By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow
Better suited for a TV mini-series, the overly long, episodic sequel, “It: Chapter Two,” nevertheless, delivers on the gross, supernatural terror.
Picking up 27 years after his last appearance in Derry, Maine, the creepy, shape-shifting clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) is back. The first body he devours is the victim of a vicious hate-crime attack on a gay couple (Taylor Frey, Xavier Dolan) at a local carnival.
Although the surviving members of the Losers’ Club are still dealing with the effects of their childhood trauma, they’re adults who have gone their separate ways. But when obsessed Mike (Isiah Mustafa), who sleeps in the library’s attic, summons them home, they reunite to fulfill the blood oath they made to exact revenge on demonic Pennywise.
Now a semi-successful novelist, sensitive, bespectacled Bill (James McAvoy) is still haunted by the death of his little brother Georgie. Foul-mouthed, alcoholic Richie (Bill Hader) works as a wisecracking, standup comic. No-longer-fat Ben (Jay Ryan) has become a handsome architect.
Hypochondriac motormouth Eddie (James Ransone) is a “risk analyst,” nagged at by his mother-replacement wife. Stanley (Andy Bean) is a wealthy accountant. And fashion designer Beverly (Jessica Chastain), whose monstrous father beat her, is now abused by her jealous spouse.
When they meet at a Chinese restaurant, all their repressed memories come vividly flooding back in flashbacks which almost immediately feel redundant.
On the plus side, Mike has come up with a plot about how to eliminate menacing Pennywise; it’s an idea which involves their assembling tokens/personal artifacts for a Native American ritual.
Adapted from Stephen King’s 1998 horror novel by Gary Dauberman (“Annabelle,” “The Nun”) and again unevenly directed by Andy Muschietti, it’s an ensemble piece, filled with tonal vacillations and jump scares, dealing with arrested development and the aftereffects of a life-altering trauma.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “It: Chapter Two” is a savage, scary 7 — with no mid-or-post credits scenes.
Adapting J C Lee’s off-Broadway play “Luce,” director Julius Onah offers a taut, thorny psychological thriller about a young, black immigrant who, seemingly, epitomizes the American Dream.
Adopted as a 7=year-old ‘child soldier’ from worn-torn Eritrea, Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has made his white, middle-class, liberal parents, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth), proud. He’s academically gifted, an accomplished debater and all-star athlete at an Arlington, Virginia, high school.
But when Luce’s stern history teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), questions his provocative essay about West Indian radical political philosopher Frantz Fanon and, subsequently, finds a bag of illegal fireworks in his locker, Luce’s reputation is called into question.
Parent-teacher confrontations, monitored by the principal (Norbert Leo Butz), raise pertinent questions about racial identity and prejudice.
While the Edgars argue about how to cope with Ms. Wilson’s accusations, there’s a subplot involving Luce’s Chinese-American girlfriend, Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang), who was sexually assaulted at a party.
Another subplot concerns Ms. Wilson’s emotionally unstable sister (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and a third revolves around Luce’s pal, DeShaun (Astro), kicked off the track team for drug-related offenses.
Basically, what’s at stake here is: What happens to youngsters who are saddled with unrealistically high expectations? Is Luce a schemer or a sympathetic protagonist? Whom to believe? And where does nature vs, nurture come in?
Nigerian-born director Julius Onah ramps up the suspense of this contemporary morality tale, while everyone in the ensemble is uniformly convincing in their respective roles.
On the Granger Gauge, “Luce” is a simmering, secretive, somber 6 — stumbling on it’s on sometimes inexplicable ambiguity.
“Angry Birds 2,” the silly sequel to the 2016 animated hit continues the feathered franchise launched by Rovio’s “Angry Birds” video game back in 2009.
On Bird Island and neighboring Piggy Island, the perpetually feuding, flightless birds, led by Red (Jason Sudeikis), and the green-hued porcine population, steered by King Leonard (Bill Hader), discover they must work together to fight a vengeful villainess: purple-plumed Zeta (SNL’s Leslie Jones) from icy Eagle Island, who is determined to conquer their tropical playground.
As part of the unlikely alliance, Red and Leonard assemble a stealthy team to sneak into Zeta’s lair, including super smart Silver (Rachel Bloom), the engineering/technology whiz sister of Red’s speedy best friend Chuck (Josh Gad), explosive Bomb (Danny McBride), Leonard’s assistant Courtney (Awkwafina), gadget inventor Garry (Sterling K. Brown), and Ethan “Mighty” Eagle (Peter Dinklage).
First-time director Thurop Van Orman, who created the Emmy-winning Cartoon Network hit show “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack,” acquits himself adequately, along with co-director John Rice. It’s colorful and loud, appealing to its target audience of tiny tykes, utilizing a nonsensical script by Peter Ackerman, Eyal Podell and Jonathon E. Stewart.
There are a few amusing puns, like a bird reading “Crazy Rich Avians,” and some slapstick scenes but, generally, this entry is hardly memorable — except, perhaps, for those who enjoy nepotism. There are cameo vocals as baby Hatchlings from Faith Margaret and Sunday Rose, daughters of Nicole Kidman & Keith Urban, along with the daughters of Gal Gadot and Viola Davis.
On the Granger Gauge, “Angry Birds 2” is a foolish, featherweight 5 — more formulaic family fun.
(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.)