Monday, August 14, 2017

A Review of "Studies in the Horror Film: Brian De Palma's Carrie"

If I had the ability to do so, I'd spend about eighteen hours a day blogging about Stephen King.  Not every single day; I'd do that on about ten of the fourteen days of the week, and set aside the others for
some of the other topics near and dear to my heart.  But yeah, for sure on ten of those days, I'd get out of bed, have a spot of breakfast, go exercise, read King books/stories (or view movies) for nine hours or so, have some food, go exercise some more, and then write a blog post of some sort for about nine hours.  Eat me some dinner, catch up on my shows, sleep for twelve hours, get up, and do it all over again.  Not sure how many hours the day'd need to be, but that's mere details.
  
Yessir, that's the life for me.
  
Unfortunately, I'm stuck with this one.  What that means, in terms of The Truth Inside The Lie, is that I'm perpetually backlogged with things I'd like to be writing about but can't find the time for.
  
Among those: I've got a number of books about King's works (or about adaptations of that work) that I have not yet made time to read.  I hope to knock a bunch of those out before the end of the year, and it seems natural to review each of these as I go.
  
In that regard, the first domino has fallen:
  
  

  
  
Published in 2011 by Centipede Press, Joseph Aisenberg's Studies in the Horror Film: Brian De Palma's Carrie is a not-entirely-uncommon breed among books of film criticism: a book I enjoyed greatly despite frequently disagreeing with it.
  
The book, I regret to inform you, is long out of print.  If you're a big fan of the movie, it might be worth your while to track one down.  Copies can be pricey, but Amazon has one in what seems to be good condition for $15.  It's certainly worth that if you're a fan of the movie; Aisenberg is very passionate on the subject, and devotes well over three hundred pages to analysis of its every nook and cranny.  His method is to match through the entire film, one scene at a time, talking about basically any aspect of it that seems worthwhile.  The emphasis is on the psychological content and on De Palma's masterful grasp of cinematic language, but Aisenberg also delves into behind-the-scenes issues of casting, filming, etc.  He's interested in it all, and it shows.
  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Will Not Be Watching "Mr. Mercedes"...

...at least, for now.
 
Here's why.
  
  
  
  
It's available only via DirecTV, their DirecTV Now streaming service, or AT&T U-Verse.  Of those options, I don't have the former or the latter.  Like millions of Americans, I don't have cable service because it's not cost-effective.  It's not that I think it isn't worth what it costs; it is.  I just can't find the time to watch more than a few hours of television a week lately.  So for me, it makes more sense to pay for things in a manner targeted to what I know I will be watching.
  
Currently, that consists of two shows: Game of Thrones and The Mist.  I pay $15 per month for HBO Now, and consider it money very well spent; when Game of Thrones ends, I will likely cancel that service until HBO puts something else on that I feel is essential.  I had it for The Leftovers earlier this year, and will have it again when Westworld starts back up.  It makes no sense to me to have it and not use it; that's money that could be put to use buying old Stephen King paperbacks, ya kennit?
  
With The Mist, I simply bought a season pass for that via Amazon Prime.  Cost me about $20, I think, so $2 per episode.  Worth it?  Not even vaguely.  But hey, I'm a King completist, so it had to be done, and it is worth $2 an episode from that perspective.
  
This brings us to Mr. Mercedes.  I really want to watch it; it looks good, and there's the aforementioned King-completist angle to consider.  But it isn't available through Amazon, or through iTunes, for that matter.
  
The only option left to me was to subscribe to DirecTV Now and stream it through my Amazon Fire Stick (or on my PC).  DirecTV Now is happy to offer me that option...
  
...for $35 per month after my one-week free trial is over.
  
given that the series is $10 episodes, that's a minimum of three months that I'd have to pay for in order to watch it weekly.  Lemme do that math, so, okay, times three, hmm, that's ... $105.  Or, in other words, nearly $12 per episode (not counting the first episode during my free trial).
  
Even if it turns out to be great, it's not worth that to me.  I wouldn't pay that for Game of Thrones.  I wouldn't pay that for Mad Men or Breaking Bad, guys.
  
And yes, I get it: there's more to DirecTV Now than just one series.  But since one series is all I'd be using it for, it's all I'm getting out of it.
  
Not worth it, even to me.
  
It's very likely, of course, that the only reason Mr. Mercedes the series got made is so DirecTV could drive people toward its Now streaming service.  This sort of thing is becoming more common with every passing month.  And I'm not opposed to that; if you make a thing that I'd like to see, I'm interested in giving you money for it.  For that reason, beginning next month, CBS All Access will begin getting money from me on a monthly basis so that I can watch Star Trek: Discovery.
  
They are only charging about six bucks a month for it, though.  Big difference.
  
As this war of streaming services continues, with content deployed as the weaponry, it will become absolutely essential for a guy like me to pick and choose his battles.  I'm an Amazon Prime customer, so that one is year-round for me.  I pick Netflix up when they've got an original I want to see; so when The Defenders launches in a few weeks, I'll be onboard their train again.  I subscribed to Hulu when 11/22/63 aired, and Castle Rock will pull me back.
  
But, again, those services are inexpensive enough that even if I end up using them only for a single specific show, I won't feel I've overspent.
  
Nobody will be able to get $35 per month out of me for a service like that.
  
And so, reluctantly, I'm going to have to bow out of the Mr. Mercedes experience until it comes out on Blu-ray or DVD.  And I'm only assuming it will; there's no guarantee in that regard.
  
Anyways, in case anyone was wondering, that's my stance on this new series.  I am excited by its existence, and I am willing to pay to see it.
  
Not at that price, though.  DirecTV might well win the war; but they've lost me.
  
Now, here are some promotional photos I borrowed from their website:
  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's Really Not That Complicated...

Time for an exercise.
  
Before we begin, let me answer a question some of you might have: no, I will not be reviewing The Dark Tower.  Not, at least, for now; you can look for that review at some point in the future, though, for sure.  It might be as late as whenever the Blu-ray comes out, or as soon as whenever the movie exits cinemas; but for now, I won't be speaking to it here.  I won't be entertaining comments about it, either, which might seem frustrating to some of you; trust me, I get it.  There's a reason for it, though; it's got to do with my job (I'm a movie-theatre manager), and for the time being, I just don't think it's a good idea for me to talk about the movie.
  
In lieu of that conversation, I'd like to offer a few thoughts as to why I don't think it was necessary for anybody to be afraid of actually adapting The Gunslinger (a thing the movie certainly does not do).  That novel gets criticized by King fans and by Dark Tower fans alike (albeit not all of them) for being too weird or too boring or too offensive or some combination of those qualities.  I try to keep myself in check anytime this issue comes up, and I'm mostly successful; I mean, yeah, sure, it baffles and aggravates me that some people look at The Gunslinger -- which is my favorite King novel of them all -- that way, but hey, whatever, you do fandom your way and I'll do it my way, and we'll all be okay in the end.
  
So my aim today is to show you how a movie based on The Gunslinger could have played out.  Bear in mind -- as I would be well-advised to do (he said to himself, warningly) -- that I have never made a movie, have never even tried to make a movie.  I don't really know what I'm talking about, so take all of this for what it's worth.
  
I've been watching movies my whole life, though.  And I've been reading books my whole life.  Specifically, I've been reading books like The Gunslinger (an epic combination of science fiction, fantasy, and horror), and I've been watching movies that aspire to be the kind of crowd-pleasing hits that a series of Dark Tower films ostensibly wanted/needed to be.  I'm a critical-minded thinker who understands that if one wishes to draw a line from books like that to movies like that with the aim of turning the story of one into the experience of the other, one cannot draw a straight line; it is necessary to curve the line, to loop it back on itself as needed to avoid the pitfalls that come with such an effort.  What matter is getting from point A to point B while bringing as much of the book with you as possible.
  
If you don't have that intent, it means you were only ever interested in point B, in which case, why are you even bothering with point A?
  
In order to conduct this exercise, I will be spoiling certain aspects of the series, including the very ending of Book VII.  So if you haven't read the books, I'd advise against reading this post.
  
  
  
  
The main charge against The Gunslinger, as far as I can tell, is that it's boring.  I think that's ridiculous, but I've heard it from too many people to shrug it off.  That being the case, I'd be a fool not to take it into account when proposing this film version.
  
Let that be lesson #1, then: divorce your ego from the project as much as possible in service of accomplishing the intended goal (i.e., to translate these books into a mass-audience-friendly cinematic context and thereby make billions of dollars).  Part of that means letting go of certain aspects of the novel in favor of making an enjoyable movie; but it also means keeping the end product recognizably similar to the novel.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

An Interview With Paul Suntup of Suntup Editions

I've got some exciting stuff to share with y'all today.  As you may know, I've got some real love for a lot of the cover art for Stephen King's books.  I've been saying for years that somebody ought to market posters of the art to those covers, and doggone if somebody hasn't come along and started doing exactly that.  Who has done the King-fan community that service?
  
Suntup Editions, that's who.  They've got a lot more going for them than that, though; they also have a gorgeous portfolio of David Palladini's art for The Eyes of the Dragon available for sale.  The company's owner, Paul Suntup, was turned into a King fan by that very novel. 
 
At age nineteen – 19!!! – Paul Suntup wandered into a bookstore and discovered The Eyes of the Dragon.  This led him to become a massive Stephen King fan, which in turn led him to become a dedicated collector of King books.  Suntup lived in South Africa, which made this a bit more difficult than it would have been for an American or British Constant Reader, but his persistence eventually paid off.

He fell out of collecting King for a while, but had his love for it awoken around the time Doctor Sleep came out.  He eventually discovered that he had a desire to become a publisher, and this led him to an ambitious project: a custom-rebound edition of The Eyes of the Dragon.  It was a success, and led to an even more ambitious rebinding project that did wonderful things with Firestarter.
  
This, in turn, led to a project on which Suntup collaborated with David Palladini, the illustrator of the original Viking edition of The Eyes of the Dragon: a portfolio showcasing Palladini's exquisite art for the novel.  (Suntup discussed this in episode #70 of The Stephen King Podcast in March, and I recommend giving that a listen; his enthusiasm shines through, and it's a lot of fun to hear how a project like that portfolio comes together.)
  
  
The Lettered and Numbered editions with a 1st trade edition for perspective.  More images can be found at https://suntup.press/news/eyes-dragon-art-portfolio-image-gallery/
  
All of that is exciting, but Suntup's next venture was the one that got me excited: The Covers Collection, a series of fine-art prints (and posters) celebrating the cover art of King novels such as The Shining, Pet Sematary, and Misery.  There is a monthly subscription service that sounds wonderful, and single-print options are also available to customers.
  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My Friend vs. Cancer

Today, I want to put an opportunity in front of you.  It's not a fortune-and-glory type of opportunity (he said, channeling Temple of Doom for some reason), but instead an opportunity to help somebody who needs some help.
  
My friend Trey Sterling -- you see him in the comments under the name "Xann Black" every so often -- recently underwent surgery to remove a malignant melanoma.  The surgery was a success, and while there is still a course of treatment(s) waiting on him, Trey's progress seems to be quite good.  This is because he's a badass.  However, the illness and (more importantly) recovery time have caused him to have to face an extended period away from work.  And I don't care how big a badass you are, bills are badder if they've teamed up with cancer to stop you from going to work for an extended period of time.
  
So here's the opportunity: to help.  If you're reading this and have a few bucks you don't think you'll need this week, kindly visit Trey's Go Fund Me page and donate to this worthy cause.
  
Let me tell you a little bit about Trey.  I've known him since ... oh, 2003ish.  He was in high school, and got hired to work at the place where I was a manager.  We got to be friendly, as often happens when nerds meet each other; and have been friends ever since.  We've been on vacations together a few times over the years, have watched all manner of movies and TV shows together, and have had major influences on each others' reading habits. 
  
With that in mind, if you've got the ability to send a few dollars, I'd like to ask you to consider sending them his way.  He's a good guy, and his parents are good people, and the rest of his family are good people, and their various dogs and cats are good animals.  They, none of 'em, ought to have to be going through any of this. 
 
Now, for your amusement, here is a photo of Trey murdering a dinner roll at Disney World:
 
 
Reuben (l): "God save that poor dinner roll."  Trey (m): "Die, dinner roll, die!"  Me (r): "Where MY dinner roll at?"
  
Good times.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Review of "Dollar Deal" (by Shawn S. Lealos)

Today, I'll be reviewing the 2015 book Dollar Deal, which is a collection of interviews by author Shawn S. Lealos with various Dollar Baby filmmakers.
  
What's a Dollar Baby? you might ask.  That's an easy enough question to answer.  See, Stephen King has had this program since at least the eighties in which he will grant aspiring filmmakers the rights to make a short film based on one of his stories for a single dollar.  There's more to it than that (e.g., the filmmakers are not allowed to profit off the films or show them outside of festivals), but that's the gist of the thing.
  
I've always been reluctant to integrate fandom for the Dollar Baby films into my King-fandom regimen.  There are several reasons for this, including:
 
1.  I don’t consider them to be professional films.
2.  There are a LOT of them, and keeping track of them seems to be a near impossibility.
3.  I have no access to more than a handful of them.
4.  My perception of them is that the vast majority suck the root.  Not sayin’ that’s a stone-cold truism … just sayin’ that that’s my perception.
 
All those things being the case, why bother?
  
Well, that’s easy: because regardless of how I think or feel about them, and regardless of whether I have any ability to actually view them, these ARE King-sanctioned films.  In that way, an argument could be made that they are just as legitimate as, say, Cujo.  And I aim for comprehensivity in my King fandom, meaning that in a perfect world, I’d be able to collect every one of these things and give ‘em a look.

Not being able to do so, it is my preference to turn something of a blind eye toward them.  Out of sight, out of mind, and if they are out of my thoughts, then I don’t have to worry about not being able to see them.

Yeah, I get it; dude sounds nuts, you’re thinking.  Who told you to think that?!?  Was it the Tall Whites?!?  Er…  Anyways, don’t misunderstand me; I don’t lose sleep thinking about not being able to see Dollar Baby films.
  
Bottom line is: I just don't care about these movies.
  
So it’s a credit to Shawn S. Lealos (and the filmmakers profiled in his book) that while reading Dollar Deal, I did care.
  
  

   
  
His book is not a definitive history of Dollar Babies – as I mentioned earlier, there doesn’t seem to be a way to actually compile a comprehensive list of them – but is instead a collection of interviews with seventeen filmmakers who have participated in the program (plus three essays).  During the course of reading these interviews, I became interested in the films under discussion, and in the filmmakers who worked on them.  By definition, these were films made out of a combination of sheer love and sheer determination, and the can-do attitudes that are the hallmark of a combination like that are, at times, infectious.  Many of these folks have gone on to have solid careers.  None are Frank Darabont, but few people in all of human history have been Frank Darabont, so let’s not hold that against them.  In several cases, they’ve become industry professionals, and that’s a solid outcome. 
  
The book’s subjects are as follows:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Collectioning (2017 Edition), Part 2: The Books Must Flow

This two-part post (part one of which can be found here) began with a spate of reacquisitions of paperbacks I'd once owned; pure nostlagia-bait mid-life-crisis stuff.  But, as is often the case, I couldn't make myself stop there, and some other stuff ended up getting collectioned in the process.
   
As such, this post must needs now transition into a relatively simple cataloguing of Shit I Just Bought.  Hopefully some of that will still be of interest!  I think there's some cool stuff here, so maybe you will, too.

Before we get to that, I wanted to share a few photos from my apartment.  I mentioned last time that I'd decided to devote an entire bookcase to my mass-market King paperbacks.  I moved stuff around so as to make space for it, and here is the result:




Ahhh, who needs those lightswitches anyways?  I can still kinda reach 'em.

I really ought to have that Michael Whelan Gunslinger print in a frame, shouldn't I?  I keep saying I'm going to do that.


 

It's one of my favorite pieces of King art, and I bought the print at Dragon*Con over a decade ago.  Or did I opt not to buy it there and end up ordering a copy from Whelan's website?  Might be the latter.  I think probably so.

Anyways, it's been hanging on one spot in my apartment ever since, and I took it down to move it here so as to give this little section a theme.  As I moved it, I noticed something I'd failed to ever notice before, and it gave me a thrill:



  
Ka.

And I don't have it in a frame!  Saints preserve us.  Anyways, let's move on to the books.
  
We'll continue to proceed in chronological order by edition, to the extent that is possible, beginning with:


'salem's Lot (August 1976, Signet)





This is more or less the original paperback of 'salem's Lot, which is pretty easy to find copies of.

The scan doesn't show the cover off particularly well; the hair and facial features of the vampire are raised (you can see the indentations on the inside front cover), and catch the light in an interesting way; so while it looks in photos like a nearly-blank black image, it's actually quite a bit cooler than that, especially with that single drop of blood added in.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Collectioning (2017 Edition), Part 1: An Excuse to Talk About the Old Days

coll-ect-ion-ing  (kƏ lek' shƏn ing)    1.  the process of systematically adding to one's collection of a specific type or category of objects.  2.  a sign of low-grade obsessive-compulsive disorder.  3.  another reason for people in Third World countries to hate people like me.  4.  a made-up word invented by a lame blogger, who, in his defense, says "yes, but at least I didn't put a hashtag in front of it"  (See also)

You know how it is: every so often, you feel an itch in that part of your mind that governs the rules of your collecting; an itch that can only be scratched by adding to the collection.

While writing some of my recent posts, I was reminded anew of a mistake I made years ago: getting rid of my first copies of many of my King books.  See, when I first began buying King books, it was via used paperbacks; I was a haunter of used bookstores and thrift shops, and it is from those haunts -- mostly, though not exclusively, a used bookshop called The Book Rack -- that the majority of my initial collection was built.  Before high school was over, though, I'd joined the Stephen King Library, which sent me a hardback copy of a King novel once every month.  As those arrived, I traded in my old paperbacks.
  
It didn't seem like a mistake at the time.  Why keep 'em?  I had just gotten better copies!  I got a hardback, whatta I need a bent-up old paperback for?
  
What younger me wasn't counting on is that older me would grow nostalgic for those paperback editions.
  
Younger me had no way of knowing that older me might feel the need to have those paperbacks on his shelf ... simply have them, to look at and occasionally take down, holding them wistfully while futilely pretending that he was still that fifteen-year-old boy who walked into The Book Rack and spent hours sorting through its musty old treasures.  Would the Bryant who is typing this spend money to go onto a holodeck recreation of that shop, complete with all the books that used to be there on a semi-permanent-yet-nevertheless-rotating basis?  Not just the Kings, but the stacks of movie novelizations, the romance-novel room he literally never even went inside, the Mack Bolans and Destroyers and Leon Urises and James Micheners he never bought but was always weirdly drawn to?
  
You bet he would.

Such a thing is not possible, of course.  The past is forever gone, never to reappear except in elaborate recreations, and not terribly often even then.  All the money in the universe will not truly buy you What Was.
  
BUT ... if I still had all those original paperbacks, I could still have a tiny bit of What Was; a tiny bit of then.
  
A tiny bit of me.
 
I have been thinking about that sort of thing a lot lately, and recently decided to devote some funds toward reacquiring as many of those old paperbacks as I could find.  Not the literal copies themselves, of course, but the editions/covers that I first owned.  Convincing stand-ins for my starter copies, in other words.
  
The good news for me was that, with only a couple of seeming exceptions, the specific copies I initially owned were published in huge quantities.  It's not exactly a challenge to obtain used copies, even in good condition; not only was it easy, but it was relatively cheap.
  
So I thought what I'd do is turn this into a show-and-tell sort of post, including scans of these covers up and maybe a few reminiscences, if such should occur to me.  Is this self-indulgent?  Yes sir.  But if I know the things I think I know, then it's the sort of self-indulgence that makes sense to folks who love books.
  
Oh, by the way: this saga of materialism also resulted in the purchase of quite a few editions that I did NOT have back in the day.  I tried to not go too far down that rabbit hole, and you can judge the success/failure of that attempt for yourself.  (Spoiler alert: I failed, fairly hardcore; so much so that I've ended up splitting the post in two.)
  
To give these shenanigans a structure of some sort, I'm going to go in chronological order by edition, to the extent figuring out such a chronology is possible.  That can be tricky with paperbacks, which generally do not offer a year of publication apart from the year of the original mass-market edition.  But I think we'll be able to make do relatively well.


Carrie (Signet, 15th printing, circa November 1976)





Apologies for violating the thesis of this post right off the bat, but I've got a confession to make: I did not own this edition of Carrie when I was a teenager, or at any point since.  Regardless, this specific edition looms very large indeed in the history of my Stephen King fandom, so it seemed (A) like I ought to get a copy and (B) like a good place for this post to begin.
 

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Brief Review of Episode 1 of "The Mist"

I will not be reviewing the ten-episode miniseries based on The Mist.  I apologize for any of you that may disappoint, but I decided after my experience with Under the Dome that I am oil and reviewing weekly television is water; we simply don't mix.
  
However, I feel obliged to at least off a few words about the pilot episode.
  
I'll begin with these words: I hope it gets better.
  
  

 
Yes, I surely do.  Because this premiere episode is pretty mediocre.  Not awful; there are going to be people calling it awful, but I can't roll with that, because I've seen Beyond Westworld, and know what awful is.  THIS is mediocre, which is another thing altogether.
  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Worst to Best: Novellas by Stephen King

"Novella" is a word that may have a gajillion different definitions, most of them very similar to one another.  I say "a gajillion," but more likely it's a mere few thousand.  Only people who get obsessed over classifications would even bother worrying about it.
  
I say this upfront so as to defuse a bit of the potential controversy that might result from what titles I have and have not included on this list.  It's a fairly simple process: I'm including novella-length works that did not get individually ranked on my recent Worst To Best list focusing on King's books.  So in other words, the individual components of Four Past Midnight are all included, whereas a few tales which were published as standalone books -- The Colorado Kid and Gwendy's Button Box come to mind -- are not included, despite being shorter than, say, "The Langoliers."
  
I've argued in the past that "The Langoliers" really ought to be considered a short novel rather than a novella, but if sanity is to prevail, then such issues must be set aside fairly quickly.
  
And so shall they be.  
  
Anyways, it's entirely possible some of you will think my classifications are bogus.  I've eliminated from consideration anything I consider to be a short story.  Some of these are stories you occasionally see listed as novellas, such as "Ur" and "N."  Conversely, some of the briefer things I've included are occasionally referred to as short stories, such as "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" and "The Little Sisters of Eluria."  Bottom line is: judgment calls on my part, going with my gut.  If you disagree, use them comments and tell me all about it.
  
So let's move on to the rankings, beginning with the cellar-dwellar:
  
  
#15 -- "The Sun Dog" (1990, from Four Past Midnight)
  
  
  
  
The fact that THIS is what I'd argue is the worst King novella indicates pretty good news for the rest of the list, because the fact is, I don't think this is too bad. Its greatest sin is that the kid who is ostensibly its hero is boring as unseasoned oatmeal.  Compared to most other hero-kid King characters, he's a nonentity.
  
King has more success with the concept: a Polaroid camera that seemingly takes photos of a dog from another world, a dog which seems to be aware of the person taking the photo and is moving ever closer, snarling and preparing to leap from one reality into the next.
  
I'd argue that King does a solid job with that concept, and also with the crusty old shop owner into whose hands the camera falls.  Pop Merrill -- uncle of Ace -- is a well-drawn character, and King might have been better-served to eliminate the kid and focus on Pop altogether.
  
So what we've got here is a case of the concept and the execution not quite measuring up.  It's not bad, but we can, and will, do better.
  
Not immediately, though...