Friday, July 13, 2018

Movie Review: "Gerald's Game" (2017)

Believing is feeling.
Tonight, I watched Gerald's Game for only the second time, and I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it just as much on revisit as I did when it first began streaming last September.
Having recently reread (and blogged about) the novel, I was a little worried that King's version might be too much in my brain for me to let go and enjoy Mike Flanagan's adaptation.  I needn't have worried; this is top-notch stuff, an instant classic that has, I think, already joined the ranks of agreed-upon King classics.
If such a thing even exists anymore.  I think it still does, but our culture, popular and otherwise, seems to be in the midst of a series of profound shifts in how we view it and ourselves, and in the face of that only a fool speaks of things being commonly agreed upon.  Granted, I kind of am a fool; so there's that.  Still, I've retained enough self-awareness to know that whereas one probably could speak about "agreed-upon" things in 1988, or 1998, or maybe even 2008, the ability to do so in 2018 is increasingly meaningless.  We agree on virtually nothing these days.  We don't even agree upon what we disagree about.
That's not lost on me, is what I'm saying.
Still, to the extent such a thing as consensus exists, the consensus among people who care about movies based on the work of Stephen King seems to be that Mike Flanagan's Gerald's Game is a big-time winner.
How did this happen?  For decades, that novel was considered to be damn near unfilmable.  Flanagan's movie works so well, though, that one wonders what all the fuss was ever about.  "Oh," one might say watching it; "fuck, that was simple."  I'm sure it was anything but, but it does play somewhat effortlessly, and that's a bit of a marvel.
Let's see if we can celebrate it a bit.
The key initial decisions Flanagan seems to have made are these: (1) deciding that the novel itself fundamentally works from beginning to end; and (2) deciding that despite that, not every aspect of it was a slam-dunk for adaptation into an audiovisual format.  From there, along with co-screenwriter Jeff Howard (to whom I apologize in advance for the many times I'm going to simply refer to Flanagan as the auteur of this adaptation -- I do know it's not the case, and regret the shorthand), he seems to have decided to keep as much of the novel as possible without losing sight of the fact that in order for it to work as a cohesive whole, things would have to be sacrificed.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Books I Read in 2018, Part 2

Part Two beginneth now, with:
Sleepwalkers by Stephen King

Not technically a book, but I'm counting it, because it's book-length and I did, in fact, read it during 2018.
I wrote about it at considerable length here.  The short version: it's a readable screenplay that is kind of cheesy and nonsensical, but is nevertheless worth the time of any serious King fan.  It's mostly the same thing as what you seen if you've seen Sleepwalkers, but there are a few significant differences, including a very different ending.
Date of completion: March 6
Grade:  B-
The Listener by Robert McCammon

I wrote about Robert McCammon's new novel The Listener here, and not in any spoilery detail.
It's about a kidnapping, a telepath, and my determination never to go to a swamp.  It's quite possibly one of the best books McCammon has ever written, and that's high praise.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Film Score Review: Danny Elfman's "Dolores Claiborne" (1995)

Here is a partial list of the films Danny Elfman had scored by the time he accepted the job on Dolores Claiborne:
  • Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
  • Beetlejuice (1988)
  • Midnight Run (1988)
  • Scrooged (1988)
  • Batman (1989)
  • Nightbreed (1990)
  • Dick Tracy (1990)
  • Darkman (1990)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • Batman Returns (1992)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What you've mostly got there is a list of colorful/moody fantasy films of one type or another.  Most of what's left is comedy; some are both.  I would argue that a minimum of five are stone-cold classics of film scoring. 

I'm not sure you'd be able to argue that a filmography like what Elfman had at the time would make one an inherently good choice for a film like Dolores Claiborne, which is neither a comedy (and how) nor a colorful fantasy film.  It's a psychological drama with expressive elements; and that's not true of, say, Dick Tracy.

However, Elfman had been working up to make a transition of this nature.  He'd scored the underrated Jodie Foster / Richard Gere drama Sommersby in 1993, and had done a good job of putting himself in supporting mode; many of his previous scores had (and this is in no way a sleight of his phenomenal work) been much more front-and-center.  That sort of approach can work for dramas -- Taxi Driver, anyone? (I'd answer "yes" if I were you) -- but most directors opt not to go quite that expressive with the music.

Case in point: Dolores Claiborne, which has virtually nothing in the way of hummable themes.  One thing you could NOT accuse Elfman of is being deficient in the hummable-themes department in the course of scoring those films listed above.

Of course, this in no way implies that Dolores Claiborne lacks impact or is deficient.  It's impactful and really rather terrific; just not in the way Beetlejuice is, you know?  And I think it's worth going on a bit of a deep dive here, and closely examining the role the music plays in the movie.  So what I'm going to do is this: I'm going to rewatch the movie, and take notes on each and every scene in which Elfman's score appears, and then pass my thoughts about it along to you.  After I'm finished, I'd then like to compare that to the soundtrack album (which, like most score albums, contains only some of the music Elfman wrote and recorded).

But first...

I might be about to test the patience of some of my readers, but I think it might be a useful experience for me personally to go on a brief tour of Elfman's career as I understood it around the time of Dolores Claiborne's release.  There's no better way of doing that than going track by track through the contents of this album:

This is Music For A Darkened Theatre: Film & Television Music Volume One, which for my money is one of the great film-composer compilations of all.  It might well also be one of the most-played CDs in my library; I got this sucker when it came out in 1990, and it got featured heavily in my rotation.  (Technically, my first copy was on cassette, but let's not be pedantic, shall we?)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The "Dolores Claiborne" opera (2013): reviewing the reviews

As you may know, I am a Stephen King fan.
This surprises you?  Feign surprise all you want, but it is merest truth.  The truth inside the lie, one might say.
Or one might not say such a lame thing as that, but evidently that was how my brain wanted to begin this post.  Fuck it, let's regroup.
Point is, AS a Stephen King fan, I'm kind of used to being able to indulge my fandom.  King puts out a new book or story, I buy it and read it.  A new movie comes out?  I go see it.  A new television series comes on?  I watch it.  A new comic book comes out?  I get one.
Generally speaking, I am able to keep up with all but the most ephemeral such bits of King-dom.  And that suits me just fine.
But every once in a while, something comes along that scoots right past my defenses and escapes from me.  One such instance came in 2013, when the San Francisco Opera staged Dolores Claiborne, an opera by composer Tobias Picker based on the novel (and movie) of the same name(s).
Dolora Zajick as Dolores Claiborne, a performance that would never be

I'd happily have attended a performance if I could have done so, but it was not vaguely feasible.
To date, there has been no commercial video or audio release of any kind.  No bootlegs exist that I am aware of; no performances (apart from a highlight reel, more on which in a bit) exist on YouTube.  For all practical purposes, the opera just plain doesn't exist for this King fan and blogger.
And this vexes me.  Yes, it vexes me mightily.
That said, I thought it made sense to go ahead and pound out a post on the subject while I was in Dolores Claiborne mode (having recently covered both the novel and the movie).  I can't review what I can't see/hear, but I can compile all the interesting information about it I can find, and if nothing else serve as a sort of repository for information about the opera.
If you're game, follow along, and let's see if we turn up anything interesting. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Movie Review: "Dolores Claiborne" (1995)

Today, it's movie-review time, and we're threading the 1995 Warner Bros. adaptation of Dolores Claiborne through the handy-dandy Truth Inside The Lie projector.
Confession: the foregoing sentence is an example of the kind of bullshit you write when you can't quiiiiiiite figure out how to begin a blog post but are determined to begin it nevertheless.  Vamping ain't just for podcasts!

One thing I always struggle with when writing these reviews is a question: should I primarily think of them as a thing separate from the novels/stories upon which they are based, or should I instead think of them as a reflection of that source material and judge them accordingly?
It's a difficult question to answer in some cases, but I'm being somewhat disingenuous in having even posed it, because I've got my answer all lined up, and have had it for many a year now: I do whatever I feel like doing at the time I'm doing it.  So do I sometimes feel perfectly content to consider the movies as their own thing?  You bet I do.  Do I at other times feel like either praising or (this is more common) cursing the movie for the degree to which it hews to its source material?  Oh, for sure.
And there are still other times where I seem to take a hybrid approach, feeling both things simultaneously.
It's a case-by-case thing with me, and if that strikes you as being wishy-washy or flip-floppy or just plain old hypocritical, well, you don't need my permission to be thus struck, so go on ahead.  I'd only point out that this adaptation game is a tricky one; there are no rules, only a shifting maze of approaches that may or may not lead you to the end goal that is "success."
On the whole, I think I'm pretty consistent in my own approach to appraising this stuff: I just want to see something good.  Great would be even better, and okay'll do in a pinch; but give me something good, and I'll not only roll with you, but I'll ride shotgun and keep an eye out for bandits.
No point in burying the lede any further: I think this is an awfully good movie.  It might even get close to being a great one; I said I thought more or less that the last time I ranked all the King movies (this one came in at #10). 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Brief Review of "The Outsider"

Well, in the words of Rustin Parr, I'm finally finished.

I'm going to give you as bare-bones and spoiler-free of a review as I can possibly manage.  I'll be able to manage it pretty well, too, although there is one major plot point that, frankly, it's kind of nuts for me NOT to talk about.  But since it's been absent from the book's marketing, I'll leave it for you to find out on your own; seems like the right thing to do.
I ingested The Outsider -- which spans 561 pages -- in a mere two days, and that right there ought to tell you something about the novel.  That's a big chunk of reading and not a long span of time in which it was accomplished.  So was it compulsively readable?  You better believe it.
Unfortunately, that's not enough for me to give the novel anything more than a weak recommendation.  Allow me to explain.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A look at recent King-family short stories

I have a real brief one for you tonight: just wanted to give you a brief set of reactions to four recently-published King-family short stories that I read this week.
We'll proceed in the order in which they were published, which gives us the added benefit of saving Big Steve's story for last.
Up first:
"All I Care About Is You"
(by Joe Hill)
published in The Weight of Words, December 21, 2017
When he's at his best, Joe Hill makes you want to fuck someone, or punch someone, or donate a bunch of money to charity, or run outside and tump a car over.  Do something passionate, at any rate.  I had none of those options available to me after reading this story, which finds Hill either at his best or real damn near it; so I just ate some Moon Pies.  Story of my fuckin' life, that.
I don't really know why it took me this long to read the story.  Well ... I do know, it's just for a fundamentally silly reason.  
See, a few years ago, I made a sort of vow to myself: that going forward, when I buy anthologies -- I do not extend this courtesy to magazines (for reasons that don't even make sense to me, much less to any hypothetical people with whom I share them) -- so as to have copies of stories by authors such as Hill, King, etc. whose work I enjoy, I will not allow myself to merely read their contributions and then toss them aside.  I used to do that all the time; and when I say "used to," I mean from, like, 1990-2015.  It's insulting to all those other authors!  Plus, I have a tendency these days to ONLY read the Kings and Hills of the world, i.e., people who are already on my approved list.  Reading anthologies is a good way to pick up at least a modicum of familiarity with other authors.
Understand, it is like an ice-pick in my heart to realize I can't find the time to read more or less every genre author there is (and I'd love also to read copious amounts of non-genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, you name it).  But I can't, so I kind of don't worry about it much.
Insisting on making myself read the entirety of these anthologies is my way of not throwing in 100% of the towel; if I can keep 0.05% of it, well, better than none, right?
So basically, I was waiting to find the time -- which I apparently needed to be just right -- to settle down with The Weight of Words.  I got the book in late 2017, and here, halfway through 2018, the time had just not been quite right.
But when -- and apologies for this full-tilt detour into crazy-town, but hey, this IS a blog, so you asked for at least a little bit of crazy -- I read new, published-online stories by both Owen and Stephen King last week, and (spoiler alert!) loved them both, it got me to thinking that there was a major new story by Joe Hill just sitting there on my shelf, waiting forlornly to be read.  And so, I've broken my rule, and dove right into The Weight of Words, flipped to very near the end, and consumed "All I Care About Is You."  All I cared about for the moment was that story.
That said, I will read the entirety of the anthology before the summer is out; I may well make it the next thing I read once The Outsider has been vanquished in fact.  We'll see as to that, but before the summer is out, for sure.
And when I do read it, I will 100% reread "All I Care About Is You," which immediately became a lock for a spot in my top three Hill short stories.  "Pop Art" and "20th Century Ghost" are the current #1 and #2; I'm not sure I had any kind of formal pick for #3, but I feel like if I'd had to choose one, it would have been either "In the Tall Grass" or "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead."
Well, no more; "All I Care About Is You" vaults immediately into at least the #3 position.  I think "Pop Art" is safe at #1, but a reread might find the #2 spot up for grabs.  Regardless of where they get slotted in, this story is sheer dynamite.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Ocean She Was Adrift On Was Time: "Dolores Claiborne" Revisited, Part 3

I'd been working my way up to these posts about Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne all year, and my primary goal for them was to get them finished before May 22.  May 22, you Constant Readers may know, is the day King's new novel, The Outsider, hits shelves.  As is typically the case, my plan for that day involves not working, dragging myself out of bed at some point after noon, going to a place where the book would be apt to be sold, purchasing a couple of copies (one of which will be for some future me's reread-note-taking pleasure), and then spending as much of the next few days as possible reading it.

Better by far if I've got no in-the-works blog posts waiting to be finished.
And hey, whattaya know!  I managed to get across the finish line before the deadline arrived.  Not with a whole heck of a lot of time to spare, but that don't confront me none; it got done, and it got done reasonably well, and so I'm gonna pat myself on the back for just a second.

After which, I will point out that I didn't quite finish: deep-dives into the movie adaptations of both Dolores Claiborne (1995) and Gerald's Game (2017) were intended to be part of this series, and those, alas, I am not going to be able to get done pre-Outsider.  This, I think, is okay; I'll be all to happy to let those sit for a week or two, because after all, I'd kind of like to deal with them as their own thing, and not merely as reflections of the books.  So putting a mild amount of distance between the books and the movies by slotting in a different book altogether...?  Not the worst idea in the world.  So I'm claiming, anyways, and you can't prove I don't mean it!

Heck, I may even wedge a post about recently King-family short stories in there for good measure.  On the score, we shall see.

Regardless, let's now conclude our revisit of Dolores Claiborne the novel with a roundup edition of stray thoughts I failed to work into the first few posts.

Don't look too closely at the join in those two pages; this was not my most graceful ripping-and-taping job.  It's another lovely Bill Russell illustration, though.
We're gonna just sorta work our way through in chronological order, mostly, and hit whatever seem worth hitting. Let's begin with what is, for me, one of the most memorable sections of the novel: Dolores's description of dealing with Vera's bedsheets, particularly during the winter.

"That was one thing you didn't ever want to get wrong," says Dolores (19).  "They had to be hung perfectly even over the lines -- so the hems matched, you know -- and you had to use six clothespins on each one.  Never four; always six."

Fair enough, right?  I mean, they're Vera's sheets; and those hanging them are being paid Vera's money to hang them.  If I were the kind of person who was particular about such things, and was paying somebody to do this work for me, I'd be particular about this thing, and no mistake about it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

She Had Three Ways of Bein a Bitch: "Dolores Claiborne" Revisited, Part 2

Depicted above: the Hodder & Stoughton edition of the novel's hardback.  Ain't it a beaut?  I probably still prefer the American edition from Viking, but our British cousins did well with this one, and if I can find a reasonably inexpensive used copy, I'mma have me one.

That acquisitorial note made, let's now crack on with part two of our Dolores Claiborne revisit.

Today, I want to look at the novel's two most prominent supporting players, Joe St. George and Vera Donovan, beginning with the latter.  (We already talked about here some here, but there's plenty more left to be said.)

Dolores's relationship with Vera is probably the most important of the novel, and it's one of the most compelling relationships in all of King's work.  It's difficult to put a label on exactly what kind of relationship it is.  It's not romantic or sexual (a thing which is likely not in doubt, but may nevertheless need to be stated); it's an employer/employee relationship, but one which morphs into caregiver/patient; it can't quite be considered a friendship, except in the numerous ways which it behaves as one.  What are these two women to each other?

We don't quite know, and since Dolores is the narrator, this can mean only that she herself doesn't know.  And since she isn't exactly the kind of person who is prone to waste a great deal of mental energy figuring such things out, it remains somewhat ill-defined throughout.

As such, I think it manages to be incredibly compelling.  It is infuriating at times, it is thrilling at other times, it is moving at still others.

This is life, isn't it?

Friday, May 18, 2018

The World's A Sorry Schoolroom Sometimes: "Dolores Claiborne" Revisited, Part 1

Having traipsed our way through Gerald's Game, we now turn our attentions to Dolores Claiborne, and I immediately sense -- perhaps to the relief of some of you! -- that I'm not going to have anywhere near as much to say about this novel.  In no way should this be taken as a reflection on its quality.  Its quality is substantial, and in fact I'd say that of the two, I prefer Dolores Claiborne pretty handily ... and that despite being unreservedly impressed by Gerald's Game on this revisit.  Both are grade-A stuff; but in my opinion, Dolores Claiborne is an A+.

That doesn't mean I've got nothing to say, though.  Let's find out what it amounts to!


We're going to begin with some business.  You sometimes see Dolores Claiborne listed as a 1993 publication, and that's quite reasonable given the fact that the copyright date in the book -- and it's listed this way in all three editions I own -- is, in fact, 1993.

Despite this, it was published in 1992.  I have no clue why the book itself says 1993; my best guess is that it was an error of some sort that became legally binding and has therefore been permitted to stand.  But who can say?  Not this blogger.  This blogger CAN say that he is almost positive he read the book during the Christmas break after his first semester of college; specifically, I read it while visiting my grandparents in Creola.  This would have been in the waning days of 1992, so let's say probably December 26 or 27.

I say "almost positive" because I cannot rule out the technical possibility that we visited Creola later that year than usual, and that it might have been in the first days of 1993 that I actually read the novel.  But I put the odds of this as being very slim indeed.

Regardless, let's look at a few hard facts:

  • in an interview with W.C. Stroby in the July 1992 issue of Fangoria, Dolores Claiborne is said to be earmarked for publication in December 
  • Kirkus evidently reviewed the novel in the September 1, 1992 issue, and they list the publication date as December 7
  • the New York Times reviewed the novel in its November 16, 1992 issue
  • an interview with King in the Times on November 18 said that the novel "is being released this week" 
  • Kevin Quigley's Chart of Darkness lists the publication date as December 6, and says that the book went straight to the #1 position on the Times list of bestsellers, remaining there for the remainder of the year
  • a second Times review (this one in brief) seemingly followed on December 27

Add all that up, and I feel pretty good about saying that this book definitively WAS published in 1992, regardless of what it says inside the book itself.  (And I feel similarly good about continuing to claim -- for the one people in the entire world [me!] who care about this -- that I read the book shortly after Christmas.)

So there you have it; done and dusted.  All you suckers out there who keep saying 1993, you've been misled, but adjust your lists accordingly because it's 19 and 92 and that's just all there is to it.