Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Dolan's Cadillac

This is not a particularly good short story.  The core idea is strong enough - a man wants revenge on a rich man who killed his wife and got away with it.  He plans to do so by burying the man alive in his own Cadillac.  The problem is all in the details, the painstaking descriptions King guides us through to explain just exactly how this third grade teacher pulls off the murder.  To be quite honest, I don't care.  It's an interesting method, to tear up a stretch of road, put a false front in its place, and lead the Cadillac in before burying it under dirt and gravel, but I'm not really interested in the various tools he has to use to do it, or the dimensions of the hole he has to dig.  It really bogs down the story.  It also guarantees that a film based on this story is going to have to undergo a lot of changes to make it something worth watching.

The people responsible for adapting the story clearly understood that.  King left the details of why Dolan killed his wife vague, so the movie fleshes it out for us.  Dolan's main profession is human trafficking, and she sees a truck full of women who are first badly mistreated and then flat out killed or buried alive once things go wrong.  Dolan then leaves one of the corpses on their bed, with her finger sown near her lips in a "Sh!" gesture.  It's really quite creepy and helps to both make  you understand why she wouldn't want to back down, and understand why her husband Tom wants them to just leave and run away.

Dolan is played by Christian Slater here, and I had a hard time really accepting him in the role for most of the film.  He was playing it a little too over the top at times and I just wasn't buying it.  He does do very well once he's stuck down in the hole though, when that intensity is necessary and works really well.  Wes Bentley plays Tom and he does a decent job of portraying a man who is slowly unraveling and bent on revenge.

The movie not only downplayed the various technical details involved in pulling off his plan, they also downplayed just how much the action really wrecks Tom's body.  Part of that is because the Tom in the story is a much older man, but I would imagine they also didn't necessarily want to show us his skin burned and cracked among the other gross details King describes in the story.  They use montages when he's training to use the equipment and again when he's preparing for Dolan's arrival, so it doesn't seem as difficult a task as it was in the story.  Another thing they largely removed was Tom hearing his wife urge him on through all of it.  He does see images of her occasionally, but I would have liked to see a representation of the way she seems to almost manipulate him.  Whether it is really her ghost or his madness, it was a nice touch in the story.

When the movie comes down to just Tom and Dolan, it works really well, keeping up the tension. They change a few details but I think it works as both a modern update to the story and simply adding a visual flair that you can't have in written form.  They also kept in the reference to "The Cask of Amontillado" which I thought was really nice.

This film was a direct to video release, so it's not very well known and probably a little hard to find.  But I do recommend checking it out if you can.  It's a decent thriller and a well thought out adaptation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Quicksilver Highway

I'm not sure how the made for television film Quicksilver Highway came into being, but it certainly seems like something that Mick Garris may have originally wanted to be a pilot for a horror anthology series.  The movie is based on two short stories - King's "Chattery Teeth" and Clive Barker's "The Body Politic."  It uses the framing of a strange man called Aaron Quicksilver, played by Christopher Lloyd, wearing strange leather clothing who collects rare items and tells people odd stories.

As the movie begins, we see a couple on their wedding day stranded by the side of the road.  The husband wanders off to try to find help, leaving his bride (who appears to be pregnant) alone.  Night falls and Aaron Quicksilver pulls up next to her on the road, offering her food and telling her this first story.

Chattery Teeth

Through various stories and non-fiction essays, Stephen King has made it clear that he hates the question "Where do you get your ideas?"  But when you write a story about how a large chattery teeth toy saves a man from being attacked by a hitchhiker, I think it begs the question of just how you thought of that.  It's a pretty absurd concept, and one that it would be pretty difficult to take seriously.  King does a decent enough job making it work, and an overly large set of teeth made of metal could be quite painful chomping down on you, but there's a reason why these are generally only thought of as weapons when being used by a comic book villain like the Joker.

Mick Garris once again is creating a pretty faithful adaptation here, but unfortunately he doesn't make the teeth scary or menacing at all.  Perhaps he wanted the short to be campy and silly, and if so he does succeed.  The character of Quicksilver telling the story is far more unnerving than anything that happens in the story itself.  To try to tie it to the film a little better, the protagonist in the story is played by the same actor who plays the newlywed husband, and not long after the story is done, the husband returns and is run over by a car.  We see him pulled away by the chattery teeth for a moment until the bride catches up to them, crying.  It's a bit of a head scratching moment really, just feeling shoehorned in rather than having any real meaning to it.

From there the film fades to an amusement park where a pickpocket, played by Matt Frewer, enters Quicksilver's tent and sees a candle made from a human hand.  Frewer can sometimes be very over the top in some of his performances, but he is fairly low key here, letting Lloyd be the one to chew the scenery. His character agrees to listen to a story while he's avoiding a cop on the lookout for him.

The Body Politic

Since I've wanted an excuse to read more of Clive Barker's fiction, I thought I would do a full comparison for this section of the film as well.  And what a wonderful horror story idea this is, that our body parts actually have minds of their own and could rebel at any second.  While some of the moments here are a little far fetched (could your hands alone really pull you across a room?  It seems to me like your arms or legs would have to help) for the most part this is a fun horror story with a satisfying ending.

In the story the main character works in manufacturing, but here Frewer is playing a plastic surgeon.  It certainly makes the whole thing much more squeamish when his hands start to work against him.  While things once again lean toward camp as we hear his hands have a conversation with each other in the middle of the night, it is required for us to fully understand what's going on here.  Frewer's physicality is an asset to the story, and while even he can't quite sell the moment where his hands are carrying him across the floor, he does as best as he can with it.

I was also really impressed with the way they cut off his left hand, both in the way we see his reflection in the cleaver as it comes down, and the way they do show us the entirety of the cut.  It's gross and effective, even if it's not realistic.  This is once again a faithful adaptation, with only a few minor changes.  The rebellion is contained to the hospital, mostly likely for budget reasons.  It also ends a little differently - while in the story a man's legs stage their own rebellion, here it is a woman's nose that now wants to be free.

Just like the bride before him, the pickpocket asks Quicksilver if there was a moral to the story.  Quicksilver swears there isn't one, but as the pickpocket leaves he finds his hands have a mind of their own, and he pickpockets a cop, leading to his being arrested.

While the film is campy, that doesn't make it any less enjoyable a watch.  It's quirky and a little odd, but the score by Mark Mothersbaugh works together well with Garris' direction to create a silly little oddity.  I recommend tracking down the film if you can.  For the stories, you'll find "Chattery Teeth" in Nightmares and Dreamscapes and "The Body Politic" in Books of Blood vol 4 (also sometimes titled The Human Condition).

Monday, April 21, 2014

No Game New Year - Progress Report

I continue to have a hard time finding moments to squeeze in game play, but here's a little bit I was able to accomplish:

To The Moon - This is a retro style 16 bit RPG that tells the story of a dying man who requests the help of a company to achieve his dying wish through his dreams.  It's all very sci-fi obviously.  It's available on Steam and I bought it because I had heard the story was good.  I'm afraid that up to this point I can't really agree.  You move slowly backwards in time through the man's life to gain information about him, and you learn that his wife is a little strange but don't know why.  Except it's really obvious almost from the start what's wrong with her, but the game treats it like a big reveal when you finally get there.  Throughout all this, the "gameplay" is just walking around and touching objects to collect colors so you can move further back in time.  I did finally reach a part that was a little more puzzle oriented, but the story is moving so slowly that I don't find myself very interested.  I may come back to this one eventually, but right now I'd rather spend my time playing other games.

Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Part 2 - I played this the weekend after it came out.  I enjoyed the sneaking gameplay and most of the execution of the story.  There was something really fun about possessing a Big Daddy and watching him go to town on the Splicers in the area.  The only thing I didn't really care for was the end attempt to tie Infinite into the original Bioshock.  Not only does it throw Bioshock 2 out the window but it has the obvious marking of a retro-active change rather than something that makes logical sense.  Still, I enjoyed playing it.

Tomb Raider - I had picked this one up because I had heard a lot of good reviews about the story.  I should have spent a little more time looking up the style of game play.  I knew there were puzzles involved, which was fine, but there's also a lot of moments that rely on real time events and Lara's primary weapon (at least at the beginning) is a bow and arrow.  I hate real time events and I can't do FPS with a controller.  On top of this, Lara's "survival instinct" is just a ripoff of the detective mode introduced in the Batman Arkham games.  About an hour into this one I just wasn't having any fun at all.  Lara gets hurt a lot and there was nothing enjoyable about seeing her constantly beat up and having to urge herself on.  I feel like I wasted my money on this one.

Psychonauts - I knew this was a 3D platformer and therefore wasn't sure how far I could get in it.  I imagine I will hit a wall with this one eventually, but for now it's really fun.  The humor is really great and the levels creative, so that even when I had a hard time pulling off some of the jumps it kept me going because I wanted to know what was next.  I plan on coming back to this one.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team - I may be stopping this one.  I got to a boss fight that's three enemies, and you have to defeat them all at once or they heal each other.  Multiple attempts, including some on "easy mode" all ended in failure, and I'm not having fun anymore.  I understand that in modern times they feel like they have to upgrade the difficulty on turn based RPGs to keep them interesting but I like the old way that relied on thinking rather than reflexes to accomplish the challenges.

Paper Mario Sticker Star: Having given up on the above, I put this one back in my 3DS.  I had started it earlier and got distracted by other games.  I mostly fiddled around this time reminding myself of the mechanics.  It has similarities to M&L as it has turn based battles that require real time response, but instead of leveling up and gaining abilities you use the stickers to fight.  Logically, some are more powerful than others.  You also use the stickers to solve puzzles, and I accidentally lost my poison mushroom sticker I needed to unlock a door, so I'm going to have to find one before I can move forward.  The gap in time since playing means I have no idea where I got the first, but that's just a quick google search away.

Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee demo - I had really enjoyed the original Abe's Oddysee game in this series, so I downloaded this demo ages ago to try out the newer version of the game.  Similar to the original, it's a platformer that is primarily about solving puzzles and rescuing the other inhabitants of Oddworld along the way.  Like Lemmings with platforming elements.  It's been ages since I played the first one, but this felt just as fun, with only a few minor annoyances because this is a 3D platformer instead of 2D.  I won't be purchasing the full game in keeping with my promise to not buy any new ones, but I enjoyed it.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time demo - I've never played this series before but I had downloaded the demo out of curiosity.  My fondness for Lupin III guarantees that I usually like thieves with a heart of gold, and the characters seemed cute and the game had an interesting set up.  But I found the controls annoying, with the double jump not working very well and Sly not going where I wanted him to.  Combining sneaking with platform jumping just wasn't enjoyable to me at all, and  I didn't even finish the demo.

Shadow of the Colossus - This was another one I had gotten free thanks to PS Plus.  I started up the game and I thought it looked beautiful. The animation was a little unnatural, but the backgrounds were gorgeous.  With no dialogue or narration in the intro, I thought the protagonist looked like a young woman, and I thought it would be cool to play as a female protagonist.  But then "she" started talking and was actually a he.  On top of that the story was a little bland - he wants to bring a woman back to life, and the gods speak from the sky and tell him he needs to kill the colossi in order to do so.  I then finally had control and immediately became frustrated.  The tutorial was minimal, and controlling the horse was absolutely terrible.  It also wasn't really clear where it wanted me to go.  After struggling and wandering around for about five minutes, I gave up.  Perhaps I was just tired after a long day, but there was nothing here grabbing me enough to make me want to figure  this one out.

Brothers - I heard a lot of positive reviews about this one, and so far I have to agree with them.  The puzzles are clever and the gameplay unique.  It took me a while to get used to controlling them with the two analogue sticks, and I often do find it easier to control one brother at a time, especially when there is jumping involved.  The main issue I have is that using the PS3 controller isn't very comfortable.  I got as far as the moment when the boys ride the hang glider, and found my fingers were far too tired to keep holding down the trigger buttons while also moving them back and forth to make the turns on the glider.  I'll come back to this one for sure.

Darksiders - Another PS Plus freebie I downloaded a while ago.  It's essentially yet another God of War hack and slash clone.  It doesn't take long for me to get bored with this style of gameplay.  However, the graphics and story kept me going for a bit, and for now at least I found it pretty simple to dodge the enemy attacks and hack away at them.  I like the style of all the demons and the concept of War working for the Balance and Mark Hamill voicing the Watcher that's with him along the way.  While certainly nothing spectacular, the game seems like a decent way to unwind for an hour or two.  I'll come back to it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House and assorted haunted house films

I've been wanting to read the book The Haunting of Hill House for quite some time, and was finally able to read it recently.  And of course after doing so I couldn't resist watching the film adaptations, along with some others that while not adaptations certainly have a lot in common with it.

The Haunting of Hill House

The book is a fairly quick read and also an enjoyable one.   It centers around four people going to a known haunted house to try and document whether or not it is truly haunted.  We see things mostly from Eleanor Vance's perspective, a young woman who has spent her whole life taking care of her mother who has recently passed away.  You become to really feel for her and her desperate need to start a new life with some sense of adventure.  She's both frightened by the house and drawn to it.  Theodora, the enigmatic and slightly flighty other woman there is also an interesting character, though Dr. Montague (the one who invited them all here) and Luke Sanderson (the heir who will one day own the house) a little less so. 
 The book had some well executed scares, probably so well done because none of them seem over the top to the point of ridiculousness.  The book picks up the pace as it goes until it reaches its dramatic end.  I highly recommend it.

When I went to read the book I didn't expect a Stephen King connection, but I found one anyway.  Eleanor is chosen for the study because of an event that happened when she was very young - stones rained down on her house for three days.  Eleanor's sister's name is Carrie.

A note: If like me, you get the Kindle version, don't read the introduction.  It spoils the entire book.  I'm not sure if other versions also contain that same introduction or not.  Fortunately, I caught an amazon review mentioning that so I wasn't spoiled when I went in.

The Haunting (1963)

Perhaps the only true adaptation of the book is this film.  It follows the novel closely, though it does add in some traces of romance to the story that weren't there.  It's pretty well executed, including the scares, and I enjoyed the performances quite a bit.  I was expecting a possible change in the ending, but it in fact stays quite accurate.  I recommend it.

House on Haunted Hill (1958)

While this film pre-dates the novel by a year and therefore can't be an adaptation, there are striking similarities.  A slightly larger cast is brought to a haunted house for the night to see if they can survive.  If they do, they'll be given $10,000 a piece.  An old couple serves as caretakers of the house, but they leave as night falls.  The young woman of the group is the one who is preyed upon the most by the spirits.  In this case though, the spirits aren't real and it's all a plot.  I won't spoil the whole thing for those who haven't seen it though, it really is a good film and Vincent Price is fantastic here as always.  Some of the effects are a little silly but I think the walking skeleton would have scared the pants off a young me.
If you've ever heard of the old movie where they used  the gimmick of a floating plastic skeleton hovering over the crowd in the theater, this is the film they're talking about.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

This one is based on a novel by Richard Matheson and set in England, but once again four people are sent to a house to investigate its haunted nature.  One is a scientist and two are mediums.  It reminded me a lot in style of the Hammer horror films of the era, and Roddy McDowall gives a fantastic performance as one of the mediums.  Similar to the scientific approach Matheson took to vampires in I Am Legend, there's an attempt at science explaining spirits in the house.  The scares are amped up considerably for this one, and I was liking it all very much until it reached the final reveal of why the spirit was so angry.  It's just absolutely ridiculous.  Still, I would say the ride is worth it as long as you ignore the ending.

The Haunting (1999)

For the remake of the original adaptation, a lot of changes are made.  The guests are brought to the house under the idea that they are trying to cure their insomnia, and the story of the house is changed to say that the man who built it did not have any children.  Except we eventually find out he did?  It's kind of confusing.  We eventually find out that Nell is the descendant of Hugh Crain's wife, but if Hugh Crain kept all the children in the house, how did her ancestor escape and live like normal and only now Nell is being called back?  Why not her mom?  Why not her sister?  It's all a bit silly.

That said, the set design is gorgeous and the cast is decent.  The biggest problem is that the film isn't scary.   That's largely because they rely on CGI very heavily and bring things too far outside of reality to be frightening.  A door that stretches until it becomes a hand and throws someone across a room just doesn't work as a scare.  I should also not be laughing when someone gets decapitated, and yet I did.

The King connections continue, as he was originally going to write the screenplay for this remake.  When that deal fell apart, he wrote Rose Red.

 House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The horror wimp I once was walked out of this film when I was watching it in a theater because it freaked me out too much.  I figured, having now watched the original for context, and the fact that I've seen lots of gore in slashers, the Evil Dead films, the first Hellraiser, etc. surely I would not be as scared of this film as I once was.

I was wrong.  Fear is, of course, mostly a mental trick we pull on ourselves, so it's possible my memories of being scared created an apprehension in me and made it all much worse, but I think that this is the scariest film I've ever seen.

I'm not saying it will scare everyone.  Apparently some people think the main problem with the film is that it's not scary at all.  But for me, this pushed all the right buttons.  People making quick, jerky, sometimes blurry movements, grotesque figures, an insane asylum where the doctor is just as mad as his patients, dark cramped corners, spooky sounds, everything covered in a thick coat of dust that you're just waiting for bugs to crawl out of, faces without eyes, mouths full of large jagged teeth, and a ghost like creature made of writhing bodies and warped faces.  Yes, this film disturbed me.

It's interesting because especially toward the end, there is CGI used here as well.  But I think the sets and the way the film is lit goes a long way in making this work far better than the CGI in The Haunting.  Everything in that movie looked far too shiny and plasticine, while here it looks smoky and dirty.  They also combine them better with practical effects here, and there's a lot more reliance on psychological horror.

The story has a lot of similarities to the original film, but obviously they changed it this time so that the house is in fact very much haunted.  While I think they could have changed the twists around a little so that those who had seen the original wouldn't know what was coming, I do think that one angle does a lot to change this one and justify the remake.  Though as you can see by the various films I've listed here, you could just as easily make this its own haunted house film with a new title, because they all have the same basic set up most of the time anyway.

While I'm not sure I'll ever watch this one again (at least not for a very long time, I had to work really heavily to distract myself so I could sleep that night) I appreciate it for what it is and I'd recommend it for anyone who likes creepy and disturbing horror.

I thought about including Rose Red here, since King did take a lot of influence from The Haunting of Hill House when he wrote it, but I think I will save it and its sequel for its own post when I get around to Stephen King original screenplays.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Nightmares and Dreamscapes mini-series pt 4

Today's episode features a total of three actors who played in previous King made for television adaptations: Richard Thomas (It), Robert Mammone (Salem's Lot 2004), and Steven Weber (The Shining).

Autopsy Room Four

Among the Stephen King short stories I would have considered unfilmable, this one ranked high on the list.  A man is paralyzed by a snake bite, and an old doctor mistakenly pronounces him dead.  He wakes up on the autopsy table, unable to tell the people about to cut him open that he is actually still alive.  Plausible?  Perhaps not.  Frightening?  Definitely!  While reading the story, I found myself putting my hand to my sternum multiple times.  It was as if I could feel the scissors hovering just above my chest, waiting to cut me open.  It's such a wonderful short story that makes you squirm.  The way in which the doctor realizes the protagonist is in fact alive is definitely unfilmable, or at least could only be hinted at on television.

This is however a pretty faithful short, with Richard Thomas narrating to us the guy's thoughts as the people in the morgue work on him.  They expand it slightly by creating a subplot where he has a fiancee and erectile dysfunction,  which makes his eventual sign of life have more meaning beyond just a silly joke.  I'm not crazy about Thomas' line delivery, or maybe there's just something about the hoarse quality of his voice that gets on my nerves.  Overall it's a pretty good short and they manage to make it even more squirm inducing by adding in the femur shot to take a blood sample from him.  This is definitely one of the better shorts in the collection, and definitely the strongest of the short stories.

You Know They Got a Hell of a Band

This is a particularly peculiar short story of a married couple that gets lost driving through Oregon and ends up in a town called Rock and Roll Heaven.  The lead in is far too long while we sit through this couple fighting with each other because he’s the type that doesn't like to ask for directions.  I might not have been so fatigued with this part if it wasn't so incredibly similar to what happens to the couple at the beginning of "Children of the Corn."  The important part is them arriving in the town, and slowly figuring out that the people around them are all former rock and roll musicians now dead.

There’s an air of trademark King creepiness as some of the rock and roll greats are showing obvious signs of decay, at least part of the time, but it’s the ultimate hook of the story that has me divided.  The musicians trap the normal humans who get lost here and force them to stay in town forever and listen to their concerts every night.  We’re shown a handful of miserable people who have been there a while, and the couple is certainly horrified to be stuck, but I can’t be the only person who doesn’t think it would be so bad to watch Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison, etc. etc. etc. play a full blown concert in front of me for free every night.  I’m not saying I want my free will taken away from me, but in terms of strange Twilight Zone type worlds you could stumble into, this isn't the worse by far.  I think even King himself knows it, and forces in a few of those gruesome details to try to sell it to you.  The makers of the short clearly felt the same way I did when they had the husband seem delighted by the idea of watching the concert.

It's a pretty faithful short, but the problem is something like this really relies on the strength of the impersonators you hire to portray the stars, as well as gaining the proper rights to the music to really sell it right.  The impersonators are okay for the most part, but the music is lacking because they clearly couldn't get access to most of it.  Add to that poor special effects during the wife's nightmare at the beginning, and the short just isn't as strong as the story.  Steven Weber and Kim Delaney give good performances as the couple, and it's fun to see Weber once again returning to a Stephen King adaptation, but overall I think this one works better in your imagination than it does on a screen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Club Paradise

This film is another of Harold Ramis' films that I wanted to watch in addition to the Bill Murray films. Murray is not in this one, but his brother Brian Doyle-Murray co-wrote it with Ramis and appears in the film.  Apparently, Bill was actually offered the lead role and turned it down.  This film was hard to find and seems to be mostly forgotten, and after viewing it I can understand why.

The cast is spectacular and filled to the brim with comedic actors of the time.  Simon Jones, best known for playing Arthur Dent in the radio and BBC mini-series of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy even has a small role in it.  Besides Doyle-Murray, you've got Robin Williams, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Steven Kampmann, the list goes on and on.  So you would expect this to be an entertaining film.

Unfortunately, it's not.  The plot follows Williams as he escapes the hectic and dangerous life of being a firefighter to move to a remote island in the Caribbean.  He purchases a hotel to help his friends and a lot of the assorted cast are people who booked a stay there.  The main problem is that the plot largely meanders around all this and packs in too many story lines, none of which are particularly interesting or funny.  Williams is far too subdued in his role, and all the other assorted bits like the two nerds trying to score some weed to get ladies or the married couple complaining about every little thing that's wrong just fall flat.

I'm going to have to agree with Bill on this one, the film just isn't worth your time.  I can't even point to a scene or two that might be worth checking out.  My excitement at seeing Simon Jones at the beginning was the only enjoyment I got out of it, and mostly because I took that to mean Ramis was probably a fan of H2G2.  This is a film  that can remain mostly forgotten.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Nightmares and Dreamscapes mini-series pt 3

The Road Virus Heads North

In the introduction to this short story in Everything’s Eventual, King says this story was based on a painting that he received as a gift from his wife Tabitha.  His son Owen was particularly bothered by it, claiming the guy in the painting was always following him with his eyes.  From there, it’s easy to see how King came up with this story, where the painting contains an actual demonic punk and comes after the man who purchases it.  King does a good job of building up the suspense throughout the story and I like that he leaves it at a point where you know what’s going to happen but you don’t actually hear about the end in detail.

The short is a fairly accurate adaptation with a few details thrown in for padding.  They add in the angle that he may possibly have colon cancer. This gives him an extra worry plaguing his mind, and a stronger desire to survive.  He also adds one more stop to his journey, visiting his ex-wife rather than just talking about her.  These are not bad additions but I do feel like the short would be stronger if it was a little bit shorter.  The additions don't truly pay off either, as his cancer is irrelevant and he sends his ex-wife to stay at a hotel so she's safe from the killer.

They tried to end of the short the same way as the story but it doesn't work as well the way it is presented.  Up to that point in the short he wasn't seeing things in the painting before they happened, only after.  To have him gaze over at the painting now and suddenly accept his fate doesn't truly make sense.  Didn't he desperately want to survive just a little while ago when he thought the cancer was killing him?  Why would he give in to this killer?

The Fifth Quarter

A fairly simple but action packed story about a man whose friend is murdered in a double cross after robbing an armored car, and he sets out to get revenge and also steal the pieces of the map that will lead him to the money they all stole.  King keeps the suspense up and since this is a King story, you don’t really know if our narrator will succeed or not.  What may make it the most unique is that there is nothing horror or science fiction about the story.  It's certainly not the only King story to be firmly grounded in the real world, but it is a rarity, and does seem like a strange choice for something in a collection called Nightmares and Dreamscapes.

For the short they decided to add a little motivation for the protagonist by giving him a wife and child in poverty while he's been in prison for the last 7 years.  But then they take it a little too far, adding that his buddy slept with his wife, and even hint that the two of them may have had a sexual relationship while they were doing time together.  It's all just there to stretch things out a little, and it doesn't really work.  The direction on the action scenes is fairly lifeless, adding little of the suspense that King gives it in the story.  It makes the whole thing a little boring to watch.   The money ends up going to his wife and kid at the end, I guess to give it a little more of a happy ending, but I found myself overall unimpressed with the whole short.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Reviewing a Christmas movie in April doesn't exactly put you in the spirit of things but that's what happens when you approach a person's body of work in chronological order.  I had thought I had seen this one before, but viewing it this time around I'm pretty confident I never did.  Or perhaps I was so young that I forgot it all.  Regardless, I was pleased to find how much I enjoyed it this time.

The tale of Scrooge can be a tired one, and sprinkling in Disney characters or Muppets doesn't necessarily help it.  But I appreciated this modernized version of the tale which follows a TV executive who has abandoned his personal relationships for  the sake of his career.  While Frank Cross' life is very similar to Ebenezer's, the variations help it feel fresh.

This movie also contains a pretty amazing cast for the time period.  Besides Murray in the title role, you've got Karen Allen as his love interest, Bobcat Goldthwait as the employee he fires, David Johanesen as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Lots of actors portray themselves thanks to the fact that this is set at a TV studio and two of Murray's brothers play his father and brother.  I even spotted a lot of lesser known actors in small roles, like Tony Steedman as a waiter (I know him as Socrates in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.)  And I recognized John Glover's voice immediately as one I associated with the Riddler in Batman the Animated Series.  Spotting the cast is a fun adventure in and of itself.

But beyond that the performances are worth it, the story well told, and the effects pretty decent.  If I was only allowed to watch one version of A Christmas Carol every year, I think this one would be it.  I look forward to watching it again come December to get me in the proper mood.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Nightmares and Dreamscapes mini-series pt 2

Umney's Last Case
The idea of an author finding a way to switch lives with his main character is a pretty silly premise, and to add the idea that he's doing so because his son died from AIDS he caught from a blood transfusion feels a little too played out for mid-90's fiction.  What makes the short story still an enjoyable read for me is that Clyde Umney is your stereotypical hard boiled detective from crime fiction and he clearly can't handle a little realism being injected into his world.  The idea that the blind kid selling newspapers on the corner may not be immensely impressed with the seven cent tip he gives him, or that maybe his secretary may not like the constant sexual harassment she receives from him blow his mind.  It's a fun deconstruction of the genre that you don't see very often.  It's just that once Umney's creator Landry appears in the fictional world, things go downhill a bit.

In the short they change a few details. His son drowns in a pool while his parents are too distracted to notice. Landry's wife also is still alive as he goes to switch places with Umney, whereas in the story she had committed suicide.  She makes a comment wishing he would be more like Clyde, sensitive and understanding to her pain over the loss of their son.  It gives Sam a better motivation to switch places, thinking he'll be making his wife happy while also providing himself an escape.  The only thing is I have to wonder if Landry's wife truly ever read any of her husband's stories because sensitive is not how I think of those detectives.  Sure enough, he flirts with their pool girl, and that's what leads to her committing suicide. It makes the whole story much more dynamic and tragic, and I think it's a great improvement.  William H. Macy gives a great performance in the short as both Clyde Umney and Sam Landry, his creator.   This is the first of the shorts so far that I would consider worth a watch.

The End of the Whole Mess

This story of a man whose brother tried to save the world but actually doomed it was written in 1986.  As such, a lot of the conjecture of what would happen in the future feels really dated now.  He writes that a town near Waco, Texas is the most peaceful area in the state, having no way of knowing that the Waco siege would occur in 1993.  There’s also mention of an AIDS vaccine developed sadly much earlier than we've reached at this point, and other out there things like Mexico going communist.  But the core story of a man who wants to create world peace without taking the time to examine the possible side effects is a good one, and the narrative device of the narrator slowly losing his ability to think and type properly works really well.

Since this mini series was released in 2006, it’s natural that there would be a fair amount of changes to the details updating it to more modern times.  But amazingly, beyond adding in the 9/11 attacks and a few other real life history moments, this is a very accurate adaptation.  The narrator is now a filmmaker rather than a writer so he can tell us the story that way, and we see a little more of the flashbacks in detail but otherwise this is the same story.  The one aspect I found disappointing was the ending, as they chose to have the main character primarily slur his speech and drool rather than speak in gibberish.  It's possible they were going for something more closely resembling Alzheimer's, but considering this is a made up condition, I think it would have been nice and disconcerting to hear him speaking nonsense.

I also don't think they sold as effectively that the entire earth was ruined thanks to what they did, as we primarily see older people succumb to  the disease, and younger adults only stumbling over their words a little.  If there's someone out there with a clear enough head to broadcast on the radio that these are the end times promised in Revelations, then the world isn't falling apart just yet.  As such their choice to commit suicide looks a lot like cowardice rather than guilt, because if his brother is such a genius, you would think he would work toward trying to fix the problem rather than giving up.  Of course, forcibly changing the world without telling anyone out there, essentially making the entire human race your guinea pigs because you've decided that our base human instinct is evil kind of makes you a jerk anyway.

Despite my few problems with it, I do really enjoy both the story and the episode.  They balance thought provoking ideas with an emotional core story of a family really well.
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