2017 Version of Stephen King’s “IT” floats to New Heights

Hello there, bloggers! I have returned from a long hiatus from penning my 80’s movie reviews. For my latest critique, I  have chosen the recently released second adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel “It” as a “Pre Halloween Review.” Set in King’s typical imagined town of Derry, Maine, it follows a shape-shifting alien who takes the form of a creepy clown named Pennywise the Dancing Clown or “It” who stalks through the town, luring, tormenting and killing young children.

“It” received a two part miniseries in 1990, which centred on seven misfits known as “The Losers Club” as they bond together to take down Pennywise, and meet up twenty seven years later for the same purpose after the child killings continue. In my opinion,  that movie was alright, but wasn’t particularly scary ,with slightly dated special effects. The story is stronger in the first half then in the second, with the child actors generally delivering solid performances. However, the adult scenes seemed less than impressive, with the actors giving unintentionally funny deliveries. The only true consistently great thing about the miniseries was the always terrific Tim Curry as the clown in question.

The remake only focuses on the characters as kids, and updates the childhood portions  from 1958 to 1989. In the deeply chilling opening scene, little Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) goes outside to play with a paper boat his beloved brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) made for him, only to disappear without a trace after an encounter with sinister clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) in the sewers. A few months later, Bill, in denial about his brother’s death, starts to be plagued with eerie visions. He bands up with six other teenage outcasts, consisting of brainy newcomer Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), pretty Beverly (Sophia Lillis), loudmouth joker Richie (Finn Wolfhard),  smothered Mama’s Boy Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), rational Stan (Wyatt Oleff) and homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs), who have also run afoul of Pennywise. They come to realize that all of the killings lead back to the basement of a spooky old house, where Bill vows to take down whatever killed Georgie, once and for all…

Even though I’m mostly indifferent towards the vast majority of horror films, “It” ended up being better than I expected it to be. Under Andy Muschietti’s direction, this adaption manages to actually be unsettling and jumpy. Bill Skarsgard is legitimately frightening as Pennywise. Unlike Curry, who was more of a comical clown than a threatening one, Skarsgard aims for a more subtle approach, which is more effective manner you’d expect of a murderous killing clown.

The child performers especially added to my enjoyment of this movie. I continue to be pleasantly marveled by the sheer caliber of young actors in Hollywood nowadays, thanks to the popularity of “Stranger Things” (incidentically, both of them feature Finn Wolfhard as a cast member). All of the principal cast shared fantastic chemistry together, and it’s easy to tell that they’re close in real life.

Although all the core ensemble cast were excellent, a few of them really stood out in my opinion. These standouts include Sophia Lillis as Bev, who is dealing with some messed up family issues from her horrible home life, Jack Dylan Grazer as the dorky, germ phobic Eddie, and Finn Wolfhard as Richie, the foul mouthed joker of the pack. For those who are used to seeing Wolfhard as the sweet, soft spoken Mike from “Stranger Things”, it can initially seem like something of a culture shock. But many of Richie’s quips made me crack up, particularly one about Bev bearing a resemblance to 80’s teen icon, Molly Ringwald.

Although marketed as a horror film, a core theme of the movie revolves around the kids coming of age, and realizing that their childhoods and their innocence are well and truly over. Pennywise exploits this, as he torments the group by morphing into their greatest fears (a leper for germ hating Eddie, a torrent of blood for Bev, who fears her impending womanhood, while Bill keeps being plagued with visions of Georgie).

If I did have to issue some minor nitpicks, it would have to that some of the jump scares felt a little forced and cliched. Also, some of the bullies harassing the main characters seemed very one dimensional and flat, since their only apparent function was to serve as generic antagonists.

All in all, “It”(2017) earns a rating of 4 out of 5 stars from me. It’s a perfect way to kick off the Halloween season before it arrives, so it’s worth checking out if you love a good scare! I’d also recommend watching  the first series of “Stranger Things” in preparation for its second season, due out next month!Plus, a second chapter of “It” is confirmed to be in the works, set for a 2019 release date.  Happy Watching!

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Everywhere You Look – “Full House” in Review!

Following my “Saved by the Bell” review, I have decided to critique another sitcom which aired from the late 80’s until the mid 90’s – “Full House”.  Modern audiences may recognize it due to the recent Netflix revival series, “Fuller House”. It has the honour of being one of the most recognizable  family sitcoms of  the last century.  Even though the bulk of its run-time was through the 1990’s, it still maintains that unique 80’s quality.

This show, airing from 1987 to 1995, centered around Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a widowed newscaster in San Francisco who is struggling to bring up his three daughters following the death of his wife in a drunk driving accident.  He enlists the help of Jesse, (John Stamos), his ladies man brother in law, and Joey (Dave Coulier), his best friend, and childish comedian, to move in to take care of the girls- D.J. (Candace Cameron), the responsible oldest child, Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), the sarcastic middle child, and Michelle (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen), the mischievous baby of the bunch. The show focused on the antics that both adults and girls got themselves into that week, which could usually always end with a heart to heart between one of the men (usually Danny) and his daughters, with a hug often called upon to sweeten up the moment, much to the glee of the studio audience.

Later additions to the main cast included Becky (Lori Loughlin), Danny’s co-anchor who would later be promoted as Jesse’s love interest and eventual wife, their twin boys Alex and Nicky (Dylan and Blake Tuomy-Wilhoit) , Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), D.J.’s kooky best friend with an insufferable stinky foot odour and Steve (Scott Weinger), D.J.’s sweet but slightly dim boyfriend.

“Full House” has garnered a repuation for being a wholesome family sitcom, managing to cement the “sappy emotional music” cue, which played during those aforementioned “golden moments”  . The show played up the cuteness of the child actors, particularly the Olsen twins, who could often be depended upon to deliver a cute catchphrase or one-liner.

Despite the show’s roaring success, the male leads of the show have expressed scorn over the overly saccharine plots. Bob Saget, who is now perhaps best known for his profane, raunchy stand up routines, which is a far cry from the soft spoken Danny Tanner. John Stamos similarly strove to put the show behind him by selecting gritter roles.

Nevertheless, almost all of the original cast, with the notable exception of the Olsen twins, signed on for the Netflix revival, “Fuller House”, in 2016. In keeping with the same format as its predecessor, D.J. is now a single mother to three boys,  and has trouble coping after the death of her firefighter husband, so Stephanie and Kimmy step in to help out. As you can imagine, more comedic possibilities ensue! While still considered a “family show, many of the jokes in Fuller House are arguably more laden with innuendo, as summed up here.

“Full House” earns a total of 3 out of 5 stars. Whether you find it or its brand of comedy sweet or sickening, it still remains a staple of classic family driven sitcoms. It’s worth checking out if you like “Fuller House”, or if you, like me, have a love for corny 80’s sitcoms. You got it, dude!

Saved by the Bell is an “Alright” Teen Sitcom

Everyone remembers their high school years, for better or for worse. There are plenty of shows which explore the dynamics of high school life either for drama (“Thirteen Reasons Why”, Pretty Little Liars”)  or for comedy (“Hannah Montana”,  “Lizzie McGuire”).  Then there’s the high school comedies which over idealize high school life to an extent, which is where “Saved by the Bell” comes in.  It originally aired under the title of “Good Morning, Miss Bliss”, in 1989, starring Hayley Mills as the titular teacher who was in charge of a group of middle schoolers.

After it got cancelled after merely one season, they decided that the concept would make for more comedic potential if the focus was not on the teacher, but the students. And thus, “Saved by the Bell” was born! For those of us who watched it as preteens, this is probably what we thought high school was going to be like, before being faced with the reality later on.

Running from 1989 to 1993 on the National Broadcasting Channel (NBC), the show followed the exploits of six high school students in the fictional  Bayside High School in California.There was Zack (Mark Paul Gosselaar), the leader of the gang who almost always  got himself and his pals into scraps, but typically always got out of them thanks to his charm, Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), the sweet cheerleader who was Zack’s dream girl, Slater (Mario Lopez), the jock who often butts heads with Zack, Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley), outspoken feminist overachiever who had an on again/ off again relationship with Slater, Lisa (Lark Voorhies), a ditsy, sassy fashionista, and Screech (Dustin Diamond), an excitable nerd whom the rest of the group only tolerated because he was friends with Zack. Rounding out the cast was the bumbling principal Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins), who is perhaps known for his disininctive catchphrase “Hey hey hey hey! What is going on here”?, and was in many ways a seventh member of the core group.

“Saved by the Bell” primarily deals with the  misadventures they get up to in Bayside High School . There were plots ranging on the ridiculous (Zack makes a bet with Slater over who can kiss a girl the longest) to the genuinely touching (Zack deciding not to go to prom after his girlfriend Kelly can’t afford to attend, and then spending a romantic night together.

However, “Saved by the Bell” also wasn’t afraid to get serious from time to time by addressing serious issues, such as drink driving, peer pressure and drug use. In perhaps the most infamous episode, “Jessie’s Song”, Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills, of all things, to exceed at school and focus on her new music group, “Hot Sundaes” . This was apparently supposed to be speed, but when the network executives protested against such a thing being depicted on a kids’ morning TV show, caffeine pills were subbed in instead. Eventually, the pressure is too much for Jessie, which eventually culminates  in her well known breakdown in front of Zack, with her singing / exclaiming “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so… scared”. Naturally, everything gets sorted out , with Jessie receiving counselling, and in true sitcom style, the problem was never mentioned again.

If there was one thing that bothered me about the show as a whole was the seemingly incessant use of the laugh track after  almost any line.  I have never been a fan of laugh tracks in general, and prefer if none are used, as the audience are able to pick out funny jokes for themselves.

“Saved by the Bell” rates as a 3 out of 5 stars. While it doesn’t exactly hold up today, it does offer some interesting  “lessons at the end of the day” that kids can translate in their own lives. It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of kid friendly teen shows.

Bruce Willis does Baby Talk in “Look Who’s Talking”

In the late 1980’s, there were a crop of “baby pictures” released, which entailed the main characters looking after an infant. These included “Three Men and a Baby” (1987), “Baby Boom” (1987) ,””For Keeps”? (1988) and today’s subject, Amy Heckerling’s 1989 comedy, “Look Who’s Talking”. The best part that makes the movie stand out from all the other baby related movies? Bruce Willis provides the internal thoughts for the baby!

The plot follows New York accountant Mollie Jensen (Kirstie Alley), who has been having an affair with her married client Albert (George Segal), for quite some time. When she becomes pregnant from the tryst, Albert at first offers to stand by her, but then double crosses her by cheating with another woman, leaving her to be a single parent. After a heated public confrontation between Mollie and Albert, she goes into labour, and happens into the taxi of friendly cab driver James (John Travolta). He gets her to the hospital on time, and stays around to help for the birth of  baby Mikey.

A few days later,  James stops by to return Mollie’s purse, which she’d left in the back of his cab in the ensuing drama.  He immediately bonds with Mikey, and acts as his babysitter in order to help Mollie out. Mollie, determined to give Mikey the best possible father figure, starts dating an assortment of men, but none of them seem to fit the bill.  As time passes, sparks begin to fly between Mollie and James, with Mikey giving his two cents along the way. It’s actually a lot more funnier than it sounds!

Even though the movie may verge into silly territory at times, it works because of the charisma of the leading players. Travolta has been on record as stating that his role of James is the closest to his real life personality. The similarities don’t stop there – both James and Travolta are pilots on the side. He interacts well with Kirstie Alley, and they make a convincing “will they/won’t they couple”. Willis delivers a hysterical vocal performance as the baby. It’s worth noting while Willis and Travolta are the best of pals in this movie, just a few years later in “Pulp Fiction” (1994), they played anything but friends!

Some highlights of this flick include James dancing with Mikey to the Katrina and the Waves hit “Walking on Sunshine”, and again to Gene Pitney’s “Town without Pity” with Mollie in the kitchen, proving that Travolta has still got the dance moves he showcased in classics like “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) or “Grease” (1978). There are also a series of comical imagination sequences, frequently experienced by Mollie. These range from her considering whether or not her various dates will make a suitable father for Mikey based on how they treat the waiter, to her literally hanging atop of a clock tower after being told that her “biological clock is ticking”.

The movie was followed by two sequels- “Look who’s Talking Too” (1991), which features the exploits of Mikey and his young half sister Julie, who is voiced by Roseanne Barr. The second sequel, “Look Who’s Talking Now” (1993), doesn’t rely on the kids’ thoughts being heard, since they’re now old enough to speak for themselves. However, Diane Keaton and Danny DeVito are on board, as the voices of the two family dogs . While both of these movies are enjoyable in their own ways, they don’t compare to the original, in my opinion.

“Look Who’s Talking” earns 4 out of 5 stars, as it’s a warm, engaging comedy that worth seeing if you’re a fan of any of the leads, if you like baby themed movies, or if you fancy hearing Bruce Willis engage in providing the thoughts of an infant, in contrast to his more action orientated roles.  Happy viewing!

Serenades, Boomboxes and John Cusack make”Say Anything” an Endearing Love Story

As per a recent request, I’ve decided to make the 1989 Cameron Crowe romance movie, “Say Anything”, the subject of my newest post. Chances are, many of you have heard of the movie through the excellent 2010 high school comedy, “Easy A”. You may also have heard of the movie through the countless parodies that have been spawned of a particular scene involving a boombox playing Peter Gabriel’s “In your Eyes”. But the question is, how does the rest of the movie hold up in comparison to that scene?

The Plot in a Nutshell: Recent high school graduate Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is a kind-hearted, yet aimless underachiever with no set direction in his life other than kickboxing. Diane Court (Ione Skye) is the brainy class valedictorian with a scholarship in England ahead of her. They’re poles apart, but when they become an item the summer before college, no one is more opposed to the match than Diane’s divorced father, James (John Mahoney). The owner of a retirement home, James has always shared a special bond with Diane, to the point where he has encouraged her to “say anything” to him, hence the movie’s title. The last thing he desires is for his precious daughter to be distracted by who he deems to be an irresponsible slacker.

As the summer progresses, Lloyd and Diane grow more in love with each other, eventually leading to them consummating their relationship in the back of a car. Pressured by her father, Diane ends things with Lloyd. Never one to be deterred, Lloyd attempts to win back her affections, to no avail. Meanwhile, Diane grows to see that perhaps perfection isn’t everything, and that maybe Lloyd is the only person she can truly trust, as her beloved father comes under scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service…

Character/Actor Observations: This movie is one of my favourites in John Cusack’s filmography. In my opinion, Lloyd is one of the nicest, most sympathetic characters that Cusack has ever portrayed on screen. Though his earnestness, he creates a character whom the audience empathizes with. Ione Skye is an excellent choice as  Diane, conveying the unsureness  of a high school girl who, despite having all the makings of success, but has felt alienated throughout her school career as a result. Lloyd admires her for her intelligence, and despite her initially not knowing much about him, they hit it off. The chemistry between Cusack and Skye comes off as being authentic and unforced, and they have several gentle, charismatic moments together.

My Favourite Scene in “Say Anything”: My favourite scene from this movie would have to be when Lloyd and Diane are proclaiming their love to each other after Lloyd’s kickboxing session. After all they’ve been through, it makes for a heartwarming moment that they’re both vowing to be there for each other from that moment onwards.

My Least Favourite Scene in “Say Anything”: Although it’s hard for me to select  a scene from this film that I didn’t think worked well, I have to say that I felt slightly underwhelmed by the famous boombox scene. Perhaps this was due to having seen it relentlessly be lampooned through various forms of pop culture over the years, that when the scene itself popped up, it was something of a letdown for me. While I feel that it’s still a powerful, striking scene in its own right, I was ultimately let down by the hype surrounding the scene in pop culture.

Actors Before they were Famous: In addition to Cusack, his sister, Joan Cusack, appears in a few brief scenes, as Lloyd’s… sister. John Mahoney, of “Frasier” fame, appears in one of his earliest roles, pulling off an impressive American accent which hides his British origins. Finally, future “Six Feet Under” actress Lili Taylor has a supporting role as Corey, one of Lloyd’s female confidants, who advises him “The world is full of guys. Be a man, don’t be a guy”.

My Take on “Say Anything”: “Say Anything” has quite a straightforward story, but treats the main characters with sympathy. What I admire the most about this movie is that through his direction of the material, Cameron Crowe permits for us to view James as a humane character, and not a one dimensional caricature. The two most vital relationships in the movie are ones that Diane has with both Lloyd and her father. For me, one of the highlights I have watching the movie are seeing both of these respective relationships evolve and be altered. To my surprise, I found myself feeling sorry for James, as while some of his actions were questionable, he comes across as any parent who simply wants the best for his child, and not as a one note villain, as some other teen movies may have portrayed him as.

Ratings and Recommendations: “Say Anything” receives a distinctional rate of 5 out of 5 stars from me. Its story make be straightforward, but it’ll appeal to those of you who enjoy watching films which showcase the ordinary lives of teenagers, while not preaching or looking down on them. The narrative understands what it is to be a teenager with a seemingly impossible love.

If you enjoyed this feature, then I recommend some of Crowe’s other works, such as “Almost Famous”, “Jerry Maguire” or “Elizabethtown”. As always, if you have any suggestions for a movie or a TV show that I could review, please feel free to share them in the comments!

A Slapstick Christmas Vacation is to be had with the Griswolds!

Everyone has heard of the National Lampoon movies. In fact, they may have risen to prominence over the last few years. Each of these flicks focus on the zany exploits of the Griswold clan, headed by well-meaning but bumbling patriarch Clark W. Griswold (Check Chase). We’ve followed them on their adventures on “Vacation”, in”Vegas” and in “Europe”, with each outing inevitably getting them into all sorts of awkward shenanigans.

More recently, there was a rather mediocre attempt to replicate the comedy and hilarity of the previous installments in “Vacation”, which features many of the same material, but with less of the charm, as the Griswold son, Rusty (Ed Helms) tries to give his family the same joyous vacation experiences as the ones he was introduced to.

While I  certainly wasn’t a fan of that reboot, my favourite of the series has got to be “Christmas Vacation”, which is the only film where the Griswolds stay at home, with the action primarily circulating on preparing for Christmas. As you might guess, things never go as simply as you may expect, especially if your name is Clark Griswold!

In this installment, Clark is determined to have himself a festive holiday , with the added perks of a Christmas bonus from his job with his patient, long-suffering wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids Rusty and Audrey (here played by Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis, in keeping with the running gag of the Griswold kids having different actors each movie). But alas, it’s not to be, Clark gets into all sorts of antics over the season. From Clark’s goofy Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) who lives in a Recreational Vehicle, snobbish neighbours Todd ( Nicholas Guest) and Margo (Julia Louis Drefus), and Mary (Nicolette Scorsese), a comely lingerie saleswoman who somehow sends Clark into a fluster, especially when his son Rusty cottons onto him! Add a feral squirrel, a kidnapped boss and a hostage situation, and you’ve got one heck of a Christmas!

The humour of the “National Lampoon” movies might not appeal to everyone’s tastes, as they contain slapstick pratfalls, toilet humour and plain old cringy moments, mainly at the expense of Clark. But somehow, the cast makes this material work, no matter how outlandish or over the top it may seem. Chevy Chase, in particular, continues to play Clark as the bumbling, put upon guy we love to watch. The selling point of this flick  for me is definitely just Clark’s interactions with his Cousin Eddie .  Whether he’s nonchalantly watching him pour his sewage all over his front lawn while wearing a skimpy bathrobe, or reacting to Eddie kidnapping his boss after a rhetorical request gone awry, you just know that there’s some laughs lined up!

In fact, Quaid’s Eddie proved to be so popular that he was given his own TV spin off movie in 2003. Unfortunately, I recommend that flick even less than I do the new revamped “Vacation”.

“Christmas Vacation”  may not have much to recommend it, and contains no Oscar worthy performances, but if you’re in need of a chuckle just after Christmas, then I suggest watching this flick. “Christmas Vacation” gets three and a half stars.

Peace out,  and have a Fantastic New Year!

 

 

“Teen Witch” is not the Finest Hour for Witchcraft

Resuming my reviews of 80’s movies which are fantasy or thrillers, I am going to take you back to 1989’s corny movie, “Teen Witch”. You may have heard of the flick through the popular web video vlogger, “Nostalgia Chick”, when she reviewed it way back in 2008. The video inspired me to check it out for myself. And boy, was I in for quite a ridiculous, if entertaining watch!

“Teen Witch” was made to cash in on the success of the 1985 Michael J. Fox comedy “Teen Wolf”. However, it mostly catered towards boys. The solution for a more female orientated version? Make the female lead a witch. It concerns Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, sister of “Gossip Girl” actress Blake Lively), a dorky 15 year old girl who pines after star athlete, Brad (Dan Gauthier),but he’s oblivious to her existence, and is happily dating the perky Randa (Lisa Fuller). If that wasn’t bad enough, her sadistic English teacher Mr Weaver (Shelley Berman) continually harasses her on a regular basis in front of the entire class.

The week before she turns 16,  she has a chance meeting with psychic Madame Serena (Zelda Rubinstein), who reveals that Louise is one of the descendants of the Salem witches,and will inherit her powers on her 16th birthday. Louise’s powers enable her to exact revenge on her tormentors, make her nerdy date David disappear (who, despite being seen as less desirable than Brad, actually reminds me of a retro Buddy Holly), and turn her annoying kid brother (Joshua John Miller) into a dog, with water reversing these spells.

As Louise’s powers manifest, she uses them to make herself popular at school, and Brad eventually falls victim to her charms, so to speak. But her new found popularity causes friction with her best friend Polly (Mandy Ingber)…

“Teen Witch” is a movie more renowned for its mediocrity than its credibility. In fact, most of you who have been brave enough to watch the movie the entire way through might only remember the cheerleaders prancing around the locker room to a “new cheer” and declaring that they “like boys”, which seemed to be a thing in the 80’s. The boys in this flick aren’t immune to spontaneous dances either, as a trio of wannabe rapper guys periodically strut around the school corridors, with nobody appearing to bat an eyelid at how random this spectacle is. They come to fruition again when Polly faces off against their leader, Rhett (Noah Blake), thanks to Louise’s confidence boosting powers.

My general consensus of this flick is that it’s watchable enough, as long as you don’t take it  too seriously. Although I may mock it every time I see it, “Teen Witch” remains one of my all time favourite Halloween viewing movies. For that reason, it receives a score of 2 and a half stars from me. Top that!