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 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 ChloĆ« Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

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