It Chapter Two (Andy Muschietti, 2019). After his big-screen adaption of Stephen King’s It outperformed any reasonable expectations at the box office, it was pretty much inevitable that director Andy Muschietti would go back to Derry, Maine, the small town where no one who dies really dies. Especially given that Muschietti and his collaborators had only tapped one half of King’s massive novel for the first film, there were plenty more pages to draw from. Where It stuck with kids facing off against the murderous, super-powered, clown-guised demon called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), It Chapter Two is set twenty-seven years later as the ghoul returns to wreak havoc, the band of buddies reunites, all of them nursing some amount of middle-aged discontent. As if puffed up by the prior success, It Chapter Two is dreadfully bloated, stretching to over two-and-a-half tedious hours. Some of the casting is inspired, with Bill Hader and James Ransone doing the best job of evoking their youthful counterparts. Maybe most damaging, the overstuffed film fumbles the story’s theme of everyday human cruelty creating just as dire of a world as the supernatural high jinks of a supernatural bogeyman. The depiction of such cruelties — notably a hate crime against a gay man that opens the film — comes across as simply exploitative.
Sounder (Martin Ritt, 1972). This earnest offering of socially aware filmmaking from Martin Ritt, a director who had a commitment to such, is based on a novel for young adults written by William H. Armstrong just three years earlier. Focusing on a family of sharecroppers in nineteen-thirties Louisiana, Sounder gracefully, insightfully depicts the virulent bigotry Black people faced at every turn. These aren’t acts of oppression that announce themselves with siren-like insistence, but are instead embedded deeply into every interaction with the power structure that seethes with resentment at these individual simply for living lives with genuine dignity. The movie is restrained, lovely, and heartfelt, effectively conveying, for example, what it would be like for a boy who craves education and is relegated to the back of his classroom filled with white peers to instead discover a school house filled with people who look like him. In a film full of nicely calibrated performances, Paul Winfield does especially emotional and nuanced work as the family patriarch.
Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018). Among the precisely manicured lawns and garish manses of a posh New England suburb, high school girls Lily (Anya-Taylor Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) hatch an unlikely friendship, seemingly based in part on mutual curiosity over their notably different versions of social outcast status. Owing to dissatisfaction with her stern stepfather (Paul Sparks), Lily is especially intrigued by Amanda’s edge of sociopathy and the possibility it could be put to use. Writer-director Cory Finley gives Thoroughbreds an aura of delightful nastiness, making it seem almost like a modern Heathers without the safety net of cartoonish satire. Although both lead actresses are dandy in their roles, Cooke is a sliver more memorable because of her striking ability to add a timbre of danger to Amanda’s anti-charm offensives. Finley also impressively comes up with stylish visuals that don’t distract in their creativity, which is perfectly suited to his entangled protagonists who are invested is veiling their own dark craftiness.