Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Passionate (if Incoherant) Ramble

So I was reading a review of the new Stephen King movie The Mist, right, and as usual there was all this bullshit about how it's cliched and crappy and not scary enough/too gory/not gory enough/blah blah blah. And I suddenly realized that there are very very few really GOOD King movie adaptations. Really, there's just The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand By Me, maybe The Shining, and if you want to stretch, Carrie. I've also heard good things about Misery, though I have never seen it. Most of the rest are just terrible, and I have always had a hard time figuring out why. I mean, I've read some books and articles about translating King's work from the page to the screen, and no one has adequately explained to me why there are so many bad bad bad interpretations. Then, when I was sitting there reading this review, I finally figured it out--the people who make movies do not actually understand Stephen King's books. (Well, either they don't understand them or are too lazy to understand them properly.) The thing I find about King's work is that it is NOT actually about monsters. I know that's hard to believe, when you take into consideration the works he's more well-known for, but even those are not actually about monsters. For example:

1. 'Salem's Lot is not about vampires. It is a story about the kind of corruption and evil that can occur unnoticed in small towns. About the people who live in those towns, and the way apathy can take over a place that the young won't stay in and the old won't leave. The vampires are not REALLY vampires, they're a metaphor. Okay, yes, you could argue that the book is "about" vampires, but I think that's only the surface.

2. Christine is not about a demonic car. Once again, the car is a metaphor--this time, it embodies the change that happens in teenage friendships. The way that even best friends can be driven apart by changes in interests, changes in social standing, and general changes in attitude. Dennis may be fighting against the car, but what he's REALLY fighting are the changes that have taken place in the relationship with his best friend. Those changes just happen to be personified by a car that kills people.

3. The Stand doesn't contain monsters like the previous books do, but it does feature a devil character. The Stand is really about human nature--what would happen to people if government, authority, society...everything that keeps us tied together were suddenly gone? Would it bring out the best or the worst in everyone? The plague that kills most of the population is not the focus of the story, it's merely a catalyst.

5. IT may be famous for the evil clown that lives in the sewers, but the more important themes are about friendship, child abuse, and once again that small-town apathy (seemingly one of King's favorite themes).

6. Carrie has more to do with teenage isolation and rebellion than it does with telekinesis in the end.

I could go on and on. My point is that--aside from Frank Darabont--most directors/screenwriters don't really understand this when they try to make a King movie. Or maybe they do understand it and just find those aspects too difficult to work into the script, when they could easily focus more on the giant rabid dog or slavering monster. Thus you end up with complaints about the script being dull, or cliched, or heartless. It's much easier to make a scary movie about an evil hotel then to work in the connections to child abuse and alcoholism. And I feel like if you peel away those metaphorical layers of meaning, you end up with nothing more than a brainless Godzilla movie. I guess the real issue is that Stephen King is my favorite author, and it pisses me off when people blame on him the fact that most movies made of his work suck. The fault lies with the directors and the writers, not with the original author.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The World According to Sesame Street

I recently decided to make use of my Netflix account for something other then renting terrible horror movies, and have added a bunch of documentaries to my Q (I can't spell that word, and I'm not even going to try.) The first of them arrived this weekend, The World According to Sesame Street, which is about efforts to bring Sesame Street to children all over the world, particularly in places where education may be lacking or places embroiled in societal strife. The doc itself was not really put together all that well--it was a bit choppy and kind of badly organized. However, it was fascinating to me to see how the "Sesame Process" works. There were three places featured: South Africa, Bangladesh, and Kosovo, each with its own particular struggles and needs. The South African segment detailed how they had used Sesame Street to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, the US backlash about introducing an HIV+ muppet on the South African show (Hello, Bill O'Reilly, you intolerant douchebag), and the benefits the show has produced. The Kosovo segmant show the attempts to develop a show there that would benefit both the Serbian and Albanian populations and perhaps try to promote tolerance between the groups. The Bengladeshi part showed process from development to construction to production. I'd highly recommend watching it (even if the production itself isn't stellar) just because it's so interesting to see the whole thing come together.

I consider Jim Henson to be a totally underrated revolutionary in American history. His ideas about using TV to educate children who might not otherwise have the opportunities for a preschool education were the first of their kind, and led to everything from Reading Rainbow to Dora the Explorer. The man was a genius. Not to mention that it was probably the first fully-integrated chilren's show, the first to take place in an urban setting, and the first to incorporate not only letters and numbers, but also issues like tolerance and coping with adversity. And the fact that his ideas have now spread to more than 120 countries around the world is mind-blowing.

Who knew that puppets could be so influential?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Triple Feature!

I watched Breakfast On Pluto with Cillian Murphy. Not a terrible film, but I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped. Although Murphy does make a convincing woman (so convincing, in fact, that I'm officially revoking his name from my hottie list because now whenever I see him I'm going to think of this role) I found the character of Kitten Braden so entirely stupid and naive that I couldn't sympathize with her. I know it's supposed to sort of be a fantastical fairy-tale sort of thing, but even fairy-tale characters have more sense than that. Mostly I wanted to slap her...although some of those outfits were stunning. A+ to the costumer if not the writer.

Then I moved on to Support Your Local Sheriff, one of my favorites, starring James Garner and Joan Hackett. Although the plot and actors in the (non-)sequel, Support Your Local Gunfighter are nearly identical with the exception of the leading lady, I find Sheriff a much better film. Garner's at his best here, Hackett is hilarious as the accident-prone Prudy (much much funnier than Susanne Pleshette would prove in Gunfighter) , and there's a very funny performance by a very young Bruce Dern as stupid outlaw Joe Danby. It's kind of old, and it's goofy and a little campy, but I highly recommend it as a cheerful way to spend a dreary afternoon.

My final film of the day was Shackles, which is about a teacher trying to teach and inspire juvenile prisoners at Shackleton penitentiary. It's not a big name cast--the biggest name is D. L. Hughley, who plays the teacher--but there are some really great performances from the kids who play the prisoners. There's also some really cool slam performances (Hughley tries to inspire the kids to write by engaging them in slam poetry) which those of you who are into that sort of thing might dig. It's probably not a film you've heard of or are likely to know about, but I thought it was really good...didn't end the way I'd hoped, but perhaps the only way it could.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Nerd Alert...

I actually heard myself utter the phrase "I'm not the borg, for chrissakes! Just because he knows something doesn't mean we all know it!" today.

You know, I was always cool with being a nerd because at least I wasn't, you know, a Star Trek nerd. Unfortunately, turns out I AM a Star Trek nerd (Next Generation or Voyager only, please.) I blame The Boyfriend. We've been watching a lot of Voyager, and it's really pretty good. Jeri Ryan in her super-spandex body-suit certainly doesn't make it hard to watch, either. However, I still can't believe that I willingly watch Star Trek. Oh well, resistance IS futile, I guess.