Tuesday, December 17, 2013


As we near the holidays, whichever one it may be, I like to throw in a movie that takes place during the same time.  I don’t know, I guess it seems weird to watch a Halloween themed movie in the spring or a Christmas movie during the summertime…I even wait until the hot weather to see Jaws.

One thing I dislike about the Christmas season is the soft, over-cheerful movies that come out during this time.  I mean, you have some good flicks like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Family Man, and so on, but there’s always an oversaturation of sugary-sweet Hallamark-esque movies which are too lovey-dovey and just make me roll my eyes to the top of my head when I see them.

The Christmas films I like to watch are the ones that take place during the holiday, but don’t have too much to do with it (or anything at all).  For instance, I like to watch the first Lethal Weapon movie, Die Hard and Die Hard 2, Rocky IV, First Blood and 1984’s Gremlins.

Now, gremlins have long been mythicized for sabotaging aircraft since way back in World War I.  Now, of
course, it was just a funny saying that a gremlin threw a wrench in the engine, causing it to fail, but it’s amusing how the myth remained for all these years.  I always remembered seeing cartoons depicting this creature, like the famous Bug Bunny cartoon, “Falling Hare,” where it takes place during World War II and it shows this little blue and yellow gremlin turning the tables on Bugs, annoying him and giving him trouble on the air field and even in the air.  But the gremlins in this film—at least the bad ones—do more than pull pranks and get into mischief, they straight up terrorize!

Gremlins takes place during Christmas, in the small town of Kingston Falls.  A resident of this community, and inventor named Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), goes on a business trip to try and sell some of his inventions.  Along the way, he comes across this shop owned by an old Chinese man (Keye Luke) and sees a small, furry creature towards the back of the store which the man says it’s a Mogwai.  Rand inquires about it as he wants to get his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), a gift for Christmas, but the old man refuses to sell him the creature.  As Rand leaves the store, the old man’s grandson meets him outside with the little creature and sells it to him with three explicit instructions: keep it out of bright light, do not get it wet with water, and do not feed it after midnight.  Rand takes the creature home and gives it to his son, Billy.  He names him Gizmo and the little lovable gremlin becomes part of the
family right away.  But one day water is accidentally spilled onto him, leaving Billy to find out that water
makes more Mogwais multiply off of Gizmo.  But these new creatures are different compared to Gizmo—most of them kind of dumb, with one smarter and more evil—and they purposely break the third rule of eating after midnight.  Soon, Billy, his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates), and the whole town, finds out what happens when a gremlin eats after midnight.

It’s a fine line between calling this movie a family-friendly Christmas movie and a horror comedy, because, although there are characters in the film appear to be getting killed, most of the violence committed by the creatures are done off-screen and are never established that they’re actually deaths.  What helps make the film accept the brutal behavior of the gremlins is the fact that they are basically represented as puppets, making the film seem like a grotesque, yet comical, Muppet movie.  So, I’d probably call this a dark comedy/creature feature before I’d call this a family film.

Speaking of the creatures, their designs are pretty cool, even if they are puppets, and have a scary look about them—as they metamorphose to the creepy versions—when they appear on screen.  Most of the time, they only appear from the waist up, but every so often they’re represented in animation (shadows behind windows or the theater scene) or some clever way to show them as walking around.

Above all else, it’s the performances from the main actors that make this film work.  To see Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates running from the creatures, appearing frightened, makes it believable that there’s a threat out to get them.  The ensemble of the actors and actresses featured in this film definitely make this film memorable.

Back about the Bugs Bunny cartoon I’d mentioned earlier, I believe it preceded many of the Gremlins viewings when released in theaters, because I clearly remembered seeing it when I saw the movie back in 1984.  As a matter of fact, Warner Bros. was doing that quite a bit in the 80s and I thought it was great, because that’s how these cartoons were originally shown, opening for films back in the 40s and 50s.

One thing I have to nitpick about this film is the little story Kate imparts to Billy, explaining why she hates Christmas.  Throughout the film, she mentions a few times that she hates Christmas, but never explains why
until near the end of the film.  I won’t give it away, but I really can’t put my finger on it as to why this was written into the plot.  I don’t know if this was supposed to be a joke to the audience or if it was meant to be serious, but it doesn’t come across as either.  I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

My final “bit” on Gremlins?

Although I wouldn’t sit down with any pre-teens to watch this film, I believe the film is somewhat of a family film, with a lot of sight gags and funny-looking creatures.  The theme of Christmas is definitely there as the town is covered in snow and the houses are decorated with Christmas lights, so I love to put this disc in as an alternative to some wimpy tearjerker of a Christmas film.  Gremlins is funny and thrilling, giving us an affectionate story between a young man and a creature, similar to E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.  It’s a must for the holiday season.

P.B. (Post “Bit”):

I’ve been known to mention my affinity for the Universal Studios back lot and all the films that feature some of those sets when watching the films and Gremlins is no exception.  As the film starts, you see a matte-framed overhead shot of the town and it’s clearly the Courthouse Square set used in a lot of older Universal films—Back to the Future being the most familiar—and it looks wonderful in this film as it’s decorated with a snowed-in look, making it seem like a small town in the northwest where it snows a lot.  It’s kind of funny, but if you look carefully, when there are close-up shots of the actors outside, you never see any fog exhaling out of their mouths, as it would if it really were freezing outside.  I’ve been to Universal Studios during the winter and it’s rarely been so cold that I’d have to wear a jacket, so seeing these actors pretend it’s freezing outside is sort of funny.  This fact, however, doesn’t take away anything from this great holiday movie.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night

‘Tis the season to be…killing?

Well, it’s that time of year again.  A time when, as a child, I couldn’t wait for it to come around again, a time for me to start dropping hints for my parents to get me the latest board game, action figure, race car track, or—Gasp! God forbid!—a toy gun or rifle.  Now, it only means that I have to drag the box marked “Xmas lights” from the garage’s storage area and wreck my back as I try to hang them all up within a few hours while listening to my wife dictate everything else that needs to be decorated inside the house.  Yes, the silly season is upon us.

But…what I do nowadays is just go through the motions to make the house look presentable while keeping my wife happy.  However, when the sun goes down and it’s that time in between finishing dinner and bedtime, I like to find a horror flick with some Christmas themes to go along the hacking, slashing, and overall brutal killing of unknowing victims.  So, of course, my first go-to DVD I pull down from my ever-growing library of home media is the cult classic, Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Back in 1984, I wasn’t the constant moviegoer that I am today.  I had barely turned 16 and had no job yet, so when I wanted to go to a movie it consisted of begging my mom or dad for a few bucks, ask them for a ride to the theater, and then ask someone to go with me.  Although I was 16, my parents really weren’t big on letting me see R-rated films—especially R-rated horror movies—and usually hesitated, resulting in a “no,” when I asked to see one.

When Silent Night, Deadly Night was released, my first thought was how I had wished I could see it.  And that thought was forgotten until there was a sudden uproar by Christian groups, protesting and picketing the theaters that showed the movie.  It seems that they had even had petitions signed to have the movie taken out of distribution, all because the killer wore a Santa Claus outfit.  So, of course, after seeing the pandemonium that this movie caused, it made me want to see the movie even more.  But it wasn’t meant to be and I just thought to myself that I’d see the movie someday.

Cut to about 20 years later, as I sat in front of my computer on the Netflix site, wondering what movies I can place in my queue, when suddenly Silent Night, Deadly Night comes to mind.  I placed it at the number one spot and waited eagerly for it to show up in my mailbox.

Well, what can I say about this film that hasn’t been said already?  I guess I can say that I like it.  Hell, I can even say I loved it.  But I really don’t know if it’s because I watched it around the Christmas season or because Linnea Quigley is featured in it or because it has an 80s appeal to it…I don’t know.  Maybe all of the above?

Before I go any further, let me synopsize the film…

The film begins with Billy Chapman going with his baby brother and parents to see his grandfather in a nursing home during the Christmas season.  As his parents leave him alone for a few minutes, Billy’s grandfather suddenly awakens out of his dreamlike gaze that dementia has given to him to tell Billy that Santa Claus is a killer that murders  everyone who’s bad.  As luck would have it, on the drive home, Billy’s parents are brutally murdered by a guy on the side of the road in a broken down car and dressed like Santa.  Billy, now orphaned with his brother in a Catholic Orphanage, grows up and remembers what his grandfather said that fateful night.  The day comes when Billy snaps and takes over the personage of Santa Claus, doing what his grandfather told him Santa was supposed to do.

I really do love this film.  It’s your characteristic type of slasher film from the 80s where the killer goes around, picking off teenagers one by one, as the film uses the same formula we’ve seen in countless horror films of this era.  It’s all for the enjoyment of the audience who enjoys a good scary slasher flick.

However, unlike most of the slasher films from the 1980s, Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn’t go the route of having the killer as some unknown person or have you believe someone’s the killer only to unmask the real one at the end of the movie.  No, this film shows you Billy’s the killer from the start as he’s pushed into insanity after being forced to dress like Santa Claus for a job.  No mystery, no guessing…the film just has fun with how Billy kills everyone who he believes is bad.

The performances are bad and unmemorable, the actors and actresses are not well known (except for Linnea Quigley and the actor who plays Grandpa—you might recognize him as Old Man Peabody from Back to the Future), and overall this movie shouldn’t even be available.  But I think the protests and anger those church groups displayed helped the film rather than hindered it.  I mean, I probably would’ve never wanted to see it if it weren’t for the media attention it earned back in 1984.  I think every news channel featured a few displays of picketing at a theater or two.  Bottom line: this movie is nothing to be concerned about.  Comparitively speaking—and I’m speaking of the movies from the 80s—this movie is pretty tame.  The way all those groups were protesting, you’d think the movie was about a killer who dressed like Jesus

Anyway, my final “bit” on Silent Night, Deadly Night?

If you’re sick of the constant feel-good Christmas movies throughout the television channels during late November and December and feel that familiar urge to see a horror movie, this flick is a good time to not take seriously and enjoy with a tub of popcorn.  It’s a great way to take out that frustration of hanging up Christmas lights all day.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!  I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Horror Show

I tell you…Scream! Factory (the side of Shout! Factory that issues the horror genre of films to home media) has done quite a service to a lot of horror fans, such as myself, with the Blu-Ray releases they’ve put out lately.  I’ve already picked up quite a few discs from them, like The Funhouse, They Live, Day of the Dead, Psycho II, Psycho III, The Fog, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Howling and Body Bags.  And just like Body Bags, The Horror Show has been out of print for years.  If you wanted to get yourself a copy, you’d have to spend a lot of money on eBay or some other auction site to get one.  I’d almost done that a few times, but changed my mind and held out hope that we’d get a DVD or Blu-Ray back in print someday.  Well, the day has come and I eagerly popped this disc in to give it a looksee.

One of my favorite films from the 80s, 1989’s The Horror Show stars Lance Henriksen and the late Brion James in a silly, but pretty scary film directed by James Isaac.  It’s one of those films that brings me back to the days of hanging out with friends at the local movie theater (that would be the late Meridian Quad for me), playing some arcade games across the way before heading into the theater to get our latest horror movie fix, sneaking in beer or…some other substance…and watching the latest slasher flick.

Yes…the 80s…where the best thing about that era was the horror films and even though most were copycats of Friday the 13th, The Horror Show was sort of A Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off, going as far as using the basement furnace as a plot device.

Here is the synopsis of the film…

Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen) has been looking and chasing after serial killer “Meat Cleaver” Max
Jenke (James) and finally catches and arrests him.  Sentenced to death, Detective McCarthy sits in on the execution to watch Jenke die in the electric chair.  But killing Jenke only brings him into a supernatural state and he decides to get revenge on the man who caught him—Detective McCarthy.

Before discussing The Horror Show, I’d like to take a minute to observe the elephant in the room.
Another film that was released in the same year, called Shocker (directed by Wes Craven), had nearly the same plot and themes, yet I’ve never heard any reasons or scrutiny about how the two films came to be that way.  I can understand if they were a year or two apart, I’d think that one ripped off the other, much like Friday the 13th was admittedly a rip-off of Halloween.  The only rumor I’ve heard was that Craven felt that The Horror Show took the ideas and themes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, so he returned the favor making Shocker.  But in order for him to do that, he would’ve had to steal the script or had a spy view the dailies…I don’t know.  The only thing that puzzles me is that it’s never been talked about.  Also, another confusing element is that this film is also known as House III, as in the second sequel to the William Katt vehicle, House.  Why this is considered to be part of that franchise, I’ll never know.  It also made it difficult to find a DVD copy before Scream! Factory released it on Blu-Ray because you’d have to do a search on House III; if you performed a search on The Horror Show, all you’d get is references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

With all that out of the way, I’d like to discuss the performances by the film’s leads.

Lance Henriksen is such a presence on screen and I’m surprised he doesn’t get the notoriety he deserves.  He’s as recognizable as any big star from the 80s and 90s, yet most people would snap their fingers and
say, “yeah, I know that guy!” or “that’s Bishop!”  But as senseless and goofy as this film is, he takes his role—and the roles in all his films—seriously, no matter what the subject.  He embraces the hell out of his character in this one and you—as the audience—feel you’ve got your money’s worth when watching Henriksen play Detective McCarthy.

Brion James is another actor of that caliber, where you know him as the villain in a lot of movies from that era, yet you can’t remember his name.  Besides playing a lot of bit parts in early 70s and 80s TV sitcoms and dramas, you’ll definitely recognize him from Blade Runner, 48 Hours, Tango & Cash, and many more.   He’s just that guy…that character actor you’ve seen countless times, but just can’t place him or remember his name.  Sadly, his life was cut short in 1999, but he has over 100 movies under his belt.  With The Horror Show, he definitely left his mark as the obnoxiously giggling mass murderer, “Meat Cleaver” Max Jenke.

The rest of the cast is the typical co-stars you’d see in countless B-horror films—usually slashers—of the 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong, I really feel they’re important to the film and somewhat pertinent to the plot, but they usually play their parts by-the-number, sometimes telephoned in or done, what appears to be, lackadaisically.  But because of those types of performances, Henriksen and James stand out as the good guy and bad guy of the film, knocking it out of the park.

One thing about the film is the son (played by Aron Eisenberg) and how he’s shown getting deliveries of canned food items.  Seems his character gets off lying to these companies, saying that he finds hair or human digits in their products.  To prevent any lawsuits, obviously, the companies send unlimited boxes of food items to make up for it.  It’s a weird subplot device that goes nowhere in the story and I’m not quite sure why this was written into the movie.

Although the film was very memorable to me, and I feel that this film is WAY better than Craven’s Shocker, it still fell to the wayside and was forgotten until Scream! Factory gave it (and us) some justice.  Like all their releases, the transfer of the film is clean and fresh-looking, sounding great and looks spectacular in HD.

So…what’s my final “bit” on The Horror Show?

I’ll say that the 80s were definitely a great decade for Henriksen, he’s awesome in this film, just as he is in almost every film from that time period.  He was definitely a staple in the 80s, from Piranha 2 to The
Terminator and more of my favorites like Near Dark, Pumpkinhead and, of course, The Horror Show.  And it goes without saying that we all know him for his ongoing role as Bishop in the Alien series of films, but I’ll always dig his performances in Pumpkinhead and The Horror Show.  I hope Scream! Factory (Shout! Factory) keeps releasing these wonderful—forgotten—gems.  For fans like me, they are definitely making dreams come true.  And I say to them: “Keep ‘em coming!”

P.B. (Post “Bit”):

I’ll say one thing…it’ll be nice to see all those Body Bags and The Horror Show discs disappear from those auction sites…or at least see them being sold for a reasonable price.  Now, if only Christine and Fright Night can be re-released to Blu-Ray again to get rid of those ridiculous prices people are trying to sell those discs.

Well, thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Crow

Okay, I have to admit that although I was a Bruce Lee fan and loved all of the movies he starred in, as well as his part in “The Green Hornet” television show, I didn’t know much about his personal life.  It wasn’t until I happened to watch the Dolph Lundgren vehicle, Showdown in Little Tokyo, that I discovered Bruce Lee had a son.  I remember sitting at home as this flick came on one night on Showtime or HBO and thinking that the co-star was a pretty talented fighter.  When the credits rolled and I saw that his name was Brandon Lee, I wondered to myself if he was the son of the legendary martial artist.  I don’t recall when I finally confirmed my curiosity, but I did and decided to keep an eye out for any feature he may star in again.

Not long after seeing that debacle of a film, I caught a film called Rapid Fire with Lee as the lead.  It was your typical shoot-em-up action flick from the 90s, but it was exciting and impressive.  Brandon Lee had the acting chops to play a lead action star, right up there with the caliber of Schwarzenegger or Stallone or Willis, and I became a big fan right away.

In early 1993, I’d heard Lee was to play the lead in a dark film based on a moody graphic novel called “The Crow.”  Word had gotten around that it was going to be a gothic-looking dark film about revenge, sort of a rated 'R' Batman type of film where the sets and look of the film were kind of like the Tim Burton version of Gotham, so I was sold.  But it wasn’t long before the terrible news hit the media about the tragic death of Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon…how he was accidentally killed by a faulty prop gun that fired a dummy bullet that was left inside as it fired a blank.

Let me tell you, I was crushed, although to this day I can’t describe why I felt that way.  I mean, at that time, I'd only seen him in two films, so it shouldn't have hit me so hard...but it did.  Maybe I really was that big of a fan (I know I still am a big fan of his) or maybe I felt the sorrow the family must’ve felt as both father and son were cut down in their prime, I don’t know.  But then I started to be angry that the film probably wasn’t ever going to be shown, seeing that it might’ve been morbid to see Brandon as someone gunned down and then resurrected back to life.

Yes, the plot was already known and people were really starting to look forward to this new film.

Well, as the producers and people involved with the film told the media that there was only a week or two of filming left, they announced that they would finish the film with camera tricks and body doubles.  I couldn’t help but think of Bruce Lee’s unfinished film, Game of Death,  a film that was terrible save for a few actual scenes of Bruce Lee’s best fighting scenes he’d ever filmed in a movie.  The body double in that one didn’t look or fight like him and the film was just one big confusing mess.

So, the day came…May 11th, 1994…a little over a year after Brandon Lee’s death.  I had gone to the theater with a friend, worried that the movie wouldn’t be that great, knowing I’d be able to pick out when they’d use the body double, afraid that the movie would be a total flop...and I watched it.

I was wrong on all levels.

The Crow begins with the aftermath of the murder of Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancée, Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas).  The scene plays out with the cop on the scene, Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), and how he has to give the bad news to their young friend, Sarah (Rochelle Davis).  A year goes by and we see
Draven resurrected out of his grave, looking confused as he’s met by a crow that he appears to have some connection with as he sees what the crow sees.  Everything Draven touches either gives him pleasant memories or bad ones of what happened to him and his fiancée that terrible night a year before.  He then realizes he’s come back to get revenge.

I can’t believe this movie is nearly twenty years old already!  To this day, the performances and story still move me, both with satisfaction of the revenge the character gets and anger when we see what he remembers.  The film is dark and gothic which, at the time, was new and fresh, definitely the “in” thing for movies back then.

Brandon Lee as the lead character of Eric Draven, the indie rock star turned avenging angel, was fabulous!  I still can’t get over his performance and how he gave it his all.  The pain he conveyed as he was resurrected gave us the feeling he was sort of reborn, screaming as he was brought back to the living, digging his way out
of his grave…fantastic!  It seems like this part was made for him and you can understand why all the attempts to make sequels have failed.  No one can take the place of Brandon Lee in this film...no one.

The cinematography is so well done as most of the scenes are at night, with a drab look washed of most
colors and giving it an almost black and white filmed look to it.  Balancing those scenes out are Draven's good memories which are represented in flashback scenes of rich colors.  During these parts, you feel the sadness and loss he feels.  I don't know if this was the intention all along or if there was a different plan of showing these scenes in chronological order...or maybe the filmmakers were forced to do this because of Lee's death.  Whatever the case, they definitely made the right choice because for this type of film, this is the only way it would've worked out.  The whole film was put together perfectly, in my opinion.  I especially like the scene where Draven comes out of his grave and is walking out of the cemetery with rain pouring down on him.  And you can’t help but feel his hurt and anger as he readies himself in his abandoned apartment when he makes his face up for the first time.

Although the alternative type of music might seem dated nowadays, it was perfect for the film’s theme and world the movie takes place in.  Each song seemed perfect for whichever scene was presented.  From The Cure’s “Burn” as Draven punches the mirror and puts on the make-up, to “Dead Souls” by Nine Inch nails, every song has its place in the movie and they all fit just right.

The overall look of the city this takes place in seems like such a nightmare, yet perfect for this film’s motifs, but the location is never mentioned, although there are implications that it may be in Detroit.  However, when the scape of the city is shown in wide shots, it looks like somewhere you’ve never seen, nor probably would never want to see.

There’s really nothing I can nitpick out of this film, especially understanding how they had to piece things together after Brandon Lee died, use a body double or special effects to pull off shots they couldn’t do without him there...I’ve got to say…they pulled it off nicely.  But since I’ve watched this film countless times, I can easily pick out the scenes they used a body double or used footage from other scenes or added Lee’s face digitally to the body double…but it doesn’t cheapen this movie at all.

And…my final “bit” on The Crow

If there was ever a movie to pick as your last, to be your swan song, your lasting impression to the world before your departure, this was the one for Brandon Lee.  Much like his father will be forever known, shirtless, in his loosely-worn black pants and Kung Fu shoes, Brandon Lee will forever be known for his gothic-clown make-up and tight leather outfit, with a crow perched on his shoulder.  It’s a fitting goodbye to a legend, but sad that he didn’t live long enough to see he had reached that status.

As a post “bit,” I’ve got to express how angry I still am at how cheap studios can be and how someone should’ve been thrown in jail for the neglect they showed in their treatment of Brandon Lee.  He was only 28 years old!  He would’ve been 48 today, probably as big a star as Sean Penn or Tom Cruise.  Just think of the movies he could’ve been in throughout these past 20 years!  Maybe they could've done a decent sequel with him.  How about a substantial part in Executive Decision?  Brandon Lee could've been a pretty bad-ass Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible!  How cool would he have been playing Neo in The Matrix?  With the comic book movie craze, maybe a leading part in the Avengers?  A villain?  Toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan or Jet Li?  Or fight along side of them as one of the testosterone-filled stars in The Expendables?!  The possibilities are endless and all we can do is speculate how big a star he would've been.

To the Lee/Caldwell family, I just want them to know that he is still missed just as much as his father.  Both great men who gave their best in everything they’ve done.

Thank you for reading and you can always tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 9)

And here we are…finally! As I’d gotten myself into this, I felt I’d do fine and have a lot of fun with it, reminiscing the first two films from the late 70s, and going into the good old days of the 1980s, remembering the over stylish 1990s, and consequently skimming through the early 2000s. But don’t get me wrong, I really did like doing this, but it was a lot of work and I had to write all these small reviews up from memory. And as I was doing so, I’ve also been checking out some new Blu-ray releases and theatrical releases not related to Stephen King, so I hope my memory served well.

If you’ve all enjoyed this look into Stephen King’s opus of movies made from his books, then that’s all that matters to me. With only three more works to go, let’s not waste any more time and get right into it.

Children of the Corn (2009) 
First off, I apologize that this first entry is so short, but if you ever decide to go against my advice and watch 2009’s Children of the Corn, you’ll understand. But there’s not much more I can say about this movie remake that I haven’t said in my March of 2012 review…

…except to avoid this film.

I'll never watch this movie again.  It's upsetting, stupid, and boring...and that's just in the first five minutes of this film.

Ugh...what a dumb idea to remake this movie.

Under the Dome
The biggest undertaking I took part in as a Stephen King reader was opening his 2009 novel, “Under the Dome,” a story revolving around the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill and what happens after an invisible dome-like barrier suddenly surrounds the entire town, where nothing can get in or out.

The book is 1,074 pages and I really enjoyed it, as it echoed back to many of his older stories. I say that because many of his books in the years prior were becoming a little too reality-based and not as fun as his older supernatural and horror-based books had been.

As large as the book is, there’s good reason seeing how many characters the story involves. There’s Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a regular in town who’s on his way out of town, trying to hitch a ride when the dome comes down, having to stay once it does and facing many problems purposely aimed at him. The town’s lead councilman and used car dealer, Big Jim Rennie, who has a secret side racketeering business, is the main antagonist in the story. Other subplots all deal with people’s lives in the dome and trying to get out of it or trying to make the dome disappear.

A film version of the book was discussed soon after the book was published and after reading the novel, I thought that was a good idea. But then word was going around that the story was going to be made into a miniseries with Showtime possibly picking it up; I was okay with that because of the length of the story as well as some of the adult themes involved. Finally, it was announced that CBS was going to pick up the series and make it into a whole season of episodes and that’s when I started to worry.

So the first episode in June of 2013 was really good, introducing us to some of the characters we’d gotten to know from the book. Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), instead of being a known “townie,” is a guy who no one knows and is just passing through town. Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) is there, at first a likeable guy, but soon turns into the villain he is from the book. His son, Jim “Junior” Rennie (Alexander Koch), is just as crazy as he is in the novel. Many others you’ll recognize from the book are here, too, so the first episode is pretty enjoyable.

The opening scenes show what happens when the dome comes down: there’s the gratuitous gory halving of the cow that happened to be straddling the boundary of where the edge of the dome plops down, the small Cessna that crashes in midair, the truck that smashes into the dome, everybody’s reaction to touching the dome for the first time as it sort of shocks them, etc. But that’s where it stops, because soon after the pilot episode, things get pretty boring and off the rails when comparing it to the book. That might’ve been okay, but when all this lasts thirteen episodes, it gets a little tiring.

Bottom line, in my opinion, I think the book should’ve been made into a limited series, like a four-part television event. To stretch this out into a season of episodes, and without a resolution, is very upsetting. My thinking is, when you read this story, the main goal is to get to the end to find out how these people get out of this dome or how they get rid of it. What CBS is doing is making another "Gilligan’s Island," where people are stuck, season after season, never getting out of their trap, making up stupid subplots and trying to distract the viewers that a dome is trapping these people inside their town. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s very unsatisfying to go through a long thirteen episode season to see that everyone is still stuck underneath this dome. I don’t know…maybe if the subplots were more thought-provoking, the show would be more interesting and make us forget about the sole reason everyone’s there in the first place. But all I can think about when watching this program is, “Okay, let’s get through this tedious shit and make this dome go away so everyone can get back to their boring lives.”

Watch it if you want, but when the second season of Under the Dome comes around, I’m going to be watching something else…or twiddling my thumbs, because I’ll get more enjoyment out of doing that than sitting in front of the TV watching this crap. Skip it, unless you want to watch some useless soap opera drama.

Carrie (2013)
Well, here we are, full circle from the first Stephen King adaptation, 1976’s Carrie, to 2013’s Carrie, and I was really hoping for a big finish. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be had with this third filmed version of Stephen King’s first novel.

When I read the novel recently, I’d already known about certain scenes in the book that hadn’t made it to Brian De Palma’s version. However, some of those scenes made it to the TV version and was done with great effect. Remembering those scenes, I thought for sure we’d get something pretty grand in scale.

You know the story and what the film’s about—since I’ve talked about two filmed versions of the story already—so no need for a repeat synopsis. But before diving into this 2013 Carrie remake directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), let’s talk about the two main players in this, shall we?

Chloë Grace Moretz plays the telekinetic, Carrie White, and pulls it off quite nicely. Like Sissy Spacek before her, we can believe that she’s the awkward teen who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the high schoolers and can understand why they pick on her. Julianne Moore plays Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, a nearly psychotic religious zealot. I’m sure she did her best with what was given to her to work with, but it just felt like she was trying to channel Piper Laurie’s act and really couldn’t give much more. I’m sure it wasn’t her fault, and I really thought she pulled off a good presentation, but it just seemed like she was imitating Laurie’s performance from 1976.

Now, the added material was quite effective and gave us a little more character development, as well as made some aspects a little clearer than was filmed in the first movie. For instance, Margaret White’s character in the first film, as well as the book, was an overblown religious nut that put a little too much faith in her skewed view of the bible. In this redo, she’s a bit crazier and really has some other issues, like how she really, really, hurts herself in some scenes (banging her head until bruised, stabbing herself with some sort of knitting hook, etc.).  As for the character of Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), there was no guessing whether or not she was remorseful for what her and her friends did to Carrie in the girls’ locker room at the beginning of the film. Unlike Amy Irving’s portrayal of her in the 1976 version, you can see the guilt on Wilde’s face soon after, especially following, the “plug it up” scene.

As for everything else, it’s mainly the original movie done over with the story modernized. Besides little minor details here and there, nothing was added to the story to make it seem like a new take.

While watching the film, I was reminded of the Psycho remake back in 1998, where director, Gus Van Sant, filmed each scene like-for-like, with nothing added. Even some of the dialogue was used again: Carrie asking her mother why she didn’t tell her about a woman getting her period, the exchange between Carrie and her mother about the prom dress and her “dirty pillows” is there, the “what you did was a shitty thing” speech the PE teacher gives the girls, nearly everything was the same as the first film. The filmmakers made sure to add modernized touches like including smartphones taking pictures and video recording Carrie in the locker room, as well as when Carrie’s looking up information on the internet, but they couldn’t think about making up some different—or better—dialogue to go with it? And with so many scenes in the book not included in the first film, I was sure they were going to include it in this new version.

Kimberly Peirce totally missed her chance to make this her own by just going the copycat route and remake Carrie nearly shot-for-shot instead of doing something new. She did a great job directing the film, pulling out great performances from all involved, but all that’s overshadowed by the fact that this remake is going to turn out to be as forgettable as the 2003 remake. I don’t know if I can lay all the blame on her…the studio might’ve intervened and balked at the idea of adding anything else from the book, so the jury’s still out.

The bottom line is that this remake was unneeded and I really can’t understand why studios can’t green light other ideas. All these studio execs have to do is read through Stephen King’s library and they’ll find so many other works; there are several that can be relayed to film quite nicely. It seems as if these studio heads don’t know how to read or just don’t want to do their homework. Instead, they just attempt to climb onto the shoulders of other filmmakers who’ve succeeded and copy what they’ve done. I don’t know…maybe they think they’re going to do something better, but they usually fail miserably, leaving us with a mediocre piece of garbage that we pay for and generally regret watching.

Anyway, short and sweet, my final “bit” on Carrie is to wait for it on Blu-Ray/DVD or just watch for it to fall on your cable channel’s schedule. It’s a good movie, but I’d rather watch the De Palma original with Sissy Spacek.

Well, that wraps it up. It’s funny…at first, when diving into this task of going through Stephen King’s library on film I’d thought it’d be fun and easy, with me being able to write it all up in one post. As the pages grew in my Word document, I saw that I was going to have to make this into a multiple parted piece, going from post to post. As the posts grew from three to four to five, I was starting to regret it. But all around, I had a lot of fun reliving these films and actually wanting to watch all of them again.

As a side note in this last post, I’d never gotten around to watching Bag of Bones, It is on Netflix, but with all the negative reviews I’ve heard and read about, it makes me want to wait for a day where I’ll be wide awake and have nothing to do. I will get to it…it’ll just take some time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective of Mr. King’s composition of books to film and if you haven’t seen some of these movies, hopefully I’ve convinced you to take a look at some of them.

Once again, thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 8)

Well, okay…we’re getting close to the end of this Stephen King movie retrospective and it’s high time that I did, because, frankly, it’s a bit tiring.  I usually take a week before posting a different review or article, but since I want this to be over...and maybe you do as well...here I go with the second to last part.  I tell you, it actually makes me want to go right in to a King movie marathon, which I’ll probably do soon after the last chapter in this exposition.  Until then, however, let’s get back into this.

Salem’s Lot (2004)
TNT’s television mini-series of the remake of Salem’s Lot really snuck up on me.  I didn’t even know it aired at all, nor that it existed, until I saw it on the list of available Netflix titles of that same year.  Seeing that it has an average rating of around 3 out of 5 stars, I decided to place it in my queue to take a look at it.

Recently, I had decided it was high time that I read the novel this film was based on.  I’d already owned the 1979 telefilm version, but only viewed it once or twice.  Knowing full well it probably wasn’t exactly like the book, I went and purchased it from the local Barnes & Noble, cracking it open and never putting it down until I was finished with it.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve got to say that “Salem’s Lot” was a very enjoyable story that sort of took me back in time to the good old days of the 1970s.

So, after finishing the book, I watched the 1979 version first and was sort of pleasantly surprised at how much of the story they had retained in the telefilm.  But the one thing I had never understood is why they felt the main vampire had to be a mindless and mute monster instead of the intelligent human-looking one described in the novel.

Well, the 2004 remake remedied that and followed the book very closely, besides the very beginning and the end.  Ben Mears (Rob Lowe) is a writer who comes back to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot to face his childhood fears of the local Marsten House.  As a child, he went in as a dare and heard something horrible that made him flee.  As a way of coming to terms with this terrible memory, he decides to come back and rent out the house as a way of release to help him free his mind of the terrible memories it contains.

The film includes quite a few big names, such as Andre Braugher as Matt Burke, Donald Sutherland as Richard Straker, Rutger Hauer as Kurt Barlow, and James Cromwell as Father Callahan.

Overall, the film is a very interesting take on the story with quite a different ending from the original TV movie and book.  I liked it quite a bit and right now I’m contemplating on buying the DVD…I don’t know why I’ve waited this long.  Hmmm.

Riding the Bullet
“Riding the Bullet” was definitely Stephen King looking into the future.  He knew, back in 2000, that we’d be reading books online and not bothering to buy them in hard copy print.  So, originally, “Riding the Bullet” was available for download online only, and this guy was right there doing just that.  For the most part, it was a pretty good story, in short form, and thought it was pretty cool that a movie was made from it.

So in 2004, Mick Garris, marking the fifth time he’s directed a King story on film, does a fine job with this one.  Though not much was made of it, as well as it not seeing much time in theaters (I don’t even remember that it was), I thought Garris made a valiant effort to give us something a little less light, but more dark, in tone.

The story, set in the late 60s, is about a young college student, Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson), and how he’s obsessed with death.  After trying to commit suicide on his birthday, and recovering, he agrees to go to a John Lennon concert with a few friends.  Before he can leave with them he receives word that his mom is dying.  Alan tells his friends to go without him as he prepares to hitchhike to get to the hospital where his mother is at, but weird shit starts to happen as he receives a ride from a strange guy named George Staub (David Arquette).

Although I praise Garris for giving us something a little darker in tone and somewhat interesting, the overall stretch of the film is sort of unexciting.  I liked Jackson’s performance and thought he was perfect for the part.  Arquette was interesting as Staub…I didn’t really picture him in the part, but he pulls it off okay.  What really gets me is the constant “pulling the rug from under us” or “gotcha” scenes.  Alan keeps having these dreams or visions where something bad happens, but it cuts to him waking up or snapping out of it, so it gets a little old in my opinion.

Riding the Bullet, however, is a good addition to your Stephen King film library, so I wouldn’t miss this one.

Once again, Stephen King braved the literary world and did something that no other author (to my knowledge) has ever done: He released two books at once—one under his real name and one under his former pseudonym.

The book released under King’s real self, “Desperation,” was released on the same day that “The Regulators,” by Richard Bachman, was released.  Adding to that, both stories featured almost all the same characters by name, but in different situations and lives.

What I liked most about “The Regulators” was that a map of the small town was printed in the book, even signifying the characters’ homes, was printed in the forward.  It helped quite a bit to reference as I was reading the novel.

But enough about “The Regulators,” let’s talk about “Desperation.”

The story is about a group of people who, one by one (or a few at a time), get stopped and abducted by a deputy sheriff while driving down a stretch of highway in Nevada.  He collects some of them—the ones he doesn’t kill—in a jail cell in the small abandoned mining town of Deperation, Nevada.  It becomes apparent to the captives that the deputy sheriff is somehow possessed by something evil and that they must come together to escape and stop the evil entity.

The 2006 film plays out much like the book.  Surprisingly, the film feels like it was made in the 90s, which is not a bad thing since I really enjoyed It and The Stand very much.

Quite a few well-known names are in this one, like Ron Perlman as the possessed deputy sheriff, Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber, Charles Durning, Henry Thomas, and Matt Frewer to name a few.
The only thing I have to nitpick about the filmed version is the constant depressed way the actor, Shane Haboucha, playing David, performs in his scenes.  I get that they were trying to convey how much faith he had as he prayed and had gotten the rest of the sheriff's captives to believe as well, but his method of acting out those scenes didn't do it for me and I grew tired of it.

Overall, Desperation is very entertaining and a treat to watch.

I was really surprised when Stephen King’s short story, “1408,” was made into a feature film.  My first thought when reading it in the “Everything’s Eventual” collection in 2002 was that the story is so short; I basically read it in one sitting.  I figured the movie was going to be bad because of all the filler they’d have to include.  Instead, the writers added a very nice back-story to the main character and made a movie that surpassed the written work.

In the 2007 film, the tale is about Mike Enslin (John Cusack), an author who writes books about haunted places he’s visited, which usually aren’t, leaving him cynical about the subject.  One day, he receives a postcard in the mail from the Dolphin Hotel, written on it a warning telling him not to stay in room 1408.  Curious, Mike goes to the hotel and, with the hotel manager, Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), strongly opposing him, stays in room 1408 for the night.  As his time in the room begins, crazy things, little by little, begin to happen, making Mike’s pessimism fade away.

As I’d mentioned, the writers of the film’s screenplay added a nice, but sad, back-story for the character of Enslin, about how he had lost a daughter to a terminal illness.  Add to that, an estranged wife and a look into the past as he sees his father who has long passed away gives us a look at the skeletons in Enslin's closet.  I think it was a nice touch to add the history of how he dealt with the passing of his daughter and how it split up his marriage.  It definitely gave his character reason to be such a doubtful person, almost looking for proof that there is an afterlife.

Although 1408 was very well done, I wished they included some of the details that King described in his novella.  For instance, before Mike enters the room, he notices something odd about the door frame.  He looks at it once and it seems crooked to one side; he looks at it again and it appears crooked to the other side.  Also, a painting in the room looks askew, making him almost seasick, and some written material on the nightstand keeps changing.  There are other subtle oddities that are called out, but those particular ones stand out from my memory.

For the most part, the theatrical version plays out much like the book, but the DVD and Blu-Ray include an alternate ending that’s pretty good and even gives us a pretty good jump scare.

1408 is not to be missed.

The Mist
Ah…The Mist…I’ve been waiting to get into this one.  Frank Darabont, for a third time, translated yet another Stephen King adaptation, once again resulting in an exceptional film.  Not so much the story of unspeakable monsters hiding in the fog, but of people who are trapped together for a long period of time and how they change and turn into monsters themselves.

I first read this novella back in the late 80s as one of the best stories off of King’s “Skeleton Crew” short story collection, published in 1985.  As I was enthralled in this story, vacationing in Mexico at the time, I remember thinking this story would make a great movie.

Cut to early 2007, when I heard about this story being made into a film; I was excited.  Then they announced that Frank Darabont was to helm said movie; I became ecstatic.  However, rumblings began surfacing about how Dimension Films were really cutting back on budget and that there wouldn’t be too many special effects, some planned effects even being scrapped; I grew worried.  However, I still held out hope because I knew Darabont was a cinematic genius and he’d make this work.

Well, third time’s a charm, because I think this is the best Stephen King adaptation to date.  I love The Mist!

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is an artist who works on movie poster art and does the work out of his home in the small town of Bridgton , Maine.  One day there is a big storm that hits and he, his wife, Steff (Kelly Collins Lintz), and son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), have to take shelter in their storm cellar underneath the house.  After the storm passes, they find a large tree has fallen and smashed through their window into the art studio room, destroying most of David’s work.  He decides to take Billy, along with their neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), into town to get some supplies.  Soon after arriving at the local grocery store, the town siren goes off as a thick mist starts rolling in and a man, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) comes running into the store yelling about something in the mist and telling the people to shut the doors behind him.  From then on, the people in the store are trapped as they realize that, in fact, there is something in the mist.

I can’t praise this movie enough!  The character study of this big group of people—people that have lived together in this small town and know one another—as they’re stuck in this small store, then quickly become divided to the point where they are threatened by each other is done magnificently.  With the added animosity between David and his neighbor, Brent, because of small feuds they’ve had in the past, as well as the added trouble from the local religious zealot, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), the fire definitely gets fueled into getting these people out of control.  Of course, there’s the conspiracy angle, as the people think there’s some testing going on by the military at a nearby base, which is bad news for the three soldiers stuck in the store with everyone else.

Now, with the actual special effects of the creatures, I had my doubts since I had heard that the budget was cut back, but they look amazing.  From the tentacles that slip in under the back door, to the giant insects that fly around, the special effects were phenomenal!  There’s one key scene (you’ll know it when you see it) where there’s this huge behemoth-like creature stomping by that absolutely looks breathtaking as well as terrifying.

All this adds up to making a great monster movie, both literally and figuratively.

The Mist, in my opinion, is the best of all the Stephen King films!

Dolan’s Cadillac
Yes…there’s nothing like a good revenge story to put a smile on my face and after reading “Dolan’s Cadillac” in the short collection, “Nightmares and Dreamscapes,” published in 1993, I was very satisfied with this tale.

The story, from the filmed version, is about a school teacher named Tom Robinson (Wes Bentley) who is happily married and living in Las Vegas.  One day, Tom’s wife, Elizabeth (Emmanuelle Vaugier), goes on a little horseback riding excursion in the desert when she sees the local crime boss, Jimmy Dolan (Christian Slater), execute a man during a botched human trafficking deal.  Dolan and his goons notice her and try shooting at her, but she gets away.  Unfortunately, she drops her cell phone in trying to ride away and Dolan uses that to find her.  Tom and Elizabeth go to the authorities and get placed in witness protection.  When Elizabeth decides to leave in her car one night to see about getting a pregnancy test, it explodes when she starts it, killing her.  The rest of the film spans over some years, as Robinson devises a plan for revenge on Dolan.

Soon after reading this short story back in the early 90s, I started hearing about a film being made that was based on it, with Sylvester Stallone playing the baddie.  Sadly, that never happened and nearly twenty years later, we get this as straight-to-Blu-Ray, silently released in 2010 with hardly a word promoting it.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is pretty good, but pales in comparison to the novella.  It just didn’t capture the feel of Robinson’s determination to get revenge on Dolan.  It felt okay, and even had gotten better when we finally see his plan going in motion.  But the whole first act of the movie, we just see a downhearted man, just depressed and not doing much.  Which is probably the reality of it all, but when the book details how meticulous he was and how decisive his actions were, it seemed exciting.  Also, without giving the ending away, it just dragged on too long when it probably should have ended more abruptly to give the movie that final shock at the end.

Overall, Dolan's Cadillac is not bad and probably would’ve did a lot better had it gotten some screen time and a little better promotion.  The final scenes of the film make it worth all the filler and wasted time you see in the first and second acts, so it’s definitely a good watch at any rate.

Looks like a great place to stop for now.  It also appears that the next chapter will be the final one where I end with my look at the 2013 movie remake of Carrie, starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Feel free to leave comments either here or on Twitter (@CinemaBits).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 7)

I see something...in the dark...it's a tiny spark.  I can barely see it...it's a small glimmer at the end of a long hallway or corridor, but I can see it.  Yes, its the light at the end of the tunnel.

Nearly to the beginning of the 21st century and his stories are still being adapted to film, with some really great translated works, I don't know of many authors who are as successful as Mr. King.  He's been a household name for years and will probably be so even after he's gone.

All right, enough of that and let's get right back into it.

Storm of the Century
In 1999, Stephen King wrote an original screenplay for television that I thought was the best he’s done.  As a piece that wasn’t taken from a novel or short story, I thought this was something that could’ve been one hell of a novel if he had written it with the intention of having it as a book.  And maybe that was his intention, for the fictional town this story is set in is the same one in which “Dolores Claiborne” is set.

During a terrible blizzard, a mysterious man by the name of André Linoge (Colm Feore), appears in the secluded town of Little Tall Island, off the coast of Maine, and shows up at the door of an elderly woman.  He brutally murders her and waits until the local police constable, Michael Anderson (Timothy Daly), shows up to take him in.  The man tells him, “Give me what I want, and I’ll go away.”  The obscure message is repeated throughout as the town is plagued by strange suicides and terrifying dreams until Linoge escapes from his holding cell, finally telling the town what he wants.

The cold, yet chilling, performance by Colm Feore as Linoge was brilliant.  You get the sense that no one should mess with this guy right away.  The confidence the character exudes throughout the film was portrayed superbly and scared me just to look at that guy.  I hadn’t seen a performance like his (in a Stephen King adaptation) since Nicholson’s performance in Kubrick’s The Shining.

I really loved the story King told here, which really formed quite a dilemma the townspeople faced.  How they were secluded from the world, because of a literal storm-of-the-century-type blizzard, and all had to try to come together against this man who had powers beyond their comprehension really hit the mark.  They knew how powerful this guy was and what he was capable of doing as he gave them the horrible choice at the end, yet it still made you think about what choice you would’ve made long after the film ended.

Storm of the Century is, in my opinion, the best television Stephen King adaptation to date, even though it’s not technically an adaptation.  The story is available in book form, but written in a screenplay structure, obviously published after the success of the television film.  Also, to note, the film was originally aired as a three-part series, but available as a whole film on DVD.

Storm of the Century is a must for your collection.

The Green Mile
In 1996, Stephen King tried a new approach to publishing his written works by releasing his next story in serial form.  In six volumes, each in paperback, which was later released as a full hardcover book with all the volumes together in one novel.

King wrote a very special story about a head guard, Paul Edgecombe, at the death row section of a state penitentiary and a new inmate, John Coffey, a large black man who’s in for the murder of two young white girls, during the 1930s.  Paul and some of his fellow guards come to find out that Coffey is a little simpleminded and somewhat childlike, yet has healing powers.  Edgecombe and Coffey form a friendship throughout until the final day, when Paul has to make a decision that’ll haunt him for the rest of his life.

Once again, Frank Darabont directed his second full theatrical film in 1999 adapted from a Stephen King book and strikes gold again.  He definitely captured the era of the 1930s, making us believe we’re watching something of that time.  The story, much like Shawshank Redemption, is the story of life in prison and how one can endure.  But unlike Shawshank, which had the audience side with the inmates while the guards and warden were seen as the villains, The Green Mile had most of the characters sentimental to the audience while having two serve as antagonists throughout the film.

Tom Hanks, once again, puts on an Oscar-worthy performance as Paul Edgecombe, the no nonsense head guard at the death row section which is nicknamed the “Green Mile.”  Equally mesmerizing in their parts are David Morse, Barry Pepper, and Jeffrey DeMunn as fellow guards Brutus, Dean and Harry respectively.  Doug Hutchinson totally embodies Percy Wetmore perfectly, as the one guard who treats the inmates like shit and is a little loudmouthed dick.  Also impressive—as well as hilarious—is Sam Rockwell as “Wild Bill” Wharton.

Reading the book, I thought it was interesting how the floor leading to the electric chair was called “the mile” and how Mr. King was able to convey that thought by inmates as if he had that knowledge firsthand.  Especially after watching the movie, does it make sense that the short hallway to the room where you’re going to die seems like a mile.

With The Green Mile, Frank Darabont gives us a perfect adaptation, seemingly filming it right off the pages of Stephen King’s book.

Hearts in Atlantis
As I read “Hearts in Atlantis” back when it was released in 1999, I thought it was a really boring book and not what I thought it was going to be.  I was led to believe that it was a new King novel, but was surprised to see it was a collection of short stories that sort of tied in to each other.

Don’t get me wrong, the first story, “Low Men in Yellow Coats,” for which the film, Hearts in Atlantis, was based on, was very well told and I followed it all the way through, since it had ties to the universe Stephen King created in most of his books.  But it was still a little dull and hard to keep my interest in it.  However, the 2001 film fared a bit better and seemed to simplify it a bit more since it wouldn’t be comprehensible if the filmmakers included the reasoning behind the low men in the movie.

So, the story is about a young boy, Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), living with his single mother who is sort of self-absorbed and doesn’t pay enough attention to her son.  An older man by the name of Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) comes into town and takes on as a boarder in their house.  Brautigan becomes a father figure to Bobby as they kindle a friendship and it’s soon apparent that the old man has some sort of psychic ability.  Ted lets it be known to Bobby that there are people looking for him, called “low men,” and asks Bobby to look out for them.  He tells him how to see signs of them being around, like if “lost pet” posters start to appear.  But Bobby cares for the old man so much and doesn’t want their friendship to end, knowing full well that if he sees signs of the low men, Ted would leave him.

Hearts in Atlantis is a good dramatic piece with Hopkins doing a fine job as Brautigan.  The 12-year-old Yelchin tugs at your heart strings, as it was very apparent this kid was going somewhere in the acting business.

Yes, I watched the movie, liked the movie, but I chose not to own it.  I think it’s worth a watch, but that’s about it.

Carrie (2002)
Back in 2002, an interesting decision was made to release a Carrie remake, which was interesting, followed the book a lot more closely (until the very end), but just wasn’t as good as Brian De Palma’s version.

The story plays out much like the original, with Carrie White living at home with her religious nut of a mother and getting harassed at school by some of the other girls.  There are some added scenes of her as a child, the raining down of stones, the complete destruction of the town and not just the school, and an added ending that wasn’t in the original nor in the book.

Angela Bettis as Carrie White does a fine job as the awkward teen (even though she was nearly 30 years of age when she played this part).  She definitely exuded the weirdness needed to make us understand why she’d be ostracized by her peers at school, so the movie had that.  But really, this film added nothing to the story except for the perverse ending.

2002’s remake of Carrie is forgettable, but interesting if you want to take a look.  I liked how the character destroyed the town, like she had done in the book, but that’s not saying much of this film as a whole.

Oh…Stephen King’s 2001 novel, “Dreamcatcher,” is one that I labored through, not really enjoying it, and the last thing in my mind was thinking this would make a good movie.  But when it was announced that it was...I had my doubts about how good it could be.

So, to give this entry as short of a synopsis as possible, the story is about a group of lifelong friends who get together once a year to go on a hunting trip.  During their stay, they come across a couple of people with some weird sickness that makes them fart and burp, as well as give them a weird discolored rash.  Soon, the area is surrounded by military, quarantining the perimeter, as the friends soon find out what’s going on.
I don’t want to waste too much time on this 2003 flick, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who has been involved in a lot of great movies over the years, so it’s hard to believe this was his doing.  Even more embarrassing is the fact that there are quite a few good actors in this movie who just play ridiculous characters.

I’m sure for individuals who’ve read the book, they might give this film a pass, but there are just too many things to overlook.  Like, for instance: Why the need to give Morgan Freeman those crazy eyebrows?
Really, it’s a waste of a movie and should be avoided at all costs.

Secret Window
When I found out that there was going to be a film version of Stephen King’s novella, “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” like most of his works being transferred to film, I became excited.  I immediately started to think back on my reading experience from that story in his “Four Past Midnight” collection of tales and couldn’t remember how it went or what was it about.  I then rummaged through my boxes of already-read books and found the dog-eared paperback near the bottom of the three or four boxes I have of just King books.  Leafing through the book, I found the story and started skimming through it when I realized, alarmingly, that I had never read it!  I still had a couple of weeks before the film was to be released, so I read through it, quickly but took it all in, and made it in time for its second week in theaters after it was released in March of 2004.

The film centers around Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a writer recently divorced after catching his wife having an affair has taken refuge in his vacation cabin trying to write a new book.  Suffering from depression and writer’s block, Mort just sits or sleeps around all day in his cabin, not doing anything but wallow in despondency and anger over his wife, who still keeps in contact with him as she’s trying to get him to finalize their divorce paperwork.  One day, a strange man by the name of John Shooter (John Turturro), comes knocking at the door, claiming that Mort stole his story idea.  He leaves the script he claims that was stolen on the porch and tells Mort to read it.  Later, Mort ends up reading it and sees the similarities between the manuscript and a short story he had written called “Secret Window.”  The following day, during a walk through the woods, he’s approached by Shooter but tells him that he wrote his story years before Shooter’s claim.  Shooter tells Mort he has three days to provide proof, saying he better show him his published story when he returns.  What follows for Mort are constant horrible harassment by Shooter that lead to very twisted end.

Compared to the novella, the story is very similar, but with a different ending.  As for the character descriptions, Johnny Depp really differs from how Mort Rainey is described in the book.  In the story, he’s described as a portly, middle-aged man who is average-looking.  Depp may be the right age, but let’s face it, although he was over forty years of age at the time, the guy still looks like he’s in his twenties…very far from the man defined in the novella.  Also, in the film, Rainey and his wife shared a pet, Chico…an aging Australian Cattle Dog; in the book, it was a cat.  Aside from those character differences, the story follows exactly like the book (apart from the ending).

I really enjoyed Depp’s performance in this film, even though he’s just playing a boring slob.  But his interactions with his housekeeper and soon-to-be ex-wife, how irritated he gets with them, are pretty funny.  Even his witty comebacks he fires back at Shooter during their confrontations are entertaining, definitely making Depp the standout in this movie.

Equally a standout, however, is Turturro’s portrayal of John Shooter.  He’s exudes an evil presence as well as a country bumpkin with confidence.  His performance is excellent and straight out of the book, in my opinion.

Secret Window is definitely one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations and shouldn’t be missed.

So there you have it once more.  We had gotten the best film from a Stephen King story written especially for TV, the second knockout adaptation from Frank Darabont, and the worst adaptation to date.  Yet, all of them—save for Dreamcatcher—were watchable and I had enjoyed seeing all of them.

Stay tuned for the eighth part of my Stephen King retrospective and, as always, thank you for reading.

If you have any comments, I welcome them any time.

You can also tweet at me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 6)

Moving right along, I never thought this would be such a long undertaking for me.  But I’m determined and will finish this, believe you me, because I love talking about movies.  And since horror movies are my forte and Stephen King is my favorite author, let’s continue.

Last time, I mentioned that we have some entries here that are not the best out of Stephen King’s adaptation litany, but I’m plowing forth nonetheless.  So hold on, try to stay focused, I'll stick to keeping everything upbeat, and here we go with part six...

The Langoliers
Stephen King’s novella, “The Langoliers,” published in his 1990 short story collection, “Four Past Midnight,” is a pretty awesome tale.  It’s Twilight Zone-esque in narrative and is quite an eerie story.  As with a lot of King’s well-told tales, and since—at the time—I wished there was a second sequel to Creepshow, I felt this one would be an awesome story to feature as a short vignette in an anthology film.  But, instead, it was made into a TV movie—a two-parter a week in between—in 1995 and I was pretty disappointed with it.

The story is about an airline flight where a commercial jet is on a five to six hour trip across the country.  Quite a few people fall asleep during the excursion, only to wake up and find most of the passengers and crew have disappeared.  The only people remaining are a school teacher, a mystery writer, an airline pilot (not flying but is a passenger), a British secret agent, a very unstable broker who’d been abused as a child, and a handful of other people.

David Morse as the passenger airline pilot does a fine job throughout the film and is the center of the film and winds up as the one who can help the most in the weird situation they’re all in (obviously, since he’s the only one who can fly the plane).  Bronson Pinchot is waaaaay over the top as the broker who starts getting a little too crazy as the film progresses.

The film is definitely a victim of bad special effects, bad acting and direction, and, of course, having to be filmed with television standards in mind.  Some elements of the film are sort of well-done and keep you in awe, but the rest of the film is terrible and no suspension of disbelief would make you believe what’s going on in the story.  It’s too bad, because the story is such a good one and I wished they’d have taken better care of it.  The one thing that stands out in my mind was the very end where all the remaining characters are suddenly so cheerful and happy; they finish the movie with them sort of jumping in air as they all start running forward.  The film freezes the frame and the credits roll.  In my mind, these people went through such a strange ordeal with people dying and their lives in jeopardy, you’d think they’d be traumatized for life.

The Langoliers is definitely not one of my favorites, so I’d skip it and read the novella instead.

Earlier, in part three of this lengthy retrospective, I’d mentioned a film that was based on Stephen King’s alter ego, Richard Bachman.  Once again, a film from one of the handful of books written under that pseudonym was made for the big screen, although the story feels more like your average King tale and not the real-life-cynical stories he wrote as Bachman.

Published in 1984, I read this book a while back as it was released as a paperback, touting that the book was written by Stephen King “as Richard Bachman.”  From what I remember, the book was an easy read and I was neither moved nor disappointed in the story.  In fact, I was rather surprised when the film was announced to be released in theaters.  But, being a somewhat hardcore King fan, I did my due diligence and went to see this film.

The 1996 film is about a lawyer, Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke), who has a bit of a weight problem.  He’s constantly overeating and, of the food he consumes, not eating well.  His wife is constantly nagging him to eat better, making him eat healthier foods, but Billy keeps eating unhealthy foods.  A carnival run by gypsies comes to town, but some of the people from town are a little disgusted by them and made it known that they didn’t want the gypsies around long.  Feeling the hostility of the town, the gypsies, of course, held some animosity toward the townspeople.  Leaving a dinner party one night, Billy and his wife, Heidi (Lucinda Jenney), are a little tipsy and decide to drive back home.  On the way, Heidi decides to give Billy a blow job, momentously not paying well enough attention to the road, resulting in running down a woman in the road.  The woman turns out to be one of the elder gypsies and she ends up dead.  Billy ends up in court as a result, but gets off due to his connections with Judge Rossington (John Horton).  After the trial, the woman’s father approaches Billy, outraged, and places a curse on him, touching his face and muttering the word “thinner.”  Soon after, Billy begins losing weight rapidly, which he sees as a blessing at first, but when his weight keeps dropping, he begins to understand it’s the result of a curse placed by the old gypsy that will end with his death.

The film had a very lighthearted and somewhat comedic approach to it at first.  Robert John Burke is a little hard to take in the lead, but I had fun with that.  What I really didn’t like is the mob hitman, Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna), who helps Billy try to get the old gypsy to take the curse off.  It really went off the tracks at that point and turned into sort of an action movie.  It did have a nice twist at the end and, thoroughly, I liked this movie.  I revisit it often, usually when I go through a Stephen King movie marathon, so I recommend it for the King fans out there.

The Shining (1997)
When Stephen King announced his next project would be a sequel to “The Shining,” called “Doctor Sleep,” I became very excited and looked forward to buying and reading that book.  As time went by, and a release date was finally announced, I began thinking about the fact that I hadn’t read “The Shining.”  I’d only been familiar with the Stanley Kubrick film and never bothered to read the book.  So, hearing how King (as well as a lot of outspoken fans) really didn’t care for the 1980 movie, saying it wasn’t faithful to the book, I wanted to experience it for myself and read the novel.

I really don’t see what the big deal is.

I thought the book was very entertaining and had some scary elements that they couldn’t include in the movie because of special effects restraints, as well as a few subplots that wouldn’t be able to fit in the movie.  In fact, I’ll go out and say that I still think Kubrick made an amazing film that scared the shit out of me and probably outdid the source material.

Anyway, that said, after reading the original novel and hearing that the TV movie in 1997 was more faithful to the book, I decided to pick up the DVD and give it a watch since I skipped it when it first aired on television.

If you’re familiar with the 1980 Kubrick version, it plays out much the same.  But seeing that this was made into a three-part mini-series, they had room to include a lot more detail from the book, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons I really didn’t care for this version.  One thing you’ll notice, instead of Jack going after his family with an axe, he attacks with a croquet mallet.  Another difference is rather than having a giant maze in the courtyard (there was no maze in the book), there were hedge animals that come to life (that’s in the book).  Of course, there are a few other subtle differences that really aren’t important, but they seem like they were placed in the film as filler.

The Shining mini-series stars Steven Weber as Jack Torrance and Rebecca De Mornay as Jack’s wife, Wendy.  Melvin Van Peebles plays Dick Halloran and, as the worst casting choice ever, Courtland Mead plays Jack and Wendy’s son, Danny.  My God…that kid was a terrible choice!  Bad acting and that inability to close his mouth bothered me!  He had that turned up nose and upper lip that always exposed his teeth and made him look odd…bad choice for important character of Danny!

For the most part, yes, this version was very identical to the book, with all the complaints by King taken care of.  However, I feel it was a detriment to the whole film to include everything.  As much as Mr. King (and a lot of his fans) would disagree, I feel that Stanley Kubrick made the right choice and made the superior film version.

The Shining marks the third time Mick Garris has directed a Stephen King adaptation and I’ve got to give it to him for having the balls to take this on.  Kubrick was still with us at the time and I’ve always wondered what he had thought of this remake.  Maybe something was said about it; maybe not.  I haven’t seen any quotes online.  But it doesn’t matter…Kubrick didn’t need to say anything…the films speak for themselves.
This remake…take it or leave it…you won’t be missing anything.

Quicksilver Highway
In the same year Mick Garris directed his third Stephen King adaptation, he also directed his fourth.  Although not such a great outing, and only half the film at that, Quicksilver Highway is a two-tale anthology film starring Christopher Lloyd as Aaron Quicksilver, a travelling showman who delivers horror stories to people he meets.  In the case of this film, he tells two tales to some newlyweds and a pickpocket.

The first vignette is based on a short story by Stephen King called “Chattery Teeth,” about a man who is saved from a dangerous hitchhiker by set of wind-up teeth.

The second, based on Clive Barker’s short story, “The Body Politic,” is a story about a man whose hands rebel against him.

The film—a television movie—is a bit uninteresting.  It’s nice to see the short story by Stephen King come to life, but it leaves me a bit dry and bored.  I actually didn’t proceed with the film after “Chattery Teeth” and just turned it off.  It’s not very good and should be skipped, unless you just want to waste an hour and a half of your life.

Apt Pupil
Back in the early 90s, I read “Apt Pupil,” a novella from Stephen King’s 1982 short story collection, “Different Seasons,” and thought it was quite a good tale.  As with most of his books, I pictured certain celebrities in the roles of the characters, which helps me—and I’m sure others—to visualize the story better.

As with this story, the way the main teenaged character, Todd Bowden, was described and detailed in the book, I immediately pictured Rick Schroder as the high school boy.  As for the part of Kurt Dussander, I pictured Max von Sydow, for the much of the same reasoning.

Little did I know—and I think many people might not know this—a movie was filmed in 1987 with Rick Schroder in the lead.  Production was shut down ten days before filming wrapped due to budgetary reasons and the movie was never finished.  I’m actually just reading this, now, online.  There’s even an IMDb entry with the information about this film.  I’ve even come across a blurb from Stephen King, himself, saying he saw a rough cut of the film (back in 1987) and said it was great.  Wow…too bad.

Well, let’s talk about what we did get.

In 1998, Bryan Singer, who’d made a name for himself with The Usual Suspects, was chosen to direct the Stephen King adaptation.  The film stars the late Brad Renfro as Todd Bowden and, pre-Magneto, Ian McKellen as Kurt Dussander.

The story is about a high schooler, Todd Bowden, who is very intrigued with World War II and Nazism during the time.  He makes the connection, after a bunch of library detective work, that an old man down the street is a Nazi from that time who had committed many crimes of war due to his affiliation.  Todd approaches the man and begins showing him all the evidence he’s collected and threatens to turn him in unless he does what he says and asks the old man to do.  It begins with simply dressing up as a Nazi and goes down a morbid path from there.

The story was mesmerizing as I read it, because of the way King writes and describes the characters’ thoughts.  I thought it might’ve been an easy adaptation to accomplish, but with this film, Singer just couldn’t keep me interested.  It seems boring at times, but interesting at others.  Ian McKellen does a great job embodying the character of Kurt Dussander, but Brad Renfro as Todd Bowden was a little off.

All in all, the story’s still there, and an interesting one at that.  I don’t know where King comes up with these, but I love them.

The film is definitely watchable and very interesting at times, so it’s worth the rental or even owning it.

So there you have it…I told you there were going to be some bummers in this part, but I revisit most of them at least once a year.

A little side note: I was going to include 1997’s The Night Flier, but Netflix didn’t have it available and I didn’t want to take the time to download it from some sketchy internet site or buy it.  When I do finally see it, I’ll give it its own review here on Cinema Bits.

Stay tuned for the seventh part of my Stephen King retrospective and, as always, thank you for reading.

If you have any comments, I welcome them any time.

You can also tweet at me on Twitter: @CinemaBits or visit my Facebook page, Cinema Bits.