IT (2017)

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: remakes can be extremely difficult to pull off successfully. That is especially true when talking about something that has such a cult following like Stephen King’s It (1990). With such a well respected performance by Tim Curry it is easy to see that it was going to be a tough act to follow. Before going to see IT I was very excited since the previews were some of the best in recent memory but there was also a little doubt creeping in since there were several horror movies that had built up too much hype before being massive let downs.

I’ll try to give out some basic details of the plot without giving too much away. The story is set in Derry, Maine in the late 80’s as school is beginning to let out for summer. There have been increasing reports of missing children. Bill and his group of friends Richie, Eddie, Stanley are trying to figure out where the kids are going and avoid being harassed by the school bully Henry too much. As the summer progresses the group gains a few more misfits with the additions of Mike, Beverly, and new kid Ben. Each of the kids has begun to see scary visions and apparitions which all seem to be connected to the same creature known as Pennywise the Clown.  As they dive deeper into their investigation of the missing children they seem to find more questions than answers.

This remake does have several strengths to its credit. The main group of kids played by Jaeden Liberher (Bill), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben) Sophia Lillis (Bev), Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), and Wyatt Oleff (Stanley) all deliver terrific performances as grade school kids who are on a terrifying journey. They show a wide range of emotions throughout the film. Another standout is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. There were massive shoes to fill (ha) from the great Tim Curry but he definitely delivered a high quality portrayal. He is both funny and also fairly chilling in his interpretation of the role. I thought the pacing of the movie was another strength. The movie has a 135 minute run time but it zips right along moving from scene to scene and fright to fright. Those frights are indeed another strong point here compared to the last few horror/suspense movies I have watched recently. There is a good balance between suspenseful scares and the more traditional jump scares that had Mrs. Apologist watching from behind her own fingers.

There were not very many weaknesses but IT was definitely far from a perfect movie. I did happen to think that some of the scares were predictable. Some of the story also followed that same predictability but that is easy to do when dealing with a remake. While there were mostly high quality scares there were also a handful that just didn’t work out and came off as cheesy which almost brought down the entire creepy vibe the movie worked so hard to establish.

Remakes can be a very tricky bunch, especially when the first version was well received and generally well reviewed. Expectations that are built up pretty high can sometimes lead to big time letdown but luckily for us this movie packed enough of a punch to keep us entertained for the night. If you’re in the mood for some scares and don’t mind some occasional gruesome violence then I would recommend checking out 2017’s version of IT with a very respectable 2 Apologies.

-Movie Apologist

The Magnificent Seven (2016 spoiler free)

This is a movie that I have been looking forward to seeing for months after the preview sank its hooks into me. It has all the right ingredients: an old west setting, an amazing cast, an accomplished director, and the perfect amount of action in the trailer that leaves you wanting more. If you have read my other reviews (check them out if you haven’t) then you’ll know how I feel about remakes: they are difficult to master and often face extra scrutiny if the original is considered a classic. The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake and that original film (Seven Samurai) is widely considered to be one of the best movies ever made. However, the fact that it is a remake coupled with some of the not so nice reviews I read did not manage to dwindle my desire to see it.

If you have seen either of the “original” movies then you should know the basics of the story. There is a small quiet town being taken advantage of by a merciless group of bandits, this time mining for gold. They are led by the ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who uses violence and intimidation to get his way. One of the townspeople Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) reaches out to bounty hunter/lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washinton) to help them fight back against their oppressors. Sam assembles a rag tag team of hired guns to battle Bogue and his army of mercenaries. Sam manages to recruit gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), former military man Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), wild man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), wanted fugitive Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Native American bow master Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Knowing that they are grossly outnumbered they come up with a plan to defend the town. This brings us to the climactic battle sequence which is fun and frantic and at times very intense. For those that haven’t seen either of the originals I will not spoil it for you.

This movie has a lot of very good qualities to it. As I mentioned before the actors all do a wonderful job with their roles. Bogue is played masterfully by Peter Sarsgaard and his character is just begging us to hate him. Sam Chisolm is portrayed by Denzel Washington who doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen from him before. He just delivers the rock solid performance we have come to expect. Chris Pratt also does not vary too much from his known style but its not necessarily a bad thing: he is witty, a little smug and sarcastic, but overall very likable. Ethan Hawke turns in one of the better efforts in the movie as Goodnight Robicheaux. He is emotional and very believable. Byung-Hun Lee is energetic in his action scenes as Billy Rocks. Vincent D’Onofrio turned in a surprising role as mountain man Jack Horne. He was hilarious with his one liners and his delivery. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier were both more than adequate in their roles. In addition to the outstanding acting in the film there were many other standout features. The set design and costumes were nearly perfect for creating an authentic old west feeling. The action sequences were all done superbly without relying on too much shaky camera work. I appreciated the comedic touches to break from the serious and sometimes slow moments as well.

This movie does not have that many negatives against it but there are a few. There are some slow moments in between the actions scenes and they happen to seem extra slow making the 133 minute run time seem even longer. The movie introduces many characters with not much back story. With so many interesting characters in this film, it would have been nice to have more background information to learn about why they are who they are. During the final shootout I had an issue with the depiction of the gatling gun being such an unstoppable force of destruction. Since gatling guns are most useful in short range situations (under 100 yards) it seems far fetched, even for a movie, that the gun could be so accurate and deadly at 400-500 yards. That obviously did not make me hate this movie but it was a detractor none the less.

Overall I quite liked this movie. It was a nice addition to the end of summer movie experience. The great actors combined with a compelling story line and fast paced action all added up to a fun day at the theaters. This modern version of a classic western earned itself a respectable 2 Apologies and I would definitely recommend it.

Ben-Hur (2016)

Remaking a movie can be a tricky endeavor. Remaking an Academy Award winning movie can be an even trickier endeavor. Remaking a movie that won 11 of those Academy Awards and is listed as #197 on IMDB’s best movie list seems like a nearly impossible task. This movie had a steep mountain to climb before I stepped into the theater and needless to say I did not have very high expectations for it.

This version does not deviate too much from the story we all know. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a Jewish prince who is very close with his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). As they grow older, Messala is longing to make a name for himself and joins the Roman army. Upon Messala’s return to Jerusalem, he betrays Judah and falsely accuses him of treason against Pontius Pilate. Judah is sent away to slave in the bowels of a ship as a rower for many years. He lets himself become consumed by revenge and anger, and eventually returns to challenge Messala at chariot racing in the arena. Most of that information is known without seeing those movies but if anyone has not seen Ben-Hur from 1959 or this version of Ben-Hur I won’t give away too much else related to the story.

The actors in this version are all respectable in their individual roles but lets be honest, no one is taking home an Oscar. Judah, played by Jack Huston, is leading the way with a strong performance. He shows a wide range of emotion throughout the film and is easily the standout in the film. Toby Kebbell is no slouch in his interpretation of Messala, but I think he is outdone by Huston. The lead actresses all turn in quality roles as well. Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer), and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all delivered acceptable performances for secondary characters. I can’t recall seeing them in many other roles but they definitely impressed with what they were given to work with. The most well known actor, Morgan Freeman, turns in a pretty standard role as Ilderim, who mentors Judah in the art of chariot racing. Now even though I did call his role standard, that doesn’t mean he was bad. It just means he does the traditional quality job we expect from Morgan Freeman without pushing the envelope too much. Another aspect that was mostly enjoyable about this movie were the special effects and the set design. Almost the entire movie looked gorgeous and the action sequences appeared real enough to cause Mrs. Apologist to squirm on a few occasions.

There is not an abundance of negatives about this film, but the ones it has do manage to hurt the overall rating quite a bit. There are several scenes of what should have been very cool action/battle scenes that just seem wasted with incredibly overused “shaky cam”. The camera moves around so wildly, jumps between extreme zoom ins, and odd angles so many times as the action continues that we begin to lose interest. As good as the actors and actresses mentioned earlier were, there were some very forgettable characters turned in as well. Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek) was a very subdued role for someone that I imagined as much more lively. There were also some minor characters that were badly outperformed and seemed out of place.

Overall I was surprised with the quality in this retelling of Ben-Hur. I headed into the viewing with very low expectations and this movie proved to be better than I would have guessed. A serviceable story, a few  actors, and some entertaining action pieces led to another happy trip to the theater. But for me the drawbacks of the “shaky cam” along with some bland characters dropped this movie down to 5 Apologies, which is a higher rating than I was thinking when the previews were airing.

-Movie Apologist