Friday, February 28, 2014

John Dies at the End (book and film)

I've had an Audible subscription for a few months now, and when my monthly credit came up I was trying to decide what to spend it on.  Browsing the suggestions for me, I saw someone call David Wong's John Dies at the End a mix between Stephen King and Douglas Adams, and that certainly got my attention.  Having now gotten through the book, I wouldn't call that entirely accurate.  Of course, those are really lofty comparisons that would be very difficult to match, so it's not really fair.  But if you've been enjoying some of the recent mixes between horror and comedy we've been getting lately, this book is for you.

The book started as a webserial, and while I didn't know that will listening it makes a lot of sense in retrospect.  It isn't so much a clear narrative as a series of episodes in the life of the fictional version of David.  The name is a pseudonym for the author, but it also makes the book feel more personal having the author narrate to you that way, and I liked it. The book just feels a bit unfocused as he jumps through time periods and tries to make these events connect to each other.  Some events feel like they need to be expanded, and others are probably dwelt on a little too long.  The mythology is also not well explained, but I was okay with that, as being from the first person perspective, it makes sense that he's not going to always fully understand what is happening around him.

What is more important is the humor and the horror, and both of those work very well.  The humor probably a little more so than the horror, but that's probably what you would expect from the editor of The characters also feel real, and I liked that this is a story very much grounded in reality despite the insane things happening.  The book takes a turn toward the end that was very much unexpected and entertaining.  It worked well keeping me in suspense and wanting to reach the end of the book.  Of course that title also keeps you in suspense the whole time too, waiting for the shoe to drop.

With the narrative unfocused as it is, it makes sense that a film adaptation would make some changes and try to make something a little more cohesive.  That's exactly what Don Coscarelli did, essentially melding two of the main events of the book into one story and keeping in a few of the wilder smaller events for the sake of humor and strangeness.  The film isn't as clever as Cabin in the Woods or as funny as Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but it does make for an entertaining film with some legitimate scares and gross out moments.  A lot of the humor from the book is left intact, though Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes are not the strongest of leads.  Doug Jones and Clancy Brown are perfect in their supporting roles, but sadly underused.

Sometimes, going from book to film can be a bad thing, or at least spoil a film for you.  In this case, my main complaint revolves around the character of Amy Sullivan.  I became quite fond of her in the book, from her introduction when David can only remember her by her nickname "Cucumber" until her proper role in the story is revealed.  She's sweet and timid but smart and sure of herself and just a wonderful character.  But in the film all of that is lost, merging her with Jennifer Lopez (not the celebrity, just a girl with the same name) and keeping her around because she's needed for one moment and that's it.  They also give her a large over-sized hand to cover her amputated one, and since it is completely nonfunctional and doesn't look remotely real, I can only assume this was meant to be a joke that falls really flat.

Personal bias aside, it's still a film worth watching for horror fans.  I also highly recommend the book, flawed though it may be.  There's a second novel in the series titled This Book is Full of Spiders, and that title alone makes me want to check it out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Green Mile

Christ figures are incredibly common in literature, and have been found by scholars even in places where they may not have been originally intended.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen as accurate a portrayal as John Coffey in any other work of fiction.  King himself would botch another attempt years later in a Kingdom Hospital episode, but Coffey’s sacrifice and execution are very well done and heartbreaking in this work.

Beyond that parable, both versions of the story stand strongly against the use of the electric chair, but also don’t preach to you about the issue.  I think King manages to skirt the line well, particularly in the case of Delacroix, acknowledging his horrible crime while also making him a pitiable creature at times.  The movie on the other hand, isn’t quite so effective at this, as we never hear at all about just what it is Delacroix did.  You can safely assume murder was involved for him to end up on death row, but I think removing the details that Delacroix committed rape and murder of a teenage girl and then burned down an apartment building that had children inside to try to cover it up makes the situation more complex and thought provoking.  But considering that this movie is three hours long and still doesn’t have enough time to cover everything in the story, it is understandable that they left out these details.

The Green Mile is a unique volume by today’s standards, originally published in six mini-volumes released in serial format.  While this was probably very exciting for people at the time it was released, these days, it can be a little tedious.  You can buy the story in one single volume now, but it is literally just the six books bound together in one.  So at the beginning of each new volume, there is a recap of everything that happened before.  This is a pretty common occurrence whenever you’re reading a series of books – Rowling’s recap of all that Harry had dealt with before in each new Harry Potter novel comes to mind.  But I find that tedious as well, and especially in the later books I had much longer stories to read in between the recaps.  Here, it comes more quickly, and I found myself skimming over those passages to just hurry up and get back to the story.

This is generally regarded as one of King’s non-horror stories, and the film is certainly not in the horror section, but the description of Del’s execution is most definitely pure horror, and the element of the supernatural in the story makes it a bit different than The Body and Shawshank Redemption.  It makes sense that Darabont would use this to bridge the gap before adapting an actual horror story.  His version of the botched execution is still horrifying, and I think it’s actually improved with the removal of the popping eyeballs and other gory details King describes in the book.

The changes between the two are pretty minor.  Some details get left out, and the timeline is shifted slightly – Bitterbuck was executed before John ever showed up on the mile, but for the most part these changes make sense.  Often times, they properly condense the story.  In the book there is a bully of an orderly making Paul’s life miserable at the old folks home, and he reminds him very much of Percy.  While it’s a nice parallel, it’s also not necessary, and it makes sense that they dropped it.  It was also a movie with a character much like William Wharton that upset Paul in the novel, whereas here we add in the detail that John Coffey wanted to see a film before he died.  I think this was probably added to try to add one nice moment for John, who spends so much time in misery.

Another change that really makes sense is having John touch Paul and revealing the truth to him about Wharton killing the little girls.  It saves us all the time it requires Paul to research the issue, a scene that is pretty redundant in tone to when he visits Hammersmith and asks him if he thinks Coffey is guilty.  It also makes the moment where John touches Paul a second time make more sense.  In the novel it comes out of nowhere, just John wanting to give Paul a glimpse of what it’s like to be him all the time.  Here the touch has a purpose.

The only moment in the film I felt didn’t entirely work was when they included the grandfather clock breaking and the house shaking as Coffey heals Melinda.  In the book it makes sense, as it’s a very tense moment and all the men can see is this towering giant on top of the woman, but here the swelling, touching music and overall tone of the way it is shot create a different kind of mood, and the cracking of the clock and the quick shudder of the house clash with that mood for me.

Another small complaint I have, and one I realize some people may not agree with, but I’ve never cared for Tom Hanks as a dramatic actor.  He has a stiffness to him that often makes it hard for me to sympathize with him.  It’s strange for a man who was always so expressive with his comedy to come off wooden in dramatic performances, but more often than not that’s how I see him.

In strong contrast to that is Michael Clark Duncan, who plays John Coffey perfectly.  In the book it’s said that Coffey seems almost empty inside when he’s not performing his miracles, and that he has trouble remembering things.  That kind of switch between dullness and clarity is not an easy thing to pull off, but he does it, and makes Coffey the sympathetic character he needs to be.  His physical stature is also perfect of course, as he does tower over all the other performers.

Once again I can’t help but question whether the movie really needed to be three hours long, but I have to admit that there is nothing I would trim here.  Losing some of the little details already changes things a little, like the way all the guys seem to go along with the plan to release Coffey just because Paul says so.  But the film never drags and the performances are strong enough that I wasn’t ever looking at my watch wishing it was over yet.

The fact that Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both set at prisons in the past can be a bit confusing – enough that I expected to see Bob Gunton playing the warden in this film.  There are a lot of crossover actors here in the background, particularly William Sadler.  We’ll see him again in Darabont’s next King adaptation, The Mist.

Monday, February 24, 2014


I was already putting off doing this review, feeling like I couldn't properly state the affect this movie had on my generation or explain what it was that made it so magical, and then today I hear the news that Harold Ramis has passed away, and I am even more overwhelmed.  But perhaps that means it's the perfect time to try.

The original idea for the film was Dan Aykroyd's, but it was too large in scope to be filmed.  Having recently watched the extended edition of The Blues Brothers, I can tell you that an unfocused Aykroyd not being reigned in is not a good thing.  Fortunately Ivan Reitman knew this too, and called in Harold Ramis to help Aykroyd with the script and bring it more down to earth.  While the two previous Reitman/Ramis collaborations were lacking in focus (Meatballs, Stripes) Ramis seemed to have learned quite a bit from his time in the director's chair since then (Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation).  As such this film stands miles ahead of all those that came before it.  It's a merging of all those talents plus Bill Murray at just the right moment to create something truly special, something that couldn't ever entirely be reproduced again (depending on how you feel about the sequel anyway).

This was also the first family friendly film for all of them, and you almost have to wonder if that was also a large part of the reason why it stands above - while there is plenty of sexual innuendo and jokes designed to fly over the heads of children and make the adults watching with them laugh, the fact that they're not trying to throw in a pair of breasts just because seems to help.  Or maybe it's that this is going into the realm of science fiction and the paranormal, a fascinating subject, and something children in particular are ready to believe.

That last part definitely has a lot to do with why the film became such a phenomenon at least.  The cartoon and toys that followed helped too, providing us with the continuing adventures and allowing us to don our own proton packs and throw out traps to catch ghosts.  It also made something we were once so afraid of seem controllable and fun.  There was less of a reason to worry about the monster under your bed or hiding in your closet if you could blast them and trap them in a containment unit.

The Ghostbusters themselves were the height of cool.  I've never taken a poll, but from most people I know, it seems like Egon and Peter are the stand out favorites.  Egon was the awkward nerd that reminded us of ourselves, and Peter was the wise-ass you wished you could be.  Which is not to put down Ray or Winston - Ray's enthusiasm and childlike innocence is a large part of the appeal of the film, and Winston's every-man attitude gives you someone to relate to.  They are all perfect in their own way, and it's this strong cast that really makes the film work, and continued to make it work in the sequel even when the plot wasn't as strong.

Somewhere in an alternate universe stands a film where Venkmen is played by John Belushi, Louis Tully by John Candy, and Winston by Eddie Murphy.  While I'd love to see that film, I feel pretty confident in saying that the one we got is better.  Because while John Belushi was a talent in his own right, this film needs Bill Murray, and is better because he's here.  Murray always brings at least some degree of improvisation to his roles, and it may just be personal opinion but his wise ass beats Belushi's any day of the week.  It's hard to pull off asshole who is also likeable, but that's exactly what Venkman is, and you can understand why Dana Barrett does ultimately fall for him.

Of course, I didn't.  I fell for Egon.  Hard.  As I said earlier, a large part of the appeal was that Egon was like me - glasses, quiet and reserved, a bit awkward and shy and oblivious.  But he was also accomplished and capable and had what seemed to be one of the coolest jobs in the world.  When I watched the cartoon and saw Janine so completely smitten with Egon, I totally understood.  I was too.  Even watching it today, I still find myself smitten with him.  He's written intentionally creepy in parts, but he's still adorably awkward, Ramis' quiet charm coming through all the way.

I technically wrote about this film once before on here, and everything I said there still applies.  It's a great film for both kids and adults, and it deserves its cultural status.  I would go so far as to say it will hold up as a classic for years to come as well.

As far as my thoughts on losing Ramis, I'm at a loss.  As a writer and director in particular, he did a lot to change comedy for the better, and his influence is immeasurable. I'm looking forward to checking out some of his work that I missed even more now.  It's a shame that it will now have a bit of a bittersweet edge to it, knowing he's now gone.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - (Rita Hayworth and) The Shawshank Redemption

Stephen King loves to tell the story of how a woman once approached him and admonished him for writing such disgusting horror stories, and how he should really write something nice, like The Shawshank Redemption. When he explained to her that he did in fact write that one, she didn’t believe him. I certainly don’t remember King’s name ever being mentioned in promotional materials for the film, so it’s logical for people to make that mistake. I can also understand why Hollywood chose to avoid it, as the moment the general public sees King’s name stamped on something, they are automatically thinking horror. It is a shame though, because this story is a perfect example of how he is just as capable of non-horror fiction as well.

The story is set in Shawshank prison, and follows the lives of two men in particular, Red, our narrator, and Andy Dufresne, a wrongly convicted man serving two life sentences for double homicide. Andy is strongly determined to get out of Shawshank, and it’s his never-ending hope to do so that inspires Red and many of the other men who knew Andy.

When your narrator is a man who has spent most of his life in prison, you could certainly run the risk of having an unlikable narrator. Red’s biggest offense in the novella is throwing around the n word a couple times. He uses it as a term for all prisoners regardless of race, and he’s not being insulting as much as he’s trying to explain how they are seen by everyone else, but I can certainly see how someone could get turned off by it. Beyond that though, he’s a fairly pleasant old man, hardened by his time in prison but remorseful enough for his crimes that you believe him. Of course in the film he is portrayed by Morgan Freeman, which makes him about fifty times more likable right off the bat.

When I was young, I remember being bothered by the fact that Red was described as an Irishman with red hair in the book and yet they cast a black man. Of course, I was also bothered that they decided to shorten the title, dropping off the mention of Rita Hayworth. In truth, neither of these changes is truly relevant to the story at all. Red is the guy in prison who can get things for you and his race is irrelevant. The poster of Rita and the other ladies Andy requests are still in the story, and that’s all that really matters.

The novella is pretty short, definitely closer to short story size than to novel length. So I was pretty shocked when I went to revisit the film and realized it was two hours and twenty minutes long. The added length is there primarily by expanding on things that Red only briefly mentions in the story – parole hearings, Andy helping out the warden and prison guards with money, and what happens to Brooks once he leaves prison. There’s one completely fabricated event, where Andy plays the classical music over the speakers which leads to them also adding the idea that Red used to play the harmonica. It’s not a bad addition, but I can’t help but feel that some of this could have been cut. It’s a good film, but I’m not sure there is enough happening here to really justify the long running time.

There are very few differences from the story itself. While Andy asks for three cold beers a piece for his crewmates working on the roof, in the story they only get one warm beer each. That seems far more realistic to me than Hadley actually giving them exactly what Andy asked for. And as Red mentions in the story, they are grateful for even that. Warm beer is better than no beer at all when you’ve been locked up as long as these men have. The death of young Tommy is also an addition to the film, perhaps to show just how hard and cruel Warden Norton is. In the story, he’s simply transferred to a lower security prison where he’ll get to see his wife and child more frequently.

Speaking of the warden, there are a few different ones that come and go in the novella, but it makes sense that they combined them into one for simplicity’s sake. They also made it so that Andy sets up his fake identity in prison rather than having a friend on the outside help him out. It makes it a little easier to explain, and the fact that Norton commits suicide at the end helps to guarantee that no one will know enough to trace the new identity to Andy.

One more change that had to be a joke for anyone familiar with the story. In the novella, Red states that he always hears sirens go off in films when there is a prison break, but he never heard one once in all his time at Shawshank despite many breakout attempts in the past. In the film, once they realize Andy is gone, a siren goes off.

Despite its bloated length, this is a fantastic film with strong performances from the entire cast, and I highly recommend it if you’ve never seen it before. If you have seen the film, I recommend tracking down Different Seasons to read the original novella along with a few other great non-horror stories from Stephen King.

Friday, February 14, 2014

National Lampoon's Vacation

When I reached Stripes in my Bill Murray project, it made me realize just how fond I was of Harold Ramis, and how silly it is that I haven't seen a lot of the films he either directed or acted in.  So while I don't plan to review his entire career, I wanted to fill in a few gaps while I could.  And to do that, we have to put Ghostbusters on a slight delay and take a look at National Lampoon's Vacation.  I think I had largely avoided this one until now because it stars Chevy Chase.  But it seems the combination of direction by Ramis and a script written by John Hughes means it was pretty silly of me to avoid this one for so long.

The movie had me laughing pretty early on and continued to do so for most of its run time.  It balances this touching story of a father who really wants to spend some quality time with his family with a lot of absurd and crazy humor, and with the exception of maybe one scene, never feels uneven or out of place for it.  They even managed to make Chase likable some of the time, though it does fade.

What probably made me laugh the most is some of the more quiet, subtle humor that happens.  After having driven off the road and crashed the family's car, Chase sits down to have a talk with his son, an incredibly young looking Anthony Michael Hall.  He puts his glasses on, and without any acknowledgement from either character, the glasses split in half and each piece falls off his face one at a time.  It's so simple that you could almost miss it if you weren't paying attention, and it's great.

A lot of films will get a quick sympathetic response from the audience by threatening animals.  The clearest example of this I always think of is Apocalypse Now, where you've seen lots of death already, but then suddenly they pull out some puppies and you go "No!  Don't hurt the puppies!"  It's intentional and kind of genius, because the film is pointing out to you that you should also care about all the men you've seen die up to this point too.  In Vacation, the complete opposite happens.  If you read in a description "Clark ties the dog to the rear bumper and then drives off" it sounds absolutely horrifying. But this is a mean and nasty dog that has done nothing but bites the ankles of our family and pee all over their lunches, and since we never actually see the poor thing being dragged, there's a great bit of humor here. The cop who pulls him over is furious, and Clark is trying so hard to care about this dog who has made his life miserable for hours now that it just works.  It happens again when their miserable, grouchy aunt dies and all they really want to do is get rid of the body.  And you want them to do it too, because at this point you're hoping they reach Walley World just as badly as Clark wants to get them there.

The only part of the film I don't care for is Clark's obsession with the woman he sees on the highway, played by Christie Brinkley.  While I understand that it's largely to point out that Clark is feeling a little smothered on the vacation and she represents freedom, it still goes a little too far into making him a jerk, especially since he gets far enough to get naked in a pool with her.  Add to that that his wife shrugs it all off and I can't help but feel like this is the one part of the film that doesn't really work.

This film does have a loose tie to Bill Murray, in that his older brother Brian Doyle-Murray appears as the guy running the campground they stay at.  The role isn't all that different from characters Bill himself often played.  Ramis does not appear in the film at all, but does deliver a line off camera toward the end.  Besides his comedic direction, I was also really impressed with the scenes where the family rides the roller coasters, that did a good job of reminding me what it was like to ride one.

Overall I was really impressed with the film, and if like me you've been putting this one off because you assumed it was low brow, I highly recommend you giving it a chance.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Woman in the Room

A lot of people would not consider "The Woman in the Room" a horror story. There is certainly no supernatural element to be found here, no creatures that go bump in the night. But for any of us who have had a loved one that we lost to cancer or illness, we know that sometimes real life horrors are far worse than the ones our imaginations dream up.

The story is told from the perspective of Johnny, a man dealing with his mother's slow and miserable decline related to cancer. A procedure the doctor's attempted to alleviate her pain only made things worse by paralyzing her. He finds some pills in the medicine cabinet of her home and debates on bringing them to the hospital so she can take them and be free of the cancer and the pain once and for all..

This story is amazingly vivid, sad, and real, and it should be.

While I don't think Stephen King gave his mother too many pills, all the other details here are from his life. The grandparents who Johnny's mother cared for and who died in their home. The adopted older brother. The mother's age at the time of her death. The fact that Johnny is an alcoholic. So I think it's fair to say that the descriptions of what Johnny's mother goes through and what she looks like, are probably also stunningly accurate, and I imagine he wrote this as part of a way to deal with the tragedy of what happened.

At the age of 20, a young man named Frank Darabont wrote Stephen King a letter asking if he could adapt the story. No one seems to have official word of whether or not this was the very first dollar baby, but it was definitely one of the earliest ones created. It's also the most critically acclaimed and the only one that launched someone's career as a feature film director. It was part of the Night Shift Collection VHS and can also be found online.

Johnny does not seem to be an alcoholic in this adaptation, but I don't think the story is lacking anything by removing that. While on one hand you might see it as a sign of weakness on his part that would make this decision easier for him to make, the fact that this is a mercy killing and something his mother seems to wish for lets him remain a sympathetic character regardless.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the weakest part of the short is the part that is completely made up. I understand they were trying to find a way to compensate for the fact that Johhny isn't narrating to us, but I'm not sure he picked the best method. The discussion with his jailed client isn't bad, though it does go on a little too long. It's mostly the dream sequence that loses me. It has an undeniable student film look to it and it doesn't reach the emotional impact that he's clearly going for. But the interaction between the two actors in the room is good, and that part remains emotional and strong. There is enough here to show he had a future in film making.

Stephen King felt the same way and therefore gave Darabont permission to adapt Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which I will talk about next week.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Beatlesmiscellania - The Rutles 2 - Can't Buy Me Lunch

When I originally planned these reviews, I assumed the two Rutles films were separate stories.  I had seen the first before, but not the second.  The description on Netflix described this second film as a parody of The Beatles Anthology, featuring interviews from the Rutles looking back on their old days.  I suppose the fact that they called the interviewer Stanley Krammerhead rather then Melvin Hall should have been a clue to me.  The Krammerhead character isn't even in this film, so I guess the person in charge of writing that description had a bit too much tea to drink that day.

In reality, this film is just a do-over for Idle who apparently wanted to add on a few jokes for the Melvin Hall character, get a lot more celebrities in, and visit a few more locales just for the hell of it.  He also changed a few of the details here and there - instead of the Maharishi stand in being into Ouija boards, he recommends eating curry to attain enlightenment.  If you're a big fan of any of the celebrities involved here, it might be fun for you to see them getting a bit silly and having fun with it.  But for me personally, even some of the people I did like fell a bit flat.

There is some previously unseen Rutles material here, but it's all scenes that were cut from the original film, as Idle did not involve any of the other three performers in this project.  He did use some songs from The Rutles Archaeology, an album recorded by Innes, Halsey, and Fataar in 1996, their own parody of the music version of The Beatles Anthology.  Idle did not appear on that album, but he didn't appear on any of the original songs either.

Some of the celebrities are stronger than others.  Tom Hanks just seems odd sitting there with an unflattering mustache discussing the whole thing, and Robin Williams as a German sexologist went over like a lead balloon for me.  But Conan O'Brien and Billy Connolly are pretty funny, as is Carrie Fisher.  Idle also uses some extra footage from Bill Murray's original appearance as Bill Murray the K and that's fun.

Hands down the absolute worst part of the film for me is Jimmy Fallon.  Of course I'm also kind of baffled that a guy who giggled his way through most of his Saturday Night Live appearances went on to have the career he now does, but his recurring bit with Idle of interrupting and trying to take over the documentary goes on for far too long, and the end "reveal" that he's actually Melvin Hall's son isn't really all that funny either.

When I finished watching it I was frankly left kind of confused why this even exists.  I suppose we can debate whether or not an artist has the right to recreate their own work - Star Wars fans certainly love to do so, but I'm more of the opinion that once something is out there and released, it's time to walk away.  If you want to revisit that world, make something new rather than just rehash the old. 

I'd recommend checking out The Rutles Archeology if you were thirsting for more Rutles rather than this film, because at least that was something completely new and feels much more fresh.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Christine

The chosen narration and prose style of a novel can make or break your experience with it.  Christine is broken by the fact that the first and third acts are narrated by Dennis Guilder, an immature, horny teen at the time the novel is set but a supposedly more mature twenty two while he's narrating.  He's just dreadful; referring to his girlfriend as "the cheerleader" rather than by her name, and constantly telling us how he was trying to get in her pants.  Even the female lead Leigh, who he thinks of far more highly, gets analyzed up and down her entire body.  It's sleazy and disgusting. I couldn't stand this little slime ball which is problematic when he's the hero of our story.

The story itself is a good and interesting one, of a man so obsessed with his car that he finds a way to return from the grave and be with her again.  At least that's the clear story of the novel.  In the movie, Christine starts off evil right off the assembly line, making it seem that original owner Roland Lebay was simply in the same position as young Arnie before him.  Both men are in love with the car, and she loves them right back, to the point that she refuses to share.

It seems obvious to me that the best way to tell this story is from Arnie's perspective, first as he falls in love with the car, then his surprise to find she is able to fix herself, and his growing horror as she becomes vengeful and begins to kill for him, and the fight for control as Lebay possesses him.  But King decided to go with a more detached perspective, spending more time following Dennis and the other characters rather than ever getting in Arnie's head, and John Carpenter follows that same idea with the film.

I should probably make a point here to admit my bias.  John Carpenter is a legendary director of horror, and this was no doubt another instance of King putting his film into what he believed were capable hands.  The problem here is me, in that I really don't like Carpenter's style and pacing.  Both Halloween and The Thing move way too slowly for my tastes, and what others call his mastery of suspense I call tedium.  So while I felt this movie moved way too slowly, I'm not going to judge it too harshly, because other people probably feel very different.

As an adaptation, he actually followed the pacing very closely, giving us plenty of time to get to know these characters before the horror plays out.  Some scenes get moved around or combined together, but it's all in a way that makes logical sense.  He also improved a couple moments.  By having Christine lock Arnie out of the car while Leigh is choking, he looks like a little less of an asshole when he doesn't save her.  I also think Will Darnell's death is greatly improved, as the idea of a car bashing into someone's home to crush them is just a little too far-fetched.  I'll also give him credit for improving on Moochie's death scene, effectively using suspense and a building sense of dread rather than the gore King describes in the book.  When he's filming an actual horror scene, he's fantastic.  It's just the slow pacing of the scenes in between that drive me nuts.

The effects in the film are also really impressive.  We see Christine fix herself multiple times, and it always looks natural.  I was particularly impressed with the gas station scene, where they drive her around while she's on fire.  That could not have been an easy stunt to pull off.  In the moments where Christine is driving herself, her windows are pitch black, which was a logical choice to hide the stunt driver inside,but it's never so distracting to take you out of the moment. 

I felt like her big death scene was a little more suspenseful in the book than the way it plays out on screen.  I particularly liked the way the ghosts of Lebay's wife and child appear in an attempt to distract Dennis from destroying her.  It was a little disappointing to not see it also happen in the film, but there was something about watching her being crushed by that bulldozer that was pretty satisfying.

The appearance of the ghosts simply wouldn't have made sense in this version, because Lebay's presence is downplayed severely as compared to the book.  In the novel we get lots of growing evidence that Lebay is taking over Arnie's body, that he clearly somehow set all this up from the beginning as a way of living on and keeping Christine forever.  In the film, the only hint we get is that Lebay's brother and Arnie both use the term shitter.  Leigh tells Dennis that Arnie isn't acting like himself, but since Arnie acts like a jerk for most of the time we see him, it's a little harder to tell that.  It's only in the scene with Dennis and Arnie alone in the car after that conversation that things become clearer.

I feel like making Christine "bad to the bone" from the moment she was born was a mistake on their part.  I really like the idea that Lebay was an asshole filled with so much hate that he somehow managed to perform black magic without even fully understanding it.  That that kind of hate could live on past the grave and desire to continue to get revenge on the people he didn't like.  The movie goes so far as to contradict that by telling us that Lebay tried to give up Christine, but she came back two weeks later.  That doesn't sound like the same guy to me at all.

If you can look past this glaring error, it's not a bad adaptation.  And if you enjoy Carpenter as a director, you'll probably enjoy the film.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Beatlemiscellania - The Rutles - All You Need is Cash

Trying to point out every Beatles reference contained in All You Need is Cash would be a mammoth undertaking.  Writer/director/star Eric Idle meticulously looked through photographs and books to try to capture something as close to the history of the Beatles as possible for this mockumentary. George Harrison even provided him access to The Long and Winding Road, an unreleased film Neil Aspinall had put together that was essentially an early version of The Beatles Anthology.  This film is the story of the Beatles, just twisted around a bit to have a laugh and poke fun at it all.

The film started as a short created for Rutland Weekend Television, Idle's television series at the time.  The short was a parody of the Beatles in the field in A Hard Day's Night, and Idle also brought the short to Lorne Michaels for him to play on Saturday Night Live.  Everyone loved the skit and Idle decided to expand it into a full film that Lorne agreed to produce and pushed for it to appear on NBC.  What we get is an interesting hybrid of both Monty Python and Saturday Night Live style humor wrapped into one, featuring performers that appeared on both shows, as well as excellent parody songs done in the Beatles style by Neil Innes.  Some of the songs are more traditional and could easily fit side by side the Beatles tunes, while others are direct copies of existing songs with (if possible for "I Am the Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds") even sillier lyrics.

The attention to detail on the project is really quite stunning, and makes The Rutles essentially one of the first Beatles tribute bands.  Throughout the musical performances, not only are they often matching the outfits the Beatles would wear, they frequently match their movements and facial expressions as well.  Innes even sounds like John Lennon on most of the songs he sings lead on.  Even though the details are changed for the sake of comedy, the events still mirror most of what happened to the Beatles exactly, and stretches out to the other major players along with them.

What comes off the most poorly is the portrayal of Leggy Mountbatten, the parody character of Brian Epstein.  It's a well known fact that Epstein was gay, and Leggy is as well, supposedly only managing the Rutles because he liked their tight trousers.  He's repeatedly made fun of until he eventually takes a teaching gig in Australia, which is a stand in for when Epstein committed suicide.  It's the one part of the film that I feel comes off a bit more mean spirited than the rest.  While you might say that having the Yoko Ono stand in be a daughter of Hitler is worse, I felt like that one had more to do with the public's reaction to her than saying Yoko was ever truly that bad.

Probably the funniest part of the film for me is when the Rutles take up tea drinking as a stand in for the Beatles drug use.  The serious way in which Idle as the reporter talks about their excessive tea drinking just tickles me.  Right behind that would be when he interviews Brian Thigh (played by Dan Aykroyd), the man who turned down the Rutles.  It's primarily the slow way in which he explains the mistake the man made, claiming that he thought guitar groups were on the way out, and then point blank asking "Why are you such an asshole?"  Not surprisingly, that was cut off when televised in America.

While I didn't count this film for my Bill Murray project as it was not played in theaters, it is worth mentioning that he is here as "Bill Murray the K," a radio DJ in America playing the Rutles.  It's essentially just him yelling into a microphone for a few minutes, but he's amusing in the role.

Besides appearances by Ron Wood, Mick Jagger, and Paul Simon, George Harrison plays a reporter in the film in one funny scene.  He was supportive of the project from the very beginning, and loved the results.  All the other Beatles are on record for saying they also enjoyed it.

This film also has a little extra bit of fun for me as a New Orleans native, as the reporter briefly visits the city to try to interview musicians who influenced the Rutles.

As a huge Beatles fan the film is really endless fun for me as I can recognize every reference and joke being done, but I do have to wonder how enjoyable it is for someone who isn't as large a fan.  In 1978 when this was made, most people probably still remembered the Beatles phenomenon pretty well, but as time passes I wonder how much life it will have for those who don't know the Beatles story.  I don't think you need to know the Beatles story to understand the film, but the humor is definitely more dry and subtle than laugh out loud hilarious.  I would still recommend the film to non-fans, particularly to people who enjoy mockumentaries in general.
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