IT: Classic Horror Reborn

Seven pre-teen outcasts overcome their fears to confront a shape-shifting creature that takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and awakens every 27 years to feed on children in It (2017), the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name.

Written by Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga and directed by Andy Muschietti, It was filmed on a budget of $35 million and grossed over $117 million in its opening weekend. It revives classic American horror by delivering more than just jump scares. It was genuinely scary, but also at times heartfelt, funny, and sincere.

It‘s success is even more surprising given its director’s lack of experience. Andy Muschietti, an Argentine screenwriter, has only directed one other full-length feature. To entrust the long-anticipated reboot of one of Stephen King’s most iconic horror tales to an inexperienced director is, well, incredible. That he actually pulled off making It into a blockbuster will ensure a long career. It‘s opening box office earnings completely eclipse The Sixth Sense‘s and that film made director M. Night Shyamalan a household name.

I’m not a Stephen King fan and I don’t get the fascination with clowns. I never read the novel or saw the 1990 TV mini series staring Tim Curry, so I came to the theater without any preconceptions aside from bits and pieces of things I’ve heard about It over the years. Like most Stephen King novels, the horror element is a vehicle for exploring other issues, issues related to family, coming of age, bullying, confronting mortality, etc., all of which appear in this story.

Continue reading “IT: Classic Horror Reborn”

First Impressions of IT

I watched It (2017), the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, in a packed theater this weekend. I’m not a Stephen King fan and I don’t get the fascination with clowns, but I have to admit there is a lot of genuine excitement surrounding this movie.

I never read the novel or saw the 1990 TV mini series staring Tim Curry, so I came to the theater without any preconceptions aside from bits and pieces of things I’ve heard about It over the years. Here are some of my first impressions:

  • A good horror movie is also a good movie. This was a good movie–it was genuinely scary, but also at times heartfelt, funny, and sincere.
  • It was set in 1989, so there are nostalgic elements, but It doesn’t bash you over the head with nostalgia.
  • In one scene, there are posters advertising A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, which came out in 1989. I thought it was fitting to make reference to that franchise because many of the effects in It are reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, especially when the hair comes out of the sink and pulls Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) toward the drain.
  • All the child actors in this movie are great. In a film that pits children against adults, the children are funny, relatable, and courageous, while the adults are creepy, sadistic, and often indifferent.
  • That being said… There are almost too many protagonists. I realize the film is just copying the number of characters in the book, but it’s difficult to become attached to the characters when there are so many. I don’t even remember their names. There’s the fat kid, the black kid, the girl, the stutterer, the one with asthma, the Jewish one, and the pervy one. There’s seven altogether… I think.
  • I’m not sure what to think about Bill Skarsgård‘s performance as Pennywise the Clown. Again, I’m not afraid of clowns and don’t think they’re creepy or funny. But Skarsgård pulled off a performance that was at the same time creepy, threatening, and maintained a weird air of innocence.
  • I’m not sure if this was a malfunctioning projector or what, but everything in the movie seemed really blurry.

Look for a more complete review on Monday! One last thing: This movie is the first of what I assume will be two parts. My understanding is that the book and mini series shows the protagonists as kids and again as adults. It (2017) only covers the period when the protagonists are kids.

Wind River

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracker and an FBI agent team up to solve a double homicide on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming in Wind River (2017). On a mission to hunt down mountain lions killing local cattle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille). The FBI sends Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a Nevada field agent, to determine whether a crime has been committed. They later find another body, deepening the mystery.

Wind River is writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s latest offering. Sheridan is known for writing Hell or High Water (2016) and Sicario (2015) and acting in a number of TV dramas. Wind River takes place in Wyoming in early spring and has a very Western feel, despite its snow-swept mountains. Stunning cinematography was not enough to make up for extremely slow pacing and lack of compelling story.

Some critics argue it is genre defying and highly original; I say it suffers from an identity crisis. Wind River is labeled a “murder mystery thriller film,” but isn’t either of those things. There’s no mystery because a flashback explains exactly what happened halfway through and the authorities never actually solve the crime or bring anyone to justice. It’s not a thriller because there’s no sense of suspense or urgency. Unlike a typical crime thriller, there’s no sense that one crime must be solved to prevent another from occurring.

Continue reading “Wind River”

First Impressions of Wind River

I recently watched Wind River (2017), writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s latest offering. Sheridan is known for writing Hell or High Water (2016) and Sicario (2015) and acting in a number of TV dramas. Wind River takes place in Wyoming and has a very Western feel. Despite stunning cinematography, its pacing is extremely slow and it struggles with a meaningful plot. Brooding, monotone delivery is mistaken for depth. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • What is the purpose of this movie? It’s a lackluster story wrapped in a vague statement about how the FBI doesn’t track the number of missing American Indian women on reservations. Except the girl in the movie wasn’t really missing, she was just dead.
  • I thought the idea of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent tracking a human predator was pretty cool and interesting. The film sets up this conflict in the beginning but then it ultimately goes nowhere.
  • I also liked the “fish out of water” stuff with the FBI agent interacting with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar environment, but aside from a few quick introductory scenes this also goes nowhere.
  • Wind River is labeled a “murder mystery thriller film,” but isn’t either of those things. There’s no mystery because a flashback explains exactly what happened halfway through and the authorities never actually solve the crime or bring anyone to justice. It’s not a thriller because there’s no sense of suspense or urgency. Unlike a typical crime thriller, there’s no sense that one crime must be solved to prevent another from occurring.
  • There seems to be a trend in movies in which picturesque locations or beautiful cinematography attempt to mask lack of substance.
  • I did appreciate the characters’ authenticity. The American Indians were actually played by actors and actresses of that ethnicity (mostly). The settings were gritty and realistic, although one mobile home seemed to have an unrealistically cavernous interior.
  • Why did security guards at a remote oil drilling site have tactical weapons and ballistic vests? Did they expect a hostile takeover?

Wind River isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not that great. It struggles to find its footing and then delivers a “surprise” ending that falls flat. In the end, nothing changes except the number of headstones at the local cemetery. The film had a larger message about survival and resiliency in the face of hardship, but it wasn’t enough to keep me interested.

Logan Lucky: A Trailer Park Ocean’s Eleven

Logan Lucky is a black comedy heist film written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh of Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Traffic (2000), and Erin Brockovich (2000) fame. “Rebecca Blunt” is an unknown British screenwriter, which has led some to speculate the name is a pseudonym. Whatever the case, it’s a fun movie with the same fast-paced and clever film making as the Ocean’s series.

When Jimmy Logan’s (Channing Tatum) ex-wife, Bobbie Jo Chapman (Katie Holmes), plans to take their daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), from West Virginia to North Carolina with her new husband, Moody Chapman (David Denman), two Appalachian families rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600 to pay for a lawyer to contest the move. The threat of the “Logan family curse” hangs ominously over the operation.

Jimmy is aided by his one-handed brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), and Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson). Together, this crew of eccentric misfits pulls off the heist and each lives happily ever after, or so it seems. In the final scene, we see a FBI agent played by Hilary Swank carefully watching them under cover.

The song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, a nostalgic tribute to West Virginia, frames the movie. As it opens, we see Jimmy Logan and his daughter fixing a truck while listening to the song. Near the end, Sadie gives an unpracticed but heartfelt rendition of the song during the talent portion of a beauty contest, winning over the audience and judges.

Continue reading “Logan Lucky: A Trailer Park Ocean’s Eleven”

First Impressions of Logan Lucky

Released on Friday, Logan Lucky is a black comedy heist film written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh of Oceans Eleven (2001), Traffic (2000), and Erin Brockovich (2000) fame. It seems odd that such an accomplished director and producer would take on a project by a completely unknown screenwriter, which has led some to speculate “Rebecca Blunt” is a pseudonym. Whatever the case, it’s a fun movie with the same kind of fast-paced and clever film making as the Oceans series. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • It was fun, entertaining, and clever, just like Oceans Eleven. Unlike Oceans Eleven, however, I never found myself rooting for the main character, Jimmy Logan (played by Channing Tatum). He’s more of a sad, tragic figure whose circumstances aren’t really changed by the heist.
  • Logan Lucky plays on Southern stereotypes but not in a condescending or demeaning way. Somehow the characters come across as charming and much smarter than they first appear.
  • The premise is so weird I was surprised to learn The Coca-Cola 600 is a real race, actually sponsored by Monster Energy (in the film it’s a fictional energy drink company, whose obnoxious British owner, Max Chilblain, is played by Seth MacFarlane). I’m not a NASCAR fan and didn’t even know the Charlotte Motor Speedway was a real place.
  • With such an ensemble cast, it was difficult to follow all the characters’ motivations. In Oceans Eleven it was easy because they were all thieves and their motivation was obvious, to get rich and pull off the most daring heist in history–to do something no criminal has ever done before. In Logan Lucky, Jimmy Logan’s motivation is explained, but most of his accomplices are just average people who are trying to put past transgressions behind them. His sister, Mellie (played by Riley Keough) seems to be just going along with the scheme for no reason at all. No one even really tries to talk him out of it.
  • Some of the scenes involving Max Chilblain and his driver, including a long introduction by FOX sports broadcasters, seemed out of place and probably should have been cut. The scene with the FOX sports broadcasters was especially painful to watch.
  • I’m glad it didn’t turn out like Masterminds (2016), which was another comedy-heist film but was so bad I almost walked out of the theater.

Overall I’d say it was worth the ticket price and would probably be fun to see at a drive-in. Look for a more thorough review on Monday!

 

Annabelle: Creation – By the Numbers Horror

A group of orphans and a nun battle a demonic force personified by a creepy-looking doll in this latest installment of the The Conjuring UniverseAnnabelle: Creation is a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014), a fictional account of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s battle with an allegedly possessed Raggedy Ann doll. This film departs entirely from reality, imagining an origin story for the doll. Both critics and audiences seem to enjoy it. Overall, it had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well.

Annabelle: Creation was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg. Both Dauberman and Sandberg are relatively new to their craft. Dauberman is known for previously writing Annabelle (2014) and the low-budget Swamp Devil (2008), and Sandberg has directed several short films and Lights Out (2016).

The filmmakers’ inexperience is probably why this movie doesn’t take any risks. It is a strictly paint-by-numbers modern American horror film. It is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes. Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.

Also, someone should tell the filmmakers that Catholic nuns can’t hear sacramental confessions. Only a validly ordained priest or bishop can hear confessions and absolve sins.

Though Annabelle: Creation adds nothing new to the genre, its popularity shows this is what horror audiences want to see. It opened at the top of the box office, pulling in approximately $35 million its opening weekend. Anecdotal evidence also attest to the film’s popularity. The theater was packed when I went to see it, in stark contrast to Detroit (a far superior movie).

Continue reading “Annabelle: Creation – By the Numbers Horror”