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Stephen King

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Rising Temperatures (and Heavy Mileage).

“Hollywood doesn’t trust smart material. If you show them a really smart script. I actually had a studio head read that script and say: ‘Wow, that’s the best and smartest script that I’ve read since running this studio but I can’t possibly greenlight it.’ I asked why and he says ‘How am I going to get 13-year-olds to show up at the theater?’” Perhaps a bit self-servingly, screenwriter-director Frank Darabont discusses the studio problems he’s had in adapting Fahrenheit 451. “The movie was basically too smart for this person, too metaphorical, etc., etc. It’s a bit of a battle you’ve got to fight.

In the interview, Darabont also talks about another forthcoming King adaptation he’s working on (my personal favorite King story): The Long Walk. “I’ll be making it, I’m sure, even more cheaply than ‘The Mist‘ because I don’t want to blow the material out of proportion. It’s such a very simple, weird, almost art film-like approach to telling a story. So let’s do it honestly, let’s do it that way. Let’s not turn it into “The Running Man.” So we’ll make it down and dirty and cheap and hopefully good.

The Maine Event.

Wow. Make that 5-for-5. Senator Obama wins the Maine caucus going away. (Final tally: 59%-40%.) I have to say, I didn’t see this one coming — I expected Sen. Obama to lose close. Either Obama’s starting to pick up real momentum, the Clinton campaign is just terrible at caucuses (which doesn’t speak well of Sen. Clinton’s ability to “manage the bureaucracy”), or everyone severely misunderestimated the impact of the King endorsement.

Well, at any rate, good job by Team Obama in Maine, and hopefully the completed weekend sweep bodes well for Tuesday’s big Chesapeake/Beltway primary: Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Sen. Obama is favored in all, but, of course, nothing’s certain, and the margins matter. (By the way, New Hampshire and Massachusetts? Not to rub it in, but the Pine Tree State just made y’all look kinda silly.)

Mist-Conceived.

Going into the late-night showing of Frank Darabont’s version of Stephen King’s The Mist this evening, I was at best hoping for a good, scary B-movie — Prince of Darkness, The Thing — with perhaps a bit of choice sociopolitical grist (the Romero Deads, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live) thrown in for good measure. (After all, the ominous poster and tagline of the film (“Fear changes everything”) pretty much announces there’ll be some post-9/11 commentary lurking amid the monsters.) Alas, The Mist fails on both fronts. Despite a good cast that do what they can with some woefully scripted material, the film is rarely very frightening — mostly because so many of the characters are so one-note that it’s hard to get all that concerned about their well-being. (The cheap FX don’t help.) Worse, Darabont’s attempts at allegory here come across as ponderous, ham-handed, and facile. The film aims to suggest that people in the grip of unyielding terror will do and fall for anything, which of course is a scary thought — one that not only resonates with our current political predicament, but permeates tons of horror movies from Night of the Living Dead to 28 Weeks Later. But, in its shrill, one-note portraits of religion and of “average” people (re: Red Staters), The Mist feels as elitist, hyperbolic, and echo chamber-y as a bad dKos talkback.

Set somewhere in Maine, as per King’s usual m.o., The Mist opens with several nods to what Darabont (probably correctly) assumed would be his core audience: the fanboy nation. For it turns out our protagonist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is a movie poster artist a la Drew Struzan, and the first moments of the film feature him working in his studio on what’s obviously a poster of Roland the Gunslinger of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. (The one-sheet from John Carpenter’s The Thing is also featured on the wall, and Drayton makes a quip early on about the standard two-face movie poster, pitched right at the AICN crowd.)

At any rate, after a particularly virulent storm, David, his son (the obligatory cute kid of the story), and his next-door neighbor, a hotshot lawyer from New York (Andre Braugher), all venture into town to get supplies. But, unfortunately for them, strange things are afoot at the Circle K: Very soon, an unnatural, unholy fog rolls in, and it becomes clear relatively quickly that staying exposed to it will get you killed in horrific fashion by large tentacles, winged insects, or other unspeakable Lovecraftian creatures from out of nowhere. And so the people at the supermarket hunker down for a long haul, but divisions quickly emerge among the ranks of the terrified. In the manner of horror films, Braugher’s lawyer character won’t believe anything that’s going on, and he and other denizens (Bill Sadler’s working-class stiff, for example) begin to take umbrage at imagined slights. Even more problematically, we have a true believer in our midst, the Bible-thumping spinster Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), and as the terror mounts and the Rapture looks nigh, she begins to relish her assigned role as Old Testament prophet, right down to the human sacrifices…

It’s been over fifteen years since my big King phase, so I barely remember the novella at all. (Of the Skeleton Crew stories, the ones that made the most impression on me were “The Jaunt” and “Survivor Type.”) But I presume some –probably even most — of the blame resides with King for Mrs. Carmody. (The End of Days psycho-Christian definitely seems in his wheelhouse.) Nevertheless, as written here, she’s way too over the top to be taken seriously, especially after Darabont starts layering on the post-9/11 stuff like a paste. (There’s a meeting held among the saner folk where they break down her appeal for the scared, in case you somehow missed the allegory thus far.) Worse, most of the people in the supermarket who fall under her spell — exemplified by Sadler’s malleable redneck — are so cardboard cut-out they might as well be carrying torches and pitchforks from the opening reel. You’d think given a apocalyptic situation like the one faced in The Mist that faith and religion might pop up in many forms. But there’s no nuance or depth at all to Darabont’s presentation, just evil religionists and their dupe followers.

Then again, to be fair, none of the other characters are multi-dimensional either, and so I found myself rooting for actors instead. Thomas Jane is always a likable presence (he and Serenity‘s Nathan Fillion seem to be fighting it out for the mantle of the new Michael Biehn), and he’s solid enough here. Toby Jones (of the “other” Capote movie) is also stuck with a flat role — he’s Dignity Under Pressure — but makes an impression regardless. And it’s good to see Frances Sternhagen (a.k.a. the doctor from Outland) flitting about as a senior citizen not unwilling to smite false prophets with cans of peas. But, try as they might, they can’t raise the stakes here.

I’ll admit to liking a few brief flourishes in The Mist. At one point, a low-budget CGI tentacle hungrily crushes a bag of dog food, which is exactly the type of horrific-meets-the-mundane moment that King writes so well. Late in the game, the survivors of the tale to that point witness a truly Cthuhulian nightmare, all hooves and tentacles, one that’s nearly impossible to comprehend. And then there’s the ending…which I expect will be remembered for much longer than the rest of the film. I won’t give it away here, but I will say that, while admirable in its own way, it also felt like a Twilight Zone gimmick that came out of nowhere, felt unearned, and didn’t really hold up with the story to that point. (I can see an argument that ties it in to the rest of the film, but it’s a stretch.) Ultimately, The Mist isn’t as godawful as, say, Dreamcatcher, but it is yet another drab and mediocre King adaptation in a world full of them. If I were you, I’d wait for The Mist to clear.

Lloyd Dobler makes the rounds.

The Cusacks have been busy of late, as several new trailers attest: John Cusack the crack assassin flounders in the Emerald City in the new preview for War, Inc. (a.k.a. Grosse Point Blank meets Lord of War), also starring sister Joan, Marisa Tomei, Hillary Duff, and Ben Kingsley. John Cusack the cranky sci-fi writer adopts a problem kid with a heart of gold in the trailer for Martian Child (a film you’d have to pay me to see), also starring sister Joan, Amanda Peet, Richard Schiff, and Oliver Platt. And, though it’s been on the web awhile now, John Cusack the depressed seeker of paranormal activity bites off more than he can chew in the trailer for Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408 (from the Stephen King story), also starring Samuel Jackson, Mary McCormack…and sister Joan? Well, not this time. Perhaps they can add her as a CGI ghost or something.

He is Legend.

“When you thought it had to be over, that your nerves couldn’t stand any more, that was when Matheson turned on the afterburners. He wouldn’t quit. He was relentless. The baroque intonations of Lovecraft, the perfervid prose of the pulps, the sexual innuendoes, were all absent. You were faced with so much pure drive that only rereadings showed Matheson’s wit, cleverness, and control.” By way of Ed Rants, Stephen King pays tribute to Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, soon to be a Will Smith/Johnny Depp movie near you.

Dodge this.

The final trailer for The Matrix Reloaded is now online. And – for the return of Agent(s) Smith if nothing else – it looks like more fun than you can shake a stick at. With two of these, The Hulk, and X2, it looks like we’re headed for a fanboy summer. Speaking of which, isn’t it about time for some quality Return of the King news?

By, the way, I finally caught Final Flight of the Osiris, and while it was ok it definitely wasn’t worth sitting through Dreamcatcher for. Dreamcatcher was basically two and a half hours of being stuck in the last fifty pages of a Stephen King novel. [King starts great stories but all too often (It, The Stand, The Tommyknockers…heck, almost all of ’em) has no idea how to finish them.] I’m not sure how closely the movie followed the book, but it was just all over the place, and it made no sense on many levels. (What exactly is the life-cycle of these creatures?) After forty-five minutes, I was really bored. Can’t say I recommend it, that is unless watching a misshapen-looking Donnie Wahlberg proclaim “I Duddits!” to the heavens is your bag.

I don’t want to see this, Jonesey!

Detective Story, the third web installment of The Animatrix, is now online. Nice to look at, but wooden dialogue and a pointless story make this one rather disappointing. I’ve heard good things about Final Flight of the Osiris, but first I have to steel myself to sit through Dreamcatcher.

Different Seasons

Is Stephen King hanging it up? Like everyone else, I’ll believe it when I see it.

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