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IT (2017)

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Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Nicholas Hamilton, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Bill Skarsgard,

Directed by Andrés Muschietti


For thirty years, Stephen King’s IT has been one of the great modern horror tales, sparking a wave of imitators and scaring several generations off clowns for life.

I first saw the original 1990 mini-series during its initial airing, and as a ten-year-old kid, it absolutely thrilled and terrified me. Like any good horror addiction, it immediately started me down the road of Stephen King novels and turned me into a lifelong fan and constant reader. To this day, IT remains my all-time favorite horror novel. Sadly, the mini-series hasn’t aged nearly as well: Aside from a few memorable scenes and a fantastic Tim Curry performance, it’s a largely cheesy affair, full of Lifetime level drama and silly sequences that jettison most of the book’s best qualities.

IT‘s road to the big screen has been a long one, going through several false starts, budget woes, and changing of the guards, now finally coming to us on a massive hype train courtesy of Mama director Andy Muschietti. So how does this new version float?

I’m happy to say that all the stars (or, in this case, balloons) have aligned against all odds: IT is an instant horror classic and as good an adaptation as I could’ve ever hoped for. It’s the rare King movie that nails everything we love about the material and gives us a full-tilt freak show roller coaster that’s scary, emotional – and yes, fun.

Updating the book’s 1950’s setting to the summer of 1989, IT is part one in a duology (that thankfully still stands on its own) and tells the origin story of The Losers’ Club – seven children in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, who form a unique spiritual bond to face an ancient evil. “It” awakens every 27 years and feeds off the fear and flesh of the town’s children, taking whatever form terrifies them most – its favorite being the razor-toothed and psychotic Pennywise the Dancing Clown. When his younger brother Georgie becomes Pennywise’s latest victim, Losers’ Club leader Stuttering Bill unites his childhood band of social outcasts to take down “It” while contending with town bully and gang leader Henry Bowers as well as the underlying darker influence that seems to have infected the entire town.

Directing with confidence and class, Muschietti deftly juggles all the characters, layers, and themes behind the novel while cranking up the jump scares to 11 and still finding room to explore the dense mythology. Despite its 80’s setting, there’s something timeless and haunting about the town of Derry, captured perfectly by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung. It’s among the most gorgeous looking modern horror films you’ll watch, and those astounding visuals are aided by music and sound design that have the ability to quake your insides and raise hairs during the most horrific moments.

Of course the million-dollar question is: “How is Pennywise?” For the generations that grew up terrified of Tim Curry’s commanding performance, a completely new clown has been a tough pill to swallow, made evident by the countless Internet reactions to the early photos (“He’s nothing like Curry!” “Looks too evil!“etc., etc.). After seeing this new turn, I can’t imagine a single skeptic that won’t be immediately won over by Bill Skarsgard’s terrifying version.

Sporting a more vintage look and serial killer aesthetic, the new Pennywise is instantly iconic from the second he opens his mouth. While Curry went for the smoker-voiced, evil Bozo approach, Skarsgard channels his dialogue and physicality in truly unsettling ways, bouncing from high-pitched children’s show host to guttural monster in the space of seconds. And the various forms and set-pieces he takes are equally unsettling. Make no mistake; if you have a fear of clowns, this movie will do you in like no other (every single Pennywise scare ended with mass audience applause in my screening).

But coulrophobia can only take a good horror movie so far, which is why the real heart and soul of IT isn’t the title monster, but The Losers’ Club. Think long and hard about this: When was the last time that you genuinely felt and cared for the protagonists in a studio-driven horror movie? The Hollywood fare of the last few decades has had a history of treating its heroes like cattle, at best providing fleeting moments of humanity like, say, the Elvis sequence in The Conjuring 2.

IT works so well because it bucks the trend and makes us fall in love with a terrific cast of kids. The Losers embody the nuance and realism you get from the youths in Stand By Me or the Freeling family in Poltergeist, while retaining the fun and charm of ensemble casts like The Goonies or The Monster Squad. They’re the reason why the film works in grand 80’s fashion – not because it throws nostalgia or references in your face – but because it harkens back to the glory days of Amblin, when genuine care and affection were being put into its protagonists (the crowd favorites here clearly being Finn Wolfhard’s wiseass Richie Tozier and Jeremy Ray Taylor’s adorable Ben Hanscom). There isn’t a weak link in the cast; and through every minute of the film you’ll cheer, laugh and be scared right alongside these characters.

Even at 2-1/2 hours (a run time that flies by), there’s a lot to the children’s story that needs to be covered. Thankfully, Muschietti and the screenwriters do a masterful job condensing and adapting King’s massive tome in a way that will satisfy purists and newcomers alike. Everything from the Losers’ Club to Bowers’ sociopathic gang to the town of Derry itself is given its due, without feeling rushed or glossed over. And while the second half of the film plays out much differently than the novel or mini-series, it all works while retaining the spirit of King’s story from start to finish. Even when it goes off the beaten path into original scenes and set-pieces (all of which are scary and imaginative), Muschietti has huge reverence for the source material, even going so far as to sneak in visual nods for eagle-eyed fans. (Watch out for the turtle!)

Is IT a flawless film? No, because those don’t exist. You can gripe about a few obvious CGI moments or throw out purist complaints about how they made Ben the historian instead of Mike – but this is such a well-realized work of horror that any gripes feel like the kind of petty “Get off my lawn!” variety you see on the Internet. No amount of obsessive online nitpicking can distract from the fact that this is one of the best Stephen King films yet; and in an age where the theatrical experience is slowly dying in a haze of bad franchises, iPhone texters, and over-priced tickets, IT stands as a grand reminder of why we love going to the movies. This is a crowd pleaser in the best sense and deserves to be seen on the largest screen with the most shrieking, enthusiastic audience you can find.

The final title card reads “End of Chapter 1,” confirming that we’ll soon be seeing the adult half of the story (hopefully with a wonderful vintage title like IT RETURNS or IT LIVES AGAIN). And while the next installment has a lot to live up to, this film leaves no doubt that the future of Pennywise and The Losers’ Club is in good hands. I can’t wait to float again.

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User Rating 3.78 (27 votes)
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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

Directed by Adrian Corona


I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!

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User Rating 3.5 (6 votes)
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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.

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User Rating 3.1 (10 votes)
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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

Directed by Guillermo del Toro


“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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User Rating 4.57 (7 votes)
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