Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Gramma

My memories of the short story "Gramma" apparently mixed in my mind with "The Woman in the Room."  That's fairly logical, as both stories seem largely based on King's personal experiences, just one is about his mother and the other his grandmother.  So imagine my surprise when as I went to read this story again it went deep into the supernatural.  Once I got over that surprise, I was able to enjoy it thoroughly.  I like the way it starts out as a genuine, natural fear of a boy being frightened by his senile, dying grandmother and then takes that twist into the unnatural as he realizes his grandmother is a witch.  The only part that is a little far fetched is that our protagonist George just "happens to remember" snippets of conversation as he's sitting there hearing his grandmother make noises in the other room.  Besides that though, I do enjoy the dark ending the story leads to.

This story was adapted into an episode of The New Twilight Zone, appearing in its first season.  The short was adapted by writer Harlan Ellison for television.  He makes a few changes, notably that young George finds his grandmother's spell books under the floorboards of her room rather than remembering things his aunts and uncles had once said.  It makes for a slightly more natural discovery.  He also ties the spells specifically to Cthulu rather than Hastur.  They are both demons created by Lovecraft, but I guess Ellison decided to go for the more well known option.

Barret Oliver, probably best known for playing Bastion in the first The Neverending Story film plays George, and he's a strong enough actor to pull off the part.  Some of the narration (used to show us what he's thinking) comes off a little overdone but I'll admit it's better than having him just talk to himself out loud the entire episode.  The effects are pretty plain and typical for low budget television, but I think they work alright.

Another adaptation of this story was filmed last year.  Titled Mercy, it stars The Walking Dead's Chandler Riggs as George.  Looking at the cast and crew list, it's safe to say it fleshes out the story quite a bit.  Unfortunately, it seems to be one of many films produced by Jason Blum that is just sitting on a shelf rather than being released in any form.  Perhaps in time that will change and we'll get to see this film.  I'm certainly curious what they did with it.  If I'm ever able to see it, I will provide an update.

Monday, May 26, 2014

5 minutes about Quick Change (video review)

Time to discuss a largely forgotten film that Murray himself co-directed.


Friday, May 23, 2014

The Box and S. Darko - Some thoughts on Richard Kelly's style of storytelling

Spoiler warning for all of Richard Kelly's films as well as S. Darko.

It's funny how short a time things can change in.  Back in 2009 when The Box was released I said to myself "I liked Donnie Darko and Southland Tales* but The Box is an adaptation so it won't be a true Richard Kelly film."  These days, I cover so many adaptations, I know better.  While certain directors may choose to strictly cover the original subject matter, many put their own touches into the story.  And in this case I was way off, seeing as how the original story is very short to begin with, Kelly had to add more.  And add he did, and very much in the same style he's employed in his other films.

I have now seen all three films, and I feel different ways about all of them.  They all have common threads and common methods yet the only one in which I feel all the pieces came together properly is Donnie Darko.  The story is a good one, one that manages to touch upon feelings of teenage angst and insecurity and blending it well with science fiction and a hero's tale.  It's not perfect.  There are still open questions despite the fact that I've watched the film multiple times, and a couple things that don't sit quite right with me.  But very few films are perfect, and the fact remains it's a great one.

Southland Tales is a mess.  I gave it far too much the benefit of the doubt the first time I saw it.  It's got a great cast and soundtrack and it's shot well, but the story just doesn't work, and on multiple levels.  No repeated viewings or extra material like the comics are going to help it.  He may have had a good idea once but he bloated it out into a monster and destroyed it. Listen to our Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange episode to hear us explain in greater depth.

And then there is The Box.  Its original basis is a Richard Matheson story called "Button, Button."  A poor couple is offered a large sum of money if they will push a button and kill "someone they don't know."  The concept alone is a great moral question that forces you to ask yourself if you'd do it or not.  Answering it in story form can get a little more complicated.  The story was also made into a Twilight Zone episode, and all three answered the question in different ways.

In the original story, the wife pushes the button and her husband ends up dying.  The twist, you see, is whether she ever truly knew her husband at all.  It's fairly clever, and works in a short story format.  Not really satisfying for film though, so it makes sense to me that both adaptations went in a different direction.  For the Twilight Zone episode, the wife pushes the button, and the man comes to take it away, assuring them that it will be reprogrammed and given to "someone they don't know."  Once again, very clever, and a great way to end a Twilight Zone episode.

In his own adaptation, Kelly acknowledges both of these prior versions.  The husband, Arthur, flat out asks his wife Norma how well she knows him, and she says she knows him better than herself.  For added measure she's also asked how well she knows her son, and she says she knows him even better.  After the button is pushed, the man says the same phrase as was said in the Twilight Zone episode, but now we get to see how things play out.  And this is Kelly, so we get a trans-dimensional explanation about how someone out there is basically using all this to judge humanity and whether or not we are worthy.  It's a better attempt at that story idea than the The Day the Earth Stood Still remake that came out the year before, but I guess that's not saying too much, is it?

The main issue I have is that the movie takes a pretty damning view of humanity, particularly of women.  Technically, the wife making the choice to push the button comes from the original story, but there's no reason Kelly couldn't have changed that, nor did he have to make it so that all three times we see a couple given the choice, it is always the wife that does it.  So really he's not just saying humanity is selfish, he's saying women are.  While I follow Norma's reasoning, and she's certainly been manipulated into a desperate situation that would point her toward that choice, Arthur's in the same position and yet is always the one who wants to prevent it or afterward put a stop to it.

On top of the choice to kill a person, these couples are also given the choice to live with their child disabled or die and heal them.  I suppose this one is a little more grey, and could possibly be seen as noble if you wanted to pin it that way - Norma loves her son enough to give up her life to let him live a "normal" life.  But you can also see it as she can't face the fact of living with a disabled child and would rather die instead.  Since in this version Norma has her own disability (granted a fairly minor one that isn' t outwardly noticeable beyond a limp) it paints her perspective on the situation.  She's suffered because of her disability, and she doesn't want her own son to suffer, especially because of choices she made.  But the fact remains that allowing her husband to shoot her means he's going to jail and therefore her son may be able to see and hear but he's growing up without his parents.  And then you add the compound idea that if the next couple hadn't pushed the button Norma wouldn't have died.  But no, women are cold and callous creatures who don't care about anyone outside their family so down she goes.

Contrast this to Donnie Darko, who sacrifices himself to save his family, his girlfriend, and the world.  Donnie's visions lead him to learn about time travel and tangent universes so that he can recognize the signs when the opportunity arises.  It's a willing gift of self sacrifice so that his sisters and Gretchen can have a better life.  Even Southland Tales, in its muddled way, was trying to portray a sense of hope at the end, where Taverner learns to forgive himself.  But apparently after having two films that didn't do as well as he hoped Kelly just decided life was shit and we were all doomed.

So if Kelly wasn't capable of holding on to his own ideas, it is probably far too much to assume that someone else would be able to take away the right things from Donnie Darko and make an appropriate sequel.  I purposefully set my expectations really low for S. Darko before watching it, and yeah, I got what I expected.

Much like Kelly trying to channel David Lynch in Southland Tales and missing the mark, screenwriter Nathan Atkins and director Chris Fisher scooped out a lot of elements from the original film, but removed any form of soul or depth in the process.  A slightly different bunny mask appears, supposedly based on a drawing Donnie did, but that's big mistake number one - Donnie didn't draw Frank until he started having visions, and that only happened in the tangent universe.  Frank had drawings of his planned Halloween costume, but we're specifically told the drawing was Donnie's.  The "manipulated dead" tell the living what to do, there's time travel, and we see those liquid tubes coming out of people's chests showing them where to go, but it all has the feel that they only had a slight understanding on how it all worked.  I'll admit not all of Kelly's explanations are perfect and could probably be changed a little, but the fact is that just including these things is not enough to build a good story in this universe.

Making Sam lost and confused in the years following her brother's death is a good starting point.  Having her still want to be a dancer is a little far fetched - lots of little girls perform in those types of dance teams without that being their future career choice - but it works well enough.  The problem is that beyond these two elements, we know nothing about Sam.  Daveigh Chase has acting talent, but she's not given enough to work with and is largely going through the motions here.  I have a feeling she was just as unsure of her character's motivations as I was.

The characters in the town she and her friend end up lost in are just as poorly defined.  I don't see any of the connection between Sam and Corey that supposedly compelled them to drive across country together in the first place.  Ed Westwick looks so much like Robert Pattinson here that I can't help but think they were trying to build some kind of strange love triangle brooding romance between Randy, Sam, and the nerdy Jeremy, but it's all executed poorly, and then they stick in Justin and the subplot with the priest for good measure.

The priest is there because he's kidnapping little boys (why?  The film doesn't care to tell us) and to mirror the fact that the motivational speaker/child molester got away in the first film.  But letting a guy with child porn hidden in his house get away is a little different than allowing a child to die, so it comes off much worse.  Not to mention that the guy apparently has a prior jail record yet no one in the town suspects him to begin with?  He also hands Sam a book called "Jesusonomy" which she never once cracks open.  It's possible there was a deleted scene that explained this, but the fact remains there's no explanation in the film.

But as I said earlier, Donnie's sacrifice had a purpose.  In this film, while we primarily follow along with Sam for most of the film (even when she's temporarily dead, the perspective switches to Corey's attempt to bring her back) and yet the person who makes the sacrifice is Justin.  Justin is essentially the Roberta Sparrow stand in for this story, not only because he's her grandson (because why not) but because he's crazy, muttering to himself all the time.  Everyone in town blames him for the disappearance of the kids, even before Sam shows up in town.  Yet when he dies just as she arrives in the new timeline, everyone feels bad for him.  That doesn't really make sense.

I could go on, but much like trying to dissect why things happen in Southland Tales, it's largely a useless exercise.  The film tried to cram in as many similarities to the original film as possible, but neglected to make characters worth caring about.  It also lacks any kind of sense of humor.  About the only time it comes close to properly getting the feel of the original film is in the music sequences.  While the songs aren't anywhere near as iconic as Kelly's 80s choices, they do a good job of invoking mood.  Unfortunately, it's the only part of the film that grabbed me at all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Dead Zone

While I remembered the basic plot of the book from the last time I read it, I had no memories of how I had felt about The Dead Zone leading into this re-read.  I was surprised to find that approximately half of the book is spent long before the action happens as we follow Johnny Smith on the night he is in a car accident that puts him in a coma, the way his parents and girlfriend react to the time he's lost to them, and Johnny's recovery once he emerges from it.  His psychic abilities are there from the beginning, but beyond helping a few people he doesn't do much with them.  It's only after a press conference in the hospital that things truly become interesting, and the book amps up considerably once Johnny realizes that an up and coming politician could eventually lead us all into mutually assured destruction.

That isn't to say it's a bad book as most of the characters are enjoyable, with the exception of Johnny's mother who is so over the top in her religious fanaticism that she becomes annoying.  I liked the way King handled the idea of Johnny's abilities going public, getting him lots of attention from both people who believe and others who didn't, and the way most of his events simply blew over in time because the public had more important things to focus on.  There are similarities to Carrie here, especially toward the end when he begins telling the story in letters and public hearings.  I felt like he struck a better balance of that here than he did in Carrie.  That said, I do have some reservations about recommending it.  There are much better King books out there you could make a priority to read first.

The film version was directed by David Cronenberg, another famous horror director.  I've only seen one of his other films, the remake of The Fly, and if you've followed this blog long enough you may remember that I didn't like that one at all.  I'm afraid the same can be said for this film.  The pacing is very similar to that of the book, but what equates to building history and relationships in a novel feels like a slag in a film.  I also don't think Christopher Walken is really suited for the role of Johnny.   He's doing his normal delivery here, and his stilted way of speaking really feels out of place.  He also just doesn't bring very much emotion to the part either.  I've seen Walken in other films and enjoyed him very much, but this was a bad choice in my opinion.

Martin Sheen does a much better job as the charismatic politician Stillson, bringing an enthusiasm to the role that would make you believe this guy could be elected, and also portraying the right amount of madness when needed.  He doesn't get to toss hot dogs at the crowd like King describes in the book, but honestly, how would that even work?  Were people eating hot dogs that landed on the ground?  Would they somehow remain inside their buns as he threw them?  I suppose King just wanted to pull up a bizarre image in your mind with that one.  I'll give him that much, he succeeded.

The film follows the book pretty closely, simply combining some minor characters and making limited changes.  The only one I don't care for is when they change the meaning of the title.  In the book, the dead zone is the part of Johnny's brain he can't reach because it's been damaged after the accident.  So he has his visions, but sometimes some of the details are obscured from him because of that damage.  In the movie, the dead zone is referred to as the area of uncertainty in Johnny's visions, whether or not they will happen or if he can prevent them.  To me that doesn't make sense.  What's dead about  that?

One change I did like was making it so that Johnny's ex-girlfriend Sarah ends up directly involved with Stillson's campaign.  In the book Sarah makes frequent mentions of her husband running for office and wanting to eventually end up in Washington, but none of that truly interacts with the Stillson plot at all.  Drawing it together makes logical sense.

Obviously, I don't recommend the film.  With the exception of one bloody moment, I wouldn't even call it a horror film, and the whole thing moves too slowly to be a thriller.  I suppose you could be left with "supernatural crime drama" as a description but even as that I'm afraid I don't find it to be a very good one.

The novel was also used as the basis for a television show that ran for six seasons.  The two part pilot episode is a partial adaptation of the novel, starting with Johnny as a small boy and going up until he is able to aid the sheriff (of Castle Rock in the book, Bangor in the show) to catch a serial killer plaguing women in the town.  Greg Stillson is mentioned in the beginning of the episode, but his story was used as a part of a continual story line for the series.

A fair amount of changes are made.  Sarah and Johnny have known each other since childhood, which I think makes her decision to move on seem a little too cruel, especially when we find out that she became pregnant with Johnny's child on the same day as the accident in this version.  Six years or not, it seems to me you'd wait for the guy.  This time she's married to the sheriff, amping up the drama as Johnny tries to help him with the murders.

Johnny's father, who is alive in the book, has apparently been dead for some time, and his mother is in a relationship with a preacher.  By the time Johnny wakes up, his mother has passed away and the preacher is now the closest thing Johnny has to a parent.  He's also the one who has been paying Johnny's medical bills, and seems to have a connection to Stillson.

Overall the pilot is a decent enough adaptation of the first half or so of the book and works as a good way to set up the series, where Johnny will continue to come in physical contact with people, have a vision, and then try to help save them.  It also almost counts as a remake of the film, as some of the changes there, like the vision of the nurse's daughter being trapped inside a burning house or the killer's mother attacking Johnny when they go to arrest him come directly from there and not the novel.  Leaving Stillson as a looming problem to continue the series also is a good choice, as the novel does occur over several years.

I have not yet watched the remainder of the series, so I cannot comment on how they resolve it.  However given the length of the show, it's logical that they may have changed things.  Please don't hold your breath, but I may cover the complete show in some form in the future once I have completed all the other adaptations.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Running Man

As a fan of both Stephen King and dystopian fiction, I read through The Running Man like a junk food addict eating a whole bag of potato chips - in one day.  It doesn't hurt that the novel is a fast paced read that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you follow Ben Richards on the run for his life.  Even the beginning, where we are introduced to this world Ben inhabits, where everyone has "FreeVees" in their homes given to them by The Network, the one and only television station that now exists and broadcasts mostly reality television shows all day long is fascinating.  You understand why a poor man like Ben would be willing to submit himself to these dangerous games in order to save his daughter, and the whole thing seems just plausible enough to work.  King also manages to say a lot about class and poverty at the same time, and it never feels heavy handed.  If you're a fan of The Hunger Games or dystopian fiction in general, you owe it to yourself to give this one a read.

It's also worth mentioning that this was one of the books King released as Richard Bachman.  You would think he would have tried to make some changes so as not to give himself away though.  The airport Ben eventually ends up at is located in Derry, Maine after all, and there's mentions of the vacationers versus the  locals in a Maine coastal town that is classic King.  It would seem that even when he's trying to hide his identity, King still can't help but throw hints toward his constant readers.

The Running Man film makes some pretty drastic changes to the story, setting, and characters.  Ben Richards is a thin, wirey man in the book, but here he's played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.  This Ben starts out working for the government but becomes an enemy of the state when he refuses to kill innocent people in a riot.  He's put in prison and manages to escape with a few other inmates, but his attempts to head to Hawaii are thwarted and he's forced to compete on the show.

This show is specifically made for criminals to be punished and killed.  In the book they make the innocent men look like criminals anyway, so this really isn't that big a change.  It mostly just changes Ben's motives since he has no wife or child in the film.  The television network and government also seem much more separate here than they were in the book, as we see that the network doesn't quite have the power to do whatever they like.  However it doesn't really affect the plot much.  It's a shame because I think they had some potential to expand that to something more interesting.

The other main change is that instead of Ben being chased across the country, he's confined to an arena set in the ruins of a city.  I would imagine this was a budget restriction, but unfortunately to me it also takes away a lot of the suspense and tension that the book had.  Making the stalkers/hunters into gladiator/professional wrestling types was an interesting choice, and I like their flashy outfits and outrageous personalities.  The problem is that whenever the time comes to fight them, Schwarzenegger dispatches them far too quickly.  This is also supposedly the first time anyone has ever actually killed a stalker, and I find that hard to believe.  While I knew from the beginning the three former "winners" were going to be revealed dead, it still seems to me like how else could they have won without taking at least one stalker down for the count?  It also seems a little odd when the first two dead stalkers result in stunned silence from the audience, but the third defeated stalker has the audience crying out for Richard to kill him.  The crowd turns to like Richards solely because the plot demands it and not really because of anything he does.

While it may not be the strongest way to do it, I do like that they did make him an inspiring figure to the audiences just as he was in the books.  Schwarzenegger's one liners are in full effect here, and I couldn't help but smile as he pulled them off.  This film is certainly a product of its time, not only because of Arnold but because of the costumes, the hair, and the dance numbers (apparently choreographed by Paula Abdul) but all that gives the film a charm that it might not have if it was made in any other era.

What may be particularly lost on younger viewers of the film is Richard Dawson's performance as Killian.  If I hadn't caught some of his original Family Feud episodes on the Game Show Network, I may not have gotten it either.  Dawson was known to so many as a smiling, sweet man with a jovial sense of humor that to see him turn into a greedy, bloodthirsty villain here was quite a turn.  For a film that makes light of how the people in this reality's version of 2019 don't know about Mr. Spock or Gilligan's Island, it's a shame that Dawson himself is largely forgotten now.

The ending of the film is also a little weak, as while Richards has gotten rid of Killian and the resistance has temporarily disabled the satellites, you know the government's control of the country isn't over by a longshot, and plenty of the other shows are still on the air. This is only the beginning of the revolution, not the end, but we get a kiss between Richards and his love interest and a cheer from the crowd to pretend like everything is fine now.

While the book has greater depths, the film is fairly shallow.  That doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable in its own way, and there is potential there underneath the surface if you're willing to look for it.  If you're looking for a fun action flick with a charismatic lead, this is a good way to spend your time.

I can't help but feel like this book is begging for a new adaptation, one that more closely mirrors the book.  I suppose the only thing that may stop that from ever happening is the ending.  I think most people are still too sensitive about the idea of someone willfully crashing a plane into a building, even though it's been over a decade now.  Still, if that feels like too much, I'm sure they could find another way for Ben to make his final statement and sacrifice against the Games Corporation.  This is a strong, action packed story, and it deserves a stricter adaptation.

Friday, May 9, 2014

(A little more than) 5 minutes about Ghostbusters II (video review)

I have been missing making videos like crazy, and simultaneously getting a little bored with the written reviews, and wanted to try something different.  This is unscripted, so expect it to be a little rough around the edges.  I'm sure the stuttering will decrease the more I do them.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Chicago Trip 2014

A couple years back Noel and I had been chatting and talking about the cons we had been to so far.  We thought it would be great to find one that was centrally located in the country that included broader topics of interest so that as many of our friends scattered around North America could make it.  He had been to C2E2 and suggested it.  There was some brief talk of referring to it as “Failcon” as a meetup for the Made of Fail community, but as more and more people found that financially nonviable, it quickly just became a general meetup for a few of us that happened at the same time as the con.

For Jak and I, the trip started a day earlier than everyone else because we were driving.  It is a 13.5 hour drive from New Orleans to Chicago, and we did 9 hours the first day.  Jak chose to do the entire way up because he really enjoys driving, which allowed me to tweet and take pictures.

The first hour or so is in Louisiana, followed by a few more in Mississippi.  Mississippi used to have the message “It’s like coming home” on their welcome signs, which is quite the joke when you live in one of  the neighboring states.  Clearly, I am doing the opposite once I get there.  Being in MS for so long made it a little hard to feel like we were making progress.  We even did our first refuel in MS, though it was a quaint little town called Duck Hill where the gas station was also a restaurant and general store, and the people there friendly.

We finally crossed the border into Tennessee:

And were pretty much immediately in Memphis.  I know it’s not fair to judge a city simply by the view you get from the interstate, but all I saw was a lot of housing in poor shape and other such signs of poverty.  It seemed really kind of depressing.  As we left the city we crossed the river and all of the sudden we were in Arkansas, specifically West Memphis.  The turn was so quick I didn’t get the AR welcome sign.

Arkansas was fairly uneventful though – a lot of farmland where none of the crops were planted or at least not showing yet thanks to the long winter we’ve all been dealing with.  Changing into Missouri there wasn’t a noticeable difference.

The bleak dirt you see behind the state sign continued in both AR and most of MO, along with a lot of construction going on.

As we continued through MO we started seeing billboards for various tourist attractions, mostly centering around Charleston.  The most amusing one was for a place named Boomland.  It gets its name because they sell fireworks, but they also promised souvenirs and food and gas.  We were nearing fill up time, and I became convinced this was our stop.


Jak and I were laughing at what we thought was a misspelling on the storefront, but it turns out that’s an alternate acceptable spelling.  There were in fact many “collectables” inside.  Shirts in garish colors with goofy sayings on them.  Lots of Christian artwork, the most notable of which was a statue of Jesus on the cross that had LED sparkler lights at the cross ends.  A large amount of fairy and dragon statues that tempted me except that I didn’t want them getting broken in our travels.  3D pictures of Barack Obama.  Tigers, garden gnomes, owls, cats, dogs, just about any other kitschy silly thing you can ever think of.  There was even a Christmas section that I imagine gets more space later in the year.  It was all very silly, but it also allowed us to stretch our legs a bit.

Once back on the road it wasn’t too long before we entered Illinois.

Once again, not really all that different from AR or MO.  Lots of farmland.  At one point there were some cliff faces on either side of the interstate, but that was about it.

When we finally got to our destination in Carbondale, we didn’t really feel like exploring much.  There was a Lone Star Steakhouse in walking distance, so we ate there.  The food and service were mediocre but at that point we were both too tired to care.  I will say that the Super 8 we stayed at was really nice though.  The people at the desk were nice and while the room was small (the two queen beds filled most of  the space) it was clean and quiet.  Perfect for our one night stop.  Carbondale itself is a college town, and seemed similar to most other college towns I’ve been to.

We had our free breakfast and then headed back out on the road.  Since check in time for the hotel was at 3, we planned to make a stop on our way.  Jak had heard about Galloping Ghost Arcade which claims to be the largest arcade in the country.  No way we were going to pass that up.  We got there at about one.  The admission there is $15 and all games are free to play.  They were having computer problems and couldn’t give us an official receipt or change, but the guy let us roam and said he would bring it to us when it got up and running.  Jak decided to donate his change to their current donation campaign, which let him sign his name on their donor wall.

Their arcade collection is in fact very impressive, and includes a wide range of genres.  I would guess at least 75% of their selection is from the 80s and early 90s when arcades were at their peak.  There were some that seemed to be turned off/broken but most were available. Jak and I had fun going around and playing them all, but we quickly discovered it was the type of  thing that would be far more fun to do as a group activity.

These reproduction carts were sitting in the window of their workshop.

And here’s a shot of the actual workshop, full of all kinds of neat parts and stuff.

Meanwhile, our group was already in Chicago and had been allowed to check in to the hotel at 10:30 because there was a room already available, so we decided to get on the road and meet up with them.

Specifically, the group at the time was Noel, JD, and Igor.  Igor lives in Chicago and was the tour guide for all of us during our stay, while Noel had come in from Minnesota and JD from Kansas.  Our hotel was pretty easy to find and offered free parking, which was a big bonus.  We got there and exchanged various gifts we had all gotten for each other – mine were mostly a bunch of snacks and drinks only available in the New Orleans area, though I had also gotten JD a late birthday gift. Noel surprised me with the childrens’ novelization of Freaked, which I can’t believe actually exists.  Having now read it, it’s also pretty shockingly faithful.

Noel and JD were both pretty exhausted, having gotten up super-early to catch their flights and then being taken to Chinatown by Igor.  Jak and I were feeling ready to stretch our legs though, so we followed Igor as he gave us a tour.

We started in Chinatown, and I managed to take this picture of the public library there.  Many of the buildings had similar beautiful architecture.  Once we reached the end of Chinatown we bought bus passes and hopped a bus to downtown.  We saw lots of historical buildings turned into retail stores, the theater district, and government buildings.

The Chicago theater, which is of course branded by Chase now.  Are there any buildings left that aren’t sponsored by someone?

 A shot of the gorgeous ceiling inside city hall

And an even more gorgeous domed ceiling inside the cultural center.

This is the room below the domed ceiling.

From here we headed toward Millennial Park, and my feet were screaming at me.  See, I’m so smart that I ordered a pair of shoes the week before the trip and never broke them in or tested them over long distances.  And it turns out they are made in a way that the heel pushes my toes forward badly and caused friction every time I walked.  So while we started trying to head toward the lake and the wind pushed us back, I also decided I couldn’t walk much further.  Getting hungry didn’t help really, so we decided to ride the bus back to the hotel to meet up with JD and Noel and eat at a place nearby.

That place was Ricobene’s, which offered a mix of pizza and sandwiches.  I found it interesting that they offered three types of pizza there – the traditional Chicago style deep dish, pan pizza (aka deep dish pizza anywhere else) and thin crust (sort of New York style, but not as large).  I got a mushroom and spinach deep dish slice and it was amazing.  After that we went back to the hotel, said goodbye to Igor, and settled in for the night.

Friday morning we all got up early to go to the con.  I had been nervous because I kept seeing this massive crowd of people in promo shots, and didn’t really want to be pushed and shoved trying to get in.  While we did have to wait in a large line, Friday was actually the lightest day of the con and walking the floor was a mostly pleasant experience.  I say mostly because Jak hadn’t brought his backpack and I had a full water bottle plus my hoodie in my purse weighing me down so we were both a little uncomfortable.  We walked around and around trying to find him a tote or backpack, but everything was too expensive or nothing that interested him.  But it did allow us to see most of the show floor at least.

We met back up with the guys for lunch, and we were all pleasantly surprised to find out the food court at least had a decent selection.  One of the areas had superhero theming for their food, though they apparently had not bothered to tell the cashiers this.  I tried to order an Ironman burger and the ladies had no idea what I was talking about.  But once I got it, it was actually really good – a burger with caramelized onions and bacon.  After eating, we all separated again, Jak and I heading for a panel.

It was called Publishing Your Indie Game, which I thought might be interesting/useful since Jak is working on a few of them right now.  It was mostly a local Chicago game company talking about how they are helping out smaller companies, mostly in working with Valve since they already have a working relationship.  They also mentioned a few other things about promotion and being connected to your fans.  It was mostly logical information, but the guys involved were charismatic enough to make it entertaining.

We wandered around for a little longer, waiting for the one other panel I wanted to see that day.  It was titled The Legacy of Crusher Hogan: Wrestling and Comics.  I wanted to go mainly to see Mick Foley, because Mick was one of the main reasons I watched wrestling from 1999 – 2001.  I’ve read his first autobiography Have a Nice Day and watched Beyond the Mat as well as some of the bios WWE has put together on him over the years – he’s just this wonderfully charismatic warm guy, like a great big teddy bear, and he used to do all these crazy things in the ring that you wouldn’t believe.

When the panel opened up for us to go in, Mick actually wasn’t there yet.  But I was surprised to find out that Jill Thompson was.  She’s doing cover work for the new WWE Superstars series released through Papercutz, which the panel was largely promoting.  Mick is doing the writing for the series.  Jill chatted with the editor of Papercutz and another panelist whose name I have forgotten about wrestling in general until Mick showed up.  While they clearly wanted to promote the new series, I thought they did a good job of keeping the discussion general – Mick told us about how he once was told he was going to meet “the Hulk” and he assumed it was Hulk Hogan, only to have Lou Ferrigno walk in.  He also collected superhero comics from a young age, and said there was no doubt an influence on coming up with his larger than life wrestling personas thanks to reading them.  They also dissed the old WCW Comics a lot.  It was a highly entertaining panel, and I’m glad I got to go to it, especially since Mick’s line was way too long for the rest of the con that I never got an autograph or picture like I had debated doing.

Once that was done we met up with JD, Noel, and Igor and walked back to the hotel.  We were headed to the suburbs to meet Lore, then go to Gameworks with Kevin and Adam.  Noel had printed out directions to Kevin’s place, but looking over them they made no sense (the maps didn’t match the turn by turn directions) and we had our GPS, so I had left it in the room.  I made the assumption Noel or Igor would know Kevin’s address, but they didn’t, and well, Igor described it all well in his log of Day 2 but let’s just say it was a study in failure for a while there.  Jak was the one driving, not me, but I was still stressed out until we finally arrived.

Here’s the part where I admit I’m an idiot.  We got to Kevin’s place and Lore was sitting on the opposite side of the room.  Now granted it was a small room and there were a lot of us in it, but I probably shouldn’t have just hung back and waved at her.  We’ve had some great twitter conversations after all.  But instead my stupid internal self goes “Oh well, I guess that’s it” while meanwhile she didn’t even realize I was who I was, so no connection was made.  It was my own personal fail for the night.

We probably should have had a group discussion about how long we planned to stay and how much gaming we were going to do at Gameworks, but we didn’t, and when we got there we all bought our cards separately.  Jak and I shared ours, and we got a fairly high number assuming we would be there for a while (they didn’t close until 2 am, we arrived around 9). Well apparently we were the only ones who were all that interested in gaming.  The difference between Gameworks’ and Galloping Ghost’s selection was huge – the “classic section” was three arcade machines.  It was primarily shooters, racing games, fighting games, and midway games like skeeball and air hockey.  So as I feared, it was basically a Dave & Busters, which similarly disappointed us when we went to one near Atlanta.

We were making the best of it though, and the racing games actually proved the most fun, just because of the sheer variety of them.  There was one that took your picture before the race began, so that you could see exactly which car your friends were in.  Another one had vehicles with two steering wheels where you would trade who was in control every time you hit a bump.  Yet another was a tron-esque motorcycle game that had you lying on your back while you drove through tubes.  There was a 3D “interactive” House of the Dead game, where you were supposed to go inside and it would blow wind and such on you, but Jak wasn’t willing to try it with me and I was too chicken to do it alone.

Anyway, we played until 11 when everyone else was ready to go.  It sucked because we had credits left still, but we weren’t going to make everyone sit around longer while we used them up.

Saturday there were no particular panels Jak or I were interested in, so we took our time getting ready before walking to the con around lunchtime.  This time Jak brought his backpack and we were able to be more comfortable – but man was the con crowded.  People were pushing and shoving all around the show floor.  Others created traffic jams just to take pictures of cosplayers.  We hadn’t checked out artist alley at all the day before, so we did that this time.  I was hoping to maybe go to Jill Thompson’s booth and get an issue or two of Beasts of Burden, a comic she did with Evan Dorkin that sounds right up my alley.  Her line was pretty long though, so we passed her up.

We decided to attempt to get something close to a true Chicago hot dog for lunch via the food court.  They had most of the toppings readily available so we loaded up the dogs as best we could.  Probably not as good as if we had gone to a proper vendor but it worked in a pinch.  Because it was so crowded we shared our table with a large group of friends who were teasing each other about the proper way to open a bag of chips.  One guy had just neatly opened one end of the bag while the other practically tore his into two pieces.  Definitely a “had to be there” kind of thing but it was amusing, and the closest we got to friendly interactions with fellow conventioneers on the trip.

We walked around the panel area a little and checked out the cosplayers from above for a little while.

Apparently the only picture I took was of this Bebop and Rocksteady.

It didn’t take us long before we were ready to head back to the hotel, and we relaxed there until everyone else trickled back in.  JD returned with an Alien Funko toy he had gotten me from the con floor, which was awesome.  We decided to walk to Ricobene’s again for dinner, mostly to save time as we were expecting company.  This time Jak and I got the “pan” pizza, which obviously was not as good as the deep dish, but not bad.

Kevin, Adam, and Tessa arrived not long after and Kevin proved himself a man after my own heart by bringing lots of booze to share.  He had hard root beer and a few varieties of hard cider.  I immediately claimed a blueberry Woodchuck which was amazing, and later shared a candied pecan version (not Woodchuck, the name is escaping me) with Tessa that tasted just like apple pie.  I had also brought my Chocolate Shop chocolate and strawberry red wine, which I shared with Kevin and JD.  Yes, I was sloshed.  I think at least Jak and JD also got drunk, so at least I wasn’t alone.  But I was probably the loudest.


We played Cards Against Humanity, which I took an early lead in before being left behind by nearly everyone else – the alcohol may have had something to do with that, but winning is never the most important part of that game.  I just love watching people react to the cards.  Promises were made to play an online version some time in the future and I hope we end up doing that.

Somewhere in the middle of this I tweeted about the game and Lore made the connection that I was there the day before, and she apologized and I apologized and there were online hugs exchanged.  I also chatted a bit with Bethany and Dayna who had both hoped to come to this meetup but couldn’t.  Because apparently even when I’m finally  hanging out with my internet friends in person, I still have to go online and talk to other people.  Hello, my name is Angie, and I have a twitter addiction.

Noel, Jak, and Igor, taken during my twitter exchanges. Only the middle one is drunk, but they are all very happy.

Once that was done we played Clue, which excited me both because it meant I got to use the neat “classic edition” I had recently purchased and because Noel and Igor had never played before.  My logic skills were inhibited by the alcohol – I’m usually pretty good at paying attention to see if people are revealing things to others maybe I haven’t seen yet, but after a while I gave up on trying that and literally just went with whatever person/weapon/room was at the top of my list that hadn’t been eliminated yet.  And I won.  They have since referred to me as “Sherlock while drunk” though, so let’s all pretend that I was actually going to my mind palace to figure it all out.

When the game was done it was about time for Kevin, Adam, and Tessa to head back, so we said our goodbyes to them and took a picture.

Kevin, Tessa, 1/2 of JD’s head, Jak, me, Noel, and Adam.  There was another version of this where Adam swapped with Igor, and I really hope that version has JD actually visible.

Sunday Jak, JD and myself got up semi-early to go to the Let’s Play panel.  This was actually the one panel I wanted to see the most, because it was hosted by a bunch of Something Awful/Youtube personalities that I follow pretty regularly, both through their Let’s Plays and appearances on the Retsutalk podcast.

Not picture is Kamoc, who was actually standing right in front of us recording the panel.  If I was the more annoying sort, I would have asked him to give me his best “wa-ha!” He’s been doing an LP with Voidburger where she’s playing the Nightmare before Christmas game and Jack Skellington says that every other hit he lands (the rest of the time he says “Soul Robber!” which is his weapon – it’s as annoying as it sounds) and Kamoc does a really good impression of Jack.  But I am a shy nerd and I couldn’t talk to him.

Ironicus and Chip are sort of the backup duo behind Retsupurae, a kind of MST3K for Let’s Play that points out things you shouldn’t do, so there was lots of talk about what not to do in your Let’s Play as well as a few tips on what to do and discussion on how they all started.  Geop was super quiet and looked unhappy up there, but I found out later he was actually really sick, so he was being quite the trooper just showing up at all.

At one point they could only show us a screenshot of a video they had hoped to load via wifi but couldn’t.  Kamoc had ripped the first 50 results for “Super Mario World Let’s Play” off of Youtube and put them together into one big massive screen, the point being that you should do something original with your Let’s Play rather than what everyone else was doing.  One of them on the panel asked “Do I see scarecams on there?” which means including a video of yourself in the corner of your video game video.  Obviously the screen was too small to see, but there was at least a slight chance one of those was me.  To which all I can say is that I did that to hang out and create something with my brother, not to make a good Let’s Play. :) (Having now seen the video, I’m not in it!  Yay!)

At the end Chip pulled up a video from The Wonderful 101 that they are currently working on (they’re still posting Uncharted 3 right now, I assume this game will be next) and we all did a live commentary on the video together.  Obviously it was mostly just the panelists commenting, but you’ll hear some of our laughter and cheers at least.  The one problem with that was that Chip and Ironicus ended up sharing a microphone, which made it really hard for us to hear them.  It was also part 8 of the game, the first boss fight, and therefore a little harder to follow what was going on.  But it was a neat idea to try anyway.

After that we wandered the con floor again, but by that point Jak was so incredibly sick of comics and JD and I were suffering from overload too that we headed back to the hotel.  We ate lunch in the sports bar there, where I had probably the best turkey burger I’ve had in a long time, as well as a watermelon martini that the bartender went out of her way to figure out how to make and gave me more than a full glass’ worth of.  Igor joined up with us briefly with his lunch, and we said our goodbyes to him.

We recorded the bonus episode of the Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange, and then played a game of Ticket to Ride.  Despite Jak saying “you lose friends with that game” it was actually a pretty peaceful game all things considered.  Though I did trounce them.  Just saying.

For dinner we went to Carbon, a Mexican restaurant down the street, as I had seen good reviews online and we figured it was time for something different from Ricobene’s.  In retrospect, we probably should have stuck with what we knew. I got two fish tacos, and one was good but the other was burnt.  The guys were all fairly lukewarm on their own selections.

As these things tend to go, we all stayed awake pretty late that night, talking and giggling and just enjoying each other’s company.

Monday we woke up early.  Noel and JD had plenty of time before their flights, but as Jak and I were driving straight home, we decided to leave at 9.  We figured we’d miss the rush hour traffic that way, so of course there was a large accident (it appeared to include a bus) that was blocking all the lanes and took a good forty five minutes to clear out of the way and allow us to finally leave Chicago.

I had been checking the weather the night before and in the morning before we left, and the news was not good.  Basically all the way from Missouri to Mississippi, right along the Mississippi River, they were forecasting flash floods and possible tornadoes.  I was driving this time, and while I got us through all of Illinois with no incident, somewhere not far into MO we ran into a thunderstorm.  We’re talking hard pounding sheets of rain beating on the windshield so fast that the wipers were useless.  The sun was out somewhere to the side of us, but all I could see was a sheet of water.  I was pretty freaked.  Once we were out of it, I was still really nervous, seeing the large amounts of water pooling in the ditches beside the interstate.

I took an exit and Jak took over.  The sky was mostly clear at that point, but I was still really nervous, because looking at the radar you could see these patches of red and yellow down I-55 where we were driving.  The worst by far was near Jackson, MS, which was getting hit with a nice long band that was supposed to last for hours.  After a bit of freaking out, I convinced Jak that we should add more time to our route for the sake of safety.  See, a lot of Mississippi on I-55 is rolling hills, and I had a feeling those low valleys were likely to flood.  And my car is a Honda Fit, which sits super-low to the ground.

Looking at the interstates and highways, I devised that heading west for awhile into Pine Bluff, AR and then heading south through Louisiana rather than Mississippi would clear us away from the flash flood and tornado watches.  So that’s exactly what we did.  We stopped in Pine Bluff to eat, and by that point it was 8:30 pm.  I asked Jak if he wanted to find a hotel for the night, but he wanted to continue the additional 6 hours.  He kept driving for awhile, and I drank a five hour energy to prepare for my turn on our final haul.

The way took us through small highways rather than the interstate most of the way.  Because we were kind of in the middle of nowhere and kept losing cell reception, I took screengrabs of the directions my phone was giving me (the GPS wanted us to get back to I-55, and that wouldn’t do) in case it lost connection.  It did actually stay active the whole time, so that’s a positive for the Google Maps app.

In the end it was actually kind of neat getting to see the highways and the various camp houses and small towns along the way.  In Natchez, MS I took over as Jak was becoming exhausted.  Not long after, perhaps because we were somewhat close to the river (though to the west of all the bad weather) there was a really thick fog on the road.  So even when the speed limit was 65, I had to slow down to 40 because I couldn’t see too far ahead of me.  The fog lights on my car were only slightly helpful.  Thankfully, no one was trying to drive like a maniac down those roads, though a few more daring souls did pass me at faster speeds.

We finally, finally got home at 4 am, after 19 hours of being on the road.  Never, ever, ever will I drive that long again.  I will probably also only fly to Chicago from here on out.

Overall, I’m really glad I went and I really enjoyed Chicago.  It probably goes without saying I also really enjoyed seeing everyone too.  I wish we could all live closer so that we could get together and share a few drinks and play a few games more often.

C2E2 I was not as impressed with.  It really wasn’t all that different from Wizard World New Orleans, which I hated.  Some people go to cons to buy swag, goggle at cosplayers and get autographs and pictures with celebrities, but I go to feel a sense of community with people who share my interests.  While I got that in my friend interactions, the con was just a massive wall of people too busy doing their own thing.  Even though I wasn’t into most of what Screwattack does, I still enjoyed SGC more because going to the game rooms guaranteed meeting some like minded people.

My goal for future cons is to attend much smaller scale ones that happen in a single hotel and have a focus on more community activities rather than celebrity appearances. Or if I go to ones like this, I will go for a single day.  There’s really no need to do more than that. Our goal for future meetups is to do something outside of cons, which really just makes sense.  That way we can spend more time together as friends with less schedule juggling. I have a couple ideas on things we could do, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the future.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Moving Finger

The drains in our homes are strange little routes to places we can't see.  When I bought my first home, they did an inspection of the drains, sending a camera down there to make sure there weren't any serious clogs or maybe signs of decay.  All they found were a couple roaches, and the man doing the inspection told me that wasn't a concern, just a natural thing that happens especially when a house has been on the market for a bit not being used.  It still freaked me out, and when they gave me a CD copy of the footage they had filmed, I never touched it.  I didn't want to see that ever again.

Usually, bugs are the worst thing we'll ever see coming out of the drain holes in our home.  But what if a finger started poking out?  What if you could hear the fingernail scraping and scratching its way out of your sink?  This was an idea that apparently once occurred to Stephen King, and this story resulted from it.  A quiet man hears the sound and sees the finger, though his wife never does.  While initially we're led to believe it may all be in his head, the finale in which the cop shows up after the man's fight with the very long finger guarantees that it is not just his imagination.  The story ends on a cliffhanger, leaving their fate uncertain, but the imagery of that long finger and what it could be attached to are really the key to fear in this story.

This story was adapted as the very last episode of the Monsters TV series, and I have to admit the finger they use is just a little too obviously fake to truly be scary.  There even seems to be moments where the material they used for the skin cracks in places and it took a lot out of it.  Of course a more recent adaptation would just use a CGI finger, and I'm not sure if that would truly be scary either.  It's quite possible this is the kind of thing that's always going to work a little better in your imagination.

The episode is pretty faithful to the story, only really dropping the idea that the main character is the type who is afraid to use public bathrooms, and therefore spends a a good portion of the short story fretting on how he's going to use the bathroom if he can't use his own.  They also drop all mentions of Jeopardy and instead make it an unnamed quiz show, but that is to be expected.

The main difference is the ending, and I have to admit I found it really disappointing.  The finger he fights with is very long, several feet at least, and yet the hand that jumps out the toilet at the cop has only slightly longer fingers than a human.  I suppose the idea is that it can stretch, but that hand minus one digit is so underwhelming that it really ends the short on a down note.  I can't help but think it might have been more effective to just have the cop scream and not show us what she was seeing.

While I would recommend reading the story if you have a copy of Nightmares and Dreamscapes, I can't particularly recommend going out of your way to find this episode.
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