Friday, June 27, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men (TV) - episode 6 - X-Calibre

It would be logical to look at the title of this episode and think "Wait, they're going to adapt an Age of Apocalypse series somehow in the middle of this?  How does that make sense?"  But amazingly, it actually does and works really well.  While in that comic series Nightcrawler was escorting humans out of an Apocalypse ruled America to the fabled land of Avalon, here he is helping out fellow mutants who are escaping the MRD in America and heading to Genosha.  And the ship where most of the action takes place is called Avalon.  That's actually pretty clever.

So a group of mutants are aboard this cargo ship and are being treated pretty poorly by the crew who only agreed to take them for money.  But Nightcrawler uses his teleportation powers to get the mutants food and convince the crew to play nice.  Things get a bit more dangerous when pirates attack the ship.  These pirates are led by Spiral, who is actually looking for mutants to recruit for her master Mojo.  Her fellow pirates are the Reavers, and their ship is being piloted by a mutant she calls Ricochet, though the female character presented here has nothing in common with the male one from the comics. (It occurs to me now this may be a reference to the fact that Spiral was once known as Richochet Rita before Mojo changed her.)

Nightcrawler defeats Spiral by teleporting off her cybernetic extra arms, and he teaches the mutants on the boat that they are all gifted rather than cursed and they work together to help fix the damage that has been done to the ship.  We also get a flashback moment in the episode where we see Professor Xavier rescue Nightcrawler from the mob that was attacking him.  The X-men show up after the conflict is all over and ask Kurt to rejoin, but he tells them he wants to help these mutants get to safety first.  Logan understands and lets him go.

While the plot is fairly simple, I really like this episode.  It shows off Nightcrawler's strengths and what makes him such a fun and appealing character.  Mojo's presence also teases at a possible later conflict with him, and whenever you get Mojo involved it's usually a good time.  The hardest part about doing these reviews so far is that once an episode finishes I really want to move on to the next one!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Dolores Claiborne

When I was young I thought of Dolores Claiborne as "some boring story about a woman that doesn't have supernatural elements" and avoided it.  I was wrong on both counts.  The themes of the book are something you probably need to be older to appreciate, that's for sure.  I know I saw the movie at some point, and at the time it largely flew over my head.  But as an adult I really liked this one.  I enjoy the style King uses to tell the story, having Dolores narrate to us the whole thing while she gives her story to the police.  I've said again and again that the personality of your narrator in first person perspective makes all the difference, and Dolores just has that wonderful take no shit attitude that you have to love her.

The story is also heartfelt and emotional, and while King has made errors in his early years where he didn't quite get the proper voice and tone down for his female characters, he has made up for it in spades in this book.  To have Kathy Bates return to a King adaptation for the film is also a treat.  Dolores and Annie Wilkes have little in common with each other, and Bates has no problem keeping the women separate.  She once again shows great range, from Dolores' sweeter, younger days to her hard edged elder years.

The film is a well executed drama, and I particularly enjoyed the fades and other transitions used to go into the flashbacks.  They really help to sell the fact that Dolores is getting lost in her memories.

Quite a few changes are made, but most of them do not hurt the story.  Dolores' two sons are eliminated completely.  While they add depth to the book, showing the various dynamics her husband Joe had with each child, the core story is really all about what he does to their daughter Selena and how that affects Dolores' choice to kill him.  Vera, the old woman Dolores helps care for, also doesn't have children in the movie, but that makes sense.  The reveal about what happened to them is a bittersweet ending to the novel, but there really wasn't room to develop that in the film.

The one change I'm not so sure of is making it so that Selena doesn't remember what happened to her, that she never truly admits what happened to her at all.  Technically, in the book all we know is that Dolores and Selena are estranged so it's technically possible that she could have submerged the memories of her abuse.  But I think it works better having her remember, not just because forgotten abuse is such a tired trope in stories but because it means that Selena feels her own guilt and partial responsibility about her father's death.

Another change left out,and honestly I figured there was no way they would include it, is that Dolores occasionally sees images of another girl who was abused by her father at a young age.  It's the one supernatural element to the story, and it never gets resolved.  The girl (and eventual woman) that she is seeing visions of is Jessie from Gerald's Game, another novel that serves as King's loving tribute to strong women.  While I figured we were probably never going to see an adaptation of that book, apparently I am wrong.  Time to add another "in development" film to my list.

Despite the change in dynamic with Selena, I think both versions of this story are really strong and work really well.  While I prefer the novel, both are worth your time.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men(TV) - episode 5 - Thieves Gambit

Does that title get you as excited as it did me?  Any chance to talk about the Cajun does that.  And this episode is a really good one for Gambit fans!

We start off seeing a young girl running from the MRD, and the more upset she becomes the more she heats up.  Devoted X-men fans already know this girl is Magma, a mutant with lava based powers.  She eventually becomes lava herself, and Wolverine swoops in, putting a power inhibiting collar around her neck to keep her from completely losing control.

We pull back to see this is all being watched on a monitor, where Dr. Zane is showing the footage to the Thieves Guild to ask them to retrieve the collar for her.  Most of them think stealing from the X-men is far too risky, but Gambit is willing to do it as long as she can afford his price.  He's so cool and cocky that I just love him to pieces here.

Wolverine sends Magma (referred to here by her real name Amara) back home to Brazil.  She begs him to let her keep the collar, but he tells her it is dangerous with long term use.  He brings it back to the mansion, and we see all the X-men settling in for bed while Gambit sneaks in to steal it.  He is successful, but Wolverine uses his senses to track him down and retrieve it.

Gambit is able to make the exchange to Zane before Logan catches up to him, and she brings it back to her lab where she and Bolivar Trask will try to learn how Forge built it so they can copy it.  Logan is pretty pissed at Gambit when he finds him, and he burns the cash Zane paid him, promising him double if he helps him get the collar back.  Which begs the question where Logan would get that much cash.  Do the X-men have a company fund based on Xavier's riches?  Does Logan have a savings account that dates back to the 1800s and has therefore grown considerably in size?  Or is he just bluffing?

Logan and Remy butt heads on how to go about breaking into the lab, and this is by far the strength of the episode, watching the two of them bicker and mock each other.  Gambit is all about stealth and finesse, and Logan is all about tearing things apart and taking whatever he wants.  Both have their value at different times.  They are able to make it into the lab, but Trask sets a sentinel prowler after them while he and Zane escape.  Gambit tries to double cross Wolverine, leaving him to deal with the prowler alone while stealing the collar, but Logan outsmarts him and manages to keep it while also tearing the prowler apart.

We see him return home, his costume in rags, and he tosses the collar in front of Forge at the kitchen table before saying "We need new locks."

Yet another fantastic episode, with a great blend of humor and action.  I feel like if anyone ever asked you "what's the big deal about Wolverine and Gambit?  Why are they so popular?  Why did you name your cats after them?" you can show them this episode and they'll probably understand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Riding the Bullet

Riding the Bullet is King's variation of the classic "hitchhiker picked up by a dead man" story, and it's a pretty good one.  That's largely because he adds in the element that the hitchhiker is on his way to see his mother in the hospital after she's had a stroke.  The character's complicated but sweet feelings for his mother are really what make the story good.

Riding the Bullet is also notable because it was an early e-book release that ended up being incredibly successful and one of those things that had people claiming that print books were out and digital was the way of the future.  Of course, that was 14 years ago now, and print books aren't dying just yet.  For King's part, he was always disappointed that people wanted to talk to him about the success of the e-book but never about the story itself.

But he's always got one cheerleader in his court, and that cheerleader is Mick Garris.  While The Stand and The Shining mini-series were faithful adaptations using King's scripts, and Quicksilver Highway used King's story largely as is with Garris creating the wraparound tale, this is the first time that Garris adapted a King story and fleshed it out a bit himself.

Suddenly, I understand why other people dislike Mick Garris so much.

The two mini-series are great, even if they're not very scary.  Quicksilver Highway has a camp feel to it, and that works really well.  But in this instance Garris is trying really hard to bring the scares, and he fails miserably.  Every single time.  Once again, when he's adapting King's story directly, it's fine.  But everything he added on his own had me cringing.

He sets the story in 1969, which makes enough sense as it couldn't really be set in modern times as the majority of people do not hitchhike anymore, and most of us are unwilling to pick up the few who do.  So you set it in a more innocent and trusting time period, sure.  But Garris seems to set it there just so he can have one of the college age characters say "What's it going to be like when all these rock legends get old?  Lennon, Janis, Hendrix, Jim Morrison.."  All it does is make you roll your eyes really hard.

He also adds in an attempted suicide for our main character.  To a degree that makes sense.  When he's forced to choose who will die, you can see not only the struggle but also his renewed desire to live now.  But it's mostly the execution that comes off all wrong.  He does it because his girlfriend broke up with him, but she only broke up with him as a way to give him a surprise party later.  The tone just feels really odd, and I can't sympathize with Alan because he's overreacting and I can't see why he would care about a girlfriend who plays such a cruel joke on him.

One of the poorest attempts at a scare comes when Alan is walking down the road alone.  He hears a noise in the bushes and gets afraid.  It turns out to be a rabbit, and he relaxes... until a dog comes out and savagely kills it.  It then turns on him, growling and snarling.  We see the dog attack  him, but it's just Alan imagining things.  A semi truck then comes out of nowhere and runs over the dog.  It's just a lot of revulsion rather than a legitimate scare.

That's not the only sequence where we see Alan imagining things either.  He also has another version of himself that appears frequently to talk to him.  It's an interesting alternative to a voice-over to show his thoughts, but it's all a little strange, and the constant "something happens but oh wait he just imagined it" gets really tedious after a while.

If there's anything positive I can say about the film, it's that I enjoyed David Arquette's performance as George Staub.  It's a fairly familiar character for him, but he plays it well.  I do think Garris also does a decent job of showing the bond Alan shares with his mother.  It's just a shame that too much of the rest of the movie makes it hard to appreciate.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men (TV) - episode 4 - Overflow

Now that Charles Xavier has the ability to communicate with the X-men from the future, we're going to see a pattern in future episodes: Charles warns them about something awful that happens soon and asks them to prevent it. In this case, it's that all of Africa has been destroyed. Storm was blamed for the destruction, so the X-men have to go and stop her.

Before they leave, Logan really wants Emma gone, because he can't trust her, but once again they need her to use Cerebro. Africa is pretty huge, after all, and they don't know exactly where Storm is. You'd think she might leave a forwarding address or some way for the X-men to reach her, but she didn't. Emma is able to find her and once again the X-men load up into the blackbird to go after her. There's this really nice moment where Cyclops begrudgingly shows up at the last minute - Kitty had knocked on his door to let him know they were leaving, but he didn't answer. After a nice humorous moment where Forge begs Wolverine not to ruin the blackbird as he just fixed it and Logan puts a scratch in the side saying "The first scratch is always the worst," Scott just quietly walks up and gets on the plane. Logan doesn't say anything snarky to him, he just steps aside and lets him on. While these two can bicker like there's no tomorrow, I like when we get to see they also have a quiet respect for each other.

In Africa, Storm has returned to the village where she was once worshiped as a goddess. The people are making offerings to her and want to throw celebrations in her honor, and Ororo is very humbled and slightly embarrassed about it all. Unfortunately, the Shadow King has also made his way to this village, passing from person to person by touch in order to ultimately get inside Ororo's head. We get a flashback to the days when she was a young thief working for him, and how it was Charles Xavier that helped her escape that life. But now after all this time, the Shadow King wants her back. He fools her into thinking that her village is on fire, and so she brings down heavy rain that turns into a flood and begins to destroy the village. The X-men arrive to try and stop her.

In a moment that must be making a nod to the original X-men film, Emma insists that Cyclops blast Storm with his beams and take her down, but Logan says no, blast him instead. He climbs a large outcropping to reach Storm where she hovers in the sky, and once Logan has her Scott blasts him and they both come crashing down. It's clever and a nice bit of teamwork. Emma goes inside Storm's head and realizes the Shadow King is there, and the two of them fight. Emma is able to push him out, but she also has to abandon her own body in the process. We see the two of them fighting on the astral plane, and it's really creative, the way they keep building weapons for themselves. Ultimately, the Shadow King is weakened by not having a host body to return to, and Emma is able to slice him apart.

Storm is able to fix the damage she caused, and Logan now trusts Emma a little more. Ororo decides to return the X-men and help them prevent the dark future in any way she can.

What's interesting to me about this episode is that it borrows heavily from an episode from the first X-men animated series where the Shadow King also tried to get at Storm by attacking her village in Africa, but it does it so much better. And that's even with the absence of Rogue and Jean in this version. It's worth noting that a similar thing did happen in the comics as well, but that issue was written after the animated series episode, so I'm giving it the credit for this original story idea. Though of course the history between the Shadow King, Storm, and Xavier is from comics far earlier than that.

Overall it's a fairly simple episode, but has strong writing and great action.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men (TV) - episodes 1 - 3: Hindsight

I recently decided to go through this animated show again, and when I went back to the blog I was shocked to see I had only given it a couple paragraphs before, and most of them bitching about how Wolverine isn't a leader.  Overexposure or not, the fact is that he really is a leader of the X-men now.  There's an ongoing comic series with the same title, though that one is a very different situation.  This series actually does address the fact that Logan is far more loner than leader, and how having him lead the X-men is quite a challenge.  It's also fantastic and really needs to be talked about.

As the show starts we get a nice little intro to who the X-men are, and there's no silly narration or new character arriving that they can info dump on.  We just see Kitty, Colossus, and Nightcrawler in the danger room, before Logan ups the difficulty on them as a prank as he says goodbye.  It's not really clear why he intends to leave, but it does largely mirror what happens at the end of the first X-men film as Rogue is upset about his leaving.  We also see Beast, Storm, the Professor, Jean and Cyclops until suddenly the two psychics fall prey to some kind of attack and everything goes white as an explosion occurs.  We jump ahead to months later from here, and I really like this intro, setting up a mystery that will not be solved until close to the end of the season (which is sadly also the end of the show).

As usual for the X-men in any continuity, anti-mutant hysteria is ramping up and the government has put the Mutant Response Division into place.  They are responsible for rounding up mutants that are seen as a threat to humanity, which of course pretty much means every mutant.  And when Logan helps save a little girl who gets buried under rubble, they also round up her and her parents for helping him escape. It's some pretty disturbing stuff for a kids cartoon - they hook the father up to a sensory overload machine (kind of like the A Clockwork Orange torture device but the things go over your eyes rather than propping them open) trying to torture Logan's location out of him.  Once Logan learns of this, he wants to go in and save the family, but he can't do it alone.

So he returns to the mansion (which is still largely a mess) but finds no one home but Beast.  The professor and Jean are  missing, so Cyclops has gone off to pout in an apartment, Storm went back to Africa, and the younger mutants have all been sent home since the school is closed.  But Logan convinces Beast to help him out, and we get some really great moments where Hank says he's a pacifist and doesn't want to fight the MRD guards but is left no choice.  They rescue the family along with young mutants Rusty, Boom Boom, and Dust.

That is essentially the end of part 1 of the episode, along with Logan and Hank deciding to reunite the X-men but acknowledging that it won't be easy.  I really appreciate that there's no hand holding here, or long drawn out bits of exposition.  The characters are introduced in a way that shows you their powers and personalities and allows you to figure out what's going on relatively quickly.  The MRD are bad, the X-men are good, and that's all you need to know.  As we get into part 2, we're introduced to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, showing us that there are at least some mutants out there that have helped to start the hysteria brewing among the humans.

This Brotherhood is primarily Mystique's version, though she herself is absent at this point.  We've got Toad, Blob, Avalanche, Quicksilver, and Domino.  We also quickly see that Rogue has been drawn to them now, upset over Logan abandoning her.  I also like that while this Brotherhood does take things too far, you can also see their position - they're trying to stop the government from putting sentinels in place.  When Domino pleads their case to Rogue, you can see why she's tempted to help them.

We also get scenes of Logan going about trying to bring the X-men back, primarily Iceman (who had moved back home and whose parents aren't too crazy about him leaving again) and Kitty, who was on her way to Genosha but quickly abandons the idea when Logan comes calling.  In this series we skip the part of history where Genosha is enslaving mutants and instead go straight to the part where Magneto rules the area as a haven for mutants.  But we won't see Genosha proper until a bit later in the series.

The X-men try to thwart the Brotherhood's attack on Senator Kelly, but it turns out that there never was a planned attack - they simply had Rogue tell Logan that was the plan so the X-men could show up and disrupt the presentation, making them look like the bad guys.  Which is a little counterproductive to the Brotherhood's purpose if you think about it - making any mutants look bad seems like a bad idea for them - but I guess the idea is that Kelly's presentation of sentinels got interrupted regardless.

Angel also makes an appearance in the episode, and while most of the other mutants have been about the same relative age as they appeared in the movies, he's an adult and not a teenager.  But his father is still anti-mutant and Warren is trying to change things from within.  He refuses to rejoin the X-men at this point but we'll definitely see him again.

The second part of the episode helps bring back some of the core team that we'll be seeing for most of this series, as well as to establish Rogue's defection.  It's a lot more action oriented than the first episode, emphasizing the tussles with the Brotherhood and MRDs rather than story.  But it does help get the ball rolling for a lot of the main conflicts in the first part of the series.

In part 3, the X-men start rebuilding the mansion with help from a young Forge and Emma Frost shows up on the doorstep, saying she wants to be an X-man and they're going to let her join because she's the only one they have now who can operate cerebro.  Once again, this is a great way to introduce a character and show us exactly who they are.  Logan begrudgingly lets her in and sure enough she located Xavier - he's on Genosha.

They take the blackbird over and this is where the show does get a little inconsistent - in the prior one Kitty was ready to head to Genosha on her own, now that they're going to confront Magneto she's suddenly afraid to do so.  It's a little odd.  The blackbird's stealth equipment isn't working and so Magneto is ready for them, and we're shown just how much of a powerhouse he is as he disables them all one by one.  While Logan is being his typical hothead self, Magneto assures them that he wasn't responsible for the attack and that Xavier, in a coma, simply washed up on the island and he's taking care of him.  The X-men request to bring him back home and he agrees.

They set the professor up in the mansion and here's the part where things get a little odd - the professor is somehow able to use Cerebro to send messages from 20 years into the future back to Logan.  Basically, this is their way of doing Days of Future Past and just sort of hand waving away the actual time travel bit.  And the professor doesn't come to stay in his current body, he just sends Logan messages and then goes back to his own time.  He tells them that the future is in ruins ruled by sentinels and they have to reunite and put a stop to it.

He literally tells Logan that he has to be the one to lead them right in front of Cyclops, who quickly starts to turn and walk away.  The professor tells him to stay because they need him, but doesn't really provide any kind of explanation to his former leader on why he can't be the one to lead.  And since the professor apparently only recently woke up in the future, he has no good solid reason either.  The answer is that the show's title demands it, or that it makes for a more interesting series, you take your pick on what you'd like.  It's just a shame they couldn't have handled it a little better.  Regardless, the show now has a clear goal - preventing the nightmare future - and we'll hit the ground running from there.

What I like most about this series is that it pulls a lot from the comics and the films, but it still manages to feel very much like its own thing.  It does a great job of showing that there are universally appealing elements to the X-men legacy, and you can easily adapt them to this medium.  While I felt like X-men Evolution went a little too far off the rails with the high school problems, this cartoon feels much more spot on.  Similar to the original X-men cartoon, but actually doing a better job in terms of the writing and maturity of the stories while still being appropriate for all ages.

The story takes a lot more twists and turns from here, so strap in, it's going be quite an adventure.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Stand

As I have mentioned multiple times before in doing this series, The Stand mini-series was what turned me on to Stephen King in the first place.  My initial interest in it was a very silly reason:  Corin Nemic, who I had a huge crush on thanks to him playing Parker Lewis, had a role in it.  But I also knew Stephen King as the author whose books my dad was reading all the time, and I was curious.  We watched the mini-series together and as soon as it was done I asked his permission to read the book (I was 13).  Permission was granted and I dove right into the 800+ page epic regardless of the mockery I received from my schoolmates for wanting to read something so long.  Unlike Pet Semetary which bored me when I went from film to book order, I had no problems with The Stand.  While the adaptation is very faithful thanks to King himself writing the screenplay, there are so many extra details and background for the characters in the novel that it was like getting to know close friends even better than you had before.  I loved it, and it hooked me enough that I moved on to every other King novel I could get my hands on.

A few years back I read the extended, uncut edition for the first time, which adds a good 200 pages or so that was initially cut out because the publishers thought no one would buy a book that size.  I appreciated some of the extra background, but I have to admit that most of it is not particularly necessary.  As you might expect, none of this extra material is included in the mini-series.

If I'm not mistaken, this mini-series was not just notable to me personally.  I remember it being a large comeback for both Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe, and helped to launch the career of Gary Sinise (though I'm sure a little film called Forrest Gump in the same year didn't hurt).  It also helped renew an interest in Stephen King adaptations for television - Mick Garris and King were given the choice to adapt The Shining mini-series after this one, and other  originally written for television works followed.  I'm also willing to bet I'm not the only person who started reading King after this appeared on television.

For those unaware, The Stand is the story of a plague that overtakes most of the population of the earth, unleashed by a government accident.  A small section of the population is immune to the disease, and they slowly gather together on opposing sides of good and evil, but only one side can be the victor and slowly rebuild the world.  The story takes place in America, though we do get some mentions that it is effecting other countries.  I figure one plane across the Atlantic and another across the Pacific would be all that was needed to make this global.

There are a lot of main characters here to juggle with. That's a large part of why I like it.  It gives us a broad range of people who are dealing with the crisis, and we get to follow the choices they make and the way they change along the way.

Our primary cast:
  • Stu Redman - A Texan who has the misfortune of being at the gas station where the government employee who ran ends up crashing and dying.  Stu allows us a view of how the government is attempting to handle the situation, and he also becomes the strong, silent leader once everything unravels.  He's played by Gary Sinise.
  • Frannie Goldsmith - A young woman from Maine who discovers she's pregnant shortly before everything goes down.  Fran is strong willed but also silly, and I like her a lot even though she rarely gets to do much of anything on her own once things go south.  Her story also helps address what the future will be like for this world where the virus is still in the air.  She's played by Molly Ringwald.
  • Glen Bateman - A former socialogy professor that King uses to talk about whether society should be rebuilt or not.  He's played by the fantastic Ray Walston in the mini-series who automatically makes him ten times more awesome.
  • Larry Underwood - A New Yorker and a musician who managed to be a one hit wonder before civilization went away.  Larry's a user and a taker and he has a lot to learn before he can become a hero.  Larry is played by Adam Storke. A lot of Larry's story gets the axe in the mini-series, which is unfortunate as he's probably my favorite character in the book.
  • Nick Andros - A deaf mute who has been on his own since his teen years.  This was Rob Lowe's first major role since scandals took him out of the limelight, and playing a solidly good character like Nick probably helped his reputation.
  • Tom Cullen - A mentally disabled person that thinks just about everything is spelled M-O-O-N.  Tom is probably not the most accurately portrayed, but his character is incredibly likeable and Bill Fagerbakke makes him even more so in the mini-series.
  • Randall Flagg - Referred to as the dark man or the man with no face, he is the novel's villain.  His character has ties to The Dark Tower series, but you could easily also see him here as the devil's servant.  He's both charming and terrifying at the same time.  Jamey Sheridan reminds me a lot of Bill Clinton here when he's playing nice, and he's also great at making Flagg menacing when he needs to be.  Some of the effects used for him look a little dated now, but I think they work well.
  • Mother Abigail - The opposite side of the coin to Flagg, she's the one who gathers the good together.  Ruby Dee is great here (though she's also the reason I can't recommend the commentary track on the DVD).  While there's definitely a degree of stereotyping going on here with the character, I think King writes her likable and charming enough that I don't mind so much.
  • Lloyd Henreid - Flagg's right hand man who is loyal to him because Flagg saved  him from starvation in prison.  Lloyd strikes a good mix of disgusting and pitiable at the same time, and Miguel Ferrer provides him with that depth in the mini-series as well.
  • Nadine Cross - The chosen one who will bear Flagg's child.  Nadine is even more pitiable that Lloyd.  I want so badly for her to turn away from the path she's chosen.  She's played in the mini-series by Laura San Giacomo.
  • Harold Lauder - A teenager who grew up in the same town as Frannie and had a crush on her for most of his life.  He's the wannabe writer of the story (this is King after all, there has to be one) and another one who had the chance of redemption but ultimately rejects it.  Harold's portrayal as a disgusting, fat slob of a nerd is toned down very much for the mini-series where Corin Nemic plays him.  He only starts with a few rather fake looking pimples, and the rest is all surly attitude. My feelings on Harold and the journey his character takes could probably fill volumes in and of themselves.
  • Trashcan Man - A pyromaniac who hears voices and plays a very important role in the endgame of the story.  He's played by Matt Frewer.  This is the first of many appearances in King adaptations for Frewer, and in my opinion, his best.
And really, there are so many more characters involved than just those.  Much like ItThe Stand is a marathon.  Whether you are talking about the book or the 6 hour long mini-series, this takes an investment of time.   This time around I chose to revisit the book in audio form, and to help keep track of the differences along the way, I watched the mini-series episodes as congruently as I could with the "Book" separations in the novel.  It's not a perfect match as the novel has three parts and the mini-series has four.  Book I gets you through all of the first episode and a bit into the second, with some events told slightly out of order.

Differences from Book I:

As you would expect, a lot of minor characters get removed.  The most notable ones are Frannie's mother and Rita.  Frannie's mother is unessential to the main plot, so the choice to change it so that she died years before all this happened makes sense.  I enjoy the dynamics of their difficult relationship in the book, but a whole lot of time spent fretting about whether Fran will keep her unwanted pregnancy is completely irrelevant once the plot gets going.  Similarly, Frannie has already broken up with the boy who made her pregnant in the mini-series.

Rita on the other hand is a more disappointing loss for me.  She is combined with Nadine, which I have to admit makes sense, though it changes Nadine's character a little and definitely changes how things are for Larry.  Nadine leaves Larry in the mini-series at the same time that Rita dies of an overdose.  While it leaves Larry alone, I think he needs the pain and guilt of failing Rita completely to help send him on his journey from a self absorbed jerk to an eventual hero.

Ed Harris and Kathy Bates both make uncredited appearances in the first episode.    Ed Harris' role is mostly accurate to the general that appears in the novel, and Kathy's role is also faithful with the exception that Ray was originally a man.  Her role is also the only real glimpse we get of a much longer sequence in the book where King takes us through various media outlets attempts to get out the information and the way the government covers it up.  It makes sense for these things to get cut, but those small details are also what makes reading the novel worthwhile.

Differences from Book II:

Book II is the bulk of the story, and is contained in the rest of the second episode and all of the third.  It's where our cast finally comes together in Boulder or Las Vegas and starts to rebuild their lives.

Since Nadine was in New York with Larry, she didn't help to raise Joe, the feral boy who has been traumatized by losing his whole family.  It removes some of the complexity of her character, as through Joe we see that she can be a truly good person if she wants to.  It also makes the attraction between Larry and Nadine stronger.  Here, Joe is with Lucy instead, and we don't see much of Joe at all, especially none of his bonding with Larry and how that helps him to recover.  Taking care of Joe helps Larry to stop being so selfish, and his ultimate choice to pick Lucy over Nadine is important as well.  Here we just cut away and Larry tells Nadine Lucy is his wife now so she better hit the road.

Frannie and Harold keep diaries in the book.  Harold finds Frannie's, where she says a lot of nasty things about him, and it helps fuel his desire for revenge.  His diary is full of his hate and anger and disdain for the people of Boulder, and provides a clue to Larry and Fran that something terrible is going to happen, though they discover it too late to do anything about it.  Once again, the depth of Harold's character is lost.  I understand his anger that is fueled by all the years he was mocked in school, and how he feels that Frannie and Stu are acting the same way to him, while he's completely unaware that it's his own bad attitude causing their revulsion.  Harold repeatedly makes bad choices, but he always feels a hair's breath away from making the good ones. If only everyone had been a little kinder to him, and he could have released his demons, things would have been better for him.  Of course, he realizes the error of his ways out in the desert, but by then it is too late.

More minor characters are dropped out, and some characters join different parties moving west.  Given the huge cast, it makes sense to condense them as much as possible.

Differences from Book III:

The final episode and Book III cover the same part of the story.  Things are condensed quite a bit, but the bulk of the story remains the same.

Stu gains a strange kind of psychic connection with Harold so that he knows when he crashes his motorcycle and when he kills himself.  In the book they run into Harold's dead body on their walk to Las Vegas.

The crowd gathered in Las Vegas in the mini-series is a little too eager to see the executions.  In the book, they've all become very much scared of Flagg and are only there out of fear.
Mother Abigail's spirit also shows up a few times in the mini-series whereas once she's gone in the book, she's gone.  It doesn't really change anything, nor does making Frannie's child a girl instead of a boy.

The extended edition of the book also contains an epilogue where we see that Flagg has survived and been sent somewhere else to once again try to manipulate the lives of others.  It's perfect for the book but wouldn't really fit with the mini-series.

When it comes to this mini-series, I have to admit I have nothing to say about Garris' direction.  This feels very much like the adaptation belongs to King.  I've never seen the screenplay, but it certainly seems like Garris just followed that to the letter.  There's really nothing wrong with that - the cast is strong and so is the story, so there's really nothing to do but sit back and let it happen.

Despite its length and the fact that I just read this a couple years ago, I was not even remotely fatigued by going through the story again.  I also think I could watch the mini-series regularly and never get tired of it.  To be honest, I think I've got it memorized in parts.  I love these characters and I love the journey they take.

I remember being initially very confused about the appearance of the hand of God in the final moment in Las Vegas.  It seems to come out of nowhere.  I had hoped the book would provide answers, but it didn't really.  You could ask yourself why God sent the guys over to Vegas if he was just going to blow it all up anyway.  After all, it's clear that even though Trash didn't realize it, God was using him to bring the bomb there.  But he needs Larry and Ralph there to gather the crowds.  It's complicated and it's cruel, but ultimately I like the way it all plays out.

If you're looking for an even longer and more in depth analysis of this novel, may I suggest Boulder Free Zone, a series by Laura over at the Second Time Around blog.   I enjoyed reading her take on the book and I recommend it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Thinner

While Thinner is a fairly thin volume by King standards, the story still feels more appropriate for a short story rather than a novel.  A man accidentally kills a gypsy woman with his car, and he is cursed to become thinner and thinner until he wastes away.  I can't help but think that is maybe how the story started out, and King ended up writing more until the length was fatter and fatter and became a novel.  Regardless of his intentions, we linger a little too long on what I feel is otherwise a pretty cut and dry tale.

You might expect a tale where the "villain" is a Romani person to be unfair to them, but while King may be relying on some stereotypes to tell the tale I don't think he crosses the line to offensive.  In fact, he spends a lot of time being sympathetic to their situation and the way they are run out of town even when they follow all the rules.  Unfortunately, that also means we end up with a fairly unlikable protagonist for the story.  Billy Halleck is a quite literal fat cat lawyer at the beginning of the story, and while he learns a few things here and there, he isn't really all that changed by the end of it besides his weight.  I think that's another reason the story feels like it should be short to me - that lack of growth is expected for shorter length stories but novels should really be about how someone changes.

That said, I did enjoy the ending as it gives Billy exactly what he deserves.

The film, directed by Tom Holland, is a faithful adaptation.  Things seem to happen a little faster but it all works out in pretty much the same fashion as the novel.  In this case, I wouldn't have minded if they had taken some time to change things a little, maybe make Billy a more likable character, as it would give us someone to sympathize with. As it is, I don't like the movie for the same reasons I don't like the novel.  It's a well made film, I just don't like the story.

There's also the issue of how to show Billy's transformation.  While it's become vogue of late for actors to lose a ton of weight (and if the 2014 awards are any indication, it's enough to make them hand you an Oscar) given the generally short shooting length for films an actor could not safely lose the weight required here.  They remedy this by giving him a fat suit at the beginning.  Fat suits make all actors pretty much look the same.  The bulging cheeks tend to look corny and they affect how much emotion the actor can portray.  Robert John Burke is adequate in the role but any chances he would have had to shine are buried under the prosthetics.  There's a brief period where he gets to look like himself, and then they use more prosthetics as he becomes dangerously thin, layering on wrinkles to get the look.  It makes him look old rather than thin.  I wonder if the CGI of today would be more suited to the task of handling something like this now.

It's probably no surprise, but in my opinion this is definitely a King novel and film that you can skip.
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