Monday, March 21, 2016
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.
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.
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
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
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 just...so...slow...and 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.
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
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.
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!|