Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Review of "Crush" (edited by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton)

A quick review of a book I just finished reading:
  
  

 
 
I'm sure you've figured out by looking at the front cover that I bought Crush because Stephen King contributed an essay to it.
  
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that King's contribution consisted of a mere three paragraphs.  Nevertheless, I recently dusted it off my shelf and sat down to read the meager half-page, and once I'd finished I remembered a vow I made once upon a time: when I buy these anthologies in which King's work appears, I'd resolved to read the whole book and not merely the story or essay by the person(s) whose name(s) induced me to spend a few bucks.  I recently broke that vow when I read and reviewed the short stories of Cooper O'Connor, and felt a little bad about it.
  
This, then, was my chance to get back in the saddle a bit.
  
I'm glad I did, because Crush turned out to be a highly enjoyable book.
  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Stephen King Cast (and Cooper O'Connor)

There are a lot of books about Stephen King's work; I don't have an exact list, but at one point in time there were more books by far about King than by King.  That's an impressive fact, but it's worth asking how many of those books measure up.  How many of them are truly worthwhile in terms of what they add to the study of King's work?
  
Your mileage may vary, but my list of worthy King scholars would include Douglas E. Winter, Kevin Quigley, Bev Vincent, Rocky Wood, Tony Magistrale, and George Beahm, to name a few.
  
Here's a new name to add to that list: Cooper O'Connor.  If you've never heard of him, don't worry; you probably will.  O'Connor -- under the moniker "Constant Reader" -- is the host of the podcast Stephen King Cast (or, as it's known on Facebook, Stephen Kingcast).  Constant Reader began the podcast in August of 2014 with a simple goal: a chronological exploration of the books of Stephen King.  In early 2016, he completed that monumental task.
  
And what I'll say about that is this: I'm barely finding time to reread one King book a year.  This guy not only reread them all in about a year and a half, he produced well over a hundred podcasts analyzing them.  That's an achievement, and would be even if the resultant episodes sucked.
  
They don't suck.  They are very, very good; not merely as analysis of King's work, but also as aural entertainment.  I'm humbled by what O'Connor achieved, and by my reckoning, he has leaped into the upper echelons of King scholars.  He's also a published fiction writer in his own regard.  We're going to talk about that in more detail toward the end of this post, but first, let's talk about the podcast.
  
  
  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Children Had Been Different In Her Day: A Review of "Suffer the Little Children"

Published in the February 1972 issue of Cavalier, "Suffer the Little Children" was the third story the magazine had bought from him.  1972 marked something of a leap forward for King professionally: including this one, he'd have four stories published, all in Cavalier.  He had the same number published the following year, and his first published novel came out in 1974.  This means that 1971 was the final year for quite some time in which King did not have a significant amount of work published professionally.
  
In other words, 1972 is kind of where it all really began.
  
  
image stolen from http://www.akyle.f2s.com/pre_carrie.html
  
"Suffer the Little Children" did not make the cut when King collected his first book of stories (Night Shift), nor when he collected his second (Skeleton Crew).  This means that most of his fans did not have an opportunity to read it for over twenty years: with the story's inclusion in 1993's Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
  
You might logically conclude that the story's omission from the first two collections indicates that King feels a bit unenthusiastic about it.  This turns out not to be the case, however.  Let's see what King had to say about the story in the "Notes" section of Nightmares & Dreamscapes:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Let's Have A Look At Roland Deschain

Howdy-ho!
  
The Dark Tower has been filming in New York City lately, and a goodish number of images from the set have popped up in various places around the Internet.
  
Let's have a look at how Idris Elba is faring as Roland, son of Steven, the last Gunslinger:
  
  
Walking away from what one assumes is a freshly-murdered corpse.  Yes sir.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why I Spent Time Watching "Cell" When I Have Not Yet Started Reading "End of Watch"

"So Bryant, where the hell is your review of End of Watch?" I can theoretically imagine someone asking.  "It came out last week, so surely you've finished it by now...?!?"
  
And the answer to that is no, no I have not.  I haven't even begun it, in fact.  Nor have I read Joe Hill's The Fireman yet, and that came out in mid-May.  For that matter, I have yet to crack open Owen King's Intro to Alien Invasion, which came out in the unbelievably-distant past of September 2015.  The casual observer -- or even the intent one, for that matter -- would be forgiven for assuming that my Stephen King (and King-family) fandom has waned significantly over the past year.
  
That's not the case, though.  I got my copies of Intro to Alien Invasion, The Fireman, and End of Watch on their release dates.  In the case of the Owen King book, its release fell during the time when I'd decided to dedicate some time to reading my way through H.P. Lovecraft's bibliography.  I'd planned to read Intro to Alien Invasion immediately thereafter, but it ended up not happening.  In fact, I've only read one book in the entire time since finishing that Lovecraft project last fall.  The casual/intent observer would be forgiven for assuming that H.P. Lovecraft broke me of my love for reading.
  
That's not the case, either.  I'll tell you this, though (and I spoke about this to some extent in my posts about Lovecraft's fiction): I've driven into some sort of cul-de-sac in which my love of reading still exists as a hypothetical thing, but in which I am not currently interested in -- or good at -- actually sitting down and reading a book.  During my Lovecraft exploration, I branded this phenomenon as reader's block.  Does such a thing exist in a commonly-accepted sense?  Beats me, but I've got it, so as far as I'm concerned it exists.  
  
You don't care about any of this.  Why would you?  I get that.  The temptation to be self-indulgent in these posts is always present, and I'm going to try and rein back on that horse a bit now.  The particulars don't matter much, the end result is the same.  This book...?
  
  
  
  
It shows no signs of being read any time soon.  I apologize for that, because it means that there's going to be no review of it here any time soon; and that arguably makes this blog a place where the readers can no longer count on me for timely discussion of the wide world of Stephen King.  That's a bummer.  Timeliness has never been my goal, but a decent amount of it happened nevertheless, and I don't like the extent to which it's fallen away.
  
Sadly, it's nothing new.  Over a year later, and I've not reviewed Finders Keepers, so visitors here may already have squinted at me a bit in disapproval.  I did read that novel, though, and I even began writing a review of it.
  
I shall now present to you what exists of that review:
 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 8: The Day In Question

A few months ago, I sat down with the intent of writing -- for You Only Blog Twice, my other blog -- a review of Spectre, the new James Bond movie.  I detested that movie, and what came pouring forth from my keyboard was a vitriolic mess.  I abandoned the review after working on it for an hour or so, disgusted with myself for not managing to keep better control of myself.  I wasn't wrong about what I was writing; I wasn't lying about how I felt.  But I always hope for at least some measure of restraint in such situations, and my inability to find it disappointed me.
 
That review remains unwritten.  At the time, I said that I was going to wait for the Blu-ray, to give the movie time to settle in my gut in the hopes that a reappraisal might find me more generously disposed.  I'll get to it eventually, too; but I can still feel that hate boiling under the surface, and I'm in no rush to stir it up again.
 
All of that is a way of warning you that there is almost sure to be a certain amount of vitriol in this review, too.  Not as much: in the end, I didn't hate 11.22.63 very much, if at all.  My disdain for aspects of it are of the lamentation-for-what-could-have-been variety, and not (as they were with Spectre) of the how-dare-you-fuckfaces-do-this variety.
 
But there is some disdain, let's have no doubts about it.  I can feel that disdain itching to get out of my brain and play on the keyboard for a while, and I'm inclined to indulge it.  Hopefully, I'll be able to keep the leash on it, but if it runs free and shits in your yard while I'm not looking, sorry 'bout that.
 
Much of my ranting is going to be of the big-picture variety, and is probably thus best saved for the end of this post, as a sort of summing-up-the-miniseries thing.  So first, let's get to a review of this specific episode.
 
I thought it was okay.  I would say I liked it at about a C+ level.  You can graduate from college with a C+, so that's not entirely awful as far as grades go.  I'd have given the previous couple of episodes something more like a C-, or maybe even a D+.  I think you can even graduate from college with a C-; maybe even a D+, for all I know.  Does that matter?  It does not.  My point is, I disliked the previous two episodes; this one was mildly better, enough so that I would say I liked it.
 
I was surprised by how emotionally unengaged I was during it, however.  We will talk about that more later, but if you wanted a capsule review up front, there it is: it was okay, but overall it sort of left me cold.
 
I took some notes and screencaps, so I think we'll just sort of follow those for a while, starting with this:
 
 
 
 
The episode begins with a car-speeding-down-the-road sequence that makes me think the second-unit director was trying to earn a bonus.  It's executed well, especially for a television series; but it's a little too vigorous, and feels out of place.  The series has had a lot of talk about "the past pushing back," and there's a good bit of that in this episode, too.  So do you expect me to believe that Jake Epping Amberson (who seems like the last guy who would be capable of Vin Dieselesque driving) can take a stolen car speeding wildly down a major road in a very large American city during the middle of the day and not have there be a serious problem?  I don't buy it.  I don't buy that Jake would be a good enough driver to make this possible.  The past seems to have fallen asleep during this sequence; it misses some major opportunities to push back.  Perhaps it was so slack-jawed with disbelief that Jake was bold enough to try this sort of gambit that it simply forgot to do anything for a while.
 
I'm not buying that, either.  Bottom line is that this scene is incongruous with the rest of the series.  On its own, it's fine.  In context, it's kind of awful.
 
By the way, I'm almost positive that Sadie is played by a stuntman in a blonde wig and lipstick.  Check that screencap and see if you agree with me.
 
This sequence also contained a number of examples of a type of cinematic storytelling that, once you are aware of it, you can never forget.  I say that as a way of warning you that you might not want to read the next bit.  It might ruin movies and tv for you in some ways.  If that seems like a thing you'd like to avoid, skip down to Josh Duhamel's face.
 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 7: Soldier Boy

This episode makes two in a row that I didn't particularly like.
  
You know what else I don't like?  Reviewing a television series on a weekly basis.  It's antithetical to the way I normally watch tv shows (i.e., for the fun of it), and I think it makes me both overly judgmental and aggressively aware.  There's nothing wrong with being aware, of course; awareness is a rather important factor in critical thinking/writing.
  
However, I've accustomed myself over the past decade or so to watching serialized television shows in a more passive way than this.  That's not to say that I've been accustomed to watching tv shows with my brain turned off; I haven't done that at all.  However, with the best series of the past decade -- Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, and so forth -- I have never enjoyed speculating about what is going to happen in upcoming episodes.  My mind occasionally went there with some of those shows, but it often recoiled away from that sort of thinking as soon as it had begun.  None of this was a conscious process; it's simply how my brain reflexively wants to ingest serialized storytelling.  
  
I didn't engage in much speculation as regards The Dark Tower, either (apart from having a vague set of expectations about certain characters showing up to join the ka-tet); same goes for The Green Mile.  Currently, my mind is mostly disinterested in trying to figure out what is going to happen in the next few Star Wars movies, although I can't help but field a few theories about Rey's backstory.  
  
But generally speaking, I'm not merely willing to sit back and allow a story to be told to me, I'm sort of insistent on it.  If you have to get up and leave in the middle of the story, and you can't make it back for a week, or a year, or seven years, then I'd really kind of prefer to not try and fill in the blanks for you.  
  
Reviewing 11.22.63 on a weekly basis, though, I find my brain insisting on doing things a different way.  I'm actively trying to figure out the answers to certain questions posed by the series.  I'm watching this series in a completely different mental manner than I am other shows, and I think I've done myself a disservice in that way.
  
I can't help but wonder if some of what bothered me both last week and this week would have bothered me if I were watching this show in a more passive way, the way I'm watching other shows currently.  I'm working my way through season one of The Wire, for example, and I'm not focused on trying to analyze and critique what I'm seeing.  Some of that happens regardless, but it isn't my focus; my focus is the enjoyment of the dialogue, acting, point of view, etc.  I'm also catching up on the first seasons of several shows that I missed out on recently (Dark Matter, The Expanse, Killjoys, Jessica Jones, The Magicians, FargoColony, Humans, and Mr. Robot), plus getting caught up on the current or most recent seasons of a few existing shows (Haven, Doctor Who, Agents of SHIELD, and Agent Carter), as well as staying current on several show airing right now (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Vinyl, and, believe it or not, Girls).
  
I'm enjoying all of those to a greater or lesser extent (although The Walking Dead is seriously trying my patience right now, and Killjoys has yet to really hook me in anything other than a trashy I-like-sci-fi-anyway-I-can-get-it way), and a few of those shows are good enough that they are both worthy of analysis and would probably grow in stature as a result of it.  But that's not why I'm watching them; I'm watching them because I enjoy them.
  
I'd be watching 11.22.63 for the same reason, of course, probably even minus the Stephen King connection, and I think it was a mistake to deprive myself of the process of watching it the same way I've been watching, say, The Expanse.
  
We're pot-committed at this point, though, so let's trudge -- grimly, determinedly -- through these final two weeks and agree that we're never, ever, ever going to do it this way again.
  
  


Because I'm in a surly and uncooperative mood, this week's review is going to mostly consist of notes.  Here they come:
  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 6: Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald

Y'all...!
  
Y'all...!
  
I did not like this episode.  I mean, don't get me wrong; I've seen many, many worse things than this in the course of my Stephen King fandom.  For example, it was announced this week that a new Children of the Corn fauxquel was filming, and I'm sure that will be vastly more dookie-ish than this episode of 11.22.63 was.
  
But still, y'all; I did not like this episode much at all.  In fact, I'm somewhat loath to watch it again for notetaking and screencapping purposes.  I'd feel like a bit of a cheat if I skipped the second viewing, though, so I guess I'd better get to it.  The time it takes me will be imperceptible to your senses; it shall happen between sentences, like magic (or time-travel).
  
See?  I'm back.  And I guess I liked it a little bit better the second time, but only a little.  There are are a few things here that just don't work for me very well, and they are preventing me from enjoying the aspects that the show handles capably.
  
First, off, let's talk about Bill Turcotte.  I've enjoyed the way the show has added him as a foil and aide for Jake, but this episode reveals that that has all gone sour in the past four months (which elapse off-screen between episodes).  Bill has now turned into so reckless a guy that he's literally taking part in a surprise birthday party for his new best bud Lee.  He's apparently having an affair of some sort with Marina, too, and if the former plot point weren't a bridge too far then the latter one certainly is.
  
I can't get with any of this.  I do enjoy aspects of where it goes, though.  I like the mercenary way in which Jake has Bill committed so as to take him off the chess board.  I have to confess, though, that I am a bit befuddled by the fact that the series has taken this turn.  Why go there?  It seems to be a way of getting Bill out of the way of the plot, but is that weird when the only reason Bill was in the way of the plot at all was because the plot needed him there?  
  
Also, maybe I'm crazy, but it seemed to me that the show was setting up the idea that Bill was the one who was going to get in trouble on account of the gambling.  I fully expected that what would happen was something like this: Jake and Bill are getting ready to go prevent the assassination when Bill is attacked (and maybe killed) by gangsters as retribution for his "stealing" money from them.  Sadie then has to take Bill's place, setting up the rest of the plot.  That would have been a good way to bypass the moderately silly amnesia plotline of the novel, which now seems to fully be back on the table.
  
To me, a more fleshed-out version of that scenario seems vastly preferable to what they've done here.  My way, you get to keep Bill as a sympathetic figure, one who Jake can feel bad about having led into harm's way.  Bill has been a sympathetic figure for pretty much his entire screen time; having that go in a different direction now not only seems like a poor use of Bill, I think it may retroactively weaken the previous episodes.  I don't want to commit to that idea until the whole series has finished, but for now, I feel like Bill has in one fell swoop gone from secret weapon to crap.
  
  
Read in the voice of Eric Cartman.
  
  
I also have a major issue with the Yellow Card Man.
  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 5: The Truth

My review of this week's episode is going to be a lot briefer than the other ones have been.  I just don't quite have the time for it this week, y'all; sorry about that!
 
It was another good episode, and I don't have much of anything negative to say about it.  It came to my attention this week that some fans are upset with the degree to which Jake and Sadie's relationship was been relegated to shorthand and suggestion, rather than to fully-dramatized exploration.
 
I can sympathize with that.  It hadn't occurred to me while watching the episodes, but it's a fair point.  I wish the miniseries was ten or thirteen episodes instead of eight; that would have created room for a lot more exploration.  But maybe Hulu couldn't afford to be that expansive.  In any case, I think the filmmakers have done a good job of changing the story so that their abbreviations of the plot have maximum impact.  Is it perfect?  No.  But it's very good, and so you won't hear many complaints from me.
 
I will say, though, that this reinforces my gut feeling that when it comes to episodic television, it's often better to go expansive rather than to go brief.  I've had a few mild disagreements with other fans on the subject of a hypothetical Netflix version of The Stand; their assertion is that you could do the whole thing in a single season, and my assertion is that uh-uh, no you couldn't, not without leaving out all sorts of tasty stuff.  Conventional wisdom says you don't need it all, of course, and 11.22.63 on Hulu proves that.  But it also proves that if you leave out some things, some people will miss it.  If you had the option -- budgetarily, etc. -- to leave ALL the good stuff in, you'd be crazy not to, and to also expand on things where you had the ability to do so.  Why have a snack when you can have a meal, y'all?
 
 


Anyways, here's some thoughts of mine on this episode:
 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 4: The Eyes of Texas

Apologies for the tardiness of this week's episode review, y'all!  I attended a wedding in Orlando, so everything else -- quite rightly -- took a backseat for several days.
  
Here we are now, though, talking about "The Eyes of Texas," the fourth episode the series.  It's another good one, and much of it is focused on deepening the relationship between Jake and Sadie.
  
The first time we see them in this episode, it is during a moment in which Jake walks into a room at school and observes Sadie playing the piano.
  
  
  
  
She's playing:
  
  


I know of only maybe one or two more beautiful and haunting pieces of music in all of human arts; it's a devastatingly lovely composition, and the way Sadie plays Satie -- tentatively, yearningly -- somehow enhances its appeal.  This slayed me, man.  Music is one of the most powerful tools a filmmaker has for building emotion, and if I was not already a believer in the romance between Jake and Sadie, I certainly would have been after this.