Wednesday, April 13, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- King

There are of course reasons why novels and their adapted screenplays never match up well when judged by linear standards and often match up in no way at all. People inherently approach novels and movies in a different way; simplistically: novels with patience and movies without. We expect a movie to be fast and linear and horizontal. We expect a lot to happen at once.

For a theatrical adaptation to be completely faithful to its novel it would have to run from 15 to 30 hours long and put every viewer to sleep. Books and movies are apples and oranges.

But then there are the novellas: briefer and simpler in terms of themes and ideas and applicable to more direct translation into a visual story of a couple hours length. And what famous author writes a damn fine novella?

Stephen King for one.

39. Stand By Me (1986, USA)
Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland

Adapted from King’s The Body from popular 1982 collection Different Seasons, Stand By Me is often name-checked among people’s favorite movies of all time. Why is that? And the theme song borrowed from Ben E. King is likewise one of the most covered songs in history (Catch my hands-down favorite version below!)

Is it because the movie – like the song, is a resonant anthem of friendship and that friendship is perhaps our most coveted external asset? Perhaps secretly so? A relationship model which often engenders more trust or longer endurance then that of the presumed-superior love-relationship/marriage model?

These four lads embark on an adventure together; one that can only make sense in the minds of early adolescents, and despite their constant age-typical baiting of one another it is obvious that they rely on one another much more than on the familial figures in their broken homes. So perhaps it is the deeply moving notion that when the last refuge fails; that of family, that there just might be one more refuge after all: the “family” of our choosing.

The performances here are superb, in large part due, some insiders claim, to the bang-on casting of four boys with real-life personalities exactly like their characters.

Writers: Stephen King, Raynold Gideon and Bruce Evans (Starman)
Director: Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride)
Budget: $ 8,000,000
IMDB rating: 8.1

The four novellas in Different Seasons were in fact written at different times across many seasons. They lacked typical horror elements and for a long time appeared to have no home in the publishing world until King, with all of his acquired clout and renown, simply brought them together as one book. And what a tome it was: In addition to The Body: he included Apt Pupil, a more sinister youth adventure also adapted to film in 1988 to far less fanfare than Stand By Me; and a winter’s tale called The Breathing Method and finally, rather spectacularly: a tale fated for much fame, about friendship and survival within a federal prison, called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption:

40. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, USA)
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton,

What heresy might I be hanged for if I dared compare William Shakespeare with Stephen King! Let me confess right off that I’ve never enjoyed a single Shakespearian sentence, and rarely comprehended one. I am not personally aware of him being any kind of genius. I’m only aware that he had a very big voice in his day, and thus speaks for his era.

Does King perhaps do the same? Without precedent he has literally owned an entire genre for half a lifetime, yet looking at his writing one seems to find no genius there either. Could it be that the genius of these writers lies in honesty? People everywhere seem to look upon King like they would a plane crash: "Ew! How does he come up with all that weird and macabre stuff! What an imagination!"

I suggest to you that King is simply a fearless man; unafraid of his imagination or to admit how wild the human imagination truly is. Thus, unlike the rest of us, he does not fetter himself.

I read every book King released for a couple decades before the habit trailed off. I loved the Shawshank story and the movie too but I’ll be damned if I can pinpoint why! On the Internet Movie Database website, more than one and a half million viewers have contributed to an average Shawshank score of 9.3 stars out of 10! That is almost unfathomable!

Sure it is a gripping tale of injustice and struggle but that alone does not explain it. Movie execs tagged the film: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” And that sheds no light for me whatsoever. People just dig the highly-marketable word hope because it sounds so nice and friendly and cuddly. King’s written story had little to do with hope but rather with the opposite of hope, which is action. Our hero is only a hero because he takes his fate into his own hands.

Perhaps that is at the core of our love for this film. For he dares to fight his monsters as we secretly wish we could fight our own, while we cling to the apparent safety of hope instead, and likely to our detriment.

Writers: Stephen King, Frank Darabont
Director:  Frank Darabont (The Green Mile)
Budget: $25,000,000
IMDB rating: 9.3

41. The Shining (1980, USA/UK)
Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

And here’s the exception! The full-length novel which was somehow very successfully transformed into film despite the necessary story modifications. But really, how could it miss with such a deeply insightful visual artist as Kubrick and wickedly crafty casting! Nicholson was born to play a madman. Duvall personally suffered through the project and was given little mercy; in fact was apparently provoked into further losing her shit in order to transform her authentically into the eerie fragile basket-case which further imperilled poor little Danny Torrence; portrayed by the unusually deep-minded six-year-old Danny Lloyd who in this extraordinary debut was carefully coddled with blinders so as to not grasp the kind of story he was so effectively helping to create. He later portrayed a young G. Gordon Liddy in a TV movie before deciding at age eight that acting wasn’t for him! I doubt the true nature of his Shining experience had been revealed to him by that point but it was probably a very wise decision considering our society’s tremendous skill at ruining the humanity of young stars! Let’s face it: Destroying climate and destroying young celebrities are probably our two areas of collective expertise. High five...

Am I rambling? Surely no one is reading this because surely you have all seen this masterpiece already! Even I have seen it a few times and I normally avoid horror flicks at any cost!  

Writers: Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson (Le divorce)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange)
Budget: $19,000,000
IMDB rating: 8.4

And now, this important message from veteran musician Ry Cooder:

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