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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘It,’ ‘Tulip Fever’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

After the film industry’s weakest Labor Day weekend ever, the release of “It,” the new Stephen King-based thriller made the box-office sizzle, more than doubling the record set by “Hannibal” for the biggest horror movie opening of all-time.

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Helmed by Argentinean director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”), it relates Chapter One of a story about a demonic clown that starts in 1989 in Derry, Maine, and will, eventually, end in the present day.

The terrifying tale begins with the disappearance of 6-year-old Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), who vanishes down a storm drain in a town that has a missing-persons rate six times the national average. It’s where “Nightmare on Elm Street 5” is playing at the local theater and, behind closed doors, psychological, sexual and physical abuse run rampant.

Searching for Georgie are his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his misfit middle-school pals who call themselves the Losers Club.

Stereotypically, there’s chubby newcomer Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor); African-American Mike (Chosen Jacobs); Jewish Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), smart-mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the self-sufficient girl Beverly (Sophia Lillis).

Every adolescent story has a bully, like Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). But the real evil is a child-eating monster known as Penny-wise (Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan), a shape-shifting demon who can assume the nightmarish appearance of whatever is most frightening to his victim.

Scripted by Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman and Cary Fukunaga, it’s the second adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel. (Tim Curry played malevolent Penny-wise in Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 TV miniseries.) And kudos to Chung Chung-Hoon’s engrossing cinematography.

Plus it’s timely, since audiences have been primed by Netflix’s nostalgic hit “Stranger Things,” also starring Finn Wolfhard. Its creators Matt and Ross Duffer cite King’s novel as their show’s inspiration.

FYI: If this sounds like a drug trip, it was. Stephen King confessed that he was high on cocaine and liquor when he wrote it, later claiming to have been sober no more than three hours a day back then.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “It” is a scary, supernatural 7 with Chapter Two coming next.

Filmed in 2014, then shelved, “Tulip Fever” fails on almost all levels, despite a prestigious cast that includes three Oscar-winners: Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander and Judi Dench.

So what went wrong?

Supposedly based on a true story, the romance revolves around Sophia (Vikander), an orphan raised in a convent where the feisty Abbess (Dench) arranges her marriage to elderly widower Cornelis Sandvoort (Waltz), a wealthy merchant who desperately wants an heir.

As time goes by, Sophia is unable to get pregnant. So when vain Cornelis hires aspiring artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of him and his lovely ‘trophy’ wife, Sophia and Jan fall in love.

Complications arise when Sophia’s saucy servant Maria (Holliday Grainger) becomes pregnant by the fishmonger Willem (Jack O’Connell), threatening to blackmail Sophia by revealing her adulterous trysts.

This inane soap opera is set in 17th century Amsterdam, where a commodities exchange once revolved around exotic tulip bulbs, the most prized being the mutants with irregularly striped petals. Fortunes were made and lost in ‘Tulip Mania.’ That’s where the real drama takes place.

According to Mehmet Odekon’s financial encyclopedia “Booms and Busts,” this was the first significant, speculative ‘bubble’ in European financial history, damaging the Dutch economy for many years.

Despite elegant efforts from cinematographer Eigil Bryld and production designer Simon Elliott, director Justin Chadwick fails to capture the blooming fervor of this historic context, relegating it to background.

Worse yet, he’s unable to generate heat among the three principals, ceding all sexual tension to the supporting players — with Jan’s drunken pal Gerrit (Zach Galifianakis) supplying hollow humor.

Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks first optioned novelist Deborah Moggach’s 1999 best-seller, planning to pair Natalie Portman with Jude Law at U.K.’s Pinewood Studios — until British Chancellor Gordon Brown abruptly closed the tax loophole funding films.

Then several years passed before Harvey Weinstein hired playwright Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”) to adapt Deborah Moggach’s script with all its dreadful dialogue. And Ms. Moggach can be spotted as an ‘extra,’ an old lady, drinking beer and puffing on a clay pipe, in the tavern.

On the Granger Gauge, “Tulip Fever” is a tasteless, torpid 3, wilting as it unfolds.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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