Friday, September 20, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 6

Let's see how our luck fares in part six, beginning with:
Glass (2019)

I wanted to love this, and would have settled for liking it.  And for about two thirds of it, I did the latter.  By the time the big twists began showing up, though, I'd come to the same conclusion most people seem to have reached when the movie was released earlier this year: that Shyamalan had dropped the ball big-time, and in so doing squandered a good part of the goodwill he earned back with Split.

I'm reluctant to go into details on how and why that is.  I guess I kind of have to, though, so if you don't want to know how it all ends, skip to the next movie.

I have not seen Unbreakable in a long while, but as of the last time I did, I thought it was a bit of a masterpiece.  I think about most of Shyamalan's first run of hits that way.  It all just plain works for me, up to and including the reveal at the end that Mr. Glass has been a villain who orchestrated the train derailment in order to prove to the world that superheroes exist.

One of the big problems with Glass is that the movie seems to suggest that in retrospect, this was an act of good on Elijah's part.  Glass ends with some of the subordinate characters releasing footage of the Overseer and the Beast duking it out, and the idea is that their battle proves conclusively that superhumans exist.  The events of Glass have been orchestrated by Elijah to lead to this, and he feels, I guess, that this is going to make the world a better place or something.  The movie sure does seem to be taking his side on that, and if that's the case, then the movie is saying that when Elijah killed all those people in that train crash in Unbreakable, that's retroactively in service of the greater good.

Nope.  I'm out, M. Night.  I can't get with that, my man.

I also can't get with the bizarre decision to climax the movie by killing not only Mr. Glass, but both David Dunn and the Horde as well.  As a plot development, that simply does not work for me.  Not for this particular movie, at least; maybe some other, better version of it might have earned that sort of thing, but this one absolutely does not.

There are probably other things I could complain about, but what's the point?  The movie doesn't work, and that's just all there is to it.  This fact is mitigated somewhat by the fact that it's relatively well made.  The acting is good; I mean, of course it is.  But that only helps so much.  Samuel L. Jackson is given virtually nothing to do until the movie is about an hour in, which is an odd decision; Bruce Willis is fine, but he's also given relatively little to do; James McAvoy is excellent, but he's playing too many of the same notes he played in Split.  Between this and It: Chapter Two (and, I assume, Dark Phoenix, although like the rest of the world I opted not to see that), it's been a rough year for McAvoy-starring sequels.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 5

Amazing how many movies a guy can watch in a day if he's on vacation.  Too bad that can't be a permanent condition, ain't it?
We begin part five with:
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
I first heard about this documentary via an episode of The Losers' Club podcast on which executive producer Tananarive Due appeared.  It sounded well worth my time, and guess what?  It was.
The documentary bounces back and forth between several avenues of exploration for the topic, such as discussing the cultural conditions which shaped the depictions of black people both in horror cinema and cinema overall; the rise of black-centric horror films (especially those made my black filmmakers); tropes of blackness you can find in horror films; and the gradual shifts in portrayals that came about in the '90s, '00s, and (especially) '10s.
The danger of a documentary like this for a guy like me is that it will give me a bunch of films to watch that might not have previously been on my radar.  I'd also say that I now want to see Ganja and Hess, Tales from the Hood, Def By Temptation, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, and Bones.  Oh, and The People Under the Stairs and The Girl with All the Gifts.  I already wanted to see Blacula; just haven't managed to do so yet.
Some of the interviewees include Ken Foree, Keith David, Ernest Dickerson, Tananarive Due, Tony Todd, and Jordan Peele.  Peele, not unexpectedly, has many interesting things to say; so do all of them.  I was tempted to take a whole bunch of notes and write about this one at some length, but decided against it.
A few things that stood out, though:
  • Hearing people who were there discuss the impact of Duane Jones' starring role in 1968's Night of the Living Dead is compelling stuff.
  • Kubrick's The Shining gets trash-talked a bit -- somebody let Stephen King know!  (It's the dispatching of Dick Hallorann which is objected to, though Scatman Crothers' performance is rightly praised.)
  • Ernest Dickerson tells a charming story about seeing Snoop Dogg blush because he got to kiss Pam Grier while filming Bones.
  • Candyman is both praised and criticized, the former for obvious reasons and the latter for perpetuating certain stereotypes and for having Candyman commit the (admittedly not-entirely-logical) murders he commits within the black community of Cabrini Green.  I've not seen the movie in a long while, so I don't know how I feel about that.  But hopefully it's on the docket for this season, so maybe we'll come back to that.
  • Jordan Peele and some of the other interviewees talk about the decision to NOT have Chris get shot and killed or end up in prison at the end of Get Out.  I'd heard Peele talk about this before, and while part of me feels that the ending he went with is more fantasy than it is reality, I have to say ... it's a good fantasy.  A useful one.  And Tananarive Due is compelling as fuck when she says her own version of that sentiment, adding that she'll happily go the rest of her life without seeing another movie about black men in prison.  I'm not one for taking subject matter off the table, personally, but ... I mean, when you put it like that, in the way she puts it, I can't do much other than nod along in agreement.  Anyways, that shit with Rod at the end of Get Out is pretty damn funny, so I think Peele got it right, for any number of reasons.

Plenty more to say, I'm sure, but that's what I remember.  I'm up incredibly late tonight -- it's today now (9:51 AM!) --  so my brain is in pre-shutdown mode.  More than it usually is, I mean.  (That's kind of the default mode these days.)  So I'll wrap this one up, and -- in a move that will jump me forward several hours (I'm going to damn SLEEP now) and you forward a mere sentence -- we'll move on to the next film.

Which is:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 4

*utters unspellable sound of disgust*
Lurking Fear (1994)
Well, it's better than R.O.T.O.R., I'll give it that.  But let's face it: the odds are not nonexistent that my apartment could get hit by a meteor or something tomorrow, and would I really want the people who remain behind after I am gone to be able to say that I spent 76 of my final minutes on Earth watching Lurking Fear a second god damn time?!?  Because I watched it once already, back in the early days of 2016, when I had this to say about it:
This one has Jeffrey Combs; Jon Finch, the guy who once starred in the late-career Hitchcock film Frenzy; Vincent Schiavelli, playing a creep; Ashley Laurence, seemingly channeling Linda Hamilton, or trying to; decent creature design; and virtually no connection to Lovecraft's story "The Lurking Fear."  It's about a town somewhere that is infested by subterranean mutants, none of whom seem to have intentions of doing much beyond lurking, apart from the occasional bout of yanking people into the walls or under the floors.  I think they kill them after that, but I can't be sure.

Into this mix enters a redneck ex-con who is sent on a treasure hunt by an undertaker, and who is followed there by some gangsters.  The movie is lousy from the opening frame, and never gets any better, although some of the performances are okay.  I mean, Jeffrey Combs is squandered, but he's still Jeffrey Combs.

Skip it unless you are a completist weirdo.  Or even if you are, quite frankly.
Those are fair and just words, 2016 Bryant; you spoke true.  
In case you are wondering, dear reader, why I bothered seeing this softened turd of a movie a second time, I'll tell you: because I was stupid enough to think that I needed it on Blu-ray.  You know, for my Lovecraft collection.  And then I felt like that meant I needed to actually watch it again.  THIS is the kind of decision-making that has kept me single, y'all.  (And from the it-actually-gets-worse files: the audio goes out of sync at some point.  How these things happen on home video releases is a mystery to me, but they do occasionally happen.)
Somebody please tell me if there's a strong chance of meteors.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 3

We begin part three with:
The Frighteners (1996)

I saw this in a theatre when it was released in 1996, presumably due to one of the following facts:

  • I'd started working at a movie theatre that summer and was still in see-everything-due-to-it-suddenly-being-free mode;
  • I was intrigued by the Back the Future connection provided by star Michael J. Fox and producer Robert Zemeckis;
  • I was intrigued by the presence of composer Danny Elfman;
  • or, most likely, some combination of all of those factors.

I don't remember for sure, but I do remember being underwhelmed by the movie.  Didn't hate it, just didn't really get much out of it.  Granted, I wasn't into horror movies at that time (with a few exceptions, mostly in the form of Stephen King movies).  I'd never seen any of Peter Jackson's stuff, and I had no idea who Jeffrey Combs was.  So maybe it was that that threw me off.
I watched the movie again on DVD at some point after Jackson had been announced as the director for the upcoming trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings.  Still didn't get much out of it, and that was the last time I saw it ... until now.
And doggone it, it's still not sticking to me.
It's not a bad movie.  There's nothing -- with the possible exception of mildly dodgy (though decent for the era) CGI in a few places -- that I can really complain about.  It just never quite amounts to anything.  I've got a few notes about that:
  • Michael J. Fox is fine.  I'm not sure he was the right guy for the role, though.  Could someone a little schlubbier and more pathetic have had a greater impact?  Maybe.  Fox is fine, he's just not inspired.  He was inspired in Back to the Future; here, he's just ... fine.  But you can do worse, for sure.
  • Trini Alvarado is similarly fine in the lead female role.  She looks like they wanted to cast Andi MacDowell, who proved to be unavailable, but she's lively and tenacious.
  • Jeffrey Combs -- who, as I mentioned, I'd never seen in anything (though he was already a genre legend by this point) -- IS inspired as the FBI creep.  I think he's doing what the movie wanted to be, but director Peter Jackson kind of kept his gloves on for most of the movie, possibly to its detriment.  I think there was a darker and much stranger version of this movie that wanted to get out, and leaked out a little bit via Combs.
  • Dee Wallace Stone is also quite good here.  I mean, she always is, right?  But she seems to relish getting to go full-tilt into crazytown toward the end.  Un-fun fact: her husband, Christopher Stone, died of a heart attack while she was in New Zealand making this movie.  Bear in mind, now, this is a movie about a string of unexplained deaths which come by what appears to be heart attacks.  Creepily, Dee Wallace Stone's credit at the beginning is on screen while someone is talking about people being impacted by the unexplained spate of heart-attack deaths.  This is something an editor ought to have avoided, methinks.
  • The music by Danny Elfman sure does sound like music by Danny Elfman.  This, too, fails to stick to me.  This was around the point in time when Elfman began -- to my ears -- to lose a step and to forget how to write memorable themes.  His score here is mostly sonic wallpaper.  Again, it's not bad; it's just not memorable.
  • Troy Evans -- who I think of from his small role in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers -- plays another cop.  He's fine.
  • Jake Busey makes a fairly strong impression as the dead serial killer.  Mass murderer?  I'm going with serial killer.
  • The backstory involves a mass shooting.  You'd have a hard time getting that into a spookshow like this (one aimed at a wide audience) these days.
  • There's a director's cut on the Blu-ray which runs an additional thirteen minutes.  I didn't watch that, I watched the theatrical cut.  However, at some indefinite point in the future, when I watch the bonus features, I'll give that director's cut a try.  Due diligence and all.

For now, that's all I've got to say about The Frighteners, apart from this: it's one of those movies that I can't say I have any particular affection for, but which I don't begrudge anyone for loving, if they do indeed love it.  And there must be people who do.  I appear destined not to be one of them, but so be it.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Great Events Turn on Small Hinges: Reading ''The Institute''

Rather than a coherent review of The Institute, let's do this:
September "10," 2019 ("The Night Knocker," pages 1-40)

Well, The Institute came out yesterday, and I'd have begun reading it lickety-split if not for the fact that I had a doctor's appointment in the early afternoon and work at night.  I'm a night-owl type, and had to get up "early" for the appointment -- with a sleep specialist -- which meant that while I had a couple of hours during which I could have started reading the novel, I'd have been tempting Hypnos to descend upon me if I'd dared sit down in a chair.  That's a pretentious way of saying I'd have drifted off to the land of serial micronaps.  Not the way one wants to dive in to a new Stephen King novel.
And so, I waited until after work to begin.  Technically, it's September 11 now, but for me it's still the 10th, so that's how I'm dating this entry.
Whatever the date, I've now got 40 pages under my belt, and am here to report on it.
The novel begins with a short-story-length section called "The Night Knocker" that is all about a guy named Tim Jamieson.  He's a former policeman from Florida who has hitched his way up to South Carolina after getting canned from his job after an unfortunate incident was filmed by onlookers and went viral.  The thing that got him canned is pretty innocuous as far as publicly-disgraced-cops go, but it got him canned nonetheless.  Some inner voice has put him on the road, however, and he's ended up in a tiny town called DuPray, where he applies for a job as a "night knocker" with the town police force.
I just gave the phrase "night knocker" a vigorous Googling (meaning I went five pages into the search), and what I found consisted almost entirely of reviews of this novel, plus a couple of seemingly-obscure songs.  So maybe there's a law-enforcement position known as "night knocker," but I didn't immediately find any evidence of it; which suggests to me that King is pulling a fast one on us kinda like he did with that "fifth business" business in Revival.  Fine by me, Uncle Steve, you rascal.
The "night knocker" position is basically just a night-patrol security guard who walks around the little town keeping an eye on things.  Tim doesn't get a gun, doesn't even get a nightstick; can't even make arrests when and if the need arises.  What he can do is call a real cop.
King makes all of this instantaneously compelling.  He's at his best here, especially once Tim gets to DuPray and King begins introducing subordinate characters.  Virtually all of them pop immediately, and I can only assume that some of the seemingly-random things which happen in this introductory section will come back into play later on.
An amusing Easter egg comes into...
Now, Bryant, hold your damn horses.
I'm not that big a fan of the rabid Easter-egg collecting that has descended upon King fandom in the past decade or so.  In point of fact, I find it chapping my ass on occasion.  This is mostly true only of the movie adaptations, but still, can I un-shame-facedly launch myself into an observation about Easter eggs, knowing how annoyed I was by the ones in, say, the Hulu 11.22.63?  Would that be the right thing to do?  What would that say about me?
The answers to those questions are: no but I am willing to fight through it; on the fence, leaning toward yes; and who gives a fuck?, in that order.
Anyways, this is a really good Easter egg.  There's a mention of a convenience store in DuPray called Zoney's Go-Mart.  It sounded familiar to me, and the second time it was mentioned, I remembered where I'd heard it from before: Kelly Braffet's novel Save Yourself, in which it is one of the primary locations.  If you didn't know, Kelly Braffet is King's daughter in law by virtue of being married to Owen.  So this is a pretty excellent example of Big Steve giving a subtle shout-out to a family member.  You should read Save Yourself, by the way; it is fucking great.
I turned to Google yet again to make sure that Zoney's wasn't an actual convenience-store franchise that I was mistakenly crediting Braffet with creating, and while performing that research, I found out some things I'd apparently forgotten: that King had already included Zoney's in his Bill Hodges novels, as well as The Outsider and Elevation.  Not only that, but Owen King mentions a Zoney's in his 2013 novel Double Feature ... which actually preceded Save Yourself in publication by a few months.  Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say that it was Braffet who created it, and Owen who paid tribute to it in his own book, which simply happened to hit shelves first.
Regardless, I approve of all of this.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 2

We begin part two with a part two:

It: Chapter Two (2019)

I was a big fan of the first part of director Andy Muschietti's take on It, so I've been looking forward to Chapter Two ever since.  This might help to explain why I was more disappointed by this movie than by any I've seen since Spectre.  Put simply, It: Chapter Two is a crushing disappointment, one which squanders nearly all of the goodwill generated by the first film.

The cast of adult Losers is game; in no way is any of this their fault.  To a person, they do good jobs.

Nope, the blame here must be pinned squarely on director Andy Muschietti, who shows virtually none of the flair he demonstrated with the first film.  Also in for a pounding: screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who does not understand what makes King's novel tick.  Please keep this hack away from any further King properties (such as 'Salem's Lot, which he is currently adapting for producer James Wan).

I'm sure you guys are expecting more details from me; I apologize for failing you in that regard, but I don't want to spend any additional time with this misfire of a film than I have to, at least for now.

UPDATE:  My opinion on the movie has softened somewhat in the couple of days since I saw the movie.  I'm still disappointed by it, and I still have problems with it of both a macro and a micro nature, but there are so many good scenes that I feel it would be irresponsible of me to suggest the movie is a complete failure.  It's not that.  I stand by my assessment that it's a disappointment, or at least that it was a disappointment for me personally.  But I acknowledge that it might be the kind of thing that grows on me over time, once the initial shock of immediate letdown has dissipated.  Or maybe not; maybe my disdain for it will only grow over time.

Impossible to say for now.  So that's where we'll leave it.  I'll certainly have a quite a lot more to say about this movie one of these days.  That day is not this one.

We move on to an acknowledged misfire, but one that I kind of enjoy:

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 1

It's been kind of a rough year for the staff here at The Truth Inside The Lie.  Which is a way of saying I've had a rough year.  Not in any kind of interesting way, either!  Nope, no illness or unemployment or divorce or being Tweeted about or getting caught in a MeToo transgression or anything interesting.  Am I depressed?  That's debatable, I suppose; but it feels to me like if I said I was, I'd be insulting people who do legitimately suffer from depression.  So ... no, I don't think I am.
But I sure have been down a lot, y'all.  And for a good long span of months there, I found myself entirely incapable of tamping that down.  That seems to have settled down, though; finally.  And in fact, in some ways I'm beginning to find myself feeling optimistic for large chunks of the day.  Am I suddenly happy?  Well, let's not get carried away or nothin'.  Let's say I've been feeling content; if so, I've been feeling more content than I have in a pretty good stretch of time.
Still, this is a respite after a somewhat grueling few months, and I find myself in need of some manner of holiday.  The best one that's close is Halloween; it's not for nearly two months yet, but fuck that, we're starting that shit today.  I typically start in late September, but that's just not going to do in 2019.  2019 calls for an extended Halloween season, possibly on the back end as well as on the front.

With that in mind, here come some capsule reviews.  Gonna be a LOT of these posts coming down the pike the next few weeks (I hope).  Spoiler warning for each and every title, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know, skip on down the line.
We begin with:

Pet Sematary (2019) 

I had mixed feelings about the new Pet Sematary when it came out this spring.  I didn't like it all that much, but neither did I dislike it.  I felt indifferent toward it; not the reaction one hopes for, but heck, one can do worse.  If you want to hear me try to talk these indifferent feelings out, here's a podcast where I did just that (as backup to Lou Sytsma).
As I'm guessing I mentioned in that podcast, I have been feeling ever since seeing the film that I owed it a second look.  That look has finally come, and the verdict...

Is pretty much the same as the first time.  This is a really strange case, because there is very little in the film that I dislike at all, much less vigorously.  I can name a single shot: Louis bellowing with rage while burying Ellie.  Even that is something I can rationalize.  Oh, and I guess I'd say that Pascow is a washout for me, as well as the non-presence of the wendigo.  Maybe a few beats in the Zelda subplot are a little weak, too.  But most of these things are intellectual problems for me, not things which actively bother me while I'm watching the film.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can think of quite a few moments that work for me very well, from the very beginning to the very end.  They work for me in the moment, and they work for me in my memory.  Why, then, does the movie play like something which is less than the sum of its parts?

It's a question I'm not going to be able to answer tonight; I think this one is going to require some unraveling, which means a deep-dive, and I've got no stomach for a deep-dive just now.

I'll give you my hypothesis, though.  I think a case of all the behind-the-scenes filmmakers having good intentions, and being talented people, but not quite taking the proper amount of care in deciding what this movie needed to be.  Put another way, I think everyone involved wanted to make a great new version of Pet Sematary because they wanted to honor the old version, but failed to truly figure out a plan to distinguish new from old.

I think they thought they had done exactly that in having it be Ellie who dies in the new movie.  The more time I spend with that decision, the more I like it.  It actually seems quite natural to me; I'm not sure it isn't a better idea than having Gage die -- at least as far as filmmaking goes.  The fact that Miko Hughes works as Gage in Mary Lambert's original film increasingly seems like a miracle; replicating that was a high enough bar as to be practically impossible.

No, the Ellie thing works for me.  But what else does the movie do to set itself apart?  Very little.  And while most of what it replicates works, little of it works at a high enough level to sever the umbilical cord which connects this infant version to the mother original.  I love the new Church; but I love the old Church, too, and so while it's satisfying to see a different one, it's not THAT satisfying.  Right?

Jason Clarke is good as Louis (a few wonky accent moments excepted), and in fact he's significantly better than Dale Midkiff was; but it's not enough to send the movie into the stratosphere, because the two men are essentially doing the same thing -- one at a higher level, yes, but so what?  Same goes for Amy Seimetz as Rachel, who is such a better actor than Denise Crosby that it's not a conversation worth having.  AND YET ... I like Denise Crosby in the original, so even though I love Seimetz here, it's somewhat irrelevant.  And in the case of John Lithgow as Jud, he's very good; but he can't hold a candle to Fred Gwynne as Jud.

The movie even ends with a competent but utterly uninspired cover of the Ramones song which ended the original film.  Why?  Who thought that was a good idea?

Ultimately, I remain indifferent to the film.  But I found it be painless enough to watch a second time, which means it's in my good graces; it's not my favorite student in the class, but I'm not sending it to the principal's office just for that.  What am I, a monster?

Graveyard Shift (1990)

Friday, August 23, 2019

I Was Built to Believe in Weird Stuff: A Review of ''Nightmares & Dreamscapes''

Nightmares & Dreamscapes was published in late September 1993, and might well have come as a relief of sorts to many King fans.  Since he ended his Castle Rock cycle in 1991 with Needful Things, he'd pumped out two relatively slim novels that told mostly non-supernatural stories.  Those books were Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne, both of which I love; not all King fans do, and while I can't presume to speak for anyone else, I'd wager that more than a few Constant Readers were a bit worried about the direction their favorite author was taking back in those days.
Imagine, then, what a relief, this cover must have been:
I can't remember the first time I saw it, but I love it, and assume I must always have done so.  That Rob Wood cover art is just wonderful: suggestive of the arrival of a peaceful and comfortable night-time after some long and taxing day, the colors manage to make the spooky scarecrow -- standing implausibly in the middle of the road -- a welcoming figure and not an intimidating one.
That's not the description I intended to write when I began that sentence.  I expected to write something about how the colors informed one that King was back at the horror game.  And the cover does suggest that, as well, but I think it also suggests comfort, which in turn implies familiarity.  And that makes a sort of sense given this book's place in King's bibliography, don't you think?  If many King fans were breathing sighs of relief to find that King (after the abused-women duology of Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne) was in the mood to get spooky again, then it makes sense to see that scarecrow as being a welcoming figure.  Bottom line: I think the cover art works either way.
Before we get into a discussion of the book's introduction, let me tell you what this post won't be: in-depth.  I do have a tendency to aim for going deep when it comes to writing about King's short fiction, as anyone who has read my reviews of the following stories can attest:
I sometimes allow myself to run hog-wild on this blog, and so you get what we had here for "The Fifth Quarter," which was slavering lunacy.  I personally found it be rewarding, but I don't know why anyone would ever read what I wrote with that one.  To those of you who did I say thanks with apologies.
Anyways, the point is this: we won't be doing that sort of thing in this post.  In fact, I'd anticipate that as I march through the book, I'll restrain myself from writing more than three or four paragraphs about each story.  I'd love to write in-depth pieces about each; but that sort of attention is best saved for the series that all the above links come from.  See, those -- most of you know this, but I'll make it explicit nonetheless -- are King's stories in chronological publication order, whereas Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a collection that spans several decades' worth of material.  So I'll cover those individual stories when they come up in the chronology (as, indeed, two of this book's stories -- "Suffer the Little Children" and "The Fifth Quarter" -- already have).
What was that I just heard?  A collective sigh of relief from this blog's readers?  Well, it was a wind of some sort, and if it was of that variety I wouldn't be too surprised.

With that in mind, let's hop right in, beginning with:

"Myth, Belief, Faith, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not!"

About which I might theoretically end up saying more than I'll say about the stories themselves, simply because it's nonfiction, and therefore won't be a part of that incredibly-slow-moving blogthrough of the short stories.  It is King's introduction for the book, and (like the introductions to his previous collections, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew) it is wonderful.

"When I was a kid I believed everything I was told," King begins, "everything I read, and every dispatch sent out by my own overheated imagination."

I can relate.  When I was a child, it was as though I lived in a world of hyper-reality, where everything was exactly what it seemed to be, but plus, somehow.  I loved the things I loved more than I ever had the ability to cope with or even understand; and the things that scared me (which was almost everything) scared me so much that it was like walking through a perpetual nightmare.  A really lame one, granted; but still.  Those feelings -- of wonderment and terror alike -- have mostly dimmed over time.  Long ago, in most cases.  They kind of just shorted themselves out; they're still there, but it's like someone turned down the volume ... or flipped the switch that turned them from color to black-and-white.

I think this helps explain my continued need for stories.  When I read a great book or watch a great movie or hear a great song, it's like the volume on my emotions has been turned all the way up again; like the color has been brought back to my inner life.  That's an awfully pretentious way to think about it, and it's probably not terribly accurate in many ways.  But it's the best I can do tonight, seemingly, so it'll have to do.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book(s) Review: A Trio by Lee Gambin

Today, let's have a look at a trio of books by film critic and journalist Lee Gambin, beginning with his exploration of the Lewis Teague adaptation of Cujo:

Weighing in at close to five hundred pages, this is an exhaustive piece of work indeed.  I'm pretty sure I feel like every movie ought to have a book this detailed written about it.  Well, okay, maybe not EVERY movie, but certainly every good movie; and Cujo, as Gambin persuasively argues throughout, is probably closer to a great one than merely a good one.
Gambin's structure is simple, but highly effective: he walks us through the entire film, scene by scene, in chronological order.  Not merely summarizing the film, he's also giving keen critical analysis as he goes.  After each scene, he then provides lengthy oral-history-type comments from many of the filmmakers and other contributors who worked on the production.  Often these comments illuminate the making (and intentions) of the scene Gambin has just discussed; sometimes, though, they speak less to specific scenes and more to at-large issues and concerns. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A(n almost certainly incomplete) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 1

I have a love/hate relationship with audiobooks.  The first time I encountered one, however many years ago that was, I thought I'd stumbled upon some sort of magic.  And hey, maybe I had.

Over the years, however, my enthusiasm for the format has diminished considerably.  Too many shabby performances, man; I find myself entirely put off by narrators who take it as their duty to deliver character performances.  I guess some amount of that is necessary; and if you're actually good at it, well, why not go for it?  I find most readers to be decidedly not good at it.  Nothing kills an audiobook for me faster, and I've found myself liking some novels less after hearing them in audio form than I had liked them when simply reading them in prose.  Perhaps this speaks to some weakness in my character; beats me, man, I'm just here to try and make sense out of all this shit.

With that in mind, I've embarked upon what is almost certainly a foolhardy mission: to detail the history of King audiobooks, along with my thoughts on each title.  In some cases, I probably won't have listened to the entirety of the audiobook; as I've said, they sometimes gall me, and while I'm into the idea of having listened to them all, I'm not THAT into it.

Before we get going properly, let me acknowledge something: Kevin Quigley is the go-to guy for information about King audiobooks.  This page from his site Charnel House was very valuable to me in putting this overview together; and that's an understatement.

At Charnel House, you will find references to Library of Congress recordings for certain King books.  These were recorded expressly for the use of blind readers (no, that's not an oxymoron), and were apparently available ... somehow.  Via libraries, probably; possibly also via mail on a rental basis.  I've done very little research on this, and if you wish to accuse me of laziness, I will plead no contest.  I will also welcome any additional information you have, so use them comments, y'all.

Anyways, these were technically the first King audiobooks, and they are as follows:

  • Carrie (circa 1974, read by Anne Chodoff) 
  • The Shining (circa 1977, read by Bruce Huntey)
  • Night Shift (circa 1979, read by Michael Kramer)
  • The Dead Zone (circa 1979, read by Diane Islandburg)
  • Firestarter (circa 1980, read by Merwin Smith)
  • Cujo (circa 1981, read by Bob Askey)
  • Danse Macabre (circa 1981, read by Merwin Smith)
  • Christine (circa 1983, read by Bob Askey)
  • Cycle of the Werewolf (circa 1983, reader unknown)
  • Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man (circa 1985, read by Bob Askey)
  • It (circa 1986, read by Chuck Benson)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon (circa 1987, read by David Palmer) 
  • The Tommyknockers (circa 1987, read by Pam Ward)
  • The Dark Half (circa 1989, read by Chuck Benson)
  • The Stand: Complete & Uncut (circa 1990, read by Bruce Huntey) [although based on Huntey having read The Shining circa 1977, I personally wonder (based on nothing concrete) if this isn't Huntey reading the '78 version of The Stand]
  • Storm of the Century (circa 1999, read by Gregory Gorton)

Additionally, I happen to know of the following, which may or may not have anything to do with the Library of Congress:

  • 'salem's Lot (read by Richard Nazarewich)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon (read by Bill McNeff)
  • The Mist (reader unknown) 

I've managed to track down MP3s of a few of these; I've listened to none of them, and I'm not sure I ever will.  Quigley asserts that the readers are amateurs, not for-hire professionals; and I wonder whether I'd be able to endure such a thing.

I might, eventually; I mean, heck, if a series of posts like this won't get to listen to them, what would?  If nothing else, I'm kind of curious to find out what an audiobook version of a screenplay (like Storm of the Century) would be like.

But I won't be covering any of those in this particular post, and while I am 100% copacetic with that decision I thought it made sense to at least mention them, just so y'all didn't assume I was unaware of them.

We good with that?

Okey doke, then let's move into the post proper, beginning in a real damn fine place to begin:

1984 -- Different Seasons
(read by Frank Muller, produced by Recorded Books)

There are two things I absolutely do not know about Frank Muller's Different Seasons:

(1)  Whether these were indeed released separately and (2) whether it/they was/were actually the first commercially-available King audiobook(s).

Quigley lists these as being 1985 releases, which would generally be good enough for me.  The recordings themselves say "copyright 1984," though, so between that and Skeleton Crew definitively NOT being released until '85, I think it's likely these four releases beat the Recorded Books Skeleton Crew into the world.  And if they didn't, we're going to pretend they did.
There's also a third contender: the truncated Stories From Night Shift release, more on which in a few paragraphs.  That, too, was a 1985 release; could it have actually preceded the Recorded Books Different Seasons volumes?  I do not know for a fact, but it seems possible.
What I do know for a fact is that these four audio releases of the Different Seasons novellas are awesome.  Frank Muller was hands down the finest narrator of audiobooks to ever live.  Have I heard every audiobook narrator to ever work in that business?  I have not.  But I'm standing by my assessment, and that's just all there is to it.  We'll hear Muller's name again in this post, fairly frequently (though not frequently enough for my tastes).