Something to admire (and be scared of) for the next 27 years. IT – movie review

Starting off as the most anticipated movie of 2017 among horror fans, Stephen King’s IT is now the highest grossing horror film in cinema history (at least in the US), only some two weeks after it hit the American theatres.

It 2017 1The movie about a bunch of kids – the appropriately named “losers” – who fight a multidimensional demon, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, has also aimed to give a more faithful adaptation to the 1986 King’s novella of the same name, whilst improving upon the 1990 TV mini-series starring the great Tim Curry.

Although the director Andy Muschietti (Mama, 2013) has claimed to aim for a great adaptation of the source material, ignoring the mini-series, most of the viewers compare the two visual products. And so did I (guilty!).

It 2017 2This umpteenth King’s adaptation has gained mostly praises and consent among both moviegoers and professional critics. Unfortunately, though, there are those who claim the 1990 mini-series is way better than the 2017 film, mostly for the sake of going against the grain.

Let me get this straight, then: 2017 IT is a truly good film, with high entertaining and acting values and a great atmosphere.

Before delving into that, I’d like to give my opinion on two of the main questions audiences were (are) concerned about going into this film. Does the movie top the 1990 mini-series? And, more importantly, is Bill Skarsgård Pennywise better than the memorable one portrayed by Curry?

IT 2017 5Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that the 1990 mini-series was divided in two parts, the first of which focused more on the kids (as in the 2017 movie) and their struggle with the dancing clown, whereas the second half was dedicated to their adulthood and their final attempt to kill Pennywise off. The first half is quite enjoyable and well-made, unlike the second which is mostly convoluted, unintentionally silly and, here I state it, boring. Muschietti’s film picks up on the first part of the story and, in my opinion, makes it better in many regards: higher production values, more consistency in the pace and better scary scenes. Although I didn’t find the movie overly scary, I can imagine many viewers being at least startled by IT. Particularly, a long sequence in a disused house and the opening scene are truly effective and set the tone for the rest of the movie.

Furthermore, the characters are great and the casting choices on spot. The kids are brilliant and their chemistry seems natural and never forced. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, The Book of Henry, 2017) is mesmerising and captured my full attention every time he was on screen. Richie, played by Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things), delivers great one-liners and is the perfect comic relief in the movie. Despite having less screen time at their disposal, even the other five members of the losers club fit perfectly into the story and each one of them brings something interesting to the table.

Obviously, though, the make or break deal in terms of characters (and success of the movie in general) is Pennywise, played by Skarsgård. He was awesome!

IT 2017 3I wouldn’t go thus far to state he was better than Tim Curry, but he definitely nailed the role and gave it an original interpretation. Curry’s Pennywise is unsettlingly friendly, whereas Skarsgård’s is genuinely terrifying and off-putting. Which one is better is for the viewer to decide; I, personally, love them both but believe that Curry is the saving grace of the mini-series, whereas Skarsgård’s character blends in the 2017 movie seamlessly and delivers on another level in comparison to his predecessor. However, it’s fair to say that Skarsgård’s performance is backed up by great CGI and editing effects that improved his movements and facial expressions – stuff that Curry couldn’t rely on.

Other than these two big questions (controversies, if you will), the aspects I appreciate the most about IT are its respect of the source material and the overall look and feel of the movie. The 2017 adaptation has a darker vibe, reinforced by some gore effects, that immerse you in the experience while, simultaneously, puts you in front of the kids’ everyday struggles and fears. I also believe that the level of entertainment is heightened by some comedic moments and bits of dialogue that make the movie well-rounded and enjoyable in diverse regards.

Seeing the first movie Andy Muschietti came out with, I was afraid IT would have relied too heavily on CGI. Sure, the computer generated special effects are all over the place, but they blend in with the practical effects and makeup perfectly, to the point that most of them don’t even look like CGI.

In regards to the flaws of the film, I could think only about a couple of issues. First of all, the group of teenagers who bully the “losers” throughout the all movie are simply unbearable: more than annoying bullies, they are borderline psychopaths. Every scene they are in seems so ridiculously over-the-top and they become distractive quite soon into the film.

Also, the horrifying vision of one of the kids looks extremely silly and, every time it was on screen, it took me out of the film.

IT 2017 4Finally, I’d have liked to see in the movie all those dark bits from King’s novella that have been cut out because they’re too gruesome. In all honestly, I believe this movie would have benefitted from a much darker tone in regards to the human side. In other words, it would have been cool to see the horrendous shit the kids are going through in the book. Nevertheless, what we got is good enough.

In conclusion, I think IT is a horror film everybody who loves the genre should watch in the more unbiased way possible. For example, I usually prefer unconventional horror films (artsy, symbolic and slow-paced ones), but I can’t deny that the 2017 King’s adaptation is a fun ride and does everything the target audience asks for! Strongly recommended. Cheers!

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The Classics of Horror #13 – Poltergeist (1982)

When Steven Spielberg’s name is attached to a project, every single moviegoer in the world expects a unique cinematic experience. If, alongside Spielberg’s talent, Tobe Hooper (RIP) works as a director in a horror flick, the result should be pure gold.

Poltergeist 1.jpgThese were the premises behind Poltergeist, a paranormal horror film about the average American family living in a haunted house – precisely, affected by a poltergeist, which is a type of ghost or other supernatural entity that is responsible for physical disturbances.

After a portal between two dimension is opened in their house, Carol Anne (the youngest of three children in the Freeling family) disappears, sucked up by the titular poltergeist. The rest of the film follows the family pattern to rescue her, with the aid of a few paranormal experts and investigators, among unwanted presences and demons.

As Roger Ebert said in his original review of Poltergeist, “the film begins with the same ingredients; it provides similar warnings of doom; and it ends with a similar apocalypse (spirits take total possession of the house, and terrorize the family)”.

Although plot and storyline didn’t bring anything new to the table when the movie came out, the show stealers were the special effects, both CGI and practical, combining Spielberg’s ground-breaking use of new technologies and Hooper’s mastery with good old makeup creations.

Poltergeist 2And here comes my biggest issue with Poltergeist: it doesn’t hold up. Don’t get me wrong, this movie has many features to be praised for and deserves its good reputation among horror fans.

However, it shows the signs of the time in a much more evident way than most of the films on this Classics of Horror list.

Indeed, it took me a couple of views and research work to truly appreciate this paranormal family thriller, because the scare factor connected to the CGI-driven sequences has been completely defeated by the test of the time and newer techniques.

Poltergeist 3The practical effects, however, are still highly effective and, therefore, impactful for modern audiences. For instance, the mirror scene in the bathroom genuinely gives me shivers; the skeletons towards the end (with actual corpses utilised by Hooper and Spielberg) are highly entertaining.

Yet, so many sequences have been executed in amazing ways: single takes, awesome camera angles, great shots and so on.

In regards to the characters, there aren’t standout performances, but each family member gives a solid representation of their traits and you must have a heart made of stone not to sympathise with Diana Freeling (JoBeth Williams) or Carol Anne – portrayed by Heather O’Rourke, who sadly died, aged 12, a few years after the film release.

Yet, Spielberg’s hand clearly emerges both in the character development and look and feel of the movie. The fact that he was the uncredited director of Poltergeist (he was working simultaneously on E.T. and wasn’t allowed to actively participate in another project that same year), is widely known, but even if you are unaware of the production history of this film, it’s impossible not to notice Spielberg’s influence.

In particular, Poltergeist could be seen as journey in and analysis of an average middle-class, small town family. The comedic dialogues and situations blend in the paranormal atmosphere very well and make this movie enjoyable to these days – more as entertaining mystery than straight-up horror, though.

If you follow my blog, you’d know that I come up with some unpopular opinions from time to time. Thus, I have one ready for Poltergeist as well: regarded as one of the scariest films ever made, to me it appears as one of the least frightening movies on this list.

poltergeist 4.jpgThis statement doesn’t want to imply that Poltergeist has never been scary: most probably it terrorised certain audiences upon its release, but it’s lost impact throughout the years, since it relies too heavily on CGI and features many “childish” scenes and monsters.

With that being said, Hooper’s and Spielberg’s collaboration remains a great watch, an extremely entertaining 80s horror suitable for the whole family, since a good horror flick doesn’t need to be scary in order to be enjoyable or interesting.

If anything, I don’t see Poltergeist as a classic of horror, since its impact shied away slowly but surely and it didn’t bring anything new to the game, other than some impressive special effects that aged quite a bit lately. I still recommend to watch it and apologise to those who consider it a really scary film (probably out of nostalgia).

When a bank robbery with James Franco goes wrong. The Vault – movie review

The Vault is a horror/thriller which revolves around a great and compelling mystery: trying to figure out what the hell James Franco is doing in this movie!

With Stephen King’s IT (review coming – very – soon) hitting theatres and making audiences go crazy, every other horror movie out there is being overlooked and, most probably, will flow under the radars.

Vault 1One of them is The Vault, written and directed by Dan Bush (The Signal, 2007), and starring James Franco and Clifton Collins Jr (Pacific Rim, Westworld, Star Trek). The focus of this horror disguised as a thriller, though, revolves around two estranged sisters – Vee and Leah Dillon, played by Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood – that decide to rob a bank in order to help their brother leaving prison.

After finding only £70.000 in the bank safe, the two ‘bad girls’ and their team of outcasts ask a bank employee to give them a way out with more money: Ed Maas (Franco) points them an old vault where they could find all the cash they need. Unfortunately, in the titular vault money is not the only thing the unlucky robbers will find…

Kicking off with a pretty cool opening scene, The Vault seems a straight-up thriller for the first 45 minutes or so, then it turns into a supernatural-driven horror flick. However, the main issues with the film is the very directorial inability to match the two tones. This movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what direction to go for, resulting in a quite disjointed and convoluted plot.

Besides, between thriller and horror scenes there are dull-witted dialogues that neither develop the characters, nor give viewers something to think about. In other words, they are fillers to make the flick reach the feature length.

Vault 2.jpgYet, the character themselves are mostly annoying and unlikable: only Leah (Eastwood) is worth rooting for, whereas her sister Vee (Manning) is, frankly, unbearable because she screams throughout the entire runtime and looks like she’s on cocaine for the majority of the film.

Also, since there is an overabundance of characters, Franco and Collins Jr are vastly underutilised and can’t shine in a movie which, honestly speaking, would very much need their on-screen charisma.

Again, the ending – and by that, I mean the very last shot – makes no sense whatsoever and seems the usual, lazy way to conclude a horror movie with a final jump-scare when the director or screenwriter run out of ideas.

Nevertheless, The Vault is not entirely worthless. For instance, towards the end and before the silly final sequence, there is a rather clever plot twist which, also, makes sense within the film and gives the audience certain answers they might have asked themselves during the film.

Other than one CGI made shot, everything else has been made through practical – and quite convincing – practical effects. There is some well-made gore thrown in the mix which is entertaining – although most of the time it’s hard to look at because of the damn shaky-cam.

Overall, I’d say The Vault would work better as a straight-up thriller rather than a mixed-genre that combines a crime story with supernatural horror. The good production values and intriguing premise, though, are not enough for me to recommend the film.

Vault featureUnless you are down for a moustached, grumpy James Franco! If that’s the case, go watch The Vault now, otherwise just avoid it. Cheers!

Seriously, Ridley Scott? Alien: Covenant – movie review

Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott’s attempt to reinvigorate the Alien franchise after the somewhat cold reactions received by Prometheus (2012) and some stinkers from the past (Alien: Resurrection, AVP), unworthily labelled as Alien movies.

Alien CovenantIn the film, we follow the crew of the Covenant – a spaceship on the way to Origae-6, a remote planet, to colonise it with some two-thousand colonists and a thousand embryos on-board. After something goes terribly wrong, the ship catches a human message from another unknown planet and, therefore, the crew decides to land there and see what’s going on.

Needless to say, the crew happens to be the target of creatures interested in nothing but ripping them apart in all manner of devastatingly inventive new ways.

After hanging over five years for answers that Prometheus set for us, Alien: Covenant only provides the viewers with some of the posers.

Instead, the result of the latest Scott’s movie appears an amalgamation between Alien and Prometheus, a mixed-bag that doesn’t satisfy neither the fans of the first nor the supporters of the latter.

Ali CovenantHaving high expectations for this film, I was very let down by it. In all honesty, Covenant is a convoluted, bloated mess that attempts to recreate the most successful chunks of both the first two Alien movies and Prometheus, failing, though, almost on every single level.

In all fairness, though, visuals and acting are the saving grace of the movie.

The cinematography is gorgeous and, once again, Ridley Scott proves to be a master-class Sci-fi director in terms of visual effects. Some of the shots are breath-taking and eye-grabbing, that’s undeniable.

Plus, the acting is very good on everyone’s part. Although Katherine Waterston as Daniels is decent, Danny McBride in an unprecedented role for him and Michael Fassbender – who carries the plot along throughout the entire two hours or so of runtime – stand out and are worth praising over the other performances.

However, these two elements only can’t save the movie from being a big let-down.

My main disappointment with Alien: Covenant revolves around the tone. The Prometheus-like vibe never matches with the Alien-like tone, providing a very contrasting feeling throughout the whole film.

Yet, the camera-work is sometimes frustrating: certain shots seem directly extracted from a videogame and there are scenes where it’s impossible to understand what’s going on because of the use of the infamous shaky-cam. Which I was really surprised Scott got away with, since it’s a technique such a good director should shy away from.

aliencovenantIn terms of camera-work, I was also disappointed by the fact that some gruesome and bloody sequences were made hard to look at, whereas would have been great to appreciate their effectiveness in this type of film.

Again, the CGI doesn’t blend with the practical effects and shots on location. It looks already fake and dated even in comparison with the astounding special effects of the first Alien (1979)! Ridley Scott, where did you go?

All in all, I would have preferred to see a straight-up sequel to Prometheus – which, although not perfect by any means, is an entertaining, challenging piece of cinema – rather than a bloated flick where direction and production company aimed to please the mass audience’s requests for more xenomorphs and brutal killings.

In conclusion, give Covenant a chance if you have to, but I personally wouldn’t recommend to watch this film, especially to those who love the first two movies and hope to see their beloved franchise to be reinvigorated. Cheers!

Err-ing on the side of caution for IT: Mama – movie review

 

It, the latest Stephen King’s adaptation, is coming out soon (8th September in the Unites States) and will be directed by the Argentinian filmmaker Andres Muschietti.

 

Since both the first and the second trailer to the killer clown’s film have pumped the viewers beyond every expectation, it’s worth taking a look to the previous feature-length movie directed by Muschietti.

 

Mama (2013) is based on the short film of the same name, also directed by Muschietti, and tells the story of two young sisters who have lost their parents, lived for a while in an abandoned cabin in the woods and rescued by their dad’s twin brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Any fan of Game of Thrones here?) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain).

 

daily-movies.ch_MamaDe-Andrés-Muschietti-4Being very little when they got lost in the forest, Victoria and Lilly have created an imaginary mother-figure called Mama who, according to them, has been looking after them all along while they were trapped in the woods. Since Lucas and Annabel have a hard time with the custody of the sisters, they turn to psychiatrist Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss, who first discovers Mama might be something more than only an imaginary friend…

 

Purely judging by the first two acts of the movie, I’d say Muschietti is the right guy to direct It.

 

Atmosphere, sounds design, use of colours and cinematography are brilliant. There is an ongoing greenish tonality surrounding every shot that makes for an overall suspenseful vibe, while it also guarantees an implied symbolism regarding Mother Nature and the relationship mother-daughter which will be revealed towards the end of the film.

 

Yet, the camera-work hints to dangers and perils without showing them, by framing the screen as if it’s split in two symmetric parts and hiding the paranormal element from the viewer’s sight.

 

Therefore, over the first hour of runtime, Mama is a quite frightening movie, despite not having breath-taking scary moments – other than two rather effective jump-scares.

 

Also, the acting is really good. Especially in regards to Jessica Chastain and the two kids. Nothing mind-blowing, but definitely above average performances.

 

j4ylOCY.gifThe film lost me in the third act, though. Due to an over-reliance on CGI, the last thirty minutes or so of Mama are silly and, since the rest of the movie is very watchable, also frustrating.

 

Again, the reveal itself and its execution are silly and extremely ‘in your face’, so that the mystery and ambiguity built up until that point get crashed, leaving nothing but disappointment.

 

Mama’s ending is one of the few reasons why I’m afraid It would not live up to the expectations. As the 1990’s mini-series has taught us, the problem with the Stephen King’s adaptation consists of not making its ending dumb and laughable. And, unfortunately, so far Andres Muschietti hasn’t proved us he could work out a worthy conclusion for its movies.

 

Nevertheless, Mama is a watchable, middle-of-the-road horror flick which can be enjoyable but also frustrating at points. With an amazing source material, such as the novel It is based on, let’s hope Muschietti could do a better job with its next film. Cheers!