GERALD’S GAME: One Woman’s Revelatory Odyssey Into Misogyny

Gerald’s Game. 2017. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Screenplay by Flanagan & Jeff Howard.
Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Carel Struycken, Kate Siegel, & Chiara Aurelia.
Intrepid Pictures
Not Rated. 103 minutes.


DisclaimerThe following review discusses the film in-depth. As such, it contains spoilers in reference to important plot points and themes in the film. If you haven’t, get on Netflix, watch, then come back for a lively discussion.
Lest ye be spoiled!

Gerald's Game 1I’ve long adored Stephen King, ever since my mother introduced me to his books; I first saw them on her shelves, unable to read them until she said I was old enough, then I fell in love. His writing is so human, even when he’s dipping into the supernatural. Of all his novels, Gerald’s Game is entirely human, despite touching on aspects that are definitely not of this world. Best of all, the novel’s protagonist Jessie Burlingame (played here by the fabulous Carla Gugino) is at her most vulnerable in a situation requiring her greatest strengths.
King’s story explored so much of Jessie’s life, her experience with the men in it, the events those relationships further precipitated. Director Mike Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard manage to illustrate all the important moments in the film’s 103-minute runtime. Sticking so close to the novel, it allows Flanagan to bring its imagery to life in a unique way that’s exciting even for readers like myself who’ve read and revered the book already.
More than that it’s the themes at play which resonate, especially at a point in time where we need more strong films taking on the horror of misogyny. Gerald’s Game explores the dichotomy of truth and lies within a marriage, how sexual fantasies – particularly rape-fantasy – turn men into dangerous foes instead of husbands to the wives they supposedly love, as well as how those titles like husband, or father, don’t mean anything when in the face of predatory men.
And all of this relies on the powerhouse performance of Gugino, whose Jessie – the centrepiece of the story, despite the title – must either transform into the powerful women lying in wait inside herself, or else perish.
Gerald's Game 2

Well, Im pretty sure you just lost your mind.”

At its core, King’s novel is a metaphor of the overall misogyny women experience at the hands of men in every facet of life. Gerald’s Game works on several levels. It’s Gerald’s (Bruce Greenwood) game to bring the handcuffs to the cabin, to spice up his and Jessie’s marriage. However, it’s also the game many men play, making a woman feel as if she has to conform to his idea of sexuality and how they express it as a couple in order to ‘save the marriage.’ Jessie must play the game with Gerald, though later on we discover how, stuck between her father and mother, young Jessie had to play an entirely different game.
The main ideas floating around from the start centre on Jessie and Gerald’s marriage. Is your partner who they truly are, or merely who you want them to be? Do they, after a time, just become our vision of their personality instead of themselves? Through her predicament, left handcuffed to the bed after Gerald has a heart attack and cracks his head on the floor, Jessie forcibly confronts herself, ultimately. Both her own identity and also her relationship to her husband, how she views him as a man and a husband; plus, how being a man is inextricably linked to any other role a man plays.
Being stuck in the cuffs is a literal event, but it’s likewise an allegorical one. Jessie’s been controlled by men, one way or another, her entire life. So now, she must wholly rely on herself to break those figurative and literal bonds and free herself, to live again and to keep on living. The later we go on, the above quote transforms into more of a gaslighting question than one we understand as Jessie actually having a mental breakdown, stuck to the bed. She has to overcome the fantasies men wish to impose on her to survive.
Gerald's Game 3

Youre only made of moonlight

Gerald's Game 4Jessie’s mental state and her perspective are, obviously, crucial to the novel, which is the major reason Flanagan creates such a perfect adaptation with his film. There’s a stream of consciousness feel, as he weaves back and forth from past to present, dropping us in and out of memory. We slip from waking visions to nightmarish sleep, blurring the edges of reality until the actual moments of genuine reality crash in, frightening the viewer as much as Jessie.
Like in the novel, the Moonlight Man (Carel Struycken), the Space Cowboy, is where the idea of the supernatural exists, on the edges of the story’s heart. We never know what’s pure fiction, dreams and nightmares interchangeably. The Moonlight Man is like a shadow cast by real life into Jessie’s subconscious, conjuring up awful things she sees between sleep and struggling to get out of those cuffs. Until the finale, where the men in Jessie’s life, from her father to her husband, come to a culmination in the worst of man – a necrophile serial killer. He was real all along. And with this reality comes the other reality: the worst she believed about the other men in her life – her paedophile father, her misogynist husband masquerading most his life as a loving one while harbouring a dark rape-fantasy – is also very real.
At the same time, the film’s ending validates Jessie, her struggle. Throughout her ordeal, she faced not only her spacial limitations, stuck on that bed, she pushed past the mental violence that’s been afflicted on her with the physical violence that accompanied it. She’ll never forget what’s happened to her. But she’ll also never let it dictate her life.

Youre so much smaller than I remember

Gerald's Game 5The victory of Jessie is what makes everything worth it. Yes, there’s horror, there’s so much tension and suspense it could eat you alive. Same as it was in King’s novel. By the end, Flanagan offers us the hope and the power in Jessie that King did, Carla Gugino’s quiet power punctuating the character’s transformation.
Again like the novel, the end is phenomenal. Flanagan gives us one important set of images in those last moments that hammer home the allegory at work. Gerald’s line “Dont ask a question you dont wanna know the answer to” becomes the crux on which the film and Jessie’s journey hang. Because she’s asked the questions, she’s confronted their answers, and still, she stands.
Gerald’s Game, for Father Gore, is perfect. Out of the park adaptation, on top of the pile with the best. Flanagan works on the viewer’s nerves, using the isolated setting and plot to his advantage, the paranoia coursing through each frame, so much so it’s the quiet moments which truly land the hardest impact.
Many who aren’t familiar with the original King novel might get a different impression just by the poster or the trailer or reading a plot summary, but this is a movie about a powerful woman. She doesn’t know she’s powerful in the beginning. It’s the transformative journey she undertakes at the hands of her husband, a microcosm of general misogyny, which reveals this power to her. For all its graphic qualities, Gerald’s Game goes for the emotional, existential terror lurking inside the relationships of women’s daily lives.


Mr. Mercedes – Season 1, Episode 6: “People in the Rain”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Season 1, Episode 6: “People in the Rain”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by Dennis Lehane

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Suicide Hour” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Willow Lake” – click here
Pic 1Again, the day starts the same for Bill (Brendan Gleeson). The same old mess, his tortoise his only real friend. More videos of Mr. Mercedes, as Brady (Harry Treadaway) still lurks in the neighbourhood driving the ice cream truck, manipulating the former detective from just outside.
At home the killer flicks through pictures of Bill, Jerome (Jharrel Jerome, the dog. Then he makes what looks like an explosive device and hides it in his car. One thing that’s always creeped me out is how he just mutters “darkness” to shut down the lights in his basement lair. An eerie little touch that Treadaway nails every single time.
We see that Ida (Holland Taylor) continues to have at least a modicum of sentiment for Bill, though the old lad is too concerned with other things to have ever noticed. It’s funny to that I’ve never noticed there’s also a parallel between Brady and Bill, in the sense that the latter’s a guy at the end of his career, effectively nearing the end of his life, as the former’s really beginning his adult life, job opportunities, as well as dealing with his childhood traumas, so on.
Pic 1AAND NO FUCKING WAY – Brady can’t find mom, then discovers his car gone. Oh yes, Deb (Kelly Lynch) is out cruising the streets, dropping her lit cigarette next to what she doesn’t realise is a bomb. The son has to take a bus to work, on his big day meeting the corporate bosses, while mommy drives around on the verge of exploding. Perfectly devilish.
Bill goes to see a man named Kenneth Brock (Tom Nowicki) who had his car moved several times, technically stolen but just parked in different places each time. He asks the guy a few questions, if there were any weirdos around his neighbourhood that may seem suspicious. Nothing stands out. At the same time, Janey (Mary-Louise Parker) calls: her mother’s had a stroke.
Corporate suck up Robi (Robert Stanton) is coaching Brady on how to deal with the bosses, how to act, all the good stuff. But the young man can’t stop worrying about his mother, out there with the bomb under the seat. And saddest of all, she’s trying desperately to clean her life up, too. Brutish irony. Deb winds up running into a guy she used to know, Chaz Chapman (Terry Serpico); he now owns a bar they all used to frequent, right next to the old salon where she worked, where she’s hoping to get a job again. He invites her out to lunch, and at least she’s away from that bomb. For now.
At the hospital, Janey’s aunt Charlotte (Laila Robins) is convinced the stroke is due to Bill’s questioning. So he’s not entirely welcome there. Janey is pissed, as well, but is glad to have his company. What’s curious is watching Charlotte’s daughter Holly (Justine Lupe) with Bill, who goes to check on her while the rest of the family is bickering. We know he’s estranged from his daughter, so it’s really a beautiful bit of character development to watch them together. She is a unique, if not strange girl. Then again, Bill’s a weirdo. One subtle gesture that speaks volumes shows us that he’s one of the few adults willing to indulge her.
Briefly we flashback to 2005, as he sees a man carrying his small daughter. In the interrogation room, Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence) and Bill have a girl behind the glass. She was picked up on a DUI. This seems to be a problem for Dt. Hodges. Why? Because that’s his daughter, Allie (Maddie Hasson).
Pic 2At a restaurant, Robi and Brady meet with corporate dudes Josh (David Furr) and Jacob (Drew Matthews). They’re the typical types we’d expect. They want Brady to “open the kimono” and tell them about himself, his management philosophy. As he tells them, he also daydreams of murdering the three douche bags at the table with him. Likewise, he dreams of killing the kitchen staff; including line cook Stephen King. He sees his mother, whom he guts, pulling a bloody firetruck from her stomach.
Most of all he’s worried about mom and the bomb, naturally. He sort of weirds the corporate guys out, throwing Robi into a rage. This prompts Brady to lay his life bare, somewhat, to his boss. Using that psychopath sympathy card, which makes Robi turn human for once and give the bullshit a rest.
Irony of Chaz meeting with Deb is that he’s now married to a woman whose sister died at the hands of Mr. Mercedes, her own son, unbeknownst to her. Scary and tragic. They talk over the case, the fact the killer was never caught. Although Deb says she sometimes gets premonitory feelings, believing that soon the cops will catch him. Well, Chaz isn’t just there for a reunion. He has other, more sexual things on his mind. She refuses, making him angry, and this could push her back into the bottle.
In the meantime, Brady’s going all over town in the company vehicle looking for mom. He checks the liquor store, the cashier claims she was in and only bought a bottle of water. So Brady, he buys vodka. Hmm, curious. He then stops by the hospital, where he sees Bill with Janey outside. When Bill locks his car, he notices a second beep. Not realising the code has been copied.
At home Brady finds mom, drinking tea like nothing ever happened. He isn’t thrilled. He fakes concern, welling up the tears. Everything a normal boy would do. And I don’t doubt he does care for mom: “I dont love anyone else. No one else loves me.” But I’m pretty sure his chief worry was getting caught due to his alcoholic mother in the car with a homemade explosive device.
Pic 3Pic 3AFlashback to 2005 again, Bill and his wife Donna (Nancy Travis) are at odds. Because their daughter’s now in custody, booked. Nothing he can do from here to get his daughter out of trouble, or else be under another cop’s thumb forever. He won’t do it anymore, while his wife wants to just excuse it all over again. So we see that dad is being vilified for trying to help his daughter, the only way that’s left. Sure, it’s shit. But Bill has used his privilege as far as he’s willing to go. His daughter hates him, until she tries using emotion against him one last time.
He thinks of her so much because it’s her birthday today.
Brady bought the vodka to “wean” his mother off the booze, so she doesn’t have the DTs hard. He wants to help. Or, does he want to keep his mother drunk so he can, to an extent, control her? Seeing as how he has cameras to watch her, I’d bet on the latter. Then he watches as she has one drink, leading to another, and surely more…

Loved this episode. Love the whole series! Lehane is a particularly excellent addition, having written the episode before last, as well. His writing is fantastic, coupled with King’s wonderfully disturbed story it’s just great to watch. Then there’s the King cameo, which was a whole lot of fun. “Willow Lake” is next week.

Let IT Frighten You Until You Float

It. 2017. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Screenplay by Gary Dauberman, Cary Fukunaga, & Chase Palmer. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring Jaeden Liberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, & Jackson Robert Scott.
New Line Cinema/KatzSmith Productions/Lin Pictures
Rated R. 135 minutes.

IT 1When I walked into an empty theatre today, September 9th of 2017, it was raining heavy outside. I was soaked by the time I made it inside. Then the lights dimmed, popcorn crunching in the darkness around me as more people piled in for a hopeful fright. And suddenly I was in Derry, Maine. There, the rain was pouring, too. Just as heavy as in the parking lot of the Avalon Mall in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
I hadn’t read It until this summer, when I powered through it over the course of a week. Although I’ve been a lifelong fan of Stephen King, having been introduced by mother at an age she deemed appropriate, the length always threw me. Yet the pages flicked by, faster every day. Once it was finished I found myself staring at one of the best novels I’d ever read. Not without its faults. But even the perfect things in this world we love have those, or else they wouldn’t be real, raw, as King’s novel is, most certainly.
Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation is, in many ways, its very own entity. Simultaneously retaining the pure essence of King, his gruelling horror crossed with the beauty and pain of transitioning into adolescence. It is relentlessly creepy and boasts a cast of fantastic talent. Not only that, there’s so much emotion and sincerity in just about every frame that it feels like the screen could burst and the film could come alive at any moment.
IT 3Just as the novel does, the film opens with a scene of devastating power. This could’ve been done in any number of ways. Muschietti opts to go straight for the jugular, showing us a scene involving young Georgie Denborough that many filmmakers might not. But with a novel like It, there’s no sense in not swinging for the fences. While I have great love for the 1990 mini-series in its own ways, that was one of its biggest problems, as is the case with plenty of other lacklustre King adaptations. If you can’t go full-on for the horror, often times of a very disturbing nature with his writing, then there’s almost no sense in doing it.
Because this novel was so scary, the imagery is key. Muschietti also convinced the studio to let him tweak the screenplay Cary Fukunaga worked on, which, for some reason, omitted things like Bill’s stutter. Another big thing that was missing: the Leper. There are a bunch of scenes in the novel that are terrifying, but the Leper’s up there, for me. And even though he doesn’t speak the same lines as from the book, his appearance in the movie will freak you out.
Then there are wholly original images Muschietti’s creates. One minor change I enjoyed is switching pieces of Ben and Mike’s characters. With Ben being new to Derry, this adaptation has him as the one researching the town’s creepy past. At one point, stumbling onto an old local tragedy, Ben is led by flaming Easter eggs into the dark corners of the library stacks where It appears as a headless man coming for him. Just a weirdly compelling scene, ending with a solid scare.
And best of all, the images are all relatively new in the sense that this adaptation doesn’t try to replicate any of what the 1990 mini-series did, it goes for breaking new ground at every turn. Not only exciting, it shows the confidence of a filmmaker like Muschietti.
IT 4There’s a strong heart to this version of It. One major reason why all of King’s work appeals to many is because, despite any wild horror or sci-fi-leaning situations he gets his characters into, the people, their lives, their dreams, their fears – they feel entirely real. As we spend more time with each of the kids in the Losers’ Club, their childhoods – at least for some – will feel like your own.
A few elements concerning the kids that work as excellent translations from the novel: I could’ve used a tad more but we got brief glimpses of the effect Georgie’s death had on the relationship between Bill and his parents; Eddie’s mom is suffocating him, on the borderline of Munchausen syndrome, and his scene of defiance made me both proud of him and sad for her; how Bill and the Losers wind up in the Barrens, the search for Georgie, it somehow elevates the emotional intensity of our poor stutterer’s tragic situation; Ben made me cry, the feelings he had for Bev and how she responds throughout the film, specifically a scene near the climax, it felt like fan service for people who’ve already loved these characters; and, the apocalyptic rock fight scene, including a slice of heavy metal, truly captured the intensity and frantic action of the book’s unforgettably heroic sequence.
Perhaps my favourite scene is when Bill goes into Georgie’s room. Rather than replicate the book, or the 1990 version, Muschietti goes for a sly reference to the novel, plus a damn fine fright. First, young Bill picks up the Lego turtle, calling to mind the cosmic turtle that King so strangely and wonderfully knits into his text. Second, in the basement, he confronts the ghost of Georgie and It, resulting in a moment of unforgettable horror: “YOULL FLOAT, TOO! YOULL FLOAT, TOO!” Also, this iconic phrase is put to good use in Pennywise’s lair in the most impressive visual out of the entire film.
IT 2Bottom line is that the drama feels genuine. Moreover, through all the scares Pennywise becomes a wholly new face of terror with Bill Skarsgård behind the makeup and costume. Tim Curry holds his own place in horror history for his vision of King’s menacing, ancient, evil clown. But Skarsgård’s childish take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown instils the character with part of why the novel made him so unsettling. He’s no longer funny, not even in a dark way like Curry. Skarsgård’s clown is child-like in his amusement with the fear he creates(/enjoys/desires), so even when he’s joking around trying to be silly it’s actually just malevolent. Makes it even scarier when he becomes a horrifying, contorted, shapeshifting creature. A marvellous horror performance.
I’ve honestly never watched anything with him in it before. Seeing his talent, particularly in his expressions and facial movements (the eye trick he does is real and not CGI), shows me this is a guy I ought to keep my own eye on.
For me, only having read It just over a month ago, this film has a true charm. From the kids and the real world, human drama their stories bring to Pennywise’s dread, everything fires on all cylinders. Even the change from the late 1950s to the late 1980s works, and possibly opens up the story to newer generations in the process.
There have been a few strange takes amongst the praise. Not everyone has to dig this, when a novel you love comes to screen it won’t always hit the right spots for every fan. How could we possibly expect it to? Through it all there are going to be people disappointed, in some way, shape, or form. To me, It is the best adaptation of Stephen King’s work to date on screen. This is coming from someone who’s watched The Shawshank Redemption 100+ times, I love The Dead ZoneThe Shining. I’ll take this one over every last one. Because it gets King and his horror, how his stories read to me, and best of all is the fact the kids are out of this world.
See this one in theatre, in the dark. And you, too, will float.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 10: “The Tenth Meal”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 10: “The Tenth Meal”
Directed by Guy Ferland
Written by Christian Torpe

* For a recap & review of the penultimate episode, “The Waking Dream” – click here
Pic 1Stuck in a room together in the mall, Jay (Luke Cosgrove), Adrian (Russell Posner), Alex (Gus Birney), and Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) deal with the aftermath of believing Kevin (Morgan Spector) is dead. When Jay comforts Alex, Adrian whacks him with a paint can. Lying again, saying he and Kevin heard about the rape kit at the hospital confirming Jay was the rapist. Man, this kid is a psycho.
Elsewhere, on their way, Connor (Darren Pettie) and Nathalie (Frances Conroy) become closer, confiding in another. Sharing their secrets. Then they get to the mall, where Gus (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and everyone else are elated to see the cop, though he has no answers. Plus, he’s gone in by himself without his messiah, to check it all out. Things are getting bad, too. The rations are just about gone, at least the ones everyone else knows about. Either way, all Connor cares about is his boy.
In the shadows Kevin surveys the situation. He sneaks through the dark hallways looking for his family when he runs into Mia (Danica Curcic), who’s naturally surprised to see him alive. She also fills him in, slightly, about Jonah (Okezie Morro), though she isn’t sure where he’s gone.
Speaking of, Jonah’s tied up at the hands of Wes (Greg Hovanessian). He’s figuring things out, that he’s the superior officer. There’s more to it, but at least he’s getting out of that chair.
Pic 1AConnor goes to his son, seeing Eve and the others with him. He takes Jay away, not worried about them. That’s when Gus and a few others come for the Copelands. At the same time, Connor brings his boy to Nathalie. She laments that “nature can be so cruel” while looking at him. Jesus, this is feeling creepier by the moment. Afterwards they force Jay out into the mist, believing – without proof – in his supposed horrible crime. While we know different.
We can only wonder if he’ll die out there, or if the mist will spare him as it did Alex. What’s scariest is the righteousness of Nathalie, as well as how deeply, how strong Connor believes in her. They’re both extremely ill spiritually. It’s only gonna get worse.
Things get even wilder inside, when the outer group go completely mad. The security guard winds up putting a bullet in one of the women when she protests: “We are not your prisoners!” Now, the game’s really fucking changed. And at the very same moment, Kevin runs across Adrian in the paint section of one of the stores. The kid tries running off, but dad beats him to the punch. Literally. He kicks the shit out of him rather than listen to anything he’s got to say, until Adrian blurts out that he knows where his wife and daughter are being kept.
So many things going on, like a hurricane. Jonah’s continuing to find things out about himself, slowly. Suddenly, Mia shows up interrupting his and Wes’ conversation. Who exactly IS Jonah? Regardless, he’s leaving Mia and his other friends. He wants to go with Wes, to figure out his true identity.
Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 9.42.57 PMEve pleads for her daughter not to be thrown from the mall. When she tells Connor he MUST help, she then reveals the truth: he is the father of Alex, the reason why she’d been so adamant her daughter couldn’t be with Jay in the first place. WHOA! I suspected, for a moment. Just never thought it’d be true. Except the cop denies it, he didn’t know. So everyone calls her “sick” and a “whore” and then they’re taken to be thrown to the mist.
Kevin: “I wanna see you suffer. I want you to learn that therell be no salvation.”
Once Kevin lets go of Adrian a second, the kid lights a fire to get himself away. Now there’s a big raging inferno about to set the whole mall ablaze. As Kevin and Mia run for the entrance they find Eve and Alex, the rest of the people like an angry mob chasing away Frankenstein’s monster. Instead of let people walk all over them Kevin starts throwing fists before Gus pulls a gun on them. Everybody gets real personal, Gus taunting Kevin about his family’s secrets, others shouting “bastards” at them. Disgusting to see human beings act this way. Yet unsurprising, to say the least.
The Copelands and Mia are ran off, so they do some real running. Only once they get into the mist things become terrifying. Alex is wrapped up in a fog-like tentacle, it grips her tight, working into her mouth and filling her. Out of nowhere, who pulls her free? Jay. Then they all pile into the vehicle, safe for now. Well, except for Jay… the mist takes him instead, filling him until there’s no life left… only mist.
Meanwhile, Jonah and Wes are heading for Camp Arrowhead. To get answers. Or, is it all that easy? They’re going to see a doctor there. I’m curious as to whether Wes might lie to him, solely to get him back there. Maybe our man’s true identity is something more complex.
Pic 3People at the mall are surprised to hear Nathalie speak of being “natures messenger” and that the Black Spring is upon their town again. She goes on and on, as everybody listens, stupefied. Between her and the Chief Heisel, no telling what the law and religion can do together.
What’s better than that? The angry of a father. Kevin decides on busting open the mall entrance with their vehicle before leaving. They’ve got a nice sturdy military vehicle, as well. It does the trick. When they get stuck, Connor helps them get loose. He doesn’t stay, either. Alex calls him away, and he leaves with her. No more are the law and religion together. I never saw that coming, honestly.
As Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” plays, Nathalie basks in the mist as it seeps through the mall. Others flee from it, or try, screaming. Most, if not all of them die. And Nathalie, she sees her husband, their dead baby, which she proceeds to breastfeed. One of the WILDEST, CREEPIEST montages I’ve seen in ages. Moments later Nathalie turns into a skeletal corpse herself and dies. Nobody’s safe.
Away from the mall flee the Copelands, Connor, Vic (Erik Knudsen), and Mia together. Into uncertainty, but together. On another road, Wes and Jonah go for the military base, not realising Adrian’s lying in the trunk. Everyone gone their separate ways.
Along the road Kevin an the others see a train on the tracks nearby. They rush for the station, hoping it’ll stop. It does. Unfortunately it’s no help. People in prison jumpsuits are tossed out, military men with assault rifles in the train cars.
What exactly is happening? Kevin knows: “Theyre feeding it.”
Pic 4Pic 4AOne of the best season finales of any show I’ve seen in the past couple years. Just powerful! Ran the gamut, from fear to black humour to devastating emotion, and all of it in between. I really hope there’s a Season 2, if not it’ll be a huge loss. Great horror television. Does Stephen King proud.

Mr. Mercedes – Episode 1: “Pilot”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by David E. Kelley

* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “On Your Mark” – click here
Pic 1We start in 2009, in Ohio. Extremely early in the morning at a City Jobs Fair. People are lined up outside through a roped walkway. Everyone waits patiently, some introducing themselves to one another. Others aren’t entirely happy to be there, not into the socialising. Regardless, everyone there’s starved for work, from the older folk to a young mother with her baby and every sort in between.
Suddenly, a Mercedes pulls up. Lights beaming onto the crowd. The driver slides on a clown mask, breathing heavy. Then he drives directly through the people, barrelling forward at top speed. People scream, running away fast as they can.
But some don’t escape. The driver ploughs over them, including the young mom and her child, a man helping her. Tons and tons of bodies lie bloody, crunched, smashed to bits in his wreckage. Holy christ, what a brutal sequence! When the smoke clears, Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) turns up on the scene to survey the carnage and begin an investigation along with fellow lawman Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence). The senselessness isn’t immediately evident. Pete thinks the driver “lost control” of his vehicle. Hodges knows better.
Pic 1AWe jump ahead, two years later. Looks as if Dt. Hodges is a bit rough around the edges, lying in his own wreckage now. Mostly consisting of beer cans, cigarettes, and peanuts. Bit of a mess, in more ways than one. He’s got a lot of time to himself these days. Him and his friend Fred, the tortoise in the backyard. Seems they’re sort of at the same pace. He still has dinner with Pete, keeping in touch after his retirement.
One thing’s clear, though – Bill’s got unfinished business. Like many cops who’ve retired with unsolved cases. He doesn’t even feel like himself. While Pete and a local waitress named Sheila (Tuesday Beebe) try keeping him on track, as does nosy neighbour Ida Silver (the incomparable Holland Taylor), there’ll always be something not right with him. He just slides further into the bottle.
Bill: “Ever notice everythings upside down on a spoon?”
Sheila: “Maybe thats how life is, hon. Spoons just got it figured out.”
Perfectly with The Ramones playing “Pet Sematary” on the radio, we’re introduced to Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). He works at a store dealing in electronics, computers, all that sort of thing. He’s got a regular life, he and co-worker dealing with shitty customers and a corporate cut-out boss. And his boss, oh, man: a piece of work! He’s basically jealous of Brady’s talent with computers, cutting him down a peg at any corner possible.
We see that Ida’s nosy because she’s looking for a companion, at least a sexual one. But underneath all that – she’s a proud lady, after all – there’s a genuine concern about Bill. She doesn’t want to see him waste away, she’s seen it before. She doesn’t want him to have “retreated from the living” just because of retirement. So, despite her sort of snooty attitude at first, she’s genuinely worried the man doesn’t have any purpose. And without purpose, without telos, what IS a man?
Pic 2Well, there’s still a purpose. Deep down there somewhere.
Particularly after he gets an e-mail addressed from Mr. M. Subject line: Long Time. We see a clown mask briefly. Then the screen switches to a smiley face, speaking to him with an electronically disguised voice. Taunting about his retirement, his weight gain, and the fact he never solved his case. Up come a bunch of pictures of the victims driven down outside the City Jobs Fair. He even tells the former detective he wore a condom that night, for fear he’d ejaculate and leave evidence. The whole video is wildly disturbing, and totally terrifying.
So if there wasn’t purpose before, if he didn’t consciously care about it already, now Bill is paying attention. Now, he has something he must do. If not, he’ll likely suffer the rest of retirement in a haze of insanity.
We also cut back to Brady, his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch) worrying he’s working too many hours. That he’s “all work and no play” – sound familiar, Stephen King fans? Similar to another fella named Jack. She worries more about him, that he’s never had a girlfriend, that he’s withdrawn, even if he’s a smart guy. Oh, and it turns out mommy has other things on her mind. Things no mother ought to be doing with her son, y’know, like incest. Yikes. Although Brady leaves before things go too far. Instead he spends time alone stroking one out rather than go all the way. Man, that’s unsettling.
If you didn’t know already, Brady is Mr. Mercedes.
Pic 3Pic 3AThe fun will-they won’t-they between Ida and Bill continues. She’s not happy she showed him a nude on her phone and he wouldn’t look at it. She insists he looks. He does, if not a bit reluctantly. I hope they continue this relationship, on any level, because Gleeson and Taylor together’s like some kind of sweet magic.
When Bill clicks a link on his computer with a smiley face, it goes to a short few clips of Mr. Mercedes driving through the people in the crowd that day, the clown mask, his distorted laughter. A fucking evil thing to witness.
Bill: “Now personally I think closure is overfuckingrated, but the nightmares, the panic attacks I could do without.”
So he’s poking around more, asking Pete questions about the case. His friend doesn’t want him to obsess anymore, like he did at the end of his career. Later, he ends up at the electronics store where Brady works. He’s looking for a surveillance camera, though he doesn’t come in contact with the young man. A slick moment of near chance.
Afterwards he heads to a towing lot. A place he’s evidently been quite a few times. There lies the bloody, beat up Mercedes kept in storage. Just seeing it leaves the retired cop in agony, imagining all the people being run over in those seconds of brutality. He sits in the driver’s seat, as if imagining himself driving.
Pic 5At home he gets the camera installed with help from a neighbour kid who does stuff around the house for him regularly, including with the latest e-mail business. And who else is rolling around the neighbourhood? It’s Brady. One of his other jobs is as a Mr. Friendly’s ice cream truck driver, serving up scoops for the kids, and fucking with Hodges, tossing a tennis ball with a smiley face into the yard for him to find.
Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 5.15.26 PMMan, oh, man! I did not expect the first episode to be so damn good. Much as I love King, I’m always sceptical going into a film or television adaptation of his work. Which is a bonus when it’s actually fucking great. So much to love here, and not least is the use of punk rock in the soundtrack. Love it!
“On Your Mark” is next week, so stay tuned. We’re going to get deeper into this creepy little world of Mr. King’s together.


The Mist – Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Christian Torpe

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Withdrawal” – click here
Pic 1Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro) wakes in the woods with a dog named Rufus. It’s almost as if he isn’t sure he’s himself: “I am Bryan and you are Rufus,” he says assuring himself. All around him a fog, a thick mist wafts over the forest, over everything. The dog runs in and Bryan chases him. But inside the mist is something terrible, it guts the poor animal to nearly nothing, a pelt left and innards, blood splattered all over the ground.
A woman named Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland) is chastised for teaching topics not meant to be covered in the curriculum at her school, such as sexual education. She’s taken it upon herself, since it was taken out, to teach it at her discretion. This lands her with a temporary leave from work. She and her husband Kevin (Morgan Spector) discuss things, deciding to take it all as it comes. They’ve got a good family, nice neighbours including Natalie Raven (Frances Conroy). It’s a typical small town, people watching the football game and cheering the local boys.
Then there’s Mia Lambert (Danica Curcic), being held in a barn by some man, having the shit kicked out of her. Calls her “junkie” and knocks her around. Before she stabs him in the gut with a pitchfork.
Christ, there’s a lot going on in this place. A town full of wild characters, normal characters, everything in between.
Pic 1AKevin and his family are interesting, he loves his wife and at the same time recognises she can be cold, particularly with their daughter Alex (Gus Birney). Later at a party when her father lets her go out, Alex and Adrian (Russell Posner) run into a bit of trouble. Until football nice guy Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove) jumps in to help Alex after another player calls him a “faggot” in front of everybody.
At the police station, Hunt runs in talking about “something in the mist” and his dead dog. He wants to get a gun, so they naturally believe he’s gone mad. Local cop Connor Heisel (Darren Pettie) throws him in a cell, as he raves about the thing in the most, that it’s coming for them.
Mia goes to her mother’s house, only it isn’t her place anymore. She’s dead, someone else lives there now. This woman’s got history, a deep and dark one. Look forward to seeing more of her. The characters in general are very quickly developed, well rounded, in the sense it’s easy to feel part of their lives. All the better for when the horror begins.
Problems start when Alex tells her parents she blacked out as someone led her upstairs at the party, after she was drinking. Fuck. Someone raped her. She blames herself, but mom assures her it isn’t her fault. Turns out Adrian knows what happened, claiming that Jay did it. Furthermore, Eve is pissed with her husband for letting their daughter go to that party. It’s nobody’s fault except for the dirty rapist.
The cops ask Bryan a few questions. He mentions he’s homeless, doesn’t remember his Social Security Number. They treat him like an asshole instead of being either bit understanding, throwing him up against the bars and acting aggressive. Ah, American law enforcement!
In her garden, Natalie sees a bunch of toads come out, other insects and things acting strangely, birds flying away from a patch of woods in the sky. An eerie omen.
Pic 2Tests at the hospital are tricky, confirming a drug in her system, meaning she was passed out. Although there’s no trauma, which of course in a fucking court would cast all kinds of doubt because humans are idiots. Meanwhile, Alex finds only slight comfort in Adrian at home. They know how the town will act in the face of football star Jay being accused, refusing to believe he could be anything but wonderful. A few jocks already vandalise the street outside with the word WHORE. Simultaneously, Connor coaches his son along. Sort of assuming he’s guilty, only telling him he won’t go to jail. Yikes. What a mess they’re into, all of them.
Mia’s broken into a barn out back of her mother’s, digging up a bag. The owner ambushes her, keeping her at gunpoint. She gets the drop on him, yet has to leave without her satchel of cash and passports and whatever else. Cops catch up with her, though. She’s thrown in prison right next to poor Bryan.
Eve wants to take her daughter out of the house, leaving Kevin behind. She doesn’t feel it’s safe there for Alex. Mom knows about “guys like Jay” and she needs to get them away from there, at least for a few days. All the while that mist keeps on creeping.
And Natalie, along with her reluctant husband Benedict (Derek McGrath), she’s a bit of a conspiracy nut. She’s reading up on things, on “nature turning sour.” She wonders if there’s a connection with what she saw earlier, looking at microfiche of newspaper from 1860.
Pic 3Outside the police station are noises, car horns and a crash. The mist is swallowing the town, opening wide above it and covering everything. Alex drops hints about her mother’s past, saying that the town knows she was a slut; prompts a strong reaction from Eve. Did something bad happen to her? With that mist growing, Kevin, Connor, the other officers, they’re clouded in it. Cell reception drops out. And one cop taking selfies in the foggy air meets a pack of bugs swarming him, devouring him.
People don’t know any better, so they head out into the mist. It’s so thick they literally can’t see more than several feet ahead of them. A man with a gun appears, not knowing if what he’s seeing is real before shooting Benedict right in the throat, sending Natalie off on her own, stumbling into the church to the arms of Father Romanov (Dan Butler).
Kevin and Connor are about to leave, but the former runs in to get Adrian. He’s left with the decision of leaving Bryan and Mia, or taking them, as well. Mia does a good job talking him into letting them go, clashing with the kid a bit first. She’s a bad motherfucker. Outside, Connor leaves them behind like a coward.
What we can see is all the conflict in the town that’s about to be stuck in close quarters, every hateful remark, every nasty rumour, every secret bound together in a tight spaces with others of the same kind. Whereas The Mist we know stuck to a smaller space, it looks as if – at least at first – some of the groups of people will be separated in various claustrophobic locations.
Pic 4One perk? A woman who says Alex “lied about getting raped” walks directly into the mist, like a dummy, and the people inside the shopping centre watch as she has half her face torn off, then gets sucked back into the mist by something unseen. SCARY, and holds a bit of retribution for that woman’s awfulness. Nothing any better at the station, as the officer covered in bugs barely has a face left, either. Mia has to put a bullet in his head, saving Kevin when the cop nearly thrashes him.
Only now they’re all stuck, the mist outside, and all their demons raging inside.
Pic 5Great first episode! Was quite wary when I heard about it, but I love Stephen King. Huge fan. This story was always a good one, very chilling and spooky. The film was great, so I’m now looking forward to what they’ll do with this season.
“Withdrawal” is next week. Honestly, I might have withdrawals until then. Because I’m revved up by this pilot.

Fear Will Eat You Alive in Stephen King’s IT

Stephen King’s It. 1990. Part I – Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, Screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen. Part II – Directed & Written by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Adam Faraizl, Tim Curry, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Seth Green, Ben Heller, Jarred Blancard, Tony Dakota, & Olivia Hussey.
Green-Epstein Productions/Konisberg-Sanitsky Company/Lorimar Television.
Rated PG. 192 minutes.

posterNo secret, Stephen King is one of my very favourite authors. Of all time. He is fantastic and tells a story like no other. His decidedly creepy aura is present in all his stories, no matter if it’s a straight up horror, or whether an intense personal drama. He always brings something with him that keeps things real, no matter how far out they get, and because of that his stories wind up all the more horrific.
It is a wonderfully terrifying bit of fiction. A long novel, though worth every page. Tommy Lee Wallace (directed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, wrote Amityville II: The Possession, played Michael Myers at one point in John Carpenter’s Halloween) adapts most of it fairly well into a two-part television movie. Of course it’s not as nasty as the book. Then again, not many writers are capable of getting to the dark heart of human beings quite as thoroughly as Mr. King. Plus, it was on TV. That being said, for its time It pushed the boundaries slightly in regards to what you can get away with re: television movies and mini-series violence (et cetera).
The largest part of what Wallace does well is portray the portion of King’s work which deals with the kids. Part II is nowhere near as good as Part I, but for how scary the first half plays Wallace can rest easy knowing he terrified a generation of kids shitless. Ultimately, a flawed film and adaptation, yet one that still manages to bear its teeth in moments of outrageous horror, drawing on the childhood fears King does so expertly in his masterpiece of a novel.

Certainly you can’t forget how well a clown can creep people out. Not to mention with Tim Curry behind the makeup giving it his absolute best. Our societal fear of clowns is likely based in how people feel uncomfortable with someone acting friendly, warm, yet being sinister underneath, hiding their true intentions. It’s why when people found out John Wayne Gacy was killing young men and hiding them in his crawlspace under the house, the fact he used to dress up as Pogo the Clown and do kids parties became the stuff of pure nightmare. Well, It doesn’t just come as a clown. However, to all the kids at once and to each of them in general when he shows up, he’s Pennywise. Because even as adults that lingering childhood fear still clings on hard. What Wallace uses is the brilliance and depth of Curry as an actor to make the Pennywise form of It feel the most chilling.
Pennywise is a terror right from the opening scene. No time to feel as if he’s friendly. Curry starts out with a searing stare of evil eyes at the child in his path, which never fails to get me. When Georgie meets Pennywise at the sewer drain, there’s still a spooky feeling. Although Curry gives a more friendly introduction – problem is, we know what he’s up to, and that makes it brutally tense. The scene is much scarier this way, even after we know Pennywise is evil. He uses that clownish demeanour to lure poor Georgie. Just like the concept of the clown itself, this scene works by acting sweet on the outside, only to hold at its centre a rotten core.
One thing I love that weaves through both the child and adult moments is how It’s tricks, from bloody sinks to balloons, are only visible to the characters from the Losers’ Club. Such as the earliest instance when Bill (Jonathan Brandis) sees his mother holding the photo album and blood seeps out of Georgie’s pictures all over her hands; a truly eerie moment. Later, we see Bev (Emily Perkins) and her father Al (Frank C. Turner) in the bathroom, as he looks for what she alerted him to in the drain: blood is everywhere, though he sees none of it. The sinking feeling of these scenes is perfectly ominous, like pages torn right from King’s book.

One of It‘s flaws is that the novel was so big and packed in an immensely heavy load of characters and story, so in three hours it’s tough to pack the material of nearly 1,200 pages into maybe about 180, if that. There are certain King elements either toned down or entirely removed, such as the brutal attack of a young gay man who later meets his end at the hands of Pennywise, and different incarnations of It like a rotting leper pursuing young Eddie, among other creatures and forms. The violence is overall tame, as compared to the sometimes vicious writing in King’s book. For instance, Henry Bowers – in the book – witnesses a much more devastating, traumatic event which drives him crazy – a brutal decapitation at the hands of It, appearing to him as Frankenstein’s monster mauling his friends.
All the same, there are great things in both parts. Mostly it’s Part I that I dig. The shower scene with Eddie (Adam Faraizl) is particularly unnerving, to me. Eddie’s situation preys on the vulnerability of having to be naked in the shower as a young man, which is bad enough. In addition, Pennywise shows up to torture him. He uses that fear and insecurity of many boys growing up experiencing such dread as the locker room and shower during junior high school. Wallace does a lot of fun things with the kids being haunted by It. Some of that crosses over into Part II. I’m always disturbed by when grownup Beverly (Annette O’Toole) goes to her dad’s place in Derry, only to find an old woman who It inhabits – she goes from a wretched crone to a dead version of Bev’s father with no eyes. Super scary. Love that. Aside from specific bits, there’s more often than not a palpable air of suspense, wondering what eeriness lies behind the next rock we turn over along with the Losers’ Club. The film has an exciting atmosphere in that dread-filled kind of sense, which makes up for the uneven bits in the screenplay.

I feel like It, for 1990, is worth a 4-star rating. Wallace didn’t do all he could, but gave it his best and most creepy effort. You can’t deny there’s some good filmmaking in between the mistakes. When the kids have the picture and then Pennywise appears, this sequence is spectacular! Crossing from black-and-white into colour, Curry is deliciously bloodcurdling, as well as the fact the shot makes it feel as if Pennywise talks right to the viewer, putting us in the seat of the kids. A bunch of great moments like that make those flawed portions seem less worrisome.
I’m excited to see the new version, I honestly think there’s going to be some enjoyable stuff. Forever I’ll find this one particularly spooky. Curry is unhinged throughout the performance, to a point even I can’t stand to look at his clown face; they don’t bother me as a rule. Yet that’s how good he is, he makes me feel gross about clowns. Not often does a villain stick out so well, especially in a film that has its fair share of misses. Above anything, Pennywise is fantastic horror. The writing in Part I sets up the best terror you can imagine, and though it’s squandered a bit in the second part Wallace does keep you hooked with a thick atmosphere along with good actors doing their best. Don’t expect perfection and you won’t be too disappointed. This is still a scary flick, doesn’t matter. Even if Part I were all we had there’s frightful horror to enjoy every step of the way.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: Darabont’s King Adaptation is a Slice of Perfection

The Shawshank Redemption. 1994. Directed & Written by Frank Darabont; based on the novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King from his collection Different Seasons.
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore, Brian Libby, & Mark Rolston.
Castle Rock Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 142 minutes.

Pic2We all know that The Shawshank Redemption is pretty much the most well regarded adaptation of Stephen King’s writing. There are some other great ones. As a horror fanatic, I do love Pet Sematary and The MistCarrie, among many more. But the greatness of King’s writing doesn’t always come through, even in some of the decently made films. Certainly not in the real abortions that have crawled onscreen like The Mangler (botched an awesome story of modern witchcraft for cheap and flashy horror) or the middle of the road adaptations such as Apt Pupil that are creepy enough but sanitise King to a degree where his original themes are nowhere near as strong.
The Shawshank Redemption is up there with the best of King adapted to film. If not right at the very top of the heap. Perhaps because it has everything you’d expect from one of his stories: good characters, interesting dialogue, and the darkness for which he’s known so well. Too many people consider him a strict ‘horror author’ but that’s only if they’ve never dug into his catalogue. Yes, he writes a lot of creepy stuff, plenty of horrific stories from novels down to the short stuff. Yet above all else he is a storyteller. He specialises, no matter the genre where you stick him, in getting the reader involved, drawing us in to a place of familiarity where we understand and know his characters before they’re plunged into some unpredictable, tense situation. You can put those characters in a jail, in a post-apocalyptic landscape, a far off fantastical version of the United States of America, or stuck in a car. With King, it’s always going to be interesting. And it just so happens Frank Darabont is the most capable director who’s proven themselves up the point of this writing in regards to adapting these tales for the screen. This is one of the most revered films for a reason. It isn’t just because liking it is popular, or something foolish. The Shawshank Redemption is a top notch work of cinema. One of the best out of the 1990s, and a towering force of dramatic power amongst films of its kind.
Pic3Part of why I’ve always so hugely admired Darabont’s work on this picture is that he took an excellent novella and adapted it brilliantly. The storytelling in the Different Seasons section labelled Hope Springs Eternal – “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” – is expert stuff from King. He’s one of my favourite writers because of his ability to really get us into the rhythm of his characters. The novella starts us right out in the perspective of Red (played in the film by Mr. Morgan Freeman a.k.a The God Damn Man). Instead of doing that immediately in the screenplay Darabont opts to give us a little preview of Andy Dufresne (the equally amazing Tim Robbins), as we see him the night of the crime he says he didn’t commit, a brief scene in court. Then we start into Red’s point of view. What I like about that is we’re given Andy’s perspective outside the walls before encroaching on prison territory, where Red is the man to follow. This opening sort of mirrors the entrance into jail that we experience alongside Andy, taking us from one side of the gate to the other. Almost chilling, in a way.
Moreover, Darabont generally sticks to the staples of the novella. Something I dig about short stories and novellas is that often their natural length is pretty conducive to adaptation onto film. With big novels that are between 300-500 pages, or more, you run the risk of omitting too much, omitting the wrong bits and pieces, which generally becomes a figurative minefield for a screenwriter. That’s why, far as I’m concerned, so much of King’s great works end up as utter shite on film. “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” is a 96-page novella, and if you work off the 1 page = 1 minute rule (not always applicable but just for general purposes) that comes out to just over an hour and a half. It’s feasable to see how Darabont was able to stretch that out a little bit extra to include particular sequences, visuals, so on. Whereas if you take a massive King book, some of the 800-1,000 epics, to try making a single film out of ALL THAT is far too ambitious. Maybe it’s why I trust Darabont most out of anybody else to adapt these awesome stories. He knows how to navigate the writing.
The strength of the relationship between Andy and Red is what sells the original story, so it’s no surprise the same goes for Darabont’s film. Even in the way Red talks about Andy, narrating the novella, you can feel the relationship in his tone. Only gets better for the fact Morgan Freeman plays the role. He has that great voice, and more than that he’s such a thoughtful, intelligent actor. He has a ton of range while still always giving us that star quality for which he’s known. His performance makes Red incredibly vivid. By the time the finale rolls round you feel as if you’ve spent all those years with him in prison. Of course the same goes for Tim Robbins in one of his best performances, up there with The PlayerJacob’s Ladder and a few others. His version of Andy Dufresne is every bit as affable, calm and collected as King’s characterisation. Then there’s the stretch where everyone wonders if Andy is about to kill himself, right before his big escape attempt – Robbins pulls you into that despair Andy’s feeling, that cold, dead look in his eyes, as he thinks about Zihuatanejo in Mexico. A bunch of other scenes reflect that empty void in Andy after all those years. However, it’s this moment between him and Red where he actually feels hopeless, hearing his long-time friend admit to being institutionalised himself and feeling like “shitty pipe dreams” aren’t worth entertaining. That scene could have been plenty less intense and emotional. Having these two men, specifically Robbins, together acting their asses off pushes it forward to be the calm before the storm. This is the scene preceding the plot’s climax. Without the emotional depth and range of Robbins, as well as Freeman, the reveal of what happens next would never reach the heights it does. Even if you see the big finish coming, even if you’ve read the novella by King, the acting takes us to that special place where the unexpected grabs you and doesn’t let go. Let’s hope they never remake this one. I don’t hate remakes, though I can’t see any other pair doing these roles justice to make it anything better than what both Freeman and Robbins accomplished under Darabont’s direction.
Pic4Like a lot of other cinephiles, I’ve watched The Shawshank Redemption many, many times. Literally, it’s probably been close to 200 times since first seeing it a little over two decades ago. It was one of those VHS tapes I threw on when coming home from school, eating lunch and watching 20 minutes before heading back to class. I’d view it in bits and pieces, sometimes as a whole. There are scenes I could just turn on to watch then put it away again. Yes, I’m a die hard Stephen King fan. I have a ton of his books on my shelf, I’ve read most of what he’s published, including his short stories and non-fiction writing texts. So there’s that bias, I guess. But this is just a damn good slice of cinema. Everything from the acting to the production, the period look of the prison and other locations, it’s all done to perfection. Roger Deakins as director of photography, giving us that signature look of his filled with extraordinary techniques which help this prison film look better than most. Sometimes movies with voice-overs, particularly those with lots, can get boring. Like Scorsese, Darabont is able to keep us enthralled, and his adaptation of King’s work allows us to indulge in a ton of story without every feeling bogged down.
I could preach the good word forever. Just know, this is absolutely one of the greatest films. No. Doubt. Rag all you want on nostalgia, or whatever. This is a work of incredible mastery, from the top down.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer

* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
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1983 in Hawkins, Indiana. At the U.S. Department of Energy in a high tech laboratory an emergency breaks out. A scientists scrambles madly for an elevator. He doesn’t make it out.
At the same time, people in Hawkins go about their lives. A group of kids play Dungeons and Dragons, or something similar. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are the kind of nerd I was growing up. They play like it’s real. For ten hours.
Already we gain an idea of who these kids are, which is great. Will especially seems honest: “The Demogorgonit got me,” he admits to Mike, even though they all tried cheating him with their last roll. Dustin and Lucas are the more funny of the two, each with their own personality.
But when Will is on his way home something strange happens. He topples off his bike and then rushes home quick as possible after hearing an eerie noise in the road. Only that noise, whatever’s behind it, has followed him home. Props to little Will: he goes right for a gun in the shed. Although leaving the house couldn’t have been good. Still, he stands with the gun aimed, ready to fire. When the light in the shed starts burning bright, hot, vivid, it goes out.
And Will is gone.
Loved this opening eight-minute sequence. Then we get a great, simple credits sequence that also has some wonderful music. The score is solid so far, adding that ’80s feel, throwing back to Carpenter scores and all sorts of things. Dig it.
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Chief Hopper (David Harbour) is a simple kind of guy. He sleeps on the couch. Smokes cigarettes while he gets ready in front of the mirror. Pops his pills with beer. Like a real American. Strange things are happening in his jurisdiction, though. Everyone experienced odd power events the night previous. An unexplained event.
At home, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) can’t find young Will. Nowhere to be found. She naturally calls over to the Wheeler house, but neither Mike nor his parents know where Will is now. Everyone starts to get a little on edge at this point. And at school, none of the boys find him either.
We’ve got a great Stephen King-esque group of outsiders in the main group of kids. They get picked on at school, they’re loner-types who are warm hearted and teased because of their unwillingness to be like all the idiots. Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a goody two shoes sort, mixed up with a douchey young guy, so they’ve all got their problems.
Hopper finds Joyce in his office worried sick about her son. He’s not exactly concerned. He plays it off with statistics, suggesting that essentially boys will be boys. She knows something is up. Will isn’t like all the other boys. He’s sensitive, sensible. But Hopper’s own disillusion with the boring job of small town chief makes him complacent.
The problems at the U.S. Dept. of Energy are now being investigated. A man named Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is brought in. He and a team of scientists head down into the affected area to find it in a state of horror. They come across an unsettling creature of some kind latched and growing in the corner of a lab. They mention a girl, as well.
Elsewhere, a kid in a hospital gown makes her way into a diner. She eats a load of fries before getting caught by Benny (Chris Sullivan) the owner.

Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are brought in to the principal’s office. Chief Hopper wants to know more about Will, trying to piece together what happened, where he may have gone after leaving Mike’s house. Certainly they want to go investigate on their own now despite Hopper’s warnings.
Joyce and Jonathan are out looking for Will everywhere. None of his regular haunts prove to be hiding him. Simultaneously, Benny is dealing with the kid he’s found. The girl won’t talk. She has 11 tattooed on his skin. For now, that’s her name: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). And creepy enough, she can do some weird mind tricks while Benny’s out of the room.
Poor Will is still missing. His bike turns up, but not a sign of him. Slowly you can see Hopper is starting to realise there may be more to this disappearance than a simple explanation.
The phones in Hawkins are tapped. Likely the government, as they’re trying to contain whatever went down in the Dept. of Energy. Over at her place, Joyce is trying to track down Will. She gives her ex Lonnie a call, getting no answer, or at least not one that she wants. Then Hopper turns up with Will’s bike. The possibility of something dangerous becomes clearer. What begins to happen is that suspicion is cast on the home life of the Byers family. Hopper finds signs of struggle, he goes to the shed and discovers the gun and the bullets out. Doesn’t bode well.

Trusty Mike is dying to get out and help find his buddy. Yet his mother wants to lock everybody down until Will is found. Everyone else seems to think it’s all no big deal. A young boy knows when his friend is in trouble, and nerds are particularly aware and susceptible to the supernatural. At least in fiction!
Everybody’s in the woods at night searching for the boy. Mike uses D&D logic to convince his friends they need to go the extra mile and find their friend on their own.
At the diner, Benny’s still doing his best to take care of Eleven. Someone from Social Services shows up. Or are they really? Sort of fast, especially back in the early ’80s. Maybe the phones being tapped around Hawkins have something to do with that. After Benny takes a bullet it becomes obvious. And now Eleven is trapped in by Dr. Brenner and a crew of his cronies. She makes it out with some of those powers of hers, luckily finding her way into the night.
The loyal buddies work their way into the woods. Albeit a bit reluctant, as one would be. But their fearlessness prevails.

Joyce and Jonathan are busy trying not to fall apart. The older brother blames himself. Surely mom does, too. Soon a strange phone call comes through – weird noises, an electrical pulse. Joyce believes it was Will trying to contact her.
In the woods, the boys stumble across Eleven. Will she be able to help them find their friend?
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What an awesome opening episode. I’ve waited on Stranger Things so long it feels like unwrapping an awesome gift at Xmas. This is definitely a bingeworthy television series. Excited to see the next one “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” and keep diving further into this mysterious, enjoyable stew of ’80s nostalgia, good writing, and compelling acting.

Apt Pupil is an Atmospheric but Watered Down King Adaptation

Apt Pupil. 1998. Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Brandon Boyce; based on the novella by Stephen King from the collection Different Seasons.
Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Joshua Jackson, Mickey Cottrell, Michael Reid MacKay, Ann Dowd, Bruce Davison, James Karen, Marjorie Lovett, David Cooley, Blake Anthony Tibbetts, Heather McComb, Katherine Malone, Grace Sinden, & David Schwimmer. Canal+/Phoenix Pictures/Bad Hat Harry Productions.
Rated 14A. 111 minutes.

POSTER Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Bryan Singer’s directing. Not that he’s bad. There’s something about his style that doesn’t always attract me. I’ve not seen his feature debut, though The Usual Suspects is a great film; slightly overrated, but great nonetheless. Sometimes I feel like Singer is a bit too focused on the look of things and forgets there needs to be proper substance.
Apt Pupil suffers partly because of that disease. In a quest to get the atmosphere and the mood correctly dark, as well as unsettling, Singer works off the adapted screenplay from Brandon Boyce, which is the first problem. The original novella by Stephen King is an intense, tight little tale that unwinds into an absolute massacre, both figuratively and literally. Boyce does the source material a disservice by both watering down some of the more disturbing aspects, replacing that with weak storytelling. However, resting the weight of the movie on the shoulders of Ian McKellen and the 14-year-old Brad Renfro was a wise casting choice that ultimately transcends what mistakes were made in the writing. The film is nowhere near perfect, definitely not close to being as good the novella. Yet I dig it. With an eerie mood and a feeling of pure evil hovering around every last frame, Apt Pupil is a wonderful character study of two men at highly different points in their life: one is a former Nazi Sturmbannführer that worked in the concentration camps during World War II named Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), now living in California as Arthur Denker and hiding his identity nearing the end of his life; the other, a young high school student named Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) on the verge of starting his life, ready to graduate, and harbouring a darkness within that desperately seems to want to get out.
The juxtaposed scene of Dussander at dinner with everybody then hearing his various conversations playing through Todd’s head is perfect. First of all we see how the duality of these type of men, former Nazis, is part of their terror. Dussander moved from a life of hideous war crimes to one of a quiet neighbourhood old man, the kind who can sit with normal people and talk with them while leaving that other life somewhere behind him.
Later on, Dussander starts to fall back into his old ways. This is where we see that whereas he’s able to hide his true identity so well there’s still only a very thin skin holding it inside. It all begins when Todd makes him put the SS costume on. Immediately we see the regression into that brainwashed state of marching, saluting, and this signals a change. Not long after Dussander tries to put a cat in his oven, though isn’t successful. Literally moving back to the ways of the concentration camp. There’s also a parallel between Dussander, his past, and the sinister intent of Todd. He is a little twisted; more so in the novella. But Renfro’s Todd is shown to be sick in his own way.
One of the scenes that gets to me most is when Todd showers at school, then finds himself transported to the showers of Auschwitz, the frail and skinny bodies standing around him. There’s a very King feel here. Ripped straight from the pages of his writing almost. I also think the brief with the cat is great because it shows that lingering feeling in Dussander that wants to start killing again; the fact he attempts to put it in an oven is scarily perfect. I’m also a huge fan of that last moment set to “Das Ist Berlin” (performed by Liane Augustin & The Boheme Bar Trio) – without spoiling anything overtly there’s this powerful use of the look in Dussander’s eyes, the editing with Todd and his guidance counsellor/the basketball rim (that gives a feeling of sport; in that the young kid sees his actions as a form of play). That whole finishing scene really puts a cap on the visual elements, as one of the better executed sequences overall.
This brings me to my biggest problem: the writing. I know the original novella is risky, it’s a touchy story to try adapting closely. But I can’t help feeling that to be honest to the prevalent themes you’ve really got to keep many of the elements King put into the plot. For instance – SPOILERS FOR BOOK READERS AHEAD! – instead of Dussander forcing Todd into the basement where the kid is in turn forced to kill the vagrant (played fabulously by Elias Koteas), in the story Todd kills homeless vagrants, and the story takes place over about four years, so there’s this really monstrous side to the kid that comes out even more than in this screenplay. Most of all it’s the brutality we’re missing. In a story already tackling the Holocaust and the obsession many develop with it, I’m not sure why Boyce didn’t try to retain a few of the more intense, savage pieces. I suppose because King doesn’t do much, first or last, to make Todd Bowden too sympathetic. The film goes too hard at trying to humanise both men, slightly, instead of showing the monster within each of them, one that grows in a symbiotic sense as Todd and Dussander go on similar yet separate paths.
This film is due for a remake by a writer and director willing to go the full way. Singer’s effort captures a fascinating atmosphere, it contains two powerful performances that are worth EVERY second and every penny. Unfortunately there’s a lot lacking in comparison to what is a pleasantly shocking story by the master of horror, Mr. King. I’m not always a stickler for screenwriters keeping dead on with a novel or other source material. In this case the whole film would have been better served by circling more closely the original intentions of the author.