2010s movies

It (2017)

New Line Cinema is of course, “The House that Freddy Built.” But you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s also the House That’s Rebuilding Pennywise, as It, or It: Chapter One, bears a lot of the hallmarks normally associated with A Nightmare on Elm Street (hell, the film even features a passing shot of a marquee for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child at the town cinema).

Like Nightmare, It has got a bunch of kids banding together to thwart a subterranean boogeyman (who they try and convince themselves is not real, and that their fear is illusory), pharmaceutical-popping, eerie streetscapes, a slew of ineffectual parental figures, heavy Freudian subtext, coming-of-age sexuality, a creepy backstory, and most obviously, a bunch of missing (and presumed murdered) children.

Those are the pluses.

But much like the Nightmare series began to (over) rely on Freddy, icky clown Pennywise begins to overstay his welcome, unfortunately, after an amazing opener where we’re introduced to The Dancing Clown crouching in a storm drain (with an unconscionable running time well-over 2 hours, even a terrific Bill Skarsgard performance wears thin).

Still, It’s small-town high-school backdrop rings true, and director Andrés Muschietti adroitly develops a real sense of place. The town of Derry, situated in Stephen King-land — Maine — is as much a star of the movie as its cast, a hilly New England burg with quaint shops and back-alleys aplenty.

But of course, it’s the kids who carry the day.

They’re awfully sweet, especially portly bookworm and lead detective of the Losers’ Club, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) whose unrequited love for the school’s new kid, Bev (Sophia Lillis), is especially touching. Ben’s a bibliophile whose love-of-library even out-nerds his outcast friends; he has a copy of the town charter up in his bedroom. Then there’s foul-mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things), and several others to round out the bullied Losers’ Club, whose battle against their school’s goons, is just as compelling as their tilt with the evil Pennywise (Anthrax’s cover of Trust’s “Antisocial” provides the soundtrack for a really inspired rock-flinging fight between bullies / bullied).

It: Chapter One bolts out of the gate with gusto and passion. It’s also a helluva lot funnier than expected (look out for “gray water” and “gazebo” lines. No spoilers here). However, It gasses toward the latter third.

Still, there is just enough gore to satisfy gore-hounds, and plenty of visual kicks and backstory to make up for the profusion of jump scares.

*** (out of 5)

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Gaga: Five Foot Two wasted a prime Spinal Tap moment: when the pint-sized New Yorker drops her album, as well as her over-the-top glam in favor of shorts and a black-T. How much more black could it be? The documentary (on Netflix) gives us all-access Lady Gaga, a woman whose fashion audacity is unmatched, but whose music is about as interesting as a basic wardrobe staple.

At 31, she’s at the age that linebackers are cut from the NFL, and pop stars face oblivion (Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, references that decade milestone as a time when she can “start to become a woman”). Is Gaga: Five Foot Two a Hail Mary* to stay relevant?

Gaga has always painted herself into a corner, musically: despite avant-garde aspirations, she’s still the equivalent of “the office weirdo” if she worked for an actuarial firm. If she were truly weird, she’d release Metal Machine Music, instead of courting lanky tastemaker-du-jour Mark Ronson, the man behind the boards for Uptown Funk and Rehab, as her career threatens to go gently into that good night.

It’s taken long enough for her to realize she’s a Six Foot Two pop talent, who doesn’t need all the Donatella Versace trappings, meat dresses, songs about fame (always the dullest subject matter in any artist’s repertoire) and assorted nonsense. To wit: the gorgeous acoustic lament, Joanne, written for a late aunt, which has a vulnerable Nico tone lilting into a Rufus Wainwright chorus, “Girl, where do you think you’re going?”

The same could be asked of Ms. Germanotta, and with Interscope money behind her, a bevy of handlers, hangers-on, stylists, physiotherapists — one wonders if the art doesn’t suffer in the process.

And she apparently suffers for her art too. In Gaga: Five Foot Two we get to see her at the doctor, getting hip injections, getting rub-downs, massages, the works, and at one point asking, “what would happen if I didn’t have all this?” [wealth].

At that point, as she gazes forlornly off her penthouse balcony over Central Park, you might want to whistle for the world’s smallest violin, but that’s the neat tension that this doc brings. Seldom do you get to see the creative process laid bare (Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster also  does this), even if the “supporting cast” buzz around her like bees and are barely background furniture.

Most importantly, as far as her image goes, the indifferent will likely become casual fans…

*** (out of 5)

[Editor’s note: The opening sequence is a stunner: Gaga hoisted into the sky to perform for the Super Bowl half-time show]