actors, culture, In My Opinion, movies

IMO: Feeding the Gators

Have you ever read Stephen King‘s essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies”? The one where he explains watching scary movies is a way to test ourselves, similar to rollercoaster rides and going to haunted houses? Inside we are monsters living in a world that rewards pleasantries and virtues while it sanctions misconduct and malicious acts of violence. I agree with him. BTW, if you missed the essay, just google it, and you can read the short essay in its entirety.

We are violent by nature. What’s popular to see and discuss today has been so since our human predecessors gathered around stones or looked at the stars for answers: good spirits, evil spirits, the battles of kingdoms and empire. The gore and the disgusting intrigue many, why? Is it to test oneself to see if we can handle the state of fear? To imagine the pain and compare oneself to the aggressor and the victim? We are both. Horror movies give one a chance to experience that violence vicariously since we are bound by the mores of society to behave ourselves.

I rented a horror film last weekend and broke it up over two days watching it during the day. Pathetic, I know, but there you have it–I am a scaredy-cat. I have read Hereditary reviews and everyone seemed to think it was well made, so I tested myself to see if I could handle the fear.

credit: Reid Chavis/A24


It is a psychological film about a woman’s inability to handle grief like The Babadook. And then the house was possessed like the Amityville Horror, complete with flies and window-like eyes. And then Annie Graham (Toni Collette) turned into something out of The Conjuring/The Grudge.  And then the story turned into a Wicker story. Poor men. And then the last scene came with some slasher elements thrown in,  and I laughed. I don’t think I was supposed to do that. People criticize ambiguous endings, but this ending was predicted a long time before the last scene played out. In other words, Hereditary wasn’t sure what kind of horror movie to be. I loved the front half of the film full of fine tension and enough scary scenes to keep me biting my nails. By the time the moronic husband (Gabriel Byrne) finally realizes his wife is mentally ill, I wasn’t scared anymore.

I loved the score. I loved that the setting was beautiful–nothing better than the ironic twist of a fall setting with evil lurking in the gorgeous home. I loved the symbolic little house Annie Graham (Toni Collette) made. What a perfect vocation to illustrate she had an obsessive need to control her environment. Toni Collette‘s performance was outstanding. She showed a robust range of emotions and body language.  Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham stole the show with her creepy expressions and clucking.  I just wish writer-director Ari Astersh stuck with the genre of psychological thriller.  I’m sure if I had watched it at night in a dark theater in one setting, I would have been scared shitless. 4/5.

Stephen King ended in his essay by asserting we like to be scared because it feeds the alligators inside, that is, it keeps the balance between the good and evil in us.  Personally, I think we watch horror movies because we are bored. It is a peculiarly effective way to recharge ourselves and feel the adrenaline rush as a result. What do you think? What was the last good scary movie you watched?


L13FC: Authors Whose Books Become Films

CindyLucky13Banner (1)

Hello, guests and friends! The excellent Michael the Leopard13 from It Rains…You Get Wet and I welcome you to the July 13 discussion about authors whose books frequently are made into films. Exclude plays today and save them for the near future–sorry, William Shakespeare, although your stories have been adapted to film more than any other author, you’re out.

Michael says: 

Film adaptations and their sources represent a fascinating intersection of two longstanding favorite genres that have taken up much of my time. Books and movies. The former habit bequeathed to me by my mother through sheer example — never did I see the woman who bore me without some book nearby. The latter care of her sisters and brother who were always heading to some cinema, I observed (having grown up in their orbit).
Though, as a kid, it really didn’t click how the two had merged. No surprise for this late-Baby Boomer, “Pop Culture” for awhile now has held me in its grasp. Mom or my wife would guffaw at the obviousness of that. Still, the printed material and the moving picture in many ways point back to the other as a comparative exercise amongst fans of either. Especially today. My favorite definition of popular film, by the Florida International University, stated it more clearly:
“Popular film as we know it is essentially the result of applying the conventions of cinematography to the conventions of fiction (short story, novella, novel) and/or drama. The differences between a novel or play and the movie based on it often arise from the demands placed on the material by the conventions imposed by the art form or by the expectations of an audience concerning that art form.”
The sources for many of my favorite film adaptations have come from three of my preferred authors. No surprise, they’d germ starting in my teens, even as I left those years well behind. And easily, they’ve covered horror, thrillers (tech and otherwise), drama, the western, and of late, crime. Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Elmore Leonard.
"We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones."
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
Shockingly, or not, Hollywood’s grab for even a smidgeon of their literary magic…or just popularity with the buying public…has produced some of the best and worst for each when put to film. That’d range from Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, and Stand by Me (aka “The Body”) to the dregs of Dreamcatcher, Bag of Bones, and The Mangler.  
“Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

Michael Crichton’s have faired similarly, what with the cream of the crop that is Jurassic Park (let’s agree to not speak of any sequel, even Steven Spielberg’s, shall we?), The Andromeda Strain, and the growing appreciation of The Great Train Robbery. Only then to be slapped with the likes of Congo, Sphere, and the mess that is Timeline.

"I try to leave out the parts readers skip."
“I try to leave out the parts readers skip.”
Last, but certainly not least, Elmore Leonard has held the title for some supreme crime and western novels that have successfully made their way to celluloid. I speak of Out of Sight, Jackie Brown (aka “Rum Punch”), and 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma. The less said about the disappointing distillations of Be Cool (the sequel to the sublime Get Shorty), Burt Reynold’s Stick, and drum roll please…3:10 to Yuma (2005); what surely is the most antithetical Elmore Leonard adaptation out there.
Tell us who is your favorite author. Which adaptation did you approve? Which did you find embarrassing? 

Cindy’s thoughts:

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

How is it that the British spinster, Jane Austen, has had the authoritative say about love for almost 220 years, and she is still quite popular today? What’s her secret? One, television has been kind to her. There seems to be a PBS/BBC adaption every decade. With film, her principal novels: Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice have been reinvented to please traditionalists (like me) and new twists and angles to engage younger audiences. It is the central theme of the precarious state of females that intrigues me about her stories.  When I read or watch a Jane Austen story, I want to save the heroine from her circumstances. To marry was the primary occupation of mothers. Families tried hard to train their daughters to appear an ideal mate. A women’s looks, charms, and talents were equitable to a male considering the physical countenance of a horse. A kind disposition, good teeth, and firm haunches help the cause, don’t they? Jane Austen was an idealist whose stories centered around sin and virtue. All her heroines struggled and suffered, but eventually, they get their man. Love is not so kind in real life. It’s the hope she instills that holds an audience captive. I do not claim to know the ins-and-outs behind Jane Austen or the authenticity of the film Becoming Jane (2007), in fact, it was a mediocre film, but it shed an insight about Austen that I believe must be true. Unrequited love and bad timing are common companions to many who ache for love. People read her stories and admire the goodness of her heroines and feel good for the happy ending. The best film adaptation is still Pride and Prejudice (2005). The setting, the acting, and the score still can’t be beaten. I preferred Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (1995), over the traditional Emma(1996) with Gwyneth Paltrow. Love and Friendship(2016) was charming. The worst adaptation would be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016). 

(I am this momement at a hookah bar in Turkey. I have no opportunity to finish up with Cormac McCarthy and W. Somerset Maugham. Please forgive me.)

Michael, thank you for running the show! I will comment Friday.

1980s, actors, books, Film Spotlight, movies, Science Fiction

The Running Man

This contribution is for my movie buff friend, Rob, who is hosting the MOVIE ROB’S OCTOBER STEPHEN KING BLOGATHON. I selected not a horror film but a 1982 science fiction novel penned by Richard Bachman, the alias of King. According to Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, it took him a week to write The Running Man. Like several of his film adaptations, the transfer from book to film is difficult. You really need a magical director to pull off the magic of King’s words. Is The Running Man as good as The Shining, Misery, or Carrie? No, not even close. Should you watch The Running Man (1987)? 

A good dystopian story contains satire, and The Running Man film reeks of it, and that’s the challenge with appreciating it. The story-line has a superior message which the inner intellectual embraces, while the film surrounds the viewer with all the crass elements about the 1980s I’d just assume forget. The film could have been a Blade Runner or a Mad Max with its themes developed, but as The Running Man tries to illustrate the ludicrousness of society, that is, a populace addicted to reality television and individual freedoms stolen by a corrupt government, the emphasis of the film shifts away from the warning and stresses the absurdity of the stalkers and the deliverance of those silly one-liners we all associate with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, it lacks the clever special effects admired in Total Recall (1990). 

Richard Dawson as Damon Killian
Richard Dawson as Damon Killian

Does it sound like I disliked the film? No, it is fun if you don’t take it too seriously. After all, you have to admire the cast for they are living examples of the parody and know it. Richard Dawson as the superficial television game host (remember Family Feud?) gives the mob what they want–violence and death in a gladiator-style television show with all the noise and lights and Jane Fonda leotards on dancers who came straight from the MTV set of a Paula Abdul video. How about Jim Brown, the football fullback worshiped for his prowess as a stadium athlete, or Captain Freedom played by Jesse Ventura, the quintessential wrestler famous for his staging in the ring? Or Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, a performer from another circus ring, the rock star? All this parodying of the entertainer and their fickle fans, grandmothers, and average Joes who are duped by the media makes me cringe especially since the story is set in the future of 2017.

I like watching old science fiction just to see if their predictions came true. Have we devolved? I think humans have always loved the diversion of entertainment. One can easily see the parallels from 1987 to today; we do live in a dystopian of sorts where violence and technology reign supreme. Where that thin line between appearance and reality is distorted for ratings and sales and the wow-factor. The fizz of the entertainment industry. The assault on the senses. A police-state merging with the entertainment industry to brainwash its society. Taken in this vein, the film from the past contains varying shades of our today. When I first watched it thirty years ago, it did feel like science fiction. Who better illustrates this past-present correlation than Arnold Schwarzenegger who has spent a lifetime in front of a camera as body-builder, actor, politician, and returning today as an actor, a nebulous icon of our world?

If you like good old-fashioned kick-ass films with sarcastic tough-guys bludgeoning their way from point A to B, you’d like this one a lot.  I did love the pod-slalom scenes when runners are transported from the studio set to the outside arena. 3.5 out of 5.