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‘It: Chapter Two’ is Painfully Long yet Brimming with Ambition



At 135 minutes, It: Chapter One covers only the childhood half of Stephen King’s magnum opus, saving the adult portion for the sequel, set twenty-seven years later. The decision to split the movie in two was a wise move on the part of the studio, as it gave the filmmakers more time to flesh out both the story and the large cast of characters. But with a nearly three-hour run time, It: Chapter Two is a full thirty-five minutes longer than Chapter One, begging the question: how much time did the filmmakers really need?

I hate to start on a negative note, but at a bloated 170 minutes, the length of Chapter Two becomes a major stumbling block that must be addressed. Where director Andy Muschietti’s vision for the first movie perfectly recaptures the novel’s supernatural terror and childhood bonding, It: Chapter Two moves fast — maybe too fast — and yet, it never quite captures the weight of its nearly three-hour runtime. You’d figure that an additional thirty-five minutes would give the storytellers more time to flesh out the characters, the relationships, the backstory, and the supernatural entity at the center of Derry, but instead, the film feels frustratingly thin — and, dare I say, self-indulgent. The final result is a mixed bag in which your patience is tested, your attention brought to bear, and your precious time demanded.

Still, there’s also a lot to love here.

The problem with flashbacks…

The narrative of It: Chapter Two is pretty-straightforward, and anyone who’s seen the first film, watched the original TV series, and/or has read the book knows what to expect. Minus a few key sequences, such as the controversial sewer orgy, Gary Dauberman’s script is mostly faithful to the heart of King’s story. When Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) returns to picturesque Derry, the seven (well, really six) people who defeated him in 1989 must return to their hometown to defeat the horrible creature and bring his reign of terror, once and for all, to an end.

As the group reunites in Maine, the proceedings are padded by extended flashbacks as the now-adult members of the Losers Club struggle to rebuild the bonds they forged as children, as all but one (Mike) experiences temporary memory loss. It turns out that moving away from Maine has somehow made their memories foggy, and now it’s up to Mike to find a way to make them remember those horrific clown-related encounters that have vanished from their consciousness.


The film’s focus on these flashbacks sometimes works to its advantage, and sometimes to its detriment. The upside is that these dream sequences allow the charismatic and talented young actors who previously played the characters to return in It: Chapter Two, and as with the first film, some of the best parts of It: Chapter Two have nothing to do with the cackling manifestations of the murderous Pennywise, but rather with the camaraderie, bickering, and curiosity among these kids. The teenagers get a fair amount of screen time here, reminding us of the sparkling chemistry of the lively young cast. Unfortunately, the downside is that these endless flashbacks are the biggest culprit in stretching out the film’s running time; if you cut them out entirely, we would most likely be left with a two-hour movie.

When we bury our feelings, we bury who we are…

Where, It: Chapter One uses the fight against Pennywise as a metaphor for the characters facing their deepest fears as they enter adulthood, Chapter Two tackles themes of memory and childhood trauma, exploring the loss of innocence decades after our heroes faced off against the creepy, dancing clown with outsize yellow teeth, a high-pitched squeak of a voice, and a habit of eating kids. And like Chapter One, Chapter Two deals with grief, insecurities, trauma, and guilt. These characters may be older, but they continue to be haunted by their own personal demons, and they have ways to go before they can ever heal.

James McAvoy plays Bill Denbrough, now a best-selling mystery novelist who married a movie star (Jess Weixler), but is still not over the death of his little brother, Georgie. Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is a successful fashion designer trapped in an abusive marriage. Jay Ryan is the once-bullied, overweight Ben, who’s currently an architect and looks hotter than “a team of Brazilian soccer players,” but never quite got over his childhood crush, and still carries around Beverly’s signature from a page in his yearbook. James Ransone is the hypochondriac Eddie, who grew up to be a terrifyingly high-strung adult. Bill Hader is the foul-mouthed smart-aleck Richie Tozier, a now-famous standup comedian who doesn’t write his own material. Andy Bean stars as Stanley, still the weakest of the bunch and still trying to get his life in order, and last but not least, Isaiah Mustafa stars as Mike Hanlon, the only member of the Losers Club who remained in Derry. He’s the town librarian, and the only one who clearly remembers Pennywise. They’ve grown into restless adults, each of them scarred by the events of their past, and now the seven (really six) must search out and destroy It. And the only way they can defeat the clown is if they work together.

James McAvoy’s Bill might be the story’s beating heart, but Chapter Two really belongs to Ritchie. Hader’s spin on Richie is easily the film’s standout, since no other actor better matches their younger counterpart than him. He pretty much nails every line of dialogue, and the subtle subplot about his secret desires carries more emotional weight than expected. Meanwhile, Mustafa (best known as the Old Spice guy) has an impressive breakout as Mike, while Teach Grant’s offbeat turn as Henry Bowers (an escapee from a psychiatric ward) brings equal scares and laughs. The rest of the cast is fine, although the adult group doesn’t demonstrate the same level chemistry as their younger selves, as we’re reminded by the narrative lift we feel each time we are shown a flashback.

Here comes the horror…

Regardless of how you feel about the near-three-hour running time, the good news is that It: Chapter Two packs enough suspense and genuine scares to satisfy even the biggest horror hounds. It really is at times terrifying, and features three if not four scenes that are as good as the astonishing visual centerpiece of the first film. For a movie classified as ‘horror,’ It: Chapter Two features some thrilling setpieces punctuated by each of the character’s deepest and darkest fears, including a claustrophobic encounter in a mirrored funhouse, an even more catastrophic sequence that jumps between a shocking hallucination that sees Jessica Chastain drenched in more blood than Johnny Depp in A Nightmare On Elm Street, and a scene in which Jay Ryan sinks deep into the earth.

Another highlight comes when Chastain’s Beverly visits her childhood home looking to reunite with her father, only to be greeted by an elderly woman named Mrs. Kersh (Joan Gregson) who insists she come in for tea. As Beverly awkwardly tries to stir up a conversation, Mrs. Kersh becomes momentarily paralyzed. The expression on her face here is far more frightening than what comes next. Meanwhile, a reunion at an Asian restaurant is one of the movie’s best scenes, showcasing Hader’s comedic flair and introducing the first of many digitally enhanced effects used to realize Pennywise’s grotesque transformations, including a later nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s here that the grown-up Losers are quickly reminded of the terrifying shape-shifting abilities of Pennywise the clown. It’s stuff like this that makes It: Chapter Two well worth seeing.

Make no mistake, Chapter Two does earn its R rating, and like the first film, the greatest asset is still Bill Skarsgård as the sadistic, child-chomping, demonic clown. There really is something special about watching him twitch, crawl, shriek, and work his way into the minds of the children of Derry. Amidst the movie’s many monstrosities, the shapeshifter is by far the most menacing, best exemplified in one single shot where he appears out of disguise as a man simply covering his face in clown paint. It’s all good stuff thanks to the first-rate special effects, gross-out visuals, and Checco Varese’s gorgeous and dreamy cinematography, which conveys a sense of danger even in the bright daylight.

About that cold opening…

The first horror we witness in this second installment, however, is oddly the most terrifying — and also the most troublesome µ scene of Chapter Two. The scene in question details a grotesque act of homophobic violence against a gay couple (played by Taylor Frey and Canadian director Xavier Dolan) that transitions to the first appearance of the now-iconic red balloon and the words “Come Home” scrawled in blood under the bridge before Pennywise himself appears. What this has to do with the main story is unclear, except to maybe serve as a reminder that Pennywise isn’t the only monster residing in Derry. But while the hate crime is true to the book and based on the real-life 1984 drowning of Charlie Howard, the scene is confusing in this context, and feels tonally out of place with the rest of the film, as the filmmakers never bother to revisit neither the scene nor the characters to give it any sort of closure.

But it’s not just the cold opening that feels disjointed and tonally out of place — the ending does as well. 170 minutes is plenty of time to build to a satisfying climax, but It: Chapter Two concludes the nearly six-hour, two-movie saga without much in the way of surprises. Worse is that screenwriter Gary Dauberman beats you over the head with meta-joke after meta-joke about how Stephen King never quite knows how to nail an ending, and in case you missed it, King even pops up just to reinforce this fact, which only further reinforces just how disappointing the climax really is.

The film needs a better ending…

For better or for worse, It stands out as one of the rare films that have attempted to remain as true as possible to the source material. However, I can’t help but think Andy Muschietti had a chance to trim some fat, not feel the need to resolve every subplot, nor cram in another anti-climactic, big-budget action-movie spectacle which not only sucks the life and imagination out of the film, but isn’t the slightest bit scary. There’s a lot to like here, as It: Chapter Two oozes with spectacular scenery, stupefying effects, an epic score, and plenty of nerve-jangling scenes that will have viewers shrieking, but Chapter Two is also painfully long, and could use a better ending. In between the odd prologue and the disappointing climax is roughly two hours of well-crafted filmmaking and fifty minutes of excess.

  • Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mike Worby

    September 27, 2019 at 11:57 pm

    I honestly wish I’d skipped the film. What a waste. Unbelievably bad. I could legit list 20-30 things I didn’t like about it.

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Girl Power? The ‘Black Christmas’ Remake is About as Subtle as a Sledgehammer to the Face



Black Christmas 2019 Review

1974’s Black Christmas is not one that is regularly referenced on Best Horror Movie lists, as it’s a standard foray into the sub-genre of slasher movies. Having already been remade in 2006 to a terrible response, it’s the kind of film ready to be re-visited — a not-so-classic in need of a boost. Directed by Sophia Takal, it’s unfortunate that 2019’s version does nothing to make the premise something worth watching, and instead falls very short of its mark.

During the Christmas break at Hawthorne College, sorority sisters Riley (Imogen Poots), Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Marty (Lily Donoghue), and Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) prepare to host an “orphan dinner” for those left at the college over the holidays, only to be harassed and eventually attacked by a group of masked, hooded men.

Black Christmas 2019

In order to make the premise more relevant for today’s crowd, writers Takal and April Wolfe update the nuts-and-bolts slasher with a feminist twist, including on-trend topics of toxic masculinity, rape culture, and female empowerment. Whilst its heart is in the right place, its execution is sloppy and comes across as condescending. Conversations about missing DivaCups and dildos are just as commonplace as those on white supremacy and the patriarchy, making it an often embarrassing watch and feeling like a cynical cash-grab.

The characters we’re supposed to be rooting for are likeable enough, but so paper-thin; a small breeze could knock them over. With one-trait personalities (PTSD-ridden, activist, loved-up, and comic relief), the film fails to create a truly well-developed female character, or one of any gender; men fall into one of two categories: chauvinist or sensitive love-interest, both to the extreme.

Black Christmas 2019 REview

Horror is a difficult genre to make work, but the fundamentals are to scare. Unfortunately, Black Christmas also lacks in the basic necessity of frightening its audience. Most supposed chilling moments come in the safe-bet form of a jump-scare, a lazy device that considers making a film-goer bolt in their seat as a result of a loud noise a win in their efforts to unsettle — and that’s if they work. Quiet for long stretches of time before the inevitable jump, the scares here will only work if this is the first horror film you’ve ever seen.

There is something to be commended in the fact that director and co-writers have attempted to differentiate from the original by adding a supernatural element to the proceedings, but by the third act, this ploy is so absurd as to be laughable (protagonists receiving text messages from a supposed ghost should never be a thing), and does nothing to enhance the story.

Black Christmas 2019 Review

It’s a shame for lead Poots, who has shown in the likes of Green Room that she is a talented actor, and worth more than the sum of this movie’s parts. Doing her best with what she’s given, Poots is a light in an otherwise dim proceeding, along with Shannon as sorority sister Kris, and the two have decent chemistry when on screen together. None of the rest of the cast stands out — most likely due to their lack of character — but the performances for a horror film of this ilk are par for the course, passable.

With good intentions, Black Christmas is a frustrating watch, with its overt dialogue and occasionally patronizing tone. It’s disappointing that a film with feminism at its core, directed by and co-written by women, misses its target by such a large distance.

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‘Richard Jewell’ is Both For and Against Character Assassination



Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

With Richard Jewell, director Clint Eastwood does two things at once: tell a compelling story of something that was all over the news about 25 years ago, and seek to make an incendiary political point meant to play to very specific modern-day resentments. Let’s just say the former objective is much more defensible than the latter. 

The film tells the story of a security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) in the Atlanta area who was working in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics when a bomb went off in the park. Jewell was first treated as a hero who rescued people during the bombing, but was later considered a suspect in the bombing by the FBI and named as such in the media. But Jewell, it turned out, was innocent, with domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph confessing to the crime years later. 

As depicted in Eastwood’s film, Richard Jewell bears more than a passing resemblance to Shawn Eckhardt, the character Hauser played two years ago in I, Tonya — a real-life creature of a sensational mid-’90s true crime case who hadn’t done much with his life, but has aspirations of something greater. In Jewell’s case, it’s thwarted dreams of becoming a cop, which haven’t kept him from worshiping and idealizing law enforcement. He’s also depicted as a man so simple-minded that he keeps doing things that made him look super-guilty, even though he isn’t.

Richard Jewell reporters

Richard Jewell takes us into how exactly the man came to be accused. The FBI, in the person of agent Jon Hamm, applied its vaunted profiling tactics — the ones you’ve seen lionized on such shows as Criminal Minds and Mindhunter — to the case, and came up with the wrong guy. 

Filmmaking-wise, what we have here is similar to most other late-period Eastwood films, and the pacing and storytelling aren’t the problem. The sequence right before the bombing, in particular, is especially harrowing and suspenseful.

While in the works for many years (Jonah Hill was at one point set to star as Jewell, and remains a producer), Richard Jewell itself was produced and completed uncommonly quickly, with production beginning in June, just six months before its release. Nevertheless, it creates a reasonable approximation of 1996 — The Macarena included! — and while seemingly the majority of studio movies these days are shot in Georgia, this one at least is actually set there.

The problem, however, is another decision the film makes. We see Hamm’s FBI agent leaking the existence of the investigation to media, specifically reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), after what’s essentially a seduction on her part. This is the film’s biggest misstep, which is in fact an act of pure character assassination against Scruggs, a real-life journalist (deceased) who is accused of horrible ethical breaches that she almost certainly never committed, including offering to sleep with sources in exchange for information. Beyond that, the character is played by Wilde as something resembling a cartoon witch. There are a lot of unique characters who exist in newsrooms, but this character isn’t one of them.

And despite what you may have read, the Richard Jewell makes the FBI look even worse than the media. It also shows Jewell, who spent his whole life wanting to be a cop, defending and making excuses for these unscrupulous agents who are falsely accusing him. The script also doesn’t really get the dynamic that takes place between media and the police/FBI quite right; in 95 percent of high-profile crime stories, the only major source is law enforcement, and media outlets just go with whatever the cops tell them. 

What the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did was report — accurately, at the time — that the FBI was looking at Jewell as a suspect. Yes, they should have done more due diligence, but they also didn’t make things up. Had Scruggs behaved the way she did in the film in real life, that would be worthy of condemnation. But she didn’t. 

Furthermore, yes, what happened to Richard Jewell was pretty terrible. But on the other hand, he was never arrested, he never did a day in jail or prison, and was cleared after about three months. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but…other wrongfully accused people have gone away for years and decades. Multiple movies this year, including Brian Banks and Just Mercy, have told the stories of such cases. 

Hauser is very good, and getting to be expert at this sort of role, although the performance ends with him delivering a long, articulate speech in which Jewell turns into essentially a different person.  Sam Rockwell, on something of a roll with Jojo Rabbit and Fosse/Verdon, is just fine as his lawyer. There’s also a performance by Kathy Bates, as Jewell’s mother, that’s been getting inexplicable praise — it’s more a regional affectation than a great performance. 

While Eastwood — the Obama invisible chair speech notwithstanding — is far from a down-the-line right-winger, the timing of this particular release is somewhat cynical. It’s clearly pitched right now in a way to exploit discontent with media misconduct and “fake news,” while also directly in line with that weird cultural tic in which cops are seen as beyond reproach, while the FBI is evil. 

Richard Jewell isn’t bad as a character study, but its agenda is a whole other story. 

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‘Apollo 11’ Leads the Best Documentaries of 2019



Best Documentaries of 2019

2019 was a generally strong year for documentaries, with many of the best ones sharing one or more of several elements: a focus on music, a resonance with the current moment, and the word “Apollo” in the title.

The Year’s Best Documentaries

Best Documentaries 2019

1. Apollo 11. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller, this documentary made masterful use of archival footage — much of it on 70mm film long not available to the public — to tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission on its 50th anniversary. It’s one of those films that’s nerve-wracking, even as everyone watching knows exactly how it all happened. The film opened in theaters, then showed on CNN, and then returned to theaters this month. 

Best Documentaries 2019

2. The Kingmaker. The Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield takes another look at the ridiculously wealthy, this time catching up with Imelda Marcos, the 90-year-old former first lady of The Philippines. For its first half hour, the film hints that it’s going to be a soft-focused look at a newsmaker of the past, before it takes a sudden turn into showing its subject as a monster who looted her own people of billions and was almost certainly complicit in horrific war crimes. The film played in theaters this fall and will debut on Showtime in early 2020. 

Best Documentaries 2019

3. Love, Antosha. The life of the beloved late actor Anton Yelchin, which ended in a freak accident in 2017, is celebrated with home movie footage, clips of his movies, and interviews with a star-studded array of his co-stars. It’s a sweet remembrance of a talent gone far too soon — while also telling the story, through both letters and interviews, of his relationship with the loving Russian immigrant parents he left behind. Now streaming from on-demand providers. 

Best Documentaries 2019

4. City of Joel. Director Jesse Sweet’s film is an astonishing work of anthropological filmmaking, as he looks at the tension and land disputes between a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who arrived in an upstate New York town, and their secular neighbors. The film, which played the Jewish film festival circuit and is now available on demand, is uncommonly evenhanded, letting both sides of the dispute have their say. 

Best Documentaries 2019

5. David Crosby: Remember My Name. There were many very strong music documentaries this year, but this film, directed by A.J. Eaton and produced and narrated by Cameron Crowe, was the best of them all. Crosby, knowing he’s in poor health and unlikely to live many more years, is uncommonly candid about his regrets, especially his many feuds with his famous musical collaborators. Now available on demand, it’s also the best film Crowe has been associated with in almost two decades.

Best Documentaries 2019

6. Cold Case Hammarskjöld. Mads Brügger’s documentary starts off by looking at the mysterious 1961 plane crash death of U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and then goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, including a supposed plot by South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s to infect people with AIDS. Not everything asserted here is true (most likely), but it’s all wildly intriguing. Now available on demand. 

Best Documentaries 2019

7. The Apollo. The year’s “other” Apollo documentary takes a look back at the history of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, a mecca of African-American culture for nearly a century. The film looks at how the theater has waxed and waned in importance over the years, while using a staged reading of Ta’Nehesi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” as a framing device. This one played at festivals and then debuted on HBO; it’s currently available on HBO’s streaming platform. 

Best Documentaries 2019

8. Horror Noire. Director Xavier Burgin’s documentary takes a look at the history of black horror films, using 2017’s Get Out as an inflection point to look back on decades of African-American representation — as well as ugly tropes — in the horror genre. The film had some big-screen showings before streaming on Shudder. 

Best Documentaries 2019
Tell Me Who I Am CR: Netflix

9. Tell Me Who I Am. Director Ed Perkins’ documentary about a pair of twins, and the family secrets one must tell the other, is very creepy and unsettling, but still essential. It debuted on Netflix, where it’s a perfect fit, and is still streaming there now. 

Best documentaries 2019

10. Diego Maradona. This look at the 1980s soccer star, directed by Amy filmmaker Asif Kapadia, makes masterful use of archival footage to depict the rise of this one-of-a-kind athlete. The doc, which played on HBO this fall and is still streaming there now, is a must for the many Americans who have gotten into soccer for the first time in the last decade, and are unfamiliar with the stars and stories of the past. 


Honorable mention: Black Mother, The Human Factor, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Carmine Street Guitars, Mike Wallace is Here, Varda by Agnes, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Screwball, American Factory, Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce,

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