IT. Stephen King has a hard time relinquishing creative control of his body of work. He famously hated Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, saying it left out the moral overtones of its source material. In 1997, King tried to rectify this by collaborating on a television miniseries that starred goofy-haired Steven Weber ('90s situation comedy Wings) as Jack Torrance. I'll let you guess which one the fans consider canon.
On to It. As a King completist who read the novel under the covers by flashlight at a tender age, I feel like I speak for his fan base when I say this story has everything. The author's long-running leitmotifs of sinister small towns in Maine and children battling evil forces, 50-plus characters that manage to feel fleshed out and memorable, a hefty dollop of social commentary, a dash of smut and a peppering of magic. Oh yes, and plenty of things to make you check under your bed before you go to sleep.
So, how does all of this translate to film? Well, if you're a '90s kid with a clown phobia, you probably blame Tim Curry's performance in the 1990 miniseries, replayed on shaky VHS tapes at many a sleepover. But while that miniseries managed to get a lot right, cramming in many of the details of the 1,138-page novel and transitioning (clumsily) between the dual timelines of the children and their adult counterparts, Curry's performance was probably the only thing that saves it from being forgotten. (George Romero was originally attached to direct the miniseries but backed out, so let's all sigh for what could have been.) King, a cinephile, described it as "ambitious," in faint but not damning praise. He was probably more generous about It than he was about The Shining — the source text really is a behemoth and a complicated, multi-thematic one at that, tricky to bring faithfully to screen while satisfying King devotees.
So, with all that in mind, if you're a fan, should you go see the 2017 version of It, a truncated adaptation of the novel that shows only one of the timelines and is set not in the 1950s but the 1980s? Yes. Oh my God, yes.
When I got to the Minor Theater an hour early for the Thursday 10 p.m. sneak peek showing, superfans and college kids had already lined up around the corner. We clutched ourselves preemptively as the lights dimmed. We shrieked, shook our heads, muttered, "Don't go in there," and laughed more than seems decent for a movie that starts with a 6-year-old being pulled into a sewer drain by a supernatural creature that feeds on your greatest fears and croaks in a sweet-sick voice, "Take a balloon, it floats."
Staying true to the spirit of the novel, if not the letter, helps create depth and humanity in a time when the horror genre seems largely to have devolved into gore porn. Director Andy Muschietti wrests touching, nuanced performances from the seven child actors who make up the Losers' Club, interweaving the small dramas of early adolescence (unrequited love, bullying, distant parents) with the larger themes of duty, loyalty and heroism. It was always about the friendship shared by the six boys and one girl who make up the Losers — a bond tested and strengthened as they discover and band together to defeat the evil that lurks beneath their small town. Actor Finn Wolfhard, who plays smartass Richie Tozier in Coke-bottle glasses, adds much of the comic relief with his one-liners, even as Pennywise the Clown, played with sinister, smirking alien style by Swede Bill Skarsgård counterpunches with good old-fashioned jump scares. Jeremy Ray Taylor, who plays chubby new kid Ben Hanscom, elicited "Awws" from the audience as soon as he appeared on screen, and his personal sweetness and love of New Kids on the Block contributed to the beating childhood heart of the film, as well as a late pay-off comedic turn at the very climax. So much is right with this movie that it's easier to list what went wrong — as Mike, utterly capable child actor Chosen Jacobs is saddled with so much backstory and clunky expository dialogue it is impossible to appreciate his talents.
While initially disappointed that I wouldn't get to hear the vintage slang and golden era of rock 'n' roll King adores, the 1980s ultimately proved to be a solid choice in which to stage the story, the same time period in which I and others eager to see It formed our core phobias. No doubt future film buffs will point to other mid-teens nostalgia projects, such as Stranger Things, as an inspiration for Muschietti's creative choices. Clearly, we're in a love affair with the heyday of arcade games and Walkmans. Muschietti's It benefits from the fertile ground of this nostalgia, just as it reaps the rewards of 20-plus years of accumulated bad clown PR. The fact that the 1980s were a time of '50s nostalgia — the bullies who attack the Losers are wearing the same style of leather jackets King's original characters wore in the book — adds some trippy layers.
I may have choked back an unbecoming cheer when the movie closed and I saw the words "Part 1" appear on screen. I'll be back. In the meantime, a note to the staffer who coordinates our monthly Journal office birthday celebrations: Balloons are not only bad for marine life and landfills, they're just frickin' evil. R. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— Linda Stansberry
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
AMERICAN ASSASSIN. CIA spy thriller in which a seasoned veteran and a gifted new recruit go after a rogue agent. Starring Dylan O'Brien and Michael Keaton. R. 111m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
COLUMBUS. John Cho graces us with his bone structure as a man visiting his comatose father in an Indiana hospital, where he meets a young woman (Haley Lu Richardson) who's put her ambitions on hold for her recovering addict mother in this comedy/drama/romance. R. 100m. MINOR.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965). Omar Sharif and Julie Christie star in this tragic World War I romance. FYI, millenials: This is what protracted Russian drama used to look like. PG. 197m. BROADWAY.
E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL (1982). Government hassles brown alien with no criminal record. Like watching CNN but with young Drew Barrymore. PG. 115m. FORTUNA.
MOTHER! Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in a disturbing psychological thriller about unexpected houseguests, which, really, any movie about unexpected houseguests should be. R. 123m. BROADWAY.
THE DARK TOWER. In this skimming adaptation of a Stephen King novel about a battle for the universe, Idris Elba's glowering intensity and quiet grief almost carry the dull exposition. And Matthew McConaughey, as a runway strutting villain, is likely having a better time than the audience. PG13. 95m. BROADWAY.
DAVE MADE A MAZE. A frustrated artist is trapped in his own living room installation. Starring Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Nick Thune and Adam Busch. TV14. 80m. MINIPLEX
DESPICABLE ME 3. An out of work Gru (Steve Carell) returns to a life of crime, meets his long-lost twin and battles a villain stuck in the '80s (Trey Parker). With Kristen Wiig. PG. 156m. MILL CREEK.
DUNKIRK. Christopher Nolan's focused and intimate telling of this World War II story of pinned troops, outnumbered airmen and hail-Mary civilian rescue effort brings each character to life with the wave-action of hope and hopelessness. PG13. 106m. BROADWAY.
THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS. German animated fairy tale about a girl who escapes the devil at the cost of her hands. PG13. 100m. MINIPLEX.
THE GLASS CASTLE. A big-hearted, well-acted, unpretentious examination of family life in hard times based on Jeannete Walls' memoir. With strong performances by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY.
THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson bring back the buddy movie with their collective charisma and sharp repartee. Salma Hayek is a vicious delight and the movie has action and laughs enough to entertain throughout. PG. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
HOME AGAIN. A newly separated woman (Reese Witherspoon) takes on a trio of young, male housemates. PG13 97m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
INGRID GOES WEST. Aubrey Plaza stars as an unstable woman stalking an Instagram star (Elizabeth Olsen) in a thriller about manufactured identity and the new celebrity. Amid personal desolation and vacuity, there's also comedy and an honesty about the need for real connection. R. 97m. MINOR.
LEAP! Elle Fanning voices a would-be ballerina who runs away from her orphanage and sneaks into the Paris Opera in this animated dance off. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
LOGAN LUCKY. A big-hearted, well-crafted, brisk and entertaining heist movie with twists, turns and cliffhangers aplenty. Director (and likely writer) Steven Soderbergh comes back strong. Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. PG13. 119m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE. Squirrely sequel about animals trying to save their park. Voiced by Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph and Jackie Chan. PG. 91m. FORTUNA.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Co-writer/director Jon Watts (Clown, 2014; Cop Car, 2015) makes good on a tremendous opportunity here, utilizing a talented cast to great effect and bringing the franchise back to its sweetspot. PG13. 133m. MILL CREEK.
WHOSE STREETS? Documentary about protest and activists in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown, an African American teenager. R. 90m. MINIPLEX.
WIND RIVER. A snowbound and sadly lyrical thriller about an FBI agent and a hunter investigating a murder on a Native American reservation. Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and Graham Greene. R. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill