Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Let's Have A Look At Roland Deschain

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

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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 3: Other Voices, Other Rooms

The third episode of 11.22.63 picks up where the second left off: with Bill Turcotte having discovered that Jake was telling the truth about being from the future.  A sizable chunk of the episode is devoted to establishing the notion that Bill becomes Jake's partner/assistant.
This is a massive change from the novel, and I wouldn't be surprised if some fans of King's book throw their hands up in disgust at this alteration.  It didn't bother me in the least, though, and I'll tell you why: it's a great example of the adaptation process.  It's always worth pointing out that what works in a novel will not necessarily work in film-narrative form, and given how much of the novel 11/22/63 is spent with one character -- Jake -- doing things completely by himself, it's really no surprise at all that the miniseries 11.22.63 decided to give him somebody to talk to.
This surprised me, but it shouldn't have; if you think about it, it's really quite an obvious move for the filmmakers to make.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 2: The Kill Floor

Stephen King fandom was moderately rattled this week by the news that the first Dark Tower movie is going to include a lead female role for a character named Tirana.  What followed -- including from yours truly -- were a rather loud chorus of "huh"s and "WTF"s and "they're ruining my Dark Tower"s.
Meanwhile, Hulu released the second episode of 11.22.63 into the world on Monday.  "The Kill Floor," it's called, and it deviates from King's novel in several significant ways.
So why am I not as angry about this as I am about The Dark Tower?
I'm not entirely sure, so let's try to find out.  I've lined up an interviewee who will help me try and figure it out: Bryant Burnette, author of the blog The Truth Inside The Lie (which I hear is both a hoot AND a holler).
Q:  Bryant, when was the last time one of us interviewed the other?
A:  I dunno, Bryant.  It's been a while,  How you been?
Q:  As always, I'll ask the questions.
A:  Right.  Forgot.
Q:  So, you liked the first episode of 11.22.63?
A:  I did.  I assume you did, too.
Q:  Nicely phrased to avoid that being a question.  I'll answer anyways: yeah, I liked it a lot.  Did you like this one?

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Review of Joe Hill's "The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015"

Before we proceed, let me briefly issue a plan of attack for the next few months' worth of activity on this blog.  There are two novels that I'm very anxious to write about: Revival and Finders Keepers (the former because I feel as if I didn't give the novel a fair assessment when I read/reviewed it upon its release, and the latter because I have not yet written a review of any kind on it here and would like to do so in an attempt to not have the blog continue to feel unbalanced in some self-centered way).  Ideally, I'd like to cross both of those off the list before May, when the new Joe Hill novel (The Fireman) is published.  June will bring King's new novel, End of Watch, so I'd like to be back on track by then, and afterward be in good position to return to a semi-regular rotation of exploring King novels, stories, and movies.
Good plan!  Let's see if I can stick to it.  I'm not always great at that.  But it's always worth having a target: not having one removes the possibility of missing, but it also removes the possibility of hitting, and I'd like to hit.
I've got some other stuff I'd like to polish off prior to getting back to Revival, however: a couple of posts on Joe Hill and Owen King, who have both published things that I've missed in the past twelve months or so.  I'm a fan of both writers, and the fact that I've had some of their stuff sitting to the side for a while is unacceptable to me.  Therefore, in addition to this post, you can look for one covering Owen King's Intro to Alien Invasion (as well as a few other bits 'n' bobs) soon.
In any case, let's get that target officially pinned to the wall, and start taking a few shots at it, beginning with:
Houghton Mifflin introduced a new spinoff to their Best American Short Stories line last year with the first-ever edition of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy.  My knee-jerk reaction was to be a bit grumpy about the fact that the two genres have been mixed for the purposes of this anthology, but series editor John Joseph Adams has anticipated the reaction of kids like me who prefer that their corn and their potatoes not touch: his introduction makes a compelling argument for mixing the two.  By that I mean science fiction and fantasy, not corn and potatoes.  Nobody will ever be able to sway me on that topic, because nothing should contain even trace amounts of corn juice except for corn.  No offense to corn or the juices produced by cooking it; I feel the same about all cooked vegetables and their various moistures.  Keep that shit away from my other foods, please.  
John Joseph Adams would powerless to convince me I am wrong about this, but on the subject of mixing sci-fi and fantasy in an anthology, he's much more successful.  He refers to the combination of the two as SF / F, and for the purposes of this review, so shall we.
Adams read several thousand SF / F stories during the preparation for this project, and whittled it down to a list of eighty tales that he then passed along to the year's guest editor, Joe Hill.  He gave Hill the eighty stories in a blind-ballot manner, meaning that Hill read the stories without the benefit of knowing who had written them.  Hill then selected the twenty he felt rose the farthest to the top, and voila, Houghton Mifflin (under their Mariner imprint) had themselves an anthology.
I'm going to read and briefly discuss each story in turn, but first, a few words about Hill's introduction, "Launching Rockets."  It's a mere five pages, but those five pages are superb.  Stephen King fans will probably know that King is very good at writing introductions to other people's works.  Not all traits and talents pass from father to son, but this one seems to have done so, because Hill is just as good at it as his daddy.  Maybe even better.