that, after all the build up, Henry’s big genius plan is for Susan to get a rifle and shoot Glenn. That’s it. I mean, anyone could have thought of that! If you’re going to make a movie like this, at least have Henry come up with some big complicated scheme! At least give us that! I mean, honestly, Susan could have come up with Henry’s plan on her own.
Does Susan follow through with the plan? I’m not going to tell you. But I will tell you that the film’s climax features a school talent show. Maddie Ziegler gets to dance. Jacob Tremblay gets to perform a magic trick. They’re both really talented. Sparkle Motion does not perform and that’s a shame. Sometimes, I doubt Colin Trevorrow’s commitment to Sparkle Motion.
Anyway, to say that The Book of Henry is a bad film doesn’t quite do justice to just how ill-conceived this film really is. Someone decided to make a heartwarming and rather humorless film about a child ordering his mother to commit a murder. You may think it’s a parody at first but no, it’s a real movie. It’s The Book of Henry.
Here’s something that Leonard Wilson and I have often pondered here at the TSL offices:
Why is it sometimes easier to write about a film that you hate than a film that you love?
Seriously, whenever I watch a film that I hate, the review is practically written in my head before the end credits have even finished. Take Wolves At The Door, for instance. It took me 15 minutes to write that review, largely because I hated the movie and I knew exactly why. Perhaps it’s because the films that we hate are usually films that have absolutely nothing going on beneath the surface. It’s a lot easier to write a review when you don’t have to consider things like nuance or subtext.
But, whenever I see a film that I absolutely love, it always takes me longer to write the review. It’s intimidating to try to explain why you loved a film. After all, if you loved it then you want everyone else to love it too. And you want to be able to explain yourself with something more than just: “This was a really good movie.”
Take It, for instance. It opened last month. I saw it on opening weekend. I thought it was a great movie, one that worked in almost every way possible. I thought it was well-acted. I thought Andy Muschietti did an excellent job directing it. I thought that the film’s screenwriters did a wonderful job adapting a challenging novel. When It was scary, it made me scream. When It was funny, it made me laugh. Most importantly, when It was dramatic, it brought tears to my eyes. It was not just a brilliant horror movie but it was a brilliant movie period, one of the best of the year so far.
I assume that most of our readers have already seen It or, at the very least, they’re familiar with what the film is generally about. It’s based on the famous novel by Stephen King, a work that many feel is King’s best. It follows a group of 12 year-old outcasts, the so-called Losers Club, as they spend the summer of 1989 trying to avoid both local bullies and Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Bill Skarsgard), the cannibalistic demon who lives in the sewers and who awakens every 27 years so that it can feed. Pennywise has already killed George, the younger brother of Bill Denborough (Jaeden Leiberher), the unofficial leader of the Losers Club.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Pennywise is terrifying. If horror films actually get Oscar nominations, Bill Skarsgard would, at the very least, be in the running for best supporting actor. But what’s interesting is that Pennywise is not necessarily the scariest thing about the film. As both outcasts and children, the members of the Losers Club are in the unique position to be able to understand that, despite its placid surface, Derry would be a scary place even without a killer clown. Much like the town of Twin Peaks, there is much going on underneath the surface.
Overweight Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is attacked by bully Henry Bowers (a terrifying Nicholas Hamilton), who proceeds to try to carve his name into Ben’s stomach.
Hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Glazer) is literally held prisoner by his domineering mother.
African-American Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Jewish Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) spend their days being targeted over their skin color and religion.
Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) lives in poverty with her sexually abusive father.
Ever since the disappearance of George, Bill Denborough has watched his family fall apart.
Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) tells jokes because making people laugh is the only way he can convince them not to beat him up.
Even the fearsome Henry Bowers lives with an abusive father who has obviously passed down his twisted worldview to his son.
And yet, despite all of that, It is not a relentlessly grim movie. In some ways, it’s one of the most hopeful horror films that I’ve ever seen. This may be a horror film but it’s also a celebration of friendship. The members of the Losers Club may be outcasts but at least they have each other. It may be a horror film but it’s also a coming-of-age story, an adventure of growing up that the members of the Losers Club will never forget. (Except, of course, they will…but not until the sequel…) All of the child actors are natural and believable in their roles. Since he gets the funniest lines, Finn Wolfhard is an obvious audience favorite but really, the entire ensemble does a good job.
Between Get Out at the start of the year and It in September, this has been a very good year for horror. It is one of the best films of 2017 so see it.
Well, Christmas is over and soon 2015 will be over as well! And our long time readers know what that means — its time for Lisa to desperately try to get caught up on reviewing all of the films that she’s seen this year! After all, it will soon be time for me to post my “Best of” and “Worst of” lists and who knows? Some of these films might make a list!
Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s take a quick look at Aloha!
Say what you will about Aloha as a movie, I would have loved to have been a part of the production. Not only is the cast full of performers that I absolutely adore (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, and Danny McBride, just to name a few) but the film itself was shot in Hawaii, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And let’s give director Cameron Crowe some credit for capturing some truly beautiful images of Hawaii.
As for the film itself, it’s a bit of a self-indulgent chore to sit through. Aloha feels like a dozen different films, all mashed together and the end result is something of a mess. Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilchrest, a defense contractor who is haunted by a mistake that he made while in Afghanistan. (It’s the equivalent of Jerry Maguire writing that memo and Orlando Bloom making those shoes in Elizabethtown.) Disillusioned and cynical, Brian is now working for a billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who wants to build his own private space center in Hawaii. Brian’s job is to get the support of the native Hawaiians.
Brian’s Air Force liaison is Alison Ng (Emma Stone) and she’s as idealistic as Brian is cynical. Brian and Alison are soon falling love but, at the same time, Brian has also reconnected with his ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams). Tracy is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force captain who has difficulty expressing his feelings. Tracy also has a 12 year-old daughter and Brian might be the father.
That may sound like enough for any movie to deal with but Aloha also wants to be a political satire as well as a relationship dramedy. So, of course, there’s all sorts of ethical questions about the satellite that Carson wants to launch and, as a character, Carson is so incredibly inconsistent that you’re just happy that he’s being played by Bill Murray, one of the few actors who can make inconsistency charming.
Aloha is such a frustrating film, largely because of all the talent involved. With that cast and all the beautiful scenery, it should have at least been an enjoyable lark. Instead, it’s a huge and self-indulgent mess.
And, naturally enough, it features Alec Baldwin. Baldwin always seems to show up in films like this and, as I watched him bellow his way through Aloha, I found myself wondering how Alec Baldwin can be so good in some films and so amazingly awful in others. Baldwin’s a talented actor but, when a director allows him to go overboard, he can be difficult to watch. In Aloha, Cameron Crowe lets Alec Baldwin go totally overboard.
When Aloha was first released, there was a lot of controversy over Emma Stone playing a character who supposed to be a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian. At the time, Cameron Crowe stated that: “As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud one-quarter Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.” That’s something that I — as a pale redhead who happens to be very proud of being a fourth Spanish — could relate to so it didn’t particularly bother me that Emma Stone was playing a character named Alison Ng.
Instead, what bothered me was that Alison Ng was never really allowed to emerge as an individual character with her own hopes, dreams, and ambitions. Her character pretty much only existed to give Brian a reason to believe in life again. Emma Stone’s a good actress but, as a film, Aloha lets her down.
Still, at least she got to spend sometime in Hawaii!
I have to admit that, when I first looked at the just-released Phoenix Film Critics Nominations for 2014, I got really excited. I saw The LEGO Movie listed among the nominees for best picture and I thought to myself, “Oh my God! Could The LEGO Movie be set to be the fourth animated film to score a best picture nomination from the Academy!?”
Seriously, my inner movie trivia lover was so excited!
Then, of course, I remembered that critical recognition doesn’t necessarily translate into Oscar nominations. And I was forced to admit that The LEGO Movie probably will not be nominated for best picture, though it definitely remains a front runner for best animated feature.
But, for a few moments there, I was truly an excited Oscar watcher.
Anyway, here are the Phoenix Film Critics Nominations!
I like the Washington D.C. Film Critics because they don’t just give out awards. Instead, they nominate multiple films and leave everyone in suspense until they get around to giving out their awards. Just like the Oscars!
Anyway, here are their nominees for 2014!
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
David Fincher (Gone Girl)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year)
Michael Keaton (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
David Oyelowo (Selma)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Best Supporting Actor:
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Emma Stone (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer)
Best Acting Ensemble:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Best Youth Performance:
Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood)
Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar)
Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent)
Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Noah Wiseman (The Babadook)
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice)
Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)
Nick Hornby (Wild)
Best Original Screenplay:
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie)
Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Best Animated Feature:
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
Last Days in Vietnam
Best Foreign Language Film:
Two Days, One Night
Best Art Direction:
Production Designer: Kevin Thompson, Set Decorator: George DeTitta Jr., SDSA (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Production Designer: Adam Stockhausen, Set Decorator: Anna Pinnock (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Production Designer: Nathan Crowley, Set Decorator: Gary Fettis (Interstellar)
Production Designer: Dennis Gassner, Set Decorator: Anna Pinnock (Into the Woods)
Production Designer: Ondrej Nekvasil, Set Decorator: Beatrice Brentnerova (Snowpiercer)
Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Robert Yeoman, ASC (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Hoyte Van Hoytema, FSF, NSC (Interstellar)
Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC (Unbroken)
Daniel Landin, BSC (Under the Skin)
Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione, ACE (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Sandra Adair, ACE (Boyhood)
Kirk Baxter, ACE (Gone Girl)
Lee Smith, ACE (Interstellar)
Tom Cross (Whiplash)
Best Original Score:
Antonio Sanchez (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (Gone Girl)
Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)
Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)
Mica Levi (Under the Skin)
The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Kill the Messenger
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Every year, we get another Black List. Despite the name, the Black List is not the annual list of actors and directors who need to be run out of America because of their political beliefs. Instead, the Black List is a survey of the “most liked” unproduced scripts that are currently floating around Hollywood.
Now, of course, to a large extent, the Black List is basically just another marketing gimmick. A lot of the scripts that have appeared on the Black List were already in development at the time that they appeared and, undoubtedly, there are clever studio execs who think to themselves, “Junomight be a difficult sell so let’s make sure it gets on the Black List!”
However, every year, there are a few films that are put into production directly as a result of the script appearing on the Black List. What’s interesting is just how many of these films turn out to be, if not quite terrible, at least rather forgettable. Transcendence, for instance, was on the Black List. Cedar Rapids was on the Black List. Broken City was on the freaking Black List. Consider this: The Beaver would never have been made except for the fact that it was on The Black List!
What’s particularly interesting is that the script was often the worst thing about these films. These were films with overly complicated scripts that often tried too hard to be both crowd pleasing and quirky. If nothing else, the Black List proves that being the “most liked” doesn’t mean that a script is good, interesting, or intelligent. It just means that it covered all the bases.
Case in point: the new film St. Vincent. St. Vincent sat on top of the Black List and was apparently so “well-liked” that screenwriter Theodore Melfi not only saw his script produced but he also got to direct it. And wouldn’t you know it — the two biggest failings of St. Vincent are the script and the direction.
It’s easy to point out why the direction is bad so I’ll start there. St. Vincent essentially looks like the pilot for one of those sitcoms that would be described as being edgy just because it was about a cranky old man. There is no visual flair to the film. The images just sit there flat on the screen.
As for the script, it would be likable if it didn’t try so hard. St. Vincent is about a guy named Vincent, a war hero who is now a cantankerous old alcoholic and a pathological gambler. His best friend is a pregnant Russian stripper. He owes money to a violent bookie. Every weekend, he visits his wife in a nursing home and he pretends to be a doctor. His wife no longer recognizes him. When the recently divorced Maggie and her awkward son Oliver move in next door, Vincent agrees to babysit after school. At first, Vincent just does it for the money but, as the movie progresses, he teaches Oliver how to stand up for himself and Oliver makes Vincent a little less grumpy. Eventually, Oliver has to do a report for a school about someone in his life that he considers to be a real-life saint and guess who he picks?
St. Vincent tells the type of story that would usually bring me to tears and I’ll admit that there were a few times when I did get teary-eyed. But, ultimately, the script was too heavy-handed for me to maintain those tears. I love crying at movies but, at the same time, I resent it when a movie demands that I cry just because it happens to be mashing down on all of the right buttons. This is one of those movies that doesn’t trust the audience. Instead of letting us react to the characters, it just keeps piling on development after development. It’s not enough that Maggie is a single mother who feels guilty about not being able to pick her son up from school. Instead, Maggie’s ex-husband has to suddenly sue for custody. It’s not enough that Vincent is struggling to pay the bills. Instead, he has to have a bookie who shows up at random and threatens to kill him. There’s more to an effective dramedy than just having half of your cast act as if they’re in a sitcom while the other half acts as if they’re appearing in an old episode of Law & Order.
And yet, despite the script and despite Melfi’s direction, St. Vincent does work and it really works only for one reason. Melfi has managed to assemble a truly outstanding cast. In the role Maggie, Melissa McCarthy proves that she deserves better than having to spend her career making movies like Identity Thief. Jaeden Lieberhrer is likable and sympathetic as Oliver. Playing the pregnant Russian stripper, Naomi Watts does the best that anyone probably could do with that poorly written character.
But, ultimately, the film is totally about Bill Murray. Bill Murray plays Vincent and he saves the entire film. Whether he’s being funny or being serious, Bill Murray gives the type of great performance that justifies his reputation for being a national treasure. When those tears did come to my eyes, it was all due to Murray’s performance.
St. Vincent is a deeply flawed film but it’s worth seeing for Bill Murray.