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Archive for January, 2022

Last Weeks Pulls (Week of 1/26/22)

I’d actually intended to talk this week about Nick Spencer’s run on Spider-Man last year. About how much I really appreciate him and his contributions to continuity. The man knows his stuff, and fixed one of the greatest problems in Spider-Man continuity, specifically that of the Stacy twins. But he also added in some new twists both with Mephisto and his relationship to Spider-Man on a grander scale, as well as the curse he laid on the Osbornes and how that figures into the whole overarching mythology. Good stuff. Pity it’s so gloomy and the read was such a downer. I’m glad I saw these changes made, but I didn’t enjoy reading it… And that’s really what you’re going to Spider-Man for isn’t it?

Transitioning into this new “beyond“ story line featuring Ben Riley taking over for Spidey again… I mean it’s just the aftermath of the clone saga again mixed in with a dash of corporate superhero themes that I’ve already seen a thousand times in both the Avengers and Youngblood. And of course, we’ve gotta find a good excuse for REAL Spidey to be out of the way, so radiation poisoning and hospitalization will keep Peter Parker tucked in a hospital bed until we need him again, right?

In Amazing Spider-Man 87, Peter is actually up and about. In fact, we’re going into something more of a learning curve storyline. Peters doing the superhero equivalent physical therapy, with black cat and Captain America trying to train him back up to Spider-Man levels of skill. I feel like I should hate this, but actually…

One of the big problems I feel Spider-Man has developed is we’ve lost a lot of what makes Spider-Man unique. There’s a plethora of various clones and copycats and spider people running around now. It’s not just SpiderGwen or Miles Morales, at one point during that Spencer run, we had both of them as well as Silk, and red Spider Woman and black Spider Woman and a couple others I didn’t recognize all doing stuff in the same story… There really wasn’t even enough room for Peter, much less any of his actual supporting cast. Thing is, the best superheroes are really enhanced and uplifted by their supporting caste people the ordinary, unpowered folks that surround them, and the more I read of modern Spider-Man the more I miss that. Stories with Mary Jane and Flash and Harry hanging out. JJJ and Robbie Robertson and Betty Brant up at the Bugle, Aunt May back home sharing the latest gossip from Anna Watson. Spider-Man had a rich and colorful supporting cast and I feel like they’ve been pushed out. That’s one of the things it was nice to see here. Black Cat was one of the first people that an unconscious Peter responded to in the hospital, and watching her recruit Captain America to help bring Spidey back up to speed… I feel like we’re getting a real Peter Parker story. I feel like we’re getting shenanigans with old friends, not to mention the single best Spider-Man costume ever!

More than anything, I had fun reading this. I haven’t had fun reading I knew Spider-Man comic in a good long while, and this is a welcome return to form.

Interestingly enough, there was a side story released last week as well, black cat and Mary Jane. The Hood showed up to try and force Black Cat to retrieve his lost hood and cloak… The source of his power. Otherwise he’s going to kill Peter and Mary Jane. Black Cat agrees, and demands MJ goes with her. She suggests that she’s part of the crew. It’s all a bluff to get Mary Jane out of danger, figuring that even in his incapacitated state, Peter’s spider sense will go off if he’s in any real peril and he’ll be able to take care of himself. What unfolds next is a really great one shot adventure. Equal parts heist, con, and superhero romp. MJ and Black Cat have a surprising amount of chemistry together, and again, it’s this supporting cast thing… It really plays well. Another title that I am surprised I liked so much.

A book I wasn’t surprised I liked last week was Human Target. Tom Kings actually doing a great job on this, and he and his artist have figured out how to handle Christopher Chance. They’re telling the story almost with a 40s and 50s detective throwback flare. Don’t get me wrong, this is firmly set in 2022, and really well meshed into the DC universe, especially the Justice League International that I remember so fondly from the 90s. But Chance himself has the swagger of a James Cagney, and the burgeoning romance between him and Ice has been surprisingly charming.

With the first issue being the actual job, standing in for Lex Luthor to prevent an assassination attempt and ending a poisoning, Chance is four issues in now to trying to figure out who it was it slipped the poison into Luthors drink… The poison that’s slowly killing Chance. I generally like the Human Target. Everybody has a different take on him, but this one may just work the best for me. It’s true to the character, and it’s still a nice travelogue through the DC universe.

I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t mention superman 78, which ended last week. And I’ve gotta admit… I want more. I get that this is necessarily just a six issue miniseries, never meant to go on any further, but man, I’d love to see a whole i’d probably be remiss if I didn’t mention Superman 78, which ended last week. And I’ve gotta admit… I want more. I get that this is necessarily just a six issue miniseries, never meant to go on any further, but man, I’d love to see a whole collection of miniseries like this. The story never stopped entertaining me from beginning to end, and has just enough fan service to keep me delighted, while maintaining A sense of the Superman that I really recognize. It’s not even that it’s specifically that Christopher Reeve Superman, it’s just the good old-fashioned, Boy Scout, big blue, big red “S” Superman. It’s a traditional, late 70s 80s portrayal, sort of thing that still bled into the late 80s and 90s John Byrne Superman that I really connect with. I’m waiting for this collection to come out in a trade so that I can swap out my individual issues for one big book. It’s very possibly my favorite thing to come out last year…

Well with the exception of Jeffrey the land shark of course!

 


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Mirrors 2

DollarindexWhen I bought Mirrors 2, I didn’t even notice the cast! William Katt is in this, so that’s going to make this a worthwhile purchase right off the bat! I also see Emanuelle Vaugier who played Mia, Charlie’s love interest in Two a Half Men and it’s interesting seeing her in this sort of a role.

Still, I was a little wary, once I noticed the director was Victor Garcia. This is the same person who directed Return to House on Haunted Hill, and Hellraiser Revelations. Basically, it’s the dude you get when you want a no budget sequel to an established franchise that doesn’t care about any established history or rules and throws continuity out the window.

Luckily, continuity doesn’t matter to me much with this series, I’m sure I’ve seen the first one of these, but I’m pretty sure it was 10 years ago or more, when the thing originally index1came out and I was renting a lot of movies from the library. I vaguely remember the premise, but for all intents and purposes I’m pretty much coming into this cold. From what I can tell it’s a standalone film, but I always get the impression that I’m missing something – why in particular our hero can see the phenomenon as opposed to anybody else.

The main character, played by Nick Stahl is a night watchman for a large department store/corporate headquarters… I’m never entirely sure if it’s a hybrid or a retail outlet. It’s a beautiful building, all glass and chrome… and mirrors. Stahl starts having visions of bad things happening to the executives, and those visions come true in some variation or another. The gimmick of course is the reflection in the mirror does some thing, and whatever the reflection does happens to you. If the reflection cut its throat, a jagged gash images3slashes across your throat.

They do a good job with the gre in this movie, there’s some beautifully bloody set pieces and the story keeps up at a good pace. We get our reveals later in the story as to why this is happening, and a hint as to why the hero can see things happening. Everything eventually fits together quite nicely, but it occasionally feels just a touch too long. Mirrors 2 feels more like an average Twilight Zone episode with extra blood. It’s a good little horror flick though, but what really makes the stand out happens to be the special features on this desk. You see, the story is actually based on a Koren film, and on the flipside of the desk they actually include that Koren movie! It’s got a longer running time then the original and you can really see the influences. It’s brilliant. All of it absolutely makes me want to go back and watch the original!


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Star Trek : Prodigy

Star Trek Prodigy is back after its brief holiday hiatus. I kind of lost some momentum with the show during the break, so I keep forgetting that it’s on. However, I managed to catch up this weekend, and I’m still a fan.

Star Trek Prodigy is surprisingly episodic, though there is an overarching story with the bad guy who’s mining colony they escaped from. He’s still searching for them and more importantly, for the ship.

But that’s really not the big news. That’s not the thing that makes this work. It’s far from Star Trek Discovery or Picard, both of which traded optimistic humanism for nihilism and have mistaken cynicism for wisdom and original thought. It’s also not Star Trek Lower Decks which feels like it was somebody learning as much as they could about Star Trek just so they can trash the fans.  They’re not laughing with us, they’re laughing at us. Really. They said it out loud.

No, Prodigy feels different… Almost like… Star Trek?

One of the big differences that I’m noticing in the series is that it’s an ensemble. It’s a diverse group of misfits. And in this case, it’s truly diverse. Whereas on Star Trek Discovery, diversity just means no straight white men… (In fact as few men as possible, thanks)  In Star Trek Prodigy, we have male and female, each a different race with their own personalities and quirks. Much of the current crop of Star Trek doesn’t bother developing personalities, rather their entire characterization is the superficial… “I’m the black one”, “This is the gay one”, “That’s the black gay one!”… And the only characters getting any real development are their leads.  Star Trek Picard is entirely focused on deconstructing Jean-Luc Picard, whereas Star Trek Discovery is all about the almost Christlike perfection of Michael Burnham. They’re definitely the stars of their shows.

Star Trek Prodigy doesn’t have a star. It has an ensemble.

Thing is, this is really were Star Trek shines. It’s the thing that always worked about Star Trek. Even back to the original series, where the idea was to have a star in William Shatner, the show very quickly shifted into team mode… No longer just being about Captain Kirk, but being about Kirk Spock and McCoy as one unit… And even the second string characters each got their moments (especially Chekov and Scotty who really got development in the later seasons). Likewise, Prodigy is very much an ensemble. It’s not just about Dal, the purple captain. It’s not just about Gwyn, the albino white girl with the AWSOME thought metal sword-armlet-thing, or big rock girl ( Rok-Tahk is consistently my favorite character on this show, although gelatinous Murph comes in as a close second). It’s not even about hologram Janeway, arguably the most recognizable element of the series. She’s not the lead, but she’s also not just a supporting character. Everyone has equal weight, everyone gets equal development, everyone has equal importance. They work together to make something really special.

I mentioned in a previous post, because it’s set and the far-flung reaches the universe, and I don’t even know what time period it is, it’s not quite so burdened by the continuity. It allows it to restart. That’s a smart thing. This is very much intro to Star Trek, a good way to ease new viewers into the series. The characters act as our avatars, as they discover things like the holodeck, the transporter, the replicators, and more importantly… they’re discovering the heart that always drove Star Trek. The character, and the engaging storytelling. Unburdened by continuity, or the preachiness of current year politics, We go on adventure after adventure, experiencing first contact for the first time. We’re dipping our toe in the Kobyashi Maru, and experimenting with phasers and communicators and tricoders and discovering a few secrets that this long lost ship just might have its own.

Also because they’re experiencing all these things for the first time, because it’s all new to them, it doesn’t quite feel like just gratuitous ‘member berries when we see a hologram of Spock show up, or a picture of one of the old ships, or note that phaser designs, while streamlined, or awfully familiar (and, man…what IS it with the fetishization of the arrowhead/delta insigina in all these new series?).

In shows like Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Lower Decks, it feels like they’re just throwing as much of this stuff at the screen as possible to try and remind you “Remember how you used to like Star Trek? Remember the Klingons? You love the Klingons! Remember 10 forward? You love 10 forward!“ It’s all very shoehorned in there. Here, it feels more natural. They are discovering these things with the audience, and it feels new. The fact that there’s Klingon writing on the side of that cloaking device in the junk pile? That’s for the old viewers. Something for us to spot (but with no attention drawn to it) while the new viewers get to discover what a cloaking device is in the first place. It’s organic and natural.

I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying this. Along with a lot of the traditional Star Trek designs and tropes, we get some stunning alien designs, and some real innovation. One of the bigger shortfalls of Star Trek in the late 90s, was everything started to look the same. You had the same people working on the show for 20 years, and the alien computer started to really resemble the federation ones. The lines of the ship were kinda distinct, but still felt a little too similar to everything we’ve seen before. Prodigy goes out and creates wild creatures and landscapes, trying very hard to go where no one has gone before… While still trying to maintain a reasonably familiar, comfortable look inside the Federation ship. Everything around it though, it’s so new and fresh, that the protostar ship almost feels out of place, The Federation vessel becoming the alien itself.

We’re better than halfway through the season, and we’ve had some good episodes and some filler episodes. We’ve had some things that were shocking, like watching the bad guy sneak onto the ship in the most innovative way possible, and these bad guys are genuinely frightening. We’ve had some real character development in just about everybody, and watching this team start to gel, and really become a crew. 

Look, if you’re not watching Star Trek Prodigy, this is the one to really give a try. So far I’ve enjoyed everything about it. I gave both Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery a good long chance (and I’m disappointed that my faith wasn’t justified – though you can actually see the cracks even as far back as my earliest Discovery blog posts https://argocitycomics.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/star-trek-discovery/ ). And it didn’t take long for me to realize these are not good shows. That they’re just not Star Trek. Honestly, I’ve been burned so much at this point, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does. Star Trek Prodigy is solid Star Trek, and the absolute best thing to come out of Paramount+ and Secret Hideout.

 


Creating Tomatoes

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I can’t really pinpoint when or why I decided to build my Killer Tomatoes. I know I was watching the films….probably for a franchise focus or something, and I’ve always loved the last one.

 

I noticed that as the Halloween stuff was going up at Dollar Tree, they were selling styrofoam pumpkins…labeled as “Carvable”. Sometime it’s a shape that will really strike me, and in this case it was the general shape, proportion and size. It occurred to me that they would be the ideal size if I were to try and make a tomato.

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I drew what I wanted, basing the shapes on the ones in the fourth movie mainly. The gal would then be to dremmel the curves and shapes into place. Bits would be added here and there, glue for the stitches and foam for an eyepatch or teeth, and then everythign painted over.

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We can’t just have the villians though, if I’m making tomatoes, I really need a Fuzzy Tomato too! FT was simple enough, grabbing my kids old Elmo costume out of the attic, then sewing it up, and covering the gap with leaves and a stem.

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I ended up making a few FTs, one t give away to a friend and one to give away to Marc Price, the star of Killer Tomatoes Eat France!

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Tune back in for more pictures!

 

 

 


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Hideaway

DollarindexHideaway is a 90s horror movie based on a novel by Dean Koontz, and it really feels like it. There’s something about a film based on a novel, we see it in a lot of Stephen King adoptions as well, something about the tone, pacing, and style of the film that just feels like it’s an adaption. Indeed, this movie actually reminds me a lot in its construction and tone of the mangler, whether it’s a jumble of recognizable names pasted across a pastiche of 90s horror tropes complete with dodgy CGI that may have looked cool at the time, but never looked realistic.

Hideaway is the story of a man – Jeff Goldblum – who experiences a near-death event, and comes back connected to other psychics. One of them happens to be a sociopath with his eyes on Goldblum’s daughter and it’s up to him index3to stop the psycho killer by any means necessary.

Hideaway also features Alfred Molina and Alicia Silverstone. If you’re expecting much from Silverstone though, you’re going to be in for disappointment. She is a vast with a couple of the story line seems to herself.

It’s weird timing for that too, seeing as this movie came out a year after Jurassic Park, when Goldblum would be at the height of his power, and the same year as Clueless, which would catapult Silverstone to stardom. I suspect it was shot a bit earlier and then somebody suddenly realized they just happen to have a index4film on the shelf starting the hero of last year‘s Blockbuster and this year’s it girl, which would explain why Silverstone is so prominently featured in the poster, but is largely absent from the film.

This is absolutely Goldblum’s movie. The problem with using Jeff Goldblum though, is you have to cast a really strong actors who can hold their own against him. That’s not the case here. The wife, even when she’s complaining about him bringing a gun and indignant about having to leave, feels hollow, and Silverstone really just sleep walks through the film. Instead of feeling dread when watching our villian up to his own machinations, I find myself frequently just a little bored and waiting for index2Goldblum to come back on and continue the story.

At the end of the day, it’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s just not the sort of them I’m into – it’s too many of the 90s clichés with no monster, Lawnmower Man levels of bad CGI, and a certain indifference to the genre. It was worth the one dollar that I paid for it, but the shelf of the dollar tree store is exactly where this thing belongs.


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essentialPosting the best strips from the series, in order from the beginning.

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Robert

Looking at the cover of Robert, you can see they’re trying to strike a balance between the imagery of the Anabelle films and the newer Child’s Play remake. The film starts with a warning that the film what you’re about to see is based on the tragic real life events with a family after estranged all called Robert entered their lives. Blah blah blah, etc. etc., whatever the truth may be, Robert the doll has gained a legendary and fearsome reputation. Really? Because I’ve never heard of this little sucker until I started finding these DVDs littering the dollar tree shelves.

We get a prologue with Agatha, a Lynn Shaye look-alike warning a couple that they are being hunted, not by a house, but by a doll. We fast forward three years where Agatha is now the nanny for a different family.  She keeps Robert locked in suitcase, just in case. That’s probably not a good thing because she’s about to get fired by Jenny, a bored housewife with some mental problems and having a midlife crisis. On our way out, she stops to see Gene, the boy she’s been taking care of and gives him Robert… telling him that now that she’ll be gone, he needs a new friend!

 

The parents don’t make much of it, though they do question the young boy… “Since when do you play with dolls?”

“He’s different,” Gene says. “He talks to me.”

 

Spooky things start to happen. Footsteps in the middle of the night, as well as a child’s play gag of tiny footprints through sugar. We get a glimpse of something moving, and I’m amused to spot a child’s drawing of Robert pinned to the fridge. We get some stalking POV shots, low to the ground,  and a defaced painting. Jenny is already paranoid, and erupts in anger when her son tells her it’s Robert causing the mischief.

The next morning, a maid arrives, and there’s none too impressed by Robert. He creeps her out and she shakes her head and bewilderment

“This is messed up.”

This displeases Robert, and an upset Robert is no good for an unsuspecting maid.

With our first body in the bag about halfway through the film, Robert starts to feel his oats, writing DIE on the bedroom mirror in the mother’s lipstick. She is horrified as she stares down the hall into her son’s room – Robert is sitting on the rocking chair with the lipstick still in his hand.

Jenny asks her son if she can stash Robert away in the attic but Gene warns her that this would  be a bad idea- Robert will get mad. Indeed, that night  it seems like even Gene  is beginning to show some fear of Robert. The couple head out on a date and leave him in the care of a sitter, but when it comes time for bed, Gene requests that the light be left on. Those fears may be justified because the babysitters the next one to get it.

We enter the third act with the mother hysterical and furious at her disbelieving husband. She’s had enough, taking the doll away and screaming at it, demanding it talk to her the way he talks to her son. Her husband thinks she’s crazy, but she doesn’t care… and locks Robert in the outdoor shed.

The next day she’s off to track down Agatha, to try find out where Robert came from. The problem is, Agatha’s dead… and while she explores her house and correspondence to try and dig up some answers, her family has been left home alone… with Robert.

The ending is a bit of a shocker.

 

Robert is a nice, low budget Child’s Play rip off (Ironically, the real Robert doll was the inspiration for Chucky). It takes place mostly in one location, in one house, with good reason. The movie was shot in just eight days, with their child star only available for three of them. Robert himself gets enough screen time to satisfy, and when he’s not on screen, people are talking about him. It makes his character pervasive. This is essential to the story being told, because according to director Andrew Jones, in many ways, Robert is a stand in for mental illness.

“The lead character Jenny has schizo affective disorder, some of the symptoms of that involve hearing voices and seeing hallucinations. Her husband Paul is worried about her state of mind and also about whether or not the illness has been genetically passed onto their son Gene,” Jones told StudyParanormal in a 2015 interview. “The whole film is essentially Robert serving the same function as the mental illness, causing distrust and tension between the characters simply by his presence in their home.”

 

Even in this first installment, the film deviates significantly from the events it’s based on.

 

“The real life story of Robert doesn’t really work for a narrative film because it had no natural ending. It would have been tough to build a film towards a definitive resolution sticking entirely to the true story.” laments Jones.  “There isn’t a great deal of back story out there for Robert’s origin, nor is there any great detail about the Otto family. So I had to embellish on the characters’ personal stories and also give Robert some additional back story to add more drama.”

 

In the actual history, a young man named Robert Eugene Otto was first given the doll back in 1906, when he was a mere six years old. It was gifted by an angry Bahamian servant who supposedly had an interest in black magic. It’s been said that the gift was the servant’s revenge for being poorly treated by the family. Young master Otto decided to give the doll his first name,  Robert and suddenly decided that he would no loger go by the name “Robert” himself, but rather requested that everyone refer to him instead by his middle name, Gene. Gene would go on to become a well know artist and author in Key west, but would keep Robert by his side for the rest of his life, right up to his death in 1974. It is rumored that Gene’s wife, Anne, was driven insane by her husband’s lifelong devotion to the doll.

 

The film was shot on location in Saundersfoot and Swansea in Wales, UK, as opposed to the actual location, a mansion at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets in Key West, Florida, now known as the Artist House. In 1978 the Artist House was converted into a Hotel. As for the doll itself, The real life Robert the Doll now resides at the East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, though the doll is annually loaned out to the Old Post Office and Customhouse in Key West during the Halloween season.

The doll itself is not a well-articulated puppet, but that seems more a function of budget than anything else. Still, the use of low angles and partial shots – an arm or a leg sticking in the frame really helps to sell the character. They do well with what they have. It’s average straight to video fair, but worth the dollar that I paid for it. I’m interested in seeing the next sequel.


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Tomatoes vs Hellraiser

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You opened the box…we came.

Yeah, this wasn’t what I was expecting…..

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Murderdrome

Murderdrome opens in a roller derby locker room then jumps right into action. It’s a good way to get you engaged immediately. High energy music, a happy audience and skating sets the tone. There’s some flirting going on outside of the match, making one of the other the girls jealous. Then straight over to listen to the band,  followed by make out sessions in a vintage car.

All in all, it’s a very Daniel Armstrong way of opening the film, but I’m now about 12 minutes in and I’m still not sure what this movies going to be about. The roller punk with a Cleaver is a step in the right direction.

Back inside, the roller derby is in full swing. As an unseen lurker watches.

Leather clad Australian murderpunks lure pigtail rollerderby girl back into the roller rink where they engage in a brutal game of murder derby, where they end up setting one of their pillows on fire, and then just exploding out of existence… Leaving nothing but a talisman. Pigtail girl tries to pick it up but gets blasted into oblivion as well.
Don’t worry, it was just a dream. Or was it!?

When she wakes up, her hapless boyfriend, with a charm necklace for her… the one from her dream. That’s enough for her to fall for him, and drag him out on a rollerskating date. (Because that’s obviously a thing in OZ!)

Dead body, and creepy janitor cart dude explains that she’s unleashed a demonic force.

Then we go to a bizarre commercial for a frisbee hat… it’s all good, it’s just the ad before a murderdrone video on YouTube. She’s basically trying to research what she saw that night. Things go bad when one of the mean girl skaters comes and steals her necklace. Bad as in, a cleaver to the head for one of the girls when they try to escape.
Metal murder punk chase!

Meanwhile, the mean girls are looking for our heroes, but there are murder roller punks between them and the others.

Heavy on spectacle, Murderdrome is well shot and fun, though the lighting can get on the harsh side. It’s very much is the sort of ozsploitation that Armstrong is a great at. the problem is that it’s thin on the story. Even with its meager running time of about an hour, there’s quite enough to fill this whole thing up. There’s an a Normas amount of flair in style, that’s all it is. It’s all flash, but not enough substance. Of all of Armstrong‘s films, this is the one that felt the most confusing. Still, it’s a fun bit of shlock, (seriously, chick has to retrieve the talisman from a dismembered body that’s been tossed in pieces into a dumpster… That’s some pretty hardcore stuff !), drifting from set piece to set piece in a world that feels like it’s just beginning to intersect with the likes of Mad Max. This is one of those movies I’d really love to see a redo on – a remake with a thicker script and a more flushed out concept, more fully explain to the audience.

 

 


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The Shining Part Two : Doctor Sleep

I think that Doctor Sleep had been out well over two months before I actually got a copy of it. Still, it didn’t take long for me to bang through this book. The better part of the week perhaps? In the years since, I’ve read it probably more times than I’ve actually read The Shining. It’s one Kings best works in a decade at least. Something about it compels me, and it’s not just the connection to The Shining, in a lot of ways, I’m far more fascinated by the AA components of the book. There is a marvelous story here, built on the smoldering ruins of a world King created, ready to accept a new chapter. That’s one of the interesting things to note about the film in the book versions of the shining. The film attempts to build atmosphere. But the book really is creating an entire world around the hotel, it’s history, and the Torrance family. It’s just great in-depth stuff. And absolutely the sort of fertile house soil that will grow some thing when you very least suspect it.

Stephen King’s never been happy with the Kubrick Shining. This is no secret. Indeed, he went as far as to authorize the TV miniseries back in the 90s… And what disaster that was. Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay do a good enough job, although the Monet films land. But the miscasting of young Danny is an absolute crime. It’s not just The total lack of charisma, but even the look is just wrong. The perpetual upturn lip, exposing buck teeth that would embarrass a beaver. The toneless whine of this child’s voice, it just ruins the film for me every single time. But then again, we also have the terrible make up on the ghosts and the genuinely small, cramped feeling of what should be an expensive grand hotel. It just doesn’t work.

In a real way, King’s best chance at rewriting, and reinventing the shining to put emphasis back on the book, was to do a sequel. Dan grown-up, and what really is the aftermath of the horrors he experienced in the overlook hotel. Maybe I’m just talking for myself. But that’s exactly how it felt for me. Like legitimize in the book as the “real“ version.

It’s hard to describe my trepidation when I heard they were adapting it for the screen (and that may have something to do with why it’s taken a few years for me to actually watch the film!).

Look, this is a task I absolutely do not envy director Mike Flanagan. Because he’s faced with a unique problem. How to adapt a book that is a sequel to another book that was made into one of the most beloved horror movies of all time… but done so in a way that it still adapts the normal book that’s a sequel to the different book that you’re adapting into a film… Oh, my head hurts.

I never felt like I needed elements of The Shining in Doctor Sleep while I was reading the book. But it’s a fair argument that more people have seen the film than have read the book… It might be a more even split among baby boomers and Gen Xers of a certain age who saw the book sitting on their parents shelves, but overall the Kubrick film is far more visually iconic.

Flanagan himself wasn’t new to King’s work. He’s a lifelong fan, but more importantly he had some credibility to his name. This is the person who did the adoption of Geralds Game, a book that was largely considered unfilmable. He found the right balance, what things to alter to be able to make the movie without compromising The story or key elements. He kept true to the core story and knew where the cosmetics mattered and where they didn’t. It was this sort of credential that was enough to get him in front of King to ask about adapting Doctor Sleep for film. It’s a tricky proposition. King’s attitude towards the Kubrick film had not softened at all over the years, but it’s an unparalleled understanding of the core story and all of the material that allowed Flanagan the inside to present his idea. A scene at the bar, something that would truly examine, explore and progress the Torrance family story arc… something that King felt never happened before… And an intriguing enough idea that it moved King from a firm quote “No.“, To “Keep talking, I’m listening.“

Doctor Sleep is the story of Daniel Torrance (played perfectly by Ewan McGregor – seriously, his performance can not be underplayed here), in the years after his experiences at the Overlook hotel. We find him, a washed up alcoholic pretty well hitting rock-bottom. On the other side is Abra, a teenage girl who is coming into her full power in The Shining. And in the darkness, The True Knot. A group of psychic vampires led by Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson – who manages to feel immediately familiar – even though I’ve never seen her before in ANYTHING. Hmmmm. Perhaps she really IS a vampire!), all intent on drinking Abra‘s Shining right out of her, and purifying it through pain.

The film follows the book fairly closely for the first two acts actually, although it does nod its head towards the film here and there. A flash once in a while, rare and scattered. We discover early on that Dick Halloran is in fact dead in the story. That immediately signals to this being more of a sequel to the film than the book, though you could probably wrap your head around a rationalization if you need it to. The actor is a brilliant re-creation of Scatman Crothers though. It’s an almost dead on impersonation and really well realized. Carl Lumbly has been made up to be the spitting image and a perfect Dick. They re-create Danny as a young child as well, but it’s again, used sparingly so the fact that he looks just attach off in the face… You’re not given enough time to really think about it. Shelley Duvall‘s doppelgänger Alex Essoe fares a little worse. Duvall is a much more recognizable actress, but one might argue that the events of the shining changed her… Aged her. Jack Torrance however, is shocking when we see him. He’s perhaps the epitomie of watching Flanagan is done with this movie. That face is not Jack Nicholson‘s, but everything about him is Jack Torrance. The hair and the mannerisms, the color and the movement. Henry Thomas (yes, THAT Henry Thomas) absolutely nails it and I buy it immediately, never questioning the entire time he’s on screen… And he’s on screen for a while.

Why? Because it’s that third act where things really start to diverge from the book. In the book, the final showdown between Danny, Abra, and rose the hat… It takes place at the site of the overlook… But of course in the book, the Overlook was reduced to a burning, smoldering rubble when the furnace exploded. Today it’s just an overlook point, a scant campsite with a few picnic benches and a plaque that might mention the grand old hotel. Rose meets her end in those outbuildings.

The problem is, for this film to really appeal broadly, we need more than that. We need the hotel itself, we need… The Overlook.

We’re never given a proper explanation as to how the building is still standing, why the electric still works or why it’s so pristine inside. Who knows, perhaps it doesn’t even exist anymore… But it’s held together by the sheer force of will stemming from Dan’s imagination? Or perhaps it’s just a cursed old haunted house, the sort of place that can’t ever really die. Whatever it is, 30 years later, it looks exactly the same… And I mean exactly the same. Kubrick’s estate handed over photos and documents, even the original plans for the Overlook so it could be built and replicated down to the last detail. And when I say the last detail, I mean last detail. Photos, props, even sheets of paper with the inscription “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.“ typed immaculately dozens of times across the crisp white sheets. The directors sets his third act there, with Rose the Hat meeting much the same end and she does in the book, perhaps in a more visual way, perhaps more ghosts eating at her life force than what the book might describe (along with some that a visually more recognizable), but the essence is still there. However, Flanagan then pushes the climax even further enveloping us in the terror that is a return to the Overlook. It’s ending is ultimately a satisfying climax, especially in this format… where you’re limited by the 2 1/2 hours to tell a story and tie the strings together. In a lot of ways he’s done the impossible. He’s merged the book and the film together, and created something that reconciles both. Just as importantly, he’s created a film adaptation that I once again enjoy just as much as the book.

Well, almost.

Doctor Sleep is derivative. It is an adaption. It is a piece of art with a foot in both the literary and cinematic world. But it’s not The Shining. It’s not necessarily it’s own entity the way that the book and film versions of The Shining are. here. No, this is definitely the Earth 2 version of the book, and as such will never be quite as satisfying. But as far as party tricks go, pulling this off is a pretty spectacular one. It’s available on streaming now, it’s on DVD now, go find it.

 


The Shining : Part One

Yeah, I know. You’re thinking “He’s doing a review on The Shining???“ I mean, is that really necessary? No. But this isn’t really going to be a proper review anyhow. It’s more of an examination… a set up.

It was a couple of years ago at Cinema Wasteland when the thought really occurred to me. I was in the bar, sitting at a table with a group of friends. I’ve been discussing my difficulties with the Dark Tower… I really only enjoy the middle couple of books, which then get interrupted by a flashback which I’m not into at all… It’s a mess for me. Nevertheless, because in a lot of ways, it’s the binding material that connects the Stephen King universe, I felt like I had to get through it. This led to a brief discussion on the movie, and my friend Shrew, a massive King fan, was adamant that the books are always better than the films. We went through and talked about favorite books, and then favorite movies. Then I pose the question; which do you like better? The film or the book of The Shining? That stopped him dead in his tracks. You could see the cogs turning in his brain as a smile started to curl at the corner of his mouth. It’s an unfair question I realized, because unlike any of kings other work, The Shining is a unique example of filmmaking That transcends but doesn’t eclipse its source material. Indeed, I think you could regard each has their own separate entity. Not merely a multi-verse divergence or a medium translation, but fully formed individual entities, separate from each other yet bearing the same name.

To be fair, they share a lot of the same names. Jack Torrance. Danny. Wendy Torrance. But are they the same characters?

Maddie and I are still talking about Spider-Man No Way Home. She is in an MCU phase right now, and before going to see the most recent Spider-Man movie, we went back and we watched homecoming and far from home as well. These new MCU films have a lot of characters with the same names as characters in the Spider-Man comics. But Zendaya is Michelle is not Mary Jane Watson. The producers them selves even made this clear. While we’re calling her MJ, this is not the same character. Nor is Peter‘s friend Ned, or his nemesis flash. Indeed, it’s my one big beef with the Tom Holland Spider-Man films. I wish they had just given all of these characters original names… Because they’re original characters. Seriously, I still bristle every time Peter calls Michelle “M.J.“.  Ned’s derivative, but the cast itself is pretty interesting, and have they been given original names, you might see them eventually translate into the comics. That’s never going to happen now.

But just like these characters in Spider-Man share the names with those in the comics, but not their faces of the personality… The same is true in The Shining. Stephen King described Jack Torrance as a pretty normal guy, going through a bad time he goes crazy. He’s description of Jack Nicholson‘s Torrance though, he’s a guy who’s already unbalanced and a little crazy who goes completely around the Bend. Likewise, Wendy Torrance in Kings mind was a sort of athletic cheerleader type. Pretty and outgoing, but sheltered. Naïve. The kind of woman who has never really had to face any kind of adversity. While I didn’t necessarily read that same sort of trophy wife status in the book, Wendy did strike me as strong and intellectual. Likely someone with higher education, someone who is not easily spooked, but rather a very rational kind of girl. Either way whichever us you listen to you’ll find it a stark contrast to the neurotic, chain-smoking twig we see in the film. Shelley Duvall is a mess already, and there’s no bravery in her. She is a flighty Hufflepuff, not a Gryffindor. Even the hotel itself is different. While the Overlook is absolutely a grand old hotel in both incarnations, the Overlook in the book is darker. The pipes rattle, and that boiler is ready to blow at any time, just waiting to give us a traditional Stephen King ending where he writes himself into a corner and then just blows everything up.
The outside is different as well. That iconic hedge maze that everybody knows from the movie, isn’t present in the book. Instead, it’s replaced by a roque Court, something like an oversize croquet game. Indeed, it’s a roque mallet that Jack carries through the house, ready to bludgeon Wendy, but not so much to chop her up as in the movie. It again underscores the fact that the book house itself may well be more dangerous than Jack. There are also hedge animals. Amazing topiaries, littering the front yard. And these are sinister things, moving only were not observed, like the weeping angels from Doctor Who.

So when I look at these foundational underpinnings being so different between the book and the film it’s only natural that it’ll progress in a different way. There are different hauntings, different survivors and different threats. For instance, while the lady in the bath is pretty shocking, even after grabbing Danny a bit, I’m never entirely convinced that the ghosts in the hotel can really hurt you. That’s why they need Jack, stocking the halls with an axe. In the book however, I am absolutely convinced that these things will kill you dead. I am convinced that Jack will be torn apart by the topiaries in the yard if he doesn’t escape. I am positive that while it’s a double entendre, the dog man threatening Danny, will indeed eat him up as a bloody snack if Danny dares to trespass down the wrong hall. The snake that the fire hose turns into… It’s full of venom and those teeth are needle sharp. There’s more monsters in the hotel in the book, whereas the film leans far more heavily on specters. And why not? Film is a visual medium, whereas pros is the theater of the mind.

At the end of the day, the end result is two entities so distinct that their night and day. And in a fascinating turn of events, the film is not better than the book. But the book is also not better than the film. They are each their own distinct pleasures, holding within them their own unique delights in tears. I can read the book or watch the movie and still come always satisfied but in different ways. Which one I reach for on any given day depends greatly on exactly what sort of itch I’m attempting to scratch.

That’s a fascinating thing to me about The Shining. I can think of no other film that is so divergent from its source material while being absolutely as valid and effective. But it then poses its own unique dilemma when it comes time for the next movie. What do you make the sequel to? The book? Or the film?

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

 


Introduction to Tropes

We’re going to try a little something new out this year. Along with some of our dollar tree movie selections and even some of our box set movie reviews, you’re going to notice this banner down at the bottom.

The more of these kind of movies that I watch, the more I see the same common tropes repeated again and again. There’s obvious ones, like how young the casts tend to be. If you’re trying to get an indie movie off the ground, maybe you shoot with your friends when you’re all young. Younger actors cost less and are looking for a break, or at least some footage to put on their reel. But it’s more than just that, it’s things like the same colors and composition on DVDs, the same characters showing up in movies, sometimes even the same plot… And once you start to see them. They’re impossible to ignore. So instead, let’s highlight them!


Mind you, just because we do a trope count at the end of a movie doesn’t mean it was a bad movie. The lack of a trope count doesn’t mean it was a good movie. Usually just means they’re worth enough to make it worthwhile hunting them down. Nevertheless, I think it’s going to be a fun experiment to see how many recurring themes we see, and from time to time, will check in here and talk a little bit about trucks and where I’m getting them from, as well as how I watch for them.

 

 


297

essentialPosting the best strips from the series, in order from the beginning.

Every Wednesday and Friday

297


Daniel Armstrong

I first encountered Daniel Armstrong in a dollar tree film called Sheborg. It was such lunatic fun, that I felt like I had to discover everything else this guy had made. I wasn’t surprised to find out he’s based in Australia… His films have that sort of classic as exploitation deal from flaky films in the 80s… Not just Mad Max, but some of the really weird ones like Dead End Drive In. Armstrong’s use of blood and off kilter characters makes for entertaining fare.

You can see some of his trademarks, starting in the way that he presents credits… High-quality and integrated into the scene, much as was done in Zombieland. But there’s also a heavy musical influence in his movies as well. Veteran music video Director, Armstrong’s films generally feature live band performances, that is, if they don’t integrate the band itself directly into the story. It’s not unusual to see one of his featured players also doing the title song for his films.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still schlock, but it’s fun schlock and definitely a director that you really not know about.