You’ll Float Too (It, 2017)

It_2017_PosterWhen I heard they were making an “It” movie…I thought this would be a bad idea.  It is a decent sized novel.  Steven King horror novels have a pretty painful track record on film. and tended to find more success in the genre of the TV Mini-series.  And we already had an It mini-series back in 1990.  Tim Curry pretty much defined the look of Pennywise in that series.

So, to say I went in with low expectations is an understatement.

It is the tale of a group of friends in the town of Derry who learn of an evil force in their town.  Derry has a sordid history, and grownups and children alike just disappear.  After Bill’s younger brother Georgie disappears while playing in the rain, he becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to Georgie.  As he and his friends have frightening encounters with a demonic clown, they band together to try and stop it.

Is it a scary movie?  Yeah, it delivers some solid scares along with a real creepy vibe.  The new design of Pennywise is brilliantly unnerving.  Add to that a bone chilling performance by actor Bill Skarsgård.  It is a visually rich fright-fest.

But what really makes It highly effective?  It’s kids.  These kids are a solid set of actors who can create sympathy, frustration and inspiration.  When Bill delivers a speech about why they need to enter the creepy house?  You kind of want to enter the house with him.  Richie provides a whole lot of comic relief (played by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) who constantly makes bad sex jokes and raises his hand for high fives that never arrive.  Sophia Lillis imbues Bev with a kindness that makes it clear why the boys start to have a crush on her.  These kids have some rotten lots in lives.  Overbearing parents, abusive parents…and bullies.  Vicious bullies.

It is not really about stopping a monster clown.  It is about overcoming childhood fears, finding strength and help in your friends.  And simply growing up.

It manages to be one of those rare things… a really good Stephen King horror movie.

Daytripper (The Dark Tower, 2017)

Dark_Tower_PosterThe Dark Tower has had a long trek to the silver screen.  There have been attempts for many years…at one point, there was an announced plan that included A movie and television series, so the story would keep going between films.  Very ambitious, but questionable how to make it work.  The Dark Tower series by Stephen King is a sprawling epic. There are eight books in the series at this time.

Roland Deschain is a Gunslinger.  They were similar to an order of Knights, though are modeled closely on the old west.  Roland is the last of the order, and he seeks a dark sorcerer The Man in Black to take revenge.  Roland has lost his way, no longer focused on protecting the Dark Tower.  The Dark Tower, by the way is the center of the universe and protects the Universe from “What is Outside”.  Meanwhile, in our world, Jake Chambers has nightmares about the man in black and Roland.  He ends up finding a house from his dream and there finds a portal to another dimension and…

Sound complex?  That is because it is.  For one?  This film is not so much an adaption as a sequel, even though it borrows elements from the first novel, the Gunslinger, such as meeting Jake Chambers.  The movie is set up as a sequel to the seventh book.  And so the film rushes to fill in as much information as possible, explaining stuff that probably makes more sense if you have read all the books.

In the books, King liked to tie in parts of his other novels, characters pop up, terms…in this film, you will maybe recognize the reference to Jake’s “Shine”.  And so the film spends a lot of time and dialog trying to catch the audience up…and the end result is that everything feels like cliff notes.  The film never truly gets to breathe, so big “moments” in the film never resonate quite like they could.  Even “lighter” moments feel like they deliver no payoff or relief.  When Roland asks if bullets are hard to come by in “our” world…Jake tells him he will really like our world.  This should be a moment that delivers at least a chuckle…and the audience I was with simply sat silent.

This is not to say there is nothing I liked.  Both Elba and McConaughey turn in good performances, which is to be expected.  McConaughey portrays the Man in Black with a calm menace.  He never seems to panic or lose his cool…even when doing evil, he maintains a gentle and assured tone.  Elba plays the Gunslinger in the mold of the embittered and broken Western Hero.  He also finds himself becoming a new father figure to Jake, progressing towards the restoration of his role as Gunslinger.

Visually, the film is pretty good, though a bit overdone in the de-saturation of color.  But the visuals of Roland loading his guns, shooting his guns…the monsters look good…but in the end, the immensity of the source material kind of over runs the film.  Those who have read the books are likely to be frustrated by the liberties, those unfamiliar with the books left confounded by all of the information they have to unpack.


Guys Love Their Cars (Christine, 1983)

Christine-1983-PosterAfter the Thing, Carpenter went with a different type of terror.  In some ways, it is a return to the ghostly tale of the Fog.  But instead of Leper Pirates, Christine is the tale of an obsessive car.

Nerdy Arnie is put upon…he has one friend (athlete Dennis) and overbearing parents.  He discovers a decaying old car, a 57 Plymouth Fury.  It’s first owner named it Christine and Arnie falls in love.  He buys the car, and it begins to love him back.  Christine brings about a change in Arnie.  He dresses a bit cooler, he behaves with a bit more attitude.  He even gets a girlfriend.  Attractive Leigh, who is new to the school.  Christine begins to take out the bullies who make Arnie miserable, but the obsession between Arnie and Christine grows and becomes dangerous to his only friends.

Christine is a very good adaption of Stephen King’s work.  It focuses on what is important, even when it makes changes.  Christine’s first owner (Roland LeBay) is the ghost that haunts her.  Arnie purchases the car from him and then he dies.  It is revealed he was a dark man and he has a dark history.

Carpenter optioned to, instead, make Christine a spirit of her own.  And it works quite effectively.  Keith Gordon (Jaws 2, Dressed to Kill) captures Arnie’s descent into truly obsessive behavior effectively.  He take Arnie from Sympathetic to frightening so well.

Visually, the movie is impressive.  There are some amazing shots of Christine (one where she is driving down the road engulfed in flames).  The effects are  “simple” but very effective.  When Christine is damaged, she “fixes” herself and it looks great.

It is interesting to note that the initial negative response to Carpenter’s The Thing left John feeling like he had to take the job.  He did not find the book particularly scary.  And yet, in the end, he created an effect story of obsession certainly belonging in a list of great John Carpenter films.

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