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.

SHOW DOGS – NO CHAMPION OF CHILDREN

SHORT TAKE:

Cute brainless movie about anthropomorphized dogs ruined by a poorly considered scene which, whether intentional or not, lowers a child's guard against unwanted "touching".

WHO SHOULD GO:

Sadly, no one in the target demographic audience of children UNLESS one scene is changed and/or removed along with any references to it.

LONG TAKE:

When the kids were underaged we were incredibly careful, from deciding on where to store the cleaning products to the books they read to the unpopular decision against them going on sleep overs. We never parked them in front of a TV in a store and walked away thinking they would be OK or let them play hide-and-seek in public. We never let them so much as walk down the block without a responsible adult or semi-adult accompaniment. We met the parents supervising parties they were attending and often stayed as chaperones. We knew what music they listened to, who their friends were and what movies they watched. (At least we tried – kids are sneaky creatures.) One of my constant refrains to other parents when explaining why we were so very careful when we were raising our children was: "I've never known anyone to be sorry for being too careful. But I've know a LOT of people who were sorry for not being careful enough." And I've experienced more than one moment where I was grateful for subscribing to this mantra.

I was originally going to do a review of the movie Show Dogs in a positive light – kid movie about dogs, some fart humor, innocent brainless romp. What's not to like? I even gave it a "silly popcorn movie" thumbs up on the radio call I make every week to KBYS.

Then my daughter brought my attention to a blog by a mom who was disturbed by one particular scene in the movie. During the AKC dog shows it is routine for the animal to have his genitals checked to be sure both testicles are descended. It is a requirement for winning and was used as a plot device for this loner canine police dog, Max, (voiced by Ludacris – whose proper name is Christopher Brian Bridges), to demonstrate self-control. At the time I thought it a goofy plot device. But this mom's blog, which expressed some serious concern about this episode encouraging children to succumb to genital touching, got me considering the issue. As anyone who has read any of my blogs will know, I have both a short fuse and a short temper when it comes to protecting children from all manner of inappropriate scenes, themes, behavior, language, sexuality, etc. But even I didn't catch this one.

To be the Devil's Advocate here for just a moment my initial analysis of the concerned mom's legitimate thoughtfulness was that she was overreacting. My reasoning was thus: it is an adult male dog, undergoing an accepted physical exam. This is not an exam made up for the gratuitous sake of a joke (although it is milked for such) but is a real part of AKC review in dog shows, especially ones at this level.

Next, my reasoning said, if there was any subservient/child aspect to this, the handler/human partner, Frank (Will Arnett) had the fiduciary duty over the animal, anthropomorphized or not. The human partner Frank was the responsble party for Max and had to account for Max' behavior when he bit someone, and his whereabouts when he went missing briefly. And Frank was not only there, attending closely during the examination but was watching very very carefully as Frank was afraid Max would bite the judge and blow the contest, their cover and their best opportunity to solve the case. Frank would have seen the slightest inappropriate attention, or abuse on the part of the judicial examiner, who had every right to be doing what he was doing. I thought, at the time, it was much more akin to a parent overseeing the appropriate examination of a child by a doctor.

But then, in a post to the article about this alert mama, someone else mentioned that children would RELATE to and AS this dog. That, as the main character in the movie, this is the one they would most closely associate with and emulate. That's when the scene did indeed raise my red flag. Adult dog or not, children will relate to this talking dog – even though the humans in the movie do not understand the dog barks, we in the audience do. Max is the main character and written to be the critter with whom we most closely empathize, and see as the surrogate and gateway into this movie.

Further, thinking back to my six children's pediatric examinations, I can not recall any time when a routine exam necessitated a palpitation of their private parts.

So, in retrospect, I think the concerned mom is right.

I will give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say I believe it was simply an exercise of poor judgement and not maliciously intended. The rest of the movie was child friendly and without any agenda. It's a mismatched cop buddy movie ala Lethal Weapon with a dog and human as the frenemies who must learn to get along and respect each other. Both dog and human had cute female love interests without sexual reference or insinuation. The act of checking a dog's genitalia fit the plot, was somewhat funny and really is something that occurs in dog shows. On its surface, Max' required restraint during the inspection scene was no worse than a badly timed breaking of wind at a wedding or a bit of crude humor during a toast by an inebriated groomsman. Unfortunately, the potential bad effects of desensitizing children to inappropriate and unwanted touching are far more reaching than a tasteless joke or badly timed flattulence.

If the filmmakers are smart they will refilm this one scene with a more child friendly concept, such as having Max exercise this same self control when having his teeth examined during the course of the contest. (And yes, my children did occasionally try to bite our eternally patient pediatric dentist so this idea is perfectly relevant.) Precedent for going back to reshoot was set with All the Money in the World when all the scenes shot with the now disgraced predator Kevin Spacey as Getty were replaced with the legendary Christopher Plummer taking over the role. And this scene in Show Dogs is only one close up scene which could even be changed with some clever CGI and editing and a few mentions in others parts of the movie that could be easily revised or voiced over.

Meanwhile, I must bow to the wisdom of this attentive blogger mom and agree with her that, as currently shot with this one scene, Show Dogs, sadly, is NOT appropriate for their young child target demographic audience.

ALERT – ASK YOUR LOCAL THEATERS TO NOT SHOW HAPPYTIME MURDERS WHEN IT IS RELEASED

A quick alert here to watch out and avoid Happytime Murders. Slated for release August 17, 2018 the trailers show more than enough to warn away anyone with even a passing semblance of respect for themselves or their community. Created by Jim Henson's Muppets heir Brian Henson, I can't help but want to ask Mr. Henson: "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??!!" Happytime Murders is a vulgar, crude farce of a movie with explicit sexual scenes, activities and sight "gags" which would be more expected at a raunchy frat house party than a Muppet movie.

The premise is two cops – one human and one Muppet – are partnered to solve the execution style murders of Muppets who were cast in a previous movie. If their intent was a Muppet movie ala Who Framed Roger Rabbit, they got about as close as a drunk monkey might get to passing a driving exam on the interstate – with about as delicate results.

Happytime Murders is offensive in pretty much every way possible. And this is why Deadpool was a bad idea. There are certain genres – super heroes and Muppets being two of them – which were created for a demographic audience looking for a wholesome alternative to the avalanche of crude excuses for humor, sexual alternatives to genuine relationships, and the lazy writing of profanities and vulgar slop which often passes for films today. Knowing a movie like this is coming out based in a world which used to be exclusively targeted towards children is a bit like coming home to find a diseased and incontinent hobo asleep in your baby's crib – that a safe space has been violated in the most profoundly disgusting of casual ways.

I think it would be appropriate to suggest to your local theaters that this kind of dreck is not welcome in your community. I try to be fair and judge a movie based upon its genre. Happytime Murders, judged on the world in which they place themselves, is nothing but a defilement and a breach of trust with the public.