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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

God Save the King, Book I

Stephen Takes a "Stand" in Theaters Soon

Petition to bring Molly Ringwald back to the big screen.

It's happening again. Stephen King is letting another one of his books be adapted for the big screen. But, this is a bit different - technically, it's not a remake, by general standards. The Stand has never been a feature film before, but it has been a miniseries. Granted, that was back in 1994.

So, in honor of this King classic being rebirthed for the filmgoers in all of us, I want to take a look back at the man's contribution to the world of film. The good, the bad, and the wtf. From the top. In four parts.

More after the cut --

Book One - The Good

Carrie 1976.
Brian De Palma's supreme adaptation of King's short novel. De Palma changed the face of modern horror in the mid 70's by giving us a languid, lyrical adaptation of Stephen King's first stab at long-form storytelling. A manuscript that King threw in the trash was saved by his wife, and she begged him to try and publish it. Years later, we're still afraid to piss the nerdy girl off at prom, lest she kill us with only her mind. A story that focuses on sexual abuse, and what it does to an already fragile mind, and the original "It gets better" for school bullying. Sissy Spacek's performance lives on, to this day, as legendary, and one of the only lead horror performances to garner a well deserved Oscar nomination.

The Shining. 1980.
Stanley Kubrick destroyed King's text, by disregarding the inherent alcoholism of Jack Torrence, and turning the hotel into nothing more than a haunted house, rather than Jack's cage. But, of course, in doing so, he crafted the finest haunted house story I can recall. The world he assumes for the story is second to none in terms of execution, and the performances he got from his cast are top of the game. Nicholson's work is some of his absolute best, back when his career was solid gold. And Shelly Duvall's performance is the best she's ever given. The film, despite its blatant rape of King's subtext, is, in itself, flawless. And quite possibly Stanley Kubrick's atmosphere experimental masterpiece.

Cujo. 1983.
Go ahead and name another movie by Lewis Teague, without using the IMDb. I'll wait. He's a solid director, but no other film has been as successful for him as his adaptation of King's dog bites man story. A woman and her child are trapped in a car by a rabid St. Bernard. It's an idea that's been replicated countless times, but never duplicated. One of the best of its year, it's a film that set the tone for set pieces of the like to follow. The aforementioned tone of the film is steady and pitch perfect.

The Dead Zone. 1983.
David Cronenberg has shifted his career lately from an industrial, mechanized style to a more humanized inner-demonized style. But, back in the glory days of his gory career, The Dead Zone stood at the top of the class. Stellar work from Christopher Walken, and the strongest of King's stories to have been adapted at that point. And while the film loses a bit in translation for the book, to this day it stacks up against all other adaptations from King's work, and remains one of the best, not only spawning a TV show and resurrecting Anthony Michael Hall's career, but gaining fans from every generation.

Stand By Me. 1986.
Rob Reiner made a good movie. That might be the most surprising thing about 1986. He's done decent work, but nothing like this since. It's a film that explores exactly what it is that drives curiosity in children, and how damaging our adolescent years can be. Early Kiefer Sutherland work is always a plus, and that's Richard Dreyfuss' voice you're hearing. One of the best screenplays ever written, from one of the best books I've ever read.

Misery. 1990.
Rob Reiner, again. Above decent work, but nowhere near the quality of Stand By Me. What shoots this up into the "Good" category is Kathy Bates' exemplary work. She redefines screen psycho and turns what could have been complete camp into a work of fine and high art. James Caan offers solid support, as usual.

The Shawshank Redemption. 1994.
One of the most perfect films ever made. Frank Darabont proves himself as the only one left who should be allowed to touch Stephen King's text. He has a unique sense of pathos to all of his films, and truly understands the spiritual side of King's dramas. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give beautiful performances, and Clancy Brown to this day is one of my favorite screen villains. In my top10 of all time.

Hearts in Atlantis. 2003.
The most impressive thing about this film is that it boasts Anthony Hopkins best performance to date. Like Misery, the film itself isn't anything to write home about, but is made great by Hopkins' subtle and striking work. He not only imbues pathos, but invokes the intimidating traits he made famous in Silence of the Lambs and Nixon, doing it better than he's ever done before. There's a monologue that's destined to be part of my "Why I Love Film" series. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out immediately, if only for Hopkins' near perfect portrayal.

1407. 2007.
Mikael Hafstrom does to the haunted house film what Kubrick did for it back in the 80's, but does so more respectfully to King's source text. The atmosphere is flawless, and John Cusack's performance as the film's grieving father proved his worth as an actor to me. I've never seen him this good, nor this dramatic. It's incredible. And while the final moments of the film hold a head-scratcher of a directorial choice, something that is surely meant to be debated, the rest of the film does only one thing - terrifies.

The Mist. 2007.
Frank Darabont, again, proving himself the director's director when it comes to Stephen King. In the next entry, I'll go into why The Green Mile doesn't make this list, but his direction there is just as strong. It's everyone else's fault that the movie didn't succeed for me. But, here, with The Mist, it's one performance that makes this film stand out amongst the heavyweights on this list. Marcia Gay Harden, as the spiritual crackpot who preaches the end of the world. It taught me to appreciate what she's done over the years, and turned her from one of my most loathed actresses into an actor I've sought out more work from. Her theatrical style is put to beautiful, and let me stress 'beautiful', work. Darabont has a great way of handling his actors, and always getting the best from them. The film has a startling atmosphere and impeccable tone. Again, a head-scratcher of an ending, but... the film before it? Just about damn near flawless.

Stay tuned for Book Two - The Bad. LOADS of more entries in that one. Some people just stay away from this man's work.

Thoughts on the list? Leave your comments below and tell me what you think should have been included, and what you think of the ones already here!