Monday, January 14, 2019

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 16 (2018)

It's been quite some time since I cranked up this here tour bus; truth be told, I'm not too sure it's still in good running order.  But y'all pile on in; that's right!, don't be shy, you don't need no ticket, just get onboard.
Now, let's see if this baby'll crank.  (You hear me, baby?  Crank for these nice people!)
Here goes...
Well, how about that?  Aw, she still purrs like a doggone kitten, doesn't she?
Well, okey doke, Constant Readers, let's hit the road again, at long last!  
If you'll look to your left, you'll see our first stop:

"All I Care About Is You"
(short story by Joe Hill)
  • published in the anthology The Weight of Words, December 21, 2017
  • uncollected

Hey, you cheated!  This is a 2017 release!

It's true; I did, and it is.  Earlier entries in this series of posts did not include individual short stories by Joe Hill, Owen King, etc. for the most part; I felt like Stephen himself ought to remain the primary focus, and just thought it might be better not to include too much stuff by his various family members.

However, I've decided to update this Guided Tour series annually with year-of-King types retrospectives, and so I thought perhaps it might make sense to begin including some of the things I was omitting in the longer, multi-year posts.

So here we are, opening the King Year Of 2018 by grandfathering in a lingering bit of (Joseph Hillstrom) King fiction. 
And boy howdy is it a good one. 
For my money, "All I Care About Is you" immediately vaulted into the upper echelons of Hill's short fiction, alongside "Pop Art" and "20th Century Ghost."  It's a whimsical (?) sci-fi tale about a girl and her father and a mermaid and a robot, and it may leave you with a dropped jaw and a desire to turn right back to the first page and begin reading it a second time.  It did me, that's for sure.

Silver Bullet
(Blu-ray home-video release)
released by Umbrella Entertainment on January 12, 2018

I get that her name won't sell any Blu-rays, but Megan Follows ought to be credited on this front cover.

Monday, January 7, 2019

''Sleepwalkers'' Revisited, Part 5: A Review of the Scream! Factory Blu-ray

Surprise!  You only thought this series had ended.
I thought it had ended, too, but since Scream! Factory has seen fit to grace us with a special-edition Blu-ray complete with about an hour's worth of new segments interviewing various of the film's participants, I thought it made sense to write a review of it and call it Part 5 of my Sleepwalkers Revisited series.
Those enlightened among you who wish to check out the first four posts in this series can do so here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

This fifth and final (?) installment will focus not on the movie itself, but on interesting bits from the bonus features found on the Blu-ray.
We'll begin with the interview segments.  First up:
Which is not focused directly on the film's cat problems, as the title might lead you to expect.  Instead, it's a general-purpose eighteen-minute interview with the director. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Television Review: "The Fifth Quarter" (2006)

Here's what I had to say about this episode in 2016 when last I ranked all of King's movies and tv shows:
Coming from a decidedly slight short story (one which King originally published under the pseudonym "John Swithen"), this tale was an odd choice for inclusion in Nightmares & Dreamscapes (the miniseries, that is, not the book).

The episode is a moderately well-made adaptation, but the story just doesn't amount to a whole heck of a lot, so the best thing you can say about the episode is that it's mediocre.
I can now reveal to you that those words were a pure bluff.  When I wrote them, I couldn't remember a dadgum thing about "The Fifth Quarter" in prose or television form.  I had a vague sense that the adaptation had added a bunch of stuff that wasn't in the story (which is true), but beyond that, I had bupkes.

I'll be better-prepared this time...


The TNT adaptation of "The Fifth Quarter" was the sixth episode of the 2006 miniseries Nightmares & Dreamscapes, which was mostly (though not exclusively) based on stories collected in the book Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  I say "not exclusively" because two episodes are based on stories from Everything's Eventual, and one on a story from Night Shift.

Confused yet?  So was the person selecting the stories, I think.  This is true not only due to the title/collection confusion, but also due to the presence of "The Fifth Quarter" in more or less ANY miniseries adapted from King stories.  You've got (I assume) dozens of tales to select from, and you end up with the mediocrity that is "The Fifth Quarter" on your final list?  I don't get that as a choice, man; I surely do not.

But let me be clear: while I think "The Fifth Quarter" the story is a mediocrity (and asserted it in review form here), I mean just that.  And "mediocre" is different than "bad."  So don't think I'm sitting here clowning that story; I'm not, so by extension, I'm not quite clowning the decision to adapt it.  I think better stories by far could have been picked, but could a perfectly acceptable hour of television have been the result?  Sure, why not?

I'm about to argue that that, sadly, did NOT happen.  Could have; didn't.  Not as I see it, at least.

I'm quite down-in-the-mouth as regards Nightmares & Dreamscapes in general, actually.  Even the universally-well-regarded "Battleground" episode sometimes leaves me grumpy; other times I think it is wonderful.  I'm a rollercoaster of emotions with that one, for whatever reason.  But I'm a lot more stable with the remaining seven episodes, all of which I dislike, some intensely.

"The Fifth Quarter" isn't one of the ones I dislike intensely, but I do dislike it, and for most of the same reasons I dislike the others: it just feels like cheap early-to-mid-'00s television to me.  I'm not sure it actually was cheap -- the cast for the miniseries as a whole is fairly good, and there are some quality directors onboard as well -- but it looks it.  The cinematography is consistently cut-rate; the editing is showy but ineffective; the musical score is generic sonic wallpaper.

Maybe we'll get into some of that in more depth later on, but for now, let's focus on the changes screenwriter Alan Sharp made to King's source material.  The story itself is set in a mere two locations and has a mere four characters.  This is PRIME cheap-television material; why you'd consider expanding the story to include an additional half-a-dozen or so characters and a handful more locations is kind of a mystery to me.  Especially since the story you're drawing from is alright as-is.  Nothing special, but if you get the right actors in the roles and the right filmmakers behind the camera, you could turn it into an enjoyable exercise in tension.

Monday, December 31, 2018

I Had a Lot to Be Careful For: A Review of "The Fifth Quarter"

Today, "The Fifth Quarter" is up to bat.
It's not much of a story, to be honest.  I sense already I'm going to struggle a bit for things to say, but that's okay, because I've got an ace up my sleeve.  Of sorts.
"The Fifth Quarter" was originally published (under the pseudonym John Swithen) in the April 1972 issue of Cavalier.  It also appeared in Cavalier's 1973 annual, and would later be reprinted in the February 1986 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine before being collected in 1993's Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
Because it's the 1993 version of the story which most readers will encounter, that's the version we'll be considering.  However, I do have scans of the Cavalier and TZ versions of the story, and once I've said my piece about the story itself, I'm going to do something that I hope to do for a number of other King stories eventually: have a look at variations in the text from one version to the next.
If that sounds dry as mummy-humping to you, well, that's how it goes sometimes.  And speaking of humping:
No "John Swithen" graces the front cover of the magazine where the story initially appeared.  No surprise there, I guess.
I love seeing the artwork many of these stories had in their original appearances.  This appears in both the regular Cavalier issue and the annual.
"The Fifth Quarter" is a tale about a guy whose friend is killed when a heist he's part of goes wrong.  Partly as an act of revenge for his murdered pal, and partly -- mostly -- in an attempt to score the proceeds for himself, the unnamed protagonist goes on a small quest to track down the other three members of the four-man crew.

It doesn't go entirely to plan, of course.  He tracks down two of the crooks and corners them while they're in the same place; but as it turns out, the fourth and final member of the crew has also been tailing them.  So now he's tailing the narrator as well, having essentially allowed him to do most of the dirty work beforehand.

It isn't a bad story; or at least, I find it to be harmless enough.  Your mileage may vary.  I would have a hard time believing it's any King fan's favorite, either.  It just doesn't amount to a whole heck of a lot in the end.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Books I Read In 2018, Part 3

After a strong start, 2018 proved to be a disappointment to me in terms of the number of books I read.  Summer (and much of the spring and fall) was a complete wash.
However, I'm hoping for a strong finish, and either way I'm going to talk about it.
Let's see how I did, beginning with:
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
Pressed for an answer to the question "What is your absolute favorite novel?" I would likely answer "Dune by Frank Herbert."  I reread (and blogged about) that awesome work of science fiction last summer, and revisited the awesome (and underrated) sequel this summer. And my takeaway from a fresh visit with the sequel is that it might be better even than the original.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Worst To Best: Stephen King Books (2018 Edition)

Disclaimer: This is (I think) the fifth version of this list that I've put together.  If you've read any of those, you've read much of this one; there's some rewriting here, but much of it is simply repurposed from previous editions.  (Which meant copying and pasting, which meant weird formatting glitches; Blogger gets pissed off if you copy and paste, and while I've eleminated as much of the formatting weirdness as I could, some of it lurks nevertheless.  So if you see places where there are too many lines between paragraphs ... well, I tried.)

The previous incarnations can be found by digging around, if you're interested enough to look for them.  I suppose doing so would give you some insight into how wrong I always manage to get these things the evolution of my thinking about some of the titles; that's a thing that sort of matters to me, which is why I've kept the older versions online.  If it matters 0% to you: trust me, I got no issue with that.
As always, I urge you not to take the list too seriously.  I generally go with my gut, and my gut fluctuates; it's influenced by recent rereads, or by podcast episodes discussing the works, or by conversations I have with correspondents and friends about these things, or by ... well, by the way the wind is blowing, maybe.  
One thing I always struggle with is determining what to actually count as a "Stephen King book."  This is not as clear-cut an issue as it might seem.  Some items are clear.  There's no scenario in which The Shining wouldn't count.  With other titles, there's considerably more room for interpretation as to what the designation "book" actually means.  I've done version of these rankings where I tossed everything I could think of in; this version is more of a leaving-things-out take on the topic.
But I thought it might be useful to deal with some of the omitted titles up front, and establish some guidelines for why I decided (this time) to not formally rank them.  There's a whopping thirty of those; let's go through them in alphabetical order.
It's demonstrably a book, as are the other 29 omitted titles.  But what do we mean when we say "Stephen King book"?  To some extent, I think we mean prose, and this graphic novel is only partially prose.  In the past, I've struggled to figure out how to compare this to, say, Thinner or Rose Madder.  I might not be a fan of the latter, but it delivers more "Stephen King" to me than this comic does.  Which is not a criticism of the comic.  If King had continued to work on the series, or certainly if he was the sole writer, I'd likely have left it in.  (If, for example, I were ranking Joe Hill's books, that ranking would definitely include Locke & Key.)  But this was a part-time summer job for King, not a career; so for now, I feel like it doesn't quite belong on this list as a ranked title.
This is the first of a trio of books which are collections of interviews with King.  I love love love Bare Bones and in many ways do consider it to be a nonfiction book by King.  But at the end of the day, he did not edit the individual interviews, nor did he edit the book overall, and may not even have been kosher with it being released.  Great, great stuff; but probably not really best considered to be a King book.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Movie Review: "The Dark Tower" (2017)

The wheel has finally turned.  It is, at long last, time for:
There aren't many movies in my lifetime that I've wanted to see more than I wanted to see this one.  And it was, of course, a complete letdown.
I've probably wanted to see nothing in my life more than I wanted to see the first of the Star Wars prequels.  I'm old enough to remember a time when there weren't going to be any more Star Wars films; then, suddenly, there were: the long-rumored prequels.  I was so excited about The Phantom Menace that I can -- to this day -- vividly recall having a nightmare about it.  This happened about a year before the movie was released; I had a nightmare in which I went to see the movie and it sucked.  I woke up and may literally have breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Oh, thank God it was only a dream!"  But that ended up not to be true, didn't it?
Luckily, I also know something of what the opposite of that feels like.  Another of my most-anticipated films ever was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  I remember sitting with a friend watching the first trailer, and us being giddy about it and wondering aloud the kinds of things you should never wonder aloud about movies: what if it is not only good, but SO good that, like, it wins a shitload of Oscars?  What if it makes, like, $300 million?  That one turned out quite nicely.
The Dark Tower is somewhere between those two.  In truth, I was never excited about the movie.  I was excited about the idea of the movie.  Well, not "the" movie; "a" Dark Tower movie, yes, but never this particular one.  It became real evident real quick that this was going to bear very little relation to the movie playing in my head; so it never had a chance to really get me pumped up with true anticipation.  
However, in the let's-make-a-movie-someday stage of things, yeah, absolutely: this is about as hyped as I can get.  I used to think things like hey, what if they made about seven or eight Dark Tower movies?  What if they were all huge hits and did SO well that people made spinoffs and did, like, a whole King Universe thing?  What if the chick who played Susannah won an Oscar for it?
You know.  Shit like that.
Clearly, that didn't happen.  In theory, I guess it still could, but I'd say the chances are nil for about fifteen more years of anyone even trying, much less succeeding.
Still, it's plain that at some point in time, at least a few Hollywood movers and shakers were thinking along similar lines, if only in a theoretical sense.  At some point in time -- let's say it was around the beginning of the decade -- the film industry developed a rabid desire for long-running franchises.  There was probably nothing in a single one of the Dark Tower novel that made studio executives excited to make a movie; but since there were SEVEN of them (nobody told them about The Wind Through the Keyhole, guaranteed), we-he-HELL! now, THAT'S something different!  THAT sounds like a franchise, fellas.  All we have to do is buy the rights, sit back, and count our bonuses as they come rolling in.  Whuzzat?  Figure out how to MAKE the movies?!?  Christ, that's just details.
If that sounds like a cynical take, let's not necessarily feel that way.  In theory, I love big franchises.  It's what our culture as a whole has decided it likes about going to the movies, and there's at least one example -- the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- of this type of thing being pulled off at an extraordinarily high level.  There have been flops, too; the world is still laughing about the Dark Universe that Universal tried to gin up with its classic-monsters properties.  Oh-ho-ho!  Oh, how we laugh about that one.
But in theory, a Dark Tower franchise could have been a resounding success.  So why not aim for it?  Why not make two decades' worth of movies and/or television shows set in (or spinning off from) that universe of storytelling?  It is a perfectly reasonable desire from a studio standpoint, and by golly if this property doesn't fit the model (albeit imperfectly in some ways).  Furthermore, what King and/or Tower fan would balk at the idea?
No sir, there's no cynicism whatsoever from me as it relates to the idea of doing that.
There's quite a bit of cynicism in me regarding how Sony and MRC went about actually trying it, though.  And rest assured, that cynicism is likely to be vented at full pressure throughout this review.  Because they bungled it.  They fumbled the ball on first down; they struck out looking; they bricked both free-throws.  I don't know cricket, but I assume "sticky wicket" might apply, too.  Feel free to apply your own sports-fail metaphors; they'll all work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hear Me, Hear Me!

Just a quick little note here: I was recently invited to guest on Lou Sytsma's The Stephen King Podcast and speak on the subject of Mike Flanagan's filmography.  
We talked about all of his movies a bit, with the focus being figuring out how we feel about the prospects of Flanagan's currently-filming adaptation of Doctor Sleep.
Spoiler alert: we're feeling pretty good about it.
Check it out here, if you've a mind to!
It was a lot of fun, and I thank Lou for asking me to come on and run my mouth for an hour!

Friday, November 16, 2018

What I Watched This "October" (2018 Edition), Part 10

I had a big ol' pile of movies that I wanted to work my way through this October, and I got a fair number of 'em crossed off the list.  But not all of them.  Since the would-be list for 2019 is already unmanageable, I don't want to overburden it further by adding 2018 holdovers (some of which are themselves 2017 holdovers).  Lest they get permanently shoved to the sidelines, I've decided to just keep right on a-watchin', and to cover it all here. 
And here that coverage is.
We begin with:

I'd seen Robert Wise's The Haunting once, years ago; it didn't do a whole heck of a lot for me, to be honest.  But I wanted to watch it again before tackling Mike Flanagan's Netflix series (stay tuned, we'll be covering that right after this), and so I did.
Unsurprisingly, I got a lot more out of it this time.  I listened to an audiobook of Shirley Jackson's novel (The Haunting of Hill House) first, narrated by the great David Warner.  The movie is a faithful enough adaptation, although a few key details definitely get changed, especially toward the end. 
What makes this adaptation work, apart from the source material and the production design and the score by Humphrey Searle, is the casting.  Everyone in this is well chosen for the roles they are playing.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Brief Review of ''Elevation''

A new Stephen King book came out on the day before Halloween, and my annual rumpus of gorging on horror movies delayed me from beginning it that day.  Plus, I'd only gotten about halfway through Flight Or Fright, and wanted to finish that one first.
And so I did, and moved on straightaway to Elevation, about which I shall tell you more momentarily.

Elevation is a novel.  It says so right there on the cover, which means Stephen King says it's a novel; therefore, it's a novel.
Thing is, Elevation is demonstrably a novella.  It can easily be read in a single sitting (as I would have done if not for pausing a few minutes to go take a load of clothes out of the dryer and hang them up); this is something that simply isn't true of most novels.
A further thing is, it doesn't much matter whether you call Elevation a novel, or a novella, or a salamander, or a marmalute, or a short novel, or a taquito.  Whatever you call it, it's a sweet little tale about a guy who suddenly begins losing weight without losing mass, and finds a way to apply this newfound lightness of being to an existing problem: a mild feud with the married women next door whose dogs occasionally poop on his lawn.
It's a tale that starts well, middles excellently, and kind of peters out at some point right before the end.  It's still pretty good, though; very minor King, I think, but minor King is still worth a read for virtually anyone who has stumbled their way onto this blog.