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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“The Princess Bride”-An Inconceivable Fairy Tale

Love is in the air, as we have reached one of my favourite holidays of all time- Valentine’s Day! And what better way to mark the occasion than to view a romantic movie? And if the latest “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie doesn’t quite cater to your idea of “romance”, then perhaps “The Princess Bride”, Rob Reiner’s 1987 adaptation of William Goldman’s novel of the same name, can be of some assistance. While some male members of the audience may be instantly turned off as soon as they hear the title, believing it to be a girly “kissing” story, it’s more about more than just “a princess bride”. It’s got elements that will keep young boys satisfied too, such as pirates, adventure and revenge!

We start off with a grandfather (Peter Falk) settling down to tell his sick young grandson (Fred Savage) a bedtime story. The tale he weaves tells of Westley (Cary Elwes), a lowly farmhand who works for the family of Buttercup (Robin Wright), whom he loves. When she realizes that she reciprocates  his feelings, he leaves in order to make his fortune so that they can get married. However, she hears that Westley’s ship has been attacked by by the fearsome Dread Pirate Roberts, with Westley being presumed dead. Resigning herself to the loss of her one true love, Buttercup doesn’t resist when vile Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) chooses her as his intended bride, with the hidden agenda of murdering her in order to profit from her death.

Buttercup gets kidnapped by a trio of outlaws- Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a Sicilian mastermind who greatly overestimates his own brilliance, gentle giant Fezzik, (Andre the Giant), and dashing Hispanic swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), who wishes to avenge his father’s murder at the hand of six fingered swordsman, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Shortly afterwards, they encounter a mysterious masked bandit known as the Man in Black, who is determined to rescue Buttercup…

“The Princess Bride” was simply a joy to watch. I hadn’t seen it since I was about 8 years old, and I remember being transfixed by the fantastical elements and sets. The characters themselves are immensely memorable. The villains are entertaining without being too hammy or over the top. The cameo appearances by notable celebrities contained no shortage of jokes. One of my favourites includes  British comedian Peter Cook as the “Impressive Clergyman” who mangles phrases such as “Mawage” and “Twue wuv”. It simply has to be seen to be believed! Plus, Billy Crystal, unrecognisable under make up and prosthetics appears in one short sequence as medicine man, Miracle Max, with Carol Kane as his nagging wife, Valerie.

Another thing I should note about this movie is that it’s incredibly quotable. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s almost  guaranteed that you can recite lines from it at random. Some of these include “as you wish” , “Have fun storming the castle” and “Inconceivable”. But the most famous quote possibly has to be (all together now!): “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”!

One aspect of the story that I didn’t expect to enjoy was the framing device between the grandfather and his grandson. Usually when a movie’s main narrative is depicted as one character telling it to another, it can get a little jarring to be pulled out of the action just to show the character’s reactions to the events at hand (as seen in “The Notebook”, Reiner’s own “Stand by Me” and virtually any episode of “How I Met your Mother”). Not so much in this case.  The cutaways to Savage and Falk flowed naturally, and didn’t attract attention away from the main story. If anything, they only enhanced them.

“The Princess Bride” earns a full distinction of 5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s one of those classic movies that almost everyone can remember being a staple of their childhoods, and I’d definitely recommend showing it to younger kids. (And yes, there is some kissing involved!) Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“E.T.”is a Magical Classic that Never Fails to Enchant

Greetings, fellow bloggers! For my Halloween review, I have decided to review the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic, “E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial”. Spielberg considers it to be a loose sequel to one of his previous works, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). It’s regarded as a children’s film, but it appeals to the entire family as well. It’s undeniably a classic, for both old and young alike, and is iconic for featuring memorable scenes and quotations. I had originally penned a review for “E.T.” elsewhere on the site, but decided to revisit the movie again, after binge watching many a “Stranger Things” episode!

The Plot in a Nutshell: 10 year old Elliot (Henry Thomas) is a lonely, alienated kid living with his sarcastic older brother Michael (Robert McNaughton), precocious little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and his single mother Mary (Dee Wallace), who is still reeling from her husband having left her several months previously for another woman. Elliot is fetching a pizza in his back yard when he gets the feeling that something, or rather someone, is closely watching him.

It’s none other than the eponymous character, E.T., an alien who has been left behind by his own kind. Elliot is at first petrified of E.T., but then discovers that E.T. is just as lonely as himself, and wants to “phone home” to contact his own family, and alongside Michael and Gertie, makes it his mission to protect his new found ally from being discovered by their oblivious mother. Alas, sinister government agent “Keys” (Peter Coyote) seeks to take E.T. away…

My Favourite Scenes of the Flick: In a word, this movie is… timeless. Everyone remembers one significant scene from their childhood memories from this movie. That’s why it’s hard for me to choose just one moment. There’s the famous moon shot with the bicycle levitating across it, Elliot using  “Reese’s Piece’s” to lure E.T. out of hiding, E.T. going out treat or treating with Elliot and Michael at Halloween, and gleefully mistaking a kid dressed as Yoda from “Star Wars” to be one of his own kind, and my personal favourite, E.T. getting drunk off of some beer in the fridge, which causes Elliot to feel the effects of this in class, and revolt and unleash a gang of frogs from being dissected: “back to the rivers, back to the forest”!

While this is happening, E.T. watches “The Quiet Man”, the classic 50’s movie starring John Wayne as a retired boxer. As soon as the scene where he forcefully kisses Maureen O’Hara materialises, this causes Elliot  in his inebriated  state to kiss one of his pretty blonde school mates (Erika Eleniak)… only to find that she’s much taller than him. Thankfully, one of his buddies decides to help him out by allowing Elliot to stand on him so that he can have his kiss. This was a major “Awwww” moment for me when I was younger!

My Least Favourite Scenes of the Flick: It’s tricky for me to find a scene in this movie which I don’t like, but as a kid, the scenes towards the end of the movie where the government officials are invading Elliot’s home wearing spacesuits always gave me the chills as soon as they find out that there’s evidence of an alien in the dwelling. Watching it years later with a more mature perspective, it doesn’t come across as scary as it had been, but it’s still a tense moment.

Cast and Actor  Observations: For me, the casting in this movie is truly perfect. Henry Thomas is superb as the lonely Elliot, who finds solace in a similarly lost soul, and Robert McNaughton gets in a few comical moments as the initially aloof brother turned protector. Dee Wallace convinces as the mother who, for the most part, is unaware for the goings on surrounding her, as she’s so engulfed in her own grief. But the star performance for me was a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie. I just find her acting to be cute and endearing, and not irritating, as some child actors can be. I never fail to crack up at her declaring that she doesn’t like E.T.’s feet, in that matter of fact way that kids sometimes are particular to. As an additional note, Harrison Ford was to be cast as Elliot’s school principal who reprimands him after the frog incident. However, Spielberg felt that having such a well known thespian would distract audiences from the story, and ultimately sacked Ford.

My Take on “ET”: Part of the reason that “E.T.” is such a memorable movie even 34 years after it was first released is that it illustrates what it’s like to be a kid, especially during the chase scenes towards the end. (Word has it that Spielberg deliberately filmed the angle from the kids’ perspectives, so as to evoke a clear cut sense of opposition against authority). It’s without a doubt my  favourite movie by Spielberg, and one which I never get tired of watching. Plus, as I outlined in  my review of “The Goonies”, it gave me an appetite for “Reese’s Pieces” candy, an opportunity which “M and Ms” turned down, as they believed that the film would be a complete and utter flop. Needless to say, they ultimately came to regret the decision when “Reece’s Pieces” trumped them in sales.

Rating and Recommendations: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” earns a full distinction of 5 out of five stars from me. It’s a fantastic movie which has aged well. It spawned several parodies, most notoriously in the form of the blatant rip-off that was “Mac and Me” (1988), but that’s for yet another review. The oldest I’d recommend a kid to be to watch this movie is 8 years old, as there are several scary moments. Also, the ending still manages to tug at my heartstrings, and likely will with old and young alike.  Happy watching!

Gremlins: The Unconventional Christmas Movie

Happy Christmas, all! I hope that you’re all having a Merry Holiday indeed! To commemorate the festive season, I’m taking a look at a movie most might associate more with Halloween than with Christmas:  Joe Dante’s 1984 hit, “Gremlins”. There has been many a debate as to whether the movie should be considered a Christmas movie.  However, seeing as most of the action primarily takes place in the festive period, it has made the list of my Yuletide viewing movies. It just happens to contain a series of seemingly harmless creatures which soon lead to chaos at the highest order…

As the movie opens, lovable inventor Rand Pelzter (Hoyt Axton) is searching in vain for a Christmas gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). He stumbles across the perfect present in a Chinese thrift shop, a cute, furry gremlin creature (“Mogwai”) by the name of Gizmo.

However, Rand is issued three warnings beforehand: not to get the creature wet, to avoid it from being exposed to direct sunlight, and most crucially, to never, ever feed it after midnight. As you can imagine, all of these rules end up being broken within a few short hours. This ends up causing multiple mogwais to revolt around the town. It’s up to Billy, his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) and Gizmo to put a stop to the riot…

“Gremlins” has always been my favourite flick to watch a few days days prior to Christmas, just to get me in the festive spirit. Although you may argue that “Gremlins” sticks out in comparison to other holiday movies such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” or even “Home Alone”, but the contrast doesn’t hamper the enjoyment of the flick for me.

Some aspects of the movie may be darker than expected for a Christmas flick, such as the scene where Mrs Peltzer (Frances Lee McCain) faces off against all of the mogwais, eventually leading to a  satisfying demise via microwave. Another memorable scene comes about when Kate reaccounts to Billy the reason she despises Christmas, which always never fails to send a shiver up my spine, no matter how creepy and unusual it may seem to some.

While to some, “Gremlins” may seem dated and corny by modern standards (including a few shots where the puppeteer controlling the mogwais can be clearly visible upon several rewatches), but I can openly say that despite those shortcomings, I prefer this movie to all of its contemporary successors. It’s a classic movie which simply can’t be replicated.

“Gremlins” receives a total of three and a half out of five stars from this reviewer, as it’s a fantastically thrilling movie which I’d recommend viewing if you’re not in the mood for traditional Christmas flicks. And for once, the sequel movie, “Gremlins: The New Batch” is worth a watch! Merry Christmas to all!

Enter the Labyrinth this Autumn…

One movie I always make sure to watch each Autumn is “Labyrinth”. The reasons for this could be because of it being one of the movies where we can see acclaimed puppeteer Jim Henson’s creations come to life, or watch future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly delve in an extraordinary fantasy land beyond her wildest dreams. However, I’m going to go for the reason that most of you likely saw the movie was either because of David Bowie and his… ahem, rather tight pants, as well as seeing the Starman himself in a villianous role in a kid’s movie.

The story centres around Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a creative, if self-centred teenage girl, who is furious at her dad for remarrying so soon following her parents’s collapse of marriage and subsequent divorce. Sarah bides her time by seeking refuge in her own universe of fantasy. She despises her infant half-brother, Toby (Toby Froud), whom she blames many of her current problems on . This leads to her making a wish out of spite that the goblins from her favourite story would seize Toby and carry him away.

As misfortune would have it, her prays are answered by in the worst possible way, when Toby is captured by the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie). Sarah is assigned thirteen hours to reclaim Toby, or else he’ll be turned into a goblin for eternity. Along the way, she meets up with the dwarfish Hoggle (Brian Henson), who is double crossing her by secretly working for Jareth, as well as magnificent beast Ludo (Ron Mueck). Will Sarah manage to use her imagination to defeat Jareth and save Toby?

“Labyrinth” is one of those flicks where the setting of the movie is stunning to look at. Even though you know that’s it’s all a lavishly designed set when watching as an adult, as a kid, it’s perhaps the most magical kingdom you’ve seen. Likewise, the puppets still have the power to affect me with awe and astonishment, even years after I initially viewed this flick.

David Bowie, surprisingly enough for a non actor, really suits the role of the hammy, evil Goblin King. Yes, his performance borders on being campy and over the top at times, but to me, it’s all part of the movie’s charm. Jennifer Connelly is a fine actress, and although she’s been accused of showing little to no emotion at times in this movie, I feel as though she pulled off a convincing enough performance, especially given that she was only 15 years old when it was released.

If this movie has a weak point, I’d say it’s towards the end of the film, where certain scenes drag on, and don’t seem to go anywhere, in particular Bowie’s song and dance number (though I admit it’s fairly catchy).

I rate “Labyrinth” a total of 4 out of 5 stars. I recommend it to kids aged eights and up, seeing how it’s a fantasy adventure filled with vivid, exquisite imagery. On the other hand, I was dissuade very young children from watching, as they may be alarmed by the various creatures and suspenseful scenes depicted in this movie. Happy viewing!

Update: Upon hearing of David Bowie’s tragic passing on January 10th, 2016, “Labyrinth” is now tinged with sadness. I’d still recommend watching this movie, if only to see Bowie in his most notable film role. Rest in Peace, Starman in the Sky!