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Monday, March 21, 2016


Mr. Bachman, come in. It's been a while.

If you're a Constant Reader, you know (kinda) why Stephen King occasionally became Richard Bachman. He only had three novels to his name, and the first had been a major hit so of course the two follow-ups had been as well, and critics were eager to point out that King's popularity had nothing to do with his talent, which, as far as they were concerned, was negligible.

Instead, they insisted, as the author of a big hit, his next few novels will also be big hits until his name stops being a selling point all on its own. Then he will be seen as the flash in the pan he actually is. You know, kinda like how Stephenie Meyer is viewed today.

King wanted to know if this was true. What if he released something under a different name, with as little fanfare as possible, and just let people discover it? Would it garner the same sort of response his mainstream releases got?

Other reasons for inventing the Bachman persona (and at this point, I think "persona" is the right word. "Pseudonym" just doesn't do what King created here justice) was that it gave him a chance to release some of his earlier material, some of which was written prior to Carrie, and also because his publisher, at the time anyway, would not allow more than one book a year to be published by the same author.

Results were hard to nail down. On the one hand, Bachman's novels did not sell nearly as well, but the lack of promotion could have had a lot to do with that. Also, critics were much kinder to Bachman, even describing his first novel, Rage thusly: "It's like something Stephen King would write, if Stephen King could write." Joke's on them, I guess.

But Thinner is different. All the previous Bachman books were the works of a young King, still finding his voice and sampling various genres. In other words, they didn't really read like Stephen King novels. Thinner is a novel written by the man who had, at that point, given us The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Different Seasons and Pet Sematary. This was the master at work again.

But King thought the experiment had not yet yielded conclusive results, so, he began work on Thinner, planning from the get-go to make this one a Bachman book. This means this was the first Bachman book intended to be one, despite the fact that really, honestly, the disguise at this point was paper thin. It doesn't surprise me at all that King was unmasked shortly after this book was published. Heck, he even name-checks himself in this book, having a character describe what's happening to him as being "like something out of a Stephen King novel." He might as well have winked at the audience, and it doesn't help that Thinner, unlike pretty much anything Bachman wrote up until now, can safely be classified as a horror story. Not a very scary one, but a gripping one, where the fear is derived from what our protagonist's body goes through.

The story focuses on Billy Halleck, a lawyer who has been blessed with a comfortable marriage, a loving daughter and a successful career. He's also a good fifty pounds overweight, and getting bigger. His doctor warns him that he is verging into heart-attack territory.

Now, I'm just gonna break in here and state that this is one of the things I'd like to see changed for the film. Billy is described as being 37 years old, six foot two and 247 lbs. That's...not heart attack territory. At all. I figured Billy had to be pretty short and slight of frame until the line about him being 6'2" came up. I'm 6'2" myself and over 300 lbs. I don't want to say just how much over, but let's just say I'm bigger than Billy. I've had my heart and blood pressure checked numerous times. They're both completely normal, and for that matter, when I had gas pains in my chest recently I went to the doctor to make sure everything was okay with my heart. I was told that not only was my heart completely healthy, but the fact that I was only 38 meant that I was extremely unlikely to have a heart attack, despite my weight. Is this just another example of King's seeming issues with fat people rearing its head again?

Well, apparently not. Apparently they were based on King's actual experiences. He weighed a bit less than Billy but was a heavy smoker, and was told he was entering "heart-attack country". Of course, what he leaves out is that in addition to being a bit overweight and smoking heavily, he was also a big-time substance abuser and alcoholic. That just might have had something to do with his doctor's warning.

Billy is a very good lawyer, though, and at this point even has mob connections, having successfully defended a low-level mobster named Richard Ginelli, who apparently has done that thing where a mafia man decides his lawyer is "part of the family now" because he treats Billy like a brother. But recently Billy himself has had legal trouble that is kicked off by the arrival of a traveling caravan of gypsies.

Now, here's another sticky point: I simply don't know if traveling gypsies are still a thing. Most Romany peoples of this day and age have more or less modernized and joined society. The gypsies in this story might wear rock star t-shirts and travel in campers and cars rather than with horses and wagons, but still, they're practically like something out of some old story.

Because it's the 80's (though this would be easy to modernize, gypsies or no gypsies), local police chief Duncan Hopley tells them to get on out of town. But before they can, Billy ends up running one of them over with his car.

It's not entirely his fault. First, his wife Heidi had decided to give him a handjob while he drove, which she had never done before, and thus he was distracted, plus the old woman didn't use the crosswalk or look where she was going when she darted out in front of him. But Billy is respected by the law enforcement community, and so Hopley doesn't even check to see if he'd been drinking while the judge, a buddy of Billy's named Cary Rossington, finds the fault to be entirely the old woman's and lets Billy off without even a slap on the wrist.

But the old woman's father, a 108-year-old Romany shaman, gets his own revenge, touching Billy on the cheek outside the courthouse and whispering one word: thinner. Before too long, Billy notices he's losing weight despite no changes to his diet or lifestyle. Even worse, he can't gain weight no matter how much he eats, and he's losing it fast enough to scare his wife, daughter, doctor and himself. Quickly the smiles and congratulations turn into worried looks and admonitions to see a doctor. When Billy realizes that he actually has been cursed to evidently lose weight until he dies, his wife and doctor decide he's crazy and try to have him committed. Only his mob buddy, Ginelli, believes him enough to help.

At first, I wasn't sure I was gonna do a post on this one because there already is a film version of this story, and while I haven't seen it, what I know about it tells me that it's pretty faithful to the novel, adding in only some marital infidelity and changing the ending a bit. It bombed at the box-office and critics were not kind, saying that it was all high concept and no pay-off and that there wasn't a single likeable character in it. I'm not sure I agree with either assessment, at least of the book, as I found Billy pretty likeable, even as I understood his flaws, and I liked Ginelli, too, as a sort of anti-hero, plus the pay-off was pretty intense, at least I thought.

So sure, let's try again. David Fincher can take the reigns this time, and maybe Ehren Kruger can handle story duties. And now for a cast.

For Billy, I hunted around for emaciated actors, or at the very least actors thin enough they wouldn't have to do much to look deathly gaunt. I figure the best way to do it is film the fat-suit scenes first, let the actor sweat and lose muscle and start to look unhealthily thin, and then finally have him pull a Christian-Bale-in-The Machinist and go scary gaunt. Make-up can help with that too, making his eyes look sunken and his ribs and collar-bones stand out, etc. I even figured Bale himself would play the part well, but then I figured he likely wouldn't be in a hurry to get scary-thin again, so it would have to be someone who could do it but hadn't yet. Eventually I settled on Eddie Redmayne. Now, Eddie's about three years too young, and looks younger, but Billy isn't tied to his age. Even his daughter, written to be a teenager thanks to Billy and Heidi marrying early, can be re-written as nine or ten and not one thing would be lost (there's even a scene where she asks for an explanation of the gypsies as he's saying good-night to her, and she really seems quite young in this scene). For that matter, this just means that for the next decade or so, Redmayne can still be used as he won't have aged out of the role yet. Plus, the fat suit will add years.
Richard Ginelli was harder to cast than I thought he would be. Joe Mantegna played him the first time out, and might be young enough to still pull it off, but I don't like having the same actor play the same role in a remake. It never sits well with me. I'm even against JK Simmons playing J. Jonah Jameson again for the new Sony/MCU Spider-Man film. But who else could play him? I tossed out name after name (Steve Buscemi, Michael Imperioli) before settling on Bobby Cannavale. This guy just screams small-time mobster and once I'd settled on him, he became Ginelli very naturally in my head. It's the kind of role he could play in his sleep.
Billy's wife Heidi was harder because she's a pretty generic character. She also gets shunted to the sidelines midway through, so a big name is not required here, but I picked a relatively well-known actress. I figured Laura Prepon was believable as the wife of an overweight man. She's a bit older than Eddie Redmayne, but not unbelievably so. I won't be casting Linda, their daughter, as in this version she'll be a pre-teen.
Early in the story, Billy goes to his friends on the legal side of things, hoping they can help. He finds they've been cursed as well. Judge Cary Rossington is never actually in a scene, but he'll have to be in the film. He's not described, so I picked a not-too-famous middle-aged man, Mark Moses.
Rossington's wife, Leda, is present, telling Billy what's happened to her husband (he's growing scales), and I didn't realize it until I saw her face, but I pictured her looking like Frances Fisher.
Police Chief Duncan Hopley is another role that will be bigger on film as much of what his character does is described to us rather than shown. His one scene has him covered with boils and sores, so it doesn't really matter who's under there, but I figured in the scenes before he's cursed, he'll have to look like a credible cop. So I picked a middle-aged Irish character actor who's played a lot of cop roles, Shea Wigham.
Doctor Michael Houston, Billy's physician who at first thinks his weight loss is a psychosomatic response to his guilty feelings, and later feels that he's gone crazy, doesn't get much description besides being handsome enough to make Billy jealous. In the film version he has an all-out affair with Billy's wife while trying to get Billy committed, but that's an invention of the film. A pretty believable one, but still, just an intention. Not sure it's needed here. He's also a coke-head, revealed in a far-from-believable scene where he just openly snorts coke in front of Billy while giving him his report on Billy's health. That scene would have to be changed so that he toots up before talking to Billy, but Billy notices the paraphernalia or something. I pictured Michael Trucco in the role.
Now for the gypsies. To start off with, I'll mention that not all these actors will be actual Romanies. This is because most Romany actors don't look Romany at all. Did you know Jennifer Aniston is of Romany descent? Yeah, look it up some time, you'll see what I mean.

For Taduz Lemke, the old man who curses Billy, I settled on Wes Studi, who I am now grateful I didn't use for Firestarter. Studi is a scary-looking man, and looks much older than his 69 years. This part will fit him like a glove.
His great-granddaughter Gina is a psychotic little firecracker who uses her sharpshooter abilities for more than just her slingshot act. She's described as being incredibly sexy but very dangerous. I went through a number of darker-skinned actresses before settling on Janina Gavankar.
Her brother, Samuel, is the troup's juggler, a young handsome man who's fiercely devoted to his family. He doesn't really have much character, but he's present and central for all the action at their camp. I chose Luke Pasqualino to play him.
My last role, if you'll permit me, isn't really a character in the book, but when I found him while searching for Romany actors, I had to include him. Not only is he really of Romany heritage, and looks it, he's also perfect for a traveling circus. Every circus needs its strong man, right? And he could be used as one of the enforcers who confront Billy when he gets to their camp. You could even split up the roles of Samuel and this guy. I decided he'd be named Trey Heilig, after one of the minor Gypsy characters. The actor in question is Dave Bautista. Couldn't you just hear him growling "white man from town!"?
And now I again beg your indulgence, because I'm about to start another long novel. Today I finished reading Dolan's Cadillac because I wanted to know before making this post if I would be making one for that story. I don't think I will, though. It's weird; there was a film version of this in the works for years, with Sylvester Stallone and Kevin Bacon attached to star, and when it was finally ready to roll, both men had backed out and instead we got...Christian Slater and Wes Bentley. I understand that it's one of the worst King adaptations to ever exist. I wondered if we needed another film to do the story justice, but really, it's a pretty standard revenge tale that's neatly told but not all that compelling. I'm not sure a film version is necessary.

Instead, I'm moving on to the next big novel, which I've been waiting a long time to get to, and I know I'll be doing a post on it. Yes. on it.

Next up: It!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Gunslinger Updated

Last night I updated my post on The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. Now I have decided that my adaptation of The Dark Tower will be a NetFlix TV series. The Gunslinger will encompass the first season.

I didn't really change much of it because I liked the original post as it was. And thankfully, since I mostly chose actors who are comfortable doing both film and television, I didn't really have to update the cast for the most part, though I did remove Helena Bonham Carter. I also took my alternate Rolands away since Langley Kirkwood was far and away the reader pick for that role.

Really, this story belongs on TV. It's just so detailed. I picture this series running for about five seasons. But wait, I hear you cry, weren't there seven books? Yes, and that was about two more than were necessary. It would not trouble me at all if the writers of the TV series, and I want this to involve Frank Darabont and Daniel Knauf in some capacity, were to completely re-write the ending, and by that I mean the last three books.

For a while, I thought The Dark Tower would need to be movies because it's this series that ties King's mythos together. I compared it to the MCU's Avengers films. But now I think it's more like this is the Agents of SHIELD of the SKCU, only with way more interaction with the films.

So for The Drawing of the Three, I will be approaching it as though it were Season Two of the TV series, and as for the flashbacks in The Gunslinger and practically the whole of Wizard and Glass, these events will unfold throughout the series rather than as one big story smack in the middle.

As I explained in the edited post, the film version currently in the works appears to be going the "in name only" route, casting actors that are nothing like the characters and apparently starting in the middle and mostly keeping the setting in "our" world, focusing on Jake instead of Roland, who will be more like a mentor figure. The fact that they've made a prominent character with the same name as a background character tells me that whatever this movie turns out like, it won't be The Dark Tower. I'm calling it The Grey Castle from now on because I don't see it as anything close to The Dark Tower.

Unless we're talking about the Men in Black franchise, any time producers feel like they can screw around with a story and produce something that bears little to no resemblance to the source material, what you end up with is a giant stinking bomb, and I am 99.999% sure that's what will happen here. Thankfully, this means that if someone (Darabont? Knauf?) tries to do it again and do it the right way, people will be responsive, rather than asking "why are you making this again?"

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Talisman

Well, let's start this post off with some relatively good news for yours truly: I am now the proud owner of a physical copy of The Colorado Kid!

It was ordered for me back in January by my loving wife, and was supposed to arrive on the 8th of February. After it was officially 20 days late, I gave it up for lost in the mail.

Three days later it got here, safe and sound. Yay! Still don't have a job, so all is not perfect in my little world, but at least I have a modicum of good news.

Anyway, now on to The Talisman.

This book is a collaboration between King and Peter Straub, two authors whose personal styles are all but diametrically opposed. King's prose and dialogue tend to be pretty down to earth and realistic. He also tends to keep things moving at a nice clip. Straub is quite florid and glacial, at least in my one experience trying to read one of his novels, a supernatural creeper called Shadowland. My chief issue with that book is that its characters didn't talk like people. Their dialogue sounded like they were rehearsing for a play.

But both Straub and King are important names in horror, so it might seem odd that the two of them getting together produces a non-horror novel. The Talisman is pure fantasy from the word go. And it's portal fantasy, for that matter.

As I've said before, I read a shit-ton of fantasy, and it's far and away my favorite genre, but I'm usually not a fan of what I call "portal fantasy".  You know what I mean. If I'm looking at books on the rack and one of them says something like "16-year-old Cody couldn't stand the thought of spending the summer on strange old Aunt Hazel's farm. But when he discovers a mysterious door in her attic..." such a book gets put right back where I found it.

But this isn't normal portal fantasy. It's not even portal fantasy of The Dark Tower variety. No, this is more like what would happen if you sat King and Straub in a room together, got them flying high on coke, read The Chronicles of Narnia to them and then told them to write their own version.

The end result is, well, one very odd book. It's not bad; there were some really great parts, and they probably outnumbered the less-than-great parts. It's just...weird. I'm still not 100% sure what it was about. It felt disjointed, all over the map, and that's probably because of clashing narrative styles. I understand that King and Straub basically took turns writing this thing and when one of them got stuck, or felt they'd written enough, they'd send what they had to the other and he would continue from there (though there was an outline, made by King). This means there are plenty of chapters that end on one note and the next begins on a completely different one.

For example, one chapter ends with our young hero, Jack, thinking that he's run into one of his demonic pursuers again, in this case a shape-shifter that calls himself Elroy. And when I say "thinking" I mean the prose literally says "the herdsman was the Elroy-thing". But the very next chapter begins with the words "Except it wasn't." Turns out Jack was mistaken, but I'm not sure how, because the "Elroy-thing" and this herdsman are both described and neither looks anything like the other.

That's the example that really seems to stick out to me. Also, there were times when I felt like I was reading a Stephen King novel (especially when certain words or phrases are repeated to make sure we know they have meaning) and at other times, the story slowed right down and got overly florid and I knew Mr. Straub had taken over.

I remembered liking this book the first time I read it, and I was genuinely excited to get to it this time around. That feeling didn't last throughout, however. It came in fits and starts. The beginning is boring as hell. After getting over that hump, things got better for a bit, but honestly, a lot of this made me want to go read a real fantasy novel.

Essentially, this story is about a young boy named Jack Sawyer, the son of an aging B-movie actress named Lily Cavanaugh, who has grown up all his life having very realistic "daydreams" involving other worlds and strange happenings. His father has recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, and his father's business partner, "Uncle" Morgan Sloat (does any name scream "I'm the villain!" more than that?) apparently is interested in taking care of Lily and Jack. Lily doesn't trust Morgan at all, and has moved out to a nearly deserted hotel in New Hampshire, taking Jack with her. Jack also doesn't trust Morgan, and his mind for whatever reason connects Morgan to the death of "Uncle Tommy", his father and Morgan's lawyer, who was always good to Jack and who was recently mowed down by a van.

Now Lily seems to be dying, and while wondering what he can do about it, Jack meets Speedy Parker, a friendly old black handy man (shades of The Shining) who seems to know more than he's saying, and that he knows a way Jack can save his mother's life.

You see, Speedy, and apparently Jack's father Phil, Morgan Sloat and probably several others, have knowledge of an alternate world they refer to as "the Territories", and this world is connected in a mysterious way to our own. The Territories are mostly peaceful, agrarian and technologically on par with our own medieval period. As Morgan describes it, "they have magic like we have physics", so it's basically your standard-issue fantasy world, with probably even less thought put into the social, political and geographical landscape than hacks who try to write fantasy by essentially just copying Tolkien's Middle-Earth do.

But then, that's not the point of the story. The point is that Jack's mother is dying, and there's something Jack can get that will save her; the titular "Talisman", which is all it's ever referred to as. It's in a "bad place" on the other side of the country, but Jack can get there by also traveling in the Territories, which are smaller than our world, so he'll cover more ground faster. But then, there's that connection between the Territories and our world that I mentioned. See, stuff that happens in that world affects stuff that happens in ours, such as a murder on that side causing mass death in our own, and many people on our side have "twinners" in the Territories. A "twinner", as best as I can describe it, is the version of you for that other world. Because that world is different, your twinner is different and yet they look like you. Even that doesn't really explain it because we find out that Morgan's twinner looks like him in the fact but is taller and didn't lose his hair, two things that really can't be explained by just "having lived a different life in a different place."

Twinners are a neat concept, but handled weirdly, almost as if Straub and King had different ideas as to what a twinner actually is. Morgan Sloat is the twinner of Morgan of Orris, and in one scene, Jack watches with horror as Morgan Sloat rips open a tear in reality and steps through from our world to the Territories, literally transforming into Morgan of Orris as he does so. This, I took to mean, was an indicator that the two men are pretty much the same man, or at least Orris was the guise Sloat uses when in the Territories. Osmond and his twinner, Sunlight Gardener, also seem to be more or less the same man, with similar mannerisms and memories, just a different manner of dress. Later, we're told explicitly that Orris and Sloat are two different people, alternate versions of each other, and that when Sloat "migrates" to the Territories, he automatically ends up in Orris's body, wherever Orris happens to be. This goes against the scene where Sloat steps through the rip in reality, but King or Straub, whichever of them wrote the later scene that describes what happens when Morgan migrates, tried to cover that up by saying that Sloat had been "lucky" that Orris was already there when he stepped through. This is just lazy writing because Orris was clearly not there in the scene as written, and this was a very transparent attempt to rationalize an earlier scene.

But Jack is "single-natured", meaning his twinner is dead. When Jack flips back and forth, he is in whatever corresponding spot he was in our world or their world. In a weird, almost neat twist, everything about Jack's clothes and items change, as well. His backpack becomes a medieval style traveling bag, his clothes become more medieval and his money becomes what they use for money. He even finds himself automatically speaking and understanding their language. This is never explained. Just part of the magic of flipping over.

Laura DeLoessian is the Queen of the Territories (see what I mean about geopolitical structure not really being explored? How much of the Territories is she queen of? Are there other nations? Do the Territories have a real name or are they just "the Territories"?) and she's dying, as is Jack's mother, because they're twinners. Apparently a twinner's death affects the other, but not always by both of them actually dying. It's very complicated and not really explored at all. A lot of stuff isn't really explored or explained. I sound like I'm ragging on it, but honestly, I think if King and Straub had tried to explain it, it would have been immensely unsatisfying and would have made everything lamer.

And now I want to pause for a moment and share a story with you from the first time I read this. As I have probably mentioned, I'm a divorcee, and the last time I read this I was still with my first wife. I have eczema patches here and there and one of her pet peeves was when I would get itchy in my sleep. For some reason the sound of me scratching at my eczema drove her nuts, and she would tell me to go downstairs until I was finished being itchy. While I was in the middle of reading this, one night I was half-asleep and dreaming that as I scratched my chest, a bridge was being built in the Territories. So I'm not kidding, this conversation happened between my former wife and half-asleep me:

Wife: Quit scratching.

Me: I have to. I'm building a bridge.

Wife: What? Whatever, if you're gonna scratch, go downstairs.

Me: I can't. If I go down there the bridge won't get built.

I didn't know about the conversation until the next morning when my then-wife asked "how's that bridge coming?" and I wondered how she knew about my dream.

Anyway, that's a lot of background for what's really a simple plot. Jack needs to save his mother's life, and in so doing also save the life of Queen Laura DeLoessian, and meanwhile he's being tracked by Morgan Sloat who has dark and sinister plans for the Territories, and wants Jack out of the way before he ruins them.

Sloat's goals are actually kinda nebulous. We don't spend a lot of time getting into his head. It seems like he mainly wants to plunder the Territories for their resources but also wants to rule them. It's semi-explored that becoming the Territories' absolute ruler is more Orris's goal, while plundering for resources is Sloat's. So he's basically every despotic villain you've already seen, not all that interesting, but that's where a dynamic actor could probably help. It's a bit odd just how far Sloat is willing to go to accomplish his goals, at one point even suggesting the death of his son would be an acceptable loss. Did I mention Sloat's just a talent agent? Yeah, he and Jack's dad ran a talent agency that represented his mother. Sloat was more the business end of things, while Phil, Jack's dad, handled the clientele, but Sloat wants to branch into other business ventures and considers nothing too far to go in pursuit of money and power. So, essentially, he's Donald Trump.

I sound like I'm damning this book with faint praise, but I actually do like it. I don't love it like I remember loving it the first time out, but this is an important chapter in the unfolding saga that is the SKCU, so this really needs to be filmed. Not to mention, it later has a sequel, Black House, which is both an awesome book (again, that's my recollection, and I hope I'm right) and very, very tied in with the Dark Tower mythos, so we need a film of this one.

I wasn't sure what format to film this in. Filming it as two movies, a la Kill Bill, would give it more than enough time to tell the whole story, but as I was reading I realized how episodic this book is. Jack literally goes from one bad situation to another, and they don't always build on each other. It kinda feels like I'm watching TV.

I decided to cast this as if it could go either way; a mini-series or two films. The actors I chose have done extensive work in both formats (well, most of them) and would work no matter which way it was done.

I also decided that our main character, Jack, should be aged up to teenage years. I started off thinking he seemed far too mature to be twelve, and as I read I kept thinking that. He's described as twelve but in no way, shape or form written as twelve. Same with his friend Richard, who becomes a major character in the book's second half.

Jack is described as a handsome young lad with hair that's a bit too long, tall for his age, and the more he travels back and forth between this world and the Territories, the more the Territories seem to rub off on him and cause people to be unusually drawn to him. In this case, the actor I pictured might or might not be the absolute perfect choice, but he's a good young actor who matches his physical description and has some residual popularity. I went with Chandler Riggs of The Walking Dead fame.
Morgan Sloat/Morgan of Orris was harder, because even though they're twinners of each other, they don't look alike as far as their body type. All the same, I wanted one actor to play both. Make--up, wardrobe, wigs and camera tricks can help the two characters look suitably different. When I read this the first time, I pictured Liam Neeson, only with a fat suit and balding hair when he's Sloat. This time, I realized how great James Spader would be. Spader really is short, getting heavier as he gets older and losing his hair. Considering there are more scenes of Sloat as Sloat, this means a minimal amount of make-up, etc., would be necessary. Orris would require them to make Spader look taller and slimmer, but that can be done. Spader has this crazy-awesome resonant baritone voice and naturally plays evil very well. But can I believe him as a nerdy guy who went into the talent rep business? Absolutely.
Then there's Jack's mother, Lily Cavanaugh Sawyer, who is also Queen Laura DeLoessian. I have to say, I kept my choice from the first time I read this. I feel like maybe she's too big a star, after all, this role is more or less a cameo, but somehow this actress's face is the only one I can see. The fact that she's probably older than Lily is supposed to be, but still beautiful, will help communicate Lily's illness making her age too fast. I picked Julianne Moore.
Lester "Speedy" Parker is another almost-cameo. The first time I read this book, I pictured Morgan Freeman in this role, but the more I read, the less he fit and I realized that Freeman can't literally play every magical negro out there. Besides, I've already used him. My choice for this one is probably going to cause some disagreement. See, Speedy Parker in our world looks like a very old man. Much is said about his grey steel-wool hair and lined, leathery face. But his twinner, Parkus, is a very healthy-looking badass. It's implied that Speedy has aged prematurely due to alcoholism and other factors (he actually gives Jack a bottle of cheap wine, telling him he'll need it to travel to the territories; only King would write a portal story where wine is, seemingly, what transports you). I decided I'd cast a younger actor capable of being aged up through make-up. Andre Royo is in his late 40's but those of you who are familiar with The Wire know how superbly he "de-glams". I see no issue turning him into a decrepit old man.
Then there's Osmond, AKA the "Reverend" Sunlight Gardener. Oh, what a character this is. Probably more psychotic than even Morgan, Gardener in our world is a "minister" who runs a home for wayward boys that Jack and his companion Wolf essentially become imprisoned in. Osmond, meanwhile is the whip-bearing psychopath that Orris employs as his right-hand-man. Gardener is who we really spend more time with, though, through Jack's stay at the Sunlight Home. He is probably one of the most hate-worthy characters in this or any of King's books, a boo-his villain you can't wait to see get his comeuppance. He just feels slimy. There's no better way to put it. He's basically every snake-oil salesman you've ever met, with a sort of craziness in his eyes and a deceptively soft, almost effeminate manner, until he gets to preaching at which point he turns into Billy Sunday. Osmond is a less complicated character; he's just a really bad guy who runs Orris's labor pits where the toxicity of the materials they're working with and around mutate both the prisoners and their guards. His own son (Osmond's that is, the twinner of Gardener's son) has mutated horribly, in one of the more unnerving scenes in this book (I called it non-horror, but oh boy are there some Lovecraftian overtones to this; might be part of why I like it). The first time I read this, Christopher Walken was my head-Gardener/Osmond, but this time around, I pictured him as Brad Dourif. He just does slimy so well, and I want you to feel the slime dripping off this character.
Before Jack gets to the Sunlight Home, however, he has another, nearly as bad problem after he ends up in a dying town called Oatley. He ends up getting a job at the Oatley Tap, the local bar, working for a truly despicable character named Smokey Updike. This is one of the most obvious times in the story where I just couldn't believe the character to be twelve. Smokey ends up hiring him because Jack is underage and can therefore be paid whatever Smokey wants to pay him. However, as Jack's job requires him to be seen by customers, I sincerely doubt anyone would hire a 12-year-old. A 16-year-old, though? Maybe. Especially in 1981, when this story is set, and I would actually like to keep the setting, especially considering its sequel focuses on Jack as an adult. Smokey is one of the few villainous characters in this book that's just a bad person, not a twinner, not in any way connected to the Territories. He's described as skinny and greasy, and it wasn't hard at all to picture Sons of Anarchy's Kim Coates in the role.
While in Oatley, Jack is menaced by a cowboy type who looks like actor Randolph Scott. This is Elroy, a sort of weregoat creature (but described as something more horrifying; more shades of Lovecraft) who is trying to scare Jack into going back home. Looking like Randolph Scott isn't really 100% necessary for the actor. He just has to be able to look really, really creepy and Lee Tergeson knows how to do that.
Jack doesn't just make enemies on the road, though. In fact, one of the first people he meets is the captain of the Queen's guard, a man named Farren, who isn't a large role but is certainly important. Farren's description wouldn't be out of place on an episode of Game of Thrones or something, so I cast a middle-aged, still-handsome Australian actor who can play period: Callan Mulvey.
Then there's Wolf. Oh boy. One of the more well-known characters from this story, Wolf is a werewolf herdsman who looks after the Queen's cattle. In the Territories, apparently this is pretty common, for a wolf-man to be a sheep herder. Wolfs are quite peaceful (they're all called Wolf, from what I can tell), just intelligent enough to seem like a simpleton, but much smarter when it comes to smells, and very large. Wolf himself is seemingly a young boy, at least by Wolf standards, though he looks like he's in his late teens or older to Jack, very tall and broad-shouldered and with a wide-open, friendly face. He also says "Wolf!" a lot while talking, which I pictured more as him kind of barking. Wolf is well-loved by quite a few fans (and despised by others) so I had a hard time getting someone who was just right. But then I got into watching Downton Abbey with my wife, and actor Matt Milne is just the man. He stands 6'5" and both looks and talks like a Scottish Eddie Redmayne. I don't know why, but I always pictured Wolf talking like a highlander, so this really fit even better. Watch Downton Abbey if you think this picture doesn't look giant enough. Or just google "Matt Milne Downton Abbey" and have a look at the images that come up.
At Sunlight Home, several of the older boys act as lieutenants to Gardener, the ones that have been totally brainwashed by him. In the book there are five or six of them, including Sonny Singer, the ring-leader, and Hector Bast, the enforcer, who's Wolf's size and built like a tank. I decided that really only Singer needed to be cast, sorta standing in for all of them except Bast, and Bast is so big that I had an impossible time finding someone who looked both big enough and young enough. I'm sure such an actor exists, but he's probably an unknown. Singer, meanwhile, is of normal size but abnormal evil. He's got to be played by someone automatically unlikeable and Frank Dillane can't look pleasant even when he's trying to.
After Jack escapes from Sunlight Home, he makes it to Thayer School where his friend Richard Sloat, Morgan's son, is studying. This leads to one of the most Lovecraftian scenes in the book and I bloody loved it, but Richard I found to be an insufferable little snot that I didn't like at all. I kept wondering why Jack would ever call this little shit a friend, let alone his best friend. I warmed to Richard very slightly toward the end. He's described as every kid who made you want to pound on him when you were in school; bespectacled, smartly dressed and oh-so-sure he's smarter than you. What really made me dislike him was that Richard is the sort of kid who has absolutely no patience for anything that isn't concrete, scientifically, veritably, absolutely real. He doesn't even like realistic novels. At one point Jack asks him what he's got against a good story, and Richard gives the most punchable reply possible: "Well, there's no such thing as a good made-up story, is there?" We later learn that he has his reasons for this, and they are pretty understandable, but still, I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for him at all. I picked Charlie Plummer to play him, for reasons this picture should make obvious.
The next two roles are smaller but memorable. Anders is the man who runs the Outpost Depot, a train station in the Territories set up by Sloat and Orris together, who is terrified of Morgan but who helps Jack and Richard get further west by train. I love adding technology to a traditional fantasy setting, so this put a grin on my face. Anders is described as being very tall and broad with a broad white beard and looking about 70 years old. This was a no-brainer. James Cosmo fits the bill.
Jack's father, who would only be seen in flashback, is Phil Sawyer, the twinner of Prince Philip Sawtelle in the Territories, long-dead husband to Laura DeLoessian. Jack's memories of Phil made him seem like a pretty standard nice guy, without a lot more to go on. Still, he's a large enough part of the story that he needs casting. The first time through I pictured Anthony Edwards, but he's too old now. I went through a dozen or so "nice guy" actors, discarding several as too famous for such a small role or too old, too young. Finally I hit on Jeremy Sisto, an actor it's almost impossible not to like, and as he's 14 years younger than Julianne Moore, it can help underscore just how much her disease is aging her.
Bottom line, this is a divisive book. You might like it, you might hate it, you might even find yourself liking in spite of itself. I know that scenes where everything went to Lovecraftian Hell were my favorite, but there's so much that happens in between them, and this is a very slow read. That's another area a film version might help. Just as many love the Lord of the Rings films but find the books slow and ponderous, this story is very cinematic, and just waiting to be cleaned up and streamlined.

Thinner is next on the reading list, but I'm not sure if I'll be doing a post for it. There's a film already, and I understand it's terrible, but I've heard from some who've read it that the novel itself isn't really any better. At least the title is accurate as far as the book's length, so it won't take me long (I hope) to get through. After that is another novella that's been filmed already, Dolan's Cadillac. That one probably won't get a post due to how recent the (apparently very, very bad) film version was released. The novel after that, though? Oh, it's absolutely getting a post.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Dark Bomb is Coming

Well, the writing is on the wall. The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey and Abbey Lee has officially entered production.

Elba will be playing Roland, the Gunslinger. McConaughey will be playing the Man in Black and Abbey Lee will be playing the beautiful, demonic Tirana. In the next few weeks, we'll likely learn who has been cast as Jack, a the young son of a firefighter killed in 9/11, and I understand Eddie Murphy has entered talks to play Rocky, a street grifter whose main weapon is his mouth.

Now, I only made part of that up. I leave it to you to guess which part.

Now, I have kids, which means I often watch whatever they're watching on TV. A long while back when my two oldest were a teen and a preteen, they loved a show called iCarly, which was about a young teen girl who had a web show of her own. In one episode, a TV producer realized that teens, a highly sought-after demographic, loved Carly's web show, and made an offer to buy it and put it on television.

Little by little, they make change after change based on what they think sells, and by the time they're done, the show was now about an anthropomorphic dinosaur who lived with an average suburban family. In other words, it bore absolutely no resemblance to the web series it was allegedly based on.

From what I can tell, this is precisely what we can expect from The Dark Tower. I was worried from the initial announcement, years ago, just by the involvement of Ron Howard and Akiva "Bad Credit Card" Goldsman. I was sure they'd screw this up, and it looks like that's what they're doing.

At this point, the involvement of Elba and McConaughey aren't even the problem. It looks like whatever script they're using will allow perfectly for the two central roles to be completely re-written. I never bore Elba any ill will, and I still don't. He's a hot leading man right now, and this is a project being written for a hot leading man.

It is obvious to me that Howard, Goldsman, Grazer, et al, have about as much respect for the source material in question as the makers of Priest or RIPD did. While it's possible to make a movie that Men in Black), the makers of this movie apparently don't know, or don't care, how beloved this book series is.
ignores the source material and produce something good (witness

This isn't some sort of cult following, either. This is the defining work by one of the most popular and enduring authors of our age. This should be handled with the same sort of respect afforded the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter film series. It is sad that a book series that has proved itself a complete flash in the pan (Twilight) got more respect, and more effort to be true to it, in its film adaptation than this series is going to get.

The bright side to this, the only bright side that I see, is that the film is going to bomb big time. Mark my words. The only difference between this and Heaven's Gate is that Heaven's Gate had a budget that spiraled out of control. I doubt that will happen here; in fact, this is going to look and feel like the cheap rip-off that it is.

After years of visualizing this character, I finally get to see her portrayed on screen!
This means that in five years it will be forgotten, and a real film version can be made.