Movie reviews: Repetitiveness pops Pennywise's balloon in 'It: Chapter Two'
Richard Crouse, Special to CTV News
Published Friday, September 6, 2019 7:30AM EDT
IT: CHAPTER TWO: 2 STARS
The first instalment of “It,” Stephen King’s scary clown epic, was about overcoming fears. Specifically, the shape-shifting Pennywise the Dancing Clown a.k.a. It (Bill Skarsgård), the manifestation of all the character’s fears. The new film, inventively titled “It: Chapter Two,” is about resilience, about sticking your neck out for your friends.
The new one is set in 2016, 27 years after the preteen Loser’s Club battled Pennywise in his sewer lair and kept the town of Derry, Maine safe from the child gobbling monster. Now, the childhood friends have gone their separate ways. Loser’s leader Bill (James McAvoy) is now a successful mystery novelist. Sexual abuse survivor Beverly (Jessica Chastain) went on to become a fashion designer, while Ben (Jay Ryan), the overweight, bullied kid is now an architect living in Nebraska and loud-mouth Richie (Bill Hader) is a comedian in Los Angeles. Other members fled town as well. Hypochondriac Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk analyst and Stanley (Andy Bean) is now an Atlanta-based accountant.
Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) stayed in Derry. Traumatized by the events of his youth he battles a substance abuse problem but stays on top of Pennywise’s existence by sleeping next to a police scanner. “Something happens when you leave this town,” says Mike. “The farther away, the hazier it all gets. But me, I never left. I remember all of it.” When trouble in the form of a clown comes back to town Mike summons the others Losers to come back home to conquer their fears, bond together and do battle with their old foe. “Did you miss me?” taunts Pennywise. “No one wants to play with me anymore.”
At almost three hours “It: Chapter Two” is an overindulgent mish mash, part horror, a splash of comedy and heaping helping of pop psychology. Oh, and a clown. To say the movie takes its time is an understatement along the lines of suggesting Pennnywise floss more often. It almost feels like you’re binging several episodes of a serialized version of the story without the benefit of being able to switch channels when the going gets repetitive.
And it gets repetitive. We are endlessly reminded of the character’s childhood traumas, told of Pennywise’s evil and if someone said to me, “We’ve got to stick together,” as many times Bill says it here, I would make a run for it and never look back. The movie says it best when Ritchie exasperatedly says, “We’re caught up, OK!” over an hour in, and yet the exposition and repetition continues.
There are several striking nightmarish images and Hader provides some much-needed comic relief but it feels as though director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman regarded King’s novel as some sort of sacred text and were unable to stray from the written word. One of the enjoyable things about King’s novels is his world-building, his attention to detail and skill for weaving mythology into real(ish) world situations. The best adaptations of his work carefully parse these elements to boil down the essence of the story. “It: Chapter Two” does not make the effort. Instead it laboriously recreates the novel, frills and all. It may have worked in print but here it feels like the running gag about Bill’s inability to properly end his stories has come to life, manifesting itself in the CGI heavy climax and the extended coda.
In this sequel Pennywise’s red balloon has finally popped.
BECOMING NOBODY: 3 STARS
You may think you know Ram Dass, the Harvard trained psychologist turned philosopher and spiritual leader, but a new documentary, “Becoming Nobody,” suggests his multifaceted life is the result of a lifelong search to figure out who he was and then shed the burdens of that discovery. In other words, feeling trapped by his body and personality, he searched for freedom and decided, “Only nobody gets free.”
Born Richard Alpert, the son of a preeminent Boston lawyer, he began his spiritual journey after Timothy Leary introduced him to LSD during the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Mind expanded, his next stop was India’s Kainchi ashram. There he met guru Neem Karoli Baba, the man who named him Ram Dass ("servant of God"). “I would get so high, light was pouring out of my head,” he says. “I was some combination of the pure mind of the Buddha and the heart of the Christ, which for a Jewish boy is not bad.”
Using a conversation between Dass and director Jamie Catto as the spine of the film’s philosophical musings, “Becoming Nobody” also uses nicely chosen archival clips to document Dass’s journey and learnings. It chronicles how his path to understanding life sidesteps the rational analytic process. “It turns out intuition is perhaps where our salvation lies whereas thinking is where our destruction lies,” he says. “We’ve thought our way into a peculiar situation where we are alienated from each other and caught in greed which is a product of the mind.”
It’s heady stuff, sometimes hard to follow—"You start to respond to something in you that knows even though who you think you are doesn’t know it knows.”—but the allegorical teachings are told with such personality and humour that Dass’s joy becomes infectious.
“Becoming Nobody” reveals a restless spirit, a man whose entire life is curriculum, dedicated to learning and teaching. Most of all, it’s a chronical of someone who is always true to himself, wherever the road leads him. “If you get phony holy,” he says, “it ends up kicking you in the butt.”