Movie Review: Stronger

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Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) waves the flag in David Gordon Green’s Stronger. (Source: Boston Herald)

The Boston Marathon bombing was one of the biggest U.S. tragedies. It’s shocking how a great city would face something so horrible. Leaving hundreds of people injured and three dead, it’s a moment that none of us will ever forget, like with 9/11.

Unlike Patriots Day, where the main focus is taking down the terrorists, Stronger, the second movie about the bombings, focuses on one of the survivors’ road to recovery. Known for making mainstream comedies (Pineapple Express, The Sitter) and independent dramas (George Washington, Prince Avalanche, Joe), this is the first real-life drama from director David Gordon Green.

Based on his memoir of the same name, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an ordinary, everyday guy from Boston. He works at the local Costco and is big sports fan. One thing he is looking forward to is seeing his girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) run in the Boston Marathon. Jeff waits for her at the finish while holding a sign for her until the bombs detonate. After losing both of his legs, he begins fighting for his life. With the support from his parents and Erin, he tries to walk again. This time, with prosthetics.

This movie would have gone into sappy territory, but what Green and screenwriter John Pollono give the audience something inspiring and powerful. Gyllenhaal has delivered some phenomenal performances–from his first lead role in October Sky to his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback Mountain to becoming dark in Nightcrawler. His performance as Bauman is one of his absolute best. Becoming a symbol of “Boston Strong”, he has the special opportunity to be introduced in front of thousands of fans while waving a flag at the Bruins game, or throwing the first pitch at the Red Sox game.

Most importantly, he wouldn’t be anywhere without his girlfriend. In one particular scene, Jeff and Erin have an argument in the car about being there for one another. When she walks out on him, he crawls to the glass door, knocking on it, so Erin can come out. Then, he experiences flashbacks of the aftermath of the bombing. We see him lying on the ground, with his legs blown off, with the other spectators in agony. This is a heart-wrenching scene that makes the audience feel as if they are part of the incident.

With a strong supporting cast, Gyllenhaal and Maslay are the ones who carry it through with its raw true-story. Stronger is, by far, the best film about the Boston marathon bombing. Here’s to one hundred more.

3.5/4

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Movie Review: It (2017)

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In It, Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) is out to get you. (Source: IMDb)

It by Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite books. It features humor, scares, and memorable characters (not to mention an iconic villain who smells people’s fears) that we get to know and sympathize with. The first attempt at adapting Stephen King’s ambitious magnum opus about good vs. evil into a film happened in 1990 on ABC, starring Tim Curry as the titular monster. With a gifted ensemble cast, it started off alright during the first half. Then—it derailed in the second half resulting in becoming more as a sitcom/soap opera than a straight-up horror movie.

Now, the second adaptation is the first to be released in theaters. After last year’s clown epidemic, I can’t think of a more appropriate time for people to be terrified of clowns again. Well—it finally happened! Argentine director Andy Muschietti (Mama) and three screenwriters have crafted something scary, hilarious, and heartbreaking while keeping the nature of Stephen King’s book without any of the ridiculous stuff. Even Stephen King stated how much he loved this version of It. “I wasn’t prepared how good it really was,” he said in an interview. “It’s something that’s different, and at the same time, it’s something that audiences are going to relate to.”

Every 27 years, an extraterrestrial creature, known as It, preys on children and their fears. It takes the form of what they fear the most, and brings them to their doom.

This happens to one of the kids in the beginning of the film; where it opens up on rainy fall day in 1988 in the town of Derry, Maine. Bill Denborough (Jaeden Lieberher, Midnight Special and St. Vincent), a 12-year-old with a terrible stutter, has finished making a paper boat for his young brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). He chases it to a storm drain and meets Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a seemingly cheerful clown, in the sewer, who…well—you know what happens next.

Eight months later, school is out for the summer. Derry seems to be a little quieter after Georgie’s death. A lot more kids have either disappeared or pronounced dead. Bill decides to team up with his friends—asthmatic germaphobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), trashtalking Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things), tomboy Beverly (Sophia Lillis), new-kid-on-the-block Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Jewish kid Stan (Wyatt Oleff)—to defeat It.

It is a lovely tribute to the 1980s culture. Focusing more on the kids than on the clown, their interactions are reminiscent to Stand by Me, another Stephen King adaptation. The adults are mostly absent, but whenever they appear, they are portrayed as either abusive or overbearing. The kids are grown up in a time where they are neglected by their parents, and need to escape from their troubles to stand up for one another. The audience fears what the children fear (which is what horror is all about).

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The kids are out to get It in Stephen King’s latest adaptation of It. (Source: Horror Freak News)

I can’t imagine a better cast. Finn Wolfhard’s Richie is a laugh riot; he tends to get out of every situation by wisecracking or doing voices. Sophia Lillis is the new Molly Ringwald (even one of the characters calls her that); her Beverly has the kind-hearted bravery like the boys. Although she is the outcast at school (her classmates call her a slut) and goes home to her abusive father (Stephen Bogaert), she feels more at home with the boys. If Tim Curry’s goofy yet eerie portrayal of Pennywise was to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, Bill Skarsgård’s is to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Whenever he is on screen, he is terrifying; from the buck-toothed grin to the vintage clothes to his line deliveries (i.e. “You’ll float, too”).

What makes It shine is the imaginative sets, clever angles, Benjamin Wallfisch’s eerie score, and Muschietti’s direction and atmosphere. It’s hard not to get a tingle down one’s spine whenever the kids’ fears come to pure life, ranging from a Leper to a child walking with its head blown off. The scary stuff is a ton of fun to watch; even The House on Neibolt Street is the haunted house you wished you have ever been a part of. I can’t ask for anything more perfect. It is officially one of my favorite horror movies.

With the sequel coming out sooner than everyone hoped, it wouldn’t work without Bill Hader cast as Richie and Jessica Chastain as Beverly.

4/4

Movie Review: It (1990)

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The cast of It (1990) strike a pose. (Source: Warner Bros.)

In 1986, Stephen King has published his most ambitious book. It, a book about a group of kids teaming up to fight off a supernatural being that kills children, became the best-selling book of that year. This 1,000-page long epic has the full package: humor, heart, and straight-up horror. Adapting the book into a feature-length film isn’t a bad idea, unless it airs on television. Four years later, director Tommy Lee Wallace, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie), and a gifted cast collaborate on bringing Stephen King’s book to life on ABC as a two-part miniseries.

Does It work? No—but it doesn’t mean it’s a complete waste of time.

Instead of taking place in 1957 and 1985 (like in the book), the movie takes place in 1960 and 1990. A shape-shifting creature known as “It”, who preys on children taking form on what they fear the most. Primarily taking the form of Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry), he terrorizes the town of Derry, Maine, every 30 years. Every day, kids either go missing or end up getting killed by Pennywise. Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid), the only African-American living in Maine, calls his childhood friends about It resurfacing from the Earth.

His friends are as follows:

– Bill Denborough (Richard Thomas, The Waltons), a successful writer with a stutter that gotten worse as a child after his young brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) got killed by Pennywise while trying to retrieve his paper boat down a storm drain.

– Ben Hanscom (John Ritter, Three’s Company), the new kid in town who went on to become an architect.

– Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher), the one with asthma who runs a successful limousine business.

­– Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, Night Court), the goofball with a talent of doing voices, who would eventually become a comedian.

­­­­– Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, Smallville), the only female in the group, who grew up with an abusive father (Frank C. Turner), joins the group after running away from it all. She has a great eye when it comes to using a slingshot. Later on, she became a fashion designer.

– Stan Uris (Richard Masur), a Jewish kid who is the biggest smart-ass of the group. He later becomes a successful accountant.

While known as “The Losers”, they must reminisce about their childhoods until they reunite to get rid of It once and for all.

Adapting a marvelous novel into a made-for-TV movie would mean to take out every graphic detail and language from the novel. As a result, the movie plays it safe. The movie does have its moments. The first half is particularly strong, due to the chemistry between the child actors (it’s a shame Jonathan Brandis, who played young Bill, died too soon) and conjuring up some pretty decent scares. The second half, however, falters from being too soapy and too silly (not to mention the image of the dog dressed up as the clown). Tim Curry’s Pennywise is the main reason why the movie is worth watching. He maybe goofy and innocent-looking wearing bright colors, but his sinister side is what makes his performance shine. But—the sets and the effects do not hold up 27 years later (don’t get me started on that climax). I’m glad It is being remade into something much darker. Bring on, Friday night!

2/4