Send In The Clown: An IT review.

Directed by: Andy Muschetti.

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer.

Plot: The town of Derry, Maine has been plagued by the unexplained disappearances of its children every 27 years. When a group of 7 young outcasts find a connection to the disappearances, they are confronted by the manifestation of their worst fears.

The production history of the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s IT has been a turbulent one, languishing in development hell since 2009 and going through no less that 3 directors & 2 Pennywise castings, the writing on the wall for this adaptation didn’t look good. With much of the world still viewing the story of IT through the rose-tinited goggles of nostalgia for the 1990 made for TV adaptation which starred the excellent Tim Curry as Pennywise, one of the only things that actually stands up to the test of time with that particular production but that’s a different blog post altogether.

So what of Muschetti’s IT? Well firstly, this is a great film, notice I didn’t just say great horror film? It is a great horror film, that much is self-evident pretty quickly into the films duration, It’s scares are effective and plentiful and it’s big bad is tremendously realised by Bill Skarsgård’s note perfect portrayal of interdimentional baddie Pennywise but this is also a great film in its own right, irrespective of genre. It’s superbly cast, well adapted and shot. It has a fantastic sense of time and place, the late 80’s vibe is stamped effectively with the fashion of the time, cinema posters and marquees for films like Batman & Beetlejuice and some superb choices in music are also employed featuring the likes of The Cure, Anthrax, XTC and The Replacements to name a few and a great reoccurring joke with one Losers love of New Kids On The Block confirm its late 80’s setting wonderfully. I have to say, this adaptation of IT puts the 1990 TV miniseries to shame, this is IT how it should be portrayed, no shoddy acting and dodgy pacing here, it’s taut, tense, well acted, frequently funny and pays an enormous amount of care in respecting the source material. 

The cast in IT are utterly fantastic, particularly the younger contingent who portray The Loser Club, the coming-of-age feel of their camaraderie locks in perfectly, Finn Wolfhard’s Richie being a consistent high point with his incessant and often hilarious wisecracking that stays on the right side of irritation for the film’s duration due in part to his fantastic sparring interplay with Jack Dylan Grazer’s Eddie. The most obvious of questions asked of IT is aimed at Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise, just how does he stack alongside Tim Curry’s performance? I feel this question is like asking to compare Jack Nicholson’s & Heath Ledger’s Joker, they are both fantastic performances in their own right but are polar opposites and everyone is going to have their preference and I must say, possibly controversially, Skarsgård actually pips it for me. There is an almost childlike quality Skarsgård brings to the character which is as fascinating as it is disturbing, turning from seemingly innocent (well, for a clown in a drain anyway) to creepy to outright terrifying on a dime during the film’s opening 5 minutes, its nuanced, expertly so and an absolute joy to behold. There is a general feel that the character here is much more 3-Dimensional and well realised than Curry’s version, no disrespect to him, he was without doubt the best thing about the TV miniseries but as with Ledger’s Joker, this is on another level entirely.

I highly recommend you view IT. An 80’s kid is going to love it for its perfectly captured & conveyed nostalgia, an avid cinema-goer is going to love its Spielberg-esque coming-of-age camaraderie and horror fans, particularly Stephen King fans, are going to be very happy with its scares and obvious love & respect for its source material. This is how you handle a big screen adaptation, without a doubt the strongest horror offering of the year so far.


Learn Lynch!: The seedier side of directorial fandom.

During the months running up to Twin Peaks: The Return starting I decided to rewatch the first 2 seasons & FWWM, to introduce it to my wife & refresh the plot in my own head, I also decided to join a few discussion groups on social media to feed the buzz of the new season which was growing more palpable by the day. At first I thought it was an isolated incident, then I thought it was trolling when I observed it again, after awhile I noticed it to be a regular occurrence, people who described themselves as ardent David Lynch fans openly berating and belittling someone because they said that Lynch can be a little hard to follow. Now, I won’t deny this point in the slightest, if you’re not familiar with his work and don’t pay attention to the minutiae of what plays out in one of his films or tv shows, yes, it is very easy to find David Lynch hard to follow, he isn’t a director who’s output is massively accessible, a lot of his work is abstract and relies heavily on interpretation and investment on the viewers part. Now, does this mean that a person should be allowed to make another feel small because they don’t completely understand something in a Lynch piece? Hell no! 

Firstly, because someone doesn’t understand something doesn’t mean that they can’t appreciate it. You don’t see art critics berating someone because they don’t understand the symbolism in a painting or sculpture do you? The exact same principle applies here in my opinion. There is a nasty trend that I have observed amongst online fans of David Lynch who will spout some pseudo-intellectual guff about how people do not understand cinema because the person they are talking at (I would say talking to but that implies a two way discussion) didn’t understand a scene in Twin Peaks, they will then talk at length about what happened throwing a ridiculously convoluted and almost certainly incorrect theory into the works to boot just to make the other person feel even smaller. Call this ‘trolling’, ‘shit-posting’, whatever, its bullying plain and simple and it stinks. 

A fan will ask another fan for their thoughts and theories on a thing they mutually really dig, I get that, who doesn’t do that with something they love? What I don’t get is the horrid, hipsterish trend of stating how you have liked something longer than another person so you obviously understand it better. A post was made by someone to solely pick out people who didn’t watch Twin Peaks when it started and any of those people who jump on before The Return are just ‘millennials’ bandwagoning. Now, I see no problem whatsoever with someone catching up on something before a new and much touted series is about to start, but to berate someone who didn’t start to watch the show back in the early 90’s as a bandwagoner? That is ridiculous. I didn’t watch Twin Peaks for the first time until I was leaving secondary school, this would have probably been a good 6 or 7 years after Twin Peaks ended, does that affect my knowledge or appreciation of it? In no way whatsoever. There are people who may have only just got into Twin Peaks that may have picked up on facets I may have missed, which goes back to our own interpretation of it, our own appreciation of the work and viewing it subjectively as what it is widely considered to be, art. 

This is a trend I don’t see ending any time soon, if it’s not David Lynch it’ll be another directors art used as a weapon. I would say that these outlooks need to be challenged, as with all cases of bullying, it is not for one person to hold themselves higher than another because in some way they feel that they have the overriding answer to an artists work. In the words of Vanilla Ice, we should stop, collaborate and listen (I actually can’t believe I managed to bring Vanilla Ice into a David Lynch piece) because when a number of people with the same appreciation of one thing chip in their own perception of it in a constructive way, our collective appreciation can only grow.

A Bad Apple?: A Death Note (2017) review.

Directed by: Adam Wingard.

Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe.

Plot: A teenage boy comes across a black note book that gives him the power to take the life of anyone who’s name is written in its pages. Crafting himself a godlike alter-ego, it isn’t long before the authorities and a young and gifted private investigator are on his trail.

Alarm bells were ringing quite early for me when this film was announced, not necessarily because it was a remake, I’m not really one for jumping on the judgement bandwagon when it comes to remakes. I was also not really concerned that it was being bankrolled by Netflix, they have been securing themselves some fine films of late, some I have really enjoyed and favourably reviewed. Not even because of the anime it was based on, I have watched some of it and it is excellent but live action counterparts more often than not end up being entirely different beasts, I knew this was going to be the case here so didn’t jump the gun fretting here either. No, it came more from being a fan of the live action Japanese originals and seeing that the film had been gifted to the director of last years atrocious Blair Witch. You may remember I named him back then as ‘some hack’, his name is Adam Wingard, he’s earned a namecheck for his skill now in my opinion.

I’ll start by saying that Death Note isn’t completely the god awful mess it could have quite easily been. I felt initially it wasn’t in safe hands and I feel I had just cause to be reticent considering, but director Wingard has made a bold and noteworthy effort with Death Note. The film is stylish, tailored for a late teenage audience with its carefully curated soundtrack, suitably angsty subject matter and OTT gory death scenes. It is beautifully shot to give Wingard his dues, it looks the business and the expensively CG Ryuk is easily the most spot on thing about the film, from his appearance to the perfectly cast Willem Dafoe on mo-cap and vocal duties. The rest of the cast deliver admirably, Wingard coaxing some decent performances across the board, I particularly liked Lakeith Stanfield’s nuanced take on super-sleuth L. This is unfortunately where all praise ends.

This adaptation of Death Note isn’t written well at all and suffers quite badly from trying to cram too much badly conveyed story into its 100 minute run time, It really feels shoehorned to meet a deadline and it is painfully noticeable. Also, the character of Light is pretty off the mark from the anime & films. Prior, he was a cool, calculating sociopath and a worthy foil to L, in this film he shrieks like a little girl when he first encounters Ryuk, it is massively out of character.  The back and forth between L & Light which was so central to the anime & original live action versions also feels as though it has been either badly handled or completely misinterpreted altogether here, that feel of cat & mouse is almost entirely absent. There have been some changes to the story also and it does feel that with the narrative changes that have been made in this version of Death Note that it is being squarely catered toward a western audience and not necessarily one that was familiar with the original source material in the first place, these changes don’t necessarily feel like they suit any kind of thematic purpose, they just feel narratively lazy, cliched and thrown together which is a pity as Wingard and his cast really did some fine work on this film only to be let down by the writers and the immensity cynical production. A shame.

Death Note is currently available to stream via Netflix.

Take Me Home: A Logan Lucky review.

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keogh, Daniel Craig, Seth McFarlane, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakum, Sebastian Stan.

Plot: War vet and labourer Jimmy Logan is laid off from his job due to a wound he picked up during service. Desperate to provide for his young daughter, Jimmy conceives of a heist roping in the help of his family and a notorious demolitions expert and his brothers. Can they pull off the robbery and get away with it?

In 2013, Steven Soderbergh announced that his Liberace biopic, Behind The Candelabra was to be his final directorial offering, so it was with some degree of surprise and more than a small amount of excitement that he announced his comeback with Logan Lucky. Logan Lucky sees Soderbergh returning to the format of his earlier successes with a film that feels like a lo-fi Oceans 11, in the best possible way. The film is well written, well directed, humorous and an inordinate amount of entertaining fun.

The ensemble cast of Logan Lucky really is fantastic. There is a great on-screen chemistry between Channing Tatum & Adam Driver as the Logan brothers, a charmingly roguish turn from Daniel Craig as Joe Bang and fine support from the likes of Riley Keogh, Katherine Waterstone and one of the worst British accents this side of Dick Van Dyke from Seth McFarlane. The ensemble gel together as well as any of the Oceans cast and if anything, they kind of feel like their less glitzy opposites, everyone in that film looked fantastic, everyone here looks a little off in some respect. It is an interesting mirror of something it will no doubt be compared to.

If you are a fan of Soderbergh’s previous work, you’re going to love Logan Lucky. It will be compared affectionately to the Oceans films but in my opinion, it stands on its own merits admirably and we’d be very lucky indeed if it’s characters return to our screens in the future.

To The Extreme: The draw of extreme cinema.

There are dark corners of the cinematic landscape populated by films that people would never want to watch or films that they wish that they could un-see, kohl black slices of fiction that remain to some unfathomable why anyone would even want to view them at all. What is the draw of extreme cinema? Is it purely existent to offend? To challenge our sensibilities? or are there messages to be take away once viewed?

There is a rich history in pushing the envelope of what is acceptable to put onto film, going back to the early 60’s and the exploitation films of “The Godfather Of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis and the output of George Romero & Dario Argento, artfully conveying unspeakable violence to celluloid and certainly could be viewed as progenitors of the extreme cinema movement. We have the Italian output of the 70’s and 80’s with the likes of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò and the gory works of Lucio Fulci & Ruggero Deodato causing controversy over whether acts seen in their films may have been real or not, a laughable concern now but back in their day, understandably, people had not seen brutality of this level on film before, Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust being a prime exponent of this, with accusations of genuine animal cruelty levelled at it. These directors and their films indelibly left their mark in cinema, an influence that is still certainly felt today.

When we hit the early to mid-80’s, the UK was embroiled in the frankly ridiculous ‘Video Nasty’ witch hunt, the banning of films that pushed the envelope of taste and decency. Films the like of The Driller Killer, The Burning and Zombie Flesh Eaters, they all faced prosecution under the archaic censorship rulings of the time brought into action by no small influence of self-imposed saviour of moral decency Mary Whitehouse. Thankfully many of these films are available to view today in their intended uncut form allowing the choice to watch them to lie with the viewer as should be the case.

The dawning of the 21st century also saw a resurgence in extreme cinema, we had the likes of the increasingly provocative Takashi Miike bringing us Visitor Q, Audition and Itchi The Killer, Tom Six’s Human Centipede films also caused minor stir with their try too hard, no substance shock tactics. The New French Extremity movement courted violence with a more thoughtful art house mentality with the likes of the more contemporary slasher fare of Switchblade Romance and the very difficult to watch Basé Moi and Martyrs. The early 21st century has certainly seen the envelope pushed in respects as to what is acceptable to commit to celluloid. Films that have no other purpose than to disgust and offend and with questionable merit such as A Serbian Film and August Underground’s Mordum do raise the question, Is there a line? Those particular films I refuse to watch, I have heard of their content and poor critical response and decided I definitely have a threshold for what I personally believe is acceptable.

So what is it that draws us to these films? Is it that morbid sense of curiosity? The fact that a few actually succeed in being something more than just grotesque shock pieces and stand on their own artistic merit? I think there isn’t one encompassing answer to that question. As lovers of film people want to be challenged by what they watch and some films carry a message through the extreme imagery, Martyrs is a great example of this with its horror movie sensibility to that age old question of what comes after death. It’s certainly a divisive and wide ranging category of film that isn’t for everyone and will continue to enrage, disgust, prompt discussion and court controversy for years to come.

Top 5: James Bond Actors.

Since 1962 6 actors have worn the mantle of James Bond (not including the original Casino Royale’s David Niven and the TV adaptation starring Barry Nelson). Like a cinematic Dr Who, a new actor takes over periodically and adds a whole new perspective to the worlds most famous spy and everyone has a favourite actor who in their opinion played the part the best. Here is my Top 5 Bond’s. 

Honourable Mention: George Lazenby.

Following the shock news of Sean Connery’s resignation from the role after You Only Live Twice, the role was passed on to Australian actor George Lazenby for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it was to be the Aussie’ only turn as Bond. Though lacking the magnetism and presence of Connery in my opinion, Lazenby did however lend the character a little more humanity during the film’s devastating climax.

5: Pierce Brosnan.

Taking the mantle from Timothy Dalton, Brosnan’s first film in the role Goldeneye marked the characters return after a 6 year hiatus, the longest absence from cinema screens since its inception. Brosnan brought with him a broader take on the character after Dalton’s more thoughtful & deep interpretation. His was an era that fell flat for me, too many misses, not enough hits and subsequently sours my appreciation of him as Bond.

4: Roger Moore.

Following on from Sean Connery’s 2nd but not final exit as Bond, Roger Moore, more commonly know from his TV role in The Saint became the next actor to take the 00 as his own. Moore was Bond through the majority of my childhood so does hold a very special place in my heart, his daring-do and turn of phrase comprising many a happy childhood memory. He should be much higher on this list if not for the caliber of performances that follow.

3: Timothy Dalton.

Dalton represented a bold new approach to Bond, an attempt to contemporise and add new muscle and depth to a character that had become in danger of becoming cartoonish. Dalton only held the role for 2 films but in that time he made one hell of an impression, possibly one of the most faithful representations of the character and a tenure that should have lasted much, much longer.

2: Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig pulled Bond back from the brink. After diminishing returns at the end of Brosnan’s run, a change was needed and what a change. Craig, as with Dalton, added a much needed layer of depth and realism to the part taking it to unprecedented new heights. The choice between 3rd & 2nd was like Sophie’s Choice, it was so impossibly close and difficult to make as I like them equally but with more turns in the role, Craig pips it.

1: Sean Connery.

The first man to take the part on the big screen is to many, myself included, the best Bond. Effortlessly cool, imposing, magnetic and setting the standard against which all following actors would be measured by when taking on the role. A pretty much faultless run as Bond (we’ll forget Never Say Never Again shall we?) and too many classic moments to list, Connery was the frickin Don.

You Know His Name: My thoughts on Daniel Craig returning to the Bond role.

Following the release of 2015’s Spectre, a question mark hung over whether Daniel Craig had any intention in staying in the much coveted role of 007. During press for that film, a apparently unhappy Craig was said to have remarked that he would “rather slit his wrists” than return as Bond and implied that a return would be purely for the money. After much rumour and conjecture regarding the future of the series and indeed the starring role, Craig decided to break his silence. During an interview with Steven Colbert on The Late Show in the U.S. Craig revealed that despite his remarks following Spectre’s release, he will indeed be returning as Bond one more time.

During his tenure as the spy, Craig has truly made his mark in the role in my opinion, going from strength to strength with each successive turn and adding some darkness and depth to the role that hasn’t been present since the short lived reign of Timothy Dalton. Before his casting, Bond films had hit the doldrums with the likes of the lacklustre World Is Not Enough and the utterly lamentable Die Another Day muddying the usual top notch quality of the series, Craig’s arrival was well timed, much needed and breathed new life into the part and garnered much critical praise and commercial success for the franchise though by the time of hitting the promotional run for Spectre, his 3rd outing in the role, it could be said that the cracks were beginning to show. I primarily believe this to be a case of the guy feeling burnt out, coming out of an arduous shoot and then having to promote the thing, answering the same tired questions again and again took its toll and Craig snapped and uttered some ill advised and not very well thought out words on his future in the role. I’m not sure that I truly believe Craig felt that way about his role as Bond, just rather that he needed a break, he needed to decompress and was having a bad time slogging through promo, I can’t blame him for that, I’d probably feel the same truth be told. The sordid question of pay being a factor in his return is almost certainly going to be raised considering his prior comments, he netted $65 million for Spectre so I can only imagine what he will receive for this last outing.

I personally could not be happier to see Daniel Craig take up the mantle one more time even if it is just for the money, he deserves it, he has been utterly fantastic and a close contender for my favourite Bond, though not quite, that will be revealed in an upcoming Top 5 of which I’m already nervous about as someone is going to have to be relegated to an Honourable Mention. With talk of directors such as Christopher Nolan taking the chair for Craig’s last film, the hype is real and most certainly palpable.