Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stephen King's Everything's Eventual

Once again, I've read another Stephen King masterpiece. Everything's Eventual is an excellent collection of horror that I had trouble putting down. The stories were perfect length as well, letting me read one each day as I exercised. I'm going to focus mostly on my favorite stories in this review, but I will say that every story was worth reading, there were just some that I really liked.

For once, I don't even have really any criticism for this review. The stories I "didn't like" were more out of personal preference than any flaw on the part of the writer, and even those stories I liked at least on some level, even if they weren't normally the types of stories I read. All of them were polished, pretty unpredictable, and intriguing. I definitely recommend this book and I think it's a very good example of the art of the short story. (As, according to the introduction, it was meant to be.)

The Man in the Black Suit - This story stuck with me. It's an example of a sort of modern day folk tale, about a boy who literally meets the devil. (Apparently this was loosely based on the account of the Grandfather of one of Stephen King's friends, which makes it particularly scary. I have no doubt the devil does walk around the earth, since it is his domain.) Anyway, this story actually scared me. The accounts of the dead grass where the devil sat by the kid, and the cruel trick that he plays on him, make this story have an authentic feel. I also particularly like the way the child is able to substitute himself for an abnormally large fish that he caught, meaning the forces of good were also at play in the story as well. It has a very folk tale feel, once again showing us the versatility of Stephen King's writing style.

The Death of Jack Hamilton - This story was particularly interesting to me because I've never really bought into the glamor or the honor involved in the stories of John Dillinger or other famous criminals. I have trouble sympathizing with criminals in general. However, this story actually made me rethink some of that. It's an account about the death of one of Johnnie Dillinger's partner's, Jack Hamilton, from the perspective of Homer Van Meter, one of his gang. The language seems authentic for the time period, and it does portray a more civilized sort of crime and a more sympathetic criminal. I was very impressed by the authentic feel of the story and the fact you end up rooting for the "bad guy" by the end of it. It's a very interesting new take, that I do think could be called a "modern myth".

The Little Sisters of Eluria - This story is an excerpt from Roland the Gunslinger's life. It has the same feel as most stories involving Roland and I love how in all things associated with the Dark Tower series, you can see how fate sweeps Roland away so that he can continue his quest. This is one such story, where Roland is being chased by mutants and winds up in the care of a strange group of women called "The Little Sisters of Eluria." They're nursing him back to help--but there's something sinister about them. Roland soon finds himself in the unusual position of being their helpless "patient" and has to rely on the help of an unlikely source to escape.

Everything's Eventual - This story interested me because it's the same sort of concept of one of the books that I'm currently working on. The main character has a strange psychic ability. His ability involves using geometrical shapes to cause misfortune on an individual whose name he incorporates in his "art." A strange organization finds him and uses his abilities according to a secret agenda. He finds that the benefits of his job don't outweigh the means.

L. T.'s Theory of Pets - This is one of my favorite stories in the book because it is so very true. It's about how pets usually do the opposite of what you expect and how they sometimes take on the attributes of their owners. It's clear that Stephen King has pets (particularly cats) from his descriptions of them in the story. It's an odd tale about a married couple who's relationship is strangely mirrored in the reactions of their animals, but it has a horrific twist at the end that makes the story very sad. Still, overall, it's a very good story and fun to read.

The Road Virus Heads North - This is another of Stephen King's stories that is terrifying to read, but would be cheesy as a movie. The story is about a writer who purchases a possessed painting. The character in the painting is a man with filed teeth, a long knife, tattoos, and a hot car, and an expression says that he's clearly up to no good. As the main character is driving home, however, he realizes the painting is changing and the background shows that "The Road Virus" is following him home.

Lunch at the Gotham Cafe - This story is interesting because the married couple featured in the story seem just as crazy as the maitre d' who goes knife-wielding crazy while waiting their table. (It's the story the cover of the book is based on.) This story was scary to me because really anyone in any position could be the maitre d'. Even the main character can almost understand why he snapped and how he probably feels inside.

1408 - Again, even though I know the movie can't be as good as the short story, I have to see it now. 1408 was the scariest haunted hotel room story that I've probably ever read. The opening sets up a very eerie tone as the hotel manager explains that there were a dozen suicides in the room and thirty natural deaths associated with it. The main character is a writer who basically makes a living off of staying in haunted rooms and places, pretending to actually feel a presence, when in fact, nothing every really happened to him. That all changes very quickly as he almost faces what drove those people to suicide as the room around him begins to change...

Riding the Bullet - I really enjoyed this story and it's probably one of my favorites in this book as well. The characters in the story feel very believable. The story is a different take on the ghostly hitchhiker tales. In this case, the human hitchhiker is picked up by a strange sort of ghost. Still, this ghost seems more material than those in most stories, and the creature gives our hitchhiker a very terrible, terrible choice--his life, or the life of his mother.

Even though I love Stephen King, I've decided to switch to Ted Dekker's "The Books of History Chronicles" series. These are the only books I have left spinning off from "The Circle" series, except for the book "Green" which came out recently. I also recommend Ted Dekker as a writer, and I'll probably put a review up of his books at a later date. In the meantime, please pick up and enjoy "Everything's Eventual." You'll be glad that you did.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hooray Zombieland!

Sorry this review is a little late, but I've been very busy. Still, since I did review "Where the Wild Things Are," I felt "Zombieland" deserved the same treatment, if not better treatment since I felt it was a better movie.

Zombieland was everything I hoped it would be and a little bit more. When I went to see it, I was suffering from movie letdown from "Where the Wild Things Are" and wanted to see something funny, predictable, and, of course, the gratuitous violence of zombies killed in many amusing ways. I wasn't disappointed.

First of all, the main character of the movie was perfect for me and the audience I was seeing it with. He was a stereotypical geek, uptight, a virgin, etc. He only survived the zombie apocalypse because he could run fast and had devised a set of anal retentive rules that he followed everywhere he went. Most of them were common sense movie logic rules, such as: "Cardio (that's right, do lots of cardiovascular exercise so you can run faster than the zombies, in fact, that was rule number one), "Look in the backseat," "buckle your safety belt", etc. There were thirty two of these rules. Throughout the movie, whenever he would do one of these things, the law would appear written somewhere funny in the background. The introduction of the movie was examples of people forgetting to do these things and hilarity ensued. There was even a cameo with Bill Murray playing himself. (This was golden because they poke fun at the fact Bill Murray Can make people laugh just by being himself.)

Still, there was more to the movie than just comedy. There was a little bit of romance and a lot of character development. The characters actually changed throughout the movie and even the main character broke many of his rules by the end of the movie, creating some plot development. It made you get into the plot of the movie for it's artistic merit instead of just as a funny zombie flick. That was something extra that I didn't realize I was going to get. Also, even though Zombieland was predictable in the Hollywood sort of way, it wasn't predictable entirely. There were some very amusing and enjoyable plot twists that surprised me. (Since I don't like spoilers in reviews, I won't give anything away, but I will say that the first meeting between the main character and the two girls took a very unexpected twist.)

I definitely recommend this movie to anyone who likes zombie flicks and comedies. If you don't get to see it in the theaters, at least rent it when it comes out. Also, for those of you that avoid zombie movies because of gore, oddly, for a zombie movie it was relatively non-gory. The worst part about it was the introduction where most of the zombies were coughing up black ooze and a woman is thrown from a car windshield. (This scrapes her face across the pavement, and that part actually did make me feel a little ill.) Still, for a zombie movie, it was a surprise. Even "Shaun of the Dead" was gorier.

Anyway, it was a good movie and a good night. I hope you enjoy "Zombieland" when you see it for yourself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where the Wild Things Aren't

This will be the first of many movie reviews on the blog. After I saw "Where the Wild Things Are" I felt the need to say a little something about it. I'm also going to assume those that read this review have also read the book at some point or know what it's about enough that I don't have to worry about spoilers.

First of all, let me just say that I enjoyed the book. I remember the teacher of my kindergarten class reading this book to us and I really liked the wild things. They were monsters but they weren't scary monsters. The art was great and the story was fun. So, naturally when a movie came out for a book that I enjoyed from my childhood, I had an interest in seeing it. Still, it's a book that's only a few pages long, so I was also skeptical. Still, as I saw more and more previews for it, I decided that I really wanted to see it. It looked like it was going to be very good and I've always thought that real suits combined with digital effects are more convincing than just digital effects alone.

Even though this movie had good qualities, I feel that I wasted my money. The first half of the movie was good. The kid playing Max was perfect, the acting was good, and there was a darker tone to this movie that I really liked. Max is clearly depressed, feeling like his family is falling apart. His sister acts like she doesn't care about him, his Mother doesn't discipline him, and it's implied that she's divorced and dating. Still, the movie took a turn for the worse when, instead of going to bed without supper (like he does when his Mother punishes him in the book), Max decides to run away. He finds a boat and sails off, ending up on the island where the wild things are.

The wild things seem to represent the most dysfunctional family you could possibly have. Every one of them has a serious psychological disorder from anger management issues to schizophrenia. Naturally, their family was falling apart as well, so they make Max their king, hoping he'll bring the family back together again. (They actually take the crown and scepter from a pile of bones in their campsite, implying they've eaten their other kings, another dark twist that I enjoyed.)

Max makes things worse through his rule. He tries to bring them together, but it seems no matter what he does, the issues they have run too deeply to be brought together by something a child would do. So, one night, Carol, Max's best friend out of the wild things, decides he's going to eat Max and tear down everything they've been working on together. Max escapes by hiding (long story short) and the next day decides to sail away from the island. The wild things are sad to see him leave, but they wave goodbye on the shoreline. Still, what bothered me, was nothing was resolved. They were all just the same dysfunctional family but you didn't know if Carol and his girlfriend got back together or decided to split forever. There was such a bad fight the previous night that one of the wild things had lost an arm, and it was clear things were still worse than they were before.

In essence, Max learned nothing. He had problems at home and ran away, then had problems with the wild things and ran away from them as well. It isn't implied that he misses his mother like he does in the book, it's implied he's running for his life so he doesn't get eaten.

Still, the worst part was yet to come. You assume that the entire scenario of the wild things takes place in his mind. However, when he gets home, while he does seem happy to see his Mother he doesn't apologize, and he doesn't get punished. Not only is the soup still hot, but he gets a large slice of chocolate cake and a tall glass of milk. The point behind the original story was that the kid was punished, imagined himself in a different place, and then was grateful for what he had when he "got back." He didn't apologize, but he didn't need to apologize because he had already been punished. In this story, the moral seems to be "run away from your problems and everything will be okay." He didn't learn anything, the Mother didn't learn anything, and all of the conflicts shown in the movie were never confronted. The end.

I would recommend renting this movie from Netflix when it comes out, but don't waste your money, and definitely don't show it to your children. It's worth seeing because of the special effects and the dark atmosphere created by the movie. However, be prepared for a letdown in the end when nothing is resolved. It might just be my opinion, but I believe movies should have a conclusion. Just a thought.

I was so disappointed that I had to see a movie last weekend to make up for it. I saw Zombieland, which I'm pleased to say was everything I hoped it would be and a little bit more. I'll write a review on it in a few days.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween is Officially Over...

Well, Halloween is officially over for the year. I've put up the last of my Halloween decorations and all signs of it (except for the leftover candy and party food) are gone. I have to admit it kind of brings me down, but on the upside, at least my house is less cluttered now.

All three Halloween parties are also over. My friend Gini's party was very fun. I envy her for her dedication in transforming her house for her party. The decorations looked professional, the food was excellent, and the movies we watched were fun. As always, hanging out with friends is the main draw behind any party though, and that was very fun as well.

My party also went very well. There was no "drama" this year and some of my friends came by from out of town. It was very good seeing them again. I didn't get to play as much Rock Band as I wanted to, but duties as hostess of the party had to come first. The movies we finally chose were the original House on Haunted Hill, Freaks, then the remake of House on Haunted Hill, and the Crow. I think that everyone enjoyed them because people didn't even go into the back rooms until the second half of the party and even then several people were still watching the movies.

The last party we went to was actually on Halloween night at my friend Jared's house. After hosting a party it was kind of fun to kick back and relax again. I have to admit, I was getting kind of tired of my Alice in Wonderland costume by then though, mostly because it was skimpy and I was tired of being cold. Still, that party was fun for different reasons. I got to see most of the people who couldn't make it to my party and so, overall, I saw almost all of my friends in one weekend. It was very nice. (Incidentally, we also watched the Resident Evil movies at that party. I was surprised to find I actually enjoyed the first two, campy though they were...)

Well, that's a brief summary of Halloween weekend. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did. I guess the next big thing coming up is Christmas. I'll probably throw another party. Still, Christmas has a more somber tone because it is more important because of the meaning behind it. Sometimes it's fun to dress up and have a party just for a party's sake.