“It” Movie Review

September 8, 2017

It

“It” finally arrived…and it was worth the wait. In fact, “It” may be the best adaptation of a Stephen King work yet in a year full of (despite one reputed letdown) solid King adaptations. Some might say “that doesn’t take much” thinking of the less than stellar low-budget horror films “Children of the Corn” (and it’s dozen sequels), “The Mangler” or “Graveyard Shift” but they’re forgetting great films like De Palma’s “Carrie”, Kubrick’s “The Shining” and John Carpenter’s “Christine”.* Others might be saying no way! What about “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile” and “Stand By Me”?  To both camps I say–yep, as an adaptation of a King work “It” may be the greatest yet. It captures the heart, tone and feel of the book–updating it just enough to retain relevancy for a younger generation and making a change or two that actually enhance on the original book.** Most of all it does the impossible–it takes the Moby Dick of popular horror novels and films it in a way that works cinematically (that is, in the language of cinema) without sacrificing the story of the original opus. There’s no beat-you-over-the-head explication and voice-over to explain themes and thoughts that the filmmaker uses to tell when  too lazy to show.

No, perhaps best of all—Pennywise is terrifying. If you’re an 80s or 90s baby you probably have fond (or grimacing depending on your tastes) memories of Tim Curry’s original Pennywise in the made-for-TV miniseries back in the day. I mean no disrespect to his performance–it was the only thing of that original teleplay that really holds up but it’s feared more in memory than in re-watching–but Bill Skarsgard sends chills down your spine here. He’s helped in large part by some seriously good special effects and production that a cable TV movie in the 1990s simply can’t be compared with. When this movie goes for the scares it really goes for them–relentlessly. This movie is intense and any illusion that the protagonists on screen will be okay because they’re children is quickly displaced.

Yet beyond the scares this movie knows that to keep you from being overwhelmed there has to be a bit of comedic relief which it provides in full. True to King, there’s as much heart as terror and the kids cast as the Loser’s Club are all a joy to watch. I can only hope that their adult counterparts are as honestly, convincingly cast in the culminating part II. I expect anyone who is a fan of the massively popular throwback “Stranger Things” on Netflix will be a fan of the Loser’s Club and watching them in action reveals just how deep an homage to King (as much as Spielberg) that show truly is.

So yeah.  “IT” exceeded my expectations and is the best mainstream horror film in many years in addition to being possibly the best adaptation of a King work to hit the screen yet.  Pennywise is terrifying, the Loser’s Club are a joy to watch, the score is fantastic, the performances are honest and the special effects are spot on. Andy Muschietti does a terrific job of being true to the source material but not being so beholden to it that he is afraid to make the work his own and make it work on the screen for today’s audience.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

* I think it will take time and a few revisits for me to know where “IT” stands as a movie in comparison to other King-inspired movies like “Shawshank”, “The Green Mile”, and “Carrie”. Certainly “The Shining” is Kubrick’s visionary work on full display and may be a “better” movie than “It” but it’s a far worse adaptation of its source material (which is why King dislikes it so much). But as for an honest adaptation of a King work that captures the story, atmosphere, and heart of the work “IT” may indeed be the best so far. On TV this year “Mr. Mercedes (thanks to Dennis Lehane and David E. Kelly) probably comes closest to retaining all of those same things in an adaptation but we’ll have to see if it ends as strongly and “IT” just stands head and shoulders in an iconic way above that more recent work on the page itself at least.

**[minor] spoiler alert—The changes made in the film from the book are mostly minor and all are for the better at least for the screen. The book set the children’s portion in the 1950s and the adult half in the 1980s (when it was published) and the movie bumps the children’s half to the 1980s presumably so the adult half will be set in modern day. It’s interesting how seamlessly this change works–nothing about the kids really changes that much with the 30 year jump. I think that’s largely due to the timelessness of great kid stories like this and such settings can probably be fluid anytime post-rock and roll to pre-smart phone fairly easy. The big change was that there’s a particularly infamous scene in the book in which the kids make the jump to adulthood and bond themselves to each other in a way that Steve thought was largely metaphorical and symbolic but which would certainly strike most of us as tasteless and questionable on the movie screen. That act is changed to a blood oath hand-holding style which works better by all counts IMO.

 

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The first few months of every year are most often a dead period at the cinema. All of the Oscar-baiting artistic ventures and critically-anticipated works have months since hit yet  still linger at the box-office  to give folks who wait to see the award winners after their wins a chance to catch them,  and all of the block-buster popcorn seat-fillers are a couple of months away. Usually new offerings in February and March are artistic-wannabes that weren’t quite up to snuff for award season or things that aimed to be summer crowd-pleasers but aren’t felt by their studios to  match up to their competition. So any good picture that sneaks in to the theaters at this time is  worth praising and suggesting to others seeking a re-entry into the multiplex to start off the film-going experience of the new year.

So, that being said, The Lincoln Lawyer is the first must-see movie of 2011. I’ve been eying this one since I heard about it a few months ago–it seemed to show promise of delivering the noir-crime goodness, and it does that pretty well. Based on the  novel by Michael Connelly, the screenplay manages to keep the feel of a page-turning pot-boiler. Matthew McConaughey portrays Connelly’s character Mickey Haller, a defense attorney whose office is the backseat of his Lincoln town car as he’s chauffeured around the city of LA to its different courtrooms defending his (often repeat-offender) list of clients including prostitutes, biker gangs, and drug dealers. McConaughey does a terrific job, and though he’s always been a likable figure on-screen, he’s rarely had roles that give him much to work with, which makes this performance easily his best to date. He plays Mickey with humor, wit, flaws, and depth. Mickey is no easy character to pin down, he’s a perfect noir character; McCaugney portrays him early on allowing you to admire him in his grime, seemingly cool even in his sleaze and moral grey abode, yet evolves him midway through to show touches of deep humanity, capable of seeking actual justice. The rest of the cast is great as well–Marrisa Tomei continues to be great in this second-wave of her career (reignited a couple of years ago with her turn in The Wrestler) as Mickey’s ex-wife, friend, mother of his child, and fellow lawyer from the other side as a prosecutor; Ryan Philipe as the smarmy, spoiled client Mickey has to defend; as well as everyone else, actors from Bones and Breaking Bad play bit roles to perfection amongst many others.

The cinematography compliments the overall atmosphere of the picture, capturing an LA filled with morally complex and questionable characters and elusive justice. The soundtrack is spot-on, the twists and turns continual yet plausible and realistic. A great thriller, a great mystery, and a picture that looks, sounds, and feels as it should–some scares, some jumps, plenty of surprises, a bit of heart and quite a few laughs. Since the source material for this film is the first in a series of books featuring the same protagonist, here’s hoping a few repeat visits with the same central cast. Hollywood usually doesn’t capture these types of adaptations too well, so in a case where they have, maybe we’ll see them go for it again.

Rating: 8/10