Review: ‘It’ (Just look at this clown)

If The Dark Tower was the underwhelming studio-trimmed Cliff’s Notes YA version of that Stephen King story, It is the R-rated unabridged directors-cut vision of this one.

In October of 1988, children begin to go missing in the sleepy town of Derry, Maine. The first is a little boy, Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), last seen chasing a paper boat down the street in the rain. Months later after more children disappear, Georgie’s older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) clings to hope that his little brother is alive somewhere, working out how he might have slipped into the sewers and out of the town’s spillways. Even before enlisting the help of his friends — the Loser’s Club — to help look for clues, each of them were encountering waking nightmares of their worst fears brought to life… all pointing to a shadow-lurking clown calling itself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). It isn’t the first time this has happened, and It may not be the last.

Twenty-seven years (wink wink, nudge nudge) have passed since Tim Curry portrayed the sinister entity that terrorized both children and adults in a made-for-television adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Much had to be cut to get the story onto TV, and with a cinema system keen on reducing big-budget film concepts to the lowest common denominator to fill seats, the biggest fear was another generic PG-13 horror flick dressed up like a King novel but lacking any actual bite. That said, since the first teaser image of Bill Skarsgård’s turn as the clownish villain, fans of King and horror have held out hope that the evolved evil image was a hint of things to come. Does It live up to the hype, or should It have kept its head beneath the gray water for another three decades?
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Review: ‘The Dark Tower’ (Enjoy the Apocalypse)

Dumbing down story complexities isn’t always the best idea… especially with your target audience in mind.

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having nightmares since the death of his father… but he knows they’re not nightmares. No one believes in what he sees when he shows others the drawings he makes of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a gunslinger tasked to destroy Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer some call the Man in Black. Jake also sees what Walter is doing: strapping kidnapped children into a great machine, using their minds to attack a massive structure at the center of their world… and of all worlds. As Jake fails to convince people the escalating earthquakes in NYC are the results of these otherworldly attacks, he escapes the clutches of Walter’s skin-wearing minions through a portal into his nightmare world…

Fans of writer Stephen King know the words: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Similar to The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, the massive saga linking parts of every story King has ever told has spanned eight books and was considered unfilmable. A reportedly troubled production from the first day of shooting, starring a presumed perfect cast for the leads but only rating an August release, Sony studios didn’t seem entirely sold on the prospects for the finished film… waiting until just before release before giving critics and audiences their first taste. Supposedly not a rehash but explained as companion sequel following King’s books, can The Dark Tower stand tall or will it come crashing to the ground?
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Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ (and Laureline, too)

A family friendly procedural space opera fantasy adventure — yeah.

After procuring a unique creature from a transdimensional flea market, 28th-century human agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are summoned to Alpha, an amalgamous space station that has grown to include habitats, technology, and knowledge from over a thousand worlds. Deep within the core of the structure, something is stirring that doesn’t wish to be seen… and it’s getting larger. Feeling like they’re always a step behind a mysterious foe, our heroes must uncover clues to solve a thirty-year old puzzle while surviving the corridors and creatures lurking deep within the station… or die trying.

From Leon aka The Professional and Lucy to The Transporter series and The Fifth Element, writer/ director/ producer Luc Besson has a unique style that’s easy to spot. Whether it’s visuals, humor, or action, there’s a precision to create things just the way he wants them, critics be damned. Sometimes this works surprisingly well — such as in Leon — or barely manages to stay on the rails — think Lucy. But Besson hasn’t met a high concept he didn’t like, and this one’s been stewing for decades. Based upon the French comic series “Valérian and Laureline” running from 1967 to 2010, can Luc Besson spin his love of these two Spatio-Temporal Service agents into a cinematic franchise?
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Review: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ (this is how you MCU)

Keaton does for the Vulture what Molina did for Doc Ock — ’nuff said.

After accepting an internship from Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) — a cover for being recruited for Team Stark during Captain America: Civil War — Peter “Spider-Man” Parker (Tom Holland) has been benched waiting for his next big chance to do an Avengers thing. Peter endures his sophomore year at a New York high school specializing in science with only Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as his negligent “nanny” lifeline, all the while thwarting small friendly neighborhood crimes to stay busy. When Spidey stumbles upon a high-tech-equipped gang knocking over an ATM kiosk, he ends up crossing paths with the Vulture (Michael Keaton) before being warned away by his mentor Tony: let the big boys handle big things. Can Peter balance waiting to become an official Avenger, his crush on fellow student Liz (Laura Harrier) before homecoming, his buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) pushing Pete’s superhero advantage into his social life, and doing nothing about a weapons dealer selling whatever to whomever whenever they like? Minor spoiler: nope.

As the sixth movie that started with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002, there have been three incarnations of arguably the world’s most popular superhero. Tobey Maguire nailed milksop Parker but in an older way… plus we got the origin story we all know. After three films, Andrew Garfield took over the hero role in the not-so-soft reboot The Amazing Spider-Man; Parker seemed older than ever yet more athletic as well, but Sony’s rush to jump-start their franchise into multiple films fell flat (are you paying attention, Universal?) With relative-newcomer Tom Holland’s high-schooler take on the Wallcrawler and superhero veteran Michael Keaton trading his batsuit in for an actual flying rig, can the MCU breathe new life into a beaten-down and bloated spider?
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Review: ‘Anti Matter’ (the worm turns)

Doing science can be cruel… especially when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Ana (Yaiza Figueroa) is an Oxford PhD student doing research into the effects of EMP on battery electrolytes when she stumbles onto an anomaly: the tested electron disappears. She shares her findings with Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy) who realizes Ana’s experiment has gone beyond cause/effect and touched upon quantum teleportation. In a rush to takes things to the next level and a window of opportunity closing, they enlist Liv (Philippa Carson) to globally hack their way into enough computing power to increase the mass of teleported objects, eventually creating an instantaneous wormhole large enough to successfully transport Ana herself… and that’s when one woman’s world turns upside down.

Memory is a funny thing. It defines who were are but it also influences our perception of the world and who we believe ourselves to be. From 50 First Dates to Memento, movies about memory and losing ourselves have been a fascination but also a horror; what could be worse than forgetting what makes us ourselves, to understand that we are slipping away? To quote Morpheus from The Matrix: “What is real? How do you define ‘real’?” Like a modern-day Alice in Wonderland, the character of Ana tumbles down the rabbit hole, but how well will audiences respond to how deep the rabbit hole goes?
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Review: ‘Cars 3’ (nothing lasts forever)

Cars don’t get old; they just go faster.

Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is still burning up the NASCAR circuit with many of the famous racers he grew up with and still taking the checkered flag… right up until a rookie ironically named Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer) starts stealing McQueen’s thunder. Seeing his old friends drop out and teams replacing them with the newest and latest racers, McQueen pushes himself to the limit… and wipes out. Unwilling to merely get back out on the track, McQueen needs to know he can beat Storm, and rich super-fan Mr. Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion) has a plan to do just that. Can an over-enthusiastic trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) provide the motivation McQueen needs to get his mojo back, or will he follow in the footsteps of his mentor Hudson (voice of the late Paul Newman) and accept retirement?

After the spy sequel misstep that everyone watched and claimed they disliked — as if a race car becoming an international spy made less sense than a world where cars are alive and people don’t exist — we’re back on track with being on the track. Now our hero must contend with competition from rookie racers who are engineered to be faster, endure longer, and do it effortlessly… and don’t mind telling their elders to move aside. Pixar is always at their best when it comes to stories about getting old — see Up and Toy Story 3 for examples — but will fans flock to theaters to see animated vehicles angrily making left turns again?
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Review: ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ (and the last straw)

An exhaustive sensory assault held together by sugarless gum.

Hey, kids: did you know Transformers had something to do with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table? And Merlin looked a whole lot like Stanley Tucci? Flash forward back to now; there are zones people shouldn’t go into that have Transformers just waiting to die.. or be rescued… or something. Izabella (Isabela Moner) keeps a few stupid kids out of harm’s way by acting like a stupid kid… until Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) shows up, saves the kids (sort of), and is rewarded with the McGuffin Medallion… that everyone knows about but no one has mentioned in over a thousand years (or four previous movies). Both he and crazy-pretty-yet-inexplicably-single historian Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) are kidnapped by Sir Edmund Burton (why is Anthony Hopkins in this movie?) and tasked with saving the world but instantly dislike one another… meaning they’re destined to shag should they live so long. Then Cybertron kind of crashes into Earth without utterly destroying it (?!) and Optimus Prime will save us… or not — or maybe The Last Knight will, or maybe the pretty historian and her magic Staff of McGuffin… no wait, mission failure! Abort, abort, abort! What the living hell is happening here?!

Let’s talk frankly, shall we? Transformers isn’t difficult: Decepticons make energon cubes by stealing Earth resources while plotting to return to Cybertron… and the Autobots arrive to kick their ass — repeat. From the first so-so Transformers movie to the unwatchable sequel and the Transformers 3: the Apology, it’s clear that director Michael Bay really likes money and mayhem. After Shia LaBeouf declared he was no longer famous, Mark Wahlberg phoned in a performance and started calling himself Cade for some reason. Is it still okay for Michael Bay to shoot from the hip, shooting script be damned, and try to make something watchable out of tens of millions of dollars worth of special effects in the editing room?
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