Movie Review: DREAMCATCHER

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dreamcatcher
Warner Bros.
2003
R

“Henry, if we die before you get back, promise you’ll tell everybody she wasn’t my date.”

  • As adults, Jonesy, Henry, Beaver, and Pete reunite every winter at a cabin deep in the Maine woods to hunt,d rink, and celebrate the bond they have with Duddits, a mentally challenged man they aided and befriended when they were children, and each other. However, this year their wilderness reunion is marred by disturbing incidents which begin with the discovery of a lost, sick hunter and a frozen figure in the middle of a remote road. As events escalate and horrific creatures emerge from unsightly spaces, heavily armed government operatives, led by the imposing Colonel Curtis arrive in the area, and soon the situation becomes an all-out battle for the fade of humanity.

Right off the bat, I’m going to just let everyone know that I haven’t read the Stephen King novel Dreamcatcher is based on. Not as of this writing, anyway. Which is to say, I might read it at one point…or I might not. I haven’t decided yet. Mainly because I haven’t been that enthusiastic about King’s work from the mid-1990s on to about most of the Aughts. And judging from the movie adaptation from 2003, reading the novel may be on par with when I had to slog through The Tommyknockers back when I was 15.

Also, as kind of a side note, I remain ever impressed at the turnaround time between when King publishes a novel and when it gets made into a movie. Or at least optioned for one. Here with Dreamcatcher, the book was published in 2001, and the movie adaptation was released in 2003. Just thought I’d throw that out there. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I did happen to watch Dreamcatcher in the theaters when it was first released back in 2003. I can’t recall if this turned out to be one of those movies that I initially wrote and published a review about on one of my previous blogs (this predates the Blogspot blog, and was during my LiveJournal days, if that gives you any idea about the time setting, here) and got lost in the shuffle, or if I began writing the review in one of my spiral notebooks at the late and lamented Coffee Pot Cafe during one of my many Coffee+Writing sessions there, and never got around to finishing it, and then that notebook getting lost in the shuffle. Either, way, I might as well purge this particular movie out of my head with the review here. The year of 2020 seems to have started off a big one concerning those.

So, what we have with Dreamcatcher is a movie that takes a goodly amount of our favorite Stephen King story tropes: boyhood friends, unexplained psychic abilities, overcoming childhood bullies, stands against unknown horrors that turn out to be alien in nature, and a third act that really goes off the rails and has trouble sticking the landing. All of this is mixed with a sci-fi premise that seems recycled from the movie Night Of The Creeps, and features Jason Lee before he blew up with the series My Name Is Earl as one of the friends, former 80s boy band heartthrob Donnie Walburg playing a mentally handicapped man with a secret, and Morgan Freeman playing a military Colonel giving some legit gravitas to dialogue that, handled by a lesser talented individual, would have made things much worse than it did. That is, Dreamcatcher is a hot mess of a movie, but at least it’s an entertaining hot mess.

The aliens that happen to be invading Earth in this movie have a life cycle that would make the xenomorph life cycle seem preferable in comparison, the main alien heading up this invasion goes by the name “Mr. Grey” (might be a fan of Reservoir Dogs or something) and speaks with a British accent for some reason, there’s a particularly graphic scene that redefines the phrase “wrestling with a butt weasel”, and the big climactic twist kinda falls a bit flat, as your standard sci-fi/horror/Stephen King fan saw it coming pretty much as soon as we were introduced to the character. Also, Scoobie-Doo is referenced a lot.

Dreamcatcher is, as I said before, a hot mess. It doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be, shifting from period drama, to supernatural potboiler, to body horror, to sci-fi thriller during the course of its run time, finally throwing up its arms in defeat and ending up going over the waterfall with the ending. This may have something to do with the fact that this was technically director Lawrence Kasdan’s first sci-fi horror movie. Sure, he had writing credits on The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of the Jedi, but his directing credits are mainly dramas like The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, and Grand Canyon. And again, I don’t know how this movie differs from the novel, as it may just be a case of trying to film something that is essentially unfilmable.

Overall: while it’s nowhere near the massive dumpster fire that were the Tommyknockers and Langoliers adaptations, Dreamcatcher is still one of the less memorable adaptations of a Stephen King novel. It’s worth a rental some night, when there’s nothing better to watch. You won’t be bored, that’s for certain.

Movies+Beer: DOCTOR SLEEP

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James is joined by Brian in watching an early morning showing of Doctor Sleep, the sequel to 1980’s The Shining. Listen in as they chat about it at Sean O’Casey’s, and stick around as Brian rants a bit about the upcoming Star Wars movie in December…

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movies+Beer: IT CHAPTER 2

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it chapter 2
James is joined by long-time heterosexual lifemate Brian in watching the anticipated second chapter in the recent movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. How does it hold up to the first chapter? Does it blow away the miniseries from 1990? Will the Husker fans be cheering too loudly? Tune in and find out…
::END TRANSMISSION::

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 6: IT (2017)

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halloween'ing 2017IT bannerYeah, yeah, I realize this is more of a resent thing, having been released just last month, but…really, for a movie that would encompass everything you would expect for the Halloween season, this It hits all the right notes: Creepy clown, monsters, haunted house, unsettling use of balloons…It has it. Not to mention kids going up against a supernatural enemy; this is basically an R rated Monster Squad. It’s still in the theatrical run, so now would be a good time to go and give this a watch.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: IT (2017)

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itWarner Bros.
2017
R

“This isn’t real enough for you, Billy? I’m not real enough for you? It was real enough for Georgie.”

Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare–an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.

I’ve been sitting here now, for quite a bit of time, trying to figure out how I’m going to lead off this particular review of the new big-screen adaptation of one of Stephen Kings more notorious novels in his repertoire, It. There were several ways I could have approached this, really: talk a bit about the book; talk about the first adaptation, the TV miniseries from 1990; a bit from both columns maybe. But, the biggest thing that hit me the prior night, after watching the 2017 movie, was that the new It was released 27 years after the TV miniseries. I see what you did there, movie. Was that deliberate or mere coincidence? Probably coincidence. Unless it was deliberate. It’s enough to make me paranoid. Well, more so.

Anyway, at this point I should make the obligatory mention of me being a long-time fan of Stephen King, having read the book It in the late 1980s at the age of 15, and watching the original broadcasts of the TV miniseries adaptation and then renting the VHS releases more than once back in the day. And while I loved the miniseries adaptation (the first part was better than the second part, but that seems to be a universally held opinion on the whole), it still seemed to lack a certain bite that would have really made it a scary tour de force. I realize that there were limitations due to being shown on network television back in the very early 1990s, but still. Getting a proper big-screen movie adaptation was something that was announced every other year or so since the mid-1990s, but took quite a while to actually find ground and get made. Long enough for me to take a “I’ll believe it when I’m sitting in a theater and seeing it” kind of stance with any news report of one.

And now, here we are, with what is reportedly the first chapter in a two-part big screen adaptation of It. I saw it. I believed it. And, wow, let me tell you, the wait was definitely worth it.

There’s a couple of things I need to point out here before I forget: First, best use of an Anthrax song in a movie, ever. The other movie that I know of that utilizes Anthrax was Last Action Hero. At least, they had an Anthrax song on their soundtrack. I haven’t seen that movie yet, so I can’t verify if it’s in the movie itself. But, yeah, It cranks out “Antisocial” at a key point in the movie. Metal horns up. And on a side note, one of the antagonists wears metal shirts. Awesome. The other point I wanted to make, most importantly, is that, if you have an aversion to clowns–even if they just make you the least bit uncomfortable–this It is definitely not for you. Trust me on this one. Because the Pennywise here makes Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the miniseries look like he was a member of Clowns For Jesus.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. With something like this, it could have been very easy to skip past a lot of the source material and just focus on “there’s a creepy clown, BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” kind of narrative. This movie wisely takes the time to build up the main characters, to give them depth and make you care about them. The fear and terror here doesn’t stem from some supernatural harlequin; the actual terror is from each of the character’s real life, what they most fear. The clown–or, more to the point, the entity behind the clown itself, more on that in a bit–just happens to amplify those fears to get to them. But, what makes it so effective is that you’re given time to get to know everyone in the Loser’s Club, to care about their situations and home lives. Heck, even the main antagonist, one Henry Bowers, is given a scene that makes you sympathetic for how he came to become such a monster. Very good job picking out the right child actors to carry the story.

Now, a bit about Pennywise. For me, clowns are no problem. I have no fear of them. They don’t even make me uncomfortable…unless they invade my personal space, but that goes for everyone on this planet. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is the first instance where I was genuinely creeped out by a clown in any media. This can be chalked up to two things: 1) Bill Skarsgård’s mannerisms and style he went for (he wisely chose to not just imitate Tim Curry’s iconic version), and 2) the effects that made Pennywise off-putting and unnatural, and not just when the fangs came out. I’ve read and heard complaints that Pennywise didn’t seem real…and I think that was the whole point. As I touched on, and for those of you familiar with the source material, Pennywise is just an avatar that It uses, and I would think that, to wring the maximum amount of fear from a child, an ancient entity of pure evil that may or may not be a Lovecraftian elder god would use that to great effect. And I found it used to great effect, here. Especially in the final confrontation.

Anyway, I’ve been gushing about this movie for far too long, now. I’m just going to leave off with this: While I do admit that there were times when the story seems a bit disjointed and unfocused, keep in mind the source material. To say there were some issues with pacing with the book would be to understate things considerably. Also, to that end, anyone who may be expecting a faithful word-by-word adaptation of the novel…nope. Not getting it here. The very fact that they set the year this takes place with 1988 and 1989 instead of 1957 and 1958 tips you right off the bat. And really, I am not only okay with the changes, but I think it makes the story better.

Overall, despite the gang of 11-year-old boys sitting behind me freaking out every five minutes over the littlest things (seriously, what was that father thinking?), I enjoyed this It immensely. Easily the second best film I’ve seen in theaters this year. I would highly recommend you seeing this as a matinee, with a bunch of friends and a goodly amount of popcorn at the ready. Red balloon optional.

Movie Review: The DARK TOWER

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the dark towerColumbia Pictures
2017
PG-13

“It’s a hotdog.”
“Savages. What breed?”

Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at state, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

The Dark Tower. What started off as a series of short stories collected together into a small novel, that suddenly exploded into an epic western/dark fantasy/sci-fi saga of the last Gunslinger in a world that has moved on, questing to find the Dark Tower, the nexus that holds the multi-verse realities together, a quest that is not only personal, but also to protect and save it from being destroyed by the Crimson King. Along the way, he travels to different dimensions, meeting others who would join him on his quest, as they make their way to the ultimate goal. It is a saga that is held in as almost as much regard as The Lord Of The Rings, with fans that are just as passionate about the books and other adaptations and lore.

They made a movie about it, now. I’m pretty sure you may have noticed by now, but yeah. After what seems to be decades of trying to bring it to the big screen, it’s finally happened. And, after a week or so having to wait due to scheduling issues, I finally watched it with some key members of the Coven of Exalted Geeks.

I will pause right now to say that, in case you’re just reading this, and haven’t gotten around to checking out my book reviews, I am what you would call a Stephen King Constant Reader, and have been since I was 14. I’ve also read all of the Dark Tower novels, and some of the comics as well. So, yeah. Dark Tower nerd, here. Anyway…

One more time around the wheel, I guess: So, there’s this tween-ager named Jake Chambers who, for a number of years now, has been having these really detailed dreams involving a mysterious man in black (not Johnny Cash, I’m afraid) trying to destroy an even more mysterious dark tower, while being pursued by a gun-slinging cowboy. This “gun-slinger”, if you will, is seeking revenge, because the man in black, it turns out, killed a bunch of people with magicks, including the gunslinger’s father. Little Jake has been drawing pictures of these dreams and more, and everyone things that he’s a bit…insane because of this, including his mom and step-father. That’s why they decide to send Jake off to a special retreat for crazy kids. Only, the people from the retreat who show up aren’t really people, so Jake parkours his way to freedom and goes to a house he dreamed about and activates a portal that takes him to Mid-Wolrd, the home of the real-life gunslinger. And also the guy in black. He meets up with the Gunslinger, and they go on a journey to find the man in black’s hideout, where he’s taking kidnapped children that have psychic powers to use to topple the Dark Tower, to stop him. Along the way, they make a pit-stop back in New York to stock up on bullets and a certain soda brand they couldn’t get the license for, so they couldn’t show the logo or say the name out loud.

Oh, there was a lot of nerd rage over this movie. Not as ridiculous levels as with the 2016 Ghostbusters movie; there was quite a bit, though, some of which I overheard going out of the theater after the movie. But, this is my review of the movie, and thus you will have my not-so-humble opinion on this movie. And remember, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a long-time Constant Reader of Stephen King’s work, and have also read the entire original saga of books and hold them as kind of my Lord of the Rings. Ready? Deep breath, here, aaaaaaand…

…I rather enjoyed The Dark Tower. No, really. I did. I went in knowing that they weren’t trying to adapt the books–because, really, that would have been nigh impossible, even if you got Peter Jackson in his prime in on things–but essentially do a continuation of the books. Really, even Stephen King himself mentioned that this wasn’t an adaptation attempt, but kind of a sequel to the books. I don’t want to go into the details, but if you’ve read the entirety of the saga, you know why I’m saying this. Also, it’s been documented by the makers of the movie that this was the intention. As such, there were elements that were lifted from all of the books–and some other Stephen King books outside of the Dark Tower universe proper–that have been included here and there, with more of a focus on Jake’s perspective of the story rather than Roland. And yes, I was nerdy enough to pick out the easter eggs abounding.

Beyond that, though, as a movie in and of itself, I would have to say that The Dark Tower was much more enjoyable than most of the reviews I’ve come across have made it out to be. I found it to be a rather well-made, well-acted, gorgeously shot western fantasy with a creamy sci-fi center that entertained me for the surprisingly tight 90 minute run time. Because, if anything had the right to go over the 2-hour limit, it would have been this. But, the filmmakers showed restraint, and it helped things out in that area. Idris Elba was the perfect choice to play Roland Deschain, as he managed to emote more with his eyes to give that haunted look needed for the character. And what can I say, but Matthew McConaughey nailed it as the Man In Black, the evil known as…Walter. Okay, you can probably laugh at that, but that’ll be the last thing you’d do. The guy can charm you one second, and then chill you to your spine the next, all while never changing cadence or going over the top. That said, he may have been underused. The action scenes are probably where you’re going to get the majority of the groans, especially if you have even a rudimentary grasp on basic physics. But, with just a bit of strength to the suspension of disbelief, you still get some very action-packed scenes mixed in with your dark fantasy, here. And I do believe the movie’s best part happens when Deschain arrives in New York City. Some fish-out-of-water comedy to flavor things up.

Overall, yeah, there were some flaws to this iteration of The Dark Tower. I wasn’t happy with how easily the resolution at the end happened. But, when it was all said and done, The Dark Tower managed to entertain me, and did so without feeling the need to cram something happening at every moment of its run time. It was a rather satisfying blended genre flick that, honestly, I hope they make more of the story. Even in television form, which I think would work better overall. But, we shall see if survives the whiners. For me, this is recommended, more of a matinee, but definitely on the big screen if you can.

Book Review: FULL DARK, NO STARS

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Book Review FULL DARK, NO STARSStephen King
Scribner
2010

Stephen King excels at telling stories. That’s pretty much the basic gist of it, I guess. He’s been telling stories in many different formats over several decades, which means he’s capable of telling tales that manage to break the bounds of the genre that most have pigeonholed him in. Which, I guess, is my lame way to start off this review for his third collection of novellas to have been published, Full Dark, No Stars.

The four stories collected here lean more to the hard-boild crime chiller type of stories that, had this been a different time, probably would have been published under King’s former pen name Richard Bachman. But, before I get too far, let’s take a look at the individual stories contained herein, shall we?

“1922”
…a Nebraska farmer writes a confession/suicide note detailing the bad year he had in 1922. It’s a murder chiller that plays out like a classic story from the old EC Comics thrillers of old.

“Big Driver”
…this was a hard one for me to get through, mainly due to the subject matter of a woman who is raped and gets her revenge on the culprits. The whole violence against women thing makes me sick to my stomach; regardless, this was a good hard-boiled revenge thriller with…well, I wouldn’t say a “happy ending”. Would that even be possible ever again?

“Fair Extension”
…the shortest story in this collection, it would be a stretch to call this a novella, given that it’s just a skosh over thirty pages. And for whatever reason, I pictured Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) playing the part as the Devil in this story. Anyway, kind of a darker Twilight Zone type of story, where a guy who’s had nothing but bad luck happens upon someone who can give him a new lease on life, for a certain price.

“A Good Marriage”
…a wife’s long-time and idealistic (if not a bit hum-drum) marriage existence gets shaken to the core when she accidentally finds out her husband might be a notorious serial killer. Pretty tense, and the ending is straight out of a Columbo mystery.

Overall, the collection within Full Dark, No Stars aren’t so much supernatural horror, so much as hard boiled thrillers from the same vein as the EC Comic and the Alfred Hitchcock pulp magazines. Obviously, there’s going to be a touch of the supernatural style, mostly with “A Fair Extension”; most of the horror, though, is derived from regular everyday people finding themselves in a very non-regular and dark situation, where there’s no hope of coming out unscathed. Like I mentioned earlier you might say these are Richard Bachman stories that King just decided to put his regular name on.

I really should note that two stories from here have already been made into movies: “Big Driver”, which was made into a Lifetime movie, and “A Good Marriage”. And there’s been news of “1922” being made into one as well. I haven’t watched any of the two movie adaptations, and probably won’t any time soon. As far as reading the book goes, yeah, no regrets doing so. It’s a Stephen King book for certain. What more can I say?

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