It [It: Chapter One]

(USA 2017)

I’ve started a few Stephen King novels during my life, but I’ve never finished reading any of them. I have, however, seen enough movies based on his books to know what I’m getting into.

It is director Andy Muschietti’s take on King’s 1986 novel, which incidentally came out on my 16th birthday. Scary. It tells the story of a group of bullied junior high outcasts who go after a deranged clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) one summer, the Summer of 1989, after he kills stuttering Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the fall before.

Pennywise lives in the sewer of their small town (Derry, Maine) and resurfaces every 27 years to prey on children through their worst fears.

The screenplay, written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, is only part of the book — presumably to allow for a sequel. It starts out well enough in the same sweet nostalgic way as, oh, Stand by Me. Muschietti gets deatils of the time period mostly right: the Cure and New Kids on the Block were big in ’89 (even though the former’s “Six Different Ways” was two albums and a compilation earlier), and the reference to Molly Ringwald fits. He goes full on Steven Spielberg, however, about halfway through, turning It into The Goonies with the kids’ “losers club” and all the action switching to a dark cavernous underground sewer. This is to say, It gets cheesy after awhile.

The kids are all decent actors, and they keep It moving along. Sadly, though, there aren’t any real surprises here. More creepy and icky than outright frightening, Muschietti relies greatly on special effects; they’re good and a lot of work went into them, but they get tiresome after awhile. Plus, some editing would’ve been a good idea; It is too long.

As It is, it’s not a stinker. However, I wasn’t moved by It, either. It is a big budget Hollywood movie aiming to be a blockbuster, and that’s It.

With Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Beverly Marsh, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Elizabeth Saunders, Ari Cohen, Anthony Ulc, Javier Botet, Katie Lunman, Carter Musselman, Tatum Lee

Production: New Line Cinema, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions

Distribution: Warner Brothers

135 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C

http://itthemovie.com

Captain Fantastic

(USA 2016)

Captain Fantastic came out last summer, and I wanted to see it then. I must confess, the cast interested me more than the plot.

Viggo Mortensen is the aptly named Ben Cash, a long disenfranchised survivalist who is, like, so over American capitalism and politics. He and his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), shown almost entirely in flashback, decide to raise their six kids—three boys and three girls—off the grid in the mountain wilderness of Washington State. Removed from society, Ben and Leslie teach their kids everything from logic and philosophy to hunting and gathering to Norman Mailer and Guns ‘n’ Roses. They do it all without iPhones or religion. Kudos to that!

Nothing is perfect: Leslie suddenly dies, forcing Ben to take his feral kids into the outside 21st Century world for the first time, ever—which calls everything they planned for their family into question.

Director and screenwriter Matt Ross poses some interesting questions about society, conformity, and the social contract in a provocative and often lighthearted way. However, Captain Fantastic is not terribly surprising, which is why it doesn’t work as well as it could. At heart, it’s a standard fish out of water dramedy. Frankly, I spotted every “twist” coming before it got to me: the cop (Rex Young) who pulls over their Partridge Family van, the mildly blasphemous excuse that saves the day, the family’s visit to the supermarket, their reaction to their extended family (and vice versa), that lame scene in which Ben’s sister-in-law (Kathryn Hahn) calls him out onto the carpet for his choices and his youngest daughter (Shree Crooks) recites the Constitution to prove her wrong, eldest son Bo (George MacKay) proposing to the first girl who gives him attention—a trailer park teen queen (Erin Moriarty)—and the colleges he manages to get into, the “situation” that requires modern medical attention. Meh.

For all its grandiose intentions to take on the establishment, Captain Fantastic actually relies on a rather orthodox and pedestrian approach to make its point. Maybe that is its point, that you can’t escape society. It doesn’t mater: this story is predictable and sentimental, two things that never bode well. I expected more than Spokane Swiss Family Brady Bunch, which is essentially what this is. The one thing that saves this film from total mediocrity is the acting, which is great all around.

With Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Charlie Shotwell, Steve Zahn, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee

Production: Electric City Entertainment, ShivHans Pictures

Distribution: Bleecker Street, Universal Pictures

118 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) C

http://www.bleeckerstreetmedia.com/captainfantastic