Thursday, February 10, 2022

Worst to Best: The Music of Stephen King's Movies (etc.)

Ever since childhood, I've loved film scores.  I'd say that if anyone should get the credit for that, it's John Williams (about whom I wrote extensively here years ago just because I was of a mind to do so); I was born in 1974, and here's a partial list of what Williams did during my first decade of loving movies:
  • 1975 -- Jaws
  • 1977 -- Star Wars AND Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • 1978 -- Superman
  • 1980 -- The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981 -- Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1982 -- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • 1983 -- Return of the Jedi
  • 1984 -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, plus a theme for the Summer Olympics
And that's just a handful of the blockbusters.  You can, and should, go deeper than that.  My point is, I don't know how anyone who lived during that time to fail to love John Williams, if not the entire medium of film music.  I've become less wide-ranging a scorehead than I was at one point, but there were some years there where I aspired to have basically every score ever written.  Never quite managed to get there thanks to the press of other interests crowding it out, but on some other level of the Tower, some Twinner Bryant is still plugging away at that honorable goal.  We wish him well and wonder if he likes Hans Zimmer.
Given how devoted I am to keeping up with the movies and television shows based on the works of Stephen King, it makes sense that I eventually also developed a love for the music spawned by them.  Which brings us to today: I'm going to attempt some rankings.
I'm not quite sure how to explain my approach; maybe it'll make sense, but I'm not betting on it, so let me try to at least justify it.  I'm making these rankings based on the general use of music within the films (or plays, albums, etc.).  You'd think it would be relatively easy to just rank the scores themselves, but it isn't.  For example, most of what sounds (to those who don't already know better) like an original score in Kubrick's The Shining is actually repurposed symphonic music composed decades beforehand.  Does that mean that film should only be judged on the merits of the score that WAS composed expressly for the film?
The easiest answer to that question is: yes, yes it should.  But I'm in a mood to take a more all-encompassing approach.  So what I've come up with is this: I'm weighing the original scores more heavily into my thinking than any other type of music, but I am also taking the use of previously-existing music into consideration, as well.  This will apply not merely to symphonic/instrumental music, but to songs as well.
In most cases, I am only considering projects which have had a commercial release of some sort.  There are a number of King films which have not been thus graced, meaning that if you are a big fan of the music for, say, The Langoliers or In the Tall Grass, you are not going to find those titles represented here. 
As if that weren't frustrating enough, I've also include a few projects which are not movies.  Because why shouldn't Ghost Brothers of Darkland County or Carrie the musical be included here?  Ever heard of the album King sang on by The Wrockers?  You will soon.
Bottom line: I've just included whatever I felt like including.  There is method to the madness, though, so it's not pure tomfoolery.  And even if it is, here come them rankings, y'all.  Real quick, though, a disclaimer: like all such lists, this one is bullshit.  Just complete stinking bullshit, complete with flies buzzing around it and making it their nursery.  I'll read what I wrote here a year from now and wonder what I was edibleing, ranking __________ so far down the list.  Hey, it is what it is.
We'll actually begin with some non-rankings:
I want to begin on a positive note, so we are going to examine a trio of scores that, though they are not from adaptations of Stephen King films, do have a sort of connection (if only in my own mind).  One is from a film based on a novel by his son, Joe Hill; and the other two are from projects by his collaborator, friend, and contemporary Peter Straub.
We will tackle them in chronological order, beginning with:
Full Circle (1977)
original score by Colin Towns
Full Circle is full obscure these days, and kind of always has been.  It's based on Peter Straub's first horror novel, Julia, which is terrific.  I'm not sure the movie lives up to it, but it's an interesting and worthy piece of work in its own right.  A big part of that is due to the music by Colin Towns (check out the main theme below, and if it seems a bit of a bore initially, the good stuff kicks in around the 2:15 mark).
I hope that movie gets rediscovered someday; a Blu-ray is highly overdue.  I'm not positive it ever even got a VHS release, though, so we're talking about a true rarity.
Ghost Story (1981)
original score by Philippe Sarde
I know literally nothing about Philippe Sarde apart from his score for this, the second and (thus far) final movie based on the books of Peter Straub.  You've got to figure that eventually both The Talisman and Black House are going to bit hitting a screen of some kind, and it is, of course, that King connection which prompted me to mention the two extant Straub movies. Anyways, though, Philippe Sarde.  Wikipedia informs me that he was nominated for the French equivalent of the Oscar twelve times, so he was clearly no slouch.
His music for Ghost Story makes that evident.  It might hit some ears as corny or even cartoonish, but don't let that be you, dear reader; don't let your years of being ear-poisoned by non-melodic film music render you incapable of enjoying the work of a guy who not only knows what an orchestra is good at but seems determined to put one to its fullest use.  Sarde's score sounds like it might have been written during the Golden Age of Hollywood; and if that sounds to your ears like a bad thing, I'd argue that that's on you, not on Sarde.
On that contentious note, we move on to modern times, with:
Horns (2013)
original score by Rob
Rob (also known as ROB) is the stage name for Robin Coudert, whom someone ought to have given permission to use his whole name.  You want to go with a single name, you better be an Elvis or a Prince or a Madonna.  "Rob."  Gimme a goddam break.
Anyways, hey, guess what?  This is a pretty freaking good score.  In a more just world, the movie might have gotten a decent release and been a hit; if it had, I suspect Rob's score would have become a favorite for a lot of people.  I wouldn't be surprised if it had anyways.
Speaking of Joe Hill, the music for the television series Locke and Key is also worth talking about, but because I'm lazy, I've never listened to the soundtrack, so I'm not allowing myself to even include this as a full honorable mention.  (This is weak logic, I am aware.)  The main theme by Torin Borrowdale kicks ass, though; have any high-school bands played it during halftime of a football game?  If not, y'all have all failed, high-school band members. 
Also appearing in the Honorable Mention category is this curiosity:
Wendy Carlos: Rediscovering Lost Scores Volume One and Volume Two (2005)
original music for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining

Disclaimer: I do not own these two CDs.  I'd love to, but they are long out of print and command over $100 each, which, no.  Not going to happen, at least not this year.  However, back in the Wild West days of the internet, I found MP3s of them, and so here we are, able to talk about it.
It's seemingly a set of archival music from Wendy Carlos's personal stash, representing (I assume) demos, unused cues, and other ephemera from the composer's career.  A great lot of it is focused on The Shining, which is represented by 31 tracks.  Some of them are less than a minute, but others are two, three minutes; this is a generous amount of music from that movie, and if you've got an interest in it that runs deep enough to include the score, then you might well flip out just a little to hear some of this unused material.
Maybe not all of it.  There are some tracks that are hard to imagine being part of that film, and even the ones which you can imagine as part of AN adaptation of The Shining will be hard connect to THIS adaptation.  A few, though, sound rather like Carlos's work for A Clockwork Orange, also a Kubrick film.
Most excitingly for me, there are a number of tracks which find Carlos exploring the "Dies Irae" in varied ways.  For that alone, this stuff is a treasure.  Not exactly something you'd be apt to listen to frequently, perhaps, but who knows.  Certainly worthy of an honorable mention on this list.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A(n almost certainly incomplete and at-best-marginally-worthwhile) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 5

The initial offering of our fifth audiobook sojourn:
2002 -- Everything's Eventual: 5 Dark Tales
(read by various narrators; produced by Simon & Schuster Audio)

The release of Everything's Eventual was a haphazard one, audiobook-wise.  It was the first of King's collections to be released during the period when audiobooks had skyrocketed in popularity, and they had in fact become ubiquitous enough that some of King's shorter works were serving as the basis for audio releases even before they were collected in prose.  Several of the contents of Everything's Eventual the book had already appeared on an audio release of some sort, making a complete Everything's Eventual audiobook something of a redundancy, at least in part.  1999's Blood and Smoke audiobook, for example, had included "Lunch at the Gotham CafĂ©," "1408," and "In the Deathroom."  Meanwhile, "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" had been given a standalone audio release (of a live recording King did in England) in 2001.  For my thoughts on those, see part 4 of this series.
I assume this is why the stories of Everything's Eventual were split into numerous audio releases, at least.  Sheer speculation on my part, but it seems logical enough.  We'll talk about them each as we arrive at them.
This eight-disc release includes the following stories:
"Everything's Eventual," read by Justin Long -- Long was a good choice to narrate this story; he's able to pull off the arch, disaffected, but nevertheless somewhat haunted aspects of Dinky Earnshaw.  He's a bit less good with Sharpton, but he's not bad.  (Side note: why on Earth did King think it was a good idea to refer to talented people like Dinky as "trannies"?  Boy does that not play in 2021; it's an accidental problem, but a real one nonetheless.)
"Autopsy Room Four," read by Oliver Platt -- This is not a story I'm particularly fond of, so any narrator was always going to have a hard time getting me invested in it.  Platt does a decent job, but it does not elevate the story for me at all, sad to say.
"The Little Sisters of Eluria," read by Boyd Gaines -- Why anyone felt the need to record a new version of this when a Frank Muller narration of it already existed is a mystery to me, but here we are.  Boyd Gaines has a very flat reading style, but I don't actually mind that too much; I'd rather a narrator go in that direction as opposed to inject all sorts of inappropriate histrionics into the equation.  Still, in a world where there's a Frank Muller version, there's just not much reason to listen to this.  This is especially true given that Gaines decided that Roland needed to sound like a cowpoke out of a thirties Western; it's an understandable choice if you've got no information about the character to go on, but surely somebody somewhere -- the producer of this audio collection, let's say -- ought to have been in a position to say, "Nope, we're not gonna do that."  I will also state that I don't care much for the way Gaines reads the Little Sisters' dialogue.  I didn't even love the way Frank Muller read that stuff, to be honest; so that makes an inferior version of it real damn iffy.
"Luckey Quarter," read by Judith Ivey -- Ivey (whom you might remember from Rose Red) is okay on this one, but she makes what I feel is an unfortunate choice in "casting" Darlene as a Southerner.  This is the type of thing you get sometimes when you hire actors to read audiobooks; they get dialed in on some voice they want to do for a character, and game over.  Ivey also has reads "was" as "was" just about every time, and on many of those occasions the inflection gives the sentence a different meaning than it probably ought to have.  Things like this are why I cannot issue any kind of blanket endorsement of audiobooks as a medium.
"The Road Virus Heads North," read by Jay O. Sanders -- Sanders does a straight-forward and efficient job with this one.
Overall, the audiobook which bears the title Everything's Eventual is a mixed bag.  I like Long's and Sanders' narrations, but even those don't blow me away.  That makes this an inessential title for me, personally.

Monday, November 1, 2021

What I Watched This October (2021 Edition)

I intended not to write one of these this year due to time constraints, but that needle is apparently still in my vein, so here we are.  We're going to do something different this time: a one-paragraph limit.
Let's see how it goes!
Maniac (1980)
I first saw that poster in, if I'm not mistaken, an issue of Starlog.  It was in an advertisement for movie soundtracks, and it haunted me for years.  Arguably, it has never stopped.  I've been reluctant to see the movie itself ever since, lest it turn out to actually live up to the poster.  And you know what?  It kind of did.  I mean this both as compliment and as criticism.  Compliment because a certain amount of artistry is required in order to get to this level of offputting, and criticism because someone decided to actually do that.  I absolutely respect the movie, and I have no criticism for anyone who loves it the way I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I'm just not sure this was the movie I needed as a kick-off to this Halloween season.  I'm feeling both my age and my social status pretty heavy lately (that's a fucking understatement), so a flick about a deranged loner who obsesses over trophies inside his squalid apartment is perhaps a bit outside the realm of comfort.  But isn't that the point of a movie like this?  I've got -- I cannot stress this enough lest anyone be confused on the subject -- no desire of any sort to murder, mutilate, or otherwise mistreat any of you ladies out there, but there's just enough dim similarity between me and Frank to make me feel even worse about myself than I already feel.  Artfully made; not sure I ever need to see it again.  I don't rule out learning to love it, though.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

What I've Been Watching: Update Edition

When last we convened for one of these "What I Watched" posts, it was in early May.  I indicated that I was going to be done with those writeups for a while, and that was true in one sense, but false in another: true in that I intended to be done with them, but false in that I kept on writing the capsule reviews anyways.  Caveat: I restricted myself to detailing the horror movies I watched, as well as anything horror-adjacent enough to fit in here for one reason or another.  I omitted quite a lot, though, and I say thankya.  (Would I have liked to devote some time to discussing some of those?  You bet.  The Winds of War: outstanding.  There's one example.)
Bottom line: I've got several months' worth of movie watching to catch y'all up on, beginning with:
Scream 2 (1997)
I'd seen this movie only once before: sometime shortly after it opened in 1997.  I remember one thing above all others in relation to that viewing: that I went to see it with a group of friends from work, and that it was snowing in Tuscaloosa when we went.  It was, therefore, kind of risky and irresponsible for us to be driving at all, much less to go to a movie.
Beyond that, I remember being entirely underwhelmed.  I didn't dislike it, but it didn't scare me even a little bit, whereas the first had terrified me only a year previously.  Either I had grown a bit by the time the sequel came out, or it was less effective; perhaps a bit of both.
Revisiting the sequel now, I got more out of it.  In some ways, I think I might even prefer it to the original.  It's arguably less fresh, but it's also arguably more inventive; I think it's maybe a touch less pretentious than the first, too.  Or perhaps I'm simply responding more positively because I had very low expectations for the revisit.  I'm simultaneously too in my head these days and too unfocused to make much use out of being there, which is one of the reasons I opted to take a sort of step back for a while.  Solution: don't worry about it!
A few notes:
  • I continue to not particularly like Neve Campbell and/or Sidney.  I don't particularly dislike her, either.  She's just an odd sort of nonentity for me.  I do like the way she puts an extra bullet into the bad guy at the end of this one, though.
  • A number of King alumni (and future ones) here: David Arquette returns, obviously, but also there's Jerry O'Connell from Stand By Me, Laurie Metcalf (Misery on Broadway), Timothy Olyphant (Dreamcatcher), and Heather Graham (The Stand).
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar gets to be the lead in a very brief Black Christmas homage sequence which is better than both of the Black Christmas "remakes" put together.  Not that that's saying much.
  • Courteney Cox is brutally hot in this movie.  She doesn't always hit me on that level, but golly, she sure does here.  She's very good, too, as is David Arquette.  Their relationship is endearing.  Dewey's theme music -- which is evidently a Hans Zimmer piece from Broken Arrow, though I'm pretty sure it was meant to evoke the theme from Twin Peaks -- is ridiculous, but also kind of appealing.
  • Olyphant gives good pyscho.  So does Laurie Metcalf, to be honest; she's a bit less persuasive than he is, but it more or less works.  I'll take these two over Skeet Ulrich and (especially) Matthew Lillard every time.
  • I despise the opening scene with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps.  This is perhaps just because I, as a theatre manager, could never abide an audience that rowdy.  The idea for the scene is kind of clever, but only kind of, and it puts one of my least favorite aspects of these movies front and damn center: I simply cannot take it seriously.  It's not meant to be taken seriously, so I'm aware that I'm complaining about something needlessly, but even so, I don't get a great degree of usefulness out of the metafictive aspects of the movie(s) overall, and I get none whatsoever out of this opening scene.  I do like Omar Epps, so there's that; Pinkett, less so.
  • Luke Wilson playing a fictional version of Skeet Ulrich's character from the first movie is pretty amusing.  Supposedly, there were plans for the role to be filled with Johnny Depp; it didn't happen, and the world is poorer for it.  Even so, Luke Wilson is amusing.
reviewed on May 16

Friday, August 6, 2021

"Summers" Is Here

It's August 6, which is somewhere roughly in the middle of summer.  For me, it's the end of Summers, however, as I completed the new Stephen King novel last night.  You might have heard of it.
It's yet another in the run of King's crime-focused fiction, which is probably going to make some fans of his gnash their teeth a bit.  Get used to it, folks; I don't think this trend is going away.  Nope, I think we are in the midst of a full-blown late-career refocusing.
Anyways, Billy Summers.  
I loved it!  
I've heard a few people say that they reckon it's his best in years, specifically since 11/22/63.  I'm not sure I'd go that far; it's got Revival for competition, as well as my beloved The Wind Through the Keyhole.  So I'm not sure I can stretch it back as far as 11/22/63, personally.  Billy Summers is not notably less good than any of those, however, 11/22/63 included.  In my opinion, this one is a big old winner.
I wasn't expecting that, to be honest.  The title did not impress me; the concept did not impress me; the cover did not impress me.  I was hyped for the novel even so, but in a dutiful way; an unhyped hypeness, if there is such a thing.  Hyped because I owed it to my fandom to be hyped, I guess.
After reading the novel, however, the title and cover both work on me considerably better (especially the cover), and the concept?  Well, that's only part of what this novel is.
I'm debating diving in immediately to a reread and taking notes for a proper review or two; I'm on a bit of a blogging hiatus, in theory, and had intended to simply let this one roll by unremarked upon in any detailed sense.  But there's just too much here; I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it.
Either way, I wanted to put a tiny something out there and let people know my overall opinion of this one.  Comments are open, so go give the novel a read and come back and we can yammer about it.

Monday, June 14, 2021

First Dig the Experience: Stephen King on "Lord of the Flies"

Let's discuss one of the acknowledged classics:

It's the third of those images that comes to mind for me in association with this novel.  That's the paperback edition which was in heavy circulation when I was in school, so I saw copies of it everywhere.  (I should buy one!)  Strangely, I was never assigned the book; not in high school, not in college.  Therefore, I'd never read it until recently; I did so spurred on by the fact that my favorite podcast, The Losers' Club, is covering it soon.
I did so via this edition, the 2011 Golding-centenary one:
Did I buy it just for the Stephen King introduction?  Why, yes; yes, I did.  This sort of thing happens if you get deep in the weeds as a King fan.
I'd already encountered King's thoughts about Golding's novel, via his 1999 novella "Low Men in Yellow Coats" (itself a part of the book Hearts In Atlantis).  It's so prominent there that the novella might well be considered a sort of fictional essay about Lord of the Flies.  We'll talk about that a bit toward the end, but my primary goal for this post is to consider Golding's novel through the lens of King's introduction to this edition of it.
Before we do that, I suppose perhaps a few words of my own reaction are in order.  I loved it!  I didn't think I would for a while there.  I was restless and distracted for the first, oh, two thirds or so; but once the novel began grabbing me in the final third, it really grabbed me.  I've mentioned elsewhere recently that I'm having real problems on a reading-comprehension level.  My brain is just plain old fried, I think.  I don't believe it's necessarily a permanent thing; I think I've just been encouraging it to multitask too much, and there's only so much CPU power to be spared, which means that any one task is necessarily limited in terms of the resources headed its way.  Apparently about 20% of it is permanently tasked now with hanging on to snatches of songs and vomiting them up incessantly.  This has become such an issue that I've -- crazy-person-typing alert! -- taken to imagining a volume knob and envisioning myself turning it down to zero.  It helps marginally.
Anyways, my point is that when I did not necessarily find myself feeling all that engaged by Golding's classic right off the bat, I was inclined to chalk it up more to a failing on my part than to any sort of inherent weakness in the material.  A restless brain does not make for a good sponge, and a good sponge is preferred for reading.  Even so, once the shit began hitting the fan on that island, Golding began getting through to me more forcibly, even though my reading ability continued to be scattershot at best.  That's how I know the novel is great; even my foggy brain was letting a good amount of light from it through.
The world has no need for me to attempt an analysis of it, so I won't do much of that.  I think I'll likely return to it someday, though, and attempt one then; this will almost certainly be in the guise of background work whenever I decide to tackle Hearts In Atlantis.  I'm content for my thoughts on the subject to remain shallow until then.  Well, "shallow."  It's hard for the mind not to go to some deep-water type places in connection with this one.  After all, I am still living in 2021, a year which continues to see sharp divides within American culture, to put it mildly.  They are perhaps more aptly described as fault lines, and one senses that the Big One has yet to hit.
Point is, I'm in a dark mood these days as it pertains to human nature, and so I found myself responding to Lord of the Flies from that mindset.  Toward the end, when Ralph is being hunted by Jack and the other biguns, I actually found myself rooting for Ralph to figure out a way to violently retake control of the island.  His first step along those lines would have been to find Roger, slit his throat, and deprive Jack of his most dangerous warrior; then, Jack himself gets the blade.
Now, I'm not sure this is the type of reaction one ought to be having to Lord of the Flies.  But what else would one do in that situation?  Diplomacy has failed, and one is being literally hunted by the masses with the intent to deprive your body of its life.  So surely proactive murder is permissible in such a situation, yes?
I'd very much like to never find myself in a situation even remotely resembling Ralph's, of course.  The existential dread of 2021 America, with its Marjorie Taylor Greens and its Joe Manchins and its Maxine Waterses and the assorted other cretins with which one is confronted if one opts not to ignore the news, is enough for me.  But we do increasingly seem to be trapped on a philosophical island of some sort; I'm not even Ralph, or Piggy or Simon -- I'm probably one of the littluns.
Let's check out some of King's thoughts from his introduction:

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 23

Well, folks, I believe this is going to be the final entry in this series.  It's not because I'm tired of writing them (I'm not), or because the pandemic is over (it isn't), but because I don't believe there's going to be any way of declaring the pandemic to actually be over.  So instead, we're going to mark the end of this series by the administration of my vaccine.  Seems fair, and on the same day I watched the first movie which we'll cover here, I got my first dose.  Of the Pfizer shot, if you wondered.  Did it hurt?  Barely felt it, and my arm wasn't even sore the next day.
Halfway there!
Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)

I'd seen this several times, but not in the better part of twenty years.  I am pleased to say that it was every bit as delightful as I remembered.
The story is about a caretaker named Darby O'Gill, whose employer -- the Lord of the estate which he caretakes -- decides he is perhaps a bit long in the tooth to continue to do the arduous job.  He's hired a younger man (Sean Connery) and brought him to the estate to introduce him.  He breaks the bad news to Darby, and buggers off to who-knows-where, leaving the definitely-Irish Michael McBride (the definitely-Scottish-but-trying-to-pretend-not-to-be Connery) to hang around awkwardly.  Which he is very happy to do when he gets one good look at Darby's daughter, the leaning-toward-spinsterdom Katie O'Gill.  
Darby is a kindly old soul, but one who is entirely too predisposed toward hanging out in the local pub, telling tall tales about his adventures with the leprechauns who live on nearby Knocknasheega Mountain.  Despondent over the impending loss of his way of living -- and of having to put his daughter out of the only home she's ever known -- Darby goes off hunting poachers one night, only to end up on Knocknasheega.  The "come hither" has been put on him by the King of the leprechauns, who has heard of his plight and decided to intervene by giving him a place to live in their home under the mountain.  Oh, and he can't leave, so settle in, Darby m'lad.
Turns out, though, Darby is every bit as wily a trickster as King Brian Connors himself, and he soon gins up a way to get out of Knocknasheega and even trap the King into having to grant him three wishes.  From there, things begin taking turns, and matters get quite thoroughly dark before all is said and done.  If this movie is famous for anything other than being Sean Connery's biggest pre-007 role, it's got to be for the horror-movie imagery of the Banshee and the Death Cab which show up in the final act.  It's potent stuff for the wee ones; and not by any means impotent stuff for the rest of us.  Sure, the jaded among us will laugh it off as being cheesy, but don't bother listening to the jaded; that won't do you no good, generally speaking.
The movie ought to famous (and in some circles is) for its absolutely superb special effect.  There are several scenes in which Darby interacts in a single shot with King Brian Connors, and the effects used to create this illusion are nothing short of magic.  There are some shots where the illusion is broken a bit, but most of the major shots are so convincing that you almost can't believe what you're seeing.  So much so that you almost CAN believe what you're seeing, is what I mean to suggest; I'd be willing to bet that some viewers in 1959 halfway assumed that Walt Disney really had gone and caught some actual leprechauns.  Disney filmed some scenes with "King Brian" as part of his television show, too, hyping the idea that he had indeed found the end of the rainbow.  From what I recall, those shots were every bit as marvelously achieved as the ones in the movie!
Again, the jaded among us will scoff at some of this stuff.  They'll point out that these scenes do nothing CGI can't.  I'll point out that for a movie made two decades plus before the first CGI shot in a movie, this stuff is utterly mind-blowing.
The movie itself is just marvelous, and probably ought to have a better reputation than it has.  Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O'Dea are tremendous as Darby and King Brian, and Janet Munro is very charming as Katie.  Connery isn't operating at James Bond levels of charm quite yet, but you can see it developing.  He's even got a decent singing voice!
Highly recommended.

Friday, April 9, 2021

A(n almost certainly incomplete and at-best-marginally-worthwhile) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 4

We begin Part 4 (here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) with something that is not technically an audiobook at all:
1998 -- Pet Sematary
(radio adaptation produced by the BBC; released by Simon & Schuster Audioworks)

The cassette release billed it as "a fully-dramatized multi-voice presentation," but let's be clear: it was a radio drama.  It even debuted on the radio: on BBC Radio 4, to be specific -- in six half-hour episodes during early 1997.  A year later, Simon & Schuster put the episodes on tape here in America, and that was the only "audiobook" version of Pet Sematary available on the mass market for the next twenty years.
One's enjoyment of this version will be dependent upon whether one can cope with radio dramas.  I can, so I find this to be fairly fun.  (Well, "fun."  This IS Pet Sematary.)  Mayhap you will, too!  But you may not find a physical copy very easily.  Check out the prices this sucker is commanding on the secondhand market as of March 30, 2020:

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 22

Welcome back, lads 'n' lasses, for another review roundup.  Let's take a moment to acknowledge a handful of Stephen-King-on-film projects which have been announced recently:
  • Edgar Wright -- Edgar Wright! -- is allegedly going to direct a new version of The Running Man, one which hews more closely to the novel.
  • Jack Bender is allegedly directing a movie based on Elevation.
  • Paramount+ is allegedly making a prequel to the 2019 Pet Sematary reboot, which had damn well better turn out to be the never-before-told tale of Hanratty the bull.
  • Steven Spielberg and the Duffer Brothers will allegedly be co-producing a series for Netflix based on The Talisman, which has occasioned many news outlets' forgetting that Peter Straub even exists. 
  • Some dude whose name I can't remember will allegedly be developing a television series based on "The Jaunt."  I've used the word "allegedly" with great purpose in this list, and if I may build upon that, I am outright stating that this Jaunt series will never happen.  The others on the list might.  This?  Forget it.
These join a number of other allegedly-in-the-works projects, such as:
  • J.J. Abrams' HBO Max series The Overlook
  • Andre Ovredal's movie based on The Long Walk 
  • Keith Thomas's movie based on Firestarter, starring Zac Efron
  • James Wan's productions of both 'Salem's Lot and The Tommyknockers 
  • Alex Ross Perry's remake of The Dark Half 
  • Lynne Ramsay's movie based on The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 
  • the adaptation of From a Buick 8 Thomas Jane is producing
  • the AMC series based on Sleeping Beauties 
  • the HBO Max movie based on "Throttle"
  • Darren Aronofsky's The Life of Chuck 
  • John Lee Hancock's Mr. Harrigan's Phone 
  • Ben Stiller's Rat 
  • a David E. Kelley-produced miniseries based on The Institute
Of those, I'd wager that only two or three of them end up getting made.  There's been no news on most of them in a while; several are likely dead already.  That's how it works in Hollywood.
We'll see!
First up for us in this review of movies and shows that DID happen, King-related or not:
WandaVision (2021)

I've written about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before, and am pleased that this series of pandemic posts gives me an opportunity to say a few words about WandaVision, the MCU's first Disney+ original miniseries.
I'll spoil none of its twists and turns here, but I will be definitive about one thing: I thought this was pretty damn terrific.  Much of the internet seems to have been let down by episode nine, the finale, but I thought it was fine.  If the entire miniseries had been only as good as that episode, we're still talking about a B+ or so; well worth my viewing time.  It did play as a disappointment even for me, though, because the eight episodes which preceded it were often exceptional.  And it's that we should focus on.
The setup is ... hard to describe.  It's basically Wanda Maximoff and The Vision playing suburban newlyweds in a series of sitcom parodies.  There's more to it than that, obviously, and you might or might not be inclined to be patient enough to let the series get to that stuff.  Without giving too much away, I'll just say that Wanda knows she's in a kinda of quasi-holodeck fantasy world; Vision does not.  If you've seen Infinity War, you can probably make an educated guess about what's going on here.
The joy of the series is how incredibly good both Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany are in their roles.  These two are Emmy worthy, and it's really great to see them given their own showcase.  They were both always good when they showed up in the Avengers films, but it also seemed a bit like a waste of their talents.  One suspects that the fine folk at Marvel must have had some inkling all along that they were going to eventually be expanded in importance, and buddy, here it is.  Given the mostly-rapturous reception the series got online, I think it's now quite possible to argue that both Wanda and Vision have joined many of the other Avengers in both importance and popularity.  That's a hell of a feat, but it's one made considerably simpler when you've got Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany to lean on.  They are hilarious, until the time comes for them not to be; and then, they are everything else you would want, as well.
The series also managed to use itself as a launching pad to bring Monica "Photon" Rambeau into the MCU, and, as played by Teyonah Parris, she made a strong impression on me.  She'll be appearing in other MCU productions, starting with Captain Marvel 2, and that's fine by me.  
There's plenty more to be said about this series; I'm not going to say it here, but if you saw it and want to talk about it, please do visit the comments.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

This Is A Horror Story: A Review of "Later"

I intended initially to just lump this review of Later in with the rest of the books in my first "Books I Read In 2021" post, and indeed that's how I wrote it.  But it occurred to me tonight that that post might be in the oven for a while before it's finished baking.  So why not go ahead and get these thoughts on into the world?  Why wait until later?
Why indeed.

Lots to talk about with this one.  Here's your spoiler warning: I'll be talking about some things you don't want to know unless you learn them from the novel itself.  You've been warned!
Before we get into the spoilers, let's wrestle with an issue that has been somewhat controversial; not for the first time, either.  I refer to the issue of whether this novel makes sense as a Hard Case Crime Publication.
I'll confess to knowing little about their overall line of books.  I've read King's three, plus one Max Allan Collins that I enjoyed; and have read a handful of McMolo reviews at Dog Star Omnibus.  That's scarcely an amateur's knowledge, though, so I will have to yield any definitive opinion as to whether Later makes sense as a Hard Case Crime release to somebody with a bit more expertise.
My perception?  Yeah, more or less; it did.  It takes a while for it to get to the crime-centric aspects, but they do eventually arise, and they are suitably pulpy, albeit with a modern twist.  
If anything, Later makes more sense for Hard Case Crime than either of King's previous titles for them The Colorado Kid or Joyland do, so we're getting there, I guess.  The Colorado Kid (love it though I do) is more about journalism than about crime, or even mystery; Joyland definitively has a murder mystery in it, but does it have any detectives or any of the elements one thinks of when one thinks of hardboiled crime fiction?  Not sure I'd argue that it does.