Well the August barrage of movies seems to finally be over. This September is shaping up to be a little more relaxed, at least as far as wide releases go.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any big movies this month of course. In fact, one of the most anticipated fall releases popped into theaters this past weekend. The sequel to 2017’s blockbuster horror hit, “It: Chapter Two.” 

And since that was the only wide release this week, I decided to take a look back and check out a smaller film that never quite made it to theaters in our area, but just released to video on demand.

So with that out of the way, let’s get to the reviews.

***

It: Chapter Two

First up is “It: Chapter Two.”

Defeated by members of the Losers’ Club, the evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) returns 27 years later to terrorize the town of Derry, Maine, once again. Now adults, the childhood friends have long since gone their separate ways. But when people start disappearing, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) home for one final stand.

Damaged by scars from the past, the united Losers must conquer their deepest fears to destroy the shape-shifting Pennywise, now more powerful than ever.

Here it is. The movie horror fans have been waiting all year for. A sequel to a film acclaimed by both critics and general audiences alike, not to mention based off of one of Stephen King’s most popular works.

The conclusion to the calamitous clown cacophony known simply as “It.” 

Like most people who saw “It” back in 2017, I couldn’t wait to see this sequel. While it probably isn’t the best horror movie ever made, nor is it the scariest, it was definitely still was one of my favorites.

And it was for one major reason. The characters.

I absolutely loved all the kids in the first film. In a town full of cruel indifferent adults, not to mention a menacing killer clown, these “Losers” managed to come across as incredibly down-to-earth and very relatable.

They’re all incredibly easy to like. And unlike some more annoying horror protagonists, you actually want to see them succeed.

This was not only accomplished due to some genuinely fantastic performances from these very young actors, but also through good writing and dialogue, making the interactions between these kids feel very natural.

There was also quite a bit of comedy in the first film. In fact I think that’s what surprised me the most about it. Just how much I ended up laughing.

But while unexpected, those funny moments were incredibly welcomed. And they gave the audience a much needed breather in between the film’s more tense moments.

All of that, I suppose, brings me to this movie.

Fortunately “It: Chapter Two” boasts a similarly great cast of talented actors.

While the original child actors do make frequent appearances in the film for brief and extended flashbacks, the majority of this movie stars the kids’ aged up counterparts. And boy was the casting here spot on.

Jessica Chastain as Bev was a complete no brainer. As was Bill Hader as the constantly joking Richie. In fact in interviews back in 2017, both the young actors for Bev and Richie said Chastain and Hader would be their first pick to portray their adult selves.

It’s no surprise both actors were two of the highlights here. Especially Hader, who not only is responsible for much of this film’s comedy, but also holds his own in the more dramatic scenes as well.

The whole group has this wonderful chemistry together, one that felt just as natural as their younger counterparts.

This film is easily at its most entertaining when these lovable “Losers” are just sitting around, hanging out together, reminiscing about the old times and joking around with each other.

And just like the first film, there are a ton of really funny scenes in this movie.

Unfortunately though, the filmmakers were noticeably less skillful at mixing comedy and horror this time around. There were some really oddly timed comedy bits here. Moments that felt totally out of left field.

Instead of the comedy helping to balance out the horror aspects of the film, it completely undercut the tension of some scenes. 

Luckily, the film still had its fair share of decent jump scares and a few select disturbing moments. Granted, I don’t think any were nearly as memorable as the first, but Pennywise still had me jumping all the same. Plus Bill Skarsgård was just as good as ever as everyone’s favorite murderous clown.

But sadly, even though I loved the characters and enjoyed both the comedy and horror aspects of the movie, this film still left me feeling more than a little disappointed. And it all came down to the narrative.

First of all, in the first third of the film, the story takes these great characters, characters who have this wonderful chemistry together, and splits them off on their own little adventure in Derry for some arbitrary reason. A decision, mind you, that nearly gets each and every one of them killed, but that’s not my main point.

Each of these moments basically ends up being deleted or extended scenes from the first film, where the adult version of each character goes to a certain location in Derry and relives a traumatic moment where Pennywise, in one form or another, attacked them. Concluding with Pennywise harassing them as adults.

Some of these scenes are better than others, but by the fifth or so one I was definitely ready for the film to move on.

After awhile it just felt so repetitive. Though to be fair, those moments did do a good job in reinforcing which adult belonged to which kid from 1988.

But speaking of repetitive, you remember the romantic subplot from the first movie involving Ben, Bill, and Bev? The one that seemed basically resolved by the end of the film?

Yeah, well everyone in the Losers’ Club, with the exception of Mike, comes down with a convenient case of amnesia. So we get to relive my least favorite part of any movie once again, the dreaded love triangle.

But fine, at the end of the day these are just nitpicks. I would have been much more forgiving of these rehashed scenes if the conclusion was satisfying. But sadly, the ending here is a complete mess.

Forewarning, I’m about to talk about the conclusion of the film in the vaguest terms I can. I’ll try to avoid specifics, but if you don’t want to see any kind of spoilers for the ending of “It: Chapter Two,” you should probably stop reading now.

Essentially all the preparation from the first two-thirds of the film gets thrown out the window, and our heroes have to come up with solutions out of nowhere.

There’s not even the barest hint at the final method they end up using to confront Pennywise. Not until the very end of the movie. There’s no setup, so there’s not much payoff when they finally do stumble on the right approach.

It just kind of felt like they made it up as they went along. Not only that, but their solution for Pennywise seemed to completely contradict both films’ underlying message against harassment and bullying.

The whole thing just struck me as odd.

So even though the story is conclusive, and the film gets wrapped up with a little bow on top, it all still felt horribly unsatisfying.

It really is a shame, because there is a lot to like about this movie. Heck, it might be enough for many to overlook the hastily thrown together, slapdash ending.

At the end of the day, the cast, characters, and comedy were enough for me to enjoy the movie okay as a whole. But coming off the highs of the first film, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

“It: Chapter Two” is rated R.

***

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The other movie this week is “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”

Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, this movie follows Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) as the two of them try to reclaim a house built by Jimmie’s grandfather.

The effort launches them on a poignant odyssey that connects them to their past, even as it tests their friendship and sense of belonging in the place they call home.

That isn’t a typo in my summary there. Jimmie Fails, the star of this film, played himself in this movie, in a story based on experiences in his life.

While it’s true that it isn’t uncommon for a famous celebrity to make a cameo as themselves in movies, it’s a bit more rare to see someone portray themselves in something semi-autobiographical.

In fact, the only movie I can think of off the top of my head was last year’s “The 15:17 to Paris.” 

That doesn’t exactly bode well for this movie, because while the real life actions of three men who starred in “The 15:17 to Paris” were incredibly heroic and they deserve the utmost respect, their acting sadly left a lot to be desired and they should have never been cast to play themselves.

Forturnally, the similarities between this film and “The 15:17 to Paris” end there, because this is a beautiful, well acted movie.

Jimmie does a fantastic job playing himself. If I didn’t know beforehand, I would have never guessed this was his first role in a feature film. He was great here. In fact, the performances all around were really solid.

But what really interested me here, at least on a conceptual level, is the autobiographical nature of the story.

While this film is based on aspects of Jimmie’s life, this is a predominantly fictionalized narrative. One that doesn’t use Jimmie’s history as a strict guidebook, but more of a jumping off point to tell this very personal feeling tale.

The movie has incredibly heavy themes revolving around gentrification and people being forced to leave their neighborhoods due to the skyrocketing cost of living. A major issue the Bay Area continues to deal with.

That’s really only the film’s backdrop though. The movie’s main focus is more on what happens to these families who leave their homes and end up scattered to the wind, disconnected from each other.

But even though the themes of the film are quite strong, the story here is definitely a little less structured than most casual moviegoers would be accustomed to.

There’s not really a strong narrative thrust in the movie. Sure, Jimmie is obsessed with his grandpa’s house, but for the large percentage of the movie it’s not clear to what end. The film just kind of drifts from one scene to the next until it finally comes to a conclusion.

I don’t know that I would say this is a bad thing, but it was definitely a style of storytelling I found less than engaging.

Of course that’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the movie.

Like I said, it is beautiful.

Some of the shots of San Francisco are flat out stunning and I absolutely loved the film’s use of color.

Plus the soundtrack was delightful and fit the film perfectly. Heck, it’s been a few days since I watched the movie and I’m still humming the lyrics to one of the songs in the film.

The movie just won’t be for everyone.

Based on the word of mouth I was hearing for this film, I really was hoping to love it. But instead I just liked it.

It isn’t exactly a movie I’d say you have to run out to see, but if you have a particular fondness for the Bay Area, I’d say this film is definitely worth your time.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is rated R.

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