Friday, September 13

The Goldfinch Review

The Goldfinch

Dir: John Crowley

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Wilson, and Sarah Paulson

The first major art exhibit I attended featured the landscape and floral works of Georgia O’Keeffe. As I strolled through the collection of beautiful artworks listening to experts and enthusiasts discuss aspects of form, space, and contrast, an older couple wandering in front of me asked an interesting question to one of museum curators… “how many people have tried to steal something off the wall?”. The curator responded, “more than you’d think”.

Author Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Goldfinch” centers on a stolen piece of art, the real Carel Fabritius painting of a chained goldfinch bird on a perch, and a young boy named Theo who grows up keeping a secret about the famed piece of art. It’s a sprawling story featuring numerous plot themes ranging from terrorism, antique collecting, and drug abuse that spans the tragic childhood and tormented adulthood of Theo.

Director John Crowley organizes an exceptional group of talented actors in an earnest attempt to bring this expansive story to life. The result is a confounding adaptation that struggles to fit all the plot pieces and subtle character developments from the book into a nicely packaged cinematic experience. 

Theo (Oakes Fegley) is visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother when a bomb explodes, killing his mother and destroying the museum in the process. Theo is placed with an upper-class foster family in the Upper East Side, nurtured and helped through the traumatic experience by Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), and then transfers to Nevada and into the care of his neglecting father (Luke Wilson). Theo (Ansel Elgort), now a young adult, works in the antique community with his mentor Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) selling modified antique furniture. But Theo has been keeping a secret since the day that changed his life, a stolen art piece that he took from the rubble of the museum.  

For a film that centers on a bomb explosion and the theft of a piece of art, you would think the plot would be a fairly straight-forward thriller, possibly a whodunit mystery. “The Goldfinch” never commits to these simplistic ideas, instead it remains somewhat plotless throughout the course of the film while it focuses on Theo and his absolutely terrible journey through life. The theme of love and loss is present throughout, the feeling of loneliness and dependency is felt in numerous places. All of these pieces are present but somehow missing the emotional mark or rushed into and out of scenes for the sake of narrative progression. 

The best concept involves the theme of family which permeates every interaction that Theo has with the world. The death of his mother leads Theo to search for that special connection with someone, anyone who will have him or is around him. It’s tragic watching the young character have numerous people ripped from his life, seemingly while he is on verge of making an emotional connection with someone. 

Ansel Elgort does a nice job of composing older Theo with a charm just thick enough to hide the broken parts of his character. Nicole Kidman is the highlight in the film however, displaying a refined yet somewhat cold motherly demeanor. In her quiet moments, when she is watching Theo interact with other kids, is when Ms. Kidman shines bright. 

“The Goldfinch” feels like the quick highlights from the novel bundled together in a film adaptation with talented actors and beautifully composed photography. It’s the equivalent of the cliff notes for a story, enough information so that you can talk about it without the deeper substance to make it as memorable as it should be.

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

Friday, September 6

It Chapter Two Review

It Chapter Two
Dir:Andy Muschietti
Starring:Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, and Bill Skarsgård

Memory is a funny thing. Think for a moment about what you remember from the past? Think about a fair or carnival you went to. Do you remember the sound of the carnival? The smell of the cotton candy? The words illuminated in bright florescent lights on the rides? The feeling of seeing that clown make a puppy out of balloons? Is it the one sensation, the one word, or is it all of it? Depending on the experience, specifically, the emotion connected, will determine what and how you remember the event. And as the memory drifts farther from the moment, elements tend to change in exaggerated ways or sometimes fade in how strongly you remember everything. 

“It Chapter Two” explores this aspect of memory and also the trauma and fear associated with the past in the continuation of the sinister saga of Pennywise the Clown versus the formerly young, now adult Loser’s Club. 

27 years have passed since the showdown between a group of young friends and a monstrous being who utilizes the deepest, darkest fears of its victims against them. The young Loser’s Club defeated the evil creature, who takes the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), but only in delaying his feeding schedule. 27 years later and the group of adults must return to their hometown of Derry, Maine to face the fears of their past unleashed upon them by the malevolent Pennywise.  

The Loser’s Club are grown-ups who have found success; Richie (Bill Hader) is a comedian, Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect, Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk analyst, and Bill (James McAvoy) is a famous writer. Beverly (Jessica Chastain), the lone lady in the group, seems to have a successful life but is married to an abusive husband. While they have worked to separate themselves from their past trauma, a simple phone call from Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who still lives in Derry, brings the past crashing back to the present. 

The past has a way of coming back. This is target sentiment for “It Chapter Two” and a turn of dialog uttered in different ways by every member of the grown-up Loser’s Club. The narrative focuses significantly on this primary story element throughout the proceedings that occupy a journey for a group of adults back to the past. Through flashbacks, scenes featuring the completely delightful young Loser’s Clubs actors from the first film, and terrifying manipulated recreations, ones that evoke the deep-seated fear and trauma from the childhood of these characters, “It Chapter Two” composes a rich and rather interesting analysis of fear. 

The past makes and molds different developments of life; the way we think about the past often connects our emotions in the present in different ways. Much is the same here with these characters. No matter how far these characters have moved away from home, how far they have separated their trauma from their consciousness, their past remains intact and intertwined with the experience they had in their hometown, with their friends and family, and with the creature Pennywise. The film narrative uses memory as a catalyst for fear. The past is the foundation for everything that defines these now grown adults, the pieces that have ultimately connected these characters into the world 27 years after they conquered their fear. Pennywise the clown is a metaphor for trauma; childhood, societal, and historical all represented in different ways in the film. It’s an interesting touch to the narrative working with genre frights and scares.

It’s unfortunate that this horror film, amidst its exploration of past trauma as a vessel for horror, somehow fails to execute many of the scary elements throughout the film. Computer-generated effects substantially hinder the effectiveness of the shocks. The sound design is pumped up in places to entice a jump scare but the images associated fail to do much more in making things scarier. The best moments are the simple ones when Bill Skarsgård is allowed to act in clown makeup and modify his voice in truly disturbing ways. The sound of a weeping clown in the shadows of the dark is truly terrifying. The CGI design of some of the other monsters found here come and go without much remembrance. 

The film does a great job of matching the young actors in the first film with their older counterparts. And the performances throughout “It Chapter Two” are good, specifically Bill Hader as the wise-cracking Richie and James Ransone as the asthma-induced Eddie. The banter between them adds levity to some of the more serious moments.

“It Chapter Two” is nearly three-hours long, it doesn’t need to be even though fans of the source material might enjoy the deliberateness. There are moments in the film that drag and the tone lingers in places that it doesn’t need to, this is what ultimately makes the running time feel so overlong. Still, the narrative and performances are especially interesting even if the scares are undercut by an overabundance of exaggerated spectacle. “It Chapter Two” doesn’t have the charm of the first film but that doesn’t keep it from being an interesting continuation of the themes of friendship, innocence, and the places that exist between reality and the unknown that Stephen King explored in his beloved novel. 

Monte’s Rating
3.25 out of 5.00

Satanic Panic Review

Satanic Panic
Dir:  Chelsea Stardust
Starring:  Rebecca Romijn, Hayley Griffith, Ruby Modine, Jerry O’Connell, Jordan Ladd, and Arden Myrin

Every Friday night during my childhood was pizza night. My parents would call their friends, the kids would rent some scary movies from the video store, and food would be delivered from the local pizza palace. Thirty minutes later the doorbell would ring and the delivery person would be standing there, waiting with fresh pizza and hoping for hefty tip. 

In director Chelsea Stardust’s new film, “Satanic Panic”, a pizza delivery girl named Sam (Hayley Griffith) is trying to keep herself financially above water by delivering to a wealthy neighborhood known for their odd practices. After being stiffed for a tip, Sam stumbles into the house and realizes that she’s interrupted a party…a party of Satanist’s looking for a virgin to sacrifice. 

“Satanic Panic” is going for that 1980’s straight-to-video vibe, trying to achieve in its less than 90-minute run time that nice balancing act of combining enough humor to keep the tone fun, freewheeling and campy, a few gory scenes to make one “ooh” and “aah” at the viscera, and enough odd and strange twists and turns to make it stand apart from others like it. 

And, for the most part, the film is successful in remaining entertaining primarily because of the lead performance of Hayley Griffith who provides Sam with enough self-confidence and honesty to maintain the seriousness of her character’s dilemma. Supporting character Ruby Modine, playing an accompanying sacrificial offering named Judi, has some great one-liners while Arden Myrin, playing one of the more bonkers occultists named Gypsy, gets to chew on the scenery with comedy throughout the film. Rebecca Romijn, one of the big names in this production, gets to hail and hiss with hubris as the head-witch named Danica. 

There is a strong 80’s aesthetic being pushed throughout the film; the score specifically has all the digital synth sounds to evoke that feeling and the emphasis on practical grisly effects is a nice touch. The narrative also aims for throwback vibes but wobbles between an interesting final girl scenario that is unconventional in a good way and a worn-out occult tale that struggles to make the impact necessary to turn the devilish troupe into something more sinister. However, it’s still fun to watch the inventive ways the film finds to eliminate the evildoers. 

Unfortunately, some of the dialogs come off clumsy, with some characters stumbling over wordy exchanges and others not provided much to work with at all. The pacing crashes from scene to scene with inconsistent results while trying to connect the puzzle of effects gags and story transitions. 

Still, there is a fun vibe composed throughout this film, one that shows that the creators of this movie grew up with scary VHS tapes from the video store and greasy pizza from the delivery guy. 

Monte’s Rating
3.00 out of 5.00