Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Review of Richard Chizmar's ''Gwendy's Magic Feather''

On the docket for today: the Stephen King storytelling universe expands by way of a Castle Rock book written not by King himself, but by a duly-licensed compatriot.


Way back in 2012, I fretted about the possibility of something like this.  Thus spake 2012 Bryant:

Once -- and let me be clear: I hope this doesn't happen for another thirty years, but it WILL happen eventually -- Stephen King reaches the clearing at the end of the path, there is almost certainly going to be interest in continuing his legacy in some way.  Some smart-aleck is going to want to write more Dark Tower novels, or a sequel to The Stand, or another Jack Sawyer adventure.  Under certain circumstances, I'd be okay with that: if it was Joe Hill or Owen King, for example, or Peter Straub, or even Scott Snyder.  Someone who had an actual connection to King.  I'd still be dubious, but I'd at least be interested to see what they did with the material.  And even if the writer is unconnected to King, but still a genuine talent, I'd try my best to give it a fair shot.
But what if it's just some Joe Blow type, some mook with good intentions but an insufficient talent level?  Would I be okay with it then?  Probably not.
The thing is, I don't know exactly why any of this should bother me.  If the worst-case scenario happens, and Stephen King were to die five years from now and somehow Stephenie Meyer were to get ahold of the rights to The Dark Tower and then rewrite the whole series, it would undoubtedly suck ... but so what?  It would infuriate me, but should it?  After all, nobody would be forcing me to read it, and it's not like my copies of the real books would disappear.
I had to think about all of this for a while before I finally figured it out: it makes me mad because I know that WHATEVER it ended up being, I'd still read it!  It's not that I wouldn't want to: I would want to not want to, but I'd still, despite my own potential distaste for it, read it.  I've got DVD copies of Creepshow III and The Mangler Reborn to prove it, sadly.

It seemed like a thing that was bound to happen, and while Gwendy's Magic Feather isn't fully that, it's close enough that I kind of feel the winds beginning already to blow in the direction about which I was pre-grousing in 2012.  Hulu's Castle Rock series is a major step in that direction already (and not one which pleases me), but at least that's film.  Prose is something else entirely.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A(n almost certainly incomplete and at-best-marginally-worthwhile) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 2

Picking back where we left off last time, we come now to:
1993 -- Gray Matter and Other Stories from Night Shift
(read by John Glover; produced by Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio)

The first -- first so far as I know, at least -- audio version of Night Shift appeared in 1993 with a selection of stories read by John Glover.  This first set contains the following stories:
  • The Boogeyman
  • I Know What You Need
  • Strawberry Spring
  • Gray Matter
  • The Woman in the Room 
  • Battleground

Glover is an exceptional narrator, with one caveat: he occasionally feels the need to do weird character voices, mostly when he's going for some effect.  For example, when Lester Billings in "The Boogeyman" begins speaking in a high voice during stressful moments, Glover sends his voice into the stratosphere.  Then, when the infected father in "Gray Matter" speaks in his monster phase, Glover puts a sort of creak into his voice to try to sell the alienness.  Neither of these affectations (nor the handful of others that pop up) work for me very well; your mileage may vary.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Review of Joe Hill's ''Full Throttle''

Not all King fans agree with me on this, but here's a thing I've come to feel is true for me: a book or story by Joe Hill may as well be a book or story by Stephen King.  This is not to say that the two men are identical; they aren't.  I only mean to say that Hill's work scratches much the same itch as King's work scratches, and when you add to that the fact of Hill's parentage, I see this much the same way as I see the relationship between Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Two different crayons from precisely the same box.  If you told me that I was allowed only to color with one of them, and somehow had the ability to enforce it, I'd grab that King/TOS crayon.  I'd spit in your eye while I was doing it, though, and anyways, ain't nobody got the power to restrict my crayon usage in that way.
So am I going to review the new Joe Hill collection, Full Throttle?
Indeed I am.  Not at much length; this will just be a series of brief reactions to each story (most of which I've read before, many of which I've probably covered elsewhere on this blog).  It won't cut deep, but I definitely wanted to cover it in some way, so here we go.

Introduction: Who's Your Daddy?
This marvelous introduction spans sixteen pages, and is of great interest for King fans due to its biographical information about Hill's youth, which (obviously) involves Stephen King in rather a key role.  Hill is every bit as good at writing this sort of thing as King himself is, and his introduction is sort of a quick survey of his entire creative life.  He talks about watching laserdiscs with his dad when he was a kid, including Duel, which then turned into sojourns in which he and his father would go for drives pretending that they were being chased by the malevolent trucker from that movie.  He talks about being read the Narnia books by his mother, whose voice he describes as a doorway into a cathedral.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 14

We'll kick off our final post of the Halloween season with a remake nobody seems to much care for:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Me?  I thought it was alright, personally.  There's nothing much in it that I would single out as being bad.  There's also nothing much in it that I would single out as being inspired or anything more than good; it doesn't particularly distinguish itself from the original in a way that justifies its existence, I can't deny that.  But is it bad?  Nah, it's alright.
Its biggest problems are these:
  • Jackie Earle Haley, who is good in the movie, simply cannot measure up to Robert Englund.  Recasting an iconic role is tough, man.  The wisest approach is to find different ways to delineate the character, and the screenplay for this remake does not do that.  If anything, this Freddy is even jokier than the Freddy from Wes Craven's original.  Some of the wisecracks work -- I liked the one where Nancy hollers "Fuck you!" at Freddy after he asks her what sort of game she'd like to play, and he responds with a pitch-black "A little fast for me" -- so it's not a completely failed attempt, but it can only serve to invite comparisons to Englund.  Why do that?  If you were going to do that, you should have just hired Englund for it.
  • The teen performances are good, but the casting approach is a failure.  That's an odd opinion, so let me justify it.  I really like Rooney Mara in general, and I even like what she does in this movie from an objective standpoint.  However, she -- like much of her generation (said the old man) -- has a sort of hangdog, disaffected look to her that reads as defeated.  So does Kyle Gallner as Quentin, and more or less everyone else in the teen roles.  In a sense, that serves to emphasize the idea that these kids are hunted and do not have a prayer of surviving.  But in practice, it results in a movie that doesn't have much zip or fun to it.  It's hard to root for these kids; why should we, since they don't even seem to be rooting for themselves?
  • By the way, not that this matters, but why is Nancy still Nancy, but Glen is suddenly Quentin?  Why is Rod now Jesse?  Those are pointless changes...
  • ...given how slavish the screenplay is to the original in most other regards.  Some moments are direct lifts from Craven's original, such as the glove-in-the-bathtub bit.  And that's fine; it still works.  But it's another sense in which the remake fails to distinguish itself, and as those begin to add up, it takes its toll.

I did like the riff on the final jump-scare, though; same idea as in the original, but executed differently enough to be effective.
All things considered, though, I thought it was a decent movie.  It drives home the essential effectiveness of Craven's original concept and screenplay, and is painless enough.  I wouldn't rank it terribly high among the other films in the franchise, but it's better than Freddy vs. Jason, that's for sure.

Friday, November 1, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 13: Shudder's ''Creepshow''

For the lucky-thirteenth part in this year's chronicle of Halloween-season viewing, I've got a post focusing solely on Shudder's new Creepshow series.  Produced by Greg Nicotero, it is an attempt to bring the EC-inspired vibe of the King/Romero/etc. original films to a weekly-series format.
Perhaps even more than that, this is an attempt to bring subscribers to Shudder.  And hey, it worked on me.  I'd been aware of Shudder prior to their announcement of Creepshow, but had never been quite tempted enough to lay down a monthly fee to stream it.  Creepshow reeled me in, and I suspect it got quite a few more new subscribers for Shudder in addition to me, given that a second season has been announced for next year.

It's an honorable reason to have made a series; don't anyone think for a second that I resent it.  "Hey, we've got this service we think you might like, and in order to sweeten the deal, we're going to make a thing you can only see there which would not otherwise exist," says Shudder.  "Okay, great!" says I.
Join me for a review of the six-episode first season to find out how I think they did quality-wise.
But first, I feel obliged to offer my thoughts on Shudder itself.  I call 'em like I see 'em, and you know what?  I'm not impressed.
I signed up maybe six weeks prior to Creepshow launching, and while I didn't watch that much on it, I did sample a few things.  I watched all six episodes of James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction (originally produced for Shudder's parent network, AMC); I watched a couple of episodes of NOS4A2 for a second time (I watched them through Amazon via a season pass originally); and I watched Horror Noire, the Shudder-exclusive documentary.  All of them looked awful, from a video-quality standpoint.
Let me try to explain what I mean by that.  I'm no expert in the terminology for this sort of thing, so bear with me as I blunder my way through faking it.
What I mean is that so far as my eyes can tell, Shudder does not stream in HD.  I've done a small bit of research on the issue, and there seems to be a possibility that this is due less to Shudder itself than to my method of streaming: an Amazon Fire Stick, which streams wirelessly to my television.  I've seen chatter from other Fire Stick users about Shudder's streaming quality, so it might be some sort of problem of one service not meshing well with another.
I'll leave it to greater minds than mine to figure out whether that's acceptable or not.  All I can say is that while I've had occasional issues with the Fire Stick and its ability to play nicely with other streaming services, those issues have been isolated and relatively rare.  For the sake of completeness, allow me to catalog what sort of experiences I've had with other streaming services through the Fire Stick:
  • Prime Video: Amazon's own service comes through in beautiful hi-def quality, and I can't recall having ever had an issue with playback.
  • Netflix: I've had isolated instances of something dropping briefly from HD to SD, but for the most part, Netflix looks and performs great.
  • HBO Now: HBO is more prone to HD-to-SD dropouts, but generally speaking, looks good and performs well.
  • Hulu: good HD video quality, can't remember any playback issues of note.
  • CBS All Access: frequent playback issues (sometimes won't load, and has relatively frequent issues transitioning from ads to content), but good HD video quality.
  • YouTube: I've watched a few things via YouTube, including most of Cobra Kai, and the video quality and playback quality are both excellent.

So generally, I've been pleased with the Fire Stick.  It could work more smoothly, I guess, but it's mostly reliable.  The device itself has a problem once in a while, but typically a reboot clears that up.  And as far as HD video quality goes, I've had no substantial problems with any service other than Shudder.
Despite this, I'm switching to a Roku in the next few days, and there are two reasons for that.  The most important is that when Disney+ launches on November 12, it won't be available through Amazon devices; so if I want that -- and I do -- I'll have to get a new device, or else stream it through my PC.  (I'm not wild about watching long-form content on a PC, though, so I won't do that unless I've got no better option.)  But also, I decided to get one before November 12 -- it's September 28 as I write this preamble -- it see if I could get better video quality from Shudder.  We'll find out the results of that once we reach the section of Creepshow episode 2.
In any case, for the video quality, my Shudder experiences up to this point have been very poor indeed.  I sent them an email about it, and their customer service made a few suggestions, but none of them yielded different results.  (Speaking of customer service, I also had to get them to fix a billing error which caused my account to be charged twice for the first month's service.)
I say all of this not to take a crap on Shudder, but just to offer some context for the rest of the review.  Which begins now!