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Killer clowns are scary, right?
Stephen King terrified people with IT, his second longest novel next to The Stand. Bringing kids fears to life with the embodiment of Pennywise the dancing clown. In 1990, the 'epic' story was turned into a two part TV-Mini series starring Tim Curry and John Ritter. As a kid, that film was terrifying due to the performance of the friendly clown with a sinister undertone. Looking back now, it's incredibly cheesy and 'of the time'. So an update was needed and Stephen King has had a huge year; with The Dark Tower, Netflix's Gerald's Game and a new TV series The Mist, he's back in the spotlight.
In the town of Derry, Maine, kids go missing. So much that the rate is six times the national average. One of those kids is Georgie, a little boy who disappeared down the sewers. His brother Bill, has never stopped looking for him. Along with his friends, he plans to search the sewers, hoping to find at least a body. Along with his friends, known as The Losers Club, they make it their mission this summer...but when they find out the answers lead to a child killing clown, their nightmares become a reality.
IT was going to be a big success, but no one anticipated how big a success. After a massive weekend at the box-office, people are looking to be scared again, in R-rated territory no less. The road to the finish line was a long one for the film, with Cary Fukunaga wanting to write and direct. Those plans fell through and his reasons were that the studio wanted to make a generic 'jump scare' film, where he wanted to tell a deeper story about the kids. The finished film, courtesy of Mama director Muschietti manages to balance those two aspects quite well. The decision to split the film in two and use the first half to focus on the kids only was an interesting move and one that let the story breathe a little bit more. We're already being pulled in plenty of directions with the numerous characters, to have to be pulled into their adult version too would be too much.
The story has been "updated" and takes place in the 80's. Hot off the heels of Strangers Things, IT plays into some nostalgia here and it works.The kids look and act the parts very well and all have great chemistry. I was particularly impressed with Sophia Lillis who plays Beverly. She looks like a young Amy Adams and has enough charisma to have a career in the industry. With just enough sass, but obvious fear lurking under the surface, she has the most to engage with. Her nightmare sequence in the bathroom might be a tad bit of overkill and doesn't feel as sinister as the 1990's TV version. Something about the father touching the blood on the sink irks me more from the TV version than him simply not noticing the room completely covered in it in this film. It also makes the 'clean-up' part a little bit less believable here. Bill, our defacto lead character, is tormented by the loss of his little brother, this is his defining characteristic. These two characters get the most attention while we just float around the rest of the kids stories. The one with the least amount of screen time has to be Mike, who is the outsider of the group. These kids made me laugh and made me believe in their friendship, which makes the film work and connect.
Skarsgård had the difficult task of following in Tim Curry's footsteps. He does a really good job with Pennywise though. His otherworldly eyes were not CGI, he managed to move them in different directions himself and his creepy voice added to the sinister feel the character needs. One look at him and some audience members gasped. There are plenty of jump scares and the audience fell for almost every single one. Surprisingly enough, I didn't. I'll fall for a good jump scare any day of the week, but IT failed to get even one out of me. I don't know why, maybe it was the obvious horror beats leading to each one but the film didn't 'get me'. It felt scary, but not once was I scared, if that makes sense. Maybe because the whole film takes place during the daytime it adds a sense of security? I don't know, but plenty of people in the theatre seemed frightened.
Muschietti has a creative eye for the unnatural. Looking over Ben's shoulder in the library and seeing an old lady stare him down without him knowing is effective, as is the use of the stabilizing camera effects on Pennywise's face while everything else shakes wildly. Small camera movements, such as straightening a picture, are done creatively here and add to the immersive feel the film wants. Even though the film feels predictable in the horror beats, with each scare simply leading into more anticipation for the next one, the film as a whole works. IT does a great job of me wanting to see the next chapter.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Generic action sequences, oversimplification of an epic story and shoddy effects are just some of the problems....
This film, which was inspired, not adapted from the Stephen King novels of the same name, takes a sweeping epic, dumbs it down, loses the focus and lazily tries to make it look cool for a younger audience. This film is bad and I went in with an open mind, hoping to find some redeeming qualities about it. While there are some good ideas, I can't help but feel that this will be somewhat heartbreaking for fans of the books who were actually excited to see it.
Jake Chambers is a young boy who suffers from horrific nightmares. In those nightmares, he sees The Man in Black, who kidnaps children and uses a device to suck their minds right out of their head. All in an effort to destroy the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is the centre of the universe, protecting all worlds from the evil that lies beyond, out in the darkness. Roland, the last of the Gunslingers, soldiers sworn to protect the tower, is on a mission to kill The Man in Black. When Jake discovers a portal that leads to their world, he jumps in and finds Roland. Together they must stop The Man in Black, or their world and all worlds, will end.
I couldn't help but think to myself, that people would never want to see a film that was loosely inspired by The Lord of the Rings. They would much rather see that literary masterpiece adapted to the big screen. Imagine Peter Jackson used the same characters and made a different story, but still slapped the title on it? So I can't help but wonder why they thought it would be a good idea to loosely adapt The Dark Tower and not do a straight adaption from the books. I kind of get the idea they were going for, in regards to how the book series ends, but they missed the mark and by a wide margin.
I'm sure fans of the series would pick up numerous nods to the books here and there, but that is not enough. Graffiti on the wall of Hailing The Crimson King will get a knowing nod from people, but that's it. I'm sure they would rather see the actual story from the books on the screen. Arcel and writer Goldsman, oversimplify an epic story into a 90 some odd minute shoot em up. Sure, it looks cool when Elba reloads his guns, but I want something more than that. It doesn't help that the film essentially has two and a half action sequences, which might look neat to those who haven't seen a film like John Wick.
Elba does his best with the clunky dialogue, but he can't save it. McConaughey chews up the scenery, as expected. His character is "worse than the devil". He can kill people by simply telling them to stop breathing. He does this numerous times. He can catch bullets, incinerate people, basically force anyone to do anything. Mucho powerful. But here's the expository dialogue part "Roland, you've always been immune to my magic, haven't you?" So there you have it, he can't hurt our hero in the "stop breathing" category. He can still use the force to hurl objects at him and watching McConaughey move his hands around to control items like broken glass or rocks is unintentionally comical.
Bad special effects plague this film. There is a sequence at night where a demon, which apparently breaks through the barrier, attacks Roland and Jake. It's hard to make out what it looks like, or what the heck is going on. But in the end does it matter? Who know the Gunslinger will eventually put it out of its misery. I snickered at seeing how bad they rendered humans falling around or getting hit by cars. It only happens a few times in one particular sequences, but it's something that still hasn't been perfected and probably never will.
The entire film feels clunky, unexplained or unexplored. I never got a sense of Roland's world. There are abandoned structures all over and they have no idea what they were used for, but we clearly know they are carnival rides, as does Jake. How does anyone who never read the books have a clue as to what this means. Arcel seems uninterested in exploring that side of the story and instead streamlines it from point A to point B. This isn't a story to do that, especially if the goal is to branch it off into a series. I suspect this will be the only film they make.
With generic action sequences, oversimplification of an epic story, shoddy effects and some questionable performances (Jake's friend is the biggest offender), The Dark Tower is a big missed opportunity. Here is a series that could have been several films, sweeping multiple genres and taking viewers on a ride they probably wouldn't of forgotten. Instead we get this film that I already have forgotten. Ho-hum, despite a big budget, we have yet another King adaption failure.
Baby Driver (2017)
"This one, they say that listens to the music all the time?"
Baby Driver falls perfectly in line with Wright's previous films in style, but offers a bit more in dramatic tone and a little less in comedy. The film still has plenty of funny moments, but it depicts a slight change in direction for him and one that hopefully opens more doors for original films.
Baby, that's B-A-B-Y, is the getaway driver for a wealthy criminal, Doc, who plots out the heists and never uses the same crew twice. Baby insists he is done after one last job, but Doc is willing to threaten the lives of the people Baby loves, including his new waitress girlfriend Debora, if he doesn't pull one more stunt.
Going into a Wright film, you have a sense of what to expect. Hot Fuzz was a parody of action films to the point where a simple moment of putting on your jacket was made to look like a chaotic action sequence. With Baby Driver, Wright continues this style, but squarely plants the film itself into that world that Hot Fuzz was parodying. This is done with self awareness though, and never becomes a problem. Instead, it highlights the originality of the film and the world Wright has created. It's a heightened reality and music plays an important role in it. To the point where it feels more like a love letter to music than heist films. This is even more apparent when you realize that we never really get to see the heists. We stay with Baby in the car and subvert those expectations. We are with Baby and his music the whole way.
As I said earlier, music is important to this film and ever aspect of it revolves around that. Camera work, action sequences, character movements, dialogue, plot devices, the list goes on. For something that important, the music should be good. Wright manages to explore enough genres to please most people and I found myself really digging the playlists. Music is Baby's world and we live in it for 2 hours almost non-stop. To the point where when there is no music playing, it feels out of place. I fully expect people to go out and buy the soundtrack and at no point did I feel as if any of it was forced, like Suicide Squad.
I guess you want to know about the car chase sequences, those are thrilling for people looking for excitement. Wright gives us enough unique moments to make those memorable and it's needed because car chases are a staple in Hollywood movies. You want to see something new and Baby Driver delivers enough of a spin to make it seems fresh. The film balances itself out with plenty of small quiet sequences that focus on character. Baby's dedication to take care of his aging foster father is touching. They communicate through sign language, which adds another layer to the complicated character that is Baby. Then we have some tender moments with Baby and Debora. A love at first sight relationship that blooms due to charm, appreciation of music and the aspirations to just be on the open road.
Baby Driver is stylish and charges to you at full speed. With the camera almost constantly moving, it never feels slow, even in those quiet moments. The cast nail their roles with just a hint of self awareness. Spacey can be intimidating in his sleep and Foxx has no problem playing someone with a few screw lose moments. At the very least, when you walk away from this movie you can say that you had a fun time, this movie has plenty of those moments to make it great.
A Return To Form For Shyamalan, Great Performance from McAvoy.
I get the feeling that Shyamalan wrote and directed this film, got it down to the 2 hour running time and screened it. Then the studio asked him; "Shyamalan, don't your movies always have twists? Why doesn't this film have a twist? I think this film needs a twist. Put a twist in". Then Shyamalan decides to tack some cheap ending onto an otherwise suspenseful film with a career performance from McAvoy. Now people might be upset that I said this film has a twist because saying that is in fact a spoiler. This spoils nothing. The so-called twist, if you even want to call it that, has nothing to do with the film and makes me question why the hell such a scene exists in this film to being with. Now...in saying all that. I honestly don't know if I hated it or loved it. I'm split. (Bad dad joke)
McAvoy plays Dennis / Patricia / Hedwig / Kevin Wendell Crumb / Barry / Orwell / Jade...etc. He kidnaps three young girls and brings them to his lair. The girls are desperate to escape and try everything they can, but soon realize that their kidnapper is not all there. Each of his personalities have completely different conversations with them and himself. Can they escape before "he" arrives, a yet to be discovered 24th personality?
We can all agree that when the name M. Night Shyamalan is attached to a project, the groans, the eye rolling and the utter disinterest immediately hits you. Whatever goodwill he did with his first three films seems to have been completely destroyed with The Happening, Last Airbender and After Earth. A low budget horror flick came out recently, from Shyamalan, and people were surprised at how not terrible it was. The Visit was a found footage film and Shyamalan managed to use it to pretty good results. Now he Split, a suspense thriller that boarders body horror and I think it's another hit.
The film relies, heavily, on James McCoy's performance and I'm glad to say it's really strong. He's able to snake his way in and out of the vastly different personalities on a whim and each one is as believable as the last. He gives 100% in his performance here, being terrifying, funny and sad at any moment. Anya Taylor-Joy is the 'lead' girl out of the three, we are given snippets of a backstory through some flashbacks. She's damaged and fits the victim role perfectly. The problem is that we've seen it all before, trouble girl is trapped and has to muster the strength to fight back.
Split was really fun and tense. I'd love to see Shyamalan stick to this genre and stay away from big budgets. The run time might work against the film, it runs two hours and can easily lose some material, but as a whole this film worked for me.
Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
I Haven't Seen The Original and I'm Still Disappointed.
An American remake of an Oscar winning film from Argentina with a decent cast misfires and bores the audience to death with a misguided effort. I've never seen the original film, but I know it has to be better than this wreck.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the watch on terror is at an all-time high. Two counter terrorist agents, played by Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor are called to a crime scene because it is suspiciously close to a mosque they are keeping tabs on. The crime scene involves a dead body in a dumpster and coincidentally the dead person is the daughter of Roberts. Ejiofor becomes obsessed with tracking down her killer. Plastic face Kidman also stars.
The film is split between two timelines. 2002, when the body is discovered and more than a decade later when Ejiofor is still on the case, off the books. He's no longer part of the unit, but he seems to be the only one who cares about finding the guy who once got away. Ejiofor sells the obsession of the case, but fails to connect with Kidman when the film forces a love story between them. Kidman doesn't do much to help him in this situation, she delivers a wooden performance in an underwritten role.
The film tries to be clever and pull a fast one on the viewer, but anyone who has seen a film before can connect the dots well before the film ever reveals anything. Poor writing aside, the director, Billy Ray doesn't seem to be able to thread a suspenseful case with this story. One scene in particular takes place at a baseball game and a chase ensues. How is this not even the little bit suspenseful? Poor camera work and editing come into play as well, they seem amateurish.
At no point, did I care about either timeline, nor the character decisions. I can see an interesting story here and I can only assume it was told masterfully in the original film, here it is uninspired. A real shame, since American remakes haven't fared to well.
The Forest (2016)
Do Not Fear This Forest.
Back in the 90's, when the internet was still new to people, there was a 'fun' craze that people would send others via email. You'd open the attachment and be told to have your volume up high while starring at a serene picture. Then out of nowhere a spooky face when pop up on the screen with a loud scream. It would freak people out, a classic jump scare. This is all The Forest is, cheap jump scares.
I'm surprised at how well this horror film was received with the critics because I found it to be lacking. The premise is good enough for a spooky horror film, but The Forest never bothers to use the setting it thrusts itself in to genuine scary effect. It's sad actually, that the film fails on these levels because I can only thing, 'what could have been'.
Sara discovers that her twin sister Jess has disappeared in Japan. She was last seen heading into Aokigahara, known as the Suicide Forest. Believing her to still be alive, Sara heads to Japan and into the woods with a guide to find her.
Natalie Dormer, of Game of Thrones fame, headlines this horror flick and plays double duty as the twins. The role doesn't ask much of her, just to be scared when needed and yell her sisters name a bunch of times. Taylor Kinney ventures into the forest with her. He's a journalist that hopes to cover the story. Are things what they seem with him? Who knows, the film doesn't really bother to answer these questions.
The horror elements don't really come into effect until late in the film, by then I felt bored by the tepidness of everything. The film takes place in a spooky forest for crying out loud, but it never takes advantage of this. It's the perfect atmosphere that a better director could creatively use to his/her advantage. This is why The Forest is such a disappointment, even by horror standards. It's just not scary.
Were told not to believe what we see in the forest, I can't believe I watched this.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
One Of The Best Films Of The Year!!!!
The most original film of the year and one of the more original films of the last decade. Swiss Army Man turned a lot of people away with the weird juvenile humour consisting of farts, but I feel like those people who turned it off or left the theatre missed out on something special. Behind all the gas, the film deals with depression, humanity and what it feels like to be alive. Poignant themes in a film that isn't a afraid to make you laugh in the weirdest way possible.
Hank, played by Paul Dano, is marooned on an island and is literally about to hang himself when he sees a dead body wash ashore. He thinks nothing of it, until the body spasms and lets out numerous farts. The dead body, whom is later called Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, comes alive, more or less. He's able to have conversations, perform miraculous tasks and gives Hank the courage to look inside himself and answer some deep questions.
This is my favourite Daniel Radcliffe performance, is that odd to say? He plays a corpse who farts, so he doesn't have to move around a lot and he is basically stone faced the whole film, yet he brings an innocent charm to the role. He questions what it means to be alive, what feeling of love hate and depression are. Hank tries his best to answer these questions, but he might not even know the answers himself. The two bond over a few "Weekend At Bernie's" style comedy bits, which have more meaning later on when more characters are introduced, specifically Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The title Swiss Army Man is appropriate as Radcliffe is used for various tasks. Fresh water pours out of his mouth, karate-chop action figure style arm swing, projectile mouth firing mechanism, sparking flint by snapping his fingers, among other things. Hank uses Manny's unique "powers" to help him traverse the terrain. You have to ask yourself, can you suspend enough of your imagination to enjoy the oddity of this? I don't think the film is ever really concerned with if any of these events are really happening or not. Instead it wants you to focus on the friendship these two have and despite one of them being dead, it's one of the best relationships depicted on screen this year.
I know there are people out there who dislike the film, but count me in the camp of people who really responded to it. Who knew that film about a farting dead corpse would be one of the best of the year and one of the most honesty portrays of friendship. Swiss Army Man is a win and a watch for anyone wanting something unique in their movie going experience.
Green Room (2015)
What's your 'desert-island' band?
Saulnier's Blue Ruin was a shotgun blast to the chest of intense thrills from an unknown director. I had no idea what to expect from Blue Ruin, but when it was over my wife simply turned to me and said, "That was intense". So I was excited to see his next film get some big name recognition on board. The late Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shaukat and Picard himself, Patrick Stewart showcase their talents in this nail bitter of a follow-up.
A down on their luck punk rock band take a gig at a neo-nazi club. Reluctant at first, but in desperate need for cash, they accept and play a decent gig. Just as they are about to leave, they see a dead body in the green room and bad decision are made after that. Now it's skinheads versus the punk rockers for survival.
Green Room is not for the faint of heart, I'm a horror lover and I found myself cringing every so often at the shock and awe that Saulnier throws at the screen. He's not afraid to get things going fast and when he does, he turns Green Room up to eleven. I found myself asking, how are they going to get out of this? Multiple times even. Each time an attempt was made to leave, something terrible happens and Saulnier is not one for cheap gore tricks. He is restrained and holds back until you least expect it. Then the terror unleashes on the screen and it's too late to look away. Blue Ruin was about suspense, this is about terror.
Locked up in one location, Green Room is a no holds barred 'us versus them' flick that surprises the viewer at a few turns. Most of the cast serve their purpose of being terrified for their lives and having to fight when needed. It's Stewart, known for his roles as courageous and commanding men (Picard, Professor X) that turns in a subtle and low-key performance. The man is the leader of skinheads and has the opportunity to unleash terror, but he holds back and almost has adds a fatherly figure to it. He mentors these young men so full of hate and he has to immediately take control of an out of control situation. Something about the calmness he has makes it even more terrifying. Men like this exist in the world.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
It's been over a decade since Mel Gibson has been in the director's chair. People have been anticipating his return for awhile now and this year he brings Hacksaw Ridge, a bloody tale about freedom and persecution.
Doss enlists into the army in the hopes of becoming a medic. During his training he is asked to pick a rifle and shoot a target, he refuses. His faith and trust in God deters him from ever holding a gun to kill a man. This does not make him popular with the men who must fight by his side. So why does he want to enlist in the war? He wants to save people and save people he does. Doss' heroics lead him to saving about 75 wounded men during the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, an astonishing and miraculous feat.
i walked away from the film with one thing on my mind. Thank God I never had to experience anything like that. Watching these characters go into battle, made me terrified for myself in that situation. Blindly firing across a barren wasteland, bodies scattered about the ground. Running directly into that gunfire....horrifying. No thank you. I don't have one tenth the courage those men had. Hacksaw Ridge is almost on the same savage and surreal level of the opening beach sequence from Saving Private Ryan. Some of the carnage is hard to watch as limbs are blown off, guts are falling out, people are set on fire. One particular sequence does seem to lean on the more ridiculous side, when an American soldier grabs the torso of a dead Japanese solider and uses it as a shield, as he runs through the battlefield. Some arguments are made that Gibson tends to favour the bloody violence and revel in it. I can see 'some' aspects of this (the aforementioned torso bit) but speak to people that were actually in war and they will tell you that it's pretty darn close to what happened. We don't have many people left who fought in these wars, so please, talk to those people. I wish I had spoken to my grandparents more often about their lives and their history.
Andrew Garfield is Doss, our lead here. He plays there role with a little bit of a Forrest Gump edge. He's innocent, plays dumb a little bit, but always seems to get the job done. He gets the girl, the respect of his allies and superiors and more. Yes, the road there was not an easy one and this is indeed a true story, but I felt the parallels there. He does a decent enough job, but nothing to really cheer about. I was more engaged with Vince Vaughn oddly enough. He does very well here in a non-comedic role. Hopefully he ventures in more dramatic roles in the near future. I feel people underestimate his dramatic roles and once he hit a streak with his comedy films he never seemed interested in going elsewhere. I hope this changes his mind.
The film can be broken down into three parts. Doss' life pre-war, Doss' life training for war and of course the actual war itself. The pre-war segment might be a tad slow for some, but everything Gibson shows us is perfectly arranged for the story and the character arcs. The film is really preachy as well, maybe a little too preachy. I understand that religion is the backbone to the story and the reason why we have a tale as astonishing as this, but with Gibson behind the camera, I felt like he upped it a tad. The juxtaposition of the peace belief by Doss with the violence of the war is a tough one to wrestle with.
Hacksaw Ridge is a great film from Gibson and I hope to see it get some recognition come awards season.
Love the Coopers (2015)
Do Not Love The Coopers.
I went and saw the film, The Family Stone, in theatres when it first came out. It received mixed reviews, but for the most part, I really liked it. It dealt with a dysfunctional family getting together for the holidays. What made it work, in my mind at least, was that the characters felt honest, the chemistry between the cast felt real and despite the many dramatic moments, it had some heart. Love The Coopers is a poor imitation of these things. I bring up The Family Stone as a apt comparison, not only because Diane Keaton is the matriarch, but because both films try to convey the same message. The Family Stone's shortcomings happens in the final act with the girlfriend "switcheroo" whereas Love The Coopers shortcomings is the entire film.
The film follows one family and their stories on Christmas Day. Keaton and her husband, John Goodman, are having one more family get together before they ultimately decide to leave each other after 40 years of marriage...depressing. Ed Helms is the son, separated from his wife, unemployed and feeling less of a man and even lesser of a father...depressing. Then we have Alan Arkin, the grandfather, who eats at the same diner everyday just to have a conversation with the pretty waitress, Amanda Seyfried, and to convince her she has value in this world....depressing. The beautiful Olivia Wilde plays the daughter. She is on her way home and is wasting time at the airport so she can spend less time with her family. She meets a good looking young soldier and convinces him to come home with her so she doesn't have to be a disappointment to her mother...depressing. On top of that...yes, there is more...we have Diane Keaton's sister, who has a strained relationship and shoplifts some jewelry for a present, only to get caught and have a thoughtful one on one conversation with a police officer...you guessed it....depressing. Did I forget to mention that the sister is played by Marissa Tomei?
Yes, Marissa Tomei, so there lies a big problem for me. The casting of this film is all over the place. It seems they wanted to cast the recognizable face and name and not the role. In this film, we have constant 'flashes of memories' of the characters when they were younger. So we flash to the sisters when they were kids. They are maybe, 3 to 5 years apart. Then we come to the present and discover that the sister is Diane Keaton and Marissa Tomei. They have a 20 year age difference between each other. On top of that Alan Arkin plays their father....he is 12 years older than Keaton. I was so confused as to how Arkin and Tomei fit into the picture for 75% of the film. I thought he was Goodman's brother and Tomei was Keaton's daughter.
While the cast does a decent job in the roles, none of the material is strong enough to hold any weight. None of the stories are engaging and it tries so hard to be emotional. I didn't really care about Goodman and Keaton's failing marriage because it never feels like the characters are really trying, or love each other, or anything at all really. The strained relationship between Keaton and almost everyone feels fake. None of these stories really work for me with the weakest one being Helms. He literally has nothing to do in this film, it's a little sad actually.
Even for a 'depressing' Christmas film, Coopers fails. For it to be depressing, I feel like we need to have some sort of attachment to the characters, I had none. Steve Martin narrates the film to give it a "Christmas story" feel, it also falls a little flat. I just couldn't find myself caring about anything here.