Darke Reviews | It (2017)

It’s been 27 years since I read Stephen Kings IT. No joke. It was freshman year in high school and me and my friend Darrin were reading and sharing our King stories and favourites. I bet if/when he reads this post he will remember the days we both would go – “Late last night and the night before.” It’s also one of the few times I had read a book before the film, when we were unexpectedly graced with the TV Mini series in November 18, 1990. The mini series gave more than a few people coulrophobia (fear of clowns), but looking back its hard to see why when you remove the nostalgia glasses. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mini series but it doesn’t really hold up all that well across the board now as Nostalgia Critic pointed out deftly a few years ago. Parts yes were really well done, but very made for TV and very PG. Here we go with a theatrical release and an R Rating (I hope)

Should IT have stayed in hibernation?

So to be very clear I have little recollection of the book, aside from one or two things. This will be judged as the movie itself. I won’t be comparing it to the 1990 version either as these are incredibly separate beasts; which while there’s a nod or two here and there are structurally, tonally, and behaviorally different films. Make no mistake this is not the IT you grew up with. The beast evolved with the times.

Now as I understand it, considering I try to avoid insider info now, the core screenplay was by Cary Fukunaga, writer of Sin Nombre and Beasts of No Nation. It had additional work done by Chase Palmer (no relevant credits I could find) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation). As I can’t remember the source material sufficiently I can’t speak to its adaptation. Things I do remember such as the house on Neibolt Street, made it into the film and were quite well done. What struck me most is how well they balanced the horror, the dialogue, and the humor in the film. There were times people laughed, people shrieked (yes shrieked), and even applauded during the 2 hour run time. I even triggered the applause during one scene; which moved like the wave in a stadium. The movie was resonating with people of all ages in the crowd from the teens to the elderly. I question the logic of the person who brought the 10 year old though. The writing was solid through and through with tension building, release, and even breaks to laugh at well timed and well placed humor. It is not flawless however, as there does seem to be some loss of fidelity to the Losers club. Mike, and Stanley don’t feel as fully formed as they could be. I think Mike suffers the most from this as some of his arc from the 90’s was moved to Ben. You do get a sense of who he is, but it isn’t remotely the same level as what Bill, Bev, or Ben get. You do get your Losers club, but they aren’t 100% realized.

That could potentially fall to material on the editing room floor or decisions made by director Andy Muschietti (Mama). This is one of the few failings of the film. It could be script, could be director, could be editors. Muschietti nailed it otherwise. His vision for the camera with director of photography Chung-hoon Chung (Old Boy – the original, The Handmaiden) were nothing less than inspired to me. Dutch angles used appropriately but not overused. All of the basic shot types are used with precision. Not once did I feel “oh this should be been done as an over the shoulder” or “too close for no reason. go to a wide here.” The blend of diagetic and non diagetic sounds, music used within the material the characters can hear vs music for the audience, worked well especially during the opening credits. What impressed me most is the methods in which tension was built. The jump scares are few and far between yet the movie twists that emotional rubber band to its breaking point a number of times. Those familiar with the previous work will expect beats that never come and get a handful that make you question how much they are changing. All of this to the movies credit.

None of it would work without the kids though. Jaden Lieberher (Book of Henry, Midnight Special) has a lot of weight on his 14 year old shoulders as Bill. He delivers. He has the chops to be the charismatic leader of the Losers, so desperately searching for his little brother when everyone else tells him no. Jeremy Ray Taylor (bit roles in Ant-Man and 42) is our new kid Ben. His fear of Henry, his isolation, and his feelings are shown well through action as much as dialogue. Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, turns it up to 11 in her performance. The 15 year old actress is both strong and vulnerable. Bev is the rock for the group and Lillis shows the range of the character well. Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler from ST) is our mouth Richie Tozier. This is a thousand times different than the Seth Green performance from 1990 and quite honestly superior in every way. Jack Dylan Grazer, another 14 year old, plays our Eddie Kaspbrak.  This kid has star power, quite possibly the “weakest” of the Losers, he doesnt let that stop him and its hard to turn your eyes to focus elsewhere when he speaks. Sadly, as mentioned before Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon) and Wyatt Olef (Stanley Uris) don’t get nearly enough to do. They sell their fear. They are part of the Losers no doubt. You just don’t have as strong as a sense of them due to the flaws above, but the actors did their absolute best.

On a more technical standpoint, the movie really nails the 1980’s in the vein of the aforementioned Stranger Things. Its the end of the 80’s but rather than overload us with toys, phrases, pop culture, and pure nostalgia of the time they use it as set dressing for atmosphere. There are little things here and there that hit those points, but they aren’t a focus and the movie is all the richer for it. I looked to my friend Tony who I saw it with tonight (thanks to his screener tickets) a few times and went “I remember doing that.” That’s how you hit 80’s. It was perfect. Additionally there’s a cute little time table through the film told via the marquee on the movie theatre. Not a spoiler, just if you want to know “specific dates” that’s how you can tell. Beyond the 80’s the movie needed to be tension filled through sets, lighting, and make up. It was. If anything the flaws that exist are minor. There’s incredible attention to detail on Pennywise…oh wait I didn’t mention him in the actors.

Bill Skarsgård has given our favourite clown new life. Having watched him in Atomic Blonde (twice now) I was surprised how much I lost him to the character. That is a very good sign. He does some interesting things with his voice, face, and body language that aid in making this Pennywise absolute nightmare fuel. I was asked if he was better than Curry. Short answer is yes. Long answer: Its a different character with a different movie that comes from the same source material.  The choices in the technicals surrounding him (Costume, Make up, FX) only add to make him one of the most terrifying characters I have seen in awhile.

TL:DR?

IT may be the scariest movie I have seen in a very long time. This is horror done right. This is King done right. This should be in the top 5 list of any King movie list. It ranks with Carrie, The Shining, and even Shawshank. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is extraordinarily well made, trope avoiding, and drenched with atmosphere (and blood during one scene). It has gore, but doesn’t overdo it instead letting the starkness of it offset the performance by the kids. The Losers club are performed in their A game and feel totally natural.

IT comes with my highest recommendation and while summer 2017 may have been the most disappointing for Hollywood in 25 years – this movie is surely a sign of what can happen when you treat a property with respect. Wonder Woman, Logan both show this as well. I hope Hollywood takes note of what worked so well from casting, to direction, to script, to film style. This movie works.

Should you see it?

If you have a fear of clowns or horror movies in general? No. Otherwise – Yes

Do you plan to see it again?

Yes. Absolutely.

Buying it?

Without a doubt.

Ok, but did it scare you the Vampire Princess?

Yes. It’s a pleasant feeling I had long since forgotten in movies.

Parting thoughts?

The 90’s one will have a soft spot in my heart. This is just well done and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Wait….sequel?

*grin*

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Darke Reviews | The Dark Tower (2017)

One of the first not for kids books I remember reading cover to cover was Stephen King. Now granted, it wasn’t heavy reading at 127 pages, but I was 9 at the time so there’s that. The Mist is still one of the scariest stories for me but that’s because I heard it as a book on tape after reading it. Sound effects and regular mist/fog in Maryland help. I read IT, and The Stand I read in church (the irony isn’t lost), Christine I got in trouble in 9th grade for reading instead of Gatsby. I could never quite get into his work in the 90’s though; something had changed in them that stopped engaging me. It was then I came across his mass market paper back of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I think I read a hundred pages or so into the Dark Tower, but it didn’t grab me. So it, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass,  The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower itself went unread. That means my usual rules of not having read the book get to apply here. The real question though is:

Did someone finally do Stephen King right?

This movie has been in development hell for as long as I can remember paying attention to movie development cycles. A lot of people claimed it was unfilmable over the years as it’s changed directors, writers, producers, companies and so on. So it appears they did the only sensible thing – they made an original story in the universe set after the books? Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either. The movie invokes the three writer rule, with an add on as we have four. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who no major directing credits, but does have screen play for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2009, gets the last credit. Another Dane by the name of Anders Thomas Jensen has the next credit; who has no credits I recognized from this side of the pond. Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider Man 2) and The 5th Wave who is a frequent collaborator with our final writer the dreaded Akiva Goldsman. When I first started in this business, I read a lot of insider sites and other reviews. Goldsman’s name was dreaded. I couldn’t figure out why at the time. In retrospect I understand. Yes, while I absolutely adore Practical Magic, he is responsible for Insurgent, I am Legend, Angels & Demons, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space – and the latest much maligned (deservedly) Transformers The Last Knight.

Goldsman is poison for movies when pen touches paper. As a producer it doesn’t get much better with most of his films being either mildly entertaining to just bad. Mostly on the bad side like this years King Arthur. Why am I picking on Akiva? Because I think I figured out what happens. What it is he does and it happened here. It isn’t so much mediocrity as an art form, but being so unoriginal, so bland, so unwilling to commit to a risk that the project is a colossal meh. I had a conversation just this afternoon about the DC movies and how so many movies today have tonal quality issues. They don’t know what they want to be – is it a comedy, a horror, an action, a sci fi? Studios are afraid of picking one and sticking to it, so they bring a new writer in to ‘polish’ the script and add their own tone. What you end up with is a muddled uninteresting mess.

That’s what happened here. Goldsman and company made a movie so safe, so middle of the road to try to appeal to everyone that it will appeal to no one. Akiva Goldsman is the Syndrome of the movie industry. It’s PG-13, when it could have been R. It has little blood. Little watchable action. Little engaging. Is it Sci fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a western? Is it horror? All and none of the above are true. It wants to be everything and in the end is nothing. The dialogue loops on itself more than a few times or has no context to care so you are left wondering why things happen rather than following them happen.

I don’t think a young inexperienced director like Arcel could handle it; but then again I am not sure Ron Howard (another producer on this) could have saved it had he been in the directors chair either. The shots are bland and reused. There’s nothing interesting in the camera work, the staging, the stock shots of New York, the creature designs (when you see them). It’s either too dark, too jostly, or too fake looking to care. Nothing has weight and you can’t buy any of the risk; thus when loss of any kind occurs nothing can be felt. The most interesting shots of action are what you get in the trailer with nothing more or less fascinating delivered beyond that.

I don’t think I want to talk about the actors. Elba is fine as The Gunslinger. McConaughey is fine as the Man in Black; honestly one of the better things in the movie.. Tom Taylor, as the kid Jake is ..passable. He’s at least not annoying?

It’s technically a very poor movie. As mentioned before there are so few engaging camera shots that one would find above basic. There’s action with no weight. There’s just nothing to work with here to even pick apart. If anything the movie just expects you to follow along and I guess that is ok?

TL;DR

They have forgotten the face of their fathers.

The Dark Tower is a mediocre movie. It’s milk toast. I had an older couple behind me on the ride down the escalator who HAD read all the books and laughed with me when I said it wasn’t good.  It  may have calls that fans of the books know, but I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the fact that in an attempt to not ostracize people who haven’t read the book they failed everyone.  As I said in the main body, it wanted to please everyone and in the end pleases no one.

I think I really would have liked to see the book as a movie or even an adaptation of the book but this wasn’t even that.

Should you see it?

No. Not even Matinee, sorry.

So not buying it?

If I thought burning it as an offering to the things outside the wheel of the tower would keep movies like this from being made – I might.

Anything even remotely fun in it?

Playing the “Guess the Stephen King reference” as the movie goes on. I got Christine, Cujo, The Shining (literally same verse), 1408, It, and Misery. Did I miss any? Wait you aren’t seeing it (I hope). Damn.

Ok so what next?

A few weeks off as there’s nothing in August after this. It’s the graveyard of summer movies typically and this summer (and movie) exemplifies it. I might throw a review or two up of random things like The Core, or the new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie.

 

Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping for something here, but I can’t even offer a ray of hope. King has said this line is one his best: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I agree. It’s intense. It’s engaging. It’s evocative and intriguing and the movie is none of these things. The work that is Kings magnum opus has come to this and I am sorry for Mr. King today.

Maybe “It” in September will be as good as we all hope it is.

Darke Reviews | The Mist (2007)

As we move back to more mainstream horror, let’s go to one of the most prolific and deserving men of the last half of the century, Stephen King. It would be easy to say he is one of the most recognized and important writers of the western world. I am proud to have a collection of most of his early works in hardcover within my library. Today’s review covers one of his stories that affected me the most as a child, The Mist. I had the opportunity to get this as a book on tape (with sound effects) around the age of 9 or 10. I grew up in a place that got mist/fog on a not too irregular basis so the one two punch made for an interesting time the next few times we had it. I’ve read the short story over a dozen times just because how good it is.

That makes this one of the violations of the read it first rules as I was reading this long before I imagined I would be writing reviews.

So how did the movie turn out?

Written and directed by Frank Darabont, who probably is the most successful individual at adapting King’s works with such films as The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption. TV watchers may know him as the man who gave us The Walking Dead. He shows a brilliant command of moving his actors, the dialogue, and the vision through beat by beat and page by page. King gave a lot to work with, but history has shown us not all King adaptations are made equal (It, The Langoliers, Sleepwalkers); but Darabont not only lifts dialogue from page to screen, but the atmosphere and the scenes page for page. For a film like the Mist the atmosphere is critical. From an additional story standpoint the movie does a good job of showing multiple points of view during such an extreme crisis, those who turn to religion, those who deny at a flat earth level, and those who accept their situation and want to survive it. The discussions of humanity, fear, and human nature while mostly being sound bits are handled better than most films who spend time on it.

Of course good acting is a well to sell that the atmosphere and horror is something to be concerned about. For that Darabont put together an excellent cast of actors. Thomas Jane plays artist David Drayton a guy from the city living in a small Maine (of course) town. A massive storm damages his lake house and that of his neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher: Brooklyn Nine-Nine); so Drayton, his son, and Norton head to town for supplies. A strange mist envelops the grocery store trapping Drayton and everyone inside. Shapes and sounds begin to move in the mist as well as the screams of those caught in it. Selling the horror is a cast of people we know even eight years later, Marcia Gay Harden (Law and Order: SVU) plays the whack-a-doodle Mrs Carmody,Laurie (Andrea – Walking Dead) Holden, Toby (Captain America) Jones, William (Die Hard 2, Iron Man 3) Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale – The Walking Dead), Alexa (Clash of Titans) Davalos, Sam (Being Human) Witwer all play their A game to sell the film. While we are discussing the raw number of future Walking Dead, we even have Melissa (Carol) McBride in an unnamed role within the film.

The effects are a wonderful blend of practical and CG. The CG is a bit dated, but it tends to the higher end at the time. If you watch the movie in black and white, which is one of the DVD features they become nearly seamless between practical and computer. Now, this past few days I have been discussing how awesome KNB EFX is.  Once again they are the stars of the effects show with Berger, Kurtzman, and Nicotero at the helm. Seriously Hollywood go to these guys more and go less to your computer departments. Please? Creature design was top notch and original and perfectly in line with the book as well. It is positively Lovecraftian.

The ending, I will not spoil, but need to discuss – so bear with me. King is quoted as wishing he had the balls to do the ending that came from Darabont’s pen. Actually…go to the bottom of the post and roll over the SPOILER section to read more.

TL:DR

The Mist is a master class in horror film-making and book adaptation. Darabont was in top form and well deserving of getting to start the Walking Dead a few years later. Great cast, great effects, great film.

If you are a horror fan you need to see this at a minimum and have it in your collection if at all possible. Take the opportunity to watch it in black and white as well.

 

 

 

SPOILERS – ENDING DISCUSSION

 

DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE WATCHED THIS

 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Ok, let’s talk the end.

Darabont went with kill your darlings. King went with hope and hopelessness. Both endings are really solid. Darabont pulls off the car and the final beats with an artist’s stroke, but then….then he ruins it. There’s two sides to this. One it increases the sense of hopelessness and the Lovecraftian break of a character’s sanity, but at the same time it also shows that the army comes in and saves the day. It ends the threat. King left the threat, still left you feeling hopeless but stood on the edge of hope. It left you with uncertainty as my friend said. 

To me, I would have preferred a combination of the two. The Kill-Your-Darlings and the chasm of Hope. It would have worked. It would have been better. The Darabont ending is really good and supremely brave to try to do, I don’t believe a studio would try it now. They don’t have it in them. So props for doing it but…..I would have preferred they film the King ending as well.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Carrie – Old (1976) vs New (2013)

 

I had been waiting to watch this movie for a little over a year from the time I heard Chloe Grace Moretz would be playing the title role. Now since I began an old vs new review schtick recently I thought it just to do an OvN for Carrie – 1976 vs 2013. For fairly obvious reasons I had not seen the original when it came out, I was four days old; however I have watched it several times since and watched it again tonight so I could accurately compare it to the one I saw late last night. How do they compare? How does the new stand up to the classic Oscar nominated film? Lets break it down and much like last time I will use years to specify. This review WILL contain spoilers due to the fact its a remake!

Directing –

Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) brings a certain modernization to the new film, that was needed to tell the story for a modern audience. The performances she coaxes out of her cast and decisions made reflect a profound respect for Brian DePalma’s(Untouchables, Scarface) 1976 adaptation of Kings novel. She brings to 2013 a vast majority of the scenes and shots that dePalma did way back when. She is also wise enough to change it when needed and make her own choices that elevate the movie in many areas but hurt it in others. It’s hard to criticize dePalma’s work because of the classic nature of it, however there are a few things that he cut that Pierce didn’t. Other decisions that he made, such as using a full-powered hose and busting out PJ Soles eardrums during prom – not good. In a true match up 2013 uses more of the original script than 1976, but the overall performances and shots these directors chose are indicitive of their times and experience.

Lets talk script.

This is of course based on the Steven King novel of the same name released in 1974. It was the first of his stories to be adapted to film, the 1976 was adapted for the screen by Lawrence D Cohen. Cohen also adapted other works by King, such as It, Tommy Knockers, Nightmares and Dreamscapes and has a credit on the new film as well. 2013 has a writing credit also given to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has Glee to his credit. That’s it. I can’t really say what Roberto added as most of the 2013 movie is nearly line for line from the 1976. Obviously a few things have changed to bring it current, a beat here or there is altered but based on the overall story presented the 2013 IS the 1976 as it was intended to be.

The story

For the few of you who don’t know it, it’s that of Carrie White a homely teenage girl who is picked on and abused from all sides without sanctum or sanity. Most of the students and even a few teachers bully and torment her there, only for her to return home to a mother who is in short – an insane Christian fundamentalist. The poor girl has her first period in the showers in the school gym, surrounded by unforgiving classmates who throw feminine products at her chanting cruel things. Saved only by a teacher Ms Dejardin. During her outburst her telekinetic powers begin to manifest. The rest of the film is an exploration of her growth into her own identity while those around her would destroy her. She has few allies through it all, none who are actually saying anything to her directly. The story culminates with a Prom, Pigs Blood and Pain.
Acting/Performances

Sissy Spacek in 1976 achieved what almost no horror movie actress has in their role, an Academy award nomination. She had a look to the character which fits her nature. She is unassuming, forgettable, the classic wall flower. She never makes eye contact, she looks shrunken in on her own sense of self. She begins to find herself and sense of self as she studies her powers and is invited to prom. The transition for her is interesting and perhaps more subtle than Chloe’s in the 2013. Chloe is hands down the best thing of the new film, but also the worst. Spacek wasn’t pretty (by my standards) so when she performed Carrie it worked on a very specific level. Chloe cannot help but be pretty even when she tries not to be. I suppose though that it adds to the level of her performance as she expertly pulls off every other aspect of what it means to be Carrie. Her transition from girl, to woman, to monster is fascinating to behold. You are with her when she feels joy for the first time in her life. As she stands up to her mother and then when it finally comes burning down.

Before we talk about the other characters we need to discuss the differences between the breakdowns. Spacek goes to bye bye land. She is no longer home and no longer connected to reality when her eyes bulge and vengeance reigns. She is indiscriminate ending her foes and even her friends who she unable to comprehend anymore. Her walk home is that of a lost creature finding its natural habitat. Our 2013 Carrie is different. She’s decided to stop being prey and become a predator. She may have lost touch with reality on a different scale, but more importantly she lost touch with her morality as she deliberately targets her enemies and saves her one friend in the room. It’s important to note she actively does save a life. The rest, the rest just burn as she stalks her way home inflicting righteous suffering. There is actual bliss on her face as some of her enemies die. I think both performances are perfect in this aspect as both show the genie in the bottle being let out in different ways. I think, as a victim of bullying for 7 years of school, I prefer 2013 but that’s taste.

Supporting Cast

Margaret White, played by Piper Laurie in 1976 was a force of nature. She was down right insane and uncomfortable to be around and played perfectly by Laurie, which I believe also got her an Academy nod. Julianne Moore, in 2013, on the other hand is a different force of nature. She’s just as insane, but screams less and has a different level of uncomfortableness to her. You watch her self mutilate and have no touch with reality. Her speech to Carrie before the end of her conception is different in the 2013 and I think better for it’s lack of filth.

The Aggressors

I don’t need to go into too much detail here. They are vile in both films and deserve all that comes with it. The modern twist of filming the shower sequence and posting it online brings it home for the recent cases of cyberbullying and the effects of it. The 1976 cast included more names that had small careers in the 70s and early 80s and some grew into bigger ones. Some guy named John Travolta for example. I don’t think the new cast has such luck as none of them save Sue (below) had any real screen presence

The supporters

Sue Snell, Tommy Ross and Ms Dejardin. Much like I have said with others these characters are iconic to their times. They reflect it perfectly and also much like the aggressors the 1976 cast went on to bigger and better (William Katt and Amy Irving) and the 2013 cast will likely not with the exception of Sue, she might have something. She has a beauty that the camera loves and a bit of charisma that with the right directors could grow into actual acting. I found that the 2013 Dejardin was a little more empathetic to Carrie and showed her frustration with the school a little better.
Effects & Technical

While the fire sequences, lighting, film quality and camera work is better in the 2013 film I think much of that is a product of Hollywood evolution. The crucifixion in 2013 however took me right out of it as the CG was so painfully evident and when compared to the more practical looking flying knives from 76 just didn’t work. I will however defend the end of the film for its choice in the destruction of the house. It was in the original 76 to be done the same way and they couldn’t make it work and by 2013 they did. The same with the death sequences during the retribution, some of them just look better now, but again this is evolution not intent.
TL;DR (I know this was long)

This one is a flat out tie. Because the film plays so faithfully to the original, even going so far as to include several scenes the original cut I can’t say they are different films. They are the same movie filmed 37 years apart. If anything it’s a study in film making now and then.

What I can say is watching the new one, which I do recommend for those so inclined, I felt anticipation growing in my chest as the prom arrived and I was waiting for the bucket. That’s something few movies have done and its something to give credit for. I may add some comments below that are more about elements to the 2013 than a true comparison.

Overall – Both movies are incredibly successful in the translation of Kings story and are faithful to each other. I have to recommend the new one if you love the old. Appreciate all that they did in the making of when we live in an age where we wince at bad decisions in remakes.
Tomorrows review never stops with the whining, but will give you a choice it never had.