Robert Downey, Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award: Stephen King

If you’ve been to my site over the years it’s not secret that I am a huge fan of Stephen King, and I have sought almost any opportunity I could find to write about him.

Here are some notable instances:

A review of It (1990)
A series on his as-of-yet unadapted works
A series on adaptations of his work focusing mostly on Maximum Overdrive

However, in the BAM Awards as entertainer of the year was not something I foresaw.

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Throughout the year I made mental notes of actors and directors who had multiple credits to their name who made their mark through a large swath of the calendar year. I usually like these awards to be like revelations rather than conscious decisions. Once I tried resisting choosing King, I knew he was the only choice.

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And I only resisted because picking the creator of source material would be a new frontier, but it is worthy of inclusion. I always cite the author of source material in my nominations on equal footing with the screenwriters.

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With it seeming, based on early looks, that King was going to have a very good year, many retrospectives came but the new work showed there are people working now who want to work with his material, and know how to mold it for film.

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And it was a very good year for Stephen King, and the BAM Awards were no exception. Films based on his works garnered 30 nominations; including three of five Best Adapted Screenplay nominations.

He also saw two more of his works turned into TV shows Mr. Mercedes and The Mist.

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He and his son Owen released the timely novel Sleeping Beauties, and he has a new novel due out this spring; so it’s clear he’s still kicking but his impact on me and many has been long-lasting and will continue, but 2017 cinematically was a standout for highlighting his work, and it’s why he’s the recipient of this prize.

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Shameless Self-Promotion: Ancient Slumber Presents Guardians of the Beam

As you may know by some of my past posts, I am a bit of a Stephen King nut. Therefore, I am very excited and honored to announce that come June I will be co-hosting, along with Myron Schmidt of Ancient Slumber, a podcast entitled Guardians of the Beam, which concerns itself with Kings sprawling epic The Dark Tower that has repercussions throughout his literary universe.

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With the first ever motion picture adaptation of the film coming from Warner Brothers in July, what better time to revisit this series that has fascinated Constant Readers, engendered a cult following, and of course been the writing quest of the man himself?

More information as the date approaches, but I hope you all enjoy it as much as we undoubtedly will.

Long days and pleasant nights.

Bernardo, The Tosspot of Calla Bryn Sturgis

Stephen King Properties Awaiting Adaptations: Bachman Books

Introduction

It recently occurred to me to consider the Stephen King works which are not yet  films and which may be most suited for adaptation. I will take this task on in separate posts.

The Running Man and Thinner already exist, so the books in this realm where Stephen once wrote under a pseudonym on rainy days would rank as follows in my estimation:

5. Rage

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Last year I acquired the original release of The Stand from 1978, that runs quite a few hundred pages shorter. With that I no longer have any literary white whales. The first one I had was Rage, and it took me a while. I didn’t acquire The Bachman Books when they were still readily available.

After much searching in the days before online shopping was easy, I just happened to see it on the shelf at my friend’s house. I freaked out. I needed to at least borrow it. He voluntarily gave it to me.

It remains the only King book I read in a day. Time and distance from being angered by feeling the need to pull it from print have given King a good perspective on the story independent of the controversy its caused. He discusses it in Guns, and I agree entirely with his take.

While I feel The Long Walk is just detached enough from reality to connect to modern audiences this one hits a little too close to home. It’s truly a wrenching, fascinating, and brilliant work. Sometimes we just can’t have nice things, or in this case nasty things that make you think.

4. Blaze

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This one  that would be a challenge in similar ways to Roadwork (below). However, with all the different interpretations of mental illness and voices in people’s head that exist in movies there are quite a few interesting ways to go about this one.

3. The Regulators

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My impression of The Regulators may have been affected by the fact that I read it long after I did Desperation, which was my introduction to Stephen King and had me hooked as a Constant Reader from there.

I think the best way to make this idea work would be to translate the concept of the book’s companionship to the screen, which would entail a remake of Desperation and have the same cast play very different parts in the dueling films. It would be fascinating to watch, especially if you had the same creative team behind-the-scenes.

2. Roadwork

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While I had to use some analytical chops to grin and bear it as I placed a title that was not my absolute favorite in a subset as number one I will start lobbying for my favorite by saying: a story a solitary man who loses it as he refuses to accept a buyout so his house can be bulldozed to make way for a freeway is not a high concept. It’s an insular one, with a lot of inner monologue and flashes. That’s what I love about it and the challenge of it is intoxicating. In my informal independent study during film school I took upwards of 30 pages of notes on how exactly I would translate this story to the screen.

It was in that note-taking, and practice attempts with a tales by Lovecraft, King, and Lumley that I formed an adaptation style that aided me in writing and directing a Dollar Baby of Suffer the Little Children I was fortunate enough to be given the permission to work on.

So, yes, there is a soft spot that elevates this one, but if you haven’t discovered it yet you should.

1. The Long Walk

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I place The Long Walk first not because it’s my favorite Bachman title, but despite its violence, it’s the one I’m most surprised that has not been adapted. It’s an indie film budget’s dream. The concept is a simple dystopian premise that’s far more likely to be palatable to today’s audiences than it would’ve been in the 1980s.
Postscript

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Kirby McCauley, King’s literary agent, posed as Richard Bachman for author pictures.

When Blaze was released in 2007 it was branded by King as a “trunk novel” meaning it was an old Bachman title he unearthed and edited for release, while still using the pen name. I hope there are more.

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When recently J.K. Rowling’s pen name of Robert Galbraith was outed it was kind of like Déjà Vu. I’ve read of how pissed Stephen was when Bachman was found out, and I empathized with Rowling as well. Though clearly the revelation that Rowling was Galbraith inevitably spiked the sales of the first book in Cormorant Strike series, and all subsequent releases – it’s clear there was a reason she felt the need to write under a pen name and now that freedom from name, fame, and expectation is gone from both of them. I admire her not giving it up and I hope Steve still knows what Richard’s up to.

Updates 5/4/2015: Here, There, and Everywhere

Introduction

One thing I was aiming to avoid when starting my own page was being a slave to the cinematic news cycle. Not that there’s anything wrong with following industry headlines, and I usually comment on things I find compelling on Twitter. However, yesterday and today there has been a synergistic confluence of fantastic news, in my estimation. Therefore, when the bad news occurring in threes trend is reversed, I feel it should be fodder for my first update post in quite some time. So it’s what’s new on the site and the four bits of film news.

Blog News

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Yesterday I posted a new blogathon contribution.

The recent BAM Awards Considerations post was more appropriately populated.

Music Video Monday and Free Movie Friday will return soon.

Follow my Letterboxd as I may add the My Radar post there as a list. Also, other themes where I plan on doing year-round viewing will be viewable there too.

Also check out out all four of the new About pages if you’re so inclined.

Star Wars

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Yes, it was just May the fourth and the forthcoming Episode VII played into it big time by releasing new images and information here.

Also recently it was announced that the Anthology films will be Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards. Rogue One centers on the Rebel plot to steal plans for the Death Star.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

It was also confirmed that the second anthology film, which Josh Trank just departed as director, will be about Boba Fett.

Pennywise cast for new adaptation of Stephen King’s It

Will Poulter (2013, Interview Magazine)

I don’t usually like to get into a casting decision that may still be in negotiations, but the idea of Will Poulter (Multiple BAM Award Winner) as Pennywise in the forthcoming two-part It film from New Line and director Cary Joji Fukunaga is so brilliant I have to applaud it repeatedly.

Recent Birthday Celebrants Making News

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Asa Butterfield (April 1st), BAM Award Winner for Ender’s Game, has been cited on the leaked shortlist of candidates to be the next Spider-Man. A few publications cite him as the favorite. If this does come to fruition, it’s awesome news.

Bobby Coleman (May 5th) appears to have a new title Momo announced per his IMDb page. Considering some of the notices I’ve given Coleman (which you can see below) it’s a wonder this is his first credit since 2013, and that title was long-in-the-can.

In The Haunting Hour:

What buoys this episode is the prosthetic work, the voice over of the creature, its conclusion and most importantly Bobby Coleman‘s performance, which may be the finest of the series to date.

In Cody the Robosapien:

As per usual, Bobby Coleman, as the young lead, is fantastic and a standout in this cast. He buoys the title much more than most would deem possible, and more than most actors his age could possibly hope to.

In The Last Song:

Most impressive in the film is Bobby Coleman, best known to some as the title character in The Martian Child, who plays the younger brother in this film and delivers a very compelling performance. Towards the end he does quite a bit of crying and considering this is his second tear-jerker style movie it can now be said with no exaggeration that his abilities as a crier now rank amongst the all-time greats, rivaling even Bobs Watson.

Conclusion

It’s been too long since I posted an update, I will try to do this more regularly in a free-flowing manner.

Review: Mercy

Mercy was a film that I had on my radar for quite some time. It was a film announced a while ago. It was one of a rash of projects that Joel Courtney got involved with on the heels of his outstanding performance in J.J. Abrams’ Spielbergian Super 8. Combine that with the fact that it is a Stephen King adaptation, the signing of Chandler Riggs (The Walking Dead), the involvement of Blumhouse and Universal and there were plenty of reasons to look forward to this film. Eventually though, without and fanfare (as there usually isn’t), this film kind of vanished from consciousness as all involved moved on to the next job.

Then with just as little fanfare the film plopped up available as a digital first download on Amazon ahead of its DVD release.

Mercy mainly concerns a young boy, George (Chandler Riggs), who with his grandmother (Shirley Knight) bedridden starts to wonder about and discover her true nature and family secrets buried in their past.

The difficulty of divorcing one’s fanboy self from an objective film-viewer is epitomized by the fact that this film could have harvested an intriguing internalized tale from the prose, but instead it perhaps over-externalized it. One of the pitfalls it faces is also expanding a short and building out characters because it only does so part of the way. More dimensions are added to characters but it only goes part of the way. Mark Duplass, plays an uncle, he comes to George (Riggs) to disavow him of his notions because he idealizes her. However, this has to be assumed. He’s barely introduced when he makes this leap, and knowing how jaded he is, why not try and talk to Buddy instead (Courtney)?

The aforementioned facets of the film nits; smaller quibbles. There are things that occur that in some ways make you wonder about the production, and in general questionable decisions. The very first scene in the film cuts awkwardly. Riggs and Courtney overall do fine jobs, but in the early scenes they seem a bit ill at ease in their roles, Courtney especially; as they get caught up then the stakes go up. Unfortunately, CG plays a hug role in the latter third and it doesn’t really work that well at all.

I think to convey it best to King fans I can frame it this way: the CG-heavy climactic portions of this film remind me of a 21st Century Langoliers, only this film isn’t anywhere near as compelling as The Langoliers is before being heinously under-served by the effects work.

Up until then the film is passable, and there are things worth watching it for, Shirley Knight is another. In a film whose running time is less than 80 minutes it tries to spread the tale between too many inconsequential supporting characters, and doesn’t move as quick as it should.


When Mercy is available on rental platforms it’s worth it if you’re curious enough, but in this case sadly the whole is far less than the sum of the parts.

5/10

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 4 – Bound by Odor and Light)

WARNING: While I will do my best to avoid major spoilers this series of posts is an in depth examination of the film so it will be discussed at length. Reading about the film in distinct sections is not the same as seeing it clearly but forewarned is forearmed.

In structuring this series on Léolo I could’ve combined this section with another which would encompass this film’s dealing with all biological functions that would perhaps capitalize on the zeitgeist of commentary and thinkpieces on the subject in light of Wetlands’ limited release. However, when dealing with Léolo they should be separated for one very curious reason: Typically when films do go into the uncommonly explored arena they are in the guise of private obsession or other unshared state of privation. However, when it comes to concerns of a scatalogical nature it is very much a family concern in this film, and again, it is an aspect of his family’s life that is touched upon fairly early in the story.

Basically, Léo informs us that the battle his mother picked to fight is that they only way to be healthy was to have regular bowel movements. This is illustrated in an early flashback where she is on the toilet and a toddler Léo is on the potty-training pot wailing. Outside rain falls, thunder crashes and the lighting and poetic voice-over paints a perfect portrait of of a childhood trauma.

It establishes a template for the nature of Léolo’s home life, particularly his relationship with his mother. But even this foible of the family has its plot points. When they are younger they are forced, as is said in the voice-over they are subjected to a “Shitting laxative shock treatment.” And it’s not only mom’s obsession. Dad swells with pride when Léo shows him a “big one.” As he ages he gets craftier, and has more freedom so he can fake it if he needs to.

While in some stories there are things better left unseen, if it serves a story and rendered with artistry nearly anything goes. While focusing an entire story on such aspects can be treacherous, if it fits in there’s no reason to avoid the bathroom.

Two Stephen King-related anecdotes encapsulate my thinking on the subject: first, in his memoir cum how-to-book On Writing King discussed that he has been asked by aspiring writers “When do the characters go to the bathroom?” His advice was: you can skip it, or if it matters you can say “so and so had to push” (his favorite euphemism from his younger days). Oddly, enough I first encountered odd reactions to setting any scene in a bathroom when I was filming a short film based on King’s Suffer the Little Children. A passerby at the college we used as a location thought filming in a bathroom was the funniest thing in the world. It does happen. People use the bathroom and sometimes it matters in a film. That encounter may have been the seed that lead to my wanting to craft a whole one act play set in a bathroom.

As for Léolo, in a building, and a family such as his, quarters are fairly close so to a certain extent things are shared. It seems unlikely that he is the only one who urinates off the balcony. He’s probably just the only one who insists on being called by his Italian name when being yelled at by neighbors for it.

The bathroom escapades also play into a narrative frame wherein a sense of the family is building. Again set-ups and payoffs. In one way or another, odd or conventional, this film closes the narrative circles it opens up.

This post is part four in a series. Parts one, two and three can be found here. Stay tuned for more.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 4 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Great Ghost Rescue (2011)

The Great Ghost Rescue

Family horror is an under-appreciated and under-utilized subgenre. It is usually a delicate balancing act where you have to have elements of a harsher genre keep it true, effective and still palatable for young audiences and hopefully engaging enough for those accompanying said viewers.

There are definitely different phases to this narrative, and it’s also one that, at least in its backstory does not fear taking things to the scariest place it can for children (death), but also presents a flip-side offers comedy and a strong lead performance by Toby Hall that elevates it above the ordinary.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937, Warner Bros.)

Here was my 31 Days of Oscar take on this film:

A Paul Muni biopic strikes again, and perhaps he takes an early lead in the Neutron Star Award race for this year. What’s fascinating is that it chronicles a writer’s rise in typical biopic fashion in act one, then a military frame-up at the head of act two and has them smash together and culminate in a riveting courtroom drama. It distills the essential and best elements of a few subgenres to make a riveting and engaging film that surpasses its formulaic and periodic tropes.

Caught up in trying to stay current I was vague, so I will elaborate some: as opposed to his rendition of Pasteur, which had its own interesting take on scientific ideals and fear of new ideas; here we have a man who gets comfortable, perhaps forgetting his roots and then in seeing grave injustice lays his life and reputation on the line. It’s a fascinating, as holistic as possible in a two-hour film as it can be, treatment. It owes much of its success not only to the narrative, but also its structure and also Muni.

The Phantom Express (1932)

The Phantom Express (1932)

This is the first of the Poverty Row titles on this portion of the list. It’s also one of the more surprising revelations from that theme.

As I read and downloaded titles I noted the proclivity for the word phantom in titles. It must’ve scored well in marketing research of the day, it gives an air of mystery and intrigue. Sadly, no film I saw with the word phantom in it had either featured a ghost or been any good. This one at least accomplished the latter and is a highly entertaining tale. It’s not a whodunit so much as a “howdunit” as the perpetrators are revealed early. The film concerns a man who derails a train attempting to make an emergency stop causing many fatalities. He claimed there was an oncoming train he wanted to avoid, there was no record of this supposed train so it was dubbed “The Phantom Express.” The investigation into the mystery, the repeated incidents, the reveal along with explicatory closing monologue are all great. The effects work, mainly miniatures, may look primitive now, but is well done for the time and budgetary constraints. It’s really captivating stuff.

In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

In a Year with 13 Moons (1977, RWF Foundation)

Were my list shorter than it is Fassbinder could have easier dominated it rather than just being a prominent theme, which is why I like allowing this list to bloat as it allows more themes to seep through. However, my increased consumption of Fassbinder titles cannot be denied here.

In a Year with 13 Moons explains its name with title cards to start, and has the kind of narrative that could easily be exploitative were it wielded by less skilled hands. Here’s a synopsis per the IMDb:

This drama follows the last few days in the life of Elvira (formerly Erwin) Weisshaupt. Years before, Erwin told a co-worker, Anton, that he loved him. “Too bad, you aren’t a woman,” he replied. Erwin took Anton at his word. Trying to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of his life, he now hopes that Anton will not reject him again.

It could wander into parody, or the absurd; it never threatens to instead it’s just absolutely gutting and virtually pitch perfect.

Rainbow on the River (1936)

Rainbow on the River (1936, RKO)

I believe it was first through Movies Unlimited, when they had brick-and-mortar locations, that I first discovered the Sol Lesser-produced musicals that star Bobby Breen. Rainbow on the River, however, is likely the last of them that I can see, as his last outstanding film (Johnny Doughboy) is hard-to-find and overpriced through resellers at Amazon.

Fairly often in these films the story was but more than a pretense to get Bobby singing. On the rare occasion both of these combined perfectly. Yes, there’s an uncomfortable postbellum rendition of the south that’s a bit dated, but there’s a predominant fish-out-of-water aspect and fairytale caliber adoptive family that distract from that and get sympathies where the film wants it. The songs are naturalistically instilled and, as usual, brilliantly rendered.

To the Left of the Father (2001)

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This is a film I first heard about years ago when visiting family in Brazil. It’s one I didn’t get a chance to see there and it took a while for it to migrate over and secure North American distribution both in theaters and on home video via Kino Lorber. It’s one that took me even longer to see, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit because of its running time.

What you find in this film is an extraordinarily poetic title both in verbal and visual terms that externalizes the inner-workings of the mind extremely well and successfully manipulates time as only film truly can. While it has very internal conflicts it brings them forth, and even while being a very technical “filmmaker’s film” still allows room for the actors to work and drive home the emotions being underscored by the narrative. I’m completely unfamiliar with the written work upon which this film is based and did not find that it’s opaque without having read the book.

It may have taken me a while, but it’s testament to Edgar Wright’s statement that “It’s never too late to see a movie.”

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo (1961, MGM)

In hindsight I was rather fortunate in my viewing themes as they are providing most of the content of these selections. This is another 61 Days of Halloween selection that…

came to me by way of Stephen King’s list of horror films in Danse Macabre. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit and had some trepidation when I saw that this was a monster movie. After all I’m fairly sure that during the period from which King curated the list (1950-1980) there were other, more well-known giant-monster-attacks-city films; most notably the Japanese brood. So what makes Gorgo special?

I soon realized what it was and it’s not really about the fact that this species of prehistoric beast is discovered off the coast of an Irish isle, but rather the thing the film does in just 78 minutes. There’s a period of time wherein the film is like a proto-Jaws. There is a threat identified and a mostly unseen enemy. There is a plan to try and take it down.

What occurs then is a spin on King Kong, which has also been done. One notable example I viewed, that didn’t really work out, was Jurassic Park: The Lost World. However, here it does work because that second twist on the average monster film isn’t the last.

It’s also another brisk selection that’s worth looking up.

Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

One interesting thing about this title is that after having seen it I discovered it one of friend’s all-time favorite films, which got me thinking about that aspect. Specifically about how some overlooked titles can affect people. Even before I was made to realize and reflect upon that I had before me the film and there were many notable things about that made it stand out to me.

Merely being ahead of one’s time is a great in and of itself, however, that alone doesn’t make for a great drama. What’s fortunate is that for this film it has both. Imitation of Life deals with race about as openly, maturely and progressively as any film of its era – if you can fault it for anything cinematically it’s being slightly repetitious (But it addresses that), in social terms it discusses and even challenges norms. This was considered a dangerous films and Universal was strongly urged not to make it. Not only does it deal with race relations but in having Delilah’s daughter be able to pass for white, it also implies miscegenation, which was at the time one of the biggest taboos there was.

However, as I said without a compelling narrative all of the above is just a footnote. Bea’s chance meeting with Delilah snowballs in a very compelling way into a most unlikely friendship and partnership. The trials as single mothers also form dueling subplots that at times are equally compelling. The only knock I thought I had against it was that I wanted more focus on the more unusual plot, but based on the way things play out it is handled properly.

Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

Blossoms in the Dust (1941,

Perhaps one of the biggest laments in all my TCM 31 Days of Oscar watching has been the fact that I didn’t sit and watch all of Greer Garson’s consecutive Oscar-nominated roles back-to-back. Since that block aired I’ve been trying to make up for it and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Here’s my reaction to my latest find:

This was actually I found in a drug store on Oscar Day in 2012, this was after my having missed this on a TCM broadcast. This film is part of Greer Garson’s legendary run of five consecutive Oscar Nominations for Best Actress and six in seven years. Yes, this film doesn’t get away with not having its stump-speeches and it does give a classical Hollywood whirlwind treatment to and elongated tale, but it is so tremendously moving and gorgeous to look at. Watch it for the the acting, watch for Karl Freund working in color and stay for the tale, which when it really has to, when it wants to hit home, holds up just enough. It took me a while to get this one off my to watch pile, but it certainly was a memorable viewing. There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments in the film. I also learned a few things so it has the righteous indignation angle working for it too.

The Ghost Walks (1934)

The Ghost Walks (1934)

There are two titles on this section of the list with the word Ghost in the title. Only one, however, can stake any claim to being a straight horror film and this isn’t the one. There’s plenty going on in both, more so here:

Perhaps the first thing that struck me as a side note is that this is the first of the selections I chose that struck me as being very Pre-Code, though its December 1st, 1934 release date made it after promised Code re-enforcement. Most of that impression has to do with the theatrical producer and his the male secretary, the secretary both in affectation and through dialogue directed at him, is being portrayed as gay – perhaps the biggest code taboo. This all leads me to my second point, which is had the acting not been of such quality, the lines not as well-timed or funny, this film would’ve been ridiculous. Instead it’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen in a while. Granted the horror/thriller portions are intended too and the first act pantomimes a straight horror film excellently, but the comedy is very much by design and laugh out loud funny.

61 Days of Halloween: Carrie (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, go here.

Carrie (2013)

I’m well past the point of complaining about remakes based on principal alone, as a matter of fact, the same goes for sequels too. In part, the reason for that is that it’s sort of a myopic view of things. Throughout the whole of film history there have been series of films that refused to die as well as stories that either we (or the studios) have not grown tired of. Stephen King, as much of an institution as he is, is still with us such that it may seem that three adaptations in 39 years of the tale being in print is a bit much, especially when the writer is in question is not only alive but prolific.

However, as I said, some tales just have a way of sticking around (in the words of King himself “Sometimes They Come Back”). Therefore, invalidity cannot be assigned based on the existence of this third version alone. The second being a 2002 rendition that I needed to be reminded just recently was actually a thing that I’d forgotten about.

With regards to the text itself, I am not a huge, huge fan of the book. I like it fine. However, when Stephen King recounted that early on he was dissatisfied enough to throw out his manuscript and it was his wife’s salvaging it and belief in the story that had him stick with it; I was not surprised. And, of course, I’m glad she did see something there because the rest, as they say, is history. It’s just that from among his oeuvre it never stuck out as a favorite, and it makes me glad I didn’t read him chronologically for that may have had me go on to other things. Prior to continuing, I must preemptively state that much of my discussion of this film will read like comparative analysis and fanboy whining. However, I’m left with little recourse since the version created here reads so much like a copy of the first.

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I do, however, share King’s own high regard for Brian De Palma’s version of the film. It’s a tremendous cinematic treatment of the tale that’s masterfully directed, but moreover, a lot of that success is due to Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s portrayal as the mother and daughter (earning each an Academy Award nomination), whose relationship is scarier than anything supernatural that occurs in the book or film.

However, owing to the fact that film was released in 1976, and so much has occurred in the world, some things in the tale needed to change. Due to the supernatural element added to the tale, this was never a film that caused too much hullabaloo with regards to its depiction of violence in schools (this recent Variety opinion piece not withstanding). This was a book that though occasionally banned, was never cited as the impetus for violence as his brilliant Rage was (written under his nom de plume Richard Bachman). Keeping all that in mind, as well as all the horrific incidences of bullying and school violence in the intervening years since the original big studio release and this one, something had to be altered to make this truly effective to a modern day sensibility.

Now, that’s not to say Carrie had to be altered to a point of un-recognition, or be tasteless and tactless in rendition, but while the situation she’s put in (the infamous inciting incident) does engender sympathy it seems a mere drop in the ocean compared to the stories of real life occurrences. Granted there are two escalations of Carrie’s humiliation with regards to that incident, however, it feels it needs a bit more.

carrie_1976_1

The incongruous and dated feeling that her humiliation gets is not aided by many production choices. In aesthetic terms the film feels stuck in many regards. While there are cell phones and an upload of the video to the internet some of the costuming (Miss Collins, the gym teacher’s attire) as well as the automobiles (all seeming to be of an older vintage) that had the film feeling stuck between a modern 1970s-set remake and an update that underscores the relative timidity of Carrie’s initial torturing. If anything the backward nature of the White house house should have stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the town.

Much of the discussion regarding the film and whether it works or not has surrounded Chloë Grace Moretz. If you look at my site you’ll see that in her breakout year she won my Entertainer of the Year Award. Clearly, I am admirer of her work in general. And where her involvement in this film falls short has more to do with production than anything on her part. The first thing that must be acknowledged is that all actors are artists, and the inclination of anyone remaking something is to put their own stamp on it. So expecting Moretz to reproduce Sissy Spacek’s turn is folly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you’re not casting someone to imitate someone else but rather for what they bring to the part. Considering she does have a past with horror, and vast experience, Moretz makes about as much sense as anyone. Things that were lacking with regards to building her performance have to do with editing (when it’d be more effective to see the results of what she’s doing rather than her reaction to it) but more often it’s actually in hair and make up. And I mean that in all seriousness.

There is a sequence of edits when the coach is trying to build her up and in some editing slight-of-hand she’s tidied so the barely-hidden, beautiful girl she is. The fact is more work needed doing to make Moretz seem more like a Carrie White than a Sue Snell. Her hair and dress both needed frumping up. It came off a bit too much like the glasses-and-a-ponytail gag in Not Another Teen Movie.

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Yet the biggest flat-lining in the film is the rote repetition of the exact story beats almost exactly as they happened before save with more advanced but inconsistently rendered CG. The wrinkles were often good (the principal’s inability to say the word “period,” Maggie’s self-mutilation, Tommy playing lacrosse, etc.) but these are all small things and when so much of the film is precisely the same, but emotionally flatter; you need more. There are occasional moments of viscera at the beginning and end but far too much “meh.”

“They’re all going to laugh at you,” Miss White says. This version isn’t quite laughable, but I was not impressed this time around at all.

4/10

61 Days of Halloween: Gorgo (1961)

This is another selection that came to me by way of Stephen King’s list of horror films in Danse Macabre. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit and had some trepidation when I saw that this was a monster movie. After all I’m fairly sure that during the period from which King curated the list (1950-1980) there were other, more well-known giant-monster-attacks-city films; most notably the Japanese brood. So what makes Gorgo special?

I soon realized what it was and it’s not really about the fact that this species of prehistoric beast is discovered off the coast of an Irish isle, but rather the thing the film does in just 78 minutes. There’s a period of time wherein the film is like a proto-Jaws. There is a threat identified and a mostly unseen enemy. There is a plan to try and take it down.

What occurs then is a spin on King Kong, which has also been done. One notable example I viewed, that didn’t really work out, was Jurassic Park: The Lost World. However, here it does work because that second twist on the average monster film isn’t the last.

The last one is given away by this poster here. The beast that’s captured and taken to a London circus is a baby. Big, angry momma is coming for him and that’s where all the tense, well-wrought and choreographed chaos ensues.

I won’t say there aren’t period clichés and touches of cheese, both eternal and due to dating in the film, but it really is well done. There’s the especially disheartening note that the kid assistant, if he had only been listened to, could’ve saved everyone a lot of trouble.

One of the great things about going down this list is discovering titles you should have seen by now. An even better one is watching films you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and this film qualifies in that regard.

Shyamalan Week: Village Building

Introduction

With After Earth being released this week it struck me that the timing was good to revisit not only some of M. Night Shyamalan‘s films but also some old pieces I wrote about him or his works that have not yet made their way over to this site.

This piece, however, is new and the thoughts occurred to me upon revisiting The Village.

Note: If you have not seen The Village or Shutter Island you are advised not to read on as there are spoilers.

Pre-Life

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

There are times when I truly wish films could be viewed in a vacuum of information. This is why, aside from ambience and picture size, at times, finding something on television can be one of the purest film-watching experiences on a narrative level. You come around to something, it catches your eye, you watch it; and if it’s in the middle, you figure out what it’s about as you go. Granted, that was far more possible before onscreen program guides and DVRs.

I say this to add a different perspective to my frequently discussed notion of films having a pre-life. You invariably learn what they purport to be about and are influenced in your decision-making process by the synopsis, the trailer and other writings you may see. In a way taking a film-only approach is an exercise in re-training your thinking.

More often than not I too am watching films at the multiplex and I will see the trailers, often many times, so I try not to focus too much on what I see there because it’s marketing. Things will be cut together a certain way to sell it but they have no bearing on the film itself.

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

That’s a very roundabout introduction to The Village because I will admit I was not an early adopter. I was not one who was immediately upon seeing it going to scribble a comment somewhere saying how much I enjoyed it and cap it off with an emphatic “FIRST!”

What immediately occurred to me was that I likely needed to see it again to see how well it did what it attempted, but for whatever reason I never did. Wanting to re-view something is always a good thing. It doesn’t always make a film better or worse, but it is a boon to that film that it compelled you to do so.

However, perhaps more so than The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, this one needed re-examination because it subverted expectations in a few ways, and when I say expectations I mean those instilled by the way the narrative is constructed rather than those of the advertisements. It’s hard in a trailer to convey the sense of the outre with which the villagers treat the outside, the pain they bear, the fact that you always think there’s something looming. What is tangible is the creature, so that was oversold, but once the credits roll it has no bearing on the film.

Village Building

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

The film begins in a slightly unorthodox manner in as much as the opening montage comprised of shots that go around town introduce us to certain characters, but not necessarily who we expect to see first. Typically, you’re hard-pressed to avoid starting with your protagonist as it can be disorienting. However, the film is called The Village and to figure out what’s behind the veil, you have to have an understanding of how this cloistered society works. That actually slowly unravels throughout as needed, but the basics are gotten out of the way as we begin to get a better sense of who the key figures are.

So we as audience members start off not only a little disoriented, but what is key is that throughout the telling of the film (for a great majority of it, in fact) we see the world as they do. We never seem to know something that they do not until the very end. So we view the creature like they do much of the time, as a tangible threat.

Even the way the creature is removed as a threat is done in a slightly unorthodox way. At a few late stages we come across things that don’t make sense to us or to the character confronted with it, we frame around with what lead to said falsity being introduced, and then work our way back to the present.

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

A few axioms come to mind when thinking of these decisions that do support it as being a bit closer to the norm: first, start your story as late as possible. “A group of people so scarred by traumatic experiences in their life that they decide to form their own secretive utopian society” doesn’t quite gel as a story, unless, in the attempt to form the society something goes awry. That something would likely serve as commentary on society in general. However, pushing that narrative later in the game this film presumes that these people succeeded and then asks instead: “What if such a society was already in place? What would they do to keep themselves isolated, to shield themselves; and assuming they successfully isolated themselves, how would they handle the possibility that they might one day need to leave their safe zone?” The film has interesting and creative answers to all these things. It does require suspension of disbelief, but given that this is the only world their children have ever known I find it easy enough to accept, especially considering the elders are secret-keepers who know the entire truth and for all we know may have surreptitiously left prior, if necessary.

The second axiom is one I actually thought of with regard to chronology. Sometimes when you get close too something a simple question can stump you. I recall my father complained about a film not being in chronological order. He asked something to the extent of “Why would you do that?” With so simply posed a question can be hard to articulate an answer. When you think about it the rule could read: “Narratives should be told in chronological order unless there is an imperative that necessitates the rearranging of chronology.” In other words, the revelations in The Village (this applies mainly to the three biggest ones) are elevated by the fact that when something that doesn’t make sense is seen the film does an about face to demystify what we just saw, and allows it to sink in a bit.

Another instance that can be troubling for some, and it was for me at first also, is the very end. Now, the first time I saw The Sixth Sense I honestly fell for it hook, line and sinker such that it was about midway through the credits before I realized “Yes, it probably did work without any cheats.” It was upon re-viewing it that I noticed things like the lack of responses in supposed conversations between Malcolm and his wife, or the fact that Malcolm and Cole’s mother never looked at each other, and she never reacts to him, even though they are sometimes in the same room. In The Village there is no oomph right at the very end there is a settling in to a new reality and new possibilities; all the reveals are through.

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

However, what Shyamalan does here is again playing with perception quite well. We accept the reality we are presented with onscreen almost without question such that when we see this film with its wide shots of a rustic village nestled in the woods, peasant attire of a bygone era, kerosene lanterns and torches; we think “period piece,” though nothing ever stated it was. People speak in antiquated fashion, but it seems a bit forced to the elders. When you come back to it you hear more clues than you ever saw and the visual indicators early on, namely the mysterious downward pans, are fairly apparent. In one of the first lines of the film, for example, the very carefully chosen words spoken by William Hurt’s character are “we settled here.” Settling has a colonial invocation, or at the latest hearkens back to the frontier days when new areas of the country really were being settled. Subtle things like that throughout sell you on the fact that the setting is not in modern times, yet just as many things that aren’t as quickly caught, like the way certain stories are told, indicate otherwise.

Kingian Location

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

I cannot take credit for this notion but comparisons started popping up early in this era between Shyamalan and the works of Stephen King, namely the early works. They could be seen as broad: suspense, mystery and fright found in the mundane, but there’s also a world-building deeply entrenched in location. That is why I think the comparison gets made. Many of Stephen King’s stories don’t even happen if he’s not born and raised in Maine. I know in the foreword of one of his books he discusses the genesis of ideas. Sometimes you remember them, sometimes you don’t. It was a vivid one from him from taking walks on a rickety, wooden bridge. Similarly, I’m not sure M. Night Shyamalan ever has an idea about an insular community that shuns the outside world if he’s not from Pennsylavania and riffing on what already exists nearby, namely the Amish and Mennonite communities. Within the framework of the story the state they are in is never mentioned. However, those communities are known the nation over so I connected that fact before I even migrated it to thinking about Shyamalan creating the story.

This location-based storytelling of his early career combined with a propensity for tales that go to darker places, if not necessarily in the horror genre, make the comparison somewhat apt indeed.

Conclusion

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

The misdirection isn’t completely impeccable and some things need to be taken on faith, but I think the reason Night’s other “twist” films never had the resonance The Sixth Sense did has nothing to do with his ability to cloak what’s really going on. I think quite a bit of it has to do with the nature of the reversal. The twist in The Sixth Sense takes one character from one state of being to another. The power of the reveal in Unbreakable is that that you could either laugh off Elijah’s theory as nonsense or you can agree with it. That is what makes the prospect of a sequel to that film so tantalizing.

While here we went from thinking we were dealing with some kind of period piece with a creature involved to realizing that what we had were deeply hurt people who couldn’t cope with the outside world and created elaborate ruses and arrangements to keep themselves tucked away. We not only discover there is no creature, but the twist (one of them) deals with the setting, with when the story is taking place, which makes it a gutsy move whether you like it or not. It is a very jarring reversal, which is why it left a little ambivalent at first. Regardless of whether you like it or not, it’s gutsy move.

Twists, really big reversals of perception and plot, are hard to deal with consistently. More than most things it seems to go on a case-by-case basis. I’ve argued on some that didn’t work for me about the story hinging on the twist, but that’s a little vague. Twists a dangerous game, but one thing The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs (to an extent) and The Village did was build to them. The shocking thing about The Village is that it does blindside you, Unbreakable does to an extent. So it is one of those that hinges on the twist, however, builds from there and has a series of reveals. So it may seem it has it all riding on one trick like say Shutter Island, but it doesn’t alter reality just the audience’s perception of it. It doesn’t play something like the schizophrenia card, which is hit-or-miss.

The Village (2004, Touchstone)

Moreover, the fact that this is a cloistered community in modern times, that there is no monster, and how they set this place up (to an extent) are dealt with prior to the last scene. The last scene leaves one question unanswered: Will these people continue living this way? They have their cover story should they choose to, whether they do or not remains to be seen. And whether they do or not marks the beginning of another movie. This one is over. It may feel like an off-balance ending after all the other times the equilibrium of things was messed with, but it does work for the tale that preceded it.