Most of the movies that influenced IT: Chapter Two are the same as influenced the first movie. Go back and check out my recommendations to watch after you see IT for some of what I’d also list this time. I would suggest viewing The Big Chill if The Losers were just reuniting after their friend’s suicide and got to dance around a kitchen instead of deal with a killer clown. Maybe I should mention You’ve Got Mail just because there’s a poster for the movie on screen? I guess I could highlight the three versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby since they also star four of IT: Chapter Two‘s cast members (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, and Jess Weixler), but we already recommended that this week.
Instead of my usual Movies to Watch After… list, this week I’m doing something completely different. I’m going to focus the best part of IT: Chapter Two — no, not Bill Hader, it’s actually James “P.J.” Ransone — and recommend more of his movies. Despite his unforgettable performance as Ziggy on one season of the HBO series The Wire and later standing out in the same network’s miniseries Generation Kill, Ransone is not a well-known actor. But after everyone goes to see the IT sequel, they’ll be wondering how they don’t know about him. Some of his obscurity has to do with his near departure from the industry due to a heroin habit. Some of it’s a bigger crime on the part of Hollywood for not showcasing his talents enough until now.
Not that he’s not been tremendous in a number of movies, whether he’s playing big roles in small films or small roles in big films. He’s also a literal hero, by the way (as well as a piece of music trivia), and he deserves all the attention he’s getting right now as a result of his biggest role in his biggest movie yet. Ransone apparently almost quit acting two years ago, partly because being cast in projects was so inconsistent. Fortunately, he did not quit then, but hopefully, he also keeps getting more work for us to enjoy so he never does. Join us on the Ransone train by watching these essential movies he’s in:
Ken Park (2002)
Before his memorable turn in The Wire, Ransone broke out on the indie film scene with this movie written by Harmony Korine and directed by Larry Clark and Edward Lachman. If you’re familiar with those names, you can expect that Ken Park was quite a star-making vehicle for the young actor. Indeed, his big scene, which you can find on PornHub and other similar websites, has him explicitly wanking while engaging in autoerotic asphyxiation (of course there was one person on Reddit who questioned our exclusion of the scene in an old FSR list on the best masturbation moments in film). But that’s not all he’s good for here. He jumps rope, yells at a three-legged dog, eats cake off a knife in the nude, and stabs his grandparents. Fun!
From Ken Park, he could have gone in many directions. He’s quite handsome in the part, even resembling Timotée Chalamet in a blue-lit, blood-splattered final moment. But he was sort of typecast in a couple of different ways. One being his lovably dumb and fucked up character on The Wire — Ziggy, “the angry prince of goofs,” as he was nicknamed by the show’s writers, likes to publicly expose himself, for example. Another being that he went on to work with John Waters for A Dirty Shame. There he plays Dingy Dave, a guy turned on by dirt. He literally ate cigarette butts for his role, but as he notes in the behind-the-scenes DVD feature, he would have drawn the line at eating dogshit, Divine-style.
Buy Ken Park on DVD from Amazon.
Inside Man (2006)
IT: Chapter Two isn’t the first movie that millions of people have seen Ransone in. Spike Lee’s top-grossing movie ever only made about what the IT sequel will do in its first weekend, but it’s a pretty mainstream heist film and is so far also the actor’s most popular (as in viewership, not necessarily likability) movie credit. Ransone is doesn’t exactly give a scene-stealing performance, but he does come away probably the most memorable without the famous name of Denzel, Chiwetel, Clive, Jodie, Willem, or Christopher Plummer. He plays one of the cleverly disguised bank robbers and he’s got a mask over his face most of the time, but he gets to say some great lines while being the young smartass of the gang.
Maybe you’ve even already seen Inside Man. Ah, but you can’t retrospectively recall it being Ransone as “Steve-O,” can you? So, watch it again if you’ve seen it before. It’s fun to rediscover characters after their players have gotten bigger. Ransone has also since then worked with Spike Lee on two more features. He has a very small part as a camp counselor in the 2012 Do the Right Thing spinoff Red Hook Summer (which stars fellow The Wire star Clarke Peters) and then he plays a doctor in the 2013 Oldboy remake — that character, he described to Entertainment Weekly as a “nice person,” which he says was new for him. In the same interview, he notes that he and Spike work so well together because they’re both antagonistic.
Stream Inside Man on Starz.
Ransone may be an actor, but he’s also such an awesome guy that he’s randomly in a documentary, allowing me to include my obligatory nonfiction feature on this list. Freakonomics is an anthology doc adapted from the nonfiction book of the same name by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. Multiple segments are directed by a variety of big names in documentary, with Morgan Spurlock helming the first installment, which is about what a person’s name might say about their race and/or social status in America. Ransone shows up very briefly to say directly into the camera to state that Stone Phillips “is the best white guy name you could have.”
Why is he there? Spurlock says it just happened while he was shooting man-on-the-street interviews. He saw Ransone and asked him if he wanted to participate, and Ransone obliged. Okay, but do you really need to watch more than his few seconds of screentime? Yeah, you can skip some of it, though the last segment, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, which is about incentivizing good grades, is excellent. And from there you could always go back and see their feature The Boys of Baraka, about Baltimore youths selected for an experimental boarding school in Kenya. One of those youths, Edward Green, went on to play Spider on The Wire, which, of course, brings it all back to Ransone.
Ransone was no stranger to horror movies going IT: Chapter Two. He plays a detective in the 2008 Prom Night remake and then he took on another law enforcement role in this film from the team of director Scott Derrickson and writer (and friend of FSR) C. Robert Cargill. Ransone plays a sheriff’s deputy only ever referred to as “Deputy So & So,” and he’s another nice person who is also quite funny. With a very dry delivery, he provides the comic relief to the movie, to the point that the filmmakers kept ruining takes by laughing. “When did we write a Coen Brothers’ scene into our movie?” Derrickson recalls asking Cargill during the Sinister DVD commentary. Who wouldn’t laugh on set to his delivery of “snakes don’t have feet”?
After being the best part of the first movie, Ransone was the only actor brought back for the 2015 sequel, Sinister 2. This time, his character, let go from the sheriff’s office, is now a private investigator. Despite being one of the leads, he still has no proper name, though, credited instead only as “Ex-Deputy So & So.” The second movie wasn’t as well-received or as financially successful as the original, but Ransone is not the reason for any of the disappointment. In fact, as noted in our review, he and female lead Shannyn Sossamon were upsides to the movie, which was mostly a dud for its lack of scares and atmosphere compared to its predecessor. If only it was a hit anyway, Ransone would have benefited with more lead parts in Hollywood.
Stream Sinister free with ads on Vudu.
After working with him in Sinister, Ethan Hawke presumably helped Ransone get the gig of his first Shakespeare movie. Cymbeline, like the 2000 version of Hamlet starring Hawke, is another one of Michael Almereyda’s modernized takes on the Bard, retaining the Elizabethan dialogue and the basic plot of one of his plays while setting the story in the present day. Ransone plays the part of Philario, originally a Roman nobleman but here simply a friend of the poor romantic hero Posthumus. It’s not much, but where else do you get to see the actor speaking in iambic pentameter? Along with such a star-studded cast also including Ed Harris, Dakota Johnson, Milla Jovovich, Bill Pullman, Penn Badgeley, and the late Anton Yelchin.
The year prior, Ransone also acted in Almereyda’s black and white short film The Man Who Came Out at Night. Perhaps he was introduced to the filmmaker through Hawke (who is not in this one) before the Cymbeline casting. When you look through Ransone’s filmography, you can see a lot of connections. Actors probably want to work with him again and/or recommend him for other projects. Filmmakers certainly seem to enjoy collaborating with Ransone, as there are a lot of repeats. Almereyda has these two with him, Spike Lee has three, Dito Montiel has three, Sean Baker has two, etc. If nothing else, following IT: Chapter Two, I bet Andy Muschietti will cast Ransone in something else of his.
Stream Cymbeline free with ads on Tubi.
Fruits de Mer (2014)
Ransone’s filmography is filled with the occasional short, most of them actually music videos (see him murdered during sex in an Emily Sundblad bit) or fashion films. Fruits de Mer, I’m not quite sure what it is. I guess it’s just a narrative short? Directed by Bahraini filmmaker Hala Matar, it was made for Nowness and is a tale of adultery in Hollywood. C. Thomas Howell is in it, opposite Zoé Le Ber. But all you really need to pay attention to in this surreal six-minute work is that Ransone appears in a dress and sings “My Funny Valentine.” It’s not his first musical performance, as he apparently sings “I Want Candy” on the soundtrack of the 2009 movie The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but I haven’t seen that one.
Watch Fruits de Mer via Nowness and YouTube below.
I really, really love this movie, so as much as I should have included Starlet, this was my introduction to Sean Baker and I’d love for it to be yours. Besides, Ransone isn’t as interesting in Starlet, and the film itself isn’t quite as good. When I saw Tangerine, which is shot with iPhones, for the first time, I honestly felt like I was seeing raw independent cinema again, like in the early ’90s. When Ransone showed up — the only actor I’d seen before — at first I was pulled out of the story, but he quickly changed all that with one of his most unique performances. Sure, Chester is another unlikable scumbag, the pimp of a couple of transgender sex workers and boyfriend to one of them, but his speech and mannerisms and personality are all new for him.
It’s a shame that Ransone didn’t go on to appear in Baker’s third movie, The Florida Project, but he did get a special thanks in the credits for that one. It’s obvious that Baker likes working with him, with one interview implying that he almost didn’t cast Ransone in Tangerine or maybe had some doubts about doing so. “Every time I put in any face who is recognizable in any of my films, like James Ransone in Tangerine, I always get a little bit worried,” the filmmaker told MovieFreak.com while promoting The Florida Project. “But when you can choose actors that are this talented who can slip into worlds like these so effortlessly? It’s pretty cool. It’s cool being able to choose actors who can do that.” Ransone definitely does that here.
In a Valley of Violence (2016)
Ransone reunited with Hawke again for another new adventure: a Western. It’s also a reunion for him and Karen Gillan, who plays his fiancée here. They co-starred a year earlier in a segment of the short film anthology Fun Size Horror: Volume Two called “Conventional,” which Gillan directed. In a Valley of Violence is written and directed by Ti West and produced by Blumhouse, a departure for both the filmmaker and the company best known for working in the horror genre. Ransone plays a mix of his typical roles as a weasely punk of a deputy, the son of a Marshal played by John Travolta. Hawke is basically an Old West John Rambo, an ex-military drifter who shows some townsfolk what happens when they don’t welcome him right.
Now, they don’t make a whole lot of Westerns anymore, and this one didn’t make much money to prove they should, but Ransone proves here to be perfectly suited for the genre and I’d love to see him do more (prior to this, he starred in another Western called Timber, but I admit I have not seen that one and its rating don’t make me that interested in doing so). Ransone is a character actor, one who has shined for decades in memorable supporting roles and varied genre fare. But he always shows a range that’s unexpected of an actor in such a position, not unlike Ben Foster, and long underrated just the same. I hope that IT: Chapter Two makes him a big name, but I also hope that he doesn’t skip out on doing great work in smaller stuff.