Friday, August 29, 2014

Re-evaluating my priorities, and what that means for my posts on here

I've been unhappy for a few months now.  Super unhappy, having a really hard time getting excited about much of anything, feeling like I was worthless.  So I've been searching for an answer, and I happened to stumble upon this episode of the Cracked podcast last night, and it got me thinking super hard about the way I've been spending my time.  If you've had any doubts of your own, I recommend listening to it.

A Return to the Dreaming

I've said before and I'll say again that I hate editing podcasts.  I love doing them though.  Guesting on other podcasts has always been the best because it means I get to show up to discuss and then do nothing afterward.  For my own, I definitely don't want to present the idea that I hated doing Strangers from the Internet or A Return to the Dreaming.  I love talking to Bethany and JD (as well as our guests on SftI) and I think we had some really great discussions on both shows.  As I listen again to edit, I enjoy our discussions again.  There's nothing cooler than when you're sitting there listening to a show you recorded a while ago, and a topic comes up and you're thinking about the topic while you edit and then a little while later, boom, that thing you were thinking is right there because we're awesome people so of course it occurred to us then.  It's getting down in the weeds, having to clear up every single stutter and verbal tick, listening to a sentence three, four, five times in a row as you slowly clean up those things and make sure it still sounds like a normal proper sentence.  Deciding if it's better to leave in that goof up because taking it out may make the rest sound stilted or odd without the context.  I know from listening to other podcasts that too many verbal ticks can drive a listener crazy and I want to provide a quality product, but the tedium of editing means I can't do it for more than small bits at a time.  So far I have kept A Return to the Dreaming to a once a month schedule but every time it feels like I'm going to end up taking longer.  And knowing I've still got five episodes to get through after the one I'm on isn't helping things, it feels like there's no end in sight.

My point being that I am committed to getting the episodes out, but I don't know what kind of schedule it will be at going forward.  If past history is an indicator, it may stay on schedule.  This may just be a mental thing I need to get over, is my point.  Stop imposing a deadline on myself for no good reason.

Bill Murray Project

Here's an honest confession.  I care a lot about what other people think.  Way, way too much.  I frequently set expectations from myself based on how I think others are going to react.  An image that I feel like I need to uphold.  "If I don't post frequently, people will forget about my blog entirely."  Ha!  As if there's ever been a large number of people paying attention anyway.  "If I abandon a project, people will think I am irresponsible/somehow worth less."  Because all those people I know who start projects and abandon them are totally hated by the people who follow them, right?  Yes, it's true that when those people announce a new project, internally I'm thinking "we'll see how long this lasts" but so what?  It's their time and they can do as they please with it.  Ditto with my own.

I came up with this project because there are a few Murray films I want to revisit.  I added in all Murray films as a way to "post more often."  I switched them to videos in an effort to make videos again even though I didn't have the time to edit.  Also because I quickly found out there's only so much to be said about most comedy films.  I look at the remainder of Bill Murray's work, and I still see some of the movies I want to revisit, but I also see some I feel no need to revisit because I know I don't like them (I'm looking at you, Coffee & Cigarettes) or because I know perfectly well that they're enjoyable, and most of them are popular enough that you don't need me telling you that Ed Wood is good and you should see it.
So going forward I plan to revisit the films I want, check out some of the others I haven't seen before that look interesting to me, and I will post about them if I feel like there's something I want to say about them.

I also plan to find a way to use the "5 minutes about..." videos in another fashion, because I really do enjoy talking to the camera.  The time limit has already proved helpful for Pop Culture Revolver, where Jak, JD and I all felt like knowing that we were limited on time kept us all on point and focused for the discussion.


Unlike the Bill Murray films, I'm interested in all of these because I'm a big Beatles fan.  Even the ones I've already seen I want to revisit, and even if hardly anyone is listening, I just like explaining Beatle references and talking about them.  These have obviously already been on a "whenever I feel like it" schedule and will probably continue as just that.

Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange

Once a month I sit down to watch a film and then talk to Jak and Noel about it the next day.  Some of the choices haven't been particularly enjoyable for me, but I still like the idea of the project, I enjoy talking to them both, and I see no reason to change anything about it. I would say the main possibility is if I feel like I run out of movies to share.

Castle Rock Companion

Noel and I already worked together on the Golden Years posts and I enjoyed them.  I listened to The Gunslinger audiobook because I want to revisit the series, and conferring with Noel he agreed I should cover it for CRC regardless of whether or not an adaptation ever appears.  Basically, the name of the project is vague enough that it can encompass any and all King related works we wish to cover.  Like the Beatles, I really enjoy King and I will continue to talk about his work in one form or another.  The most likely change that could happen would be not posting so regularly.

No Game New Year

A large part of what started this post is that I started drafting a post for the end of the year, a "what I have learned" kind of thing.  And the ridiculousness of waiting until December 31st for things I already know now began to seem super-duper ridiculous to me.  So I asked myself why, and once again it's all related to these promises I made to myself and not letting myself down, which in my reality means not letting other people down or the imagined "other" down.  So yeah, that post will probably go up pretty soon and I will lift this foolish embargo.  Because giving up on new year's resolutions before the year is up is normal and human, and I'm not going to win the love and adoration of millions just because I make it all the way to December 31st.  Especially if there's a game out there that I have the time and money to play.  And I haven't had the time lately because I've been forcing myself to do these other projects.

Wolverine and the X-men posts

The X-men are up there with the Beatles and King for me.  I love them, and will always want to talk about them and share my love with others in some fashion.  I'm going to keep re-watching this series because I think it's great.  Will I keep writing about it?  I'm not sure.  I've noticed that my last couple of posts were really just me recapping the show, pointing out some cameos.  Some of which I have to confirm through Wikipedia because I missed a good decade of X-men comics.  I think I just took that from a "not sure" to a definite "no," unless I find something I really want to say about them.

Pop Culture Revolver

I think what you can kind of tell over all is that a lot of the above is about slimming things down or slowing them up.  A good portion of them could even be incorporated into Pop Culture Revolver instead - for instance once I get to the end of Wolverine and the X-men, I could invite on anyone else who has watched the series to talk about it.  I don't feel like I need to force myself to watch The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or Moonrise Kingdom again because I know I like them, but that doesn't mean I couldn't do an episode about Wes Anderson films in general.  There are many Sandman related comics not directly written by Gaiman that JD and I didn't do an episode for, but could totally be covered here without giving me yet another episode to edit.  My general idea is to do this podcast every other week, but we'll see how realistically that can be upheld.

Things that have nothing to do with posting on the internet, gasp!

I have multiple Excel spreadsheets that I use to organize my time.  There is "Week Schedule" where I have columns for Monday through Sunday and rows for hours that I'm awake.  I block out the time when I'm at work and use the rest to plan my meals and activities the rest of the time.  There's "Creative Projects and Ideas" where the first tab is a calendar where I fill out what posts on what day and the remaining tabs are separated by project and I organize what needs to be done for them.  There are abandoned projects, current projects, and possible future projects.  And one thing I noticed is that recently I've been adding tabs that are not necessarily related to something I could post on here.
  • I'm tracking which of those gifted comics I've read regardless of whether or not I'll review them.
  • I've got my Netflix disc queue prioritized so I can see when I can realistically discontinue that part of the service.
  • I recently put my amazon wishlist in there, seeing what I can change from physical media to digital, to see what I can experience through a streaming service instead, and whether there's stuff there I truly want/need.
  • I've got a list of movies I only have via VHS to determine whether I should get better versions or just copy them over via a VCR/video camera hook up.
  • I've got a list of books sitting around my house that I've never actually read
  • The No Game New Year tab is really just a list of games I haven't played yet
  • I've got some helpful links on how to make a t shirt quilt out of some old shirts that no longer fit me but I'm too attached to part with.
The point is, my house is currently full to the point that I can't get to things easily.  And I've realized I'm just not that attached to things as a I used to be.  I'm not going to know what is worth keeping and what's not unless I have the chance to go through these things, and going through them often gets deferred because "I must edit" or "Gotta watch this so I can make progress on this project" while I allow myself to be continually miserable because I feel cramped in my packed house.

It's stupid behavior.  I have to stop making myself guilty if  I want to be a consumer rather than a producer.  I have to stop telling myself that cleaning up the house isn't an accomplishment because it's not a creative endeavor.

I'm not going to be rich and famous.  I'm not even going to be internet famous.  Honestly, the idea that that is somehow a good thing to be is ludicrous when you see how those people get harassed and criticized on a regular basis.  Obviously it means enough to them to continue, but I'm so tired of putting things out there and being disappointed because people didn't get excited about it the way I hoped they would.

I've been really stupid.  I started doing videos because no one reads but people like to watch videos, so maybe if I make them they'll love me like they love those other people!  I sit around like an asshole and think "Oh well, Igor and Noel will like this, but no one else will notice" totally under appreciating the fact that I do in fact have two awesome friends who enjoy what I do.  And they're not the only ones, they may be the ones who comment the most but sitting around expecting comments is just sitting there going "Love me!  Validate me!  Need me!  Convince me I'm special!"

There's a line from a Liz Phair song.  She's talking about something else, but she says "If you do it and you're still unhappy, then you know that the problem is you."

So this is the point where I say no more.  No more putting something out there in the hopes that others will notice.  I will write when I want to write and I will work on videos when I want to do them and I will discuss things with my friends and record them when I want to.  And if I want to sit at home and play a game or watch a show or read a book I will without stopping to think about whether or not such thing is something I can review.  And the world will not end!  Imagine that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher is a Stephen King novel that I feel gets a bad wrap.  There are similarities here to both The Body and It, as a tight knit group of friends have an adventure as children, and once again come together in adulthood to defeat an evil.  But it's not a carbon copy of either of those stories by any means; it just so happens that those kind of strong friendships are one of the things that King does best.  I think the main reason a lot of people balk is because of the enemies he calls "shit weasels" and I suppose if the idea of an alien that gestates inside you before coming out along with some severe stinky farts and a lot of blood is something you can't get past, then it is what it is.  Personally, I enjoy the fear that creates, and I appreciate the comparisons King does to the creatures with cancer.

More than anything though, I really love this group of friends, and I like the way we see just enough of each of their respective personalities and history before diving into the conflict with the aliens.  And on the other side we have the military, represented on opposite sides of the coin with Owen, a man who wants to do the right thing, and Colonel Kurtz, who is just completely mad.  Kurtz is one of King's best psychotic villains and he's wonderfully unsettling to read.

The only place I feel the novel goes off the tracks is toward the end.  The internal struggle for Jonesy's mind between him and Mr. Gray is a great one, and I love all the creative touches King adds to it with the memory warehouse and the ever changing prison/safehouse Jonesy has created for himself.  I love the way Mr. Gray slowly becomes more and more human, at first scoffing at our ways before loving the feel of emotions and the simple pleasures in life like a bacon sandwich with mayo.  But then toward the end King tries to say that there is no Mr. Gray and I have a hard time following.  Add to that no real explanation for Duddits' powers and how he was able to give them to his friends except for a small hint in the epilogue that it may have been God's doing, and it just doesn't end strong.

The film is probably even more poorly regarded than the book, and here I can at least understand why.  But that doesn't mean there aren't things to like either.  Morgan Freeman is fantastic as Colonel Curtis, doing a good job at portraying the madness and evil inside him.  His name is changed because they didn't want to have an association with Apocalypse Now, but the thing is he's named that way in the book to exactly make that comparison, so I really don't understand why they changed it.  They also ignored the fact that his real name is Coonts in the book (something that I figure is either a reference to Stephen Coonts or Dean Koontz, take your pick) which would have been a decent enough replacement.

The rest of the cast is also top notch.  Jason Lee is absolutely perfect as Beaver, and Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant and Damion Lewis are also great as Henry, Pete, and Jonesy respectively.  I'm a little more bothered by Donnie Wahlberg as Duddits, mostly because the Duddits of the book has down syndrome, and I feel like this would have been a good opportunity for Chris Burke or perhaps another actor with the disability.  But given some of the changes they make, I guess it makes sense that they changed it so that Duddits just has an unspecified disability instead.

There are a lot of places in which this is a strict adaptation, with lines taken directly from the book, including Curtis' great speech before they slaughter the aliens.  Most of the characters are spot on, and while the shit weasels don't look as I pictured them, I think they look really good and appropriately gross and menacing.  Some situations are simplified, like skipping the part where Owen has a crisis of conscience about slaughtering the aliens, or having the army come in and save the civilians and relieve Curtis of duty sooner, but those make sense in terms of tightening up the narrative.

Where I think they went wrong is the struggle between Mr. Gray and Jonesy.  It ends up seriously simplified, and I don't like the way Damion Lewis switches between accents and turns his head to have conversations between the two.  It's not that he does a bad job with it, it just feels off.  I also think dropping the way Jonesy gets Mr. Gray to enjoy his human body was a huge mistake.  It makes Mr. Gray a far less interesting villain.

The most drastic change is of course the final scene, where Duddits is revealed to be another alien of a different race, and he and Mr. Gray are locked in a struggle that Duddits eventually wins.  There's something about it that feels tonally off, like they went a bridge too far with it.  I appreciate the attempt to try to explain what Duddits was and why he had those powers and gave them to his friends as well, but there's something about the execution of it that feels off to me.

It's worth mentioning that the film originally had a different ending that you can view in the DVD bonus features for the film.  In that one, Duddits waves his finger in the same way that he showed Pete to do, and a beam extends from his finger and kills the alien.  He then succumbs to the leukemia, and we see Henry and Jonesy at his gravesite, where they leave his Scooby Doo lunchbox and sing "Blue Bayou" to him one last time.  While still different to what happened in the book, I like this ending a little better as it puts the focus on their bond of friendship.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Desperation

I've never been one for hardcover editions of books, because I've always been more interested in the stories inside than I am in the quality of the book itself.  It's probably why I've switched to e-book format lately.  But Desperation was the first hardcover edition of a King book I got, because it was gifted to me by a friend who knew I loved King's books. The fact that it was a gift has always made it a little special to me, but it helps that I also really enjoyed the story inside.

The opening of the book is one of King's strongest.  He takes that apprehension and fear we all have when we're pulled over by a policeman and brings it all to a new level of creepy and frightening.  We're forced to relinquish control in those situations, but what if the cop was a complete lunatic?  It makes it so much worse.  I'll admit, there's a part of me that wishes this story really was just about a cop gone insane and terrorizing his small town, but I can also see how King had to take it to another level to move the story forward.  The ancient evil buried deep in the ground, disturbed by human greed that dug too far is not a new idea, but he executes it well.

As always with King's work, the cast of characters goes a long way to make the story work, and we've got a pretty strong crew here.  My favorite is probably the carefree and punk haired Cynthia, making a return here from playing a small part in Rose Madder.  But young David is also a great lead, with his recently discovered faith and his confusion on the nature of God.  Our requisite former alcoholic writer Johnny can be a little more annoying at times, but his stubbornness is a necessary part of the journey he takes toward renewing his faith.

The book does rely very heavily on God, in a way that I don't think King has done since The Stand.  There are parallels there, where God is using the people as an instrument to do his bidding and rid the world of this evil.  But while God seemed pretty benevolent (if slightly demanding) then, there's a lot more focus on his cruelty in this story.  Most of the time this struggle with faith and God's purpose feels fairly natural and not overly preachy, but it's hard not to see this as a novel with a spiritual message. The only part that really got my eyes rolling was when David hands out sardines and crackers and they multiply like when Jesus handed out the loaves of bread and fish.  It's just overly silly.

The TV movie is another written by King directed by Garris production, and as such is pretty faithful to the novel.  A few back stories are omitted, and one character, Audrey Wyler, is taken out completely.  She was largely a way for King to show the influence the entity Tak was having on some of the townspeople besides the one it would possess, and that is quickly dealt with in messages given to David instead.  The voice of God David hears is portrayed by the ghost of his dead sister, I suppose making it easier to understand rather than a miscellaneous voice over.

The main major change is related to Johnny's return to faith.  While in the book David passes out and ends up talking to a younger Johnny who is "dead" because of what happened to him in Vietnam, here we see what actually happened there, and that Tak was somehow responsible for it.  It makes Johnny's decision to sacrifice himself to stop Tak and save the others make more sense.

The cast for the movie is pretty great.  We not only have Steven Weber and Matt Frewer returning once again to a King adaptation, but Tom Skerrit makes a great Johnny and Shane Haboucha does a good job as David.  The absolute best choice they made is without a doubt casting Ron Pearlman as police officer Collie Entragian.  I don't remember exactly what I pictured Entragian looking like when I first read the book, but Pearlman has to be pretty close.  He has the perfect large imposing frame and plays him with the right amount of creepiness.

The main problem I have with the film is that I don't think the set pieces and special effects live up to King's descriptions in the book.  Everything looks like it's made out of plastic and foam and therefore isn't very creepy or scary.  A higher budget would have gone a long way in making this film more impressive.  But being made for television, you can't really expect too much.

While the beginning of the novel is much stronger than its later half,  I still recommend it.  While maybe not high enough caliber to be called classic King, there's enough of his strengths here to make it enjoyable.  The movie isn't bad either, and since it can be found for pretty cheap, you don't have much to lose in picking it up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men(TV) episode 10 - "Greetings from Genosha"

It's time to check back in with Nightcrawler and see how's he's doing.  The freighter he and the other misfit mutants are on has finally reached the shores of Genosha.  He's a little concerned about Magneto and whether he's truly running the place fairly, so Magneto tasks his daughter Wanda, aka the Scarlet Witch, to take him on a tour.  The two of them clearly have an attraction to one another.  This is once again the writers of this show throwing a nod to the comics - Nocturne is a character from an alternate timeline who has these two for parents.  I'm kind of surprised she doesn't end up showing up in the future with Xavier.  Or maybe she does and I'm forgetting.  But for now, the two of them keep it friendly as Wanda shows Kurt the near utopia Genosha has become, with mutants living together in harmony and not being afraid to show off their powers.

As you would expect, there are cameos galore here once again.  Many of them are logically from Magneto's followers the Acolytes, but we also see Dazzler performing a concert and Mercury, a young mutant from more recent years also plays a part.  She's the type of character I feel like was lifted out of my subconscious, as she's dressed in an outfit that reminds me a lot of Harley Quinn's color scheme and frequently shifts her body into weapons to attack people.  She's awesome.

Of course, no utopias are as they seem, and sure enough Fever Pitch goes on a rampage through the town.  He's subdued and Wanda shows Kurt the clean prison cells they keep the bad mutants in "until they can be rehabilitated" and reintroduced to the society.  But as he's going to bed for the night in the giant suite Magneto has given him, Dust appears in his room and tells him things are not as they seem.  He follows her as she allows herself to get caught and brought to the real prisons, which are much more dungeon like.  Honestly, beyond a grimier look, there's no real proof that these prisons are that much worse than the ones above.  In fact, these have larger cells while the ones he saw before were pretty cramped and meant the mutants couldn't do much more than sit in place the whole time.  But this is a cartoon and we must be expedient.

Magneto is severely disappointed that Nightcrawler had to see this, and he tries to stop him from leaving Genosha to get back to the X-men and tell them about it.  Kurt is a little too fast for his henchman though, and proceeds to line of sight teleport floating just above the sea all the way back to Westchester, NY.

At the same time as Nightcrawler's tour of Genosha, Angel has shown up at the mansion asking to see the Professor.  Kitty and Iceman are all set to take him there when Logan gets one whiff of Angel and starts attacking him.  There's some needless amount of confusion where the X-men don't understand before Logan states the obvious - it's a shapeshifter.  As an audience, we all know immediately that means Mystique, but apparently this version of the X-men have not run into her before now.  There's some good action scenes as she changes into various X-men while fighting Logan, until she turns into the Professor which seems to really piss him off.  She teases that she knows him, but apparently that is part of his erased memories.  She manages to mess with the X-men and confuse them into fighting each other, but a sudden call has her abandon looking for Xavier and leaving.

A completely exhausted Nightcrawler shows up outside the mansion and is greeted by Logan, who he proceeds to tell about Genosha.  But this is actually Mystique on her way out, and she sends a message to Magneto that she's got Nightcrawler and will bring him back with her to Genosha.

While the reveal of Magneto not being as benevolent as he seems isn't entirely pulled off well, I think we all expect it so much that it doesn't hurt this episode too badly.  There's a lot of great fight scenes both at the mansion and on Genosha, and Nightcrawler being Nightcrawler which is always a great thing.  Overall just a really solid episode.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men(TV) - episode 9 - "Future X"

As predicted, the majority of this episode spends time with Professor X, showing us what the post apocalyptic future he's living in is like.  Before that though, we get both a "previously on" intro and then what seems to be a flashback of "Thieves Gambit" but turns out to actually be the Professor and Logan walking through his memory of the event together.  It's a pretty clever way to both reuse some footage and show the essential information for anyone who may have missed that episode.  They see a project called Master Mold on Bolivar Trask's computer and know it must be important.  Wolverine is going to bring the X-men back to the compound to investigate, and the professor will see what he can find out in the future too.

This is where we find out that up to this point, the professor has literally just been hanging out in the deserted mansion all alone in between the time that he's been contacting Logan.  I'm afraid to know what he's been eating.  He turns to a few books nearby to try to start researching when sentinels swoop in and capture him and Cerebro and bring them to a mutant prison camp.

The inhibitor collars we saw in "Thieves Gambit" are being used here in the future, but the professor does a quick telepathic mind trick on the captain of the guard and so he only thinks he turns the professor's collar on.  He calls him Captain Moss, and if that's a reference to a comics character, I'm unaware of it.  He does strongly resemble Ahab, but that's not his real name.  The professor is recognized by Bishop, who tells him that Wolverine gathered together the current generation of X-men and told him all about the professor.  Bishop is currently leading a group as Wolverine has disappeared, and they got themselves intentionally caught so they could help break other mutants out of the camp.  Among his group are Domino, sporting a different haircut, and Marrow, who is playing the plucky, rebellious young mutant for this team.

What's kind of silly about Marrow is that she's got the inhibitor collar on, but yet she's still got bones sticking out of her all over the place.  I say it's silly because there have been story lines in the comics where she got better control of her powers and was able to control her bone growths, so you would think that once her powers were gone, the bones would stop growing.  But I also know the point is to have a character design that will be consistent even after they break free here, so I guess they just decided those bones are there for now and she just can't grow more with the collar on.

As you might expect with the prison camp angle, there's a lot of cameos here.  There's Firestar going around with a great flaming hair design, Hellion who is referred to only by his real name Julian Keller,  Berzerker, the Vanisher, and Kamal, a minor Acolyte that I have to admit I had to look up because I didn't recognize him.  There was also a mutant who looked a lot like an alien, and I'm not sure if he was supposed to be someone or just that they wanted to draw a particularly odd looking mutant.

The Professor enlists Bishop's help to reclaim Cerebro, which the sentinels have put inside a tower that they also bring mutants into from time to time.  They find Julian inside, and realize that the sentinels are running tests on the mutants to learn how to adapt to their various powers.  The professor rescues Julian while Bishop takes on the sentinels, who are already adapting because they learn how to deflect his energy beams.  Deep in the compound, a machine that looks an awful lot like the robot version of Cerebro, but I'm pretty sure is supposed to be Master Mold, discovers that the professor is a telepath and wants him captured.  Apparently, there are no more telepaths left at this point in the timeline.  Unfortunately for Master Mold, the Professor, Bishop, Julian, and all the rest of the X-men are able to escape the compound with Cerebro.

The Wolverine subplot appears a couple times in the episode, but it's really just comic relief, as Scott continually teases Logan's methods of doing things, and Forge is super excited to see combat for the first time - to the point of covering himself in camouflage paint.  It's just a nice bit of humor to help break up the darkness of the future. Of the future crew, there's an interesting dynamic between Marrow and the Professor that reminds me highly of what they often did with Jubilee and him in the 90s, a conflict that you know will end up turning into respect in time.  I also like that even in the middle of all the danger in the tower, the professor is guiding and encouraging Julian to use his powers effectively.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Bag of Bones

I'm coming very close to catching up on the backlog of existing adaptations.  It's safe to say Hollywood will keep choosing to make adaptations (and remake former adaptations) of King's work for some time to come.  Even still, Bag of Bones nearly made me walk away, or at least want to finish with an incomplete.  I knew very little about the book going in, which meant that as we spend a lot of time along with Mike Noonan dealing with the loss of his wife, I found myself asking "Ok, sure, but what's the point?"  King said in an interview that the moment young Kyra Devore showed up walking down the middle of the road in the story is the moment the whole story clicked home for him.  For me, it was the first point when anything even remotely interesting happened.  Kyra is an adorable little girl and her mother Mattie is a sweet young woman, but even as Mike becomes involved in the custody battle between Mattie and her father-in-law Max, you're still questioning what the point is.  Yes, there are small moments peppered in the middle of ghosts making themselves known at Mike's summer home - banging on steps, a child crying, a bell ringing - but none of it is truly scary and since Mike is in no danger you don't feel any sense of tension at all.

I have to be honest.  I was so damn bored by the story's staunch refusal to go nowhere that I ended up going to Wikipedia to read the summary.  Spoiling myself on the ending was the only way I could find to convince myself to keep going; that yes, there would eventually be some action happening that would give this slowly trawling along novel a purpose.  As such, it's possible that knowing the "shock" moments ahead of time made them have less of an emotional effect on me; but it's also true that if I hadn't been reading this for the purpose of this project I would never have made it to those moments because I would have given up on the book.

As I sat down to watch the mini-series, I was hopeful they might improve it but that hope was short lived.  For one thing, we see images of the big reveal right in the opening credits sequence.  For another, this is Mick Garris directing and the screenplay was written by Matt Venne, not Stephen King.  Do you remember how the one main issue with The Shining mini-series, a story set in a haunted hotel, was that it wasn't scary at all?  Well, big surprise, this ghost story isn't remotely scary either.  In fact, the main thing this mini-series has in common with its original work is that I desperately didn't want to be watching it.

The cast is decent, even if Pierce Brosnan as Mike sometimes comes off a little too overdramatic at points.  Matt Frewer as his brother is downright mild in comparison.  Anika Noni Rose certainly has the voice to play Sara Tidwell, and I think she does good with her one dramatic moment as well.  The problem is the source material.  It's just weak, and while they make a lot of changes to the details, none of them end up for the better.

They are primarily those little odd changes that barely have to do with anything - Mike's brother and his wife's brother get merged into one character for convenience, Sara's son becomes her daughter, Mike's wife is hit by a car rather than dying of an aneurism, and the rape scene is made less severe.  Of course this was made for television, so that last one is to be expected.  It's also changed that the original events happen in the 1930s rather than at the turn of the century, making Max Devore the one major bad guy of the story rather than his ancestor.  They also change it so that Kyra's father died because he was trying to kill her and Mattie had to shoot him to stop him.

I was really hoping that Garris would at least manage to cover the one strength of the book well - that being the growing relationship between Mike and Mattie and Mike's bond with Kyra.  Between The Stand and The Shining I know he's capable of such things.  But both are downplayed severely, along with the custody battle, to make them barely involved in the conflict at all.  I wonder if they were worried that Mike's relationship with Kyra would come off as creepy, even though in the book it was clearly a fatherly relationship he had with her.  As it is, with him only spending a couple moments with her, it seems rather odd that she would come to live with him in the end.

I feel a little bad being so harsh on both versions of this story, and I feel like there is something I should mention.  The first King book I ever put down and walked away from was Insomnia.  I was young and the troubles of an old man that King described in that book bored me, and I felt like it was going nowhere so I just had to stop.  However years later, when I was reading The Dark Tower books (which it ties heavily into) I tried again and enjoyed the whole thing, start to finish.  My point is that just because I hate this now doesn't mean I'll feel that way forever.  You never know when a situation can change the way you look at a story.

With the two year anniversary of this series two days away, it seems a good time to make an announcement - this series will not end with the adaptations.  It will go on, first with King's original screenplays that were made into mini-series, television shows, and one film, and then even further into the television series based on King's work of which he has had little or no involvement.  And I won't be handling them alone.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Comic reviews - Preacher

I first was introduced to Preacher around 2001 by a guy I was dating.  I purchased volume 1, he purchased volume 2, then I got volume 3.  We read them together, but the relationship fizzled and I never ended up purchasing any of the other volumes to read.  As I sorted through G's collection, I discovered he had from volume 5 onward along with the special Tall in the Saddle so I figured it was time to read it all the way through.

The concept of Preacher fascinated me from the beginning - a preacher who has lost his faith is merged with an entity that is the child of an angel and a demon, called Genesis, who gives him the power of the Word of God.  When he speaks in that voice, people have to do what he tells them.  He also finds out that shortly after Genesis' birth God abandoned his post and is hiding out on earth, so he wants to find him and make him answer for walking out on all of us.

To me, that's a very interesting concept.  While it's pretty obviously a set up designed to ruffle some feathers and offend people, I still think it has potential as a story regardless.   Those of faith often wonder why God allows bad things to happen, and the answer we often get is "God works in mysterious ways." But what if you could force an answer out of him?

The series is also appealing in that writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon have created an interesting core cast of characters to frame the story around.  Our preacher, Jesse Custer, is a man who was forced into his position by his abusive and twisted grandmother, so while not truly a man of faith, he does have a strong sense of morality thanks to his much more loving parents.  He's very much a good old boy from Texas, who has taken his father's pleadings to be a good man and to judge people by their actions and not their looks seriously.  I have some issues with his character, but overall he's likable and that's pretty important in a main character.

His girlfriend is Tulip O'Hare, and she's definitely my favorite character.  Tulip was raised by her father and had a strong interest in things that everyone else besides her dad told her boys should only be into.  But he supported her in doing whatever she liked, and she became a strong woman and a hell of a sharpshooter because of it.  Tulip has her flaws like anyone else, but she's the most level headed of the trio of main characters and I like her a lot.

Last there is Cassidy, a vampire who was born in Ireland at the turn of the century and headed to America to escape being recognized by those who knew him when he was alive.  Cassidy starts out seeming very likable, but slowly but surely you start to see that he's a pretty messed up guy.  It's handled pretty well, in that you start to feel betrayed by him at the same time that Tulip and Jesse do.  He also ends up getting used as a bit of a mouthpiece to make fun of Anne Rice's version of vampires that were very popular when this series was being published.

As you would expect there's also a revolving cast of villains, and this is where Preacher turns me off a bit.  It seems that with the exception of the Saint of Killers, who is a stoic killing machine who served as God's executioner before he realized that God had killed his family in order to put him in that position, every other villain in this story has to be a disgusting sexual deviant on top of their normal evil machinations.  And sometimes that sexual deviance doesn't come down to much more than "he's secretly gay!" because this was a time period when that was enough.  Other times it's just blatantly stupid, like when Odin Quincannon is revealed to ritually make love to a giant woman form he shaped from meat.

Even when it's not sexual, it's just disgusting and offensive for the sake of it.  The leader of The Grail, a secret order who is planning the apocalypse to reveal the second coming of Christ, is a morbidly obese man who vomits all over himself in order to make room for dessert.  The "second coming" they are orchestrating is actually the descendant of Jesus, and in order to keep the bloodline pure, they've been mating siblings together for years, and the boy is mentally challenged which is of course presented as a big joke.  If I felt like any of these story devices truly held some kind of purpose, I'd be more okay with it, but ultimately a lot of them just don't seem to have any other purpose than to say "Isn't this gross?"

Starr, the man who takes over The Grail after killing the morbidly obese leader (by dropping him from a helicopter directly onto the Christ descendant) also makes for a fairly uninteresting lead villain of the piece.  He's bald, and Jesse ends up cutting a slit down the middle of his head.  So he gets mad because he thinks his head now looks like a giant penis.  I swear I didn't even think that until the character said it himself, and it's such a stupid childish reason to want revenge on someone that I can't even take him seriously.  He's mean and ruthless and cruel, but there's nothing interesting about him to make him a compelling villain for me.

I think I understand now why I never ended up finishing this series originally.  This time around, it was the three core characters that kept me moving through it, and the desire to see how he was going to wrap  up the story with God, but a lot of the subplots along the way simply didn't interest me at all.  The one exception would be when a bomb is dropped in Monument Valley, mostly because it was not a place I truly expected the series to go.  It also managed to really shake things up and add a whole new dimension to the story.

But even Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy have their problems that make it a little hard for me to truly enjoy them.  There's this whole subplot of Cassidy in New Orleans that I would probably be okay with if I didn't live here.  Because you know, the moment he shows up on Bourbon Street there's a woman showing her tits for beads, even though it's not Mardi Gras.  And then the other vampire leads him to a cellar in the Quarter, and I'm shouting at the book because you can't have cellars and basements in New Orleans, we're too far under sea level, do some freaking research!

Even beyond that, as I said, it's largely an excuse to mock Anne Rice's vampires, with their romanticism and despair over their overly long lives.  It reminds me so much of the common man's mockery of Twilight these days, demanding that vampires be evil and enjoy themselves and aren't pretty little creatures who try to be good.  It's ridiculous because Dracula is the father of all romantic vampires for one, and because I can't help but think that all it really comes down to is "Ew, girls are liking vampires now, that's not fair!"

Which gets me down to the treatment of Tulip in the series.  Twice, Jesse drugs her in order to make an escape and make a showdown without her because "he can't bear to see her hurt."  She gets angry with him for treating her that way, and we see again and again in the series that she's perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and he even acknowledges that fact, but yet he still does it to her the second time.  And every time she says she's going to leave him, that it's over, she lets him back in anyway.  I feel like Ennis is sending this really mixed message here, that yes women can be strong and capable and do things, but they also really need a man.  It may be that I'm projecting too much, that's he's simply writing Jesse as the more traditional type who would act like this regardless, and that Tulip really does love him too much to just walk away, and none of this is meant to be a representation of men and women as a whole.  But it's hard to not see it that way when we see it done again and again in the story.

As far as the big concept that I kept waiting to see the end for, I have to say for me it was quite the disappointment.  Anti-climatic is probably the best way to describe it.  I can't say I can think of a satisfying ending myself, and maybe that's the problem - sometimes you can come up with great questions for the subject of debate that don't really have any one "true" answer that will feel real.  But unless you leave the series open ended, you have to choose one of them.

Wow.  Looking at all I've written, it sure seems like I didn't like this story much at all.  I guess it does have quite a few flaws that keep me from enjoying it fully.  When I was younger, I didn't have as much of a problem with all the offensiveness - in a lot of ways, enjoying stuff like that felt a bit like rebellion from the Catholic upbringing I had.  These days offending people doesn't seem so appealing to me.  That said, there are a lot of great small moments in the story, and its sense of humor is pretty great when it's not going too far over the top.

If you've read the series, you're probably sitting here going, "You've written all this and not said a word about Arseface?"

Arseface is a teenager who tried to shoot himself in the face to be like his hero, Kurt Cobain.  Unfortunately for him, the shotgun blast didn't kill him.  It just horribly scarred his face so that it looks like.. well.  He's another decent spot of humor throughout the series, as he talks in muffled gibberish because of his injuries, and we don't always get subtitles to explain what he's saying.  He ends up getting a record deal and kids start shooting themselves to try to be like him.  It's a story set very much in the 90s, at a time when rock music was still very controversial and the Parental Advisory board was in effect.  It's amusing to me because I was a teenager then too, and that stuff seemed super important to me.  Even now, I think it's still relevant to a degree, because celebrities will always be controversial in one form or another.  But his journey is fairly predictable, all things considered, and while his path crosses with Jesse and the others, it ultimately isn't related to their story.

As you might imagine, I have a hard time recommending the series.  There's some good to be found here, but it also has a lot of flaws.  At this point I'm a little more interested in the future television series.  Airing on AMC, it seems to me that a lot of the things that bothered me should have to be toned down, and with any luck the time that has passed will also mean that some of the more problematic choices may be changed.  I still expect it to be offensive, but I'm hoping they'll find a better balance for the material.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Hearts in Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis is a fairly unique volume for King.  While he's had plenty of short story collections and novella collections published before, this is the first collection where all the stories inside are connected through the characters that appear in them.  He has said this volume was meant to be a commentary on the Baby Boomer generation, on the ideals they had and how they never quite managed to accomplish what they wanted. The first novella also has really strong ties to his Dark Tower series, using a lot of its language and concepts.  One of the main characters, Ted Brautigan, shows up in that series after the events of this story.  While it definitely has supernatural elements, this is not a horror story, and has a lot in common with The Body, as the events of the story are a major turning point in the lives of the young characters and bring them from youth into adulthood.

The bond between a young boy and an older man could easily slip into uncomfortable territory, but I think King does a good job of showing that Ted is the father figure young Bobby Garfield never had.  The way the two of them connect over books is something any avid reader can understand, and I think most of us who do love to read can remember experiencing something akin to what Bobby goes through after reading Lord of the Flies - that first book that really made you think and see things in a different light.  Add to this the Dark Tower implications, and I really enjoy Low Men in Yellow Coats.  I don't think prior knowledge of the series is required to enjoy the volume - there's enough here about the pains of growing up to make it a great read, and King explains enough about the mythos that you're not going to feel lost - but for those of us who are fans of the series it's icing on the cake.

Given the way that the collection jumps around in time and covers many different characters, I can understand why the filmmakers chose to only adapt the first novella, adding in moments from the final short story "Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling" as it's not much more than the epilogue.  I can also suppose that maybe they felt that leaving in the Dark Tower elements might be too confusing.  I disagree with them on that, but I can see how they would come to that conclusion.  The problem is that the more and more you strip out of this story and take it out of its context, you're not left with much else.  It is still a story about growing up and losing your innocence, but it's just too brief to truly feel the depth of it as you do in the original story.

The bond between Bobby and Ted is greatly simplified.  We seem to be told that they're close more than we ever truly see it.  While Bobby was excited to get his adult library card as a birthday gift from his mother in the story, here it is Ted that convinces him it is a good thing.  But beyond that and a brief mention of a science fiction novel, the two of them barely ever speak of books.  There's no mention of Lord of the Flies at all, which is disappointing.  The themes of that book tie heavily into the story itself, both with the bullies who pester young Bobby and his friend Carol, and the cruel men who rape Bobby's mother later on.  It is truly a problem to reference a work within a film?  You don't need to read passages from it or adapt sequences, just discuss it.  Surely that falls within the realm of fair use.  Ted does still take Bobby to see the film version of Village of the Damned, and while I can understand not showing us the film itself, once again the events of that story tie into this one, as Bobby must learn to shield his mind from the low men.  Of course, the low men of the film don't seem to have psychic powers at all here, so it's irrelevant.

Instead of supernatural servants of the Crimson King come to return Ted home, the low men seem to be government agents who want to use Ted's psychic abilities in the FBI.  I suppose that's an alright idea, but it lacks a lot of the danger that the original story has.  It also means Bobby doesn't get to truly do anything at the climax of the film.  He runs to warn Ted just to see him quickly taken away.  The story is much more suspenseful, having the low men torture Ted and threaten to take Bobby with them, forcing Bobby to make a choice and give up Ted to the low men.  It's a choice that he carries with him for the rest of his life and tortures him.  While there might not have been time to show the implications of that choice in the film,  I still think it could have been presented in a way that would work and help give the film more depth.  Bobby isn't just a grown up because he's lost a friend and seen his mother horribly treated, he's an adult because he was forced to make an adult choice.  In the film, that simply doesn't apply.

I think it's pretty clear that I think the film fails as an adaptation.  They remove too much to make this truly the same story; it's really more than an empty shell of an imitation.  As a stand alone film, it's okay.  Anton Yelchin shows a maturity above his years and plays Bobby really well - I'm not surprised to see him having such an established career now.  Anthony Hopkins is as great as Ted as he is in most of his other roles, and his voice is so soothing.  The rest of the cast is also pretty strong, and the setting means we get a great soundtrack of good tunes.  I'm a little disappointed in their choice to make bully Harry Doolin a closeted transvestite as the reason for his behavior, but otherwise this is a simple enough story of a boy overcoming the problems in his life thanks to finally gaining a father figure.  Without any prior knowledge of the story it was based on you could probably enjoy the film easily.  For me, I can't help but be disappointed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wolverine and the X-men(TV) - episode 8 - "Time Bomb"

As the episode begins we see Toad locked in a cell by the MRD, claiming that it will only be a matter of time before he's out of there.  The guards are apparently so used to his running his mouth that they ignore him.  They're also quickly distracted by the fact that there is another mutant literally knocking at their door, but unlike most others, he's begging to be locked up.  In fact he's not happy with being put in a cell near other mutants, he wants total isolation.

This is Nitro, a mutant whose abilities make him literally explode.  In the comics, Nitro is not a mutant and is also a supervillain, but I think taking his powers and putting him in this context does make for a great story device.

Toad witnesses Nitro's first explosion at the compound and sees the MRD bring him to an isolation tank, so when Quicksilver shows up in front of his cell he's eager to spread the news.  This is actually a really funny scene, as Toad is all excited that Quicksilver is coming to break him out, but no, he's not, he's here to tell him that the Brotherhood has decided he's useless and they're just going to leave him here.  And he also snaps a picture, because Blob wanted to see the look on Toad's face when Quicksilver told him.  This is exactly the kind of thing I could see someone with Quicksilver's powers doing.  When Toad tells him about Nitro, he let's Toad out after all, and they grab Nitro to use him as a tool in one of their schemes.

The MRD has a database of mutant names and locations, and the Brotherhood wants to blow it up.  They tried once before but couldn't get through the defenses, but now with Nitro they can literally blast through them.  Rogue isn't on board with this idea at all, because she recognizes immediately that this is not what Nitro wants and she understands how it feels to have powers you can't control.  The two of them have a nice conversation to this effect, and while the Brotherhood does use him to blow up the database, Rogue demands that they get him some help on controlling his powers.

Their solution, it turns out, is to call in the help of Psylocke.  She's in her Asian body with her original British accent, something I'm not sure is ever acknowledged in the comics but I like it.  I also like that she's not truly evil here, it's just that Quicksilver once helped her bust out of the MRD and so she's paying him back for that.

Meanwhile, the Professor has sent Logan another message from the future, letting him know what's going on and what they have to do - something he says is contrary to what he always taught them.  They have to return Nitro to the MRD where he can be contained yet again.  You know, you would think maybe Beast could come up with some kind of containment suit for Nitro and that way the man wouldn't have to be imprisoned, but of course this guy is just supposed to be here for this one episode so let's put him back in jail.

The Brotherhood are trying to bring Nitro to Genosha, because Quicksilver thinks for sure that destroying the MRD's records and handing over a living weapon will make Daddy love him again.  I'm teasing but it's actually a really nice angle, and a good way to explain their relationship without piling on too much exposition.  On their way the X-men pull up in the blackbird and a decent fight occurs where the X-men take Nitro away from the Brotherhood.  Probably my favorite part is where Kitty phases through the Brotherhood's plane to grab him, and casually calls "Hi Rogue!" on her way through.

Psylocke's attempts to help Nitro control his powers were unsuccessful, and he does end up exploding again, but since they are in the middle of the sea on an ice float Iceman created, no one is hurt.  Logan explains to Quicksilver than if they hadn't come to intercept them, Nitro would have killed half the mutants on Genosha.  Didn't really think that one through too well, Pietro.  The X-men return Nitro to the MRD and everything is back to relative normal for now.

Friday, August 1, 2014

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