The Vintage Revisits: It

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Not too long ago I had praised the bold terribleness of the 2003 Stephen King adaptation of Dreamcatcher. I love that movie dearly for how batshit crazy it is with asshole ripping weasels, British aliens, and Morgan Freeman’s eyebrows. What I hadn’t realized was how closely that movie and presumed book are to the previous and more well-known work It. So many years have passed since I had watched the 1990 miniseries and even longer since reading the tome of a novel that I couldn’t recall the similarities of a group of friends who encounter something otherworldly as children that brings them together some decades later which they must overcome again. It’s not like these are the only two books that are similar in the writer’s bibliography, the youthful storylines also resemble Stand By Me which is due to King’s ultra nostalgia for the baby boomer generation so any childhood flashback has that carbon copy aesthetic and vernacular whether it fits the time period or not. It became famous as a novel by its volume but the miniseries’ notoriety was bringing to life the nightmarish clown and to this day is the selling point.

 
If your early 90’s memory is hazy, the miniseries is broken into two episodes, the first sets up the seven friends of The Losers Club jumping between a particular middle school year in 1960 and where they are now thirty years later. The lone friend Mike who remained in their hometown of Derry, Maine contacts the estranged gang after the resurgence of the child consuming entity. Episode two is the return to Derry and constructing a plan to stop “It”. If it’s not obvious by the brief sentence that sums up part two, the first episode is by far superior and not because I’m nostalgic for my nonexistent 60’s glory days. This is one of the few instances where the child actors sell the story better than the adults. Their camaraderie is more charming than the jaded adult plus it’s more believable for an 11-year-old to be afraid of the manifestation of clowns, skeletons, and wolfmen than an adult or an adult viewer. The first episode sets up so much that you want everyone to return to the rich history of this small town that inhabits their past yet so much time is spent refusing the call. Once everyone is back they’re either ready to leave or in constant denial of the circumstances. It gets repetitive fast and makes episode two stuck in a rut. Even when you’re watching Ritter, Anderson and O’Toole you’re thinking of their smaller counterparts.

 
I have difficulty wanting to admit this is a horror movie. 1990 was not an era of pique television and American Horror Story gore wasn’t getting on ABC primetime. Audiences remember Pennywise because clowns are such a specific horror icon. He resonates in your mind over all the other relationships and side plots because Tim Curry plays him so sinisterly campy. Pennywise has maybe fifteen minutes of screentime total but chews up the scenery in every damp sewer, beckoning children with treats like a creepy man in an unmarked van. The sharped tooth clown himself is only a manifestation of a light based shapeshifting alien(?). In the final act, he takes on the form of a giant spider which I find more mesmerizing and fearful because A) I adore cinematic spider, B) practical effects and C) you get to watch TV actors stab to death a massive prop. The horror is watered down by the melodrama elevated by the after school special-esque soundtrack and the Big Chill happy montages as the grown ride bike and eat Chinese food to a forgotten Motown song. The scary moments that follow up each of those scenes like a fallen deck of bicycle cards covered with Pennywise’s face or mutant fortune cookies containing eyeballs, cockroaches and crabs are more silly than terrifying. Every instance in which I should have been spooked, I thought “I bet that works in the book.”

 
The movie takes a lot of liberties with the novel which you have to when condensing 1,100 pages into three hours. As a story, it mostly works which is what the miniseries should be judged on. The major slip up is with psychopathic bully Henry Bowers who is the Loser’s Club’s tormentor as a child and follows them into the sewers to encounter “It” for the first time. As an adult in an insane asylum, he is recruited by Pennywise to help kill again but the film negated adding the plot line from the book that Bowers had been manipulated once before, which lead him to kill his own father. All the other condensed and altered character specificities work under the rushed circumstances of having to flesh out everyone’s backstory so quickly. Themes get lost in the in translation and that why the miniseries isn’t the densest of the material. As for the consensual gang bang of 11-year-old Beverly Marsh, as much as that could never be shown on television by how protective we are as a culture to childhood innocence and you know, the FCC, it would in no way work for this incarnation of the novel. It’s too controlled and sweet with its sling shots and asthma inhalers to introduce the complicated mechanics of sex used to stop the creature.

 
I’m still going to defend Dreamcatcher because it is the better adaptation of the same story. Being made thirteen years later and with an R rating allows it to be disturbing and filthy the way that it should be even if it’s with subpar material. Plus I can respect it for being so weird with its character choices and villain manifestations where It plays it so safe. No horror movie is truly great if you can comfortably watch it with your parents. The good news is that it makes it prime for a remake, an opportunity to get it right a second time. I’m already too hyped for that 2017 release for what it will explore especially as it relegates itself exclusively to the youth story line. I’m ready to see a Stephen King adaptation be brazenly terrifying in a way we haven’t seen in ages. There’s a well to delve from in the novel and I hope it would feel in no way indebted to the mediocre miniseries. Let’s see what “It” can really do.

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Is it time for Roadies to lock the gates?: A season recap

Labor Day, the most bittersweet of holidays. It marks the end of summer; no more trips to the beach or the neighbor’s pool. The school year has started, fall is on its way or if you’re in LA, more of the same weather till it drops ten degrees. This three day weekend is the final hurrah before we are immersed in the trenches of work and winter and the end of another year. There’s a lot of great ways I could have spent this time, either with friends flipping burgers, maybe even being productive with my writing, get started on that great American novel. But alas, much like I spent my vacation in New York watching the Phantom Menace trilogy for a podcast formally known as Griffin and David Present, I spent these early days of September (roughly 32  hours) watching the poorly received Showtimes series Roadies in anticipation for the renamed podcast Blank Check with Griffin and David as they have tirelessly revisited all of Cameron Crowe’s filmography. This is more proof of my unhealthy dedication to an audio program as I have watched over ten hours of mediocre content for what I can only hope is enthralling two-hour discussion between the hosts (and “pro-doer” Ben).

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I want to state upfront, Roadies isn’t a terrible show. It really could have been a train wreck after witnessing last year’s Aloha which feels like a script written by an alien trying to mimic how humans communicate. It’s similar to the fiasco of Elizabethtown which introduced to the much detested “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and the less appreciated knife-wielding “Murder Stationary Bike.” Roadies never reaches that level of catastrophe with white Hawaiians or misshapen shoes . The show centers around the crew containing riggers, guitar techs, managers and a nanny working the road with the fictional band Staten-House. Each episode takes us to a different city with a myriad of roadblocks and plenty of sexual tension. Most important to why this show isn’t dead on arrival is Crowe has returned to writing what he knows. He brings forth his love of music and atmosphere of life on tour which he first recreated in Almost Famous. Electrical rigger Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) embodies a young Crowe, in the industry because she believes in the music, following a band that speaks truth. One of her traits is her interest in film, she almost leaves the tour to attend film school but stays, always with a portable camera in hand (or at least the last episode leads us to believe she’s been documentary everything). Tour Manager Phil (Luke Wilson) is current day Crowe, someone who has seen it all, maybe sobered up but remains close to the world of music past and present. These two and production manager Shelli (Carla Gugino) take control of the narrative as they try to reign in the devoted team they travel with.

Sadly, it’s no Almost Famous as it doesn’t have the greatest era of rock ‘n’ roll on its side (or Phillip Seymour Hoffman). What should be an intimate look at the unsung heroes of the music industry feels more like Crowe showing off the songs on his iPod with egregious musician cameos from rising stars like Halsey to legends like Lindsey Buckingham. Enjoyment of the series hinges strongly on your enthusiasm towards live performances because each episode will pause for at least one song similar to the musical guest segment on SNL that I routinely fast forward through. This does not include the “Song of The Day”, the bonus content written out on screen to save you time from having to Shazam it. Crowe is no stranger in investing a lot of time and money into a project’s soundtrack but this comes off too much as either bragging about what cool bands he likes or pandering, hoping The Head and the Heart is what viewers want to see. These music specifics are what make up the world’s fervor in each city and stadium which holds a well of pop culture history. Reflecting on the past leads to some of the better moments like “King of the Road” Phil (Ron White) recounting his glory days with Led Zeppelin or the bottle episode where ignorant financial advisor Reg (Rafe Spall) utters “Cincinnati” on the tour bus and the entire crew of roadies must drive 100 miles the opposite direction because of a “Who” based superstition. I like music trivia without having to watch the music. The is a visual medium, I can listen to the songs later.

Now my disinterest towards what is indeed the basis of the show is my own problem. That’s a flawed, personal reason I was detached. There’s still a fair amount of small nitpicks and glaring omissions hindering the growth of Roadies. On a grand scale, there are too many characters. Some of the people on the poster get four lines an episode at most (Finesse Mitchell is purely on there for diversity sake). I was anticipating way more Keisha Castle-Hughes who I’ve missed since her Whale Riding days but get short shifted as sound board operator Donna. At one point Kelly Ann mentions that Donna and her girlfriend (who is pregnant) broke up which is glossed over and forgotten because they seem to be back together next time it’s brought up. There no consistency between story lines for minor characters. Both Milo (Peter Cambor) the guitar tech and Chris (Tanc Sade) one of the band members are remarked on having crushes on Kelly Ann, something that never plays into the narrative. Then you’ve got Shelli’s husband Sean (Matt Passmore) who surprises her at a venue, he seems real chipper for a guy who’s dad died a few days earlier. If you’re not a lead, your storyline picks up and drops off as it pleases. There’s often no sense of how much time has passed (the tour is only a few weeks but feels like months) as emotional turn around is so abrupt. Then there will be build ups with no payoff. Phil runs into an ex at a corporate function, he’s nervous that she might remember him, she does and is quite cordial. The end. I would have assumed that was going to be a significant plot point but like many are just another hollow scene. The writing itself is quite cliche which isn’t doing any favors for the characters. I found myself correctly guessing the next cheesy line to be uttered and I don’t want to know that. Television writers to be more inventive than my media consumer brain that repeats what I’ve already heard countless times.

I’ll be it there are two instances in which the creative team really shows me up and the Cameron Crowe crazy penetrates through. First is the show-within-a-show that is a hit with all the characters and presumably the nation which is “Dead Sex” starring David Spade. Garnered from the few clips exhibited, it’s  Walking Dead-esque and the premise is that a virus has spread and the only way to stay alive is to have sex, every nine days to be exact. I can’t tell if this running gag was put in place as a commentary about how there’s so much ridiculous, high concept TV out there now and Roadies is a combatant of that as a grounded character drama. This theory seems unlikely purely because everyone adores the show and we should be on their side. No one questions its integrity which puts the egg on the face of our heroes. Maybe its to make Roadies look good by comparison. Crowe has made some less than stellar contributions lately but at least it’s not tits and zombies, right? Or someone in the writers’ room thought it was funny and they knew David Spade was free between Sandler flicks. The even bigger mystery that irks me to no end, that has no bearings on a show that has been otherwise based in a familiar reality is that Taylor Swift goes to…space? This is something discussed so casually that I had to think that artists perform in alternate atmospheres all the time. This arises when Phil is forced to leave the band and joins the Plant Swift tour wherein apparently they travel to a satellite or space base for concert purposes. Phil skypes with Kelly Ann and laments how much he “misses gravity.” It’s so frustrating how normal this is to everyone. Shelli has marital problems which is suddenly a no-brainer when Sean is Swift’s tour manager. Of course, phone sex is hard when your husband is no longer in the same gravitational pull. We’re also supposed to believe Phil goes to space and returns to Staten-House in two weeks!? Is going to space like being ordained? Apply online, print out your certificate and walk onto a rocket? Pack light because you’ll be back in no time. That element is so frustrating I’m willing to overlook why the black lead singer of Staten-House has a white son. Anything in this world is possible!

Those setbacks don’t ruin the show, but it sure doesn’t help. It’s nice to know that Cameron Crowe hasn’t completely lost touch, which his recent string of flops led me to believe. He’s trying to get back in touch with his roots. It’s not a fruitless effort, just a bland one. His scathing take on critics in the form of a pompous Rain Wilson in episode three doesn’t put him in anyone’s good graces. It’s flourishing like that which make it clear Crowe cares too much. He’s trying to please people with cool bands and standard tropes so everyone can follow along. Not inclusive enough to have notable diversity and the stoic Hawaiian security guard is uncomfortably too “spiritual.” Will Roadies get a second season? It’s not like it’s a show that didn’t find its footing. It knows what it is and it’s uninspired. The appeal is built on relationships and music and if you don’t care about the romances (the friendships are pretty empty) and you’re more into hip hop than alt rock then no need to buy a ticket, let Roadies pass on through.

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