Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2021

Well, last year was…a little better…right?

Hello again, everyone! We’ve reached the end of 2021 and it’s time, just like every year, to discuss the best in movies from last year. 2021 was an overall improvement of a year, and I also happened to see a lot more movies in 2021 than the year prior. In 2020, I think I saw 30 movies. 2021 was a lot closer to 90.

More than anything else, 2021 was the year I got to go back to the movies. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that would happen. This year, the theaters reopened (and had movies to show), and I got vaccinated. To be honest, it was tough for me to even consider going to the movies again once they reopened until I was vaccinated. That’s not me preaching to any of you; it’s more me saying that I didn’t think I could lose myself in the movie without thinking of COVID.

That means I missed seeing theater-worthy movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, but I was finally convinced it was time to return to the cinema for Spiral: From the Book of Saw was released. Saw was such an important franchise for me, I couldn’t miss it.

Yes, I finally went back to the theater in June, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been a really solid element in my mental health to be back at the cinema (I’ve stated many times that the theater has been a place of solace for me when the world becomes too much to handle). I’m not alone in this regard, as audiences flocked back to the theaters back in the 30s in the height of the Great Depression. Well, 2020 and its sequel were rather Greatly Depressing, and I used the theater as a tool. Great movies or terrible ones, it really didn’t matter.

All of that is a long way of telling you that I saw a great many movies, and I feel better talking my Top Ten Films of 2021. So let’s not waste any further time and get right into it.

Now, in order to properly begin, we have to state the obligatory forewarnings:

  • I did not see every film released in 2021. In fact, there are still a few films released very quietly in 2021 that many reviewers have not been able to see, like The Tragedy of Macbeth and Cyrano, and I am unable to include those films in my list. If you know of a film that belongs on this list but you don’t see it, it just means I didn’t see it…that, or it doesn’t belong on my list.
  • On that note, this is my subjective list, not yours, and not objective whatsoever. They are MY personal picks for best of the year. These are the films that spoke to me as a filmgoer. There are better made films that came out in 2021, and there are some films on this list that did not get Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a few that will miss the Academy’s selection process for Oscar-worthiness. They are MY picks and mine alone, so don’t be upset if a film is on your list that isn’t on mine. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
  • Along with all that, I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So let me know by commenting below with your Top Ten Movies of 2021 (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.

Alright, without further adieu…

  1. The Sparks Brothers

-In less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me, someone who had heard one Sparks song but couldn’t even connect it to the band, into a lifelong fan who spent his entire summer listening to the band as if he was trying to play catchup for time lost. His documentary is equal parts biography, concert film, and fever dream, and it all seems to work quite well. It’s also an incredibly watchable film, an entertaining instruction manual on first watch and a celebration of the band for those viewers who had discovered the incredibly prolific but under-appreciated musicians.

  1. Spencer

-Who would’ve guessed that the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart would end up being a horror-thriller Christmas film? Well, okay, it isn’t so exact as that, but this is a Christmas-set “biopic” that is less concerned with the details and minutiae of a life’s timeline and more set on a story that captures the character and person that Princess Diana was. Set during the last holiday season of her time involved with the royal family, the film sees Diana breaking apart at the seams while she struggles to maintain a strong face for the sake of the Crown. She’s there for her children, the one piece of her life in this world that still has good in it. I also have to credit the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, a piece of acting prowess that captures her spirit and soul more than her mannerisms and speech patterns, but I was completely lost in her performance and never once doubted that I was seeing Diana on the screen. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the unsung actor from the film, Sean Harris as McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, and one of the best scenes of the year, in which McGrady confesses how the staff really feels about Diana, and don’t forget the single best needle-drop of the year as the film comes to a close.

  1. The Last Duel

-Ridley Scott dropped two bangers in 2021, and one of them ended up on this list. I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Last Duel because, for me, Ridley Scott can get a little divisive. Every film he makes, the film gods flip a coin. As bonkers as House of Gucci ended up, The Last Duel is an elegant and intense view at altered perspectives done in the style of Rashomon. I have minor faults with a few elements in the overall film, and I argue that “kids-on-their-phone” is so old man and silly. The reason that The Last Duel underperformed is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many filmgoers are forced to make choices of what they want to watch. Several great films slipped between the cracks this year, and a movie that portrays a rape (not once, but twice, mind you) may not be the type of film that audiences wanted this year. That’s one of the factors why a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home did so well this year while bleaker fare like Nightmare Alley and The Last Duel struggled to find a presence. Beyond all that, though, the film is fantastic. It’s a tough sell to do a film that covers a painful and intense event from multiple viewpoints. You have to keep the film fresh while essentially telling the same story. Scott’s film teases us with the titular duel and then presents these views in a captivating way, and each retelling sought to alter the narrative in interesting ways.

  1. Dune

-I try not to hinge my thoughts on one film based upon another, but it’s nearly impossible to do so in the case of Dune, or Dune: Chapter One, or whatever it will eventually be called. We knew going into this film that it would be an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, but we also went into it knowing that the second half of this story was uncertain. It’s a lot of baggage to carry for a single film, and that’s not even diving into the quality of the film itself. Well, Denis Villeneuve surprised us all yet again by turning the oft-believed-unfilmable novel into a science fiction masterpiece on the level of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Well, potentially one day, but it’s a beautiful and elegant masterpiece of cinema nonetheless, but it needs to be stated that this is the first half, and it carries a level of understanding. Dune was not filmed back-to-back with its sequel like Back to the Future II & III or The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions or even the previously mentioned epic production of The Lord of the Rings. Dune was also not handled like the recent 2-part It adaptation. With that film, had we not gotten It: Chapter Two, the first film would stand on its own. Dune: Chapter One hinges on that sequel more than any other two-parter that I can recall. Had that sequel not been announced, I’m not sure this film would be on this list, but it was announced, and it will (likely) happen. With all that, I can’t wait to see this story come to an end and rewatch the first film a bunch when it drops on home video.

  1. The Suicide Squad

-Okay, I trust James Gunn to make a solid and entertaining film, and I trust the recent moves of the DCEU (overall, I’ve been positive on most of the universe, but the recent stuff has been the best), but I didn’t expect nearly as entertaining a time as I got with The Suicide Squad. Early reviews were very positive, and when I finally caught the film at a press screening, I was initially worried the hype was too hyped. Nope, this is an excellent time at the movies, a mean-spirited and bonkers action film that has shades of gritty 70s action pictures. Essentially, Gunn has made a big-budget Troma film, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life with his characters. A more stacked cast than his previous Marvel films, he’s able to give each of his “Squad” a moment to shine. By shine, I’m referring to debauchery or sin, but you get what I mean. The Suicide Squad is a wild ride of entertainment that, dare I say it, is damn beautiful and makes me excited for Peacemaker later this month.

  1. Candyman

Candyman was the last new movie I saw in 2021, and I’m surprised to see it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original film quite a bit, but I did not expect the hit on this legacy sequel just waiting for me to watch it. A little context for you: I’m big on franchises and I don’t like the idea of the legacy sequel (it feels lazy and oftentimes falls into the same pitfalls as the films it ignores), and the only reason I waited on Candyman 2021 was that I hadn’t watched Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead, so last week, I binged the whole franchise, and I must say, this newest film is the best film in the series by a stretch. The clever screenplay, co-written by Jordan Peele, paired with the picture-perfect directing from Nia DeCosta (I can see why she was so quickly snatched up by Marvel). It’s a legacy sequel that chooses to build on the mythology in a way that doesn’t retcon anything that came before but instead decides to add and validate what came before while challenging the history of the series at large. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking to the very ambitious ending.

  1. Halloween Kills

-This is the part when everyone stops reading, so let me remind you that this is a subjective list, and I would be wrong not to put Halloween Kills on the list. I’ve said it before, but Halloween is my all-time favorite horror film, and I have a special place in my heart for the rest of the franchise, convoluted and deeply-flawed though they may be. For Halloween 2018, I was interested but, as stated above, I don’t like the retcon aspect. All that being said, I get why the rest of this franchise was retconned, as most audiences did not keep up with the mythology as much as I did, and trying to make sense of it all would’ve been a bit of work. Also, Laurie Strode was dead in the previous films. Well, I saw Halloween 2018, and it is easily the best-made film since the original, but I felt like it was more of a Greatest Hits album of Halloween, sending up a mashup of great scenes and references from the other non-canon entries, but really not doing a whole lot to distance itself. Well, I revisited Halloween 2018 right before Kills came out, in what amounted to a quick trilogy binge (1978/2018/Kills). Halloween Kills, while being less-polished than David Gordon Green’s previous film, is all the better for its ambition. Sure, it does tread some of the same waters and ideas, but it uses them in a wholly different way. Here, we see Haddonfield as a real town full of interesting characters (I love that many of the background characters of 2018 show up again in Kills), and it’s a town dealing with its trauma in an unhealthy way. This sequel speaks to the question of how we react to fear, and it pushes the Halloween story into delightfully bloody new directions while making its predecessor much better and more palatable as a chapter in Green’s story.

  1. The Green Knight

The Green Knight was a movie that almost seemed to not want me to watch it. It didn’t have a lengthy run at my local theater, and the weekend my wife and I had planned to see it ended up with me self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID because I was very sick. I ended up being negative but by the time I ended up feeling better, we didn’t have a free night to see it, so we missed its theatrical run. Thankfully, I ended up with a 4k copy of it, and I was actually able to watch it. Also thankfully, the movie is excellent. The way The Green Knight takes the classic fable and legend and reconfigures it to fit David Lowery’s filmmaking sensibilities and give us a Gawain who is essentially a hopeful hero without any heroic skills, a leader who only takes the killshot because he can, a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions and flees at the sight of danger. It’s also a technically stunning piece of medieval fantasy with terrific performances and a haunting visual aesthetic. If you missed it like I did, rectify that immediately.

  1. Belfast

-There’s an argument out there that Belfast is not as hard-hitting and serious as the events it is depicting require, and I can understand it. The reason the film works for me is that it’s not about those events specifically; it’s about the family at the center of it, specifically young Buddy (played by newcomer Jude Hill). Seeing these traumatic events through the eyes of a child was something very effective for me. For Buddy, everything going on in his world is strained through the filter of his family, and that’s all he wants. He wants things to go back to normal, he wants to stay in Belfast, he wants his life to go in the direction it has been up to now. That’s his reckoning in the film, and it’s a small story against a big backdrop, and it was a joyful (as joyful as it could be, given the surrounding political unrest of the time) coming-of-age story that I want to share with my family, friends, everyone.

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

-No, I’m not a Marvel fanboy saying it is better than everything ever made without discussion ever. The last time I had a Marvel film on my Top Ten, it was back in 2011 and it was Thor. If you look at my list, there’s a good number of acclaimed films in Oscar contention as well as some really entertaining popcorn movies. Shang-Chi is the best of both worlds, and if there were to be a superhero film in the Best Picture race, it would be Shang-Chi. The film has an important cultural touchstone, and it showcases a terrific starring turn from Simu Liu as the titular hero, but the film has so much more. It has a terrific friend/potential love interest in Awkwafina, and it has one of the MCU’s best villains in real Mandarin Xu Wenwu. The film has loads of excellently-choreographed action, nods to wuxia, and it plays off one of the MCU’s best arcs in the Mandarin, especially with how the character ties to Iron Man 3. I even find the finale to be much more than a CG mess that most superhero fare gets lost in. Shang-Chi ends with a bang, but it is character-driven all the way through. Gosh, I can’t wait for a sequel to this film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is all-around excellent, and it’s my favorite movie of 2021.

There you have it. My Top Ten Films of 2021. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. What are your favorite movies of last year? Leave your favorites below! See you next year.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 12 – Annabelle (2014)

Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Norton, Alfre Woodard
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
99 mins. Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.

Who would’ve thought that the second-best cinematic universe (after Marvel) in film currently would be the Conjuring Universe? I certainly didn’t peg that, but when The Conjuring first hit cinemas, I knew this was something special I was seeing. I had become a huge fan of James Wan from all the way back with Saw, Dead Silence, and Death Sentence (the latter being cosmically underrated), and I had always been a supporter of his, but I had no idea how strong a storytelling and visionary filmmaker he was. It was only natural to expand on the mythos of The Conjuring, so I was very excited to see where this film, a prequel featuring the mysterious doll from The Conjuring’s cold open, would go. The film garnered very poor reviews, but I eventually got a chance to see it? Was it really that big a step down in quality?

Annabelle is set some time before we meet the Warrens from The Conjuring. Instead, we are introduced to Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis, X-Men: First Class, Tag) and her husband John (Ward Horton, The Wolf of Wall Street, Ford v Ferrari). Mia is pregnant with their first child, and the couple seems very happy at this stage of their lives, but one horrible night the two are beset upon by cult members who have invaded their home, they quickly find that evil lurks in their home, evil that desperately wants Mia’s child, evil that is seemingly attached to a doll of Mia’s with a dark past.

I’ve been critical of John R. Leonetti (The Silence, Wish Upon) as a director for quite some time. I think he’s a great director of photography on a great many films. He knows how to set up a shot. In the case of directing, there’s a lot more to it that seems to go unattended. Acting, sound work, creating mood and tone through pacing. Leonetti doesn’t seem to have a handle of these things yet. He’s gotten a lot better than the mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and his more recent attempts have shown even more improvement, but he needs to focus on bettering these aspects of his filmmaking in order to really be successful. He also doesn’t have much of a handle on scares, as Annabelle is easily the least tense and frightening of The Conjuring Universe’s 7 films. For comparison, the best sequences in the film, the elevator sequence, was guest-directed by James Wan. I can see how much Leonetti learned from working with Wan and observing his filmmaking style, but he needs to up his game in several other areas that are noticeably troublesome in Annabelle.

Wallis and Horton are slightly wood as Mia and John (obvious references to Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, the actors from Rosemary’s Baby), but Alfre Woodard (Captain America: Civil War, 12 Years a Slave) steals every scene as next-door neighbor Evelyn. Her story has hints of sadness and doses of gravitas from the veteran actress, and she adds an extra layer doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Also carrying a lot of weight in the film is Tony Amendola as Father Perez. Both he and Woodard are responsible for a heavy amount of exposition but they are able to get it across without weighing down the narrative too much.

Gary Dauberman (It, Wolves at the Door) wrote the screenplay for Annabelle, and there are noticeable issues with his work. Dauberman has honed his skills quite nicely in recent years (he did a lot of heavy lifting with It: Chapter Two) but he was still pretty early in his career when he crafted Annabelle, and his reliance on repeating exposition and constantly reminding the audience of info we’d already gotten (yes, Mia is pregnant and yes, Charlie Manson is bad) is pretty rough.

Annabelle shows a fundamental step down in quality from The Conjuring. Is it a bad movie? On the whole, no, it’s merely okay. It just feels like a bad movie coming off the powerhouse that was The Conjuring. It’s a messy movie, a disappointing movie, but not inherently bad. In fact, there’s some really cool moments on that display. I like the elevator scene, and the visuals are pretty striking, and I also think that this was made better by following the prequel Annabelle: Creation, which fixed some of the narrative issues. Should that count for it? Maybe not, but I’m going to because Creation did strengthen this film. It’s not great, but there are a lot worse horror movies to watch. Annabelle is fine…ish.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.
For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.
For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.
For my review of Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home, click here.
For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.
For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 26 – In the Tall Grass (2019)

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Rachel Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted

Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali

101 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

Stephen King is having a hell of a year. Between It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Castle Rock, Mr. Mercedes, and the upcoming Lisey’s Story, The Stand, The Outsider, and probably more than that, he’s having a damn good year, and now, the novella he cro-wrote with son Joe Hill has been adapted into the new Netflix Original Film In the Tall Grass.

Becky (Laysla De Oliveira, Acquainted, One by One) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) are on their way to San Diego when they, upon stopping to rest near an old church, hear the voice of a child coming from the tall grass near them. The voice claims to be lost and scared, and Becky and Cal go in to find the young boy, but upon entering the grass, they discover that it is far more difficult to find an exit, and there is something sinister buried deep within the grass.

Writer/director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, ABCs of Death 2) does the most that he can possibly do to make a boring background like standing in grass. Seriously, there are so many impressive shots in the film that elevate a simple setting into an elaborate one. The difficult in a film like In the Tall Grass is that you have limited characters and limited settings and you have to create a dynamic film where it actually feels like the characters are going somewhere. It doesn’t always work in the film, but when it does, it works very well.

The cast is fine, but Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera, Annabelle Comes Home) steals every scene he’s in as Ross Humboldt, a man who went into the tall grass with his wife and son and thinks he knows a way out. There are sequences in the film that feel like they will just be sequences of people yelling for help and yet Patrick Wilson’s Ross is such a unique and interesting fella to throw into the mix.

In the Tall Grass gets really weird and wild as he film goes on, and it becomes a lot more crazy near the end, but I was all in for it. There’s a lot more happening in this film than just a bunch of people lost in a field, but I won’t get into it here. This is a Netflix Original well worth your time. It’s fun and eerie and weird and confusing. I had a lot of fun even though the film is about 10 minutes too long. Still, In the Tall Grass is a lot of fun this Halloween season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.

It: Chapter Two Launches Well on Thursday Night

It: Chapter Two took in roughly $10.5 million on Thursday, a pretty solid opening night for the sequel. Now, it’s not as high as It‘s $13.5 million, but it doesn’t work to compare the behemoth breakout that was It to a solid opener for the sequel.

Some box office predictions place the film’s opening somewhere between $80 million to $100 million, and that’s a pretty damn nice weekend for the sequel. I think It: Chapter Two will have legs and open nicely, but having a three-hour run time could affect its opening, even if it doesn’t affect the overall take.

It: Chapter Two has a Fresh Rotten Tomatoes score of 65%, which is notable, but it’ll depend on word of mouth just as much as the first film.

Have you already seen It: Chapter Two? Are you seeing it this weekend? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] It: Chapter Two (2019)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

169 mins. Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.

 

When you have a film like It, something that was so consumed by the pop culture at the time of release, getting a follow-up to stick the landing is a pretty tough endeavor. Thankfully, It: Chapter Two was ready for the challenge.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club encountered It, and most of them have gone on with their lives, having forgotten all about the dancing clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Assassination Nation) and the oath they made to each other, that they would return to Derry if It ever came back. Now, with children going missing and a body recovered in the small time, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa, The Clinic, TV’s Shadowhunters) places the calls to his friends, who aren’t too keen on coming back to defeat It once and for all. Now, the Losers Club, as adults, will have to perform an ancient ritual that Mike is certain will destroy It, but it will take each of them back to the worst parts of their childhood to confront their darkest fears in an effort to save the town and the children of a new generation.

I’ve stated before that, having read the book, that the stuff with the kids is more interesting than the stuff with the adults, but director Andy Muschietti (Mama) and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (The Nun, TV’s Swamp Thing) have found an workable way to explore these characters and all the changes that have come upon them. It: Chapter Two spends some of its lengthy three-hour runtime on the flashbacks to 1989 and revisiting the Losers Club in their collective youth, something that I think helps connect these adult actors to their younger incarnations. Through the use of digital de-aging (something that has hits and misses in the film), we are able to see the connective tissue and character arcs manifest in the Losers as they return to Derry.

The casting in the film is phenomenal. I had some deep concerns about how the casting for this second part would go, seeing that there could be a potential for the studio to pick all big names or all unknowns, and the final result is more in line with picking performers who can embody the characters through their mannerisms, dialogue, and cadence. I cannot believe how great the cast is here, but the standout is without a doubt Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, TV’s Barry) as the adult Richie Tozier, played in the first film by Finn Wolfhard. Hader steals every scene he’s in, and even though I think he is given a bit too much comedy in the screenplay, he sells it without overdoing it. He also has the best character arc of the group due to some additions that weren’t in the book that work very well.

Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy, Filth, Glass) is the surrogate for King himself here, having aged into a writer that is constantly critiqued for his endings, and the love triangle between himself, Beverly (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Dark Phoenix), and Ben (Jay Ryan, Lou, TV’s Neighbours) plays out really well in this film. I like the way it’s done in the book, but not being able to actually get inside these characters’ thoughts, I think the translation, which makes some adjustments, is satisfyingly put to film here. Chastain’s Beverly has suffered with the men in her life going all the way back to her relationship with her abusive father, and she’s haunted by visions from her time staring into the deadlights back in 1989 have led her down a successful but lonely adulthood, and finding that poem on the postcard back in Derry opens up some wounds and confusion, she herself not certain exactly who wrote it.

James Ransone (Sinister, Captive State) is one of those actors I didn’t know as well, but he embodies Eddie so well, having grown up into a man that is essentially married to his mother but still struggling with his past fears and paranoias as a child. He is easily the most terrified of the Losers upon returning to Derry, and with good reason. I think the fears that Eddie is presented with are so relatable and that’s one of the ways Ransone connects with the audience. He also nails the speech style and physical ticks of Jack Dylan Grazer, who played young Eddie in the first film.

Bill Skarsgård is yet again at the top of his game here, but I will warn you that we don’t see a lot of Pennywise in the finished film. It’s not about him; it’s never really been about him, and It is a shapeshifter meant to take on your biggest fears, so it’s a criticism I heard at my screening that I would take issue with. It’s just a problem with Skarsgård being so good that you want him in the movie more.

It: Chapter Two is, if I’m correct, the longest studio horror film ever, clocking in at 169 minutes, but I never really felt it. I enjoy myself so much with these characters and this town that it didn’t bother me that the film is long. I wanted more time, in fact, but you should know that it isn’t three-hours of white knuckle horror. Again, my biggest flaw with the film is the same as with the first one: I wasn’t scared. I would say I had more effective scares in Chapter Two, but the film is more about the characters than about It.

Muschietti gets more experimental, spiritual, and cerebral with Chapter Two. His visual style elevates here, giving a more nightmarish and odd look at the town and its many horrors, and though some of the film feels like retread, it’s done with a different hook this time around. The haunts of the film tend to rely more on CGI, something that doesn’t look as clean here, but there are still enough shocks and surprises peppered throughout that definitely got the audience during my screening.

Fans of It, be they from the original book or even the 1990 miniseries, should find a lot to enjoy with It: Chapter Two. It’s not a perfect ending, but I found myself thoroughly engaged with the story all the way through to the ending, and it made me want to go back, rewatch the first film again (a requirement, I would say, before seeing this one), and then come right back to the theater to see the second-half again. It’s a very watchable conclusion to this story, one that will be in my regular rotation during the horror months, and it’s definitely more suited to a Kill Bill-style event viewing wherein one watches both films together. I loved the film, though I will note that there are issues with the overall execution, but I would still highly-recommend this finale to anyone who liked the first film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Andy Muschietti’s It, click here.

It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard

Screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman

135 mins. Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.

 

It seemed like It was never going to get the new adaptation fans have been clamoring for. The project had Cary Joji Fukunaga and Will Poulter originally in place after several unsuccessful attempts, and then Fukunaga left the project and Poulter was replaced. Then, director Andy Muscietti (Mama) surfaced to lead the project, something I was so sure about. I liked Mama, but it was a smaller, more intimate tale, and It is a big booming horror epic. As pics started to drop from the production, I’ll admit that I was unimpressed, and it was only after seeing the film that I realized how wrong I was.

It’s the summer of 1989, and the small town of Derry has been ravaged by a string of disappearances involving children, but Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent, The Book of Henry) isn’t willing to accept that his younger brother Georgie is gone, and he routinely brings his friends, Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Dog Days, TV’s Stranger Things), Eddie, and Stan, down to the Barrens, a marshy area where the sewers empty out, to look for his body. As the summer goes on, the group adds Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, 42, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), Beverly (Sophia Lillis, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, TV’s Sharp Objects), and Mike, and each of them is plagued by a strange manifestation they call It, a creature that regularly takes the shape of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, Deadpool 2, Assassination Nation).

The studio envisioned It as a two-part adaptation of the weighty tome that Stephen King wrote in the 1980s, and this film is an adaption of roughly half of the novel, which jumps back and forth in time seeing the Losers Club as children and adults returning to Derry to finish what they started. For the film, this time as children is the entire focus of the film, a move I actually believe helped the organization of the story much better than jamming the whole book in and trying to do it justice. This is a case of a two-part film that actually needs it.

Each of the kids does a tremendous job in the film at developing a character amidst all the goings on with It, with particular emphasis given to Sophia Lillis as Beverly and Finn Wolfhard as Richie. Lillis gives a nuanced and layered performance as the only female member of the Losers Club, and her collaboration with Muscietti creates a well-dimensioned girl who is dealing with a lot. Beverly was always the best character in the book, too, so it’s great to see her given justice here.

In that same way, I was surprised by how good Finn Wolfhard is as Richie. Wolfhard is of course known for Stranger Things, a series that takes a lot of influence from Stephen King and, at times, It, so I was worried that Wolfhard’s character would be too close to what we see in Stranger Things, but he plays Richie so well as such a different character. Richie is the goofball with the nasty speech and a whole lot of fear, and Finn does him justice.

All that aside, the other tough role to fill here is Pennywise. Coming off the miniseries, Tim Curry’s take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the best piece of the puzzle, so finding someone who can give a new take on the creepy clown is a tough sell. I was actually all for Will Poulter, and I was pretty irked when he ended up not getting the part, but Skarsgård just knocks it out of the park. He plays Pennywise with the understanding that this is just one form of It, a very old and very powerful entity, and Pennywise comes across as a favorite form but also as a skin worn by a creature. When he shows his endless rows of teeth, Pennywise’s eyes kind of slough away like they were a snakeskin coming undone. It’s a horrible-looking fantastically-performed boogeyman.

For a lengthy film like this, it’s rather forgotten how smoothly the movie runs. Every time I watch it, I don’t realize the two-hour-plus runtime moving along at a juggernaut pace. There’s so much to cover that it never gets boring. In fact, the screenplay does a solid job at adapting the spirit of the source material instead of just being a carbon-copy of the book set to film. There are major differences about the individual fears that each of the Losers Club have, and the changes are made for a variety of different wholly-understandable reasons. Some of them would’ve been very tough to put to film in a workable way, and others were of the specific time period of the novel (the Losers are in the 50s in the book), and some were cut or rearranged for timing. Now, as much as I loved the werewolf sequences of the book, I understand that the film is not the book, and it’s respectable in that way.

There is a significant flaw for me, though, and it’s this: It wasn’t scary. It pains me to say it, but I wasn’t scared at all. I really thought this would be the one to get me, but it didn’t. There’s some spooky individual moments (watch the librarian in the early scene with Ben), but overall it didn’t give me that shiver-myself-to-sleep vibe I was really hoping for. It’s still more than entertaining for its tale of childhood friendships and monsters and grief, but I just wanted it to be scary.

It is a fantastic adaptation of half of Stephen King’s source material. For a film that had some laughable early production stills, Andy Muschietti really pulled it off and I’m all the more excited for It: Chapter Two. This was a well-constructed story of friendship akin to other classics of the genre like Stand by Me, and apart from lacking in the scares for this writer, it is a wonderfully entertaining thrill-ride.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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