Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

My Christmas was horrible. Since I promised myself I wouldn't focus on the negative here, I'll just say that I hope it means the worst Christmas of my life is now behind me.  It has left me with some unanswered questions regarding what I want to do in regards to my more extended family, but at this point I've got until March 1st at least to decide.  We shall see.

For now, the year is almost over and so I'm thinking about next year, and what I'd like to accomplish.  It's always around this time that I have to give myself a nudge to quit procrastinating about things.  This time around it's things around the house that are overdue: the tub in my second bathroom is stopped up and unusable, my gutters are in severe need of cleaning, and other such fun things.  I've got plans in place to start tackling these various things one by one which should help.

Another thing I've decided is I really need to stop being embarrassed about who I am.  I've gone to conventions the last two years as my major vacations, and every time at work I tell people I'm going to visit friends.  It's not a lie exactly, but when I come back from Washington DC and haven't visited a single monument or museum, it must seem a little odd to them anyway.  So I'm not going to pretend anymore.  This is starting with bringing in the Marvel Superheroes 2014 calendar that I got as a Christmas gift.  The Avengers was such a huge movie, it's really quite silly at this point to be embarrassed by it.  Yes, it's drawings rather than pictures of Robert Downey, Jr and Chris Helmsworth, but is it really that different?

Part of the problem is that a former friend who used to work here told me once that my coworkers were laughing at me for liking anime.  The silly thing was I'm pretty sure they decided that based on some webcomics I was reading where the artist just happened to be following that style. I do like anime, but I never watched or brought it here.  So there's a part of me that has that feeling they're going to be mocking me behind my back again if I've got Spider-man on my wall, but seeing as how they apparently already look down on me, what have I truly got to lose at this point?  I'd rather have superheroes up than some boring scenic calendar I got from my A/C company.

I also plan to extend this into not being embarrassed to tell people about my writing, podcasts, etc.  There's a part of me that feels like people will think I am weird for doing it.  I guess it's because when I post those things on Facebook, so many of the people I know and see day to day ignore them.  So I assume they think it's stupid.  But I really need to stop caring about that.  I don't mean rubbing it in peoples' faces all the time, but when someone asks me what I've been up to and the answer is editing a podcast, why not just come out and say it?

As long as I feel embarrassed about the things I like and the things I do, I can't feel confidence in myself.  In reality, most of the people who know the things I like do not shun me for them.  Even if friends don't read my blogs, they know I like movies enough that they will ask me my opinion on various films, or recommend some to me that they think I would enjoy.  Nearly everyone that has entered my home and seen my movies, action figures, and posters on display thinks they're awesome.  And most of the people who have reacted negatively are people I don't have much in common with and don't need the approval of anyway.  I am far too old to keep worrying about what other people think.

It's possible something else will strike me soon that I'll turn into a goal for the year, but for now it's going to take a bit of courage to follow through with what I've said above.

Caddyshack

I saw Caddyshack for the first time a couple years ago, and I mostly remember that I found Chevy Chase annoying and Bill Murray amusing.  In that short amount of time I forgot the main plot, as for the majority of the story we're actually following a young guy named Danny who is trying to earn a caddy based scholarship for college.

Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed this picture, and you can see some similarities between this and Meatballs, which he also co-wrote.  Though while Meatballs was a cluttered mess of events happening at a summer camp, the events surrounding this country club golf course are at least better strung together, if not always connected.  Danny's story is probably the most uninteresting, mostly because Michael O'Keefe sort of blends into the background.  The idea of a poor kid trying to get ahead while temptations of girls get in the way is pretty standard.  I think they knew this from the get go, and therefore filled the film with zany characters to help spice it up a bit more.

There's Chevy Chase, a rich man who loves to play golf but isn't interested in keeping score.  He just wants to live his life to the fullest and chase women.  There's Rodney Dangerfield, playing the same character he always plays, except this time he is also rich, and therefore being a foil to the bossy, stuck up judge who runs the country club and causing chaos wherever he goes.  Then there's Bill Murray as the assistant groundskeeper, occasionally interacting with the rest of the cast but largely off in his own world.

I'm not a fan of Chevy Chase myself, and as such I don't enjoy most of the scenes he's in.  He's just too smarmy and unlikeable.  Dangerfield's scenes strike me as at least half improvised, if not more.  His schtick is pretty one note, but it does have its moments.  Murray is definitely the oddest of the group, speaking in a strange muffled accent that makes him hard to understand at times.  But more often than not, the things he's mumbling to himself do end up being entertaining.  I would guess a large portion of his scenes were improvised as well.  His rivalry with the gopher is one of the elements that happens to run for the entirety of the film, and while the gopher puppet isn't the most advanced, it still works well in a cartoonish way.

This movie does rely on fart and poop jokes a little too heavily at times, though it's pretty mild in comparison to what movies would do later in the 90s.  But this is the kind of movie that has someone throw a Baby Ruth candy bar in a pool and have everyone freak out thinking it's poop.  There's also a few moments with topless ladies, for those who enjoy that.  It's all pretty mild compared to some of the raunchier comedies of the day though.  The dialogue is often pretty sharp too, which helps keeps it entertaining even when the plot is dragging.

This is not a film I normally would have returned to if it wasn't for this project.  It's not bad, but it does wander and there just isn't enough there that would keep me coming back.  Honestly I would recommend most people see the Bill Murray moments if you haven't before, and leave the rest for Chase and Dangerfield fans to enjoy. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Beatlemiscellania - Pinky and the Brain - "All You Need is Narf"

The short begins as Pinky is listening to a parody of "I Am the Walrus," filled with even more nonsense lyrics than the original.  He's also gazing at a magazine that has what looks to be pictures of all four Beatles from that time period.



The Brain tells Pinky to turn the racket down as he can't hear himself think.  He's invented the lava lamp, though this variety overflows and holds you in place while you stare it, thereby allowing Brain to take over the world.  He needs a large amount of sandal root to carry out this plan, which he tells Pinky can only be found in India.  He says they will travel there the fastest way possible.  "By yellow submarine?" Pinky asks.  Nope, they're going by mail.  That's the advantage of being mice.  Pinky sings a line of a parody of "Magical Mystery Tour" before getting in the box with Brain.  This version of the Beatles, by the way, are called the Feebles.

Once they arrive in New Delhi, they see a man buying the last bit of sandal root from a dealer because he's going to see the guru.  They follow him to the Maharishi, but the Maharishi is gone.  When the man expresses disappointment that he can't get the answer to why are we here, Pinky answers that he often finds himself in strange places thanks to The Brain, and the man takes it to mean that our brains often lead us to unexpected places.  The people around then begin to worship as a guru and Brain asks them to give them sandal root.

It's hard to keep up with all of Pinky's non sequiturs, but most of them are Beatles references.  He ponders "giving peas a chance" and suggests that Brain call him "Mean Mr. Ketchup." Brain dubs him the Mous-arishi instead.



Walter "Concrete" proclaims the Mous-arishi as the leader of the Flower Power generation.  We see Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and the Smothers Brothers among the people there to hear him speak.  The Feebles lay tons of a sandal root in front of him and they begin to sing together: "All you eat is lunch, all you drink is punch, you don't have time to munch, brunch! All you eat is lunch!"



The Brain wants Pinky to keep seeing more followers to collect the sandal root, but Pinky tells him that he can't see anyone else for six months, because he and the Feebles and holding a sing in to teach people to love each other and brush their teeth.  The Feebles chime in about how peaceful and quiet it is up here in the mountains and how nice it is to get away from all the screaming girls.



The Brain figures he's ruined as he walks away.  He approaches a woman who looks like Yoko Ono waiting at the entrance.  She tells him he looks sad and offers to sing him her happy song, which is of course nothing but screeches and yodeling.  He leads her up to see them all in the hopes her noise will disrupt them.


The Feebles react:
George: "She's awful!"
Paul: "She's terrible!"
Ringo: "She can't sing!"
John: "I love her!"

Technically, John is called Jim here, and Yoko is "Yoyo Nono," but you get the idea.  The Feebles break up and the Mous-arishi is blamed for it.  Brain thinks they're okay because they still have the sandal root, but Pinky tells him that Jim and Yoyo took it back to England for Yoyo's latest performance piece.

They sing "All we are saying is take off your pants" because they want everyone to live without pants like the Mous-arishi did.  Yoyo covers the sandal root with paint or glue or something before screeching one more time for good measure. Brain plans to mail them back to America so they can once more try to cash in on the nexy big youth fad and take over the world.

The ending song outro is sung in a classic Beatles style ending with the "yeah yeah yeah" from "She Loves You" before Pinky shouts "I've got blisters on my fingers! Narf!" which all but the narf are taken from the end of "Helter Skelter."

It seems like the creative team behind Animaniacs weren't satisfied with just parodying the early Beatles with the previous short and so they added this parody of the later Beatles into the Pinky and Brain show.  The problem is that it largely follows the same old thing of making fun of Yoko and blaming them for their breakup.  Its just a little too typical, and the constant bits of her screeching wear thin very quickly.  I think the other little touches here and there are cute, but considering that Yoko wasn't there in India and the Beatles had quit touring a full year before going there, it just becomes a jumble of the facts and doesn't work as well.  I don't really expect them to be accurate here, I just feel like they went for the obvious too often rather than being creative.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Missing Link/B.C. Rock

The late 70s was a time for irreverent cartoons aimed at adults. After the success of his X-rated animated film Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle, French cartoonist Picha created a follow up called The Missing Link. The original was in French, but an English dub was also created. The English version toned down the script in order to avoid the X rating. The soundtrack for the film was done by Leo Sayer, who I know best for his version of "When I Need You." If you're familiar with that song, the style here is fairly similar - that sort of light jazz sound.

 The plot of the film is pretty loose, but primarily follows the adventures of O, suggested by the narrator to be the missing link between cavemen and humanity. This is not meant to be any where near historically accurate, as the cavemen live in the same time as the dinosaurs, as well as some made up species like the No-Lobes (bald identical men who speak in cliches) and unnamed female feline creatures who seem to be on the same intelligence level as the cavemen if not a little smarter.
There's also a dragon thrown in for good measure, and in the English version he is voiced by an uncredited Bill Murray.

The humor here, such as it is, depends on raunchiness and shock value. In the beginning, the cavemen, who are fully nude and have their little tiny penises exposed at all times, don't know how to make love to the cavewomen, who all have ginormous breasts, until they view a stegosaurus mount another stegosaurus. The stegosaurus union also results in the male getting cut in half as he humps the female, because her plates are just that sharp, I guess. While the film does get away from this for a while when O goes out on his own, it doesn't really get any funnier.

O wanders the world, first with his brontosaurus dog-like companion Igua, then with a talking pterodactyl named Croak who wants to teach him things and show him the world. O, Croak, the no-lobes, and the dragon are pretty much the only characters who talk - all the other creatures are silent or speak in gibberish. There is a narrator trying to hold it all together, but more often than not this just becomes a bunch of barely connected scenes that are only vaguely interesting. The dragon is thoroughly ridiculous, and even Murray can't really save it. Apparently, dragons actually shoot fire out of their ass. When O sticks a cork up the dragon's butt, he's able to breathe fire after a bit of indigestion. He also curses a lot, calling O an asshole with just about every sentence he speaks. He eventually gets propelled away from him when the fire shoots from his mouth and he flies off like a rocket.

The point of O's various misadventures is for him to learn about fire, the wheel, clothing, and other such early caveman knowledge. He returns to the other cavemen and teaches them this, becoming their ruler. But it isn't long before they overthrow him, and use the things he taught them to become the most powerful creatures on earth. The dinosaurs commit mass suicide, the once large rats shrink in fear of them, etc. So see, the film wasn't just all shock value, it was about how evil man is and how he's ruining everything. Yeah, sure.

 In 1984, another version of the film was released, this time titled B.C. Rock. The footage was re-cut and the audio redone, replacing a few of Leo Sayer's songs with ones by popular musicians of the time including Hall & Oates and Genesis.The narrator was also replaced, this time being O telling us his story, though O is renamed to Stewie Babcock.  More of the characters are able to talk, but most of the time they either state the obvious or make some weak jokes.  The rock music does help to make some of the previously silent scenes more interesting, but none of the songs really stand out as something strong I'd listen to on their own.  The dragon scene is identical, as they clearly just used Murray's previous recording and combined it with the new lead responding to him.

In the end, I can't recommend either version of this movie.  The music is uninteresting, the animation is below average, the humor isn't funny, and the story is weak.  While it seems to have a small cult following, overall this movie has disappeared into obscurity for a reason.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Where the Buffalo Roam

Long before Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas became a film, there was Where the Buffalo Roam.  Made in 1980, it was an attempt to make a film out of Hunter S. Thompson's obituary for Oscar Zeta Acosta.  It stars Bill Murray as Thompson, which is why I'm reviewing it.

The film doesn't truly have a plot as much as it is just Thompson looking back at three moments in his life where he interacted with his friend, in the film named Carl Lazlo.  Lazlo is an attorney in the beginning, and he's on the side of the youth culture in the late 60s.  We see him defending young kids who were busted for marijuana possession, and then we fast forward to four years later when he is no longer an attorney and instead a freedom fighter trying to help an unnamed Latin American country.  Thompson runs into him one more time when covering the 1972 presidential election where he ends up getting Thompson thrown off the press plane.  In between these moments we see Thompson under the heavy influence of drugs and alcohol messing with people, speaking at a university, and just being his weird self.

I have to admit, I'm not a particularly big fan of Thompson or his style.  It's a little too out there for me, and a little too drug addled to be interesting.  I enjoyed the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but that was primarily because it did a good job of showing us just what Thompson was seeing while under the influence, and also had a decent amount of humor to it.  Where the Buffalo Roam doesn't have either of those things.  The one scene that is at least slightly amusing is when Thompson gives another reporter an hallucinogenic drug. It's mostly worth it because Rene Auburjonois plays the straight laced man under the influence with a nice amount of humor.  But it's also not terribly different that any other such scene you've ever watched in film and television.

Credit should be given to Bill Murray however, who portrays Hunter S. Thompson very accurately.  It's hard to look at Bill Murray and forget who he is most of the time, but here I was able to forget for a while and just see him as Thompson.  The two of them apparently spent quite a bit of time together before and during filming, and he clearly absorbed his mannerisms and ways of speaking very well.

Overall, I can't recommend this one unless you're a fan of Thompson, or perhaps if you really enjoyed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and wanted to see more of him.  For the average person, this film is just too messy and not particularly funny.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - Cujo


I don't know why I never read Cujo as a kid, but I'm glad this project gave me the chance to go back and read it. Had I known that the main conflict of the story centered around a woman and her child trapped inside a car, I might have read it sooner.  The strength of Gerald's Game is all about the main character being chained to a bed unable to move, and it's obvious to me now that Cujo was a precursor to that kind of story.  King excels when he shows us the thought processes going on in people's heads, and this kind of claustrophobic setting is perfect for that.  But you can't describe thought processes in a movie, so what do you do instead?


From the opening scene, they do a great job of handling that.  There's no dialogue, but if you were ever afraid of the dark as a kid, you recognize what's going on in Tad's head immediately:  Psyching yourself to turn off the light and looking over to your bed and feeling like it's so far away to safety.  I can't tell you how many times I did similar things as a child.  Partially it's the excellent camera work here that sells it, but I think Danny Pintauro as Tad also deserves some credit for pulling this off so well.  He would go on to play the son in Who's the Boss not long after he made this film, and he's a pretty good child actor.

The book has Cujo bitten very early on, but I believe that is because King did his homework on how long it takes for rabies to set in.  Since this is one of the rare books where he's dealing with a real threat rather than monsters or some form of science fiction, that kind of realism is essential, and while I'm by no means a rabies expert, from what I can tell he handled it accurately.

Of course he also writes from the perspective of Cujo himself at parts here, so I guess it's not 100% grounded in reality.  

Once he's bitten you could easily get frustrated waiting for the action to happen, as King goes through a long set of events to explain just how Donna and Tad could be stuck here with no one to help them for quite some time.  Of course in a modern telling this wouldn't really work, as Donna would have a cell phone on her and she would just call for help.  I guess we'll see what they decide to do in the remake, if they ever release it.

The movie covers all the events of the book, just condensing them slightly to save us some time.  Charity Camber contemplating divorce and introducing her son to her more well off sister is completely dropped, and that's logical.  Her husband Joe dies pretty early on, so her indecision is kind of pointless.  I understand what King was going for, as Charity ultimately decides to stay, and then she comes home to find that the choice has already been made for her, but it's also not essential to the core story.

The whole issue Vic faces with his ad company is largely condensed, and once again that's for the best.  In the book it's an obvious macguffin to force Vic away from his family, but King also felt it necessary to really give it its own plot point and explore how it gets resolved, and to be quite honest, I just didn't care.  Especially when his wife and child are trapped in a hot car with a rabid dog outside it, I really don't care how they're going to change their marketing approach for a cereal company.

Once again, the movie does a great job of showing us Donna's thought processes while in the car without having her say a word. Quick cuts that show us what Donna is looking at along with her actions give us pretty strong clues about what she's trying to accomplish and what's going on in her mind.  The tension builds appropriately and it works pretty well.

I did find it a bit troubling that the two female characters in the book are weak willed women.  Charity puts up with her husband's abuse because she thinks it's her lot in life, and Donna cheats on her husband because she's bored and feeling old.  Even when she's trapped in the car, Donna frets about what her husband would be able to do and how men have it so much better.  This is a recurring problem I see in King's earlier works, though I think he has made up for it in more recent novels.

I also have to admit that Donna's adultery is essential, as the Steve Kemp red herring does help to build up the drama and increase the tension.  All you want is for these two to be rescued, but it makes absolute perfect sense that both Vic and the police would be following the possible kidnapping angle instead.  Without it, things might get wrapped up just a little too neatly.

The ending of the book caught me off guard.  You would think that after reading Pet Sematary, I would know that King would not hesitate to do something as tragic as kill a child if it served the story.  But much like Donna, I found myself in denial at first, unable to believe he could really be gone.  Her frantic attempts to revive him after going through so much to protect him absolutely break your heart.

I was however not the least bit surprised that the movie changed that.  King himself wrote a screenplay for the film where he also saved Tad.  These days, they wouldn't.  Look at the ending of The Mist, after all.  But in 1983, things had to be at least a little closer to happily ever after.

Overall I'd recommend both versions of this story, though both have their problems that prevent them from reaching greatness.

Since next Wednesday is Christmas and the following New Year's, Castle Rock Companion will take a two week break before returning as normal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Beatlemiscellania - Animaniacs - "A Hard Day's Warners"

As the name suggests, this short cartoon from Animaniacs is a parody of the film A Hard Day's Night. While not as chock full of references as "Meet the Beat-Alls" was, this is a still a good tribute with lots of fine touches.  Such a short was inevitable, really, not just because Animaniacs was a show that largely focused on parodying pop culture in the same way that some of the old Looney Tunes shorts did, but because Wakko Warner's voice is essentially Jess Harnell doing something of a mix of John Lennon and Ringo Starr.  It probably isn't any surprise that Wakko was always my favorite of the Warners.

This episode was made in the third season, and by that time Animaniacs was an extremely popular cartoon.  Maybe not as popular as the Beatles themselves, but strong enough to have a very loyal following both among children and adults on the internet, and so this short is as much a tongue in cheek teasing to those devout followers as it is a parody.

The short starts off just as A Hard Day's Night does, with the Warners running from a mob of fans.  The scene is presented in black and white except for their red noses, which was a common device used on the show whenever they presented the supposed shorts made in the 1930s.  They sing about how they are running from their fans to a tune very similar to the song "A Hard Day's Night."



Leaving the black and white behind them, they escape to the backstage area of a cartoon convention, where Dr. Scratchansniff gives them fan mail and tells them to behave.  None of the fan letters are for Wakko, and when he questions why, Yakko suggests that maybe it's his hat.  Ralph the Guard comes through the door carrying a large bag of fan mail, all of which is for Wakko.  This is an almost exact recreation of a scene in A Hard Day's Night, though in that case, it was Ringo and his nose that get all the fan mail.


Scratchansniff reminds them that they are the guests of honor at this convention and their fans on counting on them.  The fans bust through the door behind him, crushing him under it, and the chase begins again.  The Warners run out onto the convention floor where they pass a Tiny Toons booth, a Batman booth, and John Wilkes Booth (who apologizes over and over again) before ducking into a hall where a single female fan gasps in surprise when she sees them.


"You look just like them!" she exclaims, to which they reply that they aren't them, and this scene is a recreation of probably my favorite of A Hard Day's Night, that of the woman in the hallway with John.  After convincing her they're not themselves, they can't resist giving her a "Hello, Nurse!" before running away.  They approach a booth for The Mask and grab the three masks on display to disguise themselves to look like Elmira from Tiny Toons (who has been among the fans chasing them this entire time).  They switch to howling Tex Avery wolves and then have their eyes pop out before removing the masks, and Yakko grouchos to the camera that they did it all without the use of CGI.

They run and are ushered into the press room by Scratchansniff.  This is once again parodying the movie moment where the Beatles are interviewed by the press themselves, but quickly diverges into commentary when a guy repeatedly asks them why they don't make their "mean" and "nasty" cartoons more educational.  They drop heavy weights on him repeatedly before breaking out into a song about how their fans just want to laugh that reminds me a lot of "She Loves You" in particular. The animation behind the song parodies the multiple images of the group on the cover of A Hard Day's Night while also making a Jerry Lewis reference and poking a little fun at Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

The Warners are once again chased by fans, and in desperation eventually climb a replica of their water tower.  Yakko thinks up a solution and sends out a paper airplane that magically makes it all the way to Acme Labs and Pinky and the Brain.  The letter tells Brain that the Pope wants to see him and so the two of them head to the convention expecting to meet him.  Yakko tells the fans that they are just three silly cartoon characters and they should be focusing on more important things, like Pinky and the Brain!



And so the short ends very similar to the way it began, but this time Pinky and the Brain are singing the "Running from our Fans" song.  Also note some of the fans are wearing cosplay of the Warners, which I have to wonder whether or not was a thing people did.

This short is about half the length of the Powerpuff Girls short, but it still manages to be a really good tribute to the film.  I like that it also takes it a step further, using the analogy to both snub their critics and suggest to some of their crazier fans that they maybe need to relax a bit.  I think for some people, it may be easy to forget just how big this cartoon really was at the time since it's fallen out of the public eye now.  But as someone who currently has Christmas versions of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot out on display in my living room, this was a great mix of two of my favorite things.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - The Body/Stand by Me


The nice thing about Hollywood choosing to change the title when they make an adaptation means it makes it really easy for me to specify which I'm talking about when I do the review.  In this case, The Body is the novella written by Stephen King, and Stand By Me is the film adaptation directed by Rob Reiner.  The name change was made because they thought the title was misleading, and I can agree.  It sounds like it would be erotica or horror.  The film is highly regarded and I know I used to like both it and the story.  I liked them so much that a few years back when I caught Stand By Me on television, I was excited to sit down and watch it again.  So imagine my surprise when I ended up really bored and ended up turning it off.

Remembering that, I tried to go into this reading and viewing as fresh as possible, but I still had a hard time getting into reading The Body.  However, watching Stand By Me was a completely different experience, and I was able to enjoy it again.  I'm not entirely sure why there was such a difference there.

Part of the problem I have with the story is the concept.  While the body isn’t much more than a macguffin, the idea of kids gleefully setting off in order to view a dead body is just plain strange.  I suppose it's meant to highlight just how naïve these boys are, that they think it's going to be something cool, or that they'll somehow be heroes for recovering the whereabouts of this lost child. But had you offered the same thing to me at this age I don't think I would have gone along.  And I loved catching lizards and playing with doodlebugs as a kid, so don't think it's just because I'm a girl that I wouldn't be interested.

I also didn't care for the stories within the story.  The first does a decent job of highlighting how a writer's personal trauma can affect the stories they write about, but it's also just too sophomoric. It's about a young man and his experiences with "breaking in" his girlfriend while also being reminded of how his evil stepmother seduced his brother.  Even beyond the fact that it doesn't fit easily into the narrative, it makes perfect sense why they left it out of the movie.  The second story is included, that of Lard Ass Hogan, but I wish they hadn't.  Incredibly fake effects or not, I didn't need to see all that vomiting in living color.

But let's focus on the positive for a while.  The film has a lot more charm than the story for two main reasons: the music and the actors chosen to portray the characters.  Wil Wheaton has said that he thinks the movie works so well because Rob Reiner chose four boys who essentially were their characters, and that certainly seems to have a lot of truth to it.  River Phoenix in particular is fantastic in his role as Chris.  He brings a level of maturity to the film that was desperately needed to make this work.  I also think Corey Feldman strikes the perfect balance of sympathetic and outright nuts that is required for a traumatic character like Teddy.  While I think it's pretty clear that both King and Reiner want us to feel the worst for Chris and the hand he's been dealt, Teddy with his abusive father that he loves so dearly has always struck a deeper chord with me personally. 

Jerry O'Connell and Wil Wheaton are more what I would call average.  There's nothing about their performances that really strikes me, but they're good enough that I don't want to smack them like I did most of the kids in the original Children of the Corn.  The actors playing the teens are also great, Keifer Sutherland and Bradley Gregg in particular.  We see a lot more of Ace and his gang here than we do in the story, and it's largely because of Sutherland's performance that I'm all for it.  John Cusack's role as Gordy's dead brother is minimal, but also extremely important and he plays it very well.

This movie really is some of the best young actors of the 80s shoved into one film, and I think that's part of the reason that it lives on and is loved by so many.  The soundtrack is all 50s music, as is perfect with the setting, but that too screams 80s to me.  This movie was released three years after The Big Chill, a movie I've never seen but I remember my parents bought the cassette soundtrack and it got a lot of play at our house.  Obviously, three years later, that 50s appeal was still going strong and it just makes this movie a pleasure to listen to.

The changes from the story are pretty minimal.  Castle Rock is moved from Maine to Oregon, which seems to have pretty much happened because the movie was filmed in Oregon.  Beyond the extra moments with the teens, we also get to see each of the main four standing guard overnight.  It makes sense that we don't hear about it in The Body because that's written from Gordie's perspective.  Of course now that I think about it, with Stand By Me being narrated by Gordie, he shouldn't know what happened when Teddy or Vern stood guard to tell us about it either.  But you know what?  They're great character moments, so screw it.

The ending is the main dramatic difference.  The Body ends on such a downer, with no real resolution to speak of.  They all get the crap beaten out of them by the older gang, and then we're told how all the other guys slowly but surely died in shitty ways.  It also makes Gordie look like an ass, because he's essentially talking about how his life is so great now but his friends didn't amount to shit because they weren't smart enough.  That may be a harsh interpretation, but my point is it makes for a lousy ending.  I realize that as a down to earth story everything isn't meant to be wrapped up into a nice neat package, but I think it would have been better for him to highlight how they grew after going through the experience rather than just showing us how they crumbled to pieces.  That's probably strange words coming from someone who usually loves Stephen King's bad endings, but I think there's a pretty clear difference here.

In the movie meanwhile things are resolved a bit more peacefully.  Teddy and Vern get to live, and Chris actually gets to finish law school before he is killed.  They also conveniently switch it so that it's our heroes who make the anonymous phone call to the police and not Ace.  It doesn't really matter either way, because the point is that their confrontation ended in a stalemate.  You can also easily say that this version of Gordie is neglecting to mention those times later when they got the shit kicked out of them.

So overall I'd say it's a good adaptation, taking the important parts of the story and maybe in the end even improving on it a little.  It's definitely worth a watch if you've never seen it before.  As far as the story, well, I'd recommend picking up Different Seasons, but more so for a couple of the other novellas included with it than The Body itself. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

NOS4A2

Thanks to all the Stephen King I'm reading, I had multiple people this year tell me I needed to read NOS4A2, a novel written by his son Joe Hill that has much in common with his father's work. While I don't think you would confuse it for a Stephen King novel, as Joe does have his own unique narrative voice, it would not be difficult to see this being set in the same world that King's characters inhabit. The book is also littered with references, from Pennywise's Circus being labeled on a map, to the villain's servant screaming "My life for you!" to his master at one point. I honestly lost track of them all.

The book also has a female protagonist, one I developed a great amount of affection for over the course of the novel. Victoria McQueen is a flawed individual who has difficult relationships and problems with addiction, but her flaws make her all the more human, and when she strives to do good, you really feel that she's doing her best to make up for the mistakes she's made in her life. The book has striking similarities to the narrative form of King's own Doctor Sleep which came out this same year, in that we follow both protoganists from a young age to adulthood, and the events of their childhood play a large role in what happens to them as adults.

In Vic's case, it all surrounds a psychic vampire named Charlie Manx. Both Vic and Charlie have a psychic ability that allows them to tap into the world inside their mind, and they use physical vehicles to take them there. Vic uses her bike to create a bridge to find lost things, but Charlie uses his Rolls Royce to kidnap children and feed off them to give himself unnaturally long life. He justifies his actions by claiming the children were being mistreated by their parents, and that he's taking them to Christmasland, an amusement park where the kids can play all day and live forever. His justifications and beliefs make him a compelling villain, though the children he takes prove even more creepy, drained of their souls and absolutely horrifying.

The book keeps a pretty good pace, following Vic through the ups and downs of her life. It's definitely the most thrilling when Vic is escaping from Manx as a teenager and again as she chases down Manx with her kidnapped son, but I also enjoyed the quieter times in between that allow us to get to know the various characters involved. My absolute favorite among them in Maggie Lee, another girl with psychic ability, who uses hers to spell out the future in Scrabble tiles. When a young Vic meets her she's thoroughly impressed by her dyed hair, F U earrings and quirky personality, and that's exactly the kind of young woman I would have found the definition of "cool" myself at that age, so I totally understand. I also couldn't help enjoying Lou, the father of Vic's child. He's a stereotypical geek, from his bulging gut to his frequent references to comics and Star Wars and his ability to make the word "Dude!" mean anything, but he's the best of that stereotype, and you can understand why Vic would fall in love with him.

Overall, I was really impressed with the novel and it made me want to experience more of Hill's work. I'll probably end up trying out some of his comic book work next, to see how his writing translates to that medium. I'd recommend this book to not just fans of Stephen King, but to horror and sci-fi fans in general.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mr. Mike's Mondo Video

As I said at the end of my Meatballs review, part of going through Bill Murray's entire film work means there's some buried and obscure films from the start of his career that I had never heard of before. This is definitely one of them. I'm kind of amazed that this even has a DVD release, and I would guess it is solely because of the fact that this film involves many of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live.  In fact, this was originally intended to air in the place of an episode when they were on break, but NBC rejected it and they chose to make it a film release instead.  The film is directed by Michael O'Donoghue, who plays the titular Mr. Mike.

The film is meant as a spoof the 1962 documentary Mondo Cane, which from what I can tell was a precursor to videos like the Faces of Death tapes I remember people talking about when I was young.  A sequence of disturbing imagery meant to shock and disgust you.  This one counts as a spoof in that overall, there's nothing truly shocking here, despite the repeated warnings throughout the video.  Nudity is about as racy as it gets, and some jokes are in poor taste, but it didn't make me feel uncomfortable watching it.  This is definitely a very dark style of comedy, however, and I have a feeling that many would not see any humor in it at all. 

It's a truly bizarre film, and one hard to describe without going through the various shorts one by one and recapping them.  There are so many that I don't really want to do that, but I'll touch on some that stood out to me.

After essentially three different warnings about how shocking the film is, the first short takes us to Amsterdam and shows us a man who gives cats swimming lessons.  I was initially horrified when I saw him throw the first cat into the pool, but the cat started swimming so expertly afterward and climbed back onto ground and strutted off without any type of panic that I don't think there was any kind of cruelty going on here.  Not all cats hate water and some of them do learn to swim, so clearly they found some who fit the bill.  This short is a little long, where we cut to a montage of various cats swimming in slow motion while orchestral music plays, but it was also kind of adorable to watch them swim.  Even that isn't enough for it though, as it then talks about cats being given hang gliding lessons, pauses on a "Deleted by the network" text screen for quite a while before finally cutting back to showing a cat fall from a great height. It's obviously a fake cat, but given the long pause followed by the splat it just doesn't work too well.

The next short flew completely over my head, as I didn't know who Jack Lord was.  I figured they were spoofing televangelists, as we see a group (led by Dan Aykroyd)  worshiping his picture and all wearing matching wigs.  If you're a fan of Hawaii Five-O you might get a kick out of it, but otherwise it hasn't aged very well.  Speaking of Aykroyd, he also has a brief short where he shows off his webbed toes.  From what I can tell, they are in fact real and not just them goofing around.

One of the smarter bits, in my opinion, is where they mash together Thomas Edison's "Electrocuting an Elephant" short with people being interviewed about whether or not an elephant should be put to death.  Judging by the people's answers, I have a feeling they were asked something else, possibly whether mentally handicapped people should receive capital punishment, or something like that.  The answers seem too thoughtful and considered than I think you would receive if you asked them about an elephant.  The sequence works for me, though it may  be because I've always found that short upsetting.

There's a recurring bit where Mike is trying to find footage of the American military testing out the "Laserbra 3000" and he pays people large sums of money for footage.  One person gives him home movie footage, and because he's been exchanging this footage in a violin case, another gives him an actual violin.  When he finally does get the footage and we watch it however, the joke runs on far too long.  The idea of women shooting lasers from their bras is a pretty thin joke at best, so having to see them shoot various things is rather boring.

The film features moments that are labeled "Dream Sequence" by a title card moving in and out of the screen.  I imagine that in itself is supposed to be laughable, as if anything else presented here makes any more sense than the dream sequences.  One of these I liked because it features stop motion animation.  A cat skeleton approaches a drawer, which pops open.  The skeleton is then covered with bugs, and dissolves into a pile of grey goo.  It has no point but I like the style of it.

Apparently the short "Uncle Si and the Sirens" is actually a piece of found footage, an early silent film featuring nude women.  A man has a machine that lets him watch various women, and he eventually stumbles on the sirens, which is basically a sequence of women lounging in the nude.  There's a charm to these early forms of eroticism, I think, something that makes them very beautiful.  The women look natural and most are posing fairly modestly.  I found this one charming as well.

Bill Murray makes his appearance in another sequence where they ask people on the street moral questions.  They ask if deaf and dumb people should be allowed to talk with their hands while driving a car, and for this question it is clear that they didn't ask the people anything else.  Murray portrays a drunk bum that I know I've seen him portray before, probably on Saturday Night Live.  His speech is slurred and he's rather dopey.  It's not terrible but it's not exactly funny either.  If you wanted to watch this film solely for his appearance, you would be very disappointed.

The film features three musical performances, the first, of Sid Vicious performing "My Way," is muted and overlaid with text saying Paul Anka and his team refused to allow the rights to the song.  You can hear the actual performance in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, which the clip is taken from.  The other performances are from a strange blues inspired act called Root Boy Slim, and performance artist Klaus Nomi. The music is widely varied in style, but does fit the overall subversive and absurdist nature of the film.

The final short is the one in poorest taste, presenting us with what is supposed to be a Native American culture but portrayed by primarily African American actors, and the idea is that they have given up their beliefs and instead now worship discarded pop culture, like lava lamps, I Like Ike buttons, and Star Trek posters.  I can see what he was going for here, but it just doesn't work, especially with his narration over the whole thing.  The "natives" eventually hear his narration and turn on Mr. Mike and the crew, killing them.  It's a disappointing end to a film that showed occasional glimmers of potential but largely fell flat.

If you have an interest in experimental film, or enjoyed the more subversive qualities of early Saturday Night Live, you may enjoy this one.  It's odd and is very much a product of its time, but there are a few fun moments here and there.  For the common person, you're probably better off skipping it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - Cat's Eye

Surprise!  Castle Rock Companion is now a weekly series.  Since I don't have to take the time to record and edit, these can come out a bit faster.  They may take a break for holidays or if I catch up with my backlog, but there will be much more Castle Rock Companion here from now on. Enjoy!


Cat's Eye was actually my first exposure to Stephen King.  My dad had taped only the last short of the film onto VHS at some point, and I used to watch it quite frequently.  I'm guessing he did not tape the first two because they're not exactly suitable for children.  The film gets its name from the fact that much of the events are supposed to be seen at least partially from the cat's perspective. 


There's also a lot of nods to Stephen King's past work as the movie starts by having the cat chased by Cujo and almost run over by Christine.  As if that's not enough, we see a clip from The Dead Zone movie on television during the first short.

I imagine to someone who has never smoked or never been close to a smoker, "Quitters, Inc." probably seems really extreme.  But I fully believe the stated fact that cigarettes are more addicting than heroin.  It's easy to see how a man down in the depths of it and wanting to quit could invent a story like this.

The only major detail changed from story to film is that Morrison has a daughter rather than a son.  I think they did this for convenience purposes, as Drew Barrymore plays a total of three different roles in the film.  I also couldn't help but smile when he gives her the cabbage patch doll.  I imagine people younger than me have no idea just what a big deal that was for the time.



The other detail they change is that it was a bunny in the short story that got shocked, whereas here they use the cat to keep the stories linked.  It doesn't really matter, it still made me feel bad for the poor thing when they kept shocking it like that.  Overall it's a good short that blends humor with real life horror in a good way, and James Wood really sells it.

File:No Smoking (Poster).jpg

There is a Bollywood film titled No Smoking which was heavily influenced by "Quitters, Inc.", though Stephen King is not credited.  It also features a company that uses extreme methods to get people to stop smoking.  The punishments have similarities, though I think the idea of forcing your loved ones to inhale a severe amount of smoke is actually more clever than electric shock treatments.  The story is also more surreal and the ending very different.  I highly recommend the film if you can find it.


It's not an easy feat to keep a reader imagining what it is like to be hanging on a ledge.  You've got to keep the suspense up just right to remind them of the narrator's constant peril.  The brevity of the story, "The Ledge," goes a long way in helping with that, and a brief conflict with a pigeon keeps it from getting dull.

They tried to add a bit more to the film version to try to keep it more interesting, but honestly to me it didn't help at all.  The short drags considerably and I just wanted it to be over with.  The moments with the cat don't make any sense nor do they actually contribute to what's happening, and there's just not enough there to make me care about what is going on. 



In a lot of ways, this last short was one my earliest brushes with horror.  I was simultaneously scared of this little troll and yet loved to watch this over and over again and see him defeated by the cat.  Of course these days I don't find him scary, I just find him hopelessly adorable.  He's ugly cute!  Also, while the effects may look primitive now, they work well for what they are and totally convinced me as a kid.  I also remember thinking that the mom was the true villain of the story.  She's so mean to that cat!



It's a simple little story but I really love it.  It blends humor and action and horror together really well, and is a great nod to cat lover's everywhere.  Even if you don't watch the rest of the film, you need to watch this short.

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that there is a song that plays during the credits that was written specifically for the film:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beatlemiscellania: Meet the Beat-Alls

With the Beatles being as popular as they are, references, tributes, and parodies of them have been made in many different types of media, television and film being no exception.  Welcome to Beatlemiscellania, another regular project I'm adding to the blog.

First up is the third season episode of the Powerpuff Girls - "Meet the Beat-Alls"

Song names will be capitalized where they are mentioned, and song lyrics provided in quotes.

Through the use of clever cuts where one villain is talking and the next completes their sentence, we see Mojo Jojo, Him, Princess Morbucks, and Fuzzy Lumpkins are all planning to destroy the Powerpuff Girls on the same night. All four of them show up at the Powerpuff Girls' house and argue over who will win until finally the girls come outside and ask them to be quiet so they can sleep. Mojo, Him, and the Princess all fire on the girls at once with energy beams, which leaves the girls defenseless and in pain until they fall to a height low enough for Fuzzy to throw his large rock at them and crush them. The four villains decide to band together, and while Him first suggests they should be The Silver Beatles (an early name the Beatles used), Mojo rejects this name and says they should be The Beat-Alls. The scene fades and we see the four villains in profile, much like the With the Beatles cover. It's accompanied by a guitar chord very similar to the beginning of "A Hard Day's Night."



A narrator with an English accent takes over at this point, and we see girls running and screaming (in terror) while the Beat-Alls go on a rampage. They cross a street that looks like the Abbey Road cover while the narrator tells us it was a Long and Winding Road for them to get here. They are also now known as the Bad Four (instead of the Fab Four). Mojo tells a bank teller “Now give me your money, that's what I want” and the narrator explains that the Beat-Alls have been providing hit after hit. He's talking about physical hits in this case.



The Powerpuff Girls arrive at the bank and a fight ensues, where all the dialogue refers to songs.

Him: “I Should Have Known Better”

Mojo: “Better Run for Your Life as fast as you can, little girls”

Him cries “Googoogajoob” as he fires an attack.

Princess: “You say stop, but I say go go go!”

Fuzzy (called the shy one by the narrator, therefore making him the George Harrison of the group): “I'm gonna let you down and leave you flat”



The narrator assures us that The Brutish Invasion has begun. The Beat-Alls look down at the defeated Powerpuff Girls in a image reminiscent of the Please Please Me cover. Eventually, the Powerpuff Girls give up fighting them and the Beat-Alls are therefore given a Ticket to Ride. In case all this sly stuff was just too subtle for you, the Beat-Alls beat up the cartoon versions of the Beatles themselves while Mojo asks “the people in the cheaper seats to leave and the rest of you to hand over your jewelry!” (this is not a lyrical quote but rather based on a statement John Lennon made on stage in 1963.)



Sgt Pepper (who looks much like the one in Yellow Submarine) makes a statement. “Help, we need somebody. Not just anybody. We need the Powerpuff Girls.” The narrator, now shown to be a reporter, questions if the girls will return. “Perhaps, perhaps not. Tomorrow Never Knows.” The TV show he is a part of is called A Day in the Life. The professor interrupts the girls watching the special and tells them “I read the news today. Oh boy” and hands them the paper. “Beat-Alls Crash Mr. Kite's Benefit” is the headline. The Powerpuffs are discouraged, and the professor talks to them. “Yesterday our troubles seemed so far away. Now it seems they're here to stay. Sitting here Eight Days a Week, everyone seems to think you're lazy, I don't mind, I think they're crazy. But you used to be running everywhere at such a speed, now you think there's no need.”



The girls think there's no point, they'll never save the day again. “Oh, You Can't Do That. What will the citizens of Townsville do when they look for the girls with the sun in their eyes and they're gone? ... Mojo Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner, but he knew it couldn't last. He's just getting by With a Little Help from his Friends.” When the girls ask if they should break up the Beat-Alls, he tells them “Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time.”

“How?” they ask. “Listen, do you want to know a secret?” As he tells them, our regular narrator says he thinks the professor has some Magical Mystery tricks up his sleeve.



The Beat-Alls break into another bank and Mojo announces that he wants to hold their cash, but someone else is already robbing the bank. He's pointed toward a ladder and a hanging magnifying glass, much like the art exhibit John Lennon first saw of Yoko Ono's. On the ceiling in small print is written “This is a stick up” (Yoko's just said “yes”) and Mojo thinks it's brilliant. The responsible party turns and it's a chimp dressed just like Yoko Ono (specifically her wedding outfit to John) and it's clear the two of them are in love. Mojo exclaims “I've Got to Get You into My Life” and she replies in screeches. Her name is Moko Jono and she's a performance criminal.



The five of them have a bed-in titled Annoyance Crime No 9 and Mojo tells them to “Imagine all the people and how annoyed they will be that they can't reach their destinations on time” because the bed is in the middle of a busy street. They then steal only white items from a grocery store (It's all right because it's all white). The other Beat-Alls are not impressed. Mojo joins Moko in screeching loudly in the street in a mock form of primal scream therapy, but here the point is only to cause the various people on the street (including the Beatles from Yellow Submarine) pain. This finally causes the other Beat-Alls to quit.





When Fuzzy asks what they should do now, Him replies “Let's Get Back to where we once belonged.” The three of them are attacking the rooftops (because this whole sequence is meant to be like the end of the Let It Be film) and the mayor calls the Powerpuff Girls for help, saying the criminals “just won't Let It Be.” Once the girls hear that it's just three of them, they go to stop them.

Him: “Girls! Hello... Goodbye!”

Princess: “Sorry, but it's time to go!”

Fuzzy: “Cry, babies, Cry!”

The girls are once again flattened under a rock.

Him: “I'd just like to say thank you on behalf of the group, and I hope we passed the audition.”

But the girls pop right back up.

Fuzzy: “See how they fly? I'm crying.”

The villains are defeated and locked up, and Blossom declares “they're going Nowhere, Man.”

Mojo and Moko are walking along when Mojo points out signs “Here, There, and Everywhere” saying the Beat-Alls are over. “I've Got a Feeling, a feeling deep inside,” he says, “A feeling I can't hide. Oh no.”

“Oh yeah!” the girls respond, telling him that he and the Beat-Alls are done. He says he doesn't need them as long as he has Moko, and their evil will spread Across the Universe. The girls sigh and call “Hey Jude!” and Judy from the Townsville Zoo appears. She calls for Michelle (pronounced as it is in the song) and Moko sheds her clothing and joins the girls. Judy rubs salt in Mojo's wounds by telling him Michelle doesn't like him at all. She agreed to help break up the Beat-Alls because Mojo gives monkeys a bad name. Michelle isn't a criminal but she is a performer. Though Judy cautions that “One day monkey won't play piano song.” (This is the commonly misunderstood version of the French in "Michelle.") The girls take Mojo to jail and he is sad that they took his love away. Blossom says it's like the song “The love you take is equal to...um... oh who cares it's by some dumb old band anyway.”

Narrator: “I don't really want to stop the show but I thought you really might like to know that once again the day is saved thank to the Powerpuff Girls!” A note reminiscent of the one ending “A Day in the Life” fades out in the background. Those two ringing chords aren't the only musical tribute either; the entire episode is scored with songs very close in sound to the Beatles music.

I'm counting at least 57 references in all, more if you count all the various musical cues that sounds like their songs. The episode is a Where's Waldo for Beatles fans, with only maybe the “Free as a Bird” music video beating it in terms of number of references involved. I think Blossom's comment at the end is probably meant to acknowledge that most of the children watching this episode wouldn't understand most of the references, but it's still a cute enough story that I don't think the knowledge is required. But for those of us who do have it, it's an absolute treat.

Whenever I watch this episode, I do so with a big smile plastered on my face. I can only imagine how much fun they must have had in the writer's room, finding ways to inject the titles and lyrics and images all over the episode. It's a loving tribute to the band and a fun way to introduce this knowledge to kids. The portrayal of Yoko is harsh, but I think they did a nice tribute to her in their own way by including the references to her various performance art pieces. She speaks in screeches because in this world, Mojo is the only monkey who can talk. While it is a reference to her atonal singing voice, I don't think it's meant to be a flat out insult. Not to mention that in this scenario, being responsible for breaking up the Beat-Alls is a good thing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Castle Rock Cash In - A Return to Salem's Lot

Read my review of the 1979 mini-series and 2004 mini-series first if you missed them.

King technically wrote his own follow up to Salem's Lot,a short story called "One for the Road" that can be read in Night Shift.  It's not so much a sequel as it is a glimpse into the state of the town and how the vampires were not as gone as Ben hoped they would be at the end of the novel.  It's a pretty quick read and I recommend it.

Hollywood did not pull from that story, or even anything in the original novel at all, when they made A Return to Salem's Lot.

 

 "This is one of those sequels that feels "in name only", like they either just ran off and did their own thing, or had an idea for their own film in mind and agreed to slap the franchise brand on it so as to get funding.(read more on Noel's blog)"

As of this date, this is the last sequel to a Stephen King film left to cover, and Noel has been released from having to watch and review these films.  Unless of course one of these new remakes they are planning is successful enough that they decide to start making sequels to those.  Or someone decides to make a 10th Children of the Corn film in order to hold on to the name. Let's all hope that doesn't happen.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Meatballs

There are a bunch of movies that I've watched before and either didn't like or flat out hated, yet other people love. I came to realize that a lot of them have one thing in common: Bill Murray. It's not that I hate Bill Murray. I grew up watching both Ghostbusters films over and over again. He's fantastic in Little Shop of Horrors, and I enjoyed his parts in Stripes and Caddyshack. Part of the problem is that he loves to work with Wes Anderson, and two of his films are on the list of ones I hated. But The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou turned me around on how I felt about Anderson as a filmmaker, and I've been wanting to revisit his earlier films ever since. So instead of just re-watching a few key films, I thought it might be fun to go through all of Murray's films in order. That way, at least, I know I'm going to enjoy some of them. This will not be a marathon, but rather just an ongoing project I'll get to when I have the chance.

This project will only include feature films, as covering all of Murray's appearances on television, particularly when he was a castmember of SNL and SCTV, would be a project in and of themselves. So I'm starting with Meatballs. IMDB mentions another film Next Stop, Greenwich Village before this one, but my understanding is that it's a "blink and you miss it" type cameo. He's not even credited in the film. So we'll move on to the film where he plays a starring role.

I had never seen this film before starting this project. My main knowledge of the film was a reference in The Baby-sitters Club Summer Vacation book, where the recurring joke was the girls watched this film and therefore thought being camp counselors would be a fun idea. I also remember my young mind frequently confusing it with Spaceballs, solely because of the title similarity. So I wasn't sure what to expect from this one.

Having now watched it, I'm not sure how someone could see it and think they'd want to be a camp counselor. I suppose there are moments where it looks moderately fun, but considering that most of the teens are a bunch of goofs, I can't really imagine relating to them. Murray's role isn't particularly relatable either. I now can't help but think that perhaps Ann M. Martin saw the film and thought "How horribly unrealistic. Let me write something closer to how it actually goes." Of course I can't really say how accurate either version is, as I've never been to summer camp in my life.

What I can say is that this film has not aged well over the years. The music is a sampling of the worst styles of music that existed in the lates 70s, with bland disco numbers and bland soulful songs meant to be touching but just end up rather boring. And on top of that, a rather annoying kids choir sings the theme song. Most of it sounds to be created just for the film, and none of it particularly inspired or worth listening to outside of that context. They were apparently quite proud of it though, as the ending credits start with the music rather than the cast.

As far as the cast, there aren't too many standouts here past Murray. Chris Makepeace, who plays shy kid Rudy, is certainly noticable with his bright blue eyes and girly eyelashes, but in terms of acting he's just okay. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, who portray the group of gawky and horny teenagers well enough. Judging by the film's poster and setting, you might expect this to be a raunchy comedy like Porky's or Animal House, but in fact most of the sexual matters are all talk. There's certainly no nudity to be found here. While some situations make this a little too mature for young children, a lot of it is mild enough to be PG.

Speaking of those situations, there is one scene that made me flat out uncomfortable. Early on we see Murray's character Tripper flirting with another camp counselor Roxanne, and she doesn't look too interested. When the two of them are alone in a cabin, he grabs her and starts wrestling with her. She's clearly uncomfortable, shouting at him to get off of her, and he refuses. He even gropes her. The scene goes on for what feels far too long for comfort. Toward the end he wrestles until she's on top of him, and when the camp director comes in, he acts like she attacked him. The director doesn't believe him, but he also doesn't reprimand him and Roxanne doesn't speak up at all. Worse yet, this is the beginning of their "romance" for the rest of the film, where we're supposed to just let this go because apparently she really does like him, and the two of them end up together in the end.

This type of character is one Murray is known for, probably best shortened to "loveable scamp." He breaks the rules, can be rude to people, doesn't take no for an answer, but it turns out okay because he has a big heart. We see it as he helps Rudy gain confidence in himself, and again throughout the film as he encourages Camp North Star in their rivalry with nearby Camp Mohawk. His cries of "It just doesn't matter!" rally them to victory in the Olympiad competition, and he even gets Rudy to be the star hero for them all. The problem is that the balance between scoundrel and nice guy for Murray are just too far out of whack in this film. The scene with Roxanne in particular really ruins it for me.

Even beyond that, I have a hard time enjoying this film. The plot is really loose, with the idea of the rivalry with Camp Mohawk not really kicking into high gear until the latter half. It feels a lot more like a series of comedy sketches set at a summer camp, and most of the sketches aren't particularly funny. This is a film that thinks pulling a guy's pants down is the ultimate joke. With the mix of young kids and teenagers here, it seems like they couldn't decide what kind of film they wanted - feel good inspiration for the little ones or sexy teen romp for the older set. As such both styles clash poorly and feel stilted.

Later sequels would take the raunchy comedy angle and run with it. Since neither Murray nor director Ivan Reitman had anything to do with them, I won't be taking a look at them. It's not my kind of film anyway.

Another interesting thing for me is that Murray was 27 years old when this movie was filmed. The combination of his widow's peak and near permanent five o' clock shadow make him look much older than that. He seems to be the kind of guy who was born old.

Beyond revisiting films I want to give another chance, another thing about this project is it allows me to watch some obscure films I've never heard of before. Next up is Mr. Mike's Mondo Video.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - Salem's Lot (2004)


In 2004 TNT produced another mini-series version of Salem's Lot, and this time they did make a lot of changes.  While it does help the pacing of the story, I'm a bit bothered by the changes they made.  I can't have my cake and eat it too, it seems.

First off, instead of having it where Ben and Mark are down in Central America as our wraparound story, we instead get Ben attacking Father Callahan, and then telling the whole story to a hospital orderly via narration.  The main problem I have with this narration is that Ben shouldn't really know all the details about these small townspeople's lives because he wasn't there in Salem's Lot long enough to learn it.  But I guess we're supposed to just ignore that and go with it.

Characters are once again condensed to save time, but this time their choice to do so smears the name of an otherwise good character.  Jim Cody is one of the few good people in the town, a doctor just trying to help his patients.  But here he's a guy who helps a woman cheat on her husband, and we eventually find out all that was lies in an attempt for the couple to make some money off him.  While this does ramp up the drama in the beginning of the series, it adds this goofy plot thread of Cody continually asking to borrow money from people for the rest of it, and it's just kind of silly.  Though it does mean the baby gets to be saved rather than being turned into a vampire, so I guess there's that.

This version of Matt Burke is African American and gay, and on the surface I want to cheer about them at least attempting to make a more diverse cast, but the events and how they play out make me pause.  I feel like the only reason they made Matt gay is to have an uncomfortable scene when Mike Ryerson returns as a vampire, and it's not really necessary.  Can't a man just be a teacher who cares about his former students without the answer being that he did so because he was attracted to him?

But the largest change is all related to Ben Mears.  Because this is 2004, he can't be a fictional writer anymore.  No, he's a guy who got famous by writing a tell-all book about the naughty things the soldiers who saved him in Afghanistan were doing.  So now he's come to Salem's Lot to write about the nasty things that exist in a small town.  But then later he tells Susan that he is in fact there for the reason given in the novel, to excise the demons that have been plaguing him since he went into the Marsten house at a young age. So why was that change even necessary?  Especially since they also changed what happened to him in the house.

In the book Ben enters the house after it has long since been deserted, and he sees the former owner's ghost.  Here, he goes in to see the day the owner actually murdered his wife and a young boy before killing himself.  Ben finds the bodies and then is frozen in horror, unable to leave.  It's all great imagery and works as a good horrifying moment, but would kids in a neighborhood really dare you to break into a house where people were still living?  That seems unlikely to me.

In this version Barlow remains closer to Count Dracula and is played by the wonderful Rutger Hauer.  I think he manages to make Barlow charismatic without also being a straight Dracula rip-off, and he deserves praise for that.  But I can't say I feel the same about the rest of the vampires here.  Their attempts to make them scary come off as far too cliché for the time period.  Bending in strange ways, climbing on ceilings, these are all devices we've seen time and time again and look far more silly than scary at this point.

This mini-series is definitely better than the 1979 version, and if you're going to watch one version this is definitely your choice.  While I don't like some of the choices they made with the characters, if you haven't read the book you would never know the difference and you would probably enjoy this one a lot.  My problem is that not only have I read the book, I've also read the Dark Tower series, and so for me, I cannot watch this mini-series without being enraged.

I first read Salem's Lot back in my teens, and I read through the Dark Tower series in my 20s. So this time around I was surprised at how small a role Father Callahan plays in the novel.  He's a fully formed character and his conflict of faith is an interesting one, but then he exits the story rather abruptly.  It makes me wonder if King intended to add him to that series from the start or if he simply had a strong desire to return to the character later on.

Father Callahan makes his return in book 5 of the Dark Tower series, Wolves of the Calla.  I don't want to spoil those of you who have never read it, but he is one of the good guys and he plays a part that made me really fond of him.  In the 1979 mini-series, his role is pretty minor, and we basically just assume he dies after encountering Barlow.  But in the 2004 mini-series, he essentially takes Straker's place, and continues to lead the group of vampires even after Barlow is killed.  Wolves of the Calla was published November 2003, and this mini-series premiered in June 2004.  I realize that probably means this was already in production when the book came out, and was very likely too late for them to change anything if they had wanted to.  But that doesn't mean I have to like how they treat him here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Castle Rock Companion - Salem's Lot (1979)

From now on, Castle Rock Companion will be most commonly appearing in written form. I explained the reasons for the change over on my personal blog. My apologies to all of you who enjoyed the videos.


Salem's Lot is King's attempt to write Dracula, but it's not really Bram Stoker's version of Dracula.  This is closer to the Dracula we see in the Hammer films, a brooding older man with a charming presence despite his ghoulish appearance.  He's affected by all the modern myths that have surrounded vampires since Nosferatu, like the inability to come out in the daytime.  The cast of characters is also updated to King's standard of the residents of a small town.  The town of Salem's Lot is authentic King, with the feeling that you could put these characters up against Cujo, Christine or Carrie and they'd be just the same.  It's mostly when he's directly emulating the Dracula story that it comes off a little less authentic.

The 1979 adaptation exists in two forms - its original television mini-series format and an edited down movie format that was released years later.  For the purpose of this review I'm looking at the mini-series version.  This adaptation is once again very close to the novel in a lot of ways.  It was toned down a bit for content and a lot of the minor characters are merged together to save time.  There's really only one large difference between the two, and I'll get to that in a minute.

I feel that keeping the pacing so close to the novel was a mistake.  We saw this in the 1997 version of The Shining and again in Firestarter.  These kind of straight up adaptations can come off really bland, like a cover song so close to the original that you'd rather just listen to the original instead.  It makes sense for a book to take its time and build slowly, and between narration and knowing what the characters are thinking, it can really build a sense of tension.  But in a TV series you need to raise the drama or action in order to keep people's attention, and this mini-series doesn't do that at all in my opinion.  It does make some really strange choices though.

When the deliverymen drop off the crate containing Barlow at the Marsten House, they tell us over and over again that they are cold, and that the crate seems to be emanating cold from it.  Now I know that vampires are cold, but I think this is the first time I've ever heard of them making everything around them cold too.  Or maybe he's being delivered packed in ice so you can't smell the stink of death?  Regardless it's just a silly detail and is unneeded.  This kind of repetition of lines happens a few times throughout the mini-series.  Another strange choice that confused me was changing some of the character's names.  Floyd is called Ned and Matt is called Jason.  It did remind me of the way that characters often get flipped around in Dracula adaptations though, so I guess they succeeded in that.









The most obvious change they make in this version is making Barlow more like Count Orlok than Count Dracula in appearance. He speaks only in hisses and wails.  This was the decision of producer Richard Kobritz, who felt like Dracula had been done to death and would only come off as silly.  Ironically, this blue faced hissing creature is the one that comes off silly to me.  He looks like the bat boy from Weekly World News.  Of course most of the vampires come off silly, with their glowing yellow eyes and their strange attempts at appearing menacing.  Though there is one moment towards the end that genuinely creeped me out, where the vampires are slowing creeping up on our heroes, the fact that they are out of focus while doing so speaks volumes.


Making Barlow silent means that the film's villainy must be carried by his assistant Straker, so it's fortunate that they cast James Mason in the role.  While it's a little strange that he just appears out of nowhere all the time when they need him in a scene, it does tie into the idea that being Barlow's companion gives him extra-human abilities.  His death scene is way too over the top though.  The other thing about Barlow being silent is that it takes away the angle from the book where he is using his charms to seduce the people of the town.  Here Straker captures Ralphie Glick for Barlow, and from then on it seems like all the people are turned by their fellow townspeople.  I like this idea, because it seems logical that you might miss your recently deceased loved one so much that you would allow them into your home and fall prey to them.

The other main difference here is the climax being moved around, where Barlow's death happens within the Marsten house, and Sue's death is saved until the end.  Both of these are excellent story choices that fit the pacing a little better.  It's just a shame they couldn't have also tried to change things up early on too.


There was a sequel to this mini-series made, and Noel will be covering it in two weeks.  Before that, I'll be talking about the 2004 mini-series.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Castle Rock Cash In - Creepshow 3

While it certainly seemed like this franchise was dead, it made an attempt at a return in 2006, though this time not including Stephen King or George Romero in any way.

 

"I think people are being far too harsh in their dismissal of it, mostly by focusing on the fact that it had zero input from Stephen King or George Romero. To which I say, so what? The last film in the series did, and I had a lot more issues and was more often bored with it than I am with this one. So no, I have no problem with bringing in some new creators to keep the franchise alive."
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