Tag Archives: Jaeden Lieberher

“It”

MATT: 4 STARS


MATT SAYS:

Some ideas strike a collective chord with all of us. Take clowns, for example. Sometime within the last 30 years, there was a collective realization that clowns are kinda scary. What was the genesis of that idea? Was it the doll in “Poltergeist?” Was it the capture of John Wayne Gacy? Or was it when Stephen King (still my favorite writer) published “It?”

In “It,” King somehow was able to distill the scary clown concept down to its essence in a way that managed to tap into this fear in a novel way. What makes King’s creation, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, so frightening is that It is also able to take the form of the thing you fear most in this world… and he feeds on us when we’re most vulnerable: when we’re children.

“It” remains one of King’s seminal and most well-regarded works, so it’s particularly important that any adaptation gets it right. This movie does. This version of Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård (proving, once again, the Skarsgård rule*), is particularly terrifying. The kids, led by Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) are all well-cast. Director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) is fluent in the cinematic language of horror and understands the importance of framing a shot. The sets are well-conceived (in particular, the house on Niebolt Street where the kids have their first showdown with It).

My only nits to pick with the movie are that first, it relies a little too much on nostalgia, sometimes to the point of distraction. References to 1980s pop culture do the story a disservice, begging Generation Xers to force a laugh every time we recognize the name of a song by the New Kids on the Block (at times, the movie was so heavy-handed in its references that I was reminded of this pitch-perfect scene from “Bojack Horseman”). For all of the tweaks made to the story, the climax of the story – easily the weakest part of King’s book – was a bit of a letdown.

Overall, however, “It” is effective at bringing the thrills and chills.


* The Skarsgård rule: if a Skarsgård is in the movie, he’s the bad guy. Exceptions to this rule are “Good Will Hunting” and “Thor.”

“The Book of Henry”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Whatever your expectations are for the unclassifiable “The Book of Henry,” I guarantee they won’t be fully realized. I’ve watched a lot of strange movies over my lifetime but I’m not really sure what I want to say about this one because it’s so bizarre. It’s without a doubt a huge misfire, but it’s also like a train wreck that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t pry your eyes away.

The talented Colin Trevorrow directs this story of child prodigy Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), his needy and childlike single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay), and troubled neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler). When Henry starts to believe that Christina is being abused by her stepfather (Dean Norris), he comes up with a rescue plan and begins documenting the instructions in a red notebook. To explain much more would be giving away the biggest surprise elements of the outlandish plot.

The movie has a forced sentimentality that lends no favors to its implausible and contrived story. It’s heavy-handed on all levels and is strangely both utterly compelling and completely forgettable. It’s sort of a movie for kids that way to dark for children but filled with too many plot holes for rational adults. I cannot tell you who the audience is for this. It’s a family tragi-drama that morphs into an oddly familiar mystery and suspense thriller, a tale of vigilante justice, terminal illness, child abuse, brotherly love, and murder.

To top if off, Henry isn’t likeable in the least. He’s a smug little jerk and the worst kind of know-it-all. (If you want to see a good movie about a precocious child prodigy, check out the fabulous “Gifted“). Everything in the movie is spelled out (no, it’s literally spelled out in Henry’s notebook) and the emotional manipulation reaches new heights. It’s a story that centers around kids but by the end it becomes quite condescending to the under 12 set — just one of the film’s many frustrating contradictions.

If the abrupt genre shifts aren’t enough to make you scream, then the tepid performances certainly will. The superstar of this movie is Tremblay, riding high off his role in “Room.” Watts and Norris are simply going through the motions, and Lieberher is astonishingly one-note when he needs to be playing a symphony.

I applaud Trevorrow for taking such a risk with this project, but this one tries and spectacularly fails.