Movie Review: For Better and Worse, ‘IT: Chapter Two’ Goes Full Stephen King

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CREDIT: Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros.

Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff

Director: Andy Muschietti

Running Time: 169 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Clown Chomps, A Few Stabbings, Nervous Vomiting, and Creepy Nudity

Release Date: September 6, 2019

IT: Chapter Two is solidly built upon a foundation of a melancholy truth about human existence. When we’re young, we may vow to keep what’s important to us as children just as important when we became adults. But somehow, some way, we all forget some of the things we once held dear, while also remaining stuck in some of the patterns we thought we would eventually grow out of. The Losers Club of Derry, Maine represent the epitome of this mercurial attachment to the past. And so it is that 27 years after their first series of misadventures, they must return to once again defeat the supernatural evil entity that terrorizes their hometown.

This melancholy setup is an apt formula for psychological agony mixing with real in-your-face terror, but the trouble with Chapter Two is that so many of the scares are so scattered from the overarching purpose. Winged insect-bird hybrids popping out of fortune cookies and an old naked lady who turns into a floppy-breasted gargoyle are plenty creepy in and of themselves, but these moments just keep piling onto one another as a series of random horror set pieces, and the effect is eventually exhausting. Even some of the moments that actually feature Pennywise (like a gay couple being beaten up by a mob only to then fall victim to the clown or a cute little girl bonding with Pennywise over facial deformity) are effective mini-movies unto themselves, but they could have easily been cut without losing the main thread involving the Losers. Their story of coming to grips with what won’t leave them alone is effective when the full-to-bursting script actually focuses on them. Ultimately, IT: Chapter Two is decidedly overambitious and overdramatic, but it is a fascinating mess, embracing Stephen King at his weirdest and most extra.

IT: Chapter Two is Recommended If You Like: The most unfiltered Stephen King adaptations

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hidden Memories

Movie Review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ Plays It Way Too Safe by Both X-Men and General Movie Standards

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 114 Minute

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Suddenly Violently Tossed About by Telekinesis

Release Date: June 7, 2019

I love the X-Men. They’re my favorite superhero team, and still, through it all, my favorite superhero movie franchise. They’ve delivered some dizzying cinematic heights but also some flicks that have driven me batty. So it pains me to say that Dark Phoenix did not make me feel much in the way of any strong emotions.

Some say that the X-Men series is burdened by tangled, contradictory continuity. I say it’s bolstered by it. Whereas other cinematic universes are careful to keep every little thread in line for the health of a sturdy timeline, the Merry Mutants traverse decades willy-nilly, tossing off whatever plotlines just aren’t working and cruising along with whatever’s exciting and vibrant, paradoxes be damned! Dark Phoenix doesn’t reject that approach, but it doesn’t embrace it either. It’s mostly content to tell a straightforward story, while occasionally throwing out some half-baked ideas. It’s a movie unstuck in time, instead of proudly giving the middle finger to any temporal concepts.

Dark Phoenix is clearly a labor of love. It’s the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who’s been with the franchise for over a decade, and it’s based on one of the most beloved comics storylines, in which telepathic telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a super-hot cosmic force to become the most powerful creature on the planet, perhaps the whole universe. It’s a huge climactic big screen culmination that’s been promised to us for quite some time, but after seeing how it’s turned out, I mainly want to say: we would have been okay without this movie. Or maybe now just wasn’t the right time for it. It’s arriving hot on the heels of an X-Men movie whose title literally referred to the end of the world and another that said a fitting goodbye to a pair of iconic X-characters.

But it shouldn’t have been impossible for Dark Phoenix to be another rousing, revolutionary statement so soon after those conclusive paradigm changes. In fact, it would have totally been in keeping with this franchise’s always-moving-forward ethos. But that’s not going to happen when a climactic battle scene takes place in some random New York hotel or when Professor X and Magneto run through the same old rigamarole of bickering and then making a temporary peace. When the stakes are this high, you have to go for broke.

Dark Phoenix is Recommended If You Like: X-Men completism, if you gotta

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Firebirds

SNL Review January 20, 2018: Jessica Chastain/Troye Sivan

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-jessica-chastaintroye-sivan/

White House Press Conference – C+

Jessica Chastain’s Monologue – C

Car Hunk – B-

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – B+

Google Talks – C+

What Even Matters Anymore (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Troye Sivan performs “My My My!” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Stormy Daniels – C
Princes William and Henry – C-
Robert Mueller – B

Amazon – C

Jalapeños – B+

Doctor’s Orders – B-

Troye Sivan performs “The Good Side” – B

Justice for Anne – B+

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Molly’s Game’ Has Jessica Chastain Deliver What Must Be a Record-Setting Amount of Dialogue in Aaron Sorkin’s Directorial Debut

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CREDIT: STX Films

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Brian d’Arcy James, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, J.C. MacKenzie

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for the Vices That Surround Poker and a Brutal Assault Scene

Release Date: December 25, 2017 (Limited)

Effective poker strategy usually involves plenty of silence, so a poker film would seem to be an odd fit for the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, one of the most verbose screenwriters of all time. But don’t fold on him just yet, because Molly’s Game isn’t about the poker but rather the woman running the game. And a lot of talking has to be done behind the scenes to get to the point where you can stay silent behind the cards. And let’s just say Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) talks (and does) a lot to get to be the big kahuna running a high-stakes underground poker ring. From near-Olympic skier to lowly assistant to self-made millionaire, she lives quite the whirlwind. The tabloids call her the “poker princess,” but give a queenpin the respect she deserves and don’t saddle her with a patronizing nickname.

The players at Molly’s games consist of Hollywood hotshots and Wall Street bigwigs, and that high-profile money moving has the FBI thinking she might be involved with drug running and tax fudging. So she turns to smooth-talking but upright lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to represent her. He’s a bit pricey, though, and her assets are not exactly currently liquid, so she appeals to him on the basis of personal credit. Much of the film is a frame story of Molly filling Charlie in on the details of her life. Because they are reading dialogue written by Sorkin, Chastain and Elba have to deliver about four times as many words as they would in an average movie. Both are more than up to the task, Chastain especially, as she also has to deliver a ton of voiceover narration on top of her on-screen dialogue. It’s an electrifying story, but with nary a second of silence, plus frenetic editing on top of that, it is a bit exhausting, or at least it was for this viewer.

While Molly’s story will take you through the gauntlet, you can also vicariously thrill to the stories that her players bring to the table. Several of them basically have their own mini-movies going on (that Molly narrates, natch). You end up feeling that you know enough about their tells and pressure points that you could come in and win a few hundred grand against them even if you’re a complete novice. Especially memorable is Michael Cera with an effortlessly cool vibe unlike anything he’s ever given off before. He fully inhabits “Player X,” an anonymized version of an actual famous actor. (Some quick googling reveals he is essentially playing Tobey Maguire, or some amalgam of Maguire, Matt Damon, and maybe a few others.) It’s a career highlight for him and representative of the film’s emphasis on affirmatively filling out the clothes you wear in poker and in life.

Molly’s Game is Recommended If You Like: Poker movies, Poker competitions, Women Taking Control of Their Own Narrative

Grade: 3 out of 5 Spreadsheets