The Greatest Show On Earth

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…spoilers await below…

Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to tolerate select horror flicks — thus far, I’ve been able to withstand the shocks of Sleepy Hollow (1998), The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, but when I see a horror movie, it has to be more than blood and gore. What I look for are relatable characters and a solid story. The aforementioned three had all that, and so does 2017’s feature film remake of It, the Stephen King story that terrorized a generation.

This iteration moves the year to the 1980’s, remaining in Derry, a New England hamlet, where horror besets its children. Kids of all ages go missing unexpectedly from an unknown menace, and the adults in the community don’t give half a damn, so a group of kids, rejects from their school and families, take it upon themselves to defeat this threat once and for all — but can they confront what they fear in the process?

To those who don’t know, the titular “It” is commonly shown in the form of the utterly terrifying Pennywise, the dancing clown — straight out of the pages of your deepest nightmares and masterfully portrayed by Bill Skarsgård (True Blood), this is a villain like no other, and easily ousts Tim Curry’s portrayal from the 1990 miniseries. True, while Skarsgård owes his character to Curry’s portrayal, the former plays him in a less wordy manner – he speaks with his actions more often than his voice, which is higher than Curry’s, giving him a persona akin to a child molester; quite apropos for the role. Further, the design for Pennywise is also strikingly different — gone is the Bozo knockoff of the 1990 version and instead is one akin to a Victorian court jester. Some would say that contradicts the resetting to the 1980’s; I think it only helps the nightmarish, otherworldly look of Pennywise — a child’s fears usually are of things before their time. Speaking of, also amazing are the child actors, most of them newcomers, all of whom are fantastic as the members of the Losers’ Club. What I found fascinating about their characters is that they each have something that they’re scarred by — Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) lost his brother to Pennywise and has a stammering problem; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is bullied for being overweight; Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is suspected as a child prostitute and under the control of a molester father, and so on — not one of these characters is innocent, but it only makes them stronger and deeper in their convictions, and they’re all played as human as possible, and that speaks volumes of their acting talents.

The film’s director, Andy Muschetti, famed for having directed the surprise 2013 horror hit Mama, has truly reinvented the crowded field of Stephen King adaptations, most of them beneath contempt. Unlike this year’s first King “adaptation,” The Dark Tower, Muschetti fought tooth and nail, with the aid of this film’s producers, to include more of the novel verbatim in this film. In spite of the loss of the famed “Ritual of Chüd” sequence, this movie still soars, and earned the admiration of Stephen King himself — such praise is very rare for obvious reasons.

It should be noted that the movie doesn’t end here. Those familiar with the novel and/or miniseries will know that the story has two parts to it, and this film is no different. At the end, though the opening title card reads “It,” we are shown the film’s full title before the end credits: “It: Chapter One.” A daring move, to be sure, and no sequel was greenlit at the time of completion, but judging by the Thursday numbers as of this writing, our heroes will rise again to destroy the proverbial “It,” once and for all. I, for one, can hardly wait for Chapter Two to release. Welcome to the Losers’ Club!

Rating: 5/5

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Like A Bolt Out Of The Blue

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While Marvel Studios has been, on average, going strong in the feature film market, television is another matter – Agents of SHIELD has become little more than The Marvel Easter Egg Hunt, and the Netflix shows amount to an R-rated version of the former. Agent Carter was fabulous, but as it was cancelled in its second season, we will likely never know its full potential. That being said, Marvel’s latest venture, Inhumans, holds great potential for both their life on the air and the future of television.

On the hidden lunar kingdom of Attilan, the race of Inhumans have made their home, ruled peacefully by a watchful king, Black Bolt (Anson Mount, Hell on Wheels), and loving Queen, Medusa (Serinda Swan, TRON: Legacy). However, insurrection becomes the order of the day when Black Bolt’s jealous brother, Maximus (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), leads a coup for the throne. With the aid of Princess Crystal (Isabelle Cornish, Australia Day) and her teleporting giant dog, Lockjaw (work with me), they escape to Hawaii, where they find themselves ill-equipped to Earth’s limitations, all while being hunted by the illegitimate occupant of their throne.

Even though it began as a feature film — a release date, an attached star (Groot himself, Vin Diesel, as Black Bolt) and everything — Inhumans works well as a series thus far, with a very early 90’s feel to it, reminiscent of the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but its first two episodes move slowly as a feature, something that will surely flow better on the small screen in installments. Whether this is a result of padding a feature film script or standard operating procedure at ABC (the answer is yes), it’s a minor gripe compared to its two big advantages.

Number one is its cast, led by Anson Mount as Black Bolt — to play a literal strong, silent type could be suicide for an actor, but Mount’s characterization of Bolt is resilient, yet charming — at least, for a character whose voice can level cities. In truth, he isn’t entirely silent — Mount, the showrunners and several ASL experts concocted a sign language that he uses to communicate, something not even thought of in the comics. I look forward to seeing the King of Attilan learning actual ASL, if for nothing more than awareness’ sake! Medusa, on the other, a source of fear for comic devotees due to visual effects seen in the trailers, needn’t worry about the effects, nor Serinda Swan’s portrayal of the Attilanian Queen. She’s not a standout performer just yet in the series — not all shows start off on the best foot — but the romance between her and Black Bolt is palpable; beautiful, even. By the end, you’ll be a shipper. A surprising addition to the cast is Ken Leung (Keeping The Faith) as the royal visionary, Karnak (“Zim-Zallah-Bim,” Johnny Carson) — I knew he was cast, but his powers are impressive and, in this fan’s eyes, may tie into the MCU at large sooner than we think. I mean, is it any coincidence that his powers bear a design similar to spells in the Mystic Arts (see also: Doctor Strange)? We shall see.

Number two is the technical merits behind the show — famously billed as the first show filmed with IMAX cameras and showing only in IMAX theaters ahead of its debut on ABC, this is the most polished and gorgeous show I’ve seen produced by network television! Visual effects, particularly Lockjaw himself, shine with no trace of green screen or cut corners — are you watching, Once Upon A Time? — and in an IMAX theater, sound is bounding — every crash, every stab and every slam of a hoof is amplified with gusto in IMAX Sound. Bravo; can we have more network shows in IMAX?

Yes, the show is bogged down with some gripes — everyone above the pay grade of an extra has to be pretty as per ABC tradition — even people in the lower caste of Attilan are pretty, which kind of defeats the purpose, story wise. ABC, please hire actors with less than perfect teeth, facial deformities and Autism in all your roles with no corrections. Call yourself inclusive, eh? Minor gripes include Isabelle Cornish, a bit of a teenage weak link thus far as Crystal, but I hope I’ll be proven wrong as I was with Agents of SHIELD‘s FitzSimmons, and Iwan Rheon is a bit dry as Maximus, but I’ve never seen his work on Game of Thrones, or any episodes of the aforementioned, but again, let’s let these actors find their groove in the MCU.

Thus far, Inhumans is imperfect, but few shows are right out of the gate. Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation took three seasons to kick it into gear, and with any luck, Marvel’s Royal Family will triumph before its eight episode limit! To your health, my King & Queen!

Rating: 3/5