Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Night Flier

Vampires have been around as a myth for a very long time, and many different authors have put their own spin on the creature.  But you can leave it to Stephen King to not only think about the fact that vampires piss blood, but to also contemplate exactly when that blood would be visible in a mirror if you happened to be in a bathroom and looking in one while a vampire stood at a urinal stall.  I realize it's not always a good idea to talk about the ending of a story before you begin reviewing it, but frankly that one moment is really the most notable part of the whole story, so how could I not?

"The Night Flier" revolves around Richard Dees, a reporter with a junk tabloid called Inside View, and how he is investigating a string of deaths that all happened at or near small time airports where a man identifying himself as Dwight Renfield landed in his small private plane.  All of the victims were completely drained of blood, and some horribly mutilated.  It is prime material for the paper, and so Dees is on the hunt to catch what he believes to be a vampire enthusiast in the act of emulating the creatures.  Of course, I think most of us would fully expect this guy to end up being a real vampire and he is.

The film version of the story is very low budget, to the point that I thought this had to have been a direct to DVD release, but apparently it was released to at least a small amount of theaters.  The film does a good job of getting around the fact that the story is mostly told through Dees perspective by giving us a new character for him to interact with - Katherine Blair, a new reporter at the tabloid that he quickly nicknames Jimmy, as in Jimmy Olsen.   It's a good way to show us just how jaded Dees has become over the course of time working for this less than reputable paper.  Where they go wrong though is when their boss literally pits them against each other for the story.  How would that be a gain for him in any way?  Either you would have people work cooperatively covering different parts of the story, or you would assign them to different ones to better use your resources.  It's here because the movie needs conflict, and nothing more.

The other change they make is having the Night Flier threaten Dees as he goes about researching him.  If he knows exactly where he is at all times, wouldn't he just kill him outright before he found out too much?  But they were clearly trying to build suspense leading up to the big confrontation, so I guess it's forgivable.  It's preferable, at least, to the way King does it, which is to jump back and forth chronologically.  It really becomes confusing when there's no real warning between the chapters and you have to guess what part of the timeline he's currently talking about.

The movie follows the events of the story pretty closely until we get to the ending.  First off, as silly as the whole pissing thing is, this is actually a pretty great way to build suspense.  If you're looking in a mirror you can't see a vampire, but that's a great way to confirm that he is in fact there, and after the horrors Dees has seen this guy leave behind, it makes sense that he's too scared to turn around, and remains frozen while the vampire comes in to take a leak.  Except in the film he does turn around, and then requests to see the vampire's face.

And it is, quite literally, one of the worst effects I've ever seen in a movie.  If you can't build a decent monster, you really should just keep him to the shadows.  The moment when his jaw unhinges is just terrible, and lingering on the actor in full makeup isn’t much better. 

They also decided to add a little more on to the ending, having Dees drink the vampire's blood and therefore be driven temporarily insane.  Once again, I know what they were trying to pull off here.  The dialogue is designed to make this reporter without any scruples contemplate his life choices.  The parallels between the vampire and Dees are strongly established.  The execution is just a little too silly to be taken seriously.  But it does wrap up the film nicely with a fitting dark ending.

The film is a little on the slow side, but the leads do very well with the material they've been given.  If you can find this one on the cheap, it's worth checking out.  Just don't set your expectations too high.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


This is one of those films I've heard about all my life, but never seen before.  It came out when I was very young and was very highly regarded, so I was looking forward to have the chance to see it and see if it lived up to those standards.  I was a little worried a cross dressing comedy might not hold up too well in today's modern world, but I have to say my worries were unfounded.

This film is really more drama than comedy.  While there are some funny moments, this is not the outright silliness of something like Mrs. Doubtfire though it's also obvious that that film took a lot of influence from this one.  This is primarily the story of struggling actor Michael Dorsey, who dresses like a woman to get a job because his reputation prevents him from getting a job as a man.  While he originally does it as an excuse to make some quick money, he ends up learning a lot about himself as well as about women in general.

Bill Murray appears in the film as Dorsey's roommate Jeff, and this is probably the most serious role he's played up to this point.  He is still there for laughs, but they're far more subtle laughs than the goofy groundskeeper in Caddyshack or the devil may care wiseguy from Stripes.  He's a playwright of the most pretentious caliber, explaining to friends in one scene that he doesn't want people to come up to him and say "I dug your play" but rather to have them ask "What was that?"  It's a good spoof on these type of artists.  He also often becomes the voice of the audience when talking to Michael, questioning him if maybe he's taking his pretending to be Dorothy Michaels just a little too far.

The story also works pretty well as an examination of feminism and gender roles, as Michael shakes up the soap opera status quo by being a more independent woman on the show without falling into the role of ice queen, thereby inspiring women who watch the show everywhere.  He also tries to inspire his coworker Julie to get out of the relationship she's in with their womanizing boss. It creates an interesting duality as Michael is not only lying to his coworkers and most of America watching the show, but he's also doing his own lying and womanizing to an old female friend of his at the same time.  Add to that the layer of his coworker's widowed father trying to court him, and the film ends up with a lot of layers but handles them all really well.

Another problem that can happen with a film like this is how it ends.  With this level of deception, can relationships truly be repaired once the lie is revealed?  I think it manages to handle that pretty well, giving Michael a little bit of hope to have a relationship with Julie (who he of course fell in love with, what else would you expect?) but also not having her forgive him 100% either.  I also like that he at least tries to apologize to her father, though I can't help but think a traditional man like that would realistically not want to associate with him at all after everything that happened.

Overall, I was pleased with Tootsie, finding it a good drama with some nice touches of humor here and there.  If you've never seen it before, I recommend giving it a watch.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Stripes was made by much of the same creative team that made Meatballs, but it's a strong improvement over that film.  I believe that's partially due to them learning and growing over the two years, as Bill Murray and Harold Ramis had worked on Caddyshack in between this, and also because of the addition of some strong cast members like John Candy, Judge Reinhold, John Larroquette, and John Diehl.

Stripes is also much more focused than either Meatballs or Caddyshack, because the plot isn't just "a series of whacky events at boot camp" but also shows at least some degree of characters growth for both Murray's John and Ramis' Russell as they go from being losers with no real future to actual soldiers.  It is of course a comedy, so it's not exactly a sharp dramatic change, but it does help to give the film much more focus than those previous films had.

This was also Ramis' first time working on a film, and while I chose to do this project around Murray's films, I have to admit I have a really strong soft spot for Ramis.  The reason why is related to the next film we'll see the two of them together in, but his goofy charm is also present here.  His inexperience as an actor does show, as some of his line delivery can occasionally be a little flat, and you can tell there are times when he's just looking to Murray or Candy to give him something to react to.  But that awkwardness actually helps, such as in the scene when the two of them are enlisting, and Murray starts singing in ominous tones as the officer hands Russell the papers to sign.  The big grin Ramis has plastered on his face tells you he's just really enjoying being there and watching Murray perform, and it adds an extra element to the moment you might not get from someone more experienced.  He also just has a wonderfully expressive face, and even when he's just mugging Candy, he steals some of the attention from that scene.

The movie does rely on the strength of its various bits and pieces, and naturally some are going to be better than others.  Murray does carry the majority of them, like when he's leading the troops at the graduation ceremony or flirting with P.J. Soles character.  That moment is also a strong improvement over Meatballs, as while there is still a little bit of "She doesn't like him, oh wait she does" to the plot thread, the two of them have more chemistry and it comes off a little more natural.  I was also happy to see that the schmuck he is at the beginning of the picture isn't rewarded for his garishness, but instead flat out dumped by his girlfriend.  Instead of inappropriately tackling P.J. Soles, he pokes at her with kitchen utensils.  That probably sounds awful as a description but it's not as violent as it sounds, and the scene actually comes off really cute.

There's also some more raunchiness and nudity here, as seems to be the status quo for adult comedies of this period.  John Larroquette's character spies on female soldiers in the shower, and the gang goes to a strip club where John Candy ends up mud wrestling four women.  I will say that it's at least believable that Murray's character's idea of a fun night out for the boys would be that type of thing, but I also don't know that it was necessary to really spend so much time on it.  Mostly because you could take out the nudity and this would probably end up being a PG film that anyone could enjoy.

The movie also changes in tone a bit after the guys graduate, sending them on a mission.  Mostly because we've had a lot of craziness leading up to this point and now suddenly we're staying focused on this one plot for the rest of the film.  It's a little odd to see them become action heroes, even bungling ones, after we've spent most of the film on them training and goofing off.  But I can see that they wanted there to be a payoff to all that, and it does work well enough to do so, it's just not as strong as the rest of the film.  But it also gave us an appearance by Joe Flaherty, and I can never say no to that.

Overall, I definitely recommend the movie to anyone who loves comedy.  I also watched the extended cut this time around, and it adds a few more funny scenes to the film as well as a little exposition that was probably cut for a reason, but leaving those moments in didn't make the movie drag at all. It's a fun time and a good film in the careers of Reitman, Murray, Ramis and Candy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Word Processor of the Gods & Sorry, Right Number

Because TV episodes are shorter in length than features, I've combined two into one update this time around.

"Word Processor of the Gods" was an episode in the first season of the Tales from the Darkside television series. It starred Bruce Davison, who would later appear in King's adaptation of Kingdom Hospital.  The story was originally published in Playboy and can now be found in Skeleton Crew.  It's the story of a man, Richard, being gifted by his talented nephew with a word processor he made from scratch, and as Richard begins to use it, he realizes that the things he writes - and deletes - come true in the real world.

It's a very close adaptation with only some minor changes, the main one being that the word processor in the TV episode only starts steaming in the final scene, rather than right away like it does in the story.  I think the fact that the word processor seems ready to explode almost as soon as Richard turns it on creates a little more tension, whereas on the episode it's used to build the climax. 

I also think the fact that King mentions his son saying mean and nasty things about Richard provides him with a proper motivation for deleting him out of existence.  In the episode it feels a bit more harsh. But I am glad that they played down King's rather offensive descriptions of Richard's wife and how obese she becomes after their son is gone. They're in rather poor taste and not really necessary. It's one thing to get rid of someone who treats you badly, but another to remove someone just because you don't like their eating habits.

I think the interesting thing about the story is that it's one of the few where a man uses a magical macguffin to make his world perfect and there are no repercussions to speak of - just the fact that the machine only lasts so long.  Usually stories about items that grant wishes are all about teaching the user a lesson, rather than rewarding them. Of course Richard's life starts out pretty crummy so it's nice for him to achieve his happy ending.  This is a well executed adaptation, so I recommend checking it out.

"Sorry, Right Number" appeared in season four of the Tales from the Darkside series, and it's not an adaptation strictly speaking.  King wrote the script for the episode and you can read the original script in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  The episode stars Deborah Harmon, who I recognized as playing the mother on Just the Ten of Us.  She plays Katie Weiderman who is chatting on the phone with one of her sisters at night when she gets a call on the other line.  A tearful voice gets out "Please.. Please take-" before the line is severed.  Katie is at first convinced it is her daughter who is away at college, but when a call to her proves she's fine, she makes her way through her other female relatives, absolutely positive that it wasn't a wrong number but actually someone she knew.

While I largely saw the twist of this episode coming pretty early on, the execution makes it worth it.  Deborah Harmon's performance brought me to tears at the end, and I highly recommend this one.

There is also a second version of it out there.  I'm not sure if it was a dollar baby or not, but it was made in 2005.  It makes a few minor changes but is largely the same story.  However the performances this time around just don't hold up.  You're much better off watching the original episode.

Friday, January 17, 2014

NGNY: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and more

Eleven days into the new year I finished a game!  A game in a series that I've never successfully finished before at that!  Pardon me for being so excited, but defeating a Zelda game is a record for me.

When this game was first announced, it seemed like it was just going to be a Link to the Past remake with a few tweaks here and there.  That's definitely not what it is though.  The map is primarily the same, but the dungeons are completely new and so is the story.  While it can certainly bring warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings for those familiar with the older game thanks to the music and setting, it's also just a great Zelda game period.

When I first got this, I made it through about four dungeons before hitting a wall of frustration.  I did really enjoy the game though and hated to see it put aside unfinished, so I consulted a walkthrough online, primarily to know which weapons I would need going into the dungeons and proper strategy to defeat the bosses.  There were also a few puzzle-like mazes that I got completely lost in and consulted the walkthrough to get past them.  But even with a guiding hand, the game gave me a significant challenge that made it all the more rewarding when I did make it through.

Most of the dungeons are call backs to the dungeons that appeared in Link to the Past, but they are significantly different from that game.  Most I would consider to be an improvement on the originals, adding in new elements to create newer challenges and make you do new and fun things.  Except for the ice palace.  It was a pain in the old game and it's an even bigger pain here.  Game designers who make ice levels are sadistic people.

The story on the surface is very similar to all the other Zelda games and really any other "rescue the princess" story, but toward the end it makes a significant turn.  While I began to sense the initial twist, the reveal was handled in a way that still made it feel satisfying and held emotional weight.  The second twist was something I should have seen coming, but didn't, and that made it all the more fun.  I certainly don't want to give it away for anyone, but for me the turn of events at the end of the game made me care about the characters far more than I usually do in these otherwise generic tales.

I'd recommend this game to anyone who loves the Zelda series or dungeon crawlers in general.  While it may not be worth purchasing a 3DS for alone, it's certainly a must have game if you already have one.  If I can beat it, you probably can too.


Zelda was not the only game I played since my last post, so I thought I'd add a couple quick blurbs at the end here:

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team - I've only barely started this one, meaning I've mostly been playing the tutorial levels.  It's fairly similar to the past Mario & Luigi games, which means it's a turn based RPG where timed hits give you bonuses, and there's a lot of puzzle solving to navigate the levels.  These games also have a cute silly humor to them that I really enjoy.

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One - I played a couple levels of this one and I have to admit I found it a little boring.  You run around shooting and smashing things.  The game tries to keep it interesting by having humorous commentary running throughout, but I'd put that comedy on par with a Dreamworks film - it's cute and mildly entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.  This was a free download with my Playstation Plus membership, so I can't feel ripped off.  The game was primarily designed for 4 player co-op play, and I elected to play it offline alone, so it's quite possible I'm missing out on some of the fun.  However my experience with online play via PSN is kind of spotty, so I'd rather not play that way.  I haven't deleted the game but I may not return to it.

Superbrothers Swords and Sworcery EP - I continued with Session 2 of this game.  The puzzles here are more of the "try stuff until you figure it out" variety rather than logic or things that are hinted at.  I'm not crazy about that at all, and I actually went to a walkthrough after getting frustrated with a puzzle where I was supposed to just know to click on 9 sheep in random order until they all lit up.  Once I got through the puzzles it was time to fight a boss, and that was also challenging but in a more enjoyable way.  A few days later I started session 3 and found those puzzles much easier to handle, but the boss far more frustrating.  So frustrating that I don't know if I'm coming back to this one.  The timing is just so precise with so little margin for error, which is so off kilter with the otherwise relaxing tone of the game.  I will probably give it one more try, but I just wasn't having fun by the end of it.

Super Mario Galaxy - I had played through some of this one a while back, and then abandoned it.  I played the game for a little longer this week and realized why I stopped.  I have a total of 34 stars, and that seems to be as far as I can get.  The challenge is frustrating me far more than making me want to beat it.  I anticipate the same will happen with its sequel, but I'll give it a try.  This one is going on the sell/trade in pile.

I also realized I have a few games through, Bioshock 2 DLC, and some 3DS digital downloads I haven't played much of.  I've added them all to my list.  You can see why this project was a good idea for me; I have games I don't even remember having!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Tales from the Darkside the Movie

As a cat owner, I'm always bothered by evil cats in stories, mostly because writers use their so called "aloof" nature as an excuse.  So you could say I had my guard up on the story "The Cat from Hell" from the beginning.  I think King manages to justify the trope somewhat by giving this cat a reason for its killing spree.  It's getting revenge for the hundreds or thousands of cats that have been killed during testing for the drug developed by Drogan's company.

The hundreds or thousands is a difference between whether or not you're reading the story or watching the film Tales from the Darkside the Movie.  The story was originally published in Cavalier magazine, which held a contest around it.  The beginning of the story was included in their March issue, and they invited readers to finish it.  The winning entry and King's complete version were then published in the June issue.  The best way to find it now is in the collection Just After Sunset.  The short is the second one featured in the film.

The chosen cast for the film is fantastic.  Seeing William Hickey in a wheelchair immediately makes me think of Dr. Finkelstein from Nightmare before Christmas and then you have Alice Drummond of Ghostbusters librarian fame playing his sister.  David Johansen made me do a double take at first, because I know him best as Buster Pointdexter.  But his over the top personality is perfect for when he's one on one with the cat.  That is the point where the film adaptation strays from the story, as the story has Halston drive the cat home and is killed en route.  But I think keeping him in the house is a great choice, especially this huge mansion with its many shadows.  The set really makes it work.  The cat's eye view is a little silly, mostly because it's overdone, but overall this is a great cat and mouse game, if you'll pardon the pun.

The way the cat makes his kill is taken directly from the story, but I have a really hard time with this.  I realize it's strongly suggested that this is a demon cat, not a normal one of this earth.  But most people couldn't fit a normal sized cat's head inside their mouth, let alone its whole body.  So when I was reading my suspension of disbelief was completely gone, because it was just too ridiculous to be possible.  Watching it, I mostly find myself examining the special effects used and judging them on how unrealistic they are rather than being horrified in any way.  I admire their attempts to adapt the story properly, it just doesn't work for me.

None of the other stories in the film have any ties to King, so I won't do a full review of them.  But the cast of the wrap around story and the first tale make their scenes worth watching.  The final act is a little weak in terms of pacing, but has some great feature effects and an interesting story.  It's a pretty good horror anthology over all.

Two of Stephen King's stories were also adapted into episodes of the television show version of Tales from the Darkside, and I'll be looking at those next week.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Beatlemiscellania - Nowhere Boy

While parodies can be fun, biographies of real life people are always a little more difficult. A parody can sometimes reach into the realm of offense, but it's all done for the sake of a laugh and usually not mean spirited. Biographies on the other hand often go for sensationalism and therefore add a little too much fiction to the reality in order to create a "more interesting" story.

Nowhere Boy covers the section of John Lennon's life when he reconnected with his estranged mother. It also just so happens to be the same time when he met Paul and George and the Beatles were just starting. John spoke a lot about this time of his life, and many of the events are covered in the Beatles Anthology. But there is also a lot of sensationalism.

One strong element of the film is that John's Aunt Mimi, who raised him, is cold, strict, and basically averse to fun in all forms. When her husband dies near the beginning of the film, she shrugs off John's attempts to hug her in his grief, and later when she's angry at him she throws an apple and beams him in the shoulder. I've seen interviews with her before she died, and while you could say she softened in her older age, I can't see her ever being this ice queen. Paul McCartney reportedly also disagreed with this portrayal of her. It's done to create a strong contrast between Mimi and John's mother Julia, but that doesn't make it fair.

Julia on the other hand is a free spirit who loves rock and roll, let's John and his fellow bandmates drink and smoke in her house, and just all around acts more like a teenager than a mother. It's a little harder to say if her portrayal is accurate, as at least she never truly had the chance to speak for herself. Was she truly as bad a mother as she's shown here? It's hard to say. But since she's overall shown to be encouraging and loving to John in her own way, she doesn't suffer as much as Mimi does.

Despite these problems, I do think they do a good job of portraying just how lost and confused John was at this time in his life. Our relationships with our parents have a huge effect on us, and John was clearly deeply affected by the lack of his birth parents in his life, as well as the loss of his Uncle George, his surrogate father, and Aunt Mimi. He was a rebel and a bad boy, and music was pretty much the only thing that kept him focused. While he's certainly changed by the end of this film, he's still troubled, as he would continue to be even after the Beatles reached success. In that way, the title of the film is fitting and accurate.

While I expected a degree of inaccuracy, the one thing about the film that rubbed me the wrong way was the clear amount of sexual tension they included between Lennon and his mother. I don't think this was me looking into things the wrong way either, as some of the ways they would dance together or once as she leans close to him on the sofa just come off a little odd. On top of that, a bond forms between Paul and Julia, and the tension is there again, and John even seems jealous of it. Paul had lost his own mother a year before, so it's natural he might be drawn to Julia as well. Her death certainly built a bond between the two boys that could reasonably have led to them having the strong friendship they had, but they just took it a little too far at times and it creeped me out.

On the other hand, the part about the film I enjoyed the most was the music. It's a great mix of 50s classics from the likes of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Buddy Holly, and Elvis, as well as covers done by star Aaron Johnson and a backup band called the Nowhere Boys. This is not a mix of Beatles classics, but rather rarities like "Hello Little Girl" and "In Spite of the All the Danger" which I've only ever heard on the anthology. It was nice to hear someone else sing those songs, and they did a good job of them. None of the actors look or sound like the Beatles, but they fit in well enough that it's not a jarring difference.

While this is a decent enough portrayal of John's youth, I'm not sure it would have much appeal to anyone other than Beatles fans. I could see showing this to someone to try to help them understand why I love John - that it's his flaws and difficulties that make me sympathize and relate to him - but I don't know if it's relatable beyond trying to understand John himself.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Needful Things

Needful Things was subtitled The Last Castle Rock Story, but of course in time that has proven to not be the case.  King has in fact revisited the town since then.  But there is still a finality to the story, and the town is certainly a disaster area by the end of the book.  Perhaps the biggest thing is that it does feature characters that have appeared in previous Castle Rock set stories, and I'd personally recommend reading at least The Body, Cujo, and The Dark Half before you get to this one.  It's not required, but I think you'll appreciate it a little more having built a history with some of these people, particularly Alan Pangborn, our hero.

King always excels when taking a look at the secrets which hide inside small town America, and that is essentially what this book is all about.  A demon comes to town posing as shop keeper Leland Gaunt who sells antiques.  His items are extremely unique and most seem like useless junk to everyone else but the person who covets it the most.  The price is surprisingly affordable, monetarily, but also requires you to perform a prank on someone else.  Gaunt slowly but surely pits the entire town against one another until the whole thing reaches an explosive and violent end.

The book is one of King's longer tomes, clocking in at 731 pages.  While not as long as some of his epics like The Stand or Under the Dome, there's still a lot going on here, and a very large cast of characters.  Trying to cram them all into a two hour movie would be impossible.  It's logical that some of characters would be eliminated or minimized, and that some of the storylines would have to be condensed.  This adaptation made some pretty good choices as far as who to keep and who to throw away, with the exception of Ace Merrill.  But adaptations being what they are, Ace was probably still owned by Columbia Pictures, just as The Dark Half film was being produced by Orion and therefore movie Alan makes no mention of the things that happened in that story.  But that's not the worst part of Alan's past that they tossed aside.

A major part of the book is related to how Alan lost his wife and son in a car accident and how difficult a time he had getting over that.  In the film, his past is changed to a throw away mention that he once got in trouble for losing his temper and beating someone up.  That completely changes his character and makes him less sympathetic.  It also makes no real sense and has no real bearing on the story, so they could have just left it out.  His storyline with Polly is there to give him a character arc, and that's really all he needs.

Though of course, Polly's back story is also eliminated.  Polly's guilt over the death of her own child, and her refusal to tell her nosy small town neighbors what happened, was the main source of her pride.  The pain in her hands thanks to arthritis was just a weakness.  So when Gaunt says in this movie "I've always loved a woman with pride" it doesn't really make sense without that history.

There are also lots of other bizarre nonsensical changes littered throughout the film.  Some changes suggest they either had a very limited budget, or just got lazy. Polly and Nettie work at the diner instead of a sewing shop, and a lot of the items that people purchase are changed.  Then there are stupid changes, like having Gaunt essentially stalk Polly in a way that any normal woman would know he's trouble and avoid him (well, unless her name was Bella Swan, I guess), or the fact that Danforth confides in Alan about his embezzling when Alan is one of the people he dislikes the most.  Or the fact that instead of Gaunt being a general demon, he has to be the devil, responsible for Hitler and the bombings of Japan and all other major disasters of our time.  Multiple lines of the film are torn directly from the book, but outside of their proper context they don't mean the same thing anymore.

There is one reason to watch this movie, and that reason is J. T. Walsh's performance as Danforth Keaton.  He handles the slide from paranoia to full on psychosis perfectly, and seeing him attempt to bring down Gaunt at the end was a great idea, even if it is a different fate from the one he suffered in the book.

Needful Things is a great book with a wonderful slow build to it.  As such, this should have at least been a mini-series, if not a full blown television show.  I've seen strong parallels between things that happen here and events on Under the Dome season one, and it just proves to me all the more that's the kind of adaptation this book deserved.  Picture it, if you will:  A now appropriately aged Keifer Sutherland reprises his role as a washed up Ace Merrill.  His father, Donald, plays Leland Gaunt.  Polly is portrayed by Mary McDonnell and Michael Rooker returns to the role of Alan Pangborn.  Unlikely, I know, but I can dream.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Loose Shoes

Sometimes the problem with projects like reviewing every film a person is in is that some films aren't entirely reviewable. I find myself in that space right now with Loose Shoes, also re-titled as Coming Attractions and Quackers, because I guess if your movie doesn't have much value you might as well give it three titles.

You'll see most descriptions saying the film is a series of shorts presented as trailers, but that's not entirely accurate. While the first few shorts do resemble trailers, many of them become too long and show too much story to truly be considered a preview for a film, and there's also an intermission with a kind of commercial and a musical performance at the end. As such, it's largely a cluttered mess of various sequences pushed together. A skit show stretched out to 70 minutes.

The jokes are immensely flimsy. "The Howard Huge Story" is a trailer for a bio pic of Howard Hughes, except he has a large penis. "Skateborders from Hell" (that's how they spell it) is basically a biker gang on skateboards. "Invasion of the Penis Snatchers" shows us a UFO, then cuts to a man going to use the bathroom and reaching and searching in his pants for what feels like eternity before finally screaming in horror because his member is gone.

The one trailer I found mildly funny was called "The Shaggy CEO" where Walt Whizney dies but comes back as a large shaggy dog (a man in a suit) and has to convince his brother Roy that he's really him. It's not much of a joke, but I thought it played on the hoax of Walt Disney freezing himself to come back to life combined with the proliferation of Shaggy Dog sequels the Disney company made well enough. Or maybe it was just the first one that wasn't in as poor taste as the others that I didn't mind it.

Bill Murray appears in a short titled "Three Chairs for Lefty" that while framed like a trailer really goes on far too long to be one. He's a man on death row for killing a judge, who studies law while he's on the toilet, starts a riot in the mess hall because he doesn't like the food, talks to a guy who tells him they found a tunnel out of the place but doesn't tell him where the tunnel is, then gets laughed at by the warden who tells him he appreciates the food Lefty made for him but he's still going to the electric chair. And would he mind holding a roast while he's sitting there so his wife can fix it up for dinner later? Murray also seems to be wearing blush and mascara for the short, though that may be a mix of a poor makeup crew and poor lighting on the set. As you can probably tell, it's not very funny and Murray doesn't really bring much of anything to the role.

Buddy Hackett appears as himself as a spokesman for S.T.O.P.I.T. during the intermission. The organization is there to help kids stop wetting the bed. They have a reproduction of the Manneken Pis on their grounds, but the water in the fountain is yellow. The nurses yell at the boys and tell them how bad they are, while Hackett asks for donations.

Howard Hesseman is in another short as a war correspondent, and this is where I have to be totally honest and admit I dozed off for a little bit. I don't remember what the joke was supposed to be here, but given how poor the other jokes were in the film I didn't really find myself wanting to rewind and find out. I apparently also missed some porn parody trailers. There were plenty of topless women in the early trailers, so I'm not surprised they included that too.

The movie ends with "Darktown After Dark." David Downing portrays a Cab Calloway type singing "Loose Shoes." The title of the song and its refrain are taken from a statement by racist politician Earl Butz. I won't quote it here because it's offensive and NSFW, but you can read it on the Wikipedia page for the film. The song runs with the quote, introducing other likes like "I don't need a watermelon patch." I understand the purpose of something like this, but I'm not sure the perfomance had to go on as long as it did. The other really awful thing about it is that thanks to the repetition, it's easy for the phrase to get stuck in your head. Given how awful it is, I'm not really crazy about that. In fact I'm really anxious to put this whole thing behind me so I never have it pop up in my head ever again.

Obviously, I do not recommend you finding this movie. There's nothing here all that funny, the shorts don't really tie together, and it's a waste of some perfectly good actors. Fortunately for me, Murray's film career improves quite a bit from here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

No Game New Year: Introduction and quick indie game impressions

There's a common problem when it comes to video games, especially for adults with full time jobs. Video games are hyped up upon initial release to drum up sales, and so sometimes you end up purchasing a game because it sounds really good. Other times you may show restraint on initial release, but then the sales come up and you can't resist. Things like the Humble Bundles and Steam sales mean lots of us purchase PC games simply because they are priced at $5 or less. Unfortunately, our limited amount of free time means we hardly ever play these games, and many go untouched.

On January 2nd, Norman Caruso, also known as The Gaming Historian, made a post proclaiming his New Year's resolution to not purchase any new games in 2014, and instead focus on the games he owns and hasn't played. This is something I have told myself I would do before, and while it has stopped me from purchasing a few games, I've had trouble sticking to it. I'm hoping that, just as Norman suggests, if I track this online it will help keep me accountable and avoid temptation. Because I have a lot of games I need to play.

Going through it all last night, I found a total list of 48 games between my 3DS, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and PC that I either played a little bit of and then stopped, or simply purchased/downloaded and never touched at all. You can check the NGNY page for a complete list. I don't anticipate finishing all of them this year, but I hope to at least try out a bunch of them and get through as many as I can. I will also try to stream some of them, either on or 3DS games and long term RPGs not included, if there's a game you'd like to see me play by all means let me know. I will also post reviews here as I finish games.

One of the first games I want to get through is The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, as I was really enjoying the game but hit a difficulty curve. I think I am mostly in need of upgrading my armor so that hits won't do quite as much damage. If that doesn't work, I may just have to admit that I'm not a good enough player to finish that one and move on.

I also went ahead and went through my Steam account and tried out some games I had got as part of a Humble Indie Bundle ages ago but never played:

  1. Aquaria - I will probably return to this one again, as I currently only gave it 15 minutes. Jak was with me and it was boring for him to watch.  The first person narrative is a little silly and the swimming controls are a little difficult in tight curves but it has potential.
  2. Bastion - This game tells you that WASD keyboard controls are ideal for the game, but sets the game on an isometric plane, where you'll pretty much always have to move in a diagonal direction.  What a terrible idea.  I also have this on the Xbox, so I may try again with a controller where I can move around properly, but with a keyboard it was completely impossible.
  3. Gish - Speaking of poor design, wow.  When I can only barely get through your tutorial and get stuck on the first level, you're doing something wrong.  Jumping was impossible, as I couldn't understand what they were trying to tell me the trick to it was.  Sticking to things also didn't work well at all as I would stick to the floor as much as the walls, and I was apparently supposed to jiggle the controls until it detached.  Just miserable.
  4. Lugaru HD - It looks like a poor 3D model demo for building anthropomorphic rabbits, with only basic trees and mountains in the background.  I played the tutorial before jumping into the game and the combat got increasingly more complicated.  When I finally decided to just jump in, I was greeted by a poor attempt at introducing a story and clumsy 3D platforming.  I won't be returning to this one.
  5. Super Meat Boy - This looks like a well designed platformer, great music and decent puzzles.  But much like the more difficult Mario levels and Mega Man games, it's not my strongest type of game.  They recommended a controller, which I didn't use, and I can see how that would help a lot.  I may try again with one.
  6. Superbrothers: Swords and Sorcery EP - I played through the first level of this one.  It took me a little bit to figure out what the game wanted me to do, but once I got the hang of it I was intrigued by the art style, music, and story.  I'll definitely be continuing this one.
  7. World of Goo - Physics puzzles are not really my forte.  I like them to an extent, but then I hit a wall and can't go any further.  This game is no exception to that.  I guess this is what I get for never taking physics in school.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Warm Bodies (book and film)

It's inevitable that once something becomes popular, publishers and producers will look for similar things to help keep the money rolling in. Some of those things are complete rip offs without soul, and others just happen to be in the same genre. Warm Bodies was largely pushed as "Twilight with zombies" but all that really means is that this is a paranormal romance book. I personally wouldn't rate it as young adult, but I'm not sure where it ends up being filed in the bookstore. This book is aware of the footsteps it's being forced to follow in, and author Isaac Marion does throw in a few winking nods to Twilight, but they are not particularly kind ones.

And that is the real problem with that comparison, as there are many of us who didn't care for Twilight at all, or at least had sincere problems with its concepts of romance and portrayal of the characters, and while Warm Bodies isn't without its own faults, those two elements are not among them. As a zombie, our main character R starts off without the ability to feel much of anything, and he is completely unaffected by lust. When he meets his love interest Julie, there is no desire to eat her brains or any other parts of her body, nor does he have any desire to sleep with her. He recognizes that she's attractive, and that's all. As such I found this to be a nice refreshing approach at romance, one where the characters are largely devoid of physical attraction and therefore simply get to know each other for who they are.

The other important element to me is that while the romance is important to the story, it does not consume the entire book. This was the first book I've ever read written from the point of view of a zombie, and as such I found it really interesting. Listening to R struggle with his urges, his desires to connect with people, and the descriptions of zombie society made the creatures more interesting to me than I've ever considered them to be before. His desire for connection is also close enough to that which we want as humans that it makes him easy to relate to even if we don't understand his need to eat brains. I also found Julie and her friend Nora to be strong characters and I understood why R was drawn to them. And I'm not just saying that because Julie was a big Beatles fan.

There were moments where I felt the book dragged, either in the interest of drawing out the drama a little too long, or perhaps the author not quite knowing where to take the story just yet, but the pace of the beginning and end of the book is very strong; the climax in particular was thrilling and full of action, keeping you on your toes and not really sure where it was going to go next. There are some twists that are a little odd, but this is a book that doesn't attempt to explain any of the paranormal happenings at all. With no real explanation given for how the curse started, there's also only a flimsy explanation as to why things are changing now. This didn't bother me too much, but I can see how it might be annoying for some. But this is a reality where zombies eat a person's brain and are able to see that person's memories, so either you're going to go along for the ride with that or you're not. The ending and solution are a little on the saccharine side, but I think it worked.

Since R can't really communicate in anything other than strained, limited phrases, the majority of the book is spent inside his head. Knowing that they made a film adapation going in to this, I couldn't help but wonder how they would handle it when they got to the film. There is a degree of narration in the film, which is essential especially in the beginning when R is unable to communicate. I actually feel like they should have taken it further, something more akin to Fight Club where a little stylization could have helped it continue to feel fresh throughout the film. Unfortunately, that's not the film they chose to emulate.

While the book publishers no doubt were trying to cash in on Twilight in their own way, the movie studio was definitely trying to remind you of the film version so much more. Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer almost look like doubles for Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart at parts. While R is supposed to be a largely unmarred zombie, I couldn't help but feel like they were going for something very similar to the way the Twilight vampires look. Perhaps more importantly, a lot of the zombie world building from the novel is discarded and most of the emphasis in the film is on their romance. There is also just the simple fact that since movies have to move quicker than novels do, a lot of the time R and Julie spend getting to know each other is condensed into montages and single moments rather than the longer moments we get in the book. I think they did a decent enough job with the time they had. While I prefer the slow awakening of attraction and emotion that R experiences in the novel, his fumbling attempts to impress the girl in the film also make him endearing.

They make a lot of changes to some of the various events in the book, particularly in the climax, but I do think the core of the story remains. One change they make is a bit of a head scratcher though - in the book, R leaps from a great height with Julie in his arms to escape from humans that are persuing them. In the film, they're running from the Boneys, zombies with very little flesh left on them. Since zombies of any kind can only be killed by having their brains destroyed, there's absolutely no reason why the Boneys couldn't jump after them. But they don't, simply because the movie needs them to stop right then.

The only other change that bothered me were some of the music choices. In the book R mostly listens to Frank Sinatra, but in the film they use Guns N' Roses, Springstein, and Bob Dylan. I can't stand the first two and while I love Dylan, he's no Sinatra. I realize it's possible they couldn't get permission to use Sinatra's songs, but I still feel like they could have made better choices.

Did you notice that the names R and Julie are very similar to Romeo and Juliet? If so, clap yourself on the back, because I totally missed it up until that scene in the film above. Despite the fact that there is a scene where Julie is standing on a balcony (in the book she's even talking to herself) and R appears below. There are other comparisons to be made even beyond the fact that they are star crossed lovers. Personally, I'm kind of glad I didn't notice it, because it would have had me rolling my eyes a bit. Looking back on it all knowing that, I can see the similarities but I think he also does enough variations to that story to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, this does seem to be a novel (and film) where you're going to end up making comparisons to other works. But that doesn't mean that either version isn't worth your time.
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