Best Stephen King Adaptations

Corey Hogan

Hollywood sure loves master of horror Stephen King. Since the late seventies, there have been over a hundred films and television series based on his writings, making him one of the most adapted living authors ever. Of course, with that many there’s bound to be a few stinkers; arguably the worst is the sole directing effort of King himself, Maximum Overdrive, which even King admits was moronic (he claimed to have been “coked out of his mind” during production). But for the most part these range from good to great, to some of the most beloved gems in cinema history.

The latest is the new version of King’s behemoth novel It, already being hailed as one of the best King adaptations. But will it withstand the test of time against these classics? Here’s five of his greatest book-to-screen takes.

Carrie (1976)

09 September - Stephen King Carrie

The very first King adaptation still stands strong as one of the best, and though it is a terrific horror film in the traditional sense, Brian De Palma wrings the real dread from putting us into the everyday nightmare of simply being a teenager. Sissy Spacek defines the titular Carrie White, a girl terrified by the physical and mental changes of her blooming womanhood, thanks to some particularly cruel classmates and her horrifically over-the-top religious mother (Piper Laurie, in a demonic performance). It’s almost a relief when, after having a bucket of pig blood dumped on her at her high school prom, she snaps and has her revenge by massacring her entire school with telekinetic powers she was unaware of – but it’s also pretty damn shocking. A disturbing horror classic, Carrie got a sequel and two remakes; none of which could match the sheer ferocity of this.

Misery (1990)

09 September - Stephen King Misery

More than a few of King’s characters are, unsurprisingly, writers, but this occupation really comes into play in Misery, the second of Rob Reiner‘s films to use King’s novels as a source. The then-unknown Kathy Bates is a monstrous revelation in her Oscar-winning role as Annie Wilkes, the “number one fan” of author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who, unsatisfied with the ending of his romance series, kidnaps him and forces him to write a sequel. It’s an escalating game of cat-and-mouse as Paul’s attempts to escape are met with horrifying consequences, and though a lot of the novel’s gory sequences are dropped, the claustrophobia and psychological horror are ramped up, making the infamously unbearable hobbling scene after Annie breaks Paul’s ankles with a sledgehammer all the more effective.

Stand By Me (1986)

09 September - Stephen King Stand By Me

Interestingly, a number of the best King-based movies aren’t horror, but rather sensitive character dramas. For Stand By Me, Rob Reiner took on King’s novella The Body, about four small town boys who go on a hike to find the dead body of a missing child. A simple premise, but the film draws so much from it, taking us on an adventure where boys are forced to be men for the first time as they face challenges like bullies with switchblades, leeches and outrunning oncoming trains. Its nostalgic glow has turned it into one of the quintessential coming-of-age films. King apparently had to leave the cinema to compose himself after it was screened for him the first time, returning to thank Reiner for making the best film out of anything he’s ever written.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

09 September - Stephen King Shawshank Redemption

Famously the permanent fixture atop the IMDb Top 250 Movies, Frank Darabont’s prison drama lives up to its reputation as being one of the greatest films of all time. King expressed concern about the story being too talky to make a good movie, but it’s the iconic narration and mantras of Morgan Freeman’s Red that have allowed the film to become so memorable. He tells Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne to “get busy living, or get busy dying” – which he does, in one of the greatest twist endings and prison breaks ever. It’s a true tearjerker and a great metaphor for prison as a purgatory of rehabilitation. Darabont went on to successfully adapt King’s work twice more with The Green Mile and The Mist.

The Shining (1980)

09 September - Stephen King The Shining

Quite possibly the best horror movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s thrilling masterpiece is famously loathed by King for misinterpreting and distorting his novel into something else entirely. But this is part of its appeal, making it one of the few adaptations to surpass its source. Kubrick took a fairly straightforward tragedy of a decent man who loses his mind and transformed it into a smorgasbord of supernatural elements, claustrophobia, family fears and madness; so multilayered it spawned an entire documentary (Room 237) devoted to its possible interpretations and hidden meanings. Its notoriously troubled shoot and chilling ambiguity only add to its horrifying brilliance. King has made it clear that he much prefers the more faithful 1997 miniseries; it’s doubtful that anyone else does.

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment & Roadshow Films/Entertainment 

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Does winning an Oscar actually matter?

Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

 Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night – just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly.

Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015).

Across its history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar, but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades. For many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; they’re back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens.

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking.

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, fourteen or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year.  After the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward.

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars. Should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much.

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes – but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Tom Cruise – The Last Action Hero

I have to get something off my chest concerning Tom Cruise and the haters ain’t gonna like it!

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Few movie stars divide opinion like Tom Cruise; I’m struggling to think of another A-list actor who elicits such a myriad of reactions. Case in point: a merry trip to the cinema to see Sully with a group of friends last month was brought to a screening halt when we came face-to-face with the shiny poster for the new Jack Reacher movie, Never Go Back.

“Ugh, Tom Cruise just needs to stop”, was the prevailing opinion. As the ardent Cruise fan that I am, I protested and stuck up for my boy Tom – but it was a futile attempt. The tribe had spoken; Cruise was an aging star whose onscreen persona was overshadowed by a divisive and highly publicised, couch jumping personal life. Take a hike Tom, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

However, this got me thinking. For all his faults, isn’t Cruise still the closest we get to the concept of a ‘movie star’ nowadays? The kind of bankable actor who sells a film on name recognition alone, like Will Smith, Bruce Willis and Jim Carrey did in the late 90’s? Setting aside the weird personal stuff, Cruise has all the ingredients we ask for in an A-list action hero – and sometimes we need to be reminded of how unique that is in 2016.

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Across the last thirty years, Cruise has curated a successful acting career through an escalating game of one-upmanship against himself. Once upon a time he was the dashing, baby-faced fighter pilot in an oily homoerotic relationship with Val Kilmer in Top Gun; now Cruise is best known as the rogue superspy Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible series, a gig that has spanned 20 years and five movies.

Alongside a rotating door of directors like Brian de Palma, John Woo and JJ Abrams, Cruise has nurtured the series from its humble beginnings as an adaptation of a long-forgotten 60’s TV serial to a kickass platform for some of the most exciting action cinema seen this century. Each entry is defined by a stunt (or series of stunts) bigger than the last.

As both lead actor and producer, Cruise’s involvement with the series outlines his total commitment to crafting quality action. In 2011, Rolling Stone’s review of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol stated that “If someone asks you what a true movie star is, point to Cruise. He has it all”. It’s a quote that encapsulates Cruise’s mandate with the Mission Impossible series; to craft and serve up iconic, lasting cinematic magic. There isn’t another actor working today who does what Tom Cruise does.

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Of course, in this day and age dominated by superhero sagas and existing properties, the star power of Cruise (and almost every A-lister) is on the wane. Headlining a film just isn’t enough anymore; look no further than Robert Downey Jnr’s 2014 effort The Judge or the lacklustre return that 90’s powerhouse Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoyed with Sabotage or Escape Plan. Actors like Adam Sandler, George Clooney or Brad Pitt used to sell films just because their mug was on the poster – nowadays you need an existing property like Jurassic World or Suicide Squad to prop up a film lead by a Chris Pratt or a Will Smith.

Cruise himself has seen more than his fair share of knocks in recent years; 2012’s Jack Reacher, 2013’s Oblivion and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow all dipped below expectations at the box office, irrespective of the fact that they range from decent (Oblivion) to straight-up instant classic (Edge of Tomorrow) in terms of quality. But you can’t fault the guy for trying; saying that Cruise gives 100% on each and every project he works on is like saying water is wet. Like, duh.

tom-cruise-edge-of-tomorrow
Simply put, no-one else in the business conducts themselves with as much genuine eagerness and excitement as Cruise. Following the release of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation in 2015, Paramount President Megan Colligan acknowledged the significant contribution Cruise had on the whole film, from start to finish: “He was a producer and the star of the movie, he was involved in the writing, the shooting, the set pieces, the postproduction work, calling in to check the tracking, everything”.

Like, damn son – leave some work for the rest of the crew why don’t cha? All kidding aside, Cruise remains a dedicated, hardworking consummate professional. In 2016, I struggle to think of another actor who routinely conducts himself with as much discipline and enthusiasm as Cruise, and it’s a damn shame that his legacy and work is continually overshadowed by the negative public perception of his personal life and beliefs. I’m not saying I agree with them – I’m just saying we shouldn’t let them distract from the work he does on set.

At age 53, we can’t expect Cruise to hang off of planes and skyscrapers forever – whose to say that the next Mission Impossible movie, due in 2018, won’t be Cruise’s last? It’s hard to imagine the series existing without him, and even if it could, who would replace him? Furthermore, who will fill the void left by Cruise when he eventually steps back from blockbusters entirely? Right now the closest thing we have is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, but even he is prone to moments of uncharacteristic antagonism. Vin Diesel, maybe – but he can’t carry a film that isn’t called Fast and Furious.

Continue to hate on Cruise if you like; I’m not here to try and change your mind on the bloke. That really would be an impossible mission. Just know that too few actors apply themselves with the same vigour as he does, and even if you don’t like the guy off-screen, his feats of daring and presence onscreen should be commended and appreciated whilst they are still a thing.

Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures, United International Pictures and Roadshow Films

Robert De Niro: Godfather to Grandpa

Zachary Cruz-Tan

What do a disillusioned cabbie, a delusional comedian and a great big shark have in common? They all have a mole on their cheekbone that belongs to Robert De Niro; that fine actor of Hollywood’s second bygone age. An actor who seems like he plays every role with one note, but hungrily hoards a range of emotions and expressions beneath the wrinkled veneer of his stalwart visage.

I cannot say that I have traced De Niro’s career like a hawk since his very first days, but I’ve kept in touch with his work, and have come to truly admire his craft as well as the dedication with which he forms characters, and delivers lines that seem to penetrate immediately to the very bottom of our souls. Even in The Godfather Part II (1974), when he spoke Italian, we felt as if we understood him. No interpreter needed. No subtitles. His messages transcend language.

How does he fare today? That’s what we’re finding out. This decade of remakes and sequels, of superheroism and reboots has just stepped over the halfway point. Do his films now move and inspire like they used to? De Niro traverses different ground now, as evidenced by his latest film, Dirty Grandpa, in which he plays an old man who is desperate for sex and overly fond of spilling vulgarities on half-naked, horny teenage girls. It is his worst performance and movie to date, in a career that has spanned the cinematic cosmos like an explorer out of time.

1970s – Birth Of Brilliance

02 February - Robert De Niro Godfather
It wasn’t till Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 follow-up to his hugely successful (and culturally immortal) The Godfather that Robert De Niro became known to a wide audience, winning the Academy Award for his role as the young Don of the Corleone Mafia family (played, as his older self, by Marlon Brando in the first film). He had appeared in a few other films before, notably Bang the Drum Slowly and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (both released in 1973), but The Godfather Part II was his first film to receive significant attention, and enjoy a healthy longevity after it rolled out of theatres onto home video.

This was the decade of De Niro’s genesis; the ten years that ensured his place in Hollywood’s pantheon. His Travis Bickle, in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), is an American landmark, a counter-cultural renegade of disillusionment and fractured optimism. De Niro played him absolutely straight, complicated by intense paranoia and a desire to do good by himself, the people around him, and his beloved nation. No other De Niro character so closely scrutinised the American way, not even when Sgt. Mike Vronsky attempted to shoot his own brains out in Vietnam in Michael Cimino’s war epic, The Deer Hunter.

These were the years De Niro employed to stretch his legs and test his acting stamina. He appeared in thirteen films; all wonderful, all differently pitched. He didn’t step wrong, nor did he overplay the material. It seemed like a decade suited to his style, to his casual American ruggedness. Till this day, I can watch Taxi Driver or The Deer Hunter and be moved right down to my bones, and it’s because De Niro understood the human tragedy at the centre of his characters. His partnership with Martin Scorsese birthed three of the thirteen pictures, but their best work together was yet to come.

1980s – Disco Is Out, De Niro Is In

02 February - Robert De Niro Raging Bull
De Niro and Scorsese made two films together during the 1980s; a decade rife with stories and characters that cut against the socio-political grain of an America still recovering from the Vietnam War. Among the twelve pictures De Niro appeared in, at least five featured strong characters who were at odds with the way the world moved against them.

Two of his more recognisable roles came from his Scorsese pictures: the hard-hitting boxer, Jake La Motta, from Raging Bull (1980); and good old Rupert Pupkin, a budding comedian from The King of Comedy (1983) who had no idea how painfully unfunny he was. Both were strong De Niro performances in subtly different ways – Jake was tough, gritty and passionate. Rupert was vacuous, guileless and blind. Yet they shared a determination that exceeded the capabilities of their personalities, and this, I think, is what paved the way for De Niro’s subsequent roles: the canny ability to weave opposing traits and emotions into a complex suit of character drama.

De Niro also appeared in Terry Gilliam’s dystopian critique, Brazil (1985), as a rebellious air-conditioner repairman; Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986), in which he played a Spanish slaver who found his morals; and as Al Capone in Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), a man with absolutely no morals. This was a creatively exciting decade for De Niro. He had built his empire. Now he was living in it.

1990s – Before The New Century, The Greatness Within

02 February - Robert De Niro Casino
It’s almost impossible to choose De Niro’s best film, performance, or decade in which he carried out his duties. He has remained so good for so long that many of his films have merged into a single lane of distinction.

If the 1970s and 1980s charted his birth and rise into the movie business, the 1990s held him firmly in the reality of the industry, allowing him to expand and contract at the same time, to explore new roles while cementing old ones.

He continued his faithful and lucrative partnership with Martin Scorsese, who cast De Niro in three films: the evergreen Goodfellas (1990); the eerie psychological thriller, Cape Fear (1991); and perhaps my personal favourite, Casino (1995). Goodfellas is a stellar gangster film, among the best, but Casino, like so many Scorsese films, watches helplessly as its greedy, unreliable characters rush headlong into disaster, and it is a spectacularly well-made film. Goodfellas, too, watches helplessly, but its characters wilfully destroy themselves.

Outside of the Scorsese bubble, De Niro appeared in another stellar movie, this time playing a sad victim of a rare disease that left its targets in a state of suspended animation. Directed by Penny Marshall, Awakenings (1990) was a gentle, moving film, built around two outstanding performances (Robin Williams shared leading responsibilities with De Niro).

Like I said, De Niro’s work is De Niro’s work. To pick a best is like trying to pick a raindrop from a shower. We can only sit back and observe this man’s legacy, which has grown into something ethereal and rich. Sadly, though, as the century turned, with his legacy clearly established, he let go of the reins and became more experimental.

2000s – The Beginning Of The End

02 February - Robert De Niro Meet The Parents
I’ve only seen two of De Niro’s 2000s’ movies. He relinquished his pursuit in this decade, deciding, perhaps misguidedly, to explore faces of himself he never got to before. Why “misguidedly”? Because it marked the beginning of his end. No, I’m not saying he should have starred in gangster pictures till his legs fell off, neither am I saying his career is dead, but his venture into the tricky world of comedy, while strong at the start, soon became a long, drawn-out series of poor career decisions.

His best film in this decade was Meet the Parents (2000), the Ben Stiller vehicle that exposed me to De Niro’s comedic nature for the very first time. Completely unamused by anything or anyone outside his affluent family, his Jack Byrnes was a terror, the kind of patriarch boyfriends everywhere feared meeting. He played opposite Stiller, and effectively stole every scene right out from under his feet.

He also dabbled in animation, lending his voice to a big fish in Shark Tale (2004), playing, no doubt, the head of a Mafia family. De Niro is a skilled actor and provides first-rate vocal talent, but looking at his collection of work, surely one must feel a quiet disappointment with his decision to relax in the face of unbridled success. Actors continue to push personal boundaries well into their seventies and eighties. Look at Max Von Sydow, who grew old and then stopped aging. Only last year he appeared famously, albeit briefly, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, currently the third-highest grossing movie of all time.

De Niro, conversely, has slowed down, despite being more prolific. Maybe the vast spotlights of the ‘70s and ‘80s have finally blinded his artistic drive. In the years following 2009, the movies he’s appeared in have only gotten worse.

Now – Uphill From Here

02 February - Robert De Niro Grudge Match
We’ve come, at last, to the present. To the years of CGI and franchise reboots. To an era of endless superhero movies. The cinematic landscape is so different now. It’s hostile. Unforgiving. There’s no room for gangster pictures like The Godfather and Goodfellas, or even great psychological police procedurals like Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), because audiences have seen them all and want new material they can digest in new ways.

Maybe this accounts for the decline in quality of De Niro’s contemporary pictures. Something is missing from his equation. Where Von Sydow continues to be selective, De Niro seems to have given up picking and choosing roles his fans want to see him in, opting instead to appear in sporadic cameos. He’s reached that point in the timeline of his artistic creativity where each new professional choice carries less weight.

That’s why he’s able to get away with commercial and critical disasters like Machete (2010), Killer Elite (2011), Limitless (2011), New Year’s Eve (2011), Killing Season (2013), Grudge Match (2013), and this year’s Dirty Grandpa, without dire consequences. It is a remarkable thing, how De Niro continues to astound in ways contrary to popular expectation. As much as I want to speculate and conceive plausible explanations for this man’s wickedly perpendicular choices, there’s no refuting his imprint on the driveway of America’s cinematic history. He is, irrevocably, one of Hollywood’s finest actors, and will remain so because his past simply cannot be vandalised or erased. I am sceptical now, because of Dirty Grandpa, but at least I’ll always have Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, and Casino to go back to.

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films, United International Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures and United Artists