Friday, November 17, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Short of boring you on the list of movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, I’ll just say that we’re here on film number five of Phase Three (the 17th film altogether) and there are still a lot of films slated to be released for the next three years.  Thor: Ragnarok is more or less a sequel of sorts after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and where Thor—and especially Hulk—went from there.  If you’ve seen Doctor Strange, the post credits scene of that film is lengthened a bit in this film as well and all of that dialogue is explained here in this story.


Of course, I’m getting well ahead of myself and making this a bit confusing to the Marvel novices out there, so let me just get into this as easily as I can.  Although, if you’re really new to these films and starting with this particular chapter, you may want to be more acquainted with this series of films and start from the beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.  Believe me, it’s a lot of fun to go through each one, enjoying how they all tie together and seeing the little clues or cliffhangers at the end of each one as you wait for that extra scene (or scenes) in the middle of—or after—the end credits…all paying off with the eventual The Avengers film…as well as the subsequent chapters.


But…let’s dive into the summary of Thor: Ragnarok


Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally and fellow Avenger.  Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.


Now, the story starts off with what may be perceived as Thor breaking the fourth wall, chronicling how he came to be in the predicament he finds himself and it’s kind of along the lines of Deadpool explaining to the audience the happenings in his film.  But as the camera shows his plight in his confines, we see he’s talking to a skeletal corpse…and this is the beginning of the comedy we’re going to witness in this flick (more on that later).


In Thor: Ragnarok, we get a more lighthearted hero, with a bit of humility and clowning (bordering on buffoonery) that we haven’t seen in the previous two solo outings.  But make no mistake—he’s still the hero and still the Mighty Thor of this story…but he’s forced to be submissive for the sake of returning to his home in the hopes of saving his people from the evil Hela.


Speaking of Hela, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this character, if we were going to get someone along the lines of the opponents of the other Marvel heroes or if it was going to be a boring character that Thor would easily defeat.  It turns out that Hela is a very complex character who is very powerful and the story shows how dangerous she is from the moment she’s brought forth on screen.  Cate Blanchett really shines as this evil adversary and is probably the most refreshing antagonist Thor has faced thus far.


Going into my favorite portion of this film and being somewhat familiar with the Hulk line of comic books, there has been one aspect not explored and that is the character’s ability to speak.  In the late 70s, Lou Ferrigno famously brought the hero to life but had roars and growls dubbed in when he opened his mouth.  In the 2003 Ang Lee film, there were a couple of scenes (one was a dream sequence) where the Hulk spoke a line or two and the 2008 film had a few words as well.  In The Avengers, Hulk had his “puny god” line he delivered, but not much else…until now.  Giving him many lines—mostly hilarious—makes it easy to build on the bond we see between the two heroes of the film.  The anger, the tantrums…even the silly display of childishness in this film is so comical and uplifting.  The moment he’s introduced in the gladiatorial match against Thor, yelling out his name along with the chants of the crowd, is the moment you’ll grow a grin from ear to ear.


So, I mentioned the comedy of this film and it’s one of the little things I can nitpick about it.  I’ll admit, just about every gag and one-liner that’s performed in this movie had me laughing out loud and I enjoyed every minute of it.  But standing back to look at what I’d just watched, especially comparing Hemsworth’s performances in all the other Marvel films in which he’d been featured, makes it very obvious that he’s a different person here.  In the first film there are funny scenes because he’s a fish-out-of-water character on Earth, in the other films there may have been one or two funny moments but he was always the straight man.  Here…he’s funny for the sake of it and it’s very obvious.  However, since it’s entertaining—and not very annoying—it’s easily forgiven, especially knowing that director Taika Waititi has a comedic background and infused it into the character of Thor and the surrounding Marvel characters.


Finally, Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster is perfect as he’s given the freedom to just be himself and just run the character as he sees fit.  Being the ruler of the planet Sakaar, he plays the character as a giddy—yet likable—villain, but shows his bad side in ways that are both funny and extreme.  Goldblum fits so well in this film and you’ll love it every time he gets screen time.


Overall, the emotion most of us comic book geeks have is the anxiousness we’re feeling for the future films to come: The Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and so many others.  It’s a great time for us fans of Marvel Comics to be alive!


My final “bit” on Thor: Ragnarok?


There is so much here, much more than I can go over without spoiling the main plot as well as minor subplots within the film.  The film will leave you wanting more and hoping it’ll never end.  The music score is wonderful, with an 80s synth vibe, leaving Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to pop up during the climatic part of the film (I’ve never heard the song sound so good!).  All the players do such a great job in this film, from the returning cast members (Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin) to the newcomers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge, and Taika Waititi voicing the fan-favorite Korg), I’m hoping we get more Thor films like this one.  Thor: Ragnarok should not be missed!


By the way, make sure to wait for the mid-credits scene that will give you a taste of what’s to come in Avengers: Infinity War.  However, it’s up to you if you want to wait until all of the credits finish up to view the last scene…it’s a bit amusing, but it’s a coin-flip if you want to sit through all that time to see it.


Thanks for reading!


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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cult of Chucky

Remembering the first time I saw Child’s Play when it was playing in theaters back in 1988, waiting for that scary reveal when Chucky finally comes to life in front of his victim’s eyes and making everybody scream in their seats, that memory always comes back whenever I pop in any of the films from that franchise.  Not only was that 20-year-old version of me freaked out by the film back then, I was also analyzing how the filmmakers were able to make the doll walk and run and stab and kill…I was mesmerized by the logistics of the scenes and how the special effects worked and here I am, still with that wonderment.  Of course, I know a lot of special effects are achieved with CGI or digital removal of wires and cables, but I’m still drawn back to those times in the 80s when I’d head over with some friends to see the latest slasher.

So, after 29 years, Chucky is still at it in his latest adventure in the seventh outing of the Child’s Play franchise.  To me, Seed of Chucky was the least entertaining of all the films, which took the story into a weird Meta direction, but I love this franchise and always visit it every Halloween season.  Now I have another entry to add to my playlist that I’d purchased sight-unseen.

Was the purchase a win?  Let’s synopsize first…

After being accused of murdering her family, Nica (Fiona Dourif) is sentenced to an asylum and begins to believe—after many therapy sessions and shock treatments—that she was guilty of her family’s demise.  But soon, grizzly deaths start to occur and she then realizes that what her psychiatrist, Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), convinced her was illusion—that Chucky (Brad Dourif) was a living killer doll—may, in fact, be real after all.

Instead of an entirely different storyline for a sequel or—perish the thought—a reboot of the franchise all together, writer and director Don Mancini gives us something fresh and takes the idea of Chucky in another direction, just as thrilling and fun as the original.  Cult of Chucky follows closely after the events in the previous entry and gives us the rest of the story after the events of the previous film. 

The crux of the story takes place in the asylum with Fiona Dourif reprising her role as Nica, which was nice to see her again and to see what was the result of her incarceration was at the end of the last film.  Added to the mix of this story are five main characters: the psychiatrist—Dr. Foley—who is stationed at the institution, Angela (Marina Stephenson Kerr) is an older patient who thinks she’s dead, Claire (Grace Lynn Kung) another patient with anger issues but looks out for the well-being of her friends there in the asylum, Michael (Adam Hurtig) has a multiple personality disorder and takes a liking to Nica, and Madeleine (Elisabeth Rosen) who is clearly disturbed as she’s confined for smothering her baby to death.  Some of these characters are presented as red herrings to the plot at times, but all add to the plot intrinsically.

Besides the key narrative of the story, we also get a subplot involving a familiar face in the earlier films of the franchise.  In the previous entry, Curse of Chucky, there was an after-credits scene for which some of you might’ve waited.  It was a short scene where we see Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, reprising his role from the first two movies) grown up and living on his own.  He receives a large parcel which turns out to be Chucky paying a visit to his old friend and trying to tie up loose ends.  Andy, of course, gets the upper hand and ends up blasting Chucky away with a shotgun, knowing full well that the package was in the shape of the Good Guys Doll packaging.  Well, fans of the Child’s Play series loved it, so the filmmakers had to have him return in this sequel to be Chucky’s “Dr. Loomis” as the one who knows how to defeat the doll by planning ahead. 

Back as well is Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany (the logistics of her return is a little confusing, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions when you watch this) and hasn’t missed a beat as Chucky’s girlfriend.  She’s in this for a glorified cameo, but adds the evil levity for which she brought to the franchise back in Bride of Chucky.

One can’t say that this movie is scary or spooky in any way (although there are a few stirring moments)…the original achieved that and everyone knows the character already as Chucky had become a household name years ago.  But there is a bit of a mystery here and you really don’t know what’s going to happen or where the story is going until later in the film. 

Before I get to my overall thoughts of this movie, I’ve just got to say how amazing it is that this franchise is still going strong and not losing any steam.  Being that Chucky is one of the Titans of Terror—alongside Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, Leatherface, Michael Myers, et al—he’s the only one who hasn’t had a rebooted or remade movie.  Cult of Chucky is actually a continuation of the story set in motion in 1988—that’s amazing!

My final “bit” on Cult of Chucky?

I had a lot of fun with this film, enjoying the dark humor and thrills, along with the inventiveness of the story.  Rather than ignoring the whole voodoo ritual that started this whole franchise, Mancini embraces it and uses it even further.  Brad Dourif still has what it takes to bring the killer doll to life and it always brings a smile to my face when I hear his quips, curse words, and all around rage on the screen.  Again, it’s upsetting to see this sequel get the straight-to-home-media treatment instead of bringing Chucky back onto the big screen, but it is what it is—Universal Studios’ loss.  Though the ending of the film has a lot to desire, and a bit of a letdown (only because I really didn’t see it going that way), it’s still a lot of fun throughout and shouldn’t be missed if you’re an avid Chucky fan.

Thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


So, this is pretty incredible.  In early September, we get the very impressive It, then Gerald’s Game later that month as a Netflix original movie, now here we are with another Netflix film…Stephen King’s 1922.  Along with the couple of television series and The Dark Tower film adaptation (which I’ve yet to see), 2017 continues to be an excellent year for Stephen King. 

Another impressive aspect of this latest film is the starring actor, Thomas Jane, and his history with Stephen King.  In 2003, he starred in the disappointing Dreamcatcher and in 2007 The Mist.  It’s good to see an actor frequenting Stephen King films as Jane now joins the ranks of Kathy Bates and Jeffrey DeMunn as being featured in multiple outings.

The announcement of 1922 took me by surprise and I had to figure out from what book this movie was adapted.  I was pretty sure it was a short story and was right when I finally discovered it in the Stephen King collection, “Full Dark, No Stars,” published in 2010.  I’ve had it sitting on my bookshelf since I’d purchased it after its release and hadn’t read it since, so I pulled it from my shelf and dove into the first story right away.  It was a lengthy short story—more of a novella—clocking in at 131 pages, but I found myself immersed in it and had a hard time putting it down.  One thing to note, I’m a stickler when it comes to Stephen King films and have to read the book before seeing the movie.

So…just a day before October 20th, I’d finished the story, being very impressed with it, and waited patiently for the film to be released on Netflix. 

What did I think of 1922?  First, the synopsis...

In the year 1922, a simple yet proud rancher, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), conspires to murder his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), for financial gain, convincing his teenage son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to participate.

The misgivings I’d had with the story, and what made me a little nervous about watching the adaptation, was the few animal deaths described in the book.  My first thought, after reading the details of one of the first animals to die, was about how the film would depict this or if it would be shown at all...or maybe happen off-screen (my preference).  Although filmmakers these days wouldn’t actually film an animal death for the purpose of entertainment—though, in the past, some have done just that (i.e., Cannibal Holocaust, Apocalypse Now)—the realistic special effects that movies display are pretty detailed and hard to accept as fakery.  So I was thinking I may take umbrage with the scenes I’d read in the book if I see them brought to the screen.

However, what I’d been looking forward to was how well the filmmakers were going to show the period that this movie takes place—the 1920s.  The descriptions of the vehicles used by the characters—the Model T, for instance, owned by the main character, Wilfred James—was going to be interesting to see it in the film.

Now, when comparing what I was expecting to see and what I actually did see, this film delivered.  What I had pictured in my head as I’d read the novella had vividly come to life on my television screen as it was presented on Netflix.  The James family farm, the vehicles, the buildings in town, the corn fields…the setting was done perfectly.  Although the cast was stellar and gave great performances, especially Thomas Jane (more on him later), I felt the casting could’ve been done a bit better with a few of the characters.  For example, Sheriff Jones was described as an old man, a little overweight and ready to retire, but still had his wits about him for the job he’d held for so long.  In the film, however, he was a bit younger, played by Brian d’Arcy James, and didn’t have that seasoned look about him as described in the book.

As for Thomas Jane, I’ve always liked him as an actor and felt he brings a sense of levity to any scene he’s featured in.  Even the terrible Dreamcatcher—the first Stephen King adaptation Jane has starred in—was a flick to which he added some depth and brought a character you can relate to and cheer for as he goes through whatever plight he faces.  But Thomas Jane is always himself and never really diverts from his own persona.  Here, in 1922, he completely transformed himself in both his speech patterns and his physical appearance. Gone is his tough guy image as he seemed to have slimmed down for this role, looking very lean and much older than he usually appears.  Also, he must’ve really studied the speech and lingo of midwesterners, as he really passes for a seasoned farmer of the early 20th century.  If I hadn’t known he was to star in this film, I might’ve thought he was some other actor—Jane is almost unrecognizable here, yet gives a hell of a performance.

Another familiar actor you’ll see in this film is Neal McDonough as Harlan Cotterie.  It was important to feature him as he’s the father of Shannon (Kaitlyn Bernard), girlfriend of Wilfred’s son, Henry.  McDonough doesn’t do much throughout this film until he emotes a bit towards the climax of the film, with his part in 1922 feeling a bit wasted.  But his scenes were needed in this story and that’s how they were written in the book, so his character was adapted as intended.

Zak Hilditch wrote and directed this film, and though he’s no Frank Darabont, the story seems to be depicted like something he’d film.  Hilditch certainly brought this to screen much like the story is presented in the novella, with the narrator, Wilfred James, starting off the story as a written confession in some hotel room.  He also keeps the story moving and gives each situation the characters face a feeling of dread at every turn.

Overal, the point of this story may not be so transparent once you begin watching this.  But by the time the film is done you’ll see that the one bad action the main character commits, results in bad karma, guilt and a domino effect that leads to a bitter end.  It’s a great message and a well-written plot by the great Stephen King.

My final “bit” on 1922?

I really applaud Netflix for taking a chance on these obscure titles by Stephen king, such as 2014's A Good Marriage and this year's Gerald’s Game.  Most major studios won’t gamble on original stories like 1922, choosing instead to churn out remake after remake.  Yes, It was a remake of a television film that should have never been attempted in the first place (though it does have its merits), but King has so many stories that can be developed—it’s a limitless well that can entertain moviegoers until the end of time.  Taking this little-known story from the “Full Dark, No Stars” collection of short stories was ballsy and paid off in spades.  It keeps you captivated throughout, featuring some awesome performances, and will keep you thinking about it long after you watch it.  And if you're a diehard fan of Stephen King, you're going to want to watch 1922.

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gerald's Game

2017 has been a good year for Stephen King.  “The Mist” television series had come and went, The Dark Tower was an idea that should’ve been taken care of more sufficiently, ”Mr. Mercedes” has been going strong on AT&T’s Audience Network, the great It is captivating audiences in theaters (with the second chapter set to be released in 2019), there’s a Netflix original coming up based on King’s short story, “1922,” and an interesting TV series has been announced for 2018 called “Castle Rock.”  Along with his adaptations going strong, King has been killing it with his criticisms of Donald Trump on Twitter, even getting himself blocked by the POTUS, which gives King that much approbation in my opinion.


Who’d have thought that Stephen King would still be relevant in today’s bevy of horror films?  Although I think King has heaps of stories that can be easily adapted to the screen, it would have seemed audiences today wouldn’t enjoy the types of stories he has churned out over the years, choosing to see these cheap jump-scare, teenie-bopper flicks.  But It has proven audiences are smarter than that and choose to see something more than a scare fest—they truly do want to see something much deeper and meaningful.


With all that said, cinema and network television are not the only forms of media to see these worthy films.  The advent of Netflix Originals is what’s taking the world by storm, rolling out a well-rounded cluster of films and on-going series (which have seasons released all at once).  With already a multitude of Marvel Studios superhero series earning high praise, there have also been some strong docu-dramas and full-length movies receiving the same acclaim.  Continuing that strong current of films is the Stephen King adaptation of his 1992 novel of the same name, Gerald’s Game.


Let me synopsize…


Trying to rekindle their marriage, Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) take a drive out to their remote lake house, planning to spend a few days by themselves.  Attempting to spice up their sex life, Gerald decides to handcuff Jessie to their bed frame, but she has second thoughts about it when he gets too far into their role-playing.  However, when Gerald dies unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack, Jessie must fight to survive as she’s still handcuffed to the bed.


The announcement of this film took me by surprise a bit, for I hadn’t heard anything about it besides the little tidbit of info a few years ago where some movie article mentioned it might be made into a movie.  Knowing the source material, I really didn’t think it’d make a good movie, maybe even being perceived as boring if filmmakers tried to adapt it.


Here in this Netflix film, released on September 29th of this year, the story is set up well enough, modernizing it for today’s audiences and making it believable for everyone to suspend disbelief.  For instance, would a couple just leave their front door wide open when going inside to start a bit of intimacy?  Maybe, I guess…if you know there isn’t a soul around for miles and miles.  But there aren’t too many other scenes where you’d sit there and say, “I can’t believe that can happen!”  The story gets going right away, with Gugino’s character stuck in her predicament, her husband dead at the foot of the bed, all with her mind playing tricks as she slowly starts to unravel while trying to find a way to save herself.


Without giving away too much, I felt the technique of bringing second images of Jessie and Gerald to life as sort of the two sides of her conscience was a lot better than the idea of just having a voiceover to hear her thoughts, which is mainly what you’d read in King’s novel—that works in a book, but not so much in a movie.  Jessie remembering her childhood in the form of flashbacks helped with her character’s development and I found the story interesting as well.


With the flashback scenes diving into Jessie’s past, it gave the story added depth as it had with the novel.  It explained Jessie’s weakness in how she’d gotten herself in the situation she was in as well as helping her overcome it.  Additionally, these scenes takes us away from the boring claustrophobic atmosphere some audiences may think of when the story takes place in a small setting the whole time.


Director Mike Flanagan does a fine job of helming this feature, as well as presenting it to us as a true adaptation.  Flanagan co-wrote the script with Jeff Howard and did the right thing by not deviating too far from the source material.  In fact, the only variations I’d noticed in the story is the modernization of certain aspects, such as cell phones and the inclusion of Viagra.  Other than that, everything here is taken straight from the book.


Back to the dual roles of each main actor, having them play the two sides to Jessie’s conscience really needed two people with great acting chops.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood fill those roles perfectly, showing us what the imprisoned Jessie is thinking and planning, as well as giving her ideas on how to cope with her situation in both good and bad ways.  They come across as the angel and devil on Jessie’s shoulders, which was pretty ingenious on the filmmakers’ parts.


Although the story isn’t really your typical horror narrative, there’s still an aspect of fear that leads the audience to feel that way.  Not only does our main character have the trepidation of her circumstances, but she also has to contend with a hungry stray dog that keeps showing up to feed (remember, the front door was left wide open) and the hallucination (or existence) of a terrifying visitor called The Moonlight Man (Carel Struycken).  All of this adds to the dreadful atmosphere to give Jessie the need to get out of handcuffs.


As a side note, those who get squeamish when viewing gory effects may want to turn away from the screen occasionally—especially during the climax at the lake house.  But—Who knows?—the story may be a life lesson to those who may be stuck in this situation where they find themselves handcuffed to bed posts and need to get themselves out.


So…what’s my final “bit” on Gerald’s Game?


From start to finish, I was engrossed and taken back to the days when I was reading this book.  The acting from both Gugino and Greenwood were great, giving just the right balance needed between the two.  In fact, it was more understandable on how everything went down than what had transpired in the book, particularly the feelings the characters had for one another.  The night scenes that Gugino’s character had to go through were spooky and a bit terrifying, especially when you put yourself in her situation.  The only part of the film that let me down was the conclusion of the story, which seemed out of place and almost felt like it was tacked on as an afterthought.  But, as a whole, I loved this movie and felt it was worthy to be called a true Stephen King adaptation.  If you’ve got the Netflix streaming service, please take a look at this film—you won’t be disappointed.


Thanks for reading.


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Monday, September 18, 2017


Before becoming such an aficionado of Stephen King’s literary works, I still had knowledge of his writings and knew the connection he had of books-to-film as far back as I can remember.  From the first adaptation of Brian De Palma’s Carrie in 1976 and all through the first part of the 80s, I’d recognized Stephen King as a writer of horror fiction, but never dove into his books until my senior year of high school.  Finally being curious about what was so special about this author, I’d borrowed my brother’s paperback of “It” and dove into it, all the while worried about the size of the book (I’d made sure to check out the page-count and was a little perplexed to see it was over 1,100 pages long…longer than any book I had read in that period of my life).  Within the first chapter, however, I found I couldn’t put it down and was completely taken into another world—another city and another time, in fact—to the made-up small town of Derry in Stephen King’s home state of Maine.


I don’t know how long it took to get through it—it didn’t feel that long, it felt like too short of a time—but I was amazed, and a bit saddened, by the time I’d finished it.  Amazed at the imagination King had put down on paper and saddened because I’d come to the end of that great story.  To this day, whenever anyone asks or talks about his catalog of stories, I cite Stephen King’s “It” to be my favorite of all his books. 


Some few years later, in 1990, a television event was broadcast—“Stephen King’s It”—which was a bit disappointing, since TV movies had its limits compared to a theatrical release.  But the film had—and still has—its merits, particularly the first half of the film, so it’s still enjoyable to watch.  However, the terrifying aspects and the wondrous descriptions of the creature were missing from the film, so it left me—as well as a lot of other Stephen King fans—a little flat.


Now, here we are, 27 years later (that number definitely has some significance if you’ve read the novel), and Stephen King’s “It” gets the theatrical treatment, with no holds barred and all the R-ratedness you can stand.  Going through a few years of developmental hell—some interchangeable director selections and an adjustment of casts—it was finally announced that Andy Muschietti was hired on as director.  Having a couple of foreign films under his belt, he finally had gained some recognition for his American film, Mama, in 2013.  But I have to admit, it was a little worrisome to hear that Muschietti, a relatively unknown director, was given the reins to such a high-profile horror film.


So…what did I think?  Let’s break down the plot first…


A group of bullied kids—Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff)—calling themselves The Losers Club, band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), begins hunting children.


As a teenager, just starting to devote my life to the fantastic world of Stephen King novels, reading this book was terrific and I’d always imagined the goings-on in the story as a possible movie.  One of the first monster encounters described in the book is when the character of Georgie Denbrough (played by Jackson Robert Scott in this new adaptation) is taken as Pennywise’s victim.  It’s horrific and viscerally described, which led me to believe a movie would never show a scene as shocking as what I’d read.  Now, in 2017, it finally had come to fruition just as I’d read it in 1986 and it was as scary and shocking as I’d imagined it to be.  It was at this point of the movie that I’d known…this flick was going to be fantastic.


Coming in to work the next day, speaking to my coworkers about my experience, some of them had shown their distaste of horror movies—either not enjoying the idea of being scared or just not wanting to see disturbing images on screen.  To them, I mentioned that It would be just as great of a film if they were to take out all of the scary parts—even omitting the scenes featuring Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise.  The interaction and overall acting displayed by this young group of children was amazing and so entertaining.  The dialogue shared by all of them flowed so smoothly, you really felt like they had been friends forever, nothing feeling forced or fake.


For me, the standout of the ensemble was Jack Dylan Grazer playing the character of Eddie Kaspbrak.  Remembering the book, the character wasn’t really that much of an important part of the story, but the professionalism and performance displayed by this young man were really felt.  He had quite few funny moments, especially between him and Finn Wolfhard (playing Richie Tozier, who, understandably, stole the movie with his constant quips and dirty jokes).


For a horror film, you’d think there wouldn’t be too much emotion felt, but there were quite a few moments nevertheless.  You experience this, even in the trailer before the movie was released, between the brothers Bill and Georgie, as the older brother makes his younger one a paper sailboat to play with out in the flooded gutters of the neighborhood street.  Even in the later scenes where you’re not sure if Bill is really seeing his little brother or if it’s a forced vision that Pennywise had created, it’s heartbreaking at times.


Now, let’s talk about Pennywise…


Although the TV movie back in 1990 was pretty tame, it can be agreed by most that the performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise was what made that flick watchable.  The makeup and outfit, complete with his menacing performance, will always have a place in Stephen King fans’ hearts.  So to have a new actor donning the clown shoes must’ve been a bit worrying for all involved.  However, rest-assured, the moment we see Skarsgård for the first time, enticing Georgie Denbrough to reach for his sailboat that fell down into the sewer, we’re in—all in.  The bulbous head, the grease-painted face, and the tufts of orange-red hair…it’s both terrifying (as most clowns tend to be, regardless of what the World Clown Association may think) and friendly, oddly enough.  Skarsgård goes from a hilarious giggle-inducing caricature to a menacing fiend in an instant, definitely sending shivers down your spine with his glowing eyes and sinister smile.  Although he doesn’t have much screen time, when Pennywise shows up, it usually scares the hell out of you.


If I can point out a minor weak aspect of the film, it’s probably just the absence of some character development.  But that’s to be expected in a film with such a big cast, there’s just not enough time to tell everybody’s story.  The important thing to see in this film is that these children band together and do what’s necessary to fight the evil bestowed upon their town, and to do it as loving friends—that definitely shows.


I really wish I can go on and talk about some of the scenes that were entertaining and memorable, but I don’t want to spoil too much of it…it just needs to be seen and felt without knowing much about the story.  Instead, I’ll just give you my final “bit” on It...


A brilliant movie, filmed so well, showing us the innocence of the time between these young kids, yet tragic to observe what they go through.  The cast is perfect, making me wonder how they’re going to top this in the sequel—in the book, the first half is all about the kids, while the second half is how they all return 27 years later as adults—so I have to wonder who they’re going to cast as the adult versions of this awesome group of friends.  I can’t help but compare this to the 1990 television movie, because the first half was excellent while the second half wasn’t as good.  All in all, it’s not too often when I’m willing to see a movie for a second time during its theatrical run, but it’s pretty rare when I want to go right back into the theater to see it again right after watching it.  Whether you’re horror fan or not, if you love movies like Stand By Me or The Goonies, then you’ll love It…go see it!


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

I’ve always enjoyed the comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, remembering watching their movies as a child as I’d spend my Saturdays watching the local channel that would feature their films.  They were such a great pair—Abbott being the straight man and shining Costello on as the chubby little guy who usually cried wolf.  But it’d been years and years since I had the good fortune to sit down and watch one of their movies, not recalling any of the ones I’d seen as a kid.  Knowing that the most popular ones they’d filmed were the ones that featured the Universal Monsters, I checked with Netflix for the availability on the first one and had it sent to me.

Some of the most notable and recognizable movie characters are the Universal Monsters from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Icons like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf Man are just a few of the well-known monsters that we’ve all come to know and love.  To this day, those movies still work and will forever be timeless, as the use of eerie shadows and tranquil illumination make me feel that I can never get enough of them.  The first of the monsters movies—Dracula—is nearly 90 years old and it was the one that started them all.  Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein soon followed, making Universal Studios monster movies the phenomenon of its time.
The witty comedy duo, Abbott and Costello, were a hit in the 40s, making Universal Studios a lot of money with their films.  Toward the end of that decade, it was quite an ingenious idea to have the comedy duo “meet” the popular horror monsters of that era with the first experiment beginning in 1948.  The idea was so successful that it spawned another four films where the two comics run into other popular scary movie characters in comedic fashion.  But the movie that started this trend, however, is none other than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Although the title makes it sound like the comics were only going to meet Frankenstein’s Monster (of course, the title is a misnomer, as Frankenstein was the name of the man who’d created the monster, not the name of the monster itself), but two other characters are brought into the mix as well.
Before any further discussion, here’s the plot breakdown of the film…
Two hapless freight handlers, Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello), find themselves encountering Dracula (Bela Lugosi), the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange), and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.).
Released in 1948, this was the perfect time for a mishmash of comedy and horror, putting together the genius comedy of Abbott and Costello with the ever-popular and ongoing Universal Studios monster movies.  With the recent films of The Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein still popular and going strong, it was a no-brainer to put this together. 
The director, Charles Barton, has quite a list of films he’s helmed from the early 1930s until the 1960s, with quite a few popular television series interspersed between.  One thing I’d noticed, however, was how many Abbott and Costello films he had directed and that number is eight.  Seems that Barton was a good fit with the comedy twosome and Universal Studios had recognized that, giving him the reins to direct the funnymen in all those hits.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein does feel like one of the serious Universal Classics at its heart, especially with Lugosi picking up where he had left off so many years before.  Although he had played a similar vampire character of Count Mora in Mark of the Vampire in 1935, this was the first time in 17 years that Lugosi came back to play Dracula in a feature-length movie.  Lon Chaney Jr.’s last outing as the lycanthroped Larry Talbot had only been 3 years prior along with Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster in House of Dracula.  But they all stepped into their roles flawlessly and had played them earnestly, regardless of the film being a comedy.
By today’s standards, yes, the movie isn’t very scary and might be seen as a bit cheesy.  Even the comedy of Abbott and Costello isn’t that great in this flick, but all the components that were brought together for this outing totally makes up for any inconsistencies you may notice.  Some of the skits seen throughout this film made me chuckle—one in particular, when Costello needed to grab a table cloth and pulled it off while leaving all the glasses and candleholders in place, he stops to look at the camera, breaking the fourth wall…classic.  You’ll see quite a few scenes like that, where Lou Costello chews the scenery.  In fact, there are a few YouTube videos you can find where there are some very funny bloopers from this movie, a lot of them having Glenn Strange crack up at Costello’s antics.
First off, one of the biggest misconceptions of all the popular monsters is that Frankenstein is the name of the monster in the film of the same name.  Really, the title refers to the doctor who created the creature with it never receiving a name within the film’s story.  It’s been a misnomer for years and years, and I’m sure if you were to show a picture of the monster to anyone and asked them to name the creature, they’d reply “Frankenstein.”  But here, in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein isn’t in the story, but all this can be overlooked…unless you’re a picky movie enthusiast like me.
You can tell all the cast is having fun, at times not really taking the film seriously, but overall you can tell Universal had struck a gold mine with this concept.  In fact, the studio mined the idea four more times with Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949), Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955).
Lastly, I’ll say it’s kind of sad that the real creator of these famous monsters wasn’t asked to come back for these films and that’s the great make-up artist, Jack P. Pierce.  He, alone, is responsible for the appearance of Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolf Man, as well as many other famous monsters from Universal Studios’ canon of early horror flicks.  Here, Bud Westmore was brought in for the task of replicating Pierce’s work.  And it’s not to disparage Westmore’s efforts, it’s just upsetting that Jack Pierce was treated the way he was by Universal.
So…what’s my final “bit” on Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein?
The movie has nearly the same feel as most of the Universal Monster movies, just supplementing some of the light comedy touches from the comic duo.  It never feels like a parody of the films from the 30s and 40s—Bela Lugosi as Dracula is just as ominous, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster is somewhat menacing, and Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man is once again frightening—so, they’re never put in situations that make them look ridiculous.  The movie, as a whole, is a good time and fun for all ages.
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Friday, August 4, 2017

The Hidden

Although I have a great appreciation for the films of the 1980s, it’s usually reserved for the ones released within the early part of the decade with anything after 1985 being ignored or not as enjoyable…for the most part.  For instance, my love of the Friday the 13th franchise is mainly for the first four films and I usually stop after watching the fourth film.  With the A Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise, I go as far as The Dream Warriors.  It just seems that the latter half of the 80s included too many silly films and they all became parodies of what we’d seen a mere few years before it.  But for some reason, 1987 was a year that churned out some very memorable movies that were entertaining and exciting.


With that said, and as unfortunate as it is, The Hidden had fallen through the cracks and hasn’t seen resurgence thus far.  But I’m here to tell you…it needs to be looked at and discussed.


The plot breakdown…


An alien parasite with the ability to possess human bodies goes on a merciless crime spree in Los Angeles, committing dozens of murders and robberies.  In pursuit of the extraterrestrial criminal is FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) and police detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) who is investigating the recent outbreak of violence.  Closing in on the vicious intruder, the city faces a brutal threat like no other it has ever encountered.


Speaking of the 80s, there was a time back then when many productions were filmed in and around the Los Angeles area.  Although I’m not that familiar with the L.A. area, seeing these films almost makes me think I know it quite well.  Most of the films were memorable classics like The Terminator, To Live and Die in L.A., Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard, and those films always bring a sense of nostalgia into me.  I can go through a slough of films that most of you would recognize, but The Hidden stands out as an underrated classic—to me anyway.


I remember seeing this in theaters way back in 1987 and it seemed to be somewhat of a hit, resonating a little bit of a following at the time, but it seemed to be quickly forgotten after its run in theaters.  It’s understandable, of course, since 1987 was a big year for hit films.  Films like Beverly Hills Cop II, Lethal Weapon, Robocop, Creepshow 2, Fatal Attraction, and Full Metal Jacket—which preceded and followed The Hidden—made it a vague memory soon after it came out.  In fact, I happened to be perusing eBay when I noticed a Japanese import of this DVD which made me pause and gave me a bit of a surprise as it instantly brought me back to 1987.  Believing it to be an above-average sci-fi/action/thriller, I knew I had to add it to my collection.


The film grabs you right from the beginning, as it opens on a bank robbery, seen from a security camera, with a man shooting up the place before taking off with his take.  One part of this scene that I enjoy is after the crook shoots everybody up and is about to leave with his loot, he pauses to look at the security camera and smiles before shooting it out.  He then goes out to his Ferrari, pops in a cassette to blast some heavy metal music (these aspects are a repeated trait of this villain in the film), and speeds off with the police sirens being heard in the background.  Right away, this movie sucks you in.  It leaves you with so many questions: Who is this guy? Why is he so violent? Why is he openly breaking the law, even after getting away from the bank?  It’s the right way to start a film like this, hooking the audience to watch until the end.


For a little known film, with probably not that big of a budget, the special effects were—and still are—pretty convincing.  Even though the movie is thirty years old, it still makes me scratch my head here and there as I wonder how they performed some of those gags.  It’s no secret, especially if you read the plot summary to the story, that the film is about an alien parasite that takes over human bodies and will leave a dying one to take over another.  So performing those scenes would’ve been a daunting task, even by today’s standards.  I won’t get into the descriptions of those scenes, but I would’ve thought the special effects would’ve looked phony today, but it still holds up.  The gurus that worked on it obviously make use of dummy heads of the actors that had to be created, but they looked spot on.  Compared to The Terminator and Robocop, which were made around the same time and employed similar special effects techniques, the mechanical heads here looked way more convincing.


One critic’s quote on the cover of the DVD, by some random movie journalist, cites this film is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Terminator, which is the perfect description because that’s the feel of this film throughout: The movie doesn’t let up, there’s no dull downtime (besides the dinner visit, but that lets us—the audience—get to know the characters of Gallagher and Beck a bit more), and it’s basically the good guys against an unstoppable force that can take over anyone it chooses.  Hell, I’d even say there’s a little bit of The Thing in this flick as there’s a bit of a who’s who plot device to the story.


Always giving kudos to animal actors, I have to give props to Roy the Dog who plays Jake, Lieutenant Masterson’s (Clarence Felder) dog.  A characteristic that’s shown throughout the film, when the parasite takes over a body, the alien-controlled person tends to slightly lick their lips to appear menacing or cluing in the audience to show that the person we see is the antagonist.  At one point during the movie, the dog becomes infested with the parasite and later we see it looking at Gallagher as it licks his lips.  The scene always puts a smile on my face.


If there’s anything I can nitpick about the film is that I wish there was a backstory shown of where this parasite came from, maybe a scene showing it escaping the planet from where it originated.  But I understand the budget the film had to work with and it really doesn’t take anything away for me.


Being a 30-year-old movie, you’re going to see some silliness like the cars of the time and the technology available (like a car stereo that plays cassettes or a man walking around with a boom box), but as long as you can get past that, you’ll enjoy the movie immensely. 


My final “bit” on The Hidden?


The movie is a forgotten gem that many people may not know about or have never seen before.  Although it’s your typical 80s flick with a lot of gun fighting and action scenes, it’s a well-made film that encompasses so much originality and the right balance of humor and gravitas.  As I’d mentioned, the special effects are still believable and the acting is taken seriously, making this movie a must for a fun, popcorn-munching good time.  Maybe Shout! Factory can get a collector’s edition going with this one…I know I’d appreciate it.


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