Saturday, September 19, 2020

We Were Wrong to Come: "Rose Red" Revisited, Part 3

Previous posts in this series:
And now, Rose Red night three.  (How's THAT for a transition?  [Yes, I know: shitty.])
You know what?  I don't really have any sort of unifying theme for this third night. 
So instead, let's just look at a mess of screencaps, which shall be interspersed with whatever comments spring to mind.  Apologies if you were expecting my A-game; I think it'll be back for the next post in this series (where we'll be discussing King's screenplay at length), but it's AWOL at the moment.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

She Responds to Love with Love: "Rose Red" Revisited, Part 2

Previous entries in this series:

part one (Rose Red night one)

The first thing I'd like to talk about in relation to part two of Rose Red is the way it serves as a lure to get us to believe in -- and therefore be afraid of -- the setting and the concepts which are being brought to us.  In large part, this is accomplished by building up the house itself.  Night two begins with a voiceover by Joyce, which is set against a montage of rooms within the house.  "Houses are alive," Joyce tells us; I assume, but cannot prove, that this is something she has written in her diary.  "This is something we know, news from our nerve endings.  If we're quiet -- if we listen -- we can hear houses breathe.  Sometimes in the depth of the night we hear them groan; it's as if they're having bad dreams.  A good house cradles and comforts; a bad one fills us with instinctive unease.  Bad houses hate our warmth, our humanness; and that blind hate of our humanity is what we mean when we use the word haunted."

Sunday, September 6, 2020

You're Afraid of What's Under the Skin: "Rose Red" Revisited, Part 1

A while back, one of this blog's readers sent me the screenplays to all three nights of Rose Red, and ever since I've been wanting to read them and to use that as an opportunity to do a series of posts on the miniseries and its various spinoffs.
And now, that time has come.

I'm guessing my posts about it are going to be slow, tedious, and repetitive, which, according to some, would make them entirely appropriate for a discussion of Rose Red.  How do we here at The Truth Inside The Lie feel about charges that this miniseries is overlong, overly familiar, and otherwise shabby?

Let's find out.

To answer the question, yeah, I think I'd have to agree that Rose Red is all of those things to some degree.  Too long?  Absolutely.  It should probably never have been more than feature-film length.  Overly familiar?  Probably so; those reviewers who accused King of being on autopilot here are not entirely incorrect.  And there's certainly an occasional shabby quality that pops up in the acting, the writing, the effects, the direction, etc.

I think all of that is true.  And yet, I've only grown fonder of Rose Red over the years.  Is it something I'm likely to hold up as an exemplar of quality filmmaking?  Nope.  Honestly, I wouldn't even say that every single King fan should take the time to see it.  By no means is it universally beloved within our community. 
However, this does seem to be one of those occasional cases where (for me if not for thee) an underlying affection short-circuits my critical tendencies a bit, dulling them sufficiently to permit me to embrace a thing even when I'm not fully sure I ought to do so.  Rose Red is by no means alone among King films in that regard: witness my love for Graveyard Shift, Maximum Overdrive, The Mangler, and Sleepwalkers, to name a few.  Bad movies all, objectively speaking.  Objectivity in film criticism is an illusion, however.  It's a necessary one.  After all, a critic aspires toward authoritativeness, and in order to do so must establish at least some baseline of consistency in their worldview.  That's antithetical to how an enjoyment of the arts works, however; one does not draw a line in the sand and say that anything failing to cross the line is unworthy of one's enjoyment (or even appreciation).  Some critics do, and probably all critics should at least feel the urge toward doing so; this is how they keep themselves honest.  But I think that if does not remain open to the idea that there ARE going to be times when one simply likes a thing because they like it, a critic will drive him(etc.)self so crazy that they will pass beyond the veil of usefulness altogether.  So is Rose Red a bad movie?  Yeah, probably so.  Do I care about that?  Yeah, probably so.  Does it prevent me from enjoying it.  Nope, sure doesn't.
But let's put considerations like that aside and try to deal with Rose Red as its own thing.  For better or for worse, it deserves that spotlight.

And that, I think, is where we will begin -- with a simple, but too infrequently heard, assertion: Rose Red 100% deserves to be considered to be a major King work in the same way as any of his novels.  See also Storm of the Century and Kingdom Hospital and maybe even Golden Years.  Now, don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that any of these are inherently as good as the average King novel.  I'm not saying they're not, either.  What I'm saying is, these are weighty pieces of work upon which King clearly exerted a good deal of creative energy.  A few (if not all) of them were promoted as being "novels for television," and I think that's more than a mere marketing slogan.  It's also an indication of how we should treat them critically.  They deserve to be taken seriously, and that's what I intend to do, despite my willingness to put that impulse to the side when actually watching it.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 16

We begin this post with a preview of coming attractions for a series of posts which will appear sometime in the coming weeks:

Yep, I've taken an extended dive into Rose Red and its various companion components.  We'll be dealing with that in due course, but since I watched them this week as part of my prep work, I figured I'd go ahead and mention it.  That's a guarantease, y'all!
Up first for the actual reviews in this post:
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Saturday, August 8, 2020

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 15

Part freaking fifteen, man.
Are you kidding me?
This crap ain't ever gonna end.
The Invisible Man (1933)

What's with the gun-wielding Claude Rains?

I had seen this one before, and thought it was relatively cool.  It's a very impressive technical achievement for 1933, so if nothing else I think you have to admire it for that.
Beyond that aspect, though, I'm just not sure I like this movie all that much.  Nor am I particularly able to offer a reason why.  The closest I can get is to say that I really hate Griffin.  But isn't that the point?  The movie isn't asking me to like him, particularly.  So what's my beef here?
Let's chalk it up to irrationality on my part.  One way or the other, I seem to have next to nothing to say about it, so let's move on.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 14

I officially declare this series of posts to be an epic.  We've now tied last year's What I Watched This October series in the number of posts, and all signs point toward the series continuing to at least a part 15.  At this point, I'm concerned it might bleed into and supplant the 2020 edition of What I Watched This October.  Fuck a duck.
Greyhound (2020)

The poster on top is from back in the good old days, when Greyhound was intended to be a theatrical release.  Reading the COVID-drenched tea leaves, Sony opted to sell the film to Apple, who debuted it on Apple TV + in July.  It stars our Green Mile friend Tom Hanks, who is one of the world's foremost COVID-19 survivors.  There's something bittersweet about his big summer-2020 movie having not quite survived as well as he (and his wife, Rita Wilson) did.
Turns out, it's a pretty good movie.  Shocker, right?  I don't think I'd say it's joined the Hanks Hall of Fame or anything like that, but that's rather a tough pantheon to get into.  How many stone-cold classics would YOU say this guy has starred in?  I've got the number at 15-17, and might consider pushing it as high as 20.  Greyhound isn't one of them, but it's in the next level down, which is a pretty good level to be at.  I wonder if a big-screen release might not have gotten it into the upper echelon; this is the kind of film that would have played well on a big screen.  I'm not sure debuting on Apple TV + has done it any favors; I think Tom Hanks has likely done more for that service than it for him.
It's the fictional (but quite plausible) story of a Naval destroyer which is in charge of protecting a convoy of Allied supply ships making its way to England.  It takes place over the course of three days, during which time the convoy is out of the range of air support and highly vulnerable to German u-boats.  The movie is essentially an extended cat-and-mouse chase between these forces, with extended stretches of tense action that are occasionally spelled by lulls during which you just know will not last.
Hanks himself wrote the screenplay, which is based upon a novel by C.M. Forester (The Good Shepherd).  The film is lean and efficient, and runs barely longer than the average slasher film.  There's not much in the way of character development, which is the biggest reason I think it fails to join the ranks of Hanks classics.  It is more focused on the nerve-wracking tension inherent in knowing that you are being stalked by a German u-boat with a bloody-fanged wolf painted on its hull.  Scary stuff, and that tension results in some real cheers on the occasions when our heroes are able to sink one of these vessels.  Yes, there's more than one; quite a few more.
All in all, it's a strong movie.  Too bad it didn't get to play on cinema screens.  Probably not going to be the last time we have occasion to type that sentence.
A note of complaint: while watching the movie, I was bounced out of Apple TV + a couple of times.  It happens; nowhere near as frequently with Roku as it used to when I had an Amazon Fire Stick, but it does happen.  I was chagrined to find when I went back in to the app to resume the movie that Apple apparently does not have any sort of bookmarking function.  So I had to just fast-forward my way back to the spot where I was at.  The second time that happened, I said fuck it and watched the remainder of the movie on my PC, which at least allowed me to use a slidebar.  Oh, and also played the rest of the way through without a glitch.  Not sure if the connectivity was on Apple or on Roku, but the lack of a resume point is definitely on Apple.  And hey, Apple...?  That is decidedly not the way to my heart.  Y'all need to fix that shit, pronto.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Books I Read in 2020, Part 3

My sleep-deprived brain simply cannot read as effectively as it used to back in the day, but doggone if it doesn't still want to.  I wish the day had more hours, and the year had more days, and the life had more years -- I ain't ever gonna get all these books read!
But that's no reason to not try, so here comes fresh evidence of effort.
Pearl by Tabitha King
You can find a slightly more fulsome version of my thoughts on Pearl here, but a brief version would go something like this:
In the third of her Nodd's Ridge novels, King tells the story of Pearl Dickenson, the illegitimate (and mixed) niece of Joe Nevers.  Pearl has inherited Joe's house after his death, and decides to move to this small town her mother once spoke of so fondly.  She buys a well-positioned diner from a grumpy old coot and sets up shop, and before long is involved in torrid love affairs with two different men.  She also gets mixed up in a few other town issues, ranging from a wild dog nobody can catch to the abusive relationship a teenaged employee can't seem to escape.
This was King's fourth novel.  I don't know why I feel compelled to give you a box-score on those others, but I do, and shall heed it.  So here goes.  Her first, Small World, is imaginative but (I feel) ultimately unsuccessful; it feels like King straining to do something she's not quite cut out to do.  As first novels go, though, it's alright.  Her second, Caretakers, knocked me out; it's a straight relationship drama (focused in part on the aforementioned Joe Nevers, and on Torie Christopher, whose son David features heavily in Pearl as one of the titular character's paramours) and it worked on me almost wholly.  The third, The Trap, is not AS good, but it's still awfully good; it's got elements of a crime thriller in it, and the explosions of violence that accompany them are shocking and effective.
Pearl is much closer in tone and temperament to Caretakers, and while I think it's probably a bit below that earlier work for me, it isn't by much.  Once novels reach a point of this much enjoyment for me, grading or ranking them is honestly moot.  That doesn't mean I won't do it; I'll do it.  But it's pointless.  My reaction to Caretakers and Pearl alike is to want to throw my arms around both and hug 'em and hug 'em and hug 'em.
Finished on:  June 15
Grade:  A
And really, I want to issue an A+.  However, I'm going to opt to be a wee bit conservative, and that's about the only time you're going to hear me taking THAT stance in 2020.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Kingdom Hospital: Reviewing "The Journals of Eleanor Druse" and the first four screenplays

Released in early 2004 several weeks before the first episode of Kingdom Hospital aired, the tie-in novel The Journals of Eleanor Druse was an attempt to create multi-media synergy that would result in big ratings.

A similar approach had been employed for the miniseries Rose Red in 2002.  In that case, it was with the tie-in novel The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, which served as a prequel to the miniseries.  It worked, at least to some degree; the miniseries did well in the ratings, and the book itself was a #1 bestseller on the Publisher's Weekly list.  At least some of that success is owed to a simple fact: many readers thought it had been written by King himself.  It was later revealed that the novel had been ghostwritten by Ridley Pearson, but this news did not emerge until weeks after the fact.  The speculation did its job, though; the first night of the miniseries was the #5 program for the week.

The approach may have worked for Kingdom Hospital also.  I don't know where the first episode ranked for the week, but it was considered a success and was seen by something like 14 million people.  (So states Wikipedia, at least.)  Each subsequent episode declined in viewership until it was down to fewer than three million; a shocking dropoff, that, but not something which can be blamed on any marketing failures regarding The Journals of Eleanor Druse.

I bought and read the novel when it came out, but forgot pretty much everything about it in the intervening years.  I'd been inclined to think The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer might have been written by King; I didn't really think it had been, but if that had been the revelation, it would not have shocked me.  I had no such considerations for this "Eleanor Druse" one, and sure enough, it turned out to be Richard Dooling who penned it.

Richard Dooling, 2003

Saturday, July 18, 2020

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 13

Lucky #13, eh?  Well, it's lucky in that unlike #12, this one won't be composed entirely of Children of the Corn movies.  Judging by the stats for that one, many of this blog's readers looked at it, said nope, and eased on down the road to some other use of their time.  And I don't blame 'em one bit!  Be that as it may, I now invite you all to set aside your triskaidekaphobia and come with me.
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

The last time I ranked all of King's films, in 2016, I placed this one at #43 out of 96, a respectable enough showing.  It was, however, a bit of a bluff; it had been so long since I had seen it -- probably a decade or so at that point -- that I didn't really remember it in enough detail to feel good about ranking it at all.  That was true of a lot of other titles on that list, as well.  It's been nearly four years since I did those rankings, which means I'm well overdue for a revision.  After all, there have been eighteen new movies/shows come out since then which need to be included.
Rankings like that are stupid.  I acknowledge this.  They are also fun, provided you don't take them too seriously.  Emphasis there on "too."  I do feel it is incumbent upon anyone making such a list to take them seriously; not too seriously, yes, but seriously all the same.  Therefore, one of the things I've been trying to do lately is work my way through some of those titles I've not seen recently enough.  That way, I can be more informed when I redo and rewrite those rankings; not too serious ... but serious.  (I'm considering watching this and this and this and including them in the rankings and satirically writing about how they are good movies but terrible adaptations.  I don't think I will, because it'd throw off the numbers.  The idea appeals to me, though, so I mention it now just to get it out of my system.)
Tonight, I made some time for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.  I had fun with it!  I don't think my opinion of it changed all that much -- I'd stick with my assessment that Creepshow > Cat's Eye > Creepshow 2 > Darkside among King-related anthology films, but even so, this is solid fun if you enjoy anthologies.
The movie begins with a framing device in which Debbie Harry -- whose first name I unforgivably misspelled as "Debby" in those 2016 rankings -- plays a witch who has kidnapped a little boy.  She's having friends over for dinner; the boy is going to be the main course.  She nonchalantly tells him she's got to start prepping him for cooking (with evisceration being the first step), and he Scheherazades her by telling her stories from a book she left him to read.  The book is titled Tales from the Darkside, naturally.  And, of course, the stories turn out to be the segments of the film, which are:
  • "Lot 249," based on the short story by Arthur Conan Doyle.  It stars Steve Buscemi as a college student who buys a mummy, which he then puts to use as a tool of vengeance upon some contemporaries who done did him wrong.  Two of those characters are played by Christian Slater and Julianne Moore, so this thing has got a primo cast.  None of them exactly do their best-ever work, but they're all fine.  I haven't read Doyle's story, so I don't know how much screenwriter Michael McDowell altered it in the adaptation process; but the end result is good, EC-esque horror.
  • "The Cat from Hell," based on the short story by Stephen King.  In this one, a hitman accepts an assignment: to knock off a cat which has allegedly killed several people in the home of an old man who owns a pharmaceutical company.  This, obviously, is the segment of the film that makes it a King film.  Alas, it's probably the weakest of the three.  That doesn't mean it's bad, though.  I complained about the execution in that 2016 review, but looking back on it, I'm really not sure why.  Maybe the cat-cam stuff bothered me?  If not, it didn't bother me much this time, if at all.  The segment -- like the others -- is solidly directed by John Harrison, who had turned into a filmmaker since writing the scores to Creepshow and Day of the Dead.  The resolution of the hitman-versus-cat confrontation could have come off as ridiculous; and maybe it does for some viewers, but for me, it's grody enough to still be impressive.
  • "Lover's Vow," by Michael McDowell.  McDowell wrote Beetlejuice, for which we are all eternally thankful, but he also wrote prose, and his final novel (Candles Burning) was completed by Tabitha King herself after his untimely passing.  "Lover's Vow" is definitely my favorite of the three segments in this movie, starring James Remar as an artist whose friend is slaughtered in an alley one drunken night.  Slaughtered, to be specific, by a demon-looking creature; it spares the artist's life, but makes him promise he will never tell anyone what really happened that night.  He manages to keep this vow for longer than I would have, so good on him.

Tom Savini at some point said that in many ways, this movie ought to be considered the real Creepshow 3.  All three segments (as well as the framing story) fit that bill quite well.  In fact, "The Cat From Hell" (which was scripted not by McDowell like the rest of the movie, but by George A. Romero) began its cinematic life as one of the five segments of Creepshow 2.  It and the lamentably-still-unfilmed "Pinfall" were jettisoned when that movie's budget was slashed just before production began; the "Cat From Hell" segment of the screenplay was repurposed a few years later for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.  
But in many ways, that segment can be seen as a sort of deleted Creepshow 2 piece; after all, it's what it is at a screenplay level.  The end result was not directed by Michael Gornick, but the John Harrison connection to both Creepshow specifically and Romero's eighties work generally makes him at least as qualified as Gornick was.  The set which was used for the old man's mansion is heavily reminiscent of the "Father's Day" segment of the first Creepshow, and there are a couple of places where Harrison does nifty in-camera transitions that are kind of comic-booky.  Some of that might be present in Romero's screenplay as stage directions for all I know, but either way, it serves pretty well to place the adaptation of King's story in that same cinematic mode.
When the new rankings finally get done, will this movie move up?  If so, probably not by a lot.  After all, there are eighteen new titles to get in there, some of which will definitely rank much higher; but even so, I think it might inch its way upward somewhat.  I did enjoy this revisit beginning to end.
That said, I was kinda hoping Debbie Harry would get away with it.  Ah, well; not all stories can have happy endings, I guess.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Kingdom Hospital: Some concluding thoughts (plus a look at ''Riget II'')

Here is an index to my individual episode reviews:

episode 1, "Thy Kingdom Come" (also contains Riget episode 1)
episode 2, "Death's Kingdom"
episode 3, "Goodbye Kiss"
episode 4, "The West Side of Midnight"
episode 5, "Hook's Kingdom" (also contains Riget episode 2)
episode 6, "The Young and the Headless"
episode 7, "Black Noise"
episode 8, "Heartless"
episode 9, "Butterfingers"
episode 10, "The Passion of Reverend Jimmy"
episode 11, "Seizure Day" (also contains Riget episode 3)
episode 12, "Shoulda' Stood in Bed"
episode 13, "Finale" (also contains Riget episode 4)

And, here we are, nearing the end of our weeks-long examination of Kingdom Hospital.  What can we say about this as a cohesive piece of work?

In order to answer that question, maybe we should take a step back and consider what Stephen King's aims for the series were.

For some insight as to where the project came from, let's first turn to "Inside the Walls: The Making of Kingdom Hospital," a behind-the-scenes piece that appears on the DVD set.

In it, King gives the origin as being thus: