November midpoint movie roundup

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It looks like I’m going to exceed a manageable amount of film viewings this month, so I’ll tackle it in two parts. Here’s part one. Starting with two Stephen King sequels. I will try and keep the spoilers to a minimum.

It: Chapter Two (2019) is a sequel to 2017’s monster horror hit It starring Bill Skarsgård as everyone’s least favourite sewer-dwelling clown Pennywise. It’s 27 years later (not 28 that’s a different film) and the children have grown up into Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Andy Bean. The film generally follows the plot of the adults’ story in Stephen King’s mammoth book but with some frankly unnecessary embellishments in an attempt to explain the clown’s origins, nature and supposed ritual-based weakness.

All the adult actors are great and James Ransone in particular adds some Evil Dead style light relief in a few places, but I was most interested in the flashbacks scenes featuring the cast of the first chapter. Whether these were deleted scenes or scenes director Andy Muschietti purposely filmed for the sequel is beside the point, the point is that they make you want to rewatch the other film more than continue watching the film you’re supposed to be watching.

There’s a running joke in the film, which is reinforced by a great cameo from Stephen King himself as a shopkeeper (perhaps the shop is called ‘Needful Things’?), about one of the characters who is a writer writing lame endings. It is a reputation that has sometimes plagued King in his long career and unfortunately this film which should have the ending of all endings, given it’s length and the fact it stands as the culmination of a two-parter too big for one movie, is utterly ridiculously lame. So so lame.

Doctor Sleep Director’s Cut (2019) was directed by Mike Flanagan who also adapted the Stephen King book for the big screen. The book and this movie are sequels to The Shining and this movie leans towards Kubrick’s brilliant adaptation for tone, colours and visual style. Flanagan also wrote the adaptation for King’s horror novel Gerald’s Game and so as the kids don’t say he ‘has game’. I don’t know what the differences are between the theatrical version and the director’s cut we watched, but suffice to say that it is a long film which would appeal to fans of the original film who don’t mind some Lost Boys style nostalgia.

Ewan McGregor plays special kid and plucky survivor of the horror of Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance. Just like the It kids, he’s all growed up but he’s no Obi Wan. He’s ditched his tricycle in favour of being an alcoholic bum. A rock-bottom episode, a new job and a string of AA meetings later and he is ready to help Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran – no that’s not a typo) a young girl whose midi-chlorian count is off the scale (reminiscent of Firestarter). A bunch of no good child-killing vampire-like mobile home driving shine-suckers called the True Knot, led by be-hatted Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) want Abra for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the Hobbit-meals in between.

Perhaps because I had read the book, I found the ending to be a bit lame, but we’re used to that by now aren’t we folks? Thanks to Flanagan’s efforts I found the True Knot rather more menacing than in the book and I was also glad that getting the measles didn’t feature in the film. It was great to revisit the Overlook Hotel (which is becoming increasingly iconic as a fictional location for a fanboy creep show thanks to Ready Player One) and Ghostbusters are on the phone, they say they want their flasks back please…

Onward (2020) is a Disney Pixar animated film about a couple of elf brothers on a quest to temporary reanimate their dead father. If you’ve seen even one Pixar film then you’ll know that it’s bound to have layers of sentimentally and depressing stuff about life just beneath the fun veneer and if you’ve seen even one Disney film you’ll know that the core message is going to be about the strength of family and friends, and working together as a team. It can be exhausting at times just watching the trailers for these films never mind actually watching them. However thank god for some good writing, fun jokes and great voice acting from MCU actors Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.

The elves family pet is a dragon who looks suspiciously like the dragon from Mulan and I was hoping he was going to get magically scaled up to fight the inevitable dragon in the film’s finale. But sadly no. It’s a formulaic three-act movie with some really excellent animation and a novel final boss battle, with some quite clear messaging about letting go of the past and growing up and appreciating the people around you, and very few balloons. A number of moments from Indiana Jones seem to have crept in along the way and although the peril of the giant stone ball rolling down a tunnel toward the heroes is replaced by a gelatinous green cube of death, I feel the filmmakers were flexing their fanboy muscles in a few places. Although that’s not a bad thing if done subtly.

The Night Clerk (2020), not to be confused with the excellent TV series The Night Manager, is a story about a voyeuristic hotel clerk with Asperger’s who witnesses a murder. Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One) does a great job of playing the social inept, naïve and peculiar night clerk and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) is excellent as ever as the mysterious and sexy femme fatale.

The night clerk becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation and as the police investigation closes in, he is befriended by a beautiful guest (de Armas) who he realises may become the real killer’s next victim. I can’t really say any more because to do so would take me into spoiler territory.

Kill Me Three Times (2014) isn’t quite on the same level as the other films I’ve seen this month. It’s not a bad film as such, but it isn’t as a good a dark comedy or a thriller as I have seen recently. It plays out like a low budget crime farce revolving around a murder for insurance money which in the hands of Tarantino with a better cast and script could have been a real belter.

Simon Pegg does most of the heavy lifting as professional hitman Charlie Wolfe who is central to three stories of murder, blackmail and revenge. Wolfe is surrounded by some Fargo-esque bunglers and the plot chugs along some rails without any real surprises. Teresa Palmer (Berlin Syndrome, Warm Bodies) gives perhaps the next best performance but it can’t make up for some very tropey and ropey screenwriting.

The Da Vinci Code (2006) is a movie-adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel. I read the book years ago, I enjoyed the book, I read some more Dan Brown, I realised he wasn’t a particularly good writer, I stopped reading Dan Brown and couldn’t be arsed to watch the film. But when you’ve got time to kill and your partner doesn’t want to watch another horror film and you want some Hollywood action but Eon Productions are still refusing to home release the new Bond film, then perhaps The Da Vinci Code is just the ticket.

The film stars Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou (Amélie) and Jean Reno (Leon) and if you’ve been living under a rock tells the story of a Harvard professor drawn into a religious conspiracy of global proportions. At times, like Onward there’s a lot of Indiana Jones type shenanigans in the story which uses symbolism and Da Vinci’s art as a pivot point to catapult the heroes into an outlandish Grail quest.

Sixteen Candles (1984) is the only film in this post that I’ve seen before, if you ignore the fact that I also watched M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy again with Siggy (while each of the three films is flawed in some way I enjoyed watching them through again, warts and all). I first watched Sixteen Candles, written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, when I was in my teens based solely on the fact I had a major crush on Molly Ringwald after seeing her in her later films Pretty in Pink (also written by John Hughes) and the classic (but I feel over-rated) The Breakfast Club (also written and directed by John Hughes).

The first time I watched it I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. The second time I watched it, I enjoyed it more. It certainly feels really dated now – the homophobic jokes and the body-shaming are definitely not okay these days – but as a nostalgia trip it was a good laugh. Again I can’t say much about the story to avoid spoilers by suffice to say the film follows Samantha on her sixteenth birthday through a series of embarrassing American high school based comedy scrapes with a number of larger than life characters in a wacky but sentimental way typical of John Hughes. if I was forced to choose to watch Onward or Sixteen Candles again I’d plump for the latter.

Image by jesramvia from Pixabay.

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