Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the stories of Stephen King, Battleground, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! I decided to do a bit of a hybrid review of one of my favorite stories:  “Battleground” by Stephen King.  This book is part of a short story anthology in Night Shift.  Battleground was written in 1972 by King.  This was back in the days when he wasn’t just hungry, he was starving.  He was working in laundries, substitute teaching, maybe even a paper route.  This particular work was published in Cavalier, which was a low-rent Playboy.  In those days, he would sell stories to Swank – a low-rent Penthouse as well.  Many of these stories were real gems or at least gems in the rough.  For example, Night Surf (Cavalier and Night Shift) evolved into his opus The Stand about a decade later.  Battleground was made into a 52 minute long episode of the above short-lived series (watch them on youtube before they are taken down!!!).

This episode starred William Hurt and like the short-story there is ZERO dialogue, giving the episode a silent movie feel that is very compelling.  Throughout the episode, you only hear ambient noise or grunts or yells, but no spoken dialogue.  In fact, even when a newscaster is announcing that a murder has taken place, it’s done with subtitles.  This is as close to genius television as it gets.  I was truly saddened that it was not renewed.

The episode depicts William Hurt as a nameless hitman who is taskered to kill a toymaker.  He does.  When Hurt goes back home to his San Francisco condo, he receives a package.  Inside the package is compilation of army men and “additional surprises”.  These aren’t your grandpa’s plastic army men; however, they are alive and they have cruel intentions for Mr. Hurt!

Within moments of opening the package, the army men attack William Hurt in very Army like fashion. They take a covered position under Hurt’s couch and open fire, forcing William to flee to the bathroom.  This solace is short-lived because they have mini-howitzers.  Yes, I was primed to like this one.  There are even mini-helicopters that attack Hurt and they send nasty notes to one another demanding and refusing surrender.

The battle to avenge the toy maker’s death continues even out to the ledge of the building, which is likely an Easter Egg to another King story “The Ledge”.  Hurt prevails against the army men, but there are two more “Additional Surprises” 1) a commando who very resourceful and 2) a mini thermonuclear device.  The mini thermonuclear device is the only dumb part of the story because there is no such thing as a tiny Thermonuclear reaction – these are atoms we’re fusing or splitting afterall.  If detonated (regardless of its “mini” nature) , it would’ve destroyed all of San Francisco, but let’s give King- a liberal arts major- a break on that one because it’s still a fun story.

I will review a few more of these stories that were in Night Shift or episodes from this show.

Happy Halloween!!!!

A Movie A Day #352: Mad Dog Morgan (1976, directed by Philippe Mora)


Though he may not be as internationally well-known as Ned Kelly, Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan was one of the most infamous bushrangers in 19th century Australia.  Much as with the outlaws of American west, it is sometimes difficult to separate the fact from the legend when it comes to Mad Dog Morgan but it is agreed with Morgan has one of the most violent and bloodiest careers of the bushrangers.  Whether Morgan was a folk hero or just a ruthless criminal depends on which source you choose to believe.

In Mad Dog Morgan, Dennis Hopper plays Morgan as being the ultimate outsider.  Though the real Morgan was believed to have been born to Irish immigrants in New South Wales, the film presents Morgan as being the immigrant, an Irishman who ends up in Australia searching for gold and who is disgusted when he sees the way that the colonial authorities run the country.  Addicted to opium and angered by the casual brutality and corruption that he sees all around him, Morgan fights back and soon ends up in prison where he spends years being abused and raped.  It is all intended to break his spirit but, instead, Morgan comes out of prison even more determined to seek revenge on any and all figures of authority.  Working with a fellow outsider, an Aborigine named Billy (David Gulpilil, from Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout), Morgan blazes a bloody and self-destructive trail across Australia.

Mad Dog Morgan was made long before Hopper cleaned up his act and became on of America’s favorite character actors.  This is Hopper back when he was still one of the most unpredictable and dangerous actors around.  By many accounts, Hopper was in the throes of drug-induced psychosis during the filming of Mad Dog Morgan, which makes it all the more remarkable that Hopper still gave one of his best performances as the legendary bushranger.  (For proof of how authentic Hopper feels in the role, compare his performance to Mick Jagger’s in Ned Kelly.)  Hopper was an outlaw playing an outlaw and his full commitment to the role is obvious from the start.  Featuring brutal action and a cast of talented Australian character actors, (Jack Thompson, Bruce Spence, Bill Hunter, and Hugh Keays-Byrne all have roles) Mad Dog Morgan is an essential film for fans of both Australian cinema and Dennis Hopper.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Sci-Fi Review: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005, directed by George Lucas)


Star_Wars_Episode_III_Revenge_of_the_Sith_posterThe year 2005 was a dark time to be a fan of Star Wars.

The first two parts of the highly anticipated prequel trilogy had been released and had left fans feeling as if millions of voices had cried out in terror and suddenly been silenced.  No sooner had fans started to recover from the trauma of The Phantom Menace then Attack of the Clones was unleashed and they were stunned to learn that a movie could be even more pointless than The Phantom Menace.

The summer of 2005 promised the release of Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith.  Fans were excited because they knew that Anakin Skywalker would finally be transformed into Darth Vader but they also knew that he would still be played by Hayden Christensen.  Many of us who went to see the movie on its opening weekend did so with low expectations and mixed feelings.

“WAR!” the opening title crawl of Revenge of the Sith declared, as if it was trying to reassure those of us in the audience that it would not be another boring Star Wars prequel.  There was nothing in the crawl about taxation or trade routes.  Instead, it was all about how the Galactic Republic was at war with separatists and how Chancellor Palpatine was being held prisoner by General Grievous.  After an exciting battle on Grievous’s flagship, Anakin not only rescued Palpatine but also decapitated Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku, despite the fact that Dooku had surrendered and was unarmed.  That’s when those of us watching knew that Revenge of the Sith was not going to be like the other two prequels.  Revenge of the Sith was going to be darker and edgier and not just for kids.  A headless Count Dooku action figure would not be sold at your local toy store.

Looking back, it is easy to forget how relieved many of us were that Revenge of the Sith was not terrible.  After the bitter disappointment of the first two prequels, we were happy that Jar Jar Binks only appeared during one shot towards the end of the film and he did not speak.  We were happy that Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman both finally got to give performances that justified casting actors of their caliber as Obi-Wan and Amidala.  We were happy that, since Anakin and Amidala were secretly married between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, we did not have to sit through any more scenes of them falling in love.  Many of us had found Hayden Christensen’s performance to be petulant in Attack of the Clones and, intentionally or not, Revenge of the Sith seemed to validate our suspicions by having both Yoda and Mace Windu say the same thing about Anakin.  After the embarrassment of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, this was a prequel that we felt we could get behind.

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And we were really happy with the climatic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin.  After Anakin had gone over to the dark side, he and Obi-Wan dueled on a volcanic planet.  “You were supposed to be the chosen one!” Obi-Wan shouted after chopping off Anakin’s legs.  After being left to die by Obi-Wan, Anakin was rescued by Emperor Palpatine.  It was only after being encased in that famous black armor that Palpatine told the new Darth Vader that Amidala had died.  Darth Vader’s “Nooooooooo!” would go down in history.

At the end of the film, Jimmy Smits was seen giving an infant Luke to Owen and Beru Lars and Darth Vader and the Emperor were seen standing on the bridge of an imperial ship and looking out at the skeleton of the Death Star.  For the first time since the prequels were first released, some of us applauded at the end of a Star Wars film.

When, ten years later, I rewatched Revenge of the Sith for the first time in a long while, my immediate impression was that it was nowhere close to being as good as I remembered.  Without a doubt, it was still the best of the prequels but how much was that really saying?  Of all the prequels, it came the closest to capturing the sense of awe and excitement that made the original trilogy (even Return of the Jedi) so entertaining but, at the same time, it still had many of the same flaws that afflicted Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.  Hayden Christensen was as stiff and inexpressive as ever, as was George Lucas’s dialogue.  (When Obi-Wan tells Anakin that Palpatine is evil, Anakin actually replies, “From my point of view, the Jedis are evil!”  He shouts this in the middle of a light saber duel.)  Even the movie’s most shocking moment, when Anakin murdered a group of children, was no longer effective because everyone in the movie insisted on calling the children “younglings.”

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Throughout the entire prequel ordeal, George Lucas would insist that it was necessary to see all three of the prequels to really understand the story he was trying to tell and how it fit in with the original trilogy.  However, of all the prequels, Revenge of the Sith is the only one that feels as if it adds anything to what we had already learned from watching the original trilogy.  Nor is there anything to be gained from having seen the first two prequels before watching Revenge of the Sith for the first time.  The main accomplishment of Revenge of the Sith was to prove that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were entirely unnecessary.  (Revenge of the Sith actually works better if you have never seen Phantom Menace because there is no way that the Anakin played by Jake Lloyd could have grown up to be the Anakin played by Hayden Christensen.)

Why, when we originally watched Revenge of the Sith, did so many of us think that it was so much better than it actually was?

In the year 2005, we were just happy to have a Star Wars film that did not totally suck.

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