Monday, June 24, 2013


Stephen King's new book, Joyland, is published by Hard Case Crime, a paperback publisher that seeks to replicate the pulp novels of fifty-plus years ago. The covert art for the paperback is awesome (check it out here), but they are also producing this limited edition hardback with cover art by the greatest cover illustrator of all time, Robert McGinnis. I just might have to pony up and buy this.

About the book: it's a solid Stephen King with lots of great atmosphere, a few creepy scenes, and a more than usual amount of nostalgia and heart-string-pulling. A coming-of-age novel set in 1973 at an independently-run carnival in the south, where narrator Devin Jones spends his summer. The novel meanders a bit, but I think that's the point. It's about all the experiences of this young man's life, from his first broken heart, his first sexual experience, his first close friendships. There's also a ghost and a serial killer, but they almost seem like subplots. A sweet book that doesn't quite live up to the pulpiness of its cover art, but that's in keeping with tradition.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

An excellent technicolor noir in which Gene Tierney plays a murderous, jealous psychotic who makes life hell for her novelist husband, a decent Cornel Wilde. I will say, in his defense, that I might marry Gene Tierney even if I knew in advance (spoiler warning) that she was going to drown my polio-stricken little brother, and hurl herself down the stairs to miscarry her unborn child.

It's a gorgeous film, bouncing between Taos, New Mexico and northern Maine, building a steadily-progressing aura of dread. The film falters toward the end, during a courtroom scene with a histrionic Vincent Price. And while John Stahl does a nice job directing, it's hard to not imagine what Hitchcock might have done with this material.

James Gandolfini, 1961 - 2013

I always thought that James Gandolfini, who died yesterday at the too-young age of 51, would have made a good lead in a romantic film, something along the lines of Marty done as a romantic comedy. Not that he wasn't brilliant at playing hard men and gangsters, but there was something about his sad eyes that made me think he would have knocked it out of the park as a middle-aged man finding love. I'm sure that film would never have happened, but I will miss seeing Gandolfini on the screen in what would have been, I'm sure, a great continuing career as a character actor. RIP.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kill List

I haven't seen a film that feels so washed over with evil since maybe The Shining. Without giving too much away, Ben Wheatley's film is partly a domestic study along the lines of a Mike Leigh film, partly a crime flick with a pair of chummy contract killers, and partly an occult thriller. But all of these elements are horrifying. I was scared of this movie before anything scary ostensibly happened. Best horror film I've seen in at least a decade, and I can't wait to catch Wheatley's new film, Sightseers, which is getting rave reviews.

By the way, in case you haven't intuited this already, this is definitely not a film for the faint-hearted or weak-stomached. One of the bold moves that Wheatley makes is to have the film be both humorous and violent, but unlike so many movies today, it is never humorous and violent at the same time.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Brilliant John Tiffany

I've had good luck with theater lately, seeing a bunch of memorable plays, including being fortunate enough to see the American Repertory Company Production of Pippin that went to Broadway and just won a Tony. I saw it here in Cambridge, where it was developed.

But the three best plays I've seen recently have all been directed by Scottish theater director John Tiffany.

In London, I caught his musical Once, based on the 2006 film. For some reason, I thought because I'd seen the movie that the play would not be able to add anything new. I was completely wrong; this was a mesmerizing, uplifting and faithful version of the movie. With great versions of Glen Hansard's beautiful songs. And John Tiffany just seems to have a knack for knowing when to wow the audience with some theater trickery and when to just let the material speak for itself.

It's the same with his version of The Glass Menagerie, which I caught at the ART in Cambridge. It stars Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, and Celia Keenan-Bolger, and it is also going to Broadway this fall. There's some amazing theatrical moments, including a rather magic realist couch, and a set that seems to float in the blackness of the universe. But Tiffany never forgets that the power of the play is in the text, and the actors are all superb.

Last but not least, Charlene and I went to New York City last week to see Alan Cumming in his one-man Macbeth, also directed by Tiffany. Personally, I didn't think it was the greatest Macbeth (Charlene would pay to see Alan Cumming read the phonebook), but I loved the play within the play. Why is this man, who is brought into a psychiatric ward with blood on his suit, compelled to recite Shakespeare's play in its entirety? I found myself mesmerized by this particular storyline, as the lines he recites begin to shed light on his circumstance. Cumming was astounding. It was like watching a great acting performance joined with an athletic one. He commands the stage for three hours.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Before I Go To Sleep

Best contemporary thriller I've read in a long time. Almost perfect, really. There's no reason for me to explain what happens in this book because you should just read it.