IT: CHAPTER TWO – BETTER THAN THE BOOK & MORE THAN I EXPECTED BUT PLEASE DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN

SHORT TAKE:

Surprisingly thoughtful, intricately plotted, well acted and very effective but terrifying finale to the film version of Stephen King’s mammoth-sized book IT.

WHO SHOULD GO:

I would like to make one thing clear: STEPHEN KING STORIES ARE NOT CHILD FRIENDLY!!!

There is a warning at the beginning of the movie which declares flashing lights could trigger epileptic seizures in the photosensitive. But that is the LEAST of the problems. There is also sexually discussed content, a profound amount of gratuitous profanity, some of it blasphemous, a lot of lethal violence and gore with child victims in close up, homicide, patricide, people being burned alive, grotesque deformities, slit throats, an explicit scene of suicide, overt physical and implied sexual abuse, and brief but conspicuous demonstrations of alternative sexuality. The violence and bloodshed would have alarmed the Grimm Brothers, though this is to be expected in any movie about a child-eating monster.

I do not know what the parents in the audience were thinking but there was a group of under-chaperoned young teens in the audience next to me for whom I cringed, given the film’s content as well as the visuals in some of the trailers. An R-rated movie will attract R-rated trailers, which R-rated “coming soon” offerings will not be R-rated “ONLY” for gore. One of the movies previewed at the afternoon showing of IT: C2, which was viewed by these kids, included scantily clad pole dancers! Even more inexplicable was the presence of young children who, predictably, begin to cry almost from the outset. Bringing kids to an R-rated movie of any kind, much less a horror fest, is a face-palming level of stupidity, bordering on child neglect, if not abuse.

Let me repeat KING IS NOT CHILD FRIENDLY. DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN.

FOR MATURE ADULT AGE TEENS AND UP ONLY!!!

LONG TAKE:

I walked into IT: Chapter Two fully expecting not to like it. I can hardly be blame. I didn’t like the book and although the TV version had a – dare I say it – certain charm due to the talents of Tim Curry as Pennywise the sinister, extraterrestrial psycho killer clown, and the recent Part 1, IT, wasn’t bad, I still did not hold out much for Part 2, having read the book.  My youngest, now 21, pointed out an element that had not occurred to me about Part 1 – that instead of a straight up horror story it could be seen as an analogy for overcoming one’s childhood traumas and deepest wounds.

Although I thought this idea had merit I still dreaded what they would do with the second installment. After all it was based upon an excessively long, often deeply disturbing novel which catered to our darkest impulses and often relied heavily on caricature-level biases against small town citizens, authority figures, and parents.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. While it is, by no means, a great movie, it is far better than I thought it would be. IT: Chapter Two is the second half of Stephen King’s elephantine book IT about 7 children, outcasts in different ways, who bond as The Losers’ Club to fight an other worldly monster, and their adult selves who return 27 years later to kill IT. My review of the filmed version of the first half of the book – IT – is HERE and covers the child actor versions of the characters. The kids return in clips and flashbacks.

SPOILERS – BIG, CASUAL SPOILERS – SO BE FORWARNED

The adults include: James McAvoy (whose incredibly varied resume includes: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Split, Atomic Blonde, and the entire X-Men reboot series) is Bill, the stuttering leader of the group. Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game, Interstellar) is Beverly the grown up abused child who marries another abusive man. Bill Hader (who has done a lot of voice over acting) is Richie the comedian who as a child seems physically incapable of keeping his smart aleck bully-antagonizing comments to himself. Isaiah Mufasa is Mike, as a child one of the only black people in Derry and an orphan whose parents burned to death in a tragedy he witnessed, and as an adult is the librarian and self appointed guardian of Derry who stays to watch for the monster’s re-appearance. The significantly sleeker and athletic grown up Ben is played by born-Kiwi (native New Zealander) now Aussie Jay Ryan (who, in a note of incredible irony, before becoming established as an actor, used to perform in local supermarkets entertaining young children as —– a clown). Andy Bean is the adult Stan whose Jewish faith, when a child in Derry, made him the target of abuse by the town bullies. Finally, fatherless, hypochondriacal, mother-dominated Eddie has grown up to be played by James Ransone.

Bill Skarsgård (a worthy addition to the Skarsgard acting family which includes both brother Alexander from Melancholia, Battleship, and Tarzan, as well as his father Stellan from the Marvel movies) reprises his role as Pennywise. One might hate his performance as the psycho clown or be fascinated by his interpretation of King’s murderous mountebank, but no one can deny that Skarsgard puts his all into the character, going full out to invest Pennywise with as much horror as a harlequin can hold.

While Gary Dauberman, the scriptwriter, REALLY needs to learn the meaning of “less is more” (and yes, I know, people who live in glass houses….), he, with director Andy Muschietti, (whose only big credit up to now was another horror movie – Mama), made some VERY VERY good plot choices.

There were a number of circumstances in the source material they decided to leave out. Among the sensible deletions were, among a number of other smaller but improvement tweaks: Tom, Beverly’s abusive husband doesn’t pursue them into Pennywise’s lair in a last minute late third act conflict. They do NOT use a parody-level, laughable, King-invented creation myth of a turtle who vomits up the universe to defeat Pennywise. Derry did not blow up when the monster died, resulting in the group being heroes who save a town leaving hope in their wake instead of monster hunters who leave nothing but destruction behind them. Bill’s wife, Audra, did not show up needing to be saved which would have further padded an already excessively long run time. And they explicitly do NOT again lose their memories of Derry after the monster is vanquished, which retention implies they have learned to conquer their own inner demons as well as the extraterrestrial who externalized those fears. (NOT to mention the extremely wise excision in the first movie of the truly disturbed scene in the book where the boys “tag team” Beverly in a bonding ritual of intimacy.)

These cuts indicated a well considered re-evaluation of King’s original book. Dauberman and Muschietti kept what made a good horror story from King’s book IT and replaced the book’s failings with plot and character structures that provided IT with a deeper, layered and even subtle meaning over which King’s far more negative paper prose had steam rollered. Thankfully, and in a rarity, the filmmakers had a bit more sense and gentler hand than did the initiating author.

Dauberman also chose to craft the story around a continuation of the first film’s theme of conquering childhood fears. Each adult, who had formerly been a member of The Losers’ Club, contributes to the defeat of the fear-eating monster by facing and debriding some wound which fundamentally shaped their personalities. Bev once and for all denies her abusive father’s hold over her by embracing Ben’s unconditional genuine love for her. Ben, at one point, is trapped in their childhood underground clubhouse with its walls closing in on him, physicalizing how he was trapped in the fat of his own prepubescent body, but vanquishes this self-killing insecurity by declaring his love for Beverly in acknowledgment that he is not alone and is worthy of loving and being loved. Bill almost drowns in the same sewer water in which his brother Georgie died, then kills a younger self-accusatory version of himself, finally putting his misplaced guilt over his brother’s death behind him. Eddie uncovers Pennywise’s fatal weakness when he throws off his germophobia long enough to successfully wrestle a leperous manifestation of the evil clown.

And so it goes. As each member adds to the pot the Losers get stronger.

To defeat Pennywise they must all reduce him to a killable size. Metaphorically this makes perfect sense. One’s childhood fears can seem to increase proportionately as one gets older, towering over us unchecked and unconfronted to destroy us. But in the light of mature perspective, trauma can be reduced to manageable size from which one can learn, grow, and even benefit. This is a philosophy worth considering and manifests in a monstrously (if you’ll excuse the pun) dramatic way in Pennywise.

There are also a couple of fun cameos – Stephen King, himself, as an opportunistic second-hand shop owner, and Peter Bogdanovich (real life director of Noises Off, Paper Moon, and What’s Up Doc?) playing to type as a film director.

BUT for all of its successes as a horror film – IT is WAY too long – by about a third. Just having to accommodate a large ensemble cast will make for an inherently long story. Accommodating TWO ensemble groups – with present-time adults and childhood dove-tailing flashbacks – is one of the reasons this movie is almost a full 3 hours long. Its padding is mostly due to not trusting the average ticket buyers. Dauberman, et al, needn’t have worried that audience members would RANDOMLY wander into a movie house showing a movie titled IT: Chapter Two. We really did not need all the backtracking, and re-covering old childhood ground with “new” adult eyes to understand what was going on.

In addition, I do not think they understood the difference between pausing long enough for tension to build and holding on to the “punch line” so long you start checking your watch. There are a LOT of jump scares in IT. This movie practically parkours its way through the entire plot on jump scares. And every SINGLE jump scare endures a prolonged preview. For example, Rich and Eddie encounter a cute Pomeranian dog – probably because Rich had jokingly stated a wish that he hoped the monster’s true form would be in this shape. We all know the dog is going to jump scare into a monster-size zombie dog but far too many beats go by as Rich and Eddie comment about how cute it is before this happens. So, yeah, about an hour could have been chopped just by jumping, instead of dragging, their way to the jump scares.

The language is ridiculously and unnecessarily crude, using the “F” word like a baker does flour. Granted all of them subtly reverted back to elements of their childhood during the course of the movie – Bill’s stutter and Eddie’s psychosomatic asthma for examples. Childhood Richie had a marked dependence on profanity as a defense mechanism against his own insecurities, so adult Richie’s profane filled vocabulary should not surprise us, but even so, the repetition became gratuitous.

Benjamin Wallfisch returns to create yet another creepy musical backdrop which functions as a character in its own right. Heavy, and effectively random use of oppressive jarring percussions and wandering dissonant acrobatics on flute and violin provide a disjointed, otherworldly, off balanced and forcefully unsettling soundtrack for most of the movie accompanying Pennywise, which music occasionally, like brief moments of sunshine during a terrible storm, give way to lovely, lyrical, and melancholic passages representing the children and their adult dopplegangers.

IT: C2 is a solid horror movie with an intelligent sub-text but certainly appropriate only for older teens and up given the language, the extreme violence, and multiple scenes of physical, emotional, verbal and implied sexual abuse.

And as I have already mentioned – more horrifying than Pennywise’s presence on screen was the attendance by a number of early teens and even YOUNGER audience members, some of whom were with parents who REALLY should have known better. As if the movie IT: C2 was not inappropriate enough for these children, the previews certainly were, including stories which featured real world violence and pole-dancing strippers. If a movie is “R” rated, as IT is, then authority figures should realize previews are going to be “R” rated as well and often not just for gore and jump scares.

So if you liked Chapter ONE IT then you’ll find IT: Chapter Two very satisfying, with creatively gross monsters and an interesting underlying analogy about learning to heal from childhood trauma.

But PLEASE avoiding traumatizing your own child with this movie and leave the kids at home.

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL – LIMITED SHOWING AT CENTER STAGE – ADULT ONLY VERY BLACK HORROR PARODY BY LAKE CHARLES’ NEW AND BRAVE BLACK MARKET THEATRE GROUP

 

SHORT TAKE:

Adult VERY black humor musical based on the cult horror classic Evil Dead trilogy.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults ONLY with a taste for macabre comedy and who wish to encourage the efforts of our newest theatre group, Black Market Theatre, to put on more nouveau plays that Lake Charles might not otherwise get an opportunity to see.

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LONG TAKE:

I have seen the social commentary that was Night of the Living Dead, the parody of zombie movies Shaun of the Dead, the apocalyptic World War Z and the over-the-top comedy Zombieland.

Now as my eighth grade social studies teacher used to say: "You can bury me face down because now seen everything!" Evil Dead the Musical is based upon the parody zombie horror flick of the same name that became a cult classic in the 80s starring the otherwise pretty much unknown Bruce Campbell.

Evil Dead the Musical plays through Halloween at our own Center Stage here in Lake Charles, at 3426 Ryan next to the Mellow Mushroom, and is being put on by some very familiar faces out of the McNeese University Theatre Department. Buy your tickets HERE.

Three husband/wife teams contribute to the mayhem which put this show on. Jessa and William Lormand direct and Jessa plays Cheryl, sister of the intrepid hero, Ash. William doubles in the band which plays live music along with Bryce Louviere and Daniel Fontenot.

 Ash is Timothy Smith and his bride Sarah is Linda, appropriately, Ash's love interest. Lara and Luke Connally, who have appeared in numerous productions around town, including Kiss me Kate and The Secret Garden, play, respectively, Annie, daughter of the ill-fated scientist and Jake, the ill-fated hillybilly neighbor who foolishly guides them to the cursed cabin. Tyler Brumback and Amy Phillips, who have portrayed love interests on stage before, most notably in The Secret Gardenplay Scott and Shelly, the bawdy weekend roommates. Ed and the voice of the possessed moose head (you've got to see it to know what I'm talking about) is Joey Boyette, another veteran of local theater. KBYS' own radio personality Curry Burton is the Voice of Knowby. And Nikki Guillory plays a deadite.

The premise is that 5 college students, with far too much time on their hands, set out for a weekend of debauchery at an abandoned cabin in the woods.

Things turn REALLY ugly when it turns out the cabin belongs to a scientist who unwisely set loose demons with an ancient book of the dead. Beset by demons and attacked by trees in need of an exorcism, one by one each of our intrepid heroes are dispatched and zombiefied, (from the movie) until only Ash is left standing with a sword in one hand and a chainsaw for his other hand.

If it sounds gruesome…it is. But it is all done very lightly. Evil Dead the Musical is to zombie horror stories what Bullshot Crummond was to the detective genre, a vehicle to poke fun at every trope ever written.

Everything is as far over the top as possible, from the gore to the raunchy jokes to the gratuitous profanity. Even one of the songs has a title and chorus which prominently features the "f" word.

All is performed by our locally grown thespians with all the ridiculous enthusiasm and robust absurd abandon you might expect from a group of very talented actors given leave to ham it up in a zombie vaudeville.

This is a very adult show. The venue itself requires identification to prove that you are 18 or older just to get in, as liquor is served on the premises. Although nothing explicit is seen, there are a lot of sexual gestures and references as well as a lot of blasphemous profanity. Those extremes are deliberately gratuitous as part of the parodic elements of the comedy.

The show is not for everyone, but if you could enjoy a combination of Rocky Horror Picture Show with Shaun of the Dead, while keeping the other above cautions in mind, then head out for our local production of the hit play Evil Dead the Musical. Having a chance to see these very nice, seemingly normal people portray these extremely bizarre parts is reason enough to go support the efforts of this troupe. Black Market Theatre has obviously put in an enormous amount of effort to bring this play to Lake Charles. And if we want to see more off-beat and unusual productions come to Lake Charles then, if you are of the right temperament and age group, you should go support the Black Market Theatre's foray.

A final warning, this is a public venue that allows smoking and when I got home I had to wash every stitch I had on, from my sweater to my pony-tail holder. So be advised, if you have any respiratory problems, this could be a serious health issue for you.

So KUDOS! to the Black Market Theatre Group (connect with them by clicking their name) for daring to put on such a boldly different production and thanks to Center Stage for being good sports and agreeing to host this venture. I look forward to future adventurous collaborations at this newest addition to Lake Charles' theatre venues put on by this newest Lake Charles theatre company.

JUST SO'S YOU KNOW:

As a point of interest, Evil Dead hit the cult circuit in the 80s as a breakout movie for Bruce Campbell. Anyone interested in this genre might find a similarly avant-garde film starring the same Bruce Campbell which both parodies the mummy movie concept and does legitimate respectful homage to, of all people, Elvis Presley. The movie is Bubba Ho-Tep and is of the same rough cloth somewhat bawdy and gory comedy. However, it is set in a nursing home, and respects the limitations of its indigenous characters. Bubba Ho-Tep might be described as the mild flavor version to the Evil Dead "slap your mama"-style spicy horror movie. Bubba Ho-Tep actually even has a certain gentle charm and intelligent theme to it about growing old without growing insignificant; and God finding a purpose for you even when you no longer believe you have one yourself. Heady stuff for the same guy whose iconic earlier character features a chainsaw replacement for a hand.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE – A DELIGHTFUL COMEDY OF TERRORS AT OUR OWN LAKE CHARLES, LA ACTS THEATRE

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The Addams Family was an endearing bunch of creepy oddballs. Appearing like zombies, witches and vampires they were actually a loving Mom, Dad, kids and extended family of rich and philanthropic homeschoolers.

The family of Queen Eleanor and King Henry II, in the classic Lion in Winter were not so companionable, and battled continuously with each other throughout the play. Different members bond with, then betray, each other, jockeying for power, land, revenge, attention, or love. At the end of a particularly vicious argument with her husband, Eleanor, left sitting on the floor in the doorway, gathers herself together and to self-console muses: "Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?"

The Guardians of the Galaxy is a band of violent and ethically questionable outlaws and vigilantes who come together as a family unit in part to (re)raise Groot, who is a sentient tree. (See my review on that one here .)

NONE of them have anything on the Brewsters.

The premise of Arsenic and Old Lace is that Mortimer, a once cynical-of-romance theater critic, now totally smitten and freshly engaged to Elaine, the girl next door, goes to his sweet, loving, maiden aunts’ home for a visit and to break the good news.

In residence is his adorable Uncle Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, periodically charging up the stairs he knows as San Juan Hill and digging grave sized locks in the basement, which he thinks is the Panama Canal. Hovering in the background is the ominous, but so far absent, other brother, Jonathan. And so the stage is literally set for this very black and very funny slapstick comedy about a family which would put the Guardians on alert, make the Addams Family startle, and have both Henry and Eleanor running for cover. Bodies pile up and are switched like the plates of tuna in Noises Off or the suitcases from What’s Up Doc, identities are hidden and a good time is ultimately had by all…except for the corpses…in Arsenic and Old Lace.

I hesitate to say more for the benefit of those readers who have not seen either the play or the brilliant 1944 movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant. If you don’t know the story it is just too delightful to spoil. If you do know some of the details then it will be like going back for seconds of your favorite ice cream.

Clay Hebert, the director and Officer Klein, is a familiar and welcome face from every stage Lake Charles offers. He has a resume which spans from McNeese's Theater to ACTS, and from Lake Charles Little Theatre to the Bayou Players and independent film productions all over Lake Charles. Clay artfully guides this fairly large cast through the quick draw and fast paced humor of Arsenic, which is to comedy what very dark and deliciously bitter semi-sweet morsels are to chocolate chip cookies, skillfully leading his troupe over that tightrope between horror and humor.

Louis Barrilleaux, another talented veteran of ACTS, LCLT and McNeese for over 20 years, is Mortimer, the eye around which this storm circulates.

Kelly Rowland and Sarah Broussard, respectively as Martha and Abbey Brewster, age themselves convincingly 50 years to play Mortimer’s adorably naive and unassuming aunts whose home is the site for some rather….unexpected events. Both ladies have degrees in performance, Kelly in music and Sarah in theater, with a wide and diverse range of acting credits.

Rebecca Harris, an actress with an impressive resume, is Mortimer’s confused but stalwart fiancee.

Aaron Webster, a self-described reluctant actor, is eminently creepy as Jonathan, the ne'er-do-well prodigal brother.

Brahnsen Lopez, another stage veteran, plays Jonathan’s would-be repentant colleague, Dr. Einstein (not Albert).

Matt Dye, local radio personality and frequently cast in small but scene stealing roles, does it again as Teddy.

Mark Hebert, Dusty Duffy, Dylan Conley and Kathy Heath round out the cast with memorable supporting characters.

 

The set is terrific, creating the authentically homey, gentle parlor of two elderly aunts, making the sinister events all the funnier for the contrast, complete with two sets of stairs and a landing up and through which Teddy has the freedom to charge with abandon, a window seat which can house…various and sundry… and French doors through which the characters are free to pop in and out.

I was privileged to interview Diki Jines, master electrician on the set and will have his interview clips up shortly below, talking about the set, its design and a little background.

Timing and blocking are very key, especially in this comedy of terrors and Clay has the tempo and coordinated actions and responses wound like a Swiss Cuckoo clockwork.

It’s a joy to watch a stage full of such talented veterans work smoothly together, and the fact most are old friends and/or fellow thespians, who have trod the boards often together, helps catalyze the chemistry that makes this play full of intimately connected characters work. These performers know each others’ rhythms and make the most of their considerable pool of experience to bring us a delightful evening of fun and fright, chills and chuckles, comedy and carnage, shocks and snickers, jocularity and jump scares.

So go warm up — or chill out — in anticipation of Halloween at ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. But be sure to BYOW. (Bring your own wine.)

BUY TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (337) 433-2287

A QUIET PLACE – BLESS YOU FOR THE REMINDER JOHN KRASINSKI

SHORT TAKE:

Brilliant and terrifying sci fi analogy to the terrors every parent faces in trying to protect their children from this dangerous world.

WHO SHOULD GO SEE IT:

Older teens and up ONLY, and then only ones who can manage Alien without having to use a nightlight for a month.

LONG TAKE:

Parent World – where everything can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong… (apologies to Michael Crichton), where a simple accident, a misjudgement or even a well-intentioned but ill advised act of kindness can rain unintended and unanticipated disaster upon your family.

Some movies are quite difficult to watch but they should be seen anyway. Some because they are history and we should be witness to the events even if it can only be done from a vicarious distance, such as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. Some for the sheer artistry of the writer/director like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Others, and many of these are based on classic literature, because they teach us lessons – Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And some for the sheer roller coaster thrill of having the pants scared off of us – like Alien.

In a small way John Krasinski's A Quiet Place fits into all of those categories.

A Quiet Place is set. almost theatrically, within the confines of a small farm in an unnamed area, populated by a family of unnamed characters only identified in context by their relations to each other: Mom, Dad, Sister, Older brother, Younger brother. This is deliberate, I understand, in order that the message will apply to any family and every family. The members of this close knit family are survivors of a world wide cataclysm wrought by an invasion of creatures heretofore unknown on this planet. Where they came from – lab experiment gone awry like in Stranger Things, alien invasion, some critter from beneath the earth – is never explained. That too is on purpose, I think. These creatures are lightning fast, have skin of armour, razorsharp stilleto claws and multilayered teeth which would make your average Alien envious. As abandoned blowing newspapers declare they are impervious to bullets or bombs. But they are blind. They have astonishingly acute hearing and will only hunt you if they hear you. And the smallest noise – a cracked twig, a dropped glass, a clink of a belt buckle WILL be lethal, especially if you are out in the woods. So the family moves in total silence – walking on sand paths laid meticulously out, food served on lettuce and eaten with the hands, games of Moonpoly played lying on a floor with puff balls. No animals, little metal, no running machinery. The family communicates with sign language and code lighting strung around the farm.

John Krasinki and Emily Blunt, married to each other and parents to two daughters, usually known for their comedies – respectively entries likeThe Office and The Devil Wears Prada – have created a masterpiece of horror fiction which ranks up there with the classics. Bridging the gap between their comedy days and this have been some significant serious movies, almost as though in preparation for their roles in A Quiet Place, which have allowed them to portray bad-ass characters, such as, respectively 13 Hours and Live, Die, Repeat.  A Quiet Place tells not just a frightening story to scare the kiddies, it tells a story intended to reflect the terror that every parent feels about trying to protect their children from the vastness of horrors, evil, and dangers of this fallen world in which we live. I know this is deliberate because Krasinski has stated as such in interviews – it is a "love letter" to his and Blunt's two (and future) children – to show what lengths good and heroic parents must go to to protect their children.

Other authors have attempted similar stories. Stephen King, for example, wrote Pet Semetery (sic) as a cathartic exercise to help him deal with the possibility of losing a child. But in that story, the parents act selfishly in order to assuage their own guilt and grief, wrecking supernatural havoc in the process. They do not ever seem to think about what would be best for their children, or even each other. But in A Quiet Place, everything these parents do, everything they must suffer together, every choice they make, every precauition they take, every bit of research they do, every exercise they perform is geared to seeking ways to help their children survive in this cruel and lethal world – just as every good parent does even when not faced with superhuman horrors.

Mom and Dad homeschool their children. There is one almost whimsical scene in which Blunt's character as Mom is teaching her oldest son to divide. All communication is done through sign language. Dad wants the boy, rightly frightened to go outside the confines of his familiar home, to go out fishing with him so he can learn to feed himself and his siblings, as the Mom explains when she is aged and pitiful, miming being old and toothless. The underlying bittersweet message is that, as things stand, it is unlikely any of them will live to die of old age. It's a gentle scene but the point is made. Mom and Dad tell their Older Son in as light a way as possible: If and when we must die for you the legacy we leave is to have taught you how to provide and protect yourselves as best we can.

In an act of incredible bravery the Mom gets pregnant and they decide, as a matter of course without question, to bear the child. All provisions and plans are made to perform this extremely dangerous activity – child birth and caring for a newborn – in silence. If you have ever given birth, just imagine trying to do it without making a sound and you will have an appreciation of to what heroic lengths these parents will go to bring forth and protect their children's lives.

The acting is terrific. Almost ALL of the conveyance of emotion and communication are done with body language and expression. While they do have sign language subtitles you really don't need them to get the drift of what they are saying. The fourteen year old daughter (Millicent Simmonds) really is deaf and her performance is stunning. Noah Jupe plays the older brother and Cade Woodward plays the youngest child. All the kids have a natural affinity and chemistry with Blunt and Krasinski – so much so that I had to check to see if any of them really are their kids – they aren't.

This is a brilliant parable embodying in the form of a sci fi the dangers parents MUST try to protect their children from. I could imagine this being the fevered nightmare of a worried new parent – where, no matter how careful you are or what preparations you make, the slightest mistep can bring down calamity and catastrophy. A neighbor who makes an unwise decision, poisons in the medicine cabinet of a friend's house, predatory humans who masquerade as care givers, car accidents, wild animals, burst appendix, an unforeseen accident, a fall down a stairs. Then there is the concern of, even if you do everything right and protect them from all of the external terrors, what can you do to teach them the right things, educate them, guide them to being able to care for themselves spiritually and physically after you are gone. And blessedly there is at least SOME acknowledgment of God. The family joins hands in a palpably sincere and faith filled plea of thanksgiving and bequest for safety – without a word being spoken or even mouthed. 

The aliens represent everything and anything that can endanger your child and how quickly and unexpectedly tragedy can swoop down undeservedly upon them, until the only thing you can do is stand between them and catastrophe to the best of your ability, no matter how hopeless it sometimes seems. And that the only guarantee you can give them is your unconditional love.

This is a brilliantly artful movie Krasinski has written and directed  – gorgeous outdoor scenes which still remind you of the sword of Damocles over their heads by the silence with which they move in it, minimalizing the communication down to only that which is most essential and it works incredibly well to draw you into their family. Krasinski's thoughtful effectiveness in his use of sound and silence is occasionally breathtaking – taking advantage of the deaf daughter's vantage point where she hears nothing, playing counterpoint to the sounds and potential sound around her as she tries to navigate in a tremendously sound lethal world. As though she is blind in a darkened room but does not see the flashes of lights around her which can make her a target for the predators nearby.

Despite some plot holes in the premise, within the Universe Kransinski has created the story is airtight and skillfully crafted to maximum effect. The slightest sound is incredibly significant, a heartbeat has the impact of a drumroll in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and a single human scream has vastly more effect than even a Godzilla's roar in a "normal" movie. These noises, so casually easy to ignore, take on monumental importance, just as the intimacy of parent to child is magnified here in the visible incarnation of the intense constant danger which surrounds us in the real world. Careless driving drunks, rabid wild animals, cancer, lightning strikes on a sunny day, all coalesce into the nightmare vision of this one hideous monster, who can whisk your child away from you, before you can adequately react to protect them, and even as you look on in horror. It is as suspenseful as Hitchcock, as roller coaster of scares as you might ever want in a movie, and has all the earmarks of a classic – an endorsement of understanding to parents who are already watchful and alert, a slap of cold water reality of the terrible consequences which are possible to parents who may not be so attentive.

If this review alone has put you on edge and if the movie makes you just that much more concerned and wary for your children's safety, and a single child is rescued by a parent prodded even subliminally into a more wary watchfulness, then I think Krasinski has done the job he set out to do and is owed a grateful thank you. A small price to pay for the demonstration of watchful anxiety for his children to us, which mayhap makes us more watchful over our own. Thanks John.

STRANGER THINGS – BLAST FROM THE PAST

My sister and I just finished binge watching both seasons of Stranger Things over the last week. And if you gentically spliced together: Alien, Dean Koontz and……….Pretty in Pink – you would end up with this show. NOT that Stranger Things is derivative. By no means. S.T. is one of the most creatively original shows I’ve seen since Fringe. But it is POPULATED by and decorated with homages to practically every blockbuster movie of the 1980's and the early '90's.

At turns Stranger Things is funny, charming, whimsical, nostalgic, terrifying, grotesque, suspenseful, intriguing, and as addictive as Hershey bars.

The premise is that in a small Indiana town a group of three just pre-pubescent boys – Will (Noah Scnapp) Byers, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) Henderson, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) Sinclair bike home from the house of the fourth member of their group Mike (Finn "It" Wolfhard) Wheeler, after a game of D&D (Dungeons and Dragons – role playing, interactive board game involving mages, wizards and demigorgons). This is the ‘80's when there was a reasonable assumption that children could make their way at night safely this way. Like any other night the smallest – Will – bikes a shortcut through the private property of a local research center. Unfortunately his timing is astronomically and cataclysmically poor as on this same night "something" gets out of the research center’s secret lab at the same time a little girl dressed in a lab gown with a shaved head and supernatural powers, Eleven (MillieBobby Brown), runs into the boys on their forbidden venture to help find their missing friend.

The show revolves around the meaning and consequences of Will’s disappearance.

Without giving any but the smallest of spoilers: one of the things that makes this STRANGER things so watchable is the characters. The kids act like kids – they speak with the rhythm natural to kids – blunt, with a short cut language specific to their group. They spearhead the acceptance of the dangers they face with an openness born of a creative mind. The adults have flaws and blind spots like any other humans but they are caring, attentive and good people.

For example the Sheriff, Jim (David Harbour) Hopper, is a burnt out boozer suffering from a crushing past tragedy but is always there to do his job with judgement, calm and fairness and is both incredibly and recklessly brave.

Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), grows from narcissistic jealous jerky boyfriend to the best and worst babysitter ever and becomes one of the group’s big brother figures.

The parents of the other kids are distracted in their own ways but involved and generous with their time and attention, providing for their kids with a loving home.

The teachers genuinely care and are interested in their students' welfare and generously take time to help them when they can, especially Mr. Clarke who is always providing much needed expositional information, though he is not "in the know".

Even many of the smaller characters have memorable scenes – like Murray (Brett Gelman) Bauman the alcoholic snarky cynical investigative reporter who can see right into the heart of people. On for about 5 minutes but I wouldn’t mind if he popped up again in season three.

As most of the characters come from the same small town and grew up together, went to the same school and know each other they have a shared history reflected in their interactions which pull you into the story with a three dimensional feel that makes you a part of their group, just as Eleven is included in the group of nerdy boys.

And homages abound. The tribute references of situations, character personality traits or habits, items, set ups and visuals reads like a list of every iconic and blockbuster movie of the ‘80's and early ‘90's: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Goonies, Poltergeist, Alien, Carrie, The Excorcist, Stand by Me, Firestarter, Jaws and……….Pretty in Pink. Bikes and hiding the unusual creature from your parents, empty creepy halls full of monsters and unseen terrors that yank people into the dark. Other dimensions and super powers. Pre-pubescent crushes and coming to manhood and responsibility teens.

The songs conjure up my early college days: "Heroes" as sung by Peter Gabriel, "I Melt With You" by Modern English, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash, "Hazy Shade of Winter" as sung by the Bangles, "Sunglasses at Night" – Corey Hart.

Even some of the actors themselves are nostalgia incarnate:

 Winona (Heathers, Edward Scissor Hands and here she thought Beetlejuice was scary??!!) Ryder plays Joyce Byers, Will’s desperate mom and I thought her performance was painfully spot on. As a mother of six it was wrenching to watch her go from mild concern to terror fueled panic as she discovers her youngest child missing then MISSING.

Paul (Diner, Beverley Hills Cop I and II, Mad About You, Aliens) Reiser is Dr. Sam Owens the head of the research facility on season two who has murky motives.

Matthew (Full Metal Jacket, Birdy) Modine is Dr. Martin Brenner – pretty much…a mad scientist.

Sean (Rudy, Goonies, Toy Soldiers) Astin is Bob Newby, the Byers family friend.

Charles Heaton plays Will’s older brother Jonathan Byers, beaten down from having to shoulder the responsibility of the "father" figure in his abandoned home but is kind and gentle. While he does not have the historic pedigree connection to the ‘80's the older actors do, he looks so ridiculously much like a young Stephen King I thought it must have been one of the audition requirements.

Like a treasure hunt in a haunted house escape room, the writers have placed little scenes and moments lifted out of other movies and positioned like decorations all over the movie. One example and a very SMALL SPOILER: Paul Reiser appears in the second season and during one crucial moment watches a radar making a distinctive noise that I KNOW goosebumped the hair on every inch of him with some SERIOUS Deja Vu. There are secret labs with evil government henchmen, horrifying monsters, alternate universes and —– humor.

One of the biggest charms of the show is its unpredictability. The characters are funny – not like a comedy but in the way only people can be funny in their day to day decisions, mistakes and the way personalities bounce against each other with familiar interactions born of long acquaintance. The secretary who snatches a donut out of the hand of the Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to replace it with a carrot. The clueless but well meaning and harmless deputies who come to useless conclusions. Eleven’s favorite food. The nicknames even the adults have for each other (Hop, Bob the Brain). The extreme adorable nerdiness of the boys. Dozens of moments defuse this otherwise very suspenseful show in healthy ways to create the ebb and flow necessary for a successfully scary watch. Otherwise the tension gets too much and you will numb up.

The kids are wonderful and adorable. The adults lend a relatable genuineness to their roles, not minding looking ugly or awkward if the moment requires it. People often either are not completely what they appear to be or genuinely learn and grow from their extreme experiences to become better people. Willingness to self sacrifice in many ways, generosity, loyalty, family/friend bonds are generously demonstrated by all but the most unredeemably evil characters. These are good, decent and plain old nice people – both adults and children – from a small town banding together to face the extremity of bizarre with courage and grace under pressure.

The show has some bad language and tastefully referenced teenaged intimacy. Much of the violence takes place off screen but you do see some aftermath, the suspense is intense and there are graphic scenes of characters being psychologically experimented upon, especially Eleven.

Obviously we are talking mid teens and up. Younger kids should NOT watch this show unless you want them sleeping in your room with the lights on until they move to college. But for those of you with even moderately stout hearts this is a show well worth your time – it's smart, scary, and surprisingly warm of heart.