Thursday, October 31, 2013

Haven 4.07: "Lay Me Down"

I've been blogging up a storm this week, so I'm going to try to keep this review brief.  Which is pretty much standard operating procedure for these Haven reviews, anyways; even though the series is actually pretty good these days, it really does have NOTHING to do with Stephen King's work.  They've mostly even given up on the wink-'n'-nods (or, as I like to call it, "the pandering").  However, since it does nevertheless have Stephen King's name on each and every episode, I feel obliged to at least say something on the subject.

So, let's get to it.

You might suspect, based on that image, that this is a high-comedy episode of Haven.  You'd be wrong about that.  The scene depicted in, indeed, amusing; but it's the only comedy in the episode.

This week, the Trouble causing our gang (...uh...) trouble is one involving a woman whose dreams have the tendency to come true.  In a sense, at least; if something happens to her in her dreams, she wakes up with the physical evidence of it.  Unlike most of the dolts populating this show's guest cast, she already knows about her Trouble; it has been in her family for generations, and she has developed techniques for managing it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Worst to Best: Stephen King on Film [Revised 2013 Edition]

Having recently seen (and mostly liked) the new remake of Carrie, I figured it was time to update the old Worst-to-Best list of King movies.  As with my revised rankings of King's books, this is mostly a cut-'n'-paste from the previous version of the same post, so if you read that, there's probably no need to do anything other than skim this.

I've tried something different this time out, though; I've attempted to incorporate some of the television series into the rankings.  I've avoided ranking individual episodes -- that would be a madman's task -- and have adopted the half-measure of treating each season of shows like The Dead Zone and Under the Dome as a single entity.  I'm not entirely sure that's a good idea, but it seemed like one at the time.

Let's see how the rankings stacked up this time:

#DH (Dishonorable Mention) -- The Dead Zone Seasons 5 and 6

Just so we're clear on this, let me specify that I am not saying that the final two seasons of The Dead Zone belong on the bottom of the heap.  They probably don't belong very high; but the fact is, I can't say for sure, because I haven't seen the final two seasons.  I think I saw maybe two or three episodes of season five before pulling the ripcord and bailing out of the flaming wreckage that was that series by that point.

I'll get around to seeing them eventually, but until I do, here they reside.

But I feel absolutely certain that they are better than...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Worst to Best: Stephen King Books [Revised 2013 Edition]

With two new King novels having hit shelves this year, I figure it's about time for another revision of my trusty old rankings-of-King's-books post.

So, here it comes.  I re-ranked them without consulting the previous version of the list, and some of the differences are significant.  Any list like this is always a work-in-progress, though, as far as I'm concerned, so let's treat it as such.

Incidentally, if you happen to have read that earlier version, I've mostly cut and pasted the text from it to here, and simply rearranged accordingly, so much of the text itself is identical.

Google Images wasn't a huge amount of help in finding an image to match the phrase "worst to best," so this will have to (continue to) do.

Before we begin, a quick note: I omitted a trio of titles that I included the first time around.  The Bachman Books -- which are included individually, so including the omnibus seems a bit pointless -- got shafted, as well as the two unauthorized collections of interviews, Bare Bones and Feast of Fear. Those are both excellent, but to be honest, I remember their contents well enough to rank them individually.  So, out they go!

#69 -- The Dark Man

Not only is this the worst Stephen King book that I own, it's the worst by a large margin.  The art by Glenn Chadbourne is good, but the poem the book is built around is mediocre at best, and as far as I'm concerned the book exists only to milk a few dollars out of hardcore King fans.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie Review: "Room 237"

When I first heard of Room 237 a couple of years ago I thought, "Oh, great; a bunch of guys in tinfoil hats sitting around spouting conspiracy-theory bullshit about what The Shining supposedly means," and I decided that I was not going to watch the movie.

Problem is . . . I've got every other movie ever made that was based on Stephen King's work.
Granted, Room 237 is about a Stanley Kubrick movie and is not technically based on a Stephen King book; nevertheless, my collection would (I told myself) feel incomplete if I didn't buy it.  And if I bought it, it would be wasteful not to watch.  Anyways, what's the worst that could happen?  If it sucked, it sucked; so be it. And so I ordered a copy from Amazon.
When the Blu-ray came in the mail I unwrapped it, looked at it balefully, and put it in the player.

And boy, am I happy that I did.  This movie is frickin' fantastic.

Not everyone agrees with me on that score.  Many reviews (professional and amateur alike) have been negative, and much of that negativity centers on the fact that a lot of reviewers cannot support what the people interviewed during Room 237 are saying.  The outlandish theories of those interviewees are being met with a great deal of eye rolling and WTFs and are-you-kidding-mes.  And hey, that was my reaction when I first heard about Room 237, so who am I to criticize reviewers for having the same opinions?
What if I told you that Room 237 isn't asking you to believe what its interviewees are saying?  What if I told you that your belief in their opinions and interpretations is utterly irrelevant to what Room 237 itself is actually about?  Your reactions to what they're saying is important, and probably have great import to your own feelings about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
I would argue that whereas those reactions are important to your feelings about The Shining, they are considerably less important to your feelings about Room 237.  Rodney Ascher's movie, in my opinion, is NOT a documentary not about The Shining, but a documentary about the way in which we view and interpret movies.  It may be about even more than that; it may be about the way the mind views and interprets the world altogether.  However, I'm not quite bold enough to take that idea on, so let's restrict ourselves a bit.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Movie Review: "Carrie" (2013)

The Kimberly Peirce-directed remake of Carrie has been in theaters for over a week now, and if you've wondered why I've kept my silence on the subject so far, let me clear things up: it's only on account of me being busy.  Also, I wanted to see the movie more than once before writing a review.  I've seen it twice now, though, so review time is here at last.

Judging from the cold-shoulder the film is receiving at the box office, America got together and decided collectively that it had no need for a(nother) new version of Carrie; "the one with Sissy Spacek is still just fine with us," the consensus seems to be.  "Gaahhh!!!!  Another remake?!?  Pointless!"

Call me crazy, but for the most part, the idea of remakes simply does not bother me.  What's the downside to them?  The worst-case scenario is that you get a bad movie, in which case it is eminently ignorable; the best-case scenario is that you get a good one, in which case, hey, you just got gifted a good movie.  Does it negate the original in any way?  Uh...let me  It doesn't.  I'd argue that the John Carpenter version of The Thing is twice as good a movie as the Howard Hawks version.  But guess what?  That doesn't make the Howard Hawks version any less awesome.  Similarly, the shitty remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still does nothing to make the original any less great.

The one simply does not impact the other.  If anything, it creates awareness of the original, and causes new audiences to find it.  I know at least two people who were intrigued by the new version of Carrie enough to seek out the Brian DePalma version and give it a look.  Granted, this is a mere two people, but I think I'm on the safe side in assuming that globally, there will be plenty of others doing the same thing.

So folks, let's just knock it off with this nonsense about remakes being unnecessary and pointless.  EVERY movie is unnecessary; and just as surely, every movie has a point of some sort.  If the extent of your film-criticism abilities lies in, as a default position, being unable to accept a new telling of an old story, then you have no business pretending to be a film critic.

You feel me?


Ah, but this does not address the most important question: is the new version of Carrie any damn good?

For me, the answer to that question is a definite "yes."  It is not a slam-dunk, unfortunately; there are several key places where I feel like the movie goes awry, and while the effect of these moments is not enough to ruin the movie, I do find them to be sufficient to hold it back a bit.  We'll get into those in detail, so before we proceed, I feel obliged to mention that there will be tons of spoilers.  So if you've got no clue what happens in Carrie, this might not be the review for you.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dubious Luxury of Normal Men and Women: A(nother) Review of "Doctor Sleep"

We stood at the turning point.  Half-measures availed us nothing.
-- The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  [It is] the dubious luxury of normal men and women.
-- The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
It is with this duo of epigraphs that King begins Doctor Sleep.  King's epigraphs are usually interesting, and they're also typically of thematic significance to the novel which they precede; Doctor Sleep is nothing new in that regard.  However, I think these might be the most thematically tied-in of any epigraphs King has ever used, and I would argue that the second of the two is a big key to putting this particular novel in its proper context.  It's a context that is a very different context than that of The Shining, the novel to which Doctor Sleep is a sequel, and some fans of that first novel have expressed disappointment with Doctor Sleep on the grounds that it doesn't hew closely enough to the legacy of its forebear.

It's a valid argument in some ways, but not one that interests me, particularly.  I'm more interested in what Doctor Sleep is than in what it isn't.  I don't always have that ability (as we'll see tomorrow when I put up a review of the Kimberly Peirce version of Carrie), but in this case, I managed it with no sweat at all.

Follow me, and let's if we can figure out how I did it.

By the way, since I haven't mentioned it so far, this review will be chock full of spoilers.  It's intended for people who have read the novel; so if that isn't you, be warned.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #40

I was sitting around today and thought, "You know, it's been a while since I had fried chicken."  So I went and got some fried chicken.  Then I thought, "You know, it's been a while since I wrote a Bryant Has Issues."

In fact, it's been well over a month.  Unacceptable!  So: time to make amends and talk some comics.
First up is a title you won't see on the shelves at your local comic shop:

Haven: After the Storm is a thirteen-page mini-comic that is included with the Blu-ray set (and the DVD set) of the show's third season.  It takes place immediately after the third-season finale, and involves Dwight being angry at Nathan for having seemingly prevented the end of the Troubles by way of killing Agent Howard.

The comic doesn't amount to a whole heck of a lot, to be honest.  Dwight yells at Nathan; Nathan mopes; the two of them deal with a Troubled guy whose Trouble is threatening to level the town.  Dwight talks to other members of The Guard, two of whom -- from the shadows, so we can't see them (natch) -- insist that none of that matters...that Nathan must nevertheless die.  The implication is that these shadowy figures will be important to the fourth season, but we're about halfway through that season and they haven't shown up yet.  So, yeah...not so much.  Not yet, at least.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Haven 4.06: "Countdown"

October 22.  Shortly after midnight.  Have finished watching past Friday's episode of Haven.  Have determined that blog review of said episode be written only in broken sentences.  Reason for this odd determination unclear even to self; no matter.  Pursue plan regardless of outcome.

Skeptical as to ability to write entire post without mistakenly creating minimum of one complete sentence.  Reading of post therefore becomes suspenseful -- hanging in balance: bizarre act of whimsy, enacted by blogger.  Focus required; too late, realization of having forgotten to take notes during watching of episode.

Post likely to contain spoilers; if not caught up, perhaps best to not read.  Risk never knowing result of Incomplete Sentence Fest 2013; price tag to all things.

"Countdown," in end, perhaps favorite episode of season to date.  Plot advance significantly, on multiple fronts.  Haven hit or miss in this regard; success welcome this week.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bryant's Thoughts on Some of Stephen King's Thoughts on "The Dark Tower"

Wow.  That is one of THE worst titles for a blog post I have ever come up with.  I may as well have titled it "Bryant Is Dumb and Has No Good Thoughts Tonight LOL."  Technically, it's not too late to do that, I guess, but let's soldier on, bravely, like people did in olden times.

Speaking of olden times, back in April I reviewed Bev Vincent's book The Dark Tower Companion, which I found to be a delight.  One of the book's many highlights is a brand-new six-page interview with King in which Vincent asks several terrific questions.  In that initial review, I promised that I would at some point write a sort of review of that interview, and give some thoughts on some of the revelations that came up in the course of that interview.  

So here we are!

Now, my inclination would be to just sort of post the whole thing and go through it point by point, but I can't in good conscience do that.  I suspect I also cannot legally do that, but it's a moot point, and therefore not worth worrying about.

Instead, let's just hit some high points.  Where possible, I'll summarize, rather than quote directly.

The very first question Vincent asks is one he may as well have plucked directly from my brain: the extent to which the author is involved with the Marvel Comics based on the Dark Tower novels.  King answers that at the beginning, he "monitored them really closely."  He goes on to say that "after they went off on their own," he "didn't want to junk up my head with their story lines."  He specifies that the comics are Robin Furth's take on the Dark Tower mythos, and speculates that there could theoretically be more books after the next one [The Wind Through the Keyhole, which had not been published at the time of the interview]..."but if there are, they won't be influenced at all by whatever's going on in the comics and indeed might run contradictory" to Furth's stories.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Haven 4.05: "The New Girl"

Before we get into this week's episode, I have something to say.  It's embarrassing, frankly, but I think I need to say it: I dropped the ball in reviewing last week's episode.  I dropped the ball big-time.

One of the things I'd intended to talk about in that review is the fact that the episode's screenplay was credited to someone named Speed Weed.  I made a note of it and everything, but somehow -- and this alarms me -- I forgot to mention it when actually writing the review.  I'm pretty sure I intended to produce a good 3-4 paragraphs of snark on the subject.  How could I not?  It is a ridiculous nickname, and even though I found certain moments of last week's episode to be effective, I cannot take seriously the work of any writer who uses that name, or one like it.  So, to answer your question, Goflex Pajamadaddy: no, I do not take what you do seriously.  Same goes for you, Crack McFasten; and you, Anusoda.  I will tentatively accept that this is something rappers and rockstars are allowed to do -- so Slash, Buckethead, and Snoop Dogg get a pass -- but I simply will not extend that courtesy into the realm of screenwriting.

So take that, Speed Weed.

And before any of you point it out: no, I have not forgotten that I once billed myself as "Honk Mahfah."  I gave that up, though; one can hope Speed Weed will similarly come to his/her senses at some point.

And now, for this week's episode of Haven!

Lexie looks skeptical.  Me?  Not as much.  I liked "The New Girl"; it was a solid episode, and one that I'm going to talk about with some very specific spoilers in mind.  So if that's the sort of thing you can't abide, then you won't be able to abide the rest of this post.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Haven 4.04: "Lost and Found"

This week on Haven:
A little girl goes missing from her bedroom.  The girl's mother had put to bed, and heard the sound of laughter coming from the room; she assumed it was her daughter, playing, but no.  Not so much.  It was something more like this:

That is a douen (pronounced du-WIN), which, according to Wikipedia, is a creature from Trinidadian folklore.  Give the producers of Haven credit for coming up with a monster that hasn't been done to death; conceptually, this is a strong idea, one of the better, more X-Filesesque ones the show has ever had.

The execution is another story.  When we finally see the creatures -- not in security-cam footage (as above), but actually present -- they look ridiculous.  They are -- along with three kidnapped children and an adult who is at the center of this business -- dancing in a circle, singing "Ring Around the Rosie."

Have we learned nothing from television and film of the past fifty years?  Do we not know that trying to make one child seem creepy is one thing, but trying to make multiple children seem creepy simultaneously is another?  Do we not know that singing -- especially singing kid songs -- is the wrong way to achieve this?  And by "we," I mean the producers of Haven.

These scenes wreck what is otherwise a decent little episode.  Check out this screencap of the incredibly rubber-looking hands on feet on one of the douen (seen in the aftermath of the "we all...fall...DOWN" part of "Ring Around the Rosie":

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bryant takes a time-machine to 2002, or: Notes from the last time I read "Carrie"

With the upcoming remake of Carrie hitting cinema screens in a couple of weeks, it seems like a good time for The Truth Inside The Lie to turn its attentions toward the novel and the first movie (and to the "sequel" and the first remake, as well).

Thing is, I just don't have time to do it.  So instead, I'm going to do something a little on the lazy side, and a little on the fun side, and a lot on the "nobody is actually going to want to read this, but the hell with it, post it anyways" side.

In the early years of the century, back when I was trying to figure out What I Want(ed) To Do With My Life, a pet project continually popped into my head: I wanted to write a definitive book about the work of Stephen King.  It was hubris for me to believe that I had the capability to do so, but that's okay; I eventually disabused myself not only of that particular notion, but also of the notion that that was even something I ought to be aiming for.  Eventually, I decided that maybe a more achievable -- and an altogether more appealing -- goal might be for me to simply work toward creating some sort of a definitive statement on the subject of how I perceive the books of Mr. King.  It seems like only a slight difference, but it's a crucial one, and the difference is vast.  The book I had in mind initially would have been the sort of semi-dry critical tome that gets published by a university press and has all the hallmarks of academia; and also has pretension toward universality.  

Critical works of that sort tend to talk TO you, not with you; I was still close enough to college to feel that that was a goal worth aiming for, and so that's the sort of thing that was in my mind.

I had a lot of ideas along those lines; the Stephen King one was merely one.  But I'm great at managing to not actually follow through on any of my best ideas, and so the first few years of the century saw me in prime "I'll work on that next year" mode.  Circa 2002, though, I decided that the time had come to at least put a few tentative steps forward.  So I grabbed a copy of Carrie (feeling that it was best to start at the beginning), reread it, and then re-reread it, highlighting passages that seemed interesting and taking notes on the various things that interested me.

I followed that with similar viewings of the three movies (the 1976 original, The Rage: Carrie 2, and the recently-aired 2002 television remake), which I considered in turn.

So what I'm going to present here is the set of notes I typed up on all of this once I was finished.  There's a pretty good bit of it, especially on the novel, and I'm going to just put it all up, warts and all.  Revising it would sort of defeat the purpose, and anyways, like I said, I don't really have the time for it.

Looking at it, though, reminds me of how much I enjoyed that initial foray.  I'd done plenty of critical writing before, virtually all of it for one class assignment or another; when I began, I wasn't sure I'd have anything to say about Carrie, so when it turned out that not only did I have things to say, but that I had a LOT of things to say, I got a real rush out of it.  I had a hell of a lot of fun sitting there with a yellow highlighter and a red pen, making little observations that I later turned into bigger ones, which I in turn intended to edit into an essay of maybe ten pages in length (more, if you count the movies).

The latter part of that never happened.  I took three runs at it, and one of them actually ended up being about ten pages.  There is good stuff in it, but it's also, to be blunt, not what I wanted it to be.

And so I gave up.  I just gave up totally on the whole thing.

I always regretted that.  I kept that regret in mind, too; this was active regret, not the kind you bury and forget.  Whereas I didn't keep the critical-analysis end of things going, I did keep the chronological reread of King's work going, though.  It was slower than I might have liked, but it was a 2-3 books per year thing, at least.  By the time I got to Misery, I was in the mood to revisit my idea for writing some sort of large-scale critical work on King.

That's what led to the creation of this blog, which in turn explains why Misery was the first book I tackled as a blogger.  I didn't do so as in-depth as I'd done with Carrie years earlier; I was a bit too rusty to do so, and it's also such a time-consuming process that I decided to try and meet myself in the middle, and be expansive, but in a restricted sense.

The tension between those two modes is, in some ways, what this blog is all about.  It's a question.  A series of them, really; questions I'm posing to myself on a constant basis.  What do I want to do?  What can I do?  What should I do?  How long can I spend on this?  If I spend less, am I cheating myself?  If I spend more, am I being self-indulgent?  I'm good at posing them, and I'm decent at answering them; I'm lousy at sticking to the answers once the answers have been given.  But this blog is also about trying to teach myself to be disciplined enough to solve those always-present problems.

And in looking back on the notes I took over a decade ago, I am amused to discover that the subtext reveals something: I was already, even then, a lot less interested in the idea of writing from a standpoint of critical universality than I was in simply expressing what interested me.

It's the right approach.  I guess it just took a while for me to actually figure out that it was right.

With that messy, self-important, and -- let's face facts -- largely incoherent preamble out of the way, let's just dive into the notes.  The notes were taken in the 1999 trade paperback from Pocket Books, the cover of which looks like this:

All page-number references in the notes will refer to this edition.  For any of you following along at home, I apologize in advance for the fact that the page numbers may not match your edition.