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IT

Stephen King seems to be having a busy year. The famous horror author has seen two big-screen adaptations of his work as well as a TV series come to fruition. Not bad for a writer who has been horrifying readers for decades. Based on his book ‘IT’ and a remake of the 1990 TV mini-series, his latest film is sure to spook viewers. Those with clown-phobias are advised to stay away as it won’t cure them anytime soon. ‘IT’ is a suitably spooky ride into the dark unknown with the circus’ ultimate court jester looking deadlier than ever.

Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) are members of the ‘Losers Club’. A gang of misfits and outcasts, they do their own peculiar thing whilst trying to keep out of trouble. Mischief isn’t far behind as they find themselves battling an evil entity. Taking the form of a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the vile being preys upon their fears and gleefully kills children for survival. Using what they can to defeat the creature, Bill and the gang are forced to confront a sinister clown whose motives are less than jolly.

‘IT’ works on many levels whilst taking its cues from several horror movies. Set in the 1980’s, it mirrors the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ films, ‘Stand by Me’ and other coming of age movies of the era. It also has the typical Stephen King motif of an enclosed small town terrorized by mysterious forces. ‘IT’ succeeds despite the weight of many characters and emotional themes. This fine performances and Andy Muschietti’s atmospheric direction refuse to pull any horrific punches.

As a horror movie, ‘IT’ certainly delivers on scares. Skarsgard has a grand time playing the personification of pure evil but still remembering to have the quiet menace the role needs. Lieberher and his co-stars deliver solid performances with their characters’ journeys shown without any forced plot devices. Whilst the film occasionally meanders, the screenplay moves along briskly with the frights coming thick and fast. Wisely, ‘IT’ relies less on CGI and more on mood which is its key in anchoring the strange carry-on with a form of reality.

After many terrible cinematic adaptations, Stephen King should be feeling happy this year. ‘IT’ captures the mood of his novels and doesn’t skimp on classic King elements. It proves his work has a timeless quality that will ensure King’s spooky demeanour will haunt the silver screen for years to come.

Rating out of 10: 8

Victoria and Abdul

Judi Dench has made a habit of playing royalty. Perhaps her regal presence elevates her above other actors who are unable to convey the weary majesty royalty brings. Having portrayed Queen Victoria before in ‘Mrs Brown’, Dench created a path others have tried to match. She returns to the role again in ‘Victoria and Abdul’. Almost a sequel/remake of ‘Mrs Brown’, it gives Dench another opportunity to command all comers from her royally encrusted throne.

Nearing the end of her reign as British Queen, Victoria (Judi Dench) craves decent company. Still mourning her husband’s passing, she longs for something more apart from regular courtiers and hangers-on. She finds this with her Indian servant Abdul (Ali Fazal). Striking up a genuine friendship, they explore the path each has taken that has led to their meeting. Along the way they encounter the usual problems of royalty and prestige testing their union.

From her first appearance it is clear ‘Victoria and Abdul’ belongs to Judi Dench. Without her, the movie would have had little value. Whenever she appears the story catches fire as her character grapples with the mundanity of royal life. How she attempts to put spark in her dwindling years is well realised in her relationship with Abdul. His stoic determination to teach her new life lessons and stand up to stuffy traditions makes ‘Victoria and Abdul’ worth watching.

As wonderful as Dench and the cast are, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ generally feels very formulaic. Director Stephen Frears fails to inject much passion or flair to make the predictable script different from others. The emotional beats feel forced, as if they’re needed to add spice to a lukewarm story. The historical details and production design is fascinating, just what’s within them isn’t very involving. The screenplay has a manipulative air about it with the flow from point A to B seemingly contrived to bring out the requisite audience responses.

Whilst the performances are excellent with a reasonably engaging story, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ fails to linger in the memory. There are many similar movies who have told this type of tale better. More of a bronze than silver-plated success, ‘Victoria and Abdul’ is at least interesting enough not to be sent to the proverbial cinematic tower.

Rating out of 10: 6