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Review: 'It' breathlessly delivers big scares

Review: 'It' breathlessly delivers big scares

By CARL SCHULTZ 

“It,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, 135 minutes, rated R, released Sept. 8.

While not the best picture based on a novel by perennial bestselling author Stephen King—that distinction would probably be held by 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption”—“It” is likely the most comprehensive.

At a whopping 1138 pages, Stephen King's novel “It” reads like an encyclopedia of not only horror, but also horror movies and rock ‘n roll music—iconic movie monsters from Frankenstein to the Creature from the Black Lagoon make brief guest appearances in the book, and a bibliography of musical selections quoted in the novel takes up two full pages at the end, as sort of required listening.

While the new motion picture version is not quite as detailed as the book—to accomplish that, “It” would need to have a running time numbering in days instead of hours—the picture does certainly have an epic feel, with the movie’s seven or eight major set-pieces based solidly, accurately, and even lovingly upon the events described by King in his novel...although mercifully the metaphysical aspects of the tale are eliminated. 

Although the filmmakers nominally set the film in the late 1980s instead of the late 1950s era specified in the novel, in essence the movie exists in sort of a generic time-frame which might almost be any era from the 1930s forward, to the present day. The only actual visible milestone in the picture is the advertising of “Batman” and “Lethal Weapon” at the local Bijou—presumably as a sort of in-joke, since both pictures were also Warner Bros. releases.

Briefly, in “It” a group of seven children identify in an otherworldly, malignant, psychotic clown the living source of all worldly evil, and seek to destroy it…particularly after the younger sibling of one of the children becomes one of its victims, and the children deduce that the monstrous clown feeds not only on fear, but also on actual human lives, especially those of the young.

The scares keep coming in “It” at such a pace that the audience has little chance to catch its breath, let alone collect its thoughts. Although the picture does not contain as many sucker-punches or low blows as, say, 1973’s “The Exorcist”—another Warner Bros. release, by the way, based on a bestselling novel—“It” plays not only on the audience’s fear but also on certain paranoias and even a handful of phobias. 

The images depicted in the movie run the gamut from the mildly disturbing to the genuinely shocking to the jaw-droppingly horrific. This might be the rare movie which is rated R for its fright ratio, although the violence and bloodshed are present in abundance—in one scene a geyser of blood erupts from a bathroom drain.

Adapted from King’s novel by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, and directed by Andy Muschietti, the movie benefits enormously from the casting of the children. The seven young actors appearing as the group of friends in the movie are a remarkably talented and persuasive group of children, with young Jeremy Ray Taylor and Sophia Lillis contributing particularly vivid characterizations as an overweight outcast and the supposedly “loose” girl from the wrong side of the town’s tracks, respectively. 

Also an asset to “It” is the casting of young Finn Wolfhard as the most sarcastic and irreverent member of the seven. Already familiar to many viewers from his role on television's "Stranger Things," Wolfhard with his constant flow of cynical wisecracks provides a nice counterpoint—possibly even an emotionally-necessary one—to the movie’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of horrific images and scenarios. Actor Bill Murray performed much the same function in 1984’s “Ghostbusters.”

Although self-contained as a stand-alone feature, a title superimposed onscreen at the very end of the picture designates “It” as chapter one of a larger story. Readers of the novel are already aware that the group of children must reunite as grownups to again battle the clown monster—indeed, even in this picture the children recognize that the evil returns to their town in twenty-seven-year cycles. 

Still apparently undecided is the number of sequels which will be necessary to complete the story, but educated guesswork suggests more than one—“It” has earned gross receipts exceeding $179 million in the first four days of international release, and at the present time exhibits no trend toward slowing its rate of commerce. Hollywood rarely turns its back on a moneymaker prior to exhausting the supply of financial resources. There's already talk of a continuing television franchise.

Needless to say, “It” is not for very young children, or even sensitive adults. And for viewers troubled with coulrophobia—the irrational, paralyzing fear of clowns—“It” additionally presents an enormously satisfying opportunity to whisper to the world, “I told you so.”

 

“Home Again,” distributed by Open Road Films, 97 minutes, rated PG-13, released Sept. 8.

While many people attend movies for intellectual stimulation and consider a trip to the cineplex the equivalent to attending an exhibit in an art gallery, an equal number of people see movies as an agreeable waste of time, an alternative to a jigsaw puzzle or the newspaper crossword.

If you’re among the latter group of people, “Home Again” is the movie for you—a pleasant-enough but trivial piece of fluff, as insubstantial as a helping of cotton candy.

In “Home Again,” the privileged wife of a successful New York City record producer experiences a midlife crisis, separates from her hard-partying spouse, and moves with their two precocious daughters across the country to the Los Angeles estate she inherited from her late father, an Oscar-winning motion picture director. There, in a bar, she meets three struggling young filmmakers. And as a means of subsidizing the overburdened financial status of the young auteurs until their movie deal comes through, she invites then to move temporarily into her guesthouse. Naturally, she falls for one of them.

“Home Again” is the kind of movie which during the early 1960s would’ve been performed to perfection by Doris Day, Rock Hudson, and Tony Randall. In “Home Again,” the roles are filled by Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, and Pico Alexander, standing in for the classic trio of stars of “Pillow Talk,” “Lover Come Back,” and other classics of the early-sixties romantic comedy genre.

As such, “Home Again” often feels like a fairly decadent anachronism, one which seems as if it might’ve been financed on the familial heritage of its writer/director, Hallie Meyers-Shyer.

Young Meyers-Shyer is the daughter of two experts of this once-lucrative style of motion picture—Nancy Meyers, the director of “What Women Want” from 2000 and “Something’s Gotta Give” from 2003, and Charles Shyer, the director of 1980’s “Private Benjamin” and 1987’s “Baby Boom.”

Mother Nancy Meyers’ name actually appears in the credits of “Home Again” as a producer, and the family connection is emphasized in the film’s advertising, with the writer/director’s name featured prominently on the poster-art, even though this is the 30-year-old director’s first filmmaking effort.

“Home Again” is amusing enough, if you're in the mood for a superficial examination of the lives and worries of the veddy, veddy rich. The problems depicted in this movie seem almost to be like good ones to have, especially to those souls among us who have trouble getting together their rent and food money.

But for others, “Home Again” is a reminder that in Hollywood, talent is not necessarily a hereditary commodity. And that in certain quarters, nepotism is often still a more desirable quality than actual artistic ability.

 

“9/11,” distributed by Atlas Distribution Co., 90 minutes, rated R, released Sept. 8.

Although a few exceptional motion pictures have been based upon the tragic events which occurred in the United States on September 11, 2001—including 2002’s "The Guys,” Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” from 2006, and Paul Greenglass’ “United 93” from the same year—the new picture “9/11” is not among them. Not hardly. Not even close.

“9/11” is adapted from a 2011 stage piece written by Patrick Carson entitled “Elevator,” originally presented at the Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona. Retitled "9/11," the picture concerns a group of five people trapped in an elevator in the World Trade Center’s North Tower, working together to try to free themselves after the impact of the first airplane.

Present in the elevator are Charlie Sheen and Gina Gershon as a bickering couple on the cusp of divorce, a bicycle messenger played by Wood Harris, the Russian-born actress Olga Fonda as wealthy man's mistress, and a janitor played by the talented character actor Luis Guzman. Working to help save the five are a dedicated group which includes WTC elevator controller Whoopi Goldberg.

Adapted by Carson’s minimalist stage piece by Steven Goleblowski, Martin Guigui, and Carson himself and directed by Guigui, “9/11” reduces the September 11 attacks to the proportions of a low budget, made-for-television disaster movie, complete with the one-dimensional, stereotypical characterizations usually found in that genre.

As a result, "9/11" seems almost to border on blasphemy, trivializing the enormous gravity of the events of that day, inexplicably subtracting from the narrative the almost limitless emotional intensity present in the tragedy.

Charlie Sheen is a particularly unfortunate choice for casting in a picture which purports to depict the experiences of September 11. The actor's irresponsible and often clownish offscreen antics have likely prohibited him from ever again being considered a viable actor, apparently even in the realm of television situation comedy.

Sheen a decade ago was additionally responsible for remarks which seemed to suggest the September 11 attacks were a hoax perpetrated by the liberal press…remarks for which Sheen has recently apologized, apparently for reasons related to the release of this film, but conspicuously has not retracted.

“9/11” mines for financial profit the abomination and infinite heartbreak of September 11, and as such is an assault not only on popular culture, but also on our shared heritage. The release of the picture to coincide with the sixteenth anniversary of the tragedy stinks of exploitation. 

Just ignore this one—without any attention at the box office, "9/11" will disappear quickly on its own merits…or its lack of them.

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