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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A “Wonderful” Love Triangle Movie

Hello everyone!  It’s back to the 80’s reviews, and what better movie to kick off with than “Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987), directed by Howard Deutch. It has the old familiar set up of the hero being caught between two contrasting choices of girls. Roger Ebert probably summed up the concept best in his review, “it is not about whether the hero will get the girl, it is whether the hero should get the girl, and when was the last time you saw a movie that even knew that could be the question?”

Eric Stolz stars as Keith Nelson, an artsy teenage mechanic from a working class background. His best friend is a tomboyish drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), and his dad Cliff (John Ashton), puts pressure on him to attend college, and get the education he never did, while Keith would much rather paint instead. He has a crush on the beautiful, seemingly unattainable Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). In a refreshing take on the normal procedure, Amanda comes from the same modest background as Watts and Keith, but as she hangs out with the “popular” crowd, this makes her “rich by association”.

After Amanda breaks up with her caddish boyfriend, Hardy (Craig Sheffer), Keith wastes no time in asking her out. She accepts his offer, primarily out of spite for Hardy.  This eventually leads to Amanda being shunned by her snooty friends for daring to date outside the “in” crowd. Meanwhile, Watts has some issues of her own, as she has developed unrequited feelings for her best friend…

If you feel that the story that I’ve summarized sounds a little familiar, it’s because it was based the movie “Pretty in Pink” (1986), which preceded this movie by one year. It was not only directed by Howard Deutch, but was scripted by the king of 80’s teen movies, John Hughes. It’s worth noting that the stories are eeriely similar to each other. While “Pink” is about Molly Ringwald trying to choose between a smooth rich guy Andrew McCarthy and quirky best friend Jon Cryer, “Wonderful”  has essentially the exact same premise with the genders reversed.

When Hughes produced “Pretty in Pink”, his original intention was to have Molly Ringwald end up with Jon Cryer’s lovable goofball Duckie. However, the test audience for that film weren’t receptive to that ending, taking it as a sign that the rich and the poor social classes didn’t belong together. The ending was then changed to the one we all know, in which Ringwald ends up with McCarthy’s. It’s funny to note that had “Pink” ended up the way that Hughes originally envisioned it, it’s highly likely that we wouldn’t have “Wonderful”.

If I had to pick between “Pink” and “Wonderful” as being the better film, I’d ultimately have to choose the latter movie, as the supporting characters are more fleshed out and entertaining in my opinion. In “Wonderful”, we have  Duncan(Elias Koteas), a skinhead delinquent pal of Keith’s,who steals many of his scenes,  Laura (Maddie Corman), his annoying younger sister, and Ashton as the open-minded parent who just wants the best for his son.

As for the main trio of Stolz, Masterson and Thompson, they all pull off their respective roles with aplomb. Stolz is appealing as the man in the middle, Thompson pulls off the typical popular girl role with freshness, and Masterson shines as the friend who pines away from afar.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” rates as 4 stars our of a 5 star rating. Although it’s predictable and slow moving in parts, it ultimately captures the decisions of high school, and retains the typical Hughes charm that come from his teen movies. “Some Kind of Wonderful” was the last teen movie Hughes was involved in, before he decided to try his hand at making more adult themed pictures. Nevertheless, “Wonderful” ensures that Hughes’ teen movie period went out with not a fizzle, but with a bang.

If you enjoyed this review, please feel free to check out the movie, “Pretty in Pink”, or you can read my review of the film here! Until next time!

Living on the Edge of Seventeen

First of all, let me just say “Happy 2017”! I apologise for putting this blog on hiatus for the past number of weeks. Surprising perhaps no one,I have spent most of that break watching plenty of 80’s movies to be the subjects of my future reviews of all things 80’s. My latest post is a little different, however, as it is based in the recently released movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), which is the directorial debut from screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig. I was especially anticipating this movie because the leading role was played by Hailee Steinfeld, who I’ve admired as an actress since I saw her Oscar Nominated turn in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of the classic 1969 western movie, “True Grit” at the tender age of 13.

The plot concerns Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward, moody 17 year old girl who is trying to cope after the tragic  loss of her father just a few years prior. She feels overlooked by her frazzled mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) in favour of her “golden boy” brother, Darian (Blake Jenner).  She seeks solace in her best (not to mention, only) friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). At least until Darian and Krista hit it off and start dating, which instigates in Nadine abruptly putting an end to their friendship.

Feeling adrift and as alienated as ever, Nadine regularly vents her woes to her perpetually disgruntled teacher, Mr. Bruner (an always excellent Woody Harrelson), who is almost always reliable to respond to Nadine’s theatrics with some deadpan remarks of his own. On the romance front, Nadine harbours a crush on hunky bad boy Nick (Alexander Calvert), and tries to pluck up the courage to actually, you know, talk to him. Meanwhile, she strikes up a friendship with cute film nerd, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who just might be able to show her that things are not nearly as bad as she makes them appear…

First things first, I really adored this movie. It manages to take a genre that would otherwise seem tired and overdone (in this case, high school), and breath a new lease of life into it. Being only a few years removed from high school myself, all of the teenage characters behaved and acted as real people their age would, and not simply a scriptwriter’s “idea” of how they “should” act.

This is most prominently shown with Nadine herself. On the outset, she’s a tough protagonist to root for. Yes, she’s a drama queen, overly impulsive, and extremely rude at some points to the people she’s supposedly close to, such as her family, her best friend and her teacher. But she’s a teenager, and many of her reactions at that age are understandable. It helps to make her feel more authentic as a result.

The supporting cast are also commendable in their roles. I had only ever seen Blake Jenner portray the “nice guy jock” in “Glee” prior to watching this movie. As a result, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by the depths that Darian’s character took throughout the course of the movie. Because Nadine’s the protagonist, and the majority of the film is from her perspective, we’re not privy to other characters’ viewpoints until Nadine herself is made aware of them. Darian isn’t merely a smug jerk, nor is Krista being selfish by putting her boyfriend ahead of her best friend. They all have more going on with them than it initially appeared.

The highlight of the movie for me was any scene with Erwin. I always love nerdy characters in movies, and Erwin is no exception. He’s a sweet, well-adjusted guy, and is refreshingly not a stereotype , but much like Nadine, a real character. I was pretty surprised when I looked Hayden Szeto up online, and discovered that he’s 31 years old, yet Erwin can’t be no more than 16 or 17. However, this does does not take away from his otherwise solid performance.

In summation, I rate “The Edge of Seventeen” four and a half out of five stars. It’s one of the best high school movies that I’ve had the chance of viewing in quite a while, and I highly recommend watching it. Even though Nadine can be quite grating at times, once you get past that slight, the film works very well. It’s also topped off with a satisfying conclusion, which nicely ties up Nadine’s story arc.

I hope that you enjoyed this non  80’s movie review. As always, please feel free to suggest some more “Flix of the 80’s” .

“Secret Admirer”- Possibly one of the Oddest Teen movies of the 80’s?

Greetings and salutations, everyone! My apologies for my prolonged absence from this blog. I hope to remedy this problem with my next selection of reviews in the foreseeable future, so please stay tuned for more 80’s content!

I have seen my far share of corny movies in my time. Some can be charming in their ridiculousness.However, some can seem to  have all the makings of a typical 80’s teen romp, yet attempt to do do more than its material knows what to do with. This brings us to today’s subject: “Secret Admirer” (1985). The plot synopsis appears to be rather straightforward at first glance, but as the movie progresses, you’ll find that it’s anything but simple!

The Plot in a Nutshell: Michael Ryan (C. Thomas Howell) is your standard 80’s high school student who is infatuated with the blonde, seemingly unattainable Deborah Anne Fimple (Kelly Preston), while his brunette platonic friend Toni (Lori Loughlin) harbors a covert crush on him from afar. When Michael receives an anonymous letter in his locker, his buddy Roger (Casey Siemaszko) convinces Michael that Deborah Anne is the sender, despite her already having a college boyfriend in Steve (Scott McGinnis). He decides to reciprocate by sending Debbie a letter of his own. However, he proves to be less than a skilled writer, so Toni secretly doctors it before delivering it to Debbie, who instantly becomes smitten with Michael.

At this point, you’d think you know what to expect from a movie in this genre, right? Well, not so with this one! You see, the love letter ends up in a bag belonging to Michael’s father, George (Cliff DeYoung), who is taking a night school business class from Debbie’s mother Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor Young ). Naturally, George mistakenly thinks that the letter is from Elizabeth, and they engage in one of those comedic tropes I’ve always loathed, in which two characters talk about two completely different things, but somehow think that they’re discussing the same subject, which is typically laden with a string of sexual innuendos. It would be easier if they could just figure out the misunderstanding and sort it out, but then we wouldn’t have “hysterical” shenanigans!

Meanwhile, Debbie and Michael start to date and hit it off, much to Toni’s jealousy. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Debbie’s tough police officer father, Lou (Fred Ward) uncovers the letter in his wife’s purse, where Debbie had previously hidden it, and suspecting the worst, seeks out the help of George’s wife Connie (Dee Wallace Stone) in order to catch out their offending partners in the act. How’s this one going to pan out?

Actor/Character Observations: Lori Loughlin, as Toni, delivers possibly one of the more rounded performances in this picture, and is likable enough that you want to see her get the guy. C. Thomas Howell is credible enough in this movie, although wooden in places, and Kelly Preston is convincing enough for the most part as the stereotypical blonde popular girl. The adult actors do try to make the material they have to work with plausible, but it comes off as being preposterous.

My Favourite Scene(s) in “Secret Admirer”: Although many scenes in this movie are way too outlandish and over the top to take seriously, especially those between the adults, there are a few genuine, tender moments between the teenagers, especially the conversations between Michael and Toni, which compensates slightly for the more hammy and forced hiumours involving the adults. The actors have just the right amount of chemistry together which makes it seem believable that they could be close friends.

My Least Favourite Scene(s) in “Secret Admirer”: One scene which made me cringe, in addition to the aforementioned “double meaning conversation scene”,  was a confrontation between the parents late in the movie, where a tense meeting during a card game gradually segues into a full scale brawl between Lou and George,  culminating in tables being overturned and food splattering everywhere, which is obviously designed to be funny, but mostly comes off as being awkward and try hard. In general, many of the parent’s scenes feels as though it belongs in a separate  movie involving cheating spouses and adultery, and not as a side plot to a light-hearted teen comedy.

Actors Before They were Famous: A few years after this movie, Lori Loughlin got her big break from portraying Aunt Becky in “Full House”, which incidentically had an episode play out like the plot of this movie. The late Cory Haim appears in a bit part as Michael’s bratty kid brother, Jeff, who by stealing the letter, sends most of the plot into motion. Finally, Casey Siemaszko would pop up in “Back to the Future”, which was released a month after “Secret Admirer”, as one of Biff’s cronies.

Ratings and Recommendations: I award “Secret Admirer” a total of 2 out of 5 stars. While it’s generally an inoffensive, harmless teen movie, some of the characters aren’t that likable or relatable, with the exception of Toni, and many scenes just feel gratuitous, as though they’re present merely to increase the movie’s running time. Even though I gave “Can’t Buy Me Love”(1987) some flack for being too formulaic when I critiqued it, at least I can give it some credit for knowing what kind of story it wanted to tell.

In my opinion, “Secret Admirer” might have been better off if it had focused solely on the teenagers and their romantic entanglements, and not so much on the parents. I may not have enjoyed this movie to the same extent as other teen movies, and while it certainly isn’t the most memorable, you’ll enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of it all if you don’t analyse it too much. Until next time!

“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!