2017 has turned out to be one of the worst years in history at the box office, and the last two weekends in particular have ranked among the worst in 16 years. A Stephen King classic and a romantic comedy hope to turn things around and get the box office back on track.
Here are reviews of all of the films opening up this Friday, September 8th, 2017:
Pennywise the Dancing Clown could have been a politician, in that he thrives and survives on the fear of others. The big-screen version of "It" is based on the classic novel by horror-master Stephen King, but many modern-day movie-goers will immediately draw comparisons with it to Netflix's "Stranger Things"..."It" plays as a hard-R verseion of the popular series, as a band of young kids battle their deepest fears and try to get to the bottom of a mystery that has befell a small suburban town.
There's a more direct connection with "It" and "Stranger Things," as they both star child actor Finn Wolfhard, and he steals the show. "It" in fact, is much funnier than you might think going in, and Wolfhard is given many of the films best lines. And while there is a great many scares (I personally was caught jumping out of my seat on two separate occasions), Bill Skarsgard's version of the evil clown Pennywise comes off as a bit more sterile and somehow less frightening than Tim Curry's version from the 1990 TV mini-series.
The nifty thing about this "It" is that it is never dull, never boring, even if it struggles to make any sense whatsoever. Director Andy Muschietti seems to get that people who go to a movie like this are probably just wanting to see some terrifying clowns, have a few thrills and nothing more. King's original work of course, was much richer with themes of innocence-lost, adulthood and sex, and while the movie hits on all of these themes, it doesn't linger too long in trying to make any over-arching points. As the characters in the film become less and less afraid of Pennywise, so does the audience, although I'm not too sure that's the intention. There are too many shots of people slowly walking through doorways with swelling music, and watching characters split apart from one another for nonsensical reasons...but "It" delivers on what it promises, mainly due to the strength and chemistry of its young cast.
Genre: Horror. Run Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Jake Sims.
Directed by Andy Muschietti ("Mama").
Reese Witherspoon - an audience favorite - has literally done it all. Starting as a child actress, it's almost unbelievable that she is now getting roles as the "older woman" like in the new romantic-comedy, "Home Again". She plays Alice Kinney, a separated mother of two who has just turned 40 and who is looking for purpose. When she moves back to LA to her late famous father's estate, she encounters three young (male) filmmakers who end up needing a place to live.
If that sounds like a contrived sit-com plot, that's because it is. The three boys, the director (Pico Alexander), the writer (Jon Rudnitsky) and the actor (Nat Wolff) are by far what is wrong with the movie...they are unknown (at least to me) and out of their league. This becomes evident when respected actor Michael Sheen shows up as Alice's estranged husband, and we finally see some drama being wrenched from this half-baked script.
Thanks to Sheen, and the two child actors that play the daughters, there are some unexpected laughs sprayed throughout, but mostly this is one of those disposable rom-coms that won't be remembered past the end credits. And that's a shame too, because as "Home Again" progresses, we see that it actually bucks convention in many ways. There is sort of a love triangle (or rectangle) going on between Alice and her live-in men, that only gets more complicated when the husband (Sheen) enters the picture. But the film does a terrible job of...going anywhere. Why does Alice reject Sheen's character? He seems like a nice guy. Why is she smitten for the director, who is more or less a womanizing douche-bag? Why is the plot involving Lake Bell as Alice's well-to-do boss even in the movie? There seemed to be several possible routes this film could have taken, but the road we end up going down makes us want to be anywhere other than "Home Again."
Genre: Comedy, Romance. Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes.
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Nat Wolff, Lake Bell, Michael Sheen.
Written and Directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer (directorial debut).
As it tells us in the opening frame of "Viceroy's House", "History is written by the victors." The problem with this film - which tells the story of how Britain turned over occupancy of India in the late 1940s after three centuries of rule - is that the average movie-goer may not be familiar with either side of this tale.
Throwing in a romance between two forbidden lovers (Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi), "Viceroy's House" plays like an Indian-infused version of "Downton Abbey," where a different world exists between the upper and lower classes of a single estate. The Indian workers and servants eavesdrop on the British royalty, the last Viceroy of India (Hugh Bonneville, who ironically also stars in "Downton Abbey") and his liberal-minded wife (Gillian Anderson). Stay for the credits for what is the most powerful portion of the film, a personal vignette from the film's director, Gurindar Chadha. This development seems like much richer fodder to base a movie on, and "Viceroy's House" could have benefited from more personal touches like this. Instead we're left with a movie that feels like it should have been more impactful, more important, than it ends up being.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History. Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Hugh Bonneville, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha ("It's a Wonderful Afterlife," "Bride and Prejudice," "Bend It Like Beckham").
Not too many movies make it over to the U.S. from Iceland, so when one does you can usually count on it as being something memorable. Well, the intense and powerful crime-drama "The Oath", does not disappoint. In fact, it may be one of the best films so far this year.
Baltasar Kormakur co-writes, directs and stars in this slick and gritty story about a father who will go to great lengths to protect his daughter. Young Anna (Hera Hilmer) has been caught up in a lot of trouble lately, mainly due to her relationship with new boyfriend Ottar (Gisli Orn Gardarsson). When Anna has a drug-overdose, her father, Finnur (Kormakur), steps in and suspects (rightly so) that Ottar is to blame. But Finnur crosses a few lines, and becomes entangled in the criminal underworld that Ottar is already a part of. Finnur's skills as a surgeon come in handy as he tries to pull off the perfect crime, all for the love of his daughter.
The acting is stellar and the plot unfolds naturally. Like any good dramas, the characters all live in more of a grey area instead of being spelled out as black and white...even the low-life Ottar feels like a fleshed-out, real person. "The Oath" pulls you in and never lets you go, and Kormakur's strength as a director as well as his on-screen abilities lift the film into rare air. Do you agree with the father's actions? Are they justified? You will wrestle with these questions and more after watching this desolate thriller..."The Oath" offers no easy answers.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller. Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Starring: Baltasar Kormakur, Hera Hilmar, Gisli Orn Gardarsson.
Co-Written and Directed by Baltasar Kormakur ("Everest," "2 Guns," "The Deep," "Contraband").
Also opening this week but not reviewed: "Rememory."
All of these movies open locally on Friday, September 8, 2017.
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