An October Honeymoon

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Apologies for not blogging last week and waiting so long this week, but I’ve been a combination of both busy and lazy lately. This week centered around a few things, most notably Thanksgiving (though I also saw “Coco” and highly recommend it). Meanwhile, last week marked my green card paperwork being sent off to officially begin my trek to becoming a permanent resident. I’m looking forward to it!

There are many things I could talk about that took place these last two weeks, but instead I’d like to share something I’d worked on over this month. During October, my husband and I celebrated our honeymoon for a few days in the balmy state of California. To commemorate the occasion, we filmed much of it and made a special series of vlogs dedicated to both it and our internet show, “The Spook Factor.”  So, without further ado, here are the vlogs documenting most of our trip. Enjoy!

Vlog #1

Vlog #1.5

Vlog #2

Vlog #3

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“Murder on the Orient Express” Review (Spoiler-Free)

For those of you who are like me, there’s a reason I made this review spoiler-free. In that, having never read the Agatha Christie novel nor seen the 1974 movie adaptation, I went into this 2017 adaptation completely blind. Yes, I’ve never read or seen anything related to Christie’s works (though I easily could’ve seen “Murder She Wrote” or like-minded shows if my teenage self had been interested). So, I went in with moderately low expectations and had a good time as a result. But before I get into why, let’s delve into the story first.

Hercule Poirot, a famous Belgian detective, finishes solving a theft in Jerusalem when he meets up with his friend Bouc, the director of the train called the Orient Express. When Poirot is called to London for another case, he boards the Express and comes across an eclectic bunch of passengers. After an avalanche derails the train and halts its progress, shady businessman Samuel Ratchett is found dead in his room. It’s then up to Poirot to catch the culprit among the passengers and determine the reason for Ratchett’s murder.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the trailers for this movie, I was immediately interested in it. I knew the story was a classic murder mystery and I’ve enjoyed Branagh’s work before. And, like I said, I enjoyed this movie. The first thing that drew me into it was the insanely great casting. Branagh has a knack for getting amazing actors/actresses for his films and this was no exception. Even better, I felt that while some characters got more focus than others, not one performance fell flat for me. Each person did their part to make this story feel believable. My personal standouts had to be Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, and, of course, Branagh himself. Poirot is easily the most likable character of the bunch and it was a joy to follow him throughout the movie. Once again, though, the entire cast did a phenomenal job.

Another thing I liked was the design of the whole movie. I knew from the trailers and Branagh’s other work that this movie would look gorgeous and I wasn’t disappointed. The shots of the train and even a few long tracking shots going through it were great, and the few locations shown were also very pretty. There were a few camera shots that were kinda odd, such as an occasional overhead view of the characters in the train, but they never took me out of the movie. I really enjoyed the moments of levity the script allowed too, as there were some chuckle-worthy lines (mostly from Poirot) that kept things from feeling too depressing. They mostly occur before the actual murder happens, so the serious tone thankfully isn’t jeopardized when it’s needed.

The complaints I have with the movie mainly have to do with the script. Obviously, it’s trying to be as faithful to the Christie story as possible (according to my husband). That’s still a good thing, but it also means that a lot of exposition is given during the crucial reveal. This only bothered me because we were told things about some characters that easily could’ve been hinted at earlier in the movie. It made it feel like these clues couldn’t be incorporated because of time. The other major complaint I had was that the pacing leading up to Poirot boarding the Express was a bit slow. I appreciated that those scenes before gave us a good profile of him as a detective, but the movie just had an overall slow start for me.

With all that said, I think “Murder on the Orient Express” is a good adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery as well as a good movie in general. The cast is solid, the locations are beautiful, and the story is filled with enough tension and guesswork to keep you invested. If you’ve already read the book or seen the 1974 movie, seeing this will depend on if you want a flashier adaptation of the story despite knowing how it’ll end. I know it’s at least got me interested in reading the book, so take that for what it’s worth.

 

Stephen King Marathon: “It” (1990)

Welcome back to my final blog of my Stephen King marathon! Yes, Halloween is finally here and that means another themed month comes to an end. I’m sorry it wasn’t as substantial as the last few were, but maybe I’ll continue this on next October to make up for it. We’ll see. For now, I’ve decided to bookend this month by returning to the world of “It.” Except this time, I’m going to discuss my thoughts on the 1990 TV miniseries starring Tim Curry. Did I like it? Well, mostly.

The plot to this three-hour series isn’t much different than the new remake, except this one has to balance both the childhoods and adult lives of the Loser’s Club. Mike Hanlon, who still lives in Derry, is forced to call up the rest of the gang when it appears that It/Pennywise has returned. The miniseries flashes back at times to the group as children and shows their initial encounters with the creature. And when they return to Derry as adults, they decide they must destroy It once and for all.

Since the remake solely focused on the kids, I’ll use this time to discuss their segments here. Simply put, all of the kids put on convincing performances. My biggest issue came from Jonathan Brandis, who plays Bill, for at times being a little inconsistent with his stutter. Even then, that’s a minor nitpick, as you could argue his confidence gain from being with the group helps him quell it. I did feel the fears weren’t made as clear as they were in the remake, but I found the flashbacks in general to be the most interesting part of the whole thing. I especially liked the use of a photo album to have Pennywise interact with the kids, which is clearly what the projector scene from the remake takes inspiration from. I think the only major complaint I have about the flashbacks would be anything to do with Henry Bowers. Sure, he’s a threatening and borderline psychotic bully, but he comes across pretty one-dimensional and generic. Aside from that, those parts were very well done, even if they are completely out of order (apparently as they are in the book).

The adult portions, however, were kinda hit and miss. I enjoyed the adults for the most part, but sometimes the acting came across a bit campy and some line reads weren’t the greatest. I also found only a couple creepy moments to be pretty effective, such as when Beverly returns to her childhood home or when an older Henry is manipulated by what appears to be his dead friend. But my biggest issue with the adult segments is that I found them less interesting. It felt like the story tended to drag whenever they were onscreen, and by the time they confronted It I just wanted the story to end. However, from what I’ve gathered from my husband (who’s been reading the book), the miniseries is mostly faithful to it. I have to give both for the child and adult portions kudos for that, at least.

And finally, we come to the man himself, Tim Curry. I said that I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Skarsgard’s performance in the remake, and the same remains true here. Curry is a blast to watch from start to finish, and he has a underlying creepiness to him that comes across well most of the time. However, I just couldn’t take his version seriously. Whenever his Pennywise guise was onscreen, I wasn’t the least bit scared. Between parts with him “tormenting” Eddie in the showers and pestering an older Ritchie with loud noises and bad jokes, he was more entertaining than spooky. I think the one thing I can say is scary between both his and Skargard’s versions is the concept of It altogether. The fact that this creature can manipulate you by showing off your deepest, darkest fears is way creepier to me than a evil-looking clown. However, even if it didn’t scare me, I do feel Curry’s version is still a valid and well-acted interpretation of the character. I can plainly see why it and this miniseries in general is so beloved by people.

Overall, the “It” miniseries is pretty good. It has enough moments that could easily creep people out, and I’m sure if I’d seen it as a kid I would have probably had nightmares. Tim Curry is the standout performance here, though the kids do a great job and the adults aren’t too bad either. While the pacing can occasionally feel slow, hardly anything feels arbitrary to the story and it spends the time to invest you in the characters and their world. If you haven’t already seen this, give it a shot. Just remember that it’s the length of a “Lord of the Rings” movie, so be ready to spend an afternoon or evening on it. Thank you for joining me for my Stephen King marathon, and I’ll see you again possibly for more or something completely different next October!

 

Stephen King Marathon: “Gramma”

Well, I’m finally back to blogging after having an awesome, unforgettable honeymoon! Getting to finally experience being both out west AND in California was a lot of fun, and I loved having the opportunity to visit Walt Disney’s original Disney park. But now that I’m back, it’s time to resume this Stephen King marathon. For today’s blog, I’ve decided to go with another short story of his. From the collection called “Skeleton Crew,” let’s take a look at “Gramma.”

George Bruckner and his mother, Ruth, live with his senile gramma in Maine. One day, Ruth is forced to leave George alone with Gramma to visit her eldest son, Buddy, after he’s admitted to the hospital. George is then left to reflect on his gramma and the strange gossip and rumors surrounding her. Is there more to his gramma than even he knows? And how will he cope with having to take care of her himself?

I’m going to immediately start by saying that this story dragged for me. Once again, while King’s knack for detail is admirable and paints vivid imagery in your mind, there was too much of it here. Many details felt unnecessary to the story and affected the pacing as a result. That being said, I liked how he used the idea of younger kids sometimes feeling intimidated or scared by their grandparents as the basis for the story. It came off believable and we get to learn about how George’s gramma eventually became blind and senile, which would add to the scariest even if you’re an adult. Having to watch a loved one succumb to those kinds of symptoms isn’t easy, especially when you’ve been their caretaker like Ruth is here.

That being said, the supernatural element (yes, there is one) worked well here. It’s the kind of story that you’d think wouldn’t need one, but still works in context anyway. As far as characters are concerned, you do get a sense of what Ruth and Buddy are like, but the main focus is on George and his gramma. I got a good idea of how they were as people, even though it’s established that Gramma isn’t all she seems to be. I also honestly found myself enjoying the climax the most out of everything. It felt tense and the details really added to the horror. The ending was also very disturbing and creepy. I can definitely say that I found it far more satisfying than what “Graveyard Shift” had to offer.

Overall, “Gramma” is a creepy little story that’s unfortunately held back a bit by some slow pacing. The characters feel real, the details add some great imagery when they’re not being (in my opinion) unnecessary, and the ending was at least a better conclusion than what I got from the previous short story. Give this one a read, but don’t be surprised if it drags for you as well.

Stephen King Marathon: “Graveyard Shift”

Today’s blog will be the only one for this week, I’m afraid. From tomorrow until Sunday, my husband and I will be in California for our overdue honeymoon! We’re both very excited and looking forward to getting some relaxation and fun. For now, I’ve decided to look at an aspect of Stephen King that doesn’t immediately come to my mind: short stories. He’s written tons of them and in the interest of time, I’ve chosen to look at the story “Graveyard Shift” from the “Night Shift” collection. Let’s start things off with the plot.

Hall is a drifter currently working in a textile mill in Maine when his boss, Warwick, comes to him with an offer. For a small raise, Hall is tasked to work the graveyard shift with a few others cleaning up the mill’s basement. The mill has a rat infestation problem which only seems to get worse and more dangerous as they venture into the basement. But when Hall discovers a hidden level below the basement, he in turn makes Warwick help him investigate. What sort of things might they find lurking down there?

Once again, King fills this story will plenty of vivid details to the point of some of them being disturbing. Luckily, because of the short story format, he also keeps the pace relatively quick. However, this does mean that the characters are pretty bare bones as a result. All I learned about Hall was that he moves from place to place, hates Warwick, and loves throwing cans at the rats. His co-worker, Wisconsky, barely gets any characterization outside of being nervous around rats, and Warwick is a bit cruel and dickish to all his employees. He especially prefers to pick on Hall for formally being in college. These minor details made it hard for me to care what (if anything) happened to them.

While I liked that the story was short and to the point, the ending was a bit lackluster. The imagery was well done, but the whole thing kind of ends on a anti-climatic note. I suppose it’s an appropriate ending for this type of story, but I wasn’t a fan of it. I also feel like the scare factor only came in for me around the end, because rats as a general concept don’t bother me that much.

Overall, “Graveyard Shift” is a decent but kinda forgettable short story. The detailed descriptions help sell the situation, but the characters are a bit one-note and the ending wasn’t all that satisfying. So, your mileage may vary on this one. Thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, King has written many short stories so I would encourage people to at least look into his collection books.

Stephen King Marathon: Reflecting on “Carrie”

Today’s blog is going to be a little different from the others. Instead of doing a normal review of the novel “Carrie,” I’m going to talk about my experience with it. If you don’t already know the story, the book is about a teenage girl named Carrie who is ostracized by her classmates and abused by her overly Christian mother. Over time, she gains psychic abilities which she eventually uses against everyone who ever wronged her. It’s basically a coming-of-age story mixed with that classic Stephen King supernatural flair.

I wanted to talk about “Carrie” for one simple reason: It’s the first Stephen King book I’d ever read. Back when I was still a teenager, my best friend Mackenzie and I would sometimes go camping for the weekend with her parents. We stayed in a camper close to a huge lake and enjoyed swimming and having barbecued food for dinner. Of course, being nerdy, we also enjoyed watching movies and reading on days when the weather was either too hot or too rainy. It was during one of these weekends that she introduced me to “Carrie.”

Before the weekend was over and I had to go home, I read the whole book. The story gripped me immediately with Carrie being someone close to my age at that time. I’ve also had a love for any kind of psychic ability in fiction, so reading about her using these cool and terrifying powers was a lot of fun. You sympathize with Carrie, want to cheer when her mother and the bullies get their due comeuppance, and understand when fellow classmate Sue tries to show her that not everyone was against Carrie as she believed. I remember the imagery was so vivid and in hindsight set the high standard of detailed imagery King is now known for. It’s weird to think it was his first ever story, and yet even though I’m still pretty new to his work, it remains one of his best to me.

“Carrie” is a story that can still hold up all these years later and, with a breezy length, it’s one of the easiest starting points for all things Stephen King. I still remember that weekend partially because it was the first time in a long while that I’d been invested in a book. It feels redundant to say this, but if you still haven’t tried reading or watching “Carrie”, I would highly recommend doing so.

Stephen King Marathon: “Gerald’s Game” (Netflix)

Well, it took some time, but I finally got around to watching Netflix’s movie adaptation of “Gerald’s Game.” I will admit upfront that I avoided watching what I consider the goriest part of the book redone in live action for the sake of my stomach, but beyond that what I saw was a relatively accurate adaptation. So, did I like it? Well, yes and no.

The plot isn’t too difficult to sum up since it’s essentially the same as the book’s. Jessie and Gerald Burlingame head to their remote lakeside cabin for a day of romance and sex. But after getting too into his game involving handcuffing Jessie to their bed, Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies. Now Jessie must find a way out of her predicament, all while dealing with a ravenous dog and both some past and present trauma along the way.

As far as what I liked, I commend Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood for their performances. As this version’s embodiment of the voices in Jessie’s head, they were able go beyond their roles as Jessie and Gerald and be even more compelling. However, I did feel they purposely made Gerald…nicer in this? He was still a bit of a dick for the small amount of screen time he had, but he and Jessie seemed to have a little more affection for each other than what I got out of the book. I also adored the dog they chose, even if it did seem a lot less mangy than the one described in the book. Both my husband and I also enjoyed the editing techniques that were used to bring some of Jessie’s memories of her father into the present. We both kind of wished that the flashbacks had been incorporated more often in this manner.

But like with the book, I had some issues. Once again, that twist is showcased here and while it’s executed creepily well, it still felt like a lousy conclusion to the story. Also, the movie itself felt slightly padded, though not nearly as egregiously as the book was. However, at the same time, I felt a few parts were almost rushed. Specific examples I can think of would be those flashbacks, because the book fleshed out Jessie’s family life to make you understand her past trauma even more. In this, it cuts directly to the incident and a brief bit of aftermath. While it’s still scummy and feels like something that could happen in real life, it didn’t resonate as much with me this time around.

For me, “Gerald’s Game” is a decent film based on a decent book. It’s pretty well-acted and is at least faithful to the source material (for better and for worse). Plus, thankfully, it’s quicker to get through compared to the book (for me anyway). I can at least give kudos to the director for keeping this one under two hours. And much like the book, if you’re looking for a Stephen King story that is less supernatural and more “realistic,” this might be for you.