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An instant genre classic

Posted : 5 months, 4 weeks ago on 18 February 2018 12:47

The literary works of celebrated author Stephen King have been adapted into dozens of feature films, but 2017's It represents one of the most successful page-to-screen translations to date. An adaptation of King's 1000-page novel of the same name published in 1986, this proficiently-constructed and riveting horror endeavour is also one of the best contemporary genre films of the decade, thanks to the laudable efforts of director Andy Muschietti and the three credited screenwriters. King's "It" novel was previously turned into a television miniseries all the way back in 1990, but Muschietti's update more than justifies its existence, bringing the source to life in extraordinary ways and finding its own voice. The picture is certainly frightening, but It primarily excels because the screenplay shows interest in dramatics and character development as opposed to just lazy jump scares. Indeed, viewers simply seeking fast-paced, undemanding instant gratification may be advised to look elsewhere.




In the small town of Derry, Maine, dozens of unsolved child disappearances occur once every generation. With school finished for the summer of 1989, a curfew is in place after a number of children vanish without a trace, including Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), who left home during a rainstorm to sail his paper boat but never returned. Thoughts about Georgie plague his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the de-facto leader of a group of social outcasts branded as The Losers' Club. Refusing to accept that Georgie is gone for good, Bill seeks the assistance of his friends - Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) - to investigate. The group, who are abused by psychotic town bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), are soon taunted by visions of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a sinister shape-shifting demonic entity from which nightmares are made. Pennywise only awakens every 27 years to feed on the children of Derry before returning to hibernation, and the Losers refuse to become his next victims, banding together to confront their worst fears and overthrow the clown.

Whereas King's book was partially set in the late 1950s, this adaptation shifts the story to 1989, which will allow the second half (in the upcoming sequel) to unfold in present-day. Muschietti and his team manage to seamlessly weave '80s pop culture references into the picture to vividly evoke this particular time and place - for instance, a local cinema marquee advertises Lethal Weapon 2, Batman and A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child, while a poster for Gremlins is displayed on a bedroom wall, and Ben desperately tries to conceal his fandom for the boy band New Kids on the Block. A healthy sense of humour is evident throughout the film (the one-liners are almost endless) which keeps it enjoyable and watchable, on top of being frightening. There is a minor Stranger Things vibe due to the young characters and '80s setting, but one must bear in mind that It was in active development before the Netflix series initially dropped. (Interestingly, the Stranger Things masterminds - The Duffer Brothers - were actually in the running to direct It at one stage.)




Clocking in at a hefty 135 minutes (including credits), It's length may be daunting, and it does feel like a full meal, but Muschietti uses the generous length to deal with characterisations and drama. The town of Derry almost feels like the true villain of the story, as many of the elders are portrayed as predatory and uneasy, while Henry is a violent, deranged psychopath of a bully who does not balk from carving letters into Ben's stomach with a knife. Members of The Losers' Club have their own personal issues to contend with, and the material is exceedingly adult; Beverly is ostracised for false rumours of promiscuity and suffers sexual abuse at the hands of her father, for example, while Eddie has a domineering, obese mother who keeps him feeling paranoid about his health, and Mike is bullied due to the colour of his skin. However, certain fragments of the narrative appear to be missing, and some parts of King's book were reportedly excised. There are talks of an extended cut which could rectify this, even though the movie is certainly long in its current state and could probably stand to be a bit tighter - certain scenes or moments could be removed.

The original It miniseries was understandably held back by its budget as well as the constraints of network television and early 1990s televisual aesthetics, but this update had more freedom to truly explore King's macabre imagination and do justice to the literary source. Backed by a $35 million budget and with a hard R rating in place, It is gruesome and unsettling, with a violent opening attack to set the scene. Pennywise takes several other forms throughout the picture, with his antics being aided by digital trickery and visceral make-up to convey the breadth of the character's evilness. It may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it is unquestionably chilling and unnerving, and it has its terrifying moments. Muschietti belies his relative inexperience (he last oversaw 2013's underwhelming Mama) to orchestrate the horror here with the confidence of a genre veteran. Muschietti and his team generate scares using imagery, periods of silence, well-judged music and an intricately-designed sound mix, exhibiting more creativity than any number of more formulaic genre endeavours. The cinematography by Korean maestro Chung-hoon Chung (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) exhibits unending visual flair - compositions are strong and lighting is exceptional, making great use of shadows. Flawlessly complementing the visuals is Benjamin Wallfisch's spine-chilling original score, while there is also a selection of great '80s tunes to give the picture more flavour and emphasise the period setting. Admittedly, not all of the CGI-enhanced mayhem is entirely successful, but this is a minor quibble.




More than just a series of tormented encounters, It takes the time to delve into the trials of adolescence - it's more of a coming-of-age movie like Stand By Me as opposed to just another run-of-the-mill horror offering. Beverly becomes an object of desire for the boys - Ben acts as a secret admirer from a distance as he writes poetry, while Bill can only stare at her, struggling to find the courage to make a move. Characterisations are exceptional; each Loser is distinctly-drawn and they all have an individual handicap, be it social, physical or ethnic. They bond because they do not care that Ben is overweight or Bill has a stutter, and their camaraderie is instantly palpable - it's easy to believe that they're all friends, especially since the actors became fast friends in real life. This gives the movie genuine heart, as we grow to care about the people being victimised, and the horrific moments with Pennywise therefore carry an even bigger sting. From top to bottom, the acting is remarkable and naturalistic - there is not a single weak link in the ensemble. It can be hard to find talented child actors, but everybody here hits their mark. Even if you don't find the movie scary, it's still enjoyable to watch the kids interacting with one another, which is important since Pennywise remains out of the picture surprisingly often despite being the primary antagonist.

Filling Tim Curry's shoes would be a daunting task for any actor, but Swedish model Skarsgård (son of Stellan) excels all reasonable expectations to pull off arguably the definitive portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Covered in astonishingly nuanced make-up, Skarsgård avoids a single-note performance, changing up his tone and mannerisms depending on the situation, and coming across as an intimidating presence. It also helps that the actor is so tall, towering over his young co-stars. It's truly a transformative performance, representing one of the production's biggest assets. Just see the much-publicised scene with Pennywise in the sewer talking to Georgie - Skarsgård is such a powerhouse that you hang off every word, and the scene is incredibly tense.




1990's It covered both parts of King's novel across its two episodes, but 2017's It only covers the first (it actually ends with a "Chapter One" title card) to give the story sufficient breathing room whilst still emerging as a satisfying standalone motion picture in its own right. Transcending its horror roots, this is an engaging and often terrifying coming-of-age fable, able to remain interesting between the scary set-pieces, and even bring out genuine emotion. This may be a long movie, but it stands up to repeat viewings and does not feel like a chore to get through. With the long-gestating The Dark Tower turning out to be a distilled, muddled disappointment, It is the year's superior Stephen King adaptation. To predict that this masterwork will go down in cinema history as an all-time horror classic (alongside the likes of The Shining, The Exorcist and The Thing) does not feel either hyperbolic or rash.

8.5/10



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IT review

Posted : 7 months, 2 weeks ago on 2 January 2018 02:18

Derry stand by me by other children King's world well understood in a film. Pennywise is a n effective clown, specially chatting from beneath the street. A good piece of terror and americana


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IT

Posted : 11 months, 1 week ago on 12 September 2017 06:49

To be incredibly pithy, you can call this Stand By IT or Nightmare on Goonies Street and find yourself in the neighborhood of what this movie is. I do not mean either of those descriptions as negatives, far from it. I thoroughly enjoyed and found its insistence on placing its tonal and emotional emphasis much harder on the ways childhood is made up of scars that last with us into the future and not on the scares was smart.

 

One of the most enjoyable things about this film is how the ensemble of young actors, uniformly strong and tasked with some tricky material to play, makes us believe in their friendship, root and care for them as a both a group and individuals. Any adaptation of IT lives or dies on its ability to make us invest emotional with these kids, and any weak-link would cause the entire thing to topple under its own weight.

 

Granted, there’s a major problem of underserving two of the kids from a narrative standpoint, but don’t fault the actors for that. The part that makes me squeamish about their relative lack of narrative import is the fact that they’re the Jewish and black kids. A large part of me wants to believe this merely a coincidence, but it becomes noticeable the further the film goes on (and it does go on at 2 hours and 15 minutes) that these two are not as developed or important to the narrative/group as the rest. Still, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff are just as strong as the rest of the Losers Club.

 

That leaves us with the rest of the Losers Club to more intimately get to know and spend time with. Chief among them is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), the older brother of Georgie, Pennywise’s first victim. Lieberher is fantastic as he navigates his character’s profound guilt and uses it as the driving force to investigate what was going on and make it all right. It makes a scene where Pennywise taunts him using Georgie as a marionette that decays and screams “you’ll float too” in a manner that transforms from playful to threatening to a call from the bellows of hell all the more disturbing and heartbreaking.

 

If Bill’s one of the primary forces pushing the group, then Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is the other. While IT doesn’t go into depth about her shame over being poor, it is indirectly hinted at, it does go deep into the abuse inflicted upon her and the ugly rumors that surround her. Lillis may be the best of the group, possibly even toppling Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise, and I hope this launches her into a very long career. Her major scare scene involving a bathroom sink vomiting up blood ends with her delivering a frantic, teary-eyed panic attack that lingers with you for its desperation.

 

The other three kids act as a chorus of wisecracking jokes (Finn Wolfhard’s Richie) or much-needed voices of caution (Jack Grazer’s Eddie) or expositional dumps (Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben). Primarily knowing Wolfhard as the “Bill” of Stranger Things, it’s a nice change of pace to see him dropping a mountain of f-bombs and dick jokes at a rapid clip. While Taylor’s Ben offers the movie a wounded soul that refuses to wilt in the faces of adversity or loneliness, and Grazer’s Eddie is a shrieking neurotic that gets a lot of laughs out of his miniature Woody Allen shtick.

 

I’ve described a lot of humor and heart in the movie, and it’s true, IT possess a lot of scenes where we watch these kids try to navigate growing up and the battle scars that we get while doing it. They are inevitably alone in this process, and it doesn’t help matters that they’re being stalked by a killer demonic shape-shifter. The removal of the adulthood sections doesn’t bother me as we must see where these battle scars come from before we reflect upon them. When the inevitable IT: Chapter Two is released, I hope that watching the films back-to-back will be in conversation with each other.

 

Of course we have to talk about the clown. Pennywise is an otherworldly entity that is a predator that gets tremendous joy from his cruelty and the hunt. In a scene with Eddie he taunts him, ramping up his fear and anxiety, and mentions that he loves doing this because the fear sweetens the meat. Bill Skarsgård is unrecognizable under layers of makeup, but he invests little choices into his character that only underscore just how strange and foreign this creature is. While Tim Curry’s Pennywise is justifiably well-liked and remembered from that godawful miniseries, he played his version with a touch of humanity that Skarsgård forsakes. They’re both valid readings on the character, but something about Skarsgård’s primordial hunter creeped me out that much more.

 

For all of its strengths, of which there are many, eventually the length and a sense of artificiality about the special-effects work begin to wear and tear. The length is punishing and IT cannot sustain its sense of dread, suspense, or terror for all of that time. The reoccurring scares begin to feel repetitive and routine. We know that Pennywise will divide-and-conquer the Losers, make them face their worst fears, or generally pop out of nowhere to scare the hell out of us/them. There are still plenty of disturbing sequences that work incredibly well, but certain ones deflate when they should pop. Although a scene of Jacobs’ Mike getting bullied only to catch a glimpse of Pennywise chewing on a child’s arm and wave maniacally with it is a small touch that stands out for its normalcy and lack of attention drawn to the moment. IT needed a few more moments like this.

 

IT ends with the blood pact of the Losers and an obvious open door for the sequel. I look forward to it. While this version of IT is not a perfect film, it is still a great one that I enjoyed immensely. I put the miniseries to shame, and it feels like Stephen King at his best. I’m not about to proclaim it as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the original Carrie or The Shining, but goddamn is it close. Maybe when we get the second half and we can view both films as one united work my opinion may change. Hell, another viewing of just this film may only strengthen my appreciation for this film as it stands. IT is just so damn good.



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IT review

Posted : 11 months, 1 week ago on 8 September 2017 11:27

So, the clown is creepy, and there are some scenes that are intense, but I never really felt it was that scary. It also suffered from the typical horror movie problem of wondering why the behavior of the monster changes. Obviously, the easy answer is because the script calls for it, but it lacks in in-story explanation. Same to be said for the kids deciding that they need to stick together, and then, almost seemingly on purpose, run away from each other at every turn.

The story of the kids becoming friends and doing things together was interesting and well done. However, their interactions with literally everyone else in town was over-the-top ridiculous. That all adults were cartoonish villains, and the bullies were over the top aggressive and everywhere, just made it hard to believe. It would have been appropriate if this had been a kids movie, but with an R rating, that clearly was not the intent.

Finally, it didn't help that pretty much every scene of interest was already shown in the trailers. These might have bumped the scare factor, but expecting them took all of the suspense away.

A bummer, cause I was looking forward to this one, but it really had me waiting for it to just end by the cliched finish.


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