Tag Archives: Stephen King

Best of 2019 – Film

3 Jan

For eight or so months it seemed 2019 was going to be a mediocre year for movies. Sure there was the occasional surprise (Shazam! – Zachary Levi, my goodness), a couple of much better than average Stephen King adaptations (Pet Sematary, It 2 – both very effective) and even a grump like me had to admit Marvel somehow pulled off a very satisfying end to their multi-year experiment with Avengers: Endgame. But otherwise… meh. Around September, however, some switch went off! Fall and winter have been terrific. It’s been a while since I’ve been this jazzed about a string of such strong films. My best of the best:



I did a full post on my favorite movie of 2019 shortly after Joker’s release so I won’t belabor it here. Here’s a link to the piece if you’re interested:

Jokers, Parasites and Fear

This post on Joker also discussed another big favorite:



Already an extremely accomplished director (see Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host, etc) Bong Joon-ho somehow stepped up his game with this savage black comedy about class and family. Brilliant.



There’s an aspect to Marriage Story, a modern day Kramer Vs Kramer/Scenes from a Marriage, that usually causes me to dislike a movie: a story about people who exists in a 1% Westside Bubble. (Marriage Story manages to be double Westside… Westside LA and Upper Westside NYC… yes I know the Manhattan section occurs mostly in a borough but it’s the same rarified arena.) Life is this bubble has little relation to life anywhere else in the rest of the world; movies taking place in the bubble tend to be pretentious and also, well, who cares about people with ridiculous problems? Hollywood loves to bash the 1% but the world of the 1% is the only life many in Hollywood know. Hollywood adores and celebrates this world. (I understand. I saw Downton Abbey The Movie… twice. That’s my kind of 1%!)

And yet…

Marriage Story blew me away. The movie is performed so perfectly (by literally every member of the cast), so confidently directed and written by Noah Baumbach, my jaw hung open much of the time. There are scenes in Marriage Story so excruciatingly honest and painful I had to look away, yet the movie is also riotously funny.  I laughed often and loudly. There’s enough truth in the movie that anyone who watches can relate. Baumbach somehow bursts through the bubble. I didn’t think any movie could topple Joker as my favorite of the year… Marriage Story very well may have done it.

You can watch this on Netflix right now!



I had no desire to see Ford v Ferrari. Racing. Yawn. Thankfully a buddy dragged me to see it and I fell in love. Yes, it involves racing but the movie is about so much more: a complex friendship as well as a marvelous character study of Ken Miles. There is also a lovely look at Miles’ marriage. Ford v Ferrari ranks with Marriage Story as the best acted movie of the year. The entire cast is incredible, not just the two marvelous leads.  (Special note to Tracy Letts and his scene in the car… what he did in that scene ain’t easy, folks. Wow. May I reveal how envious I am of a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning writer who is also a great actor? Talk about a dream career… Loser!) James Mangold once again proves himself a master at crafting movies with great depth that are still wildly entertaining (see also Logan and Walk The Line.) You won’t have a better time in the movie theatre all year.



In 2005, I saw the trailer for the new Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice and thought, “What? Why?? Done already and done perfectly. Not gonna bother.” Then I saw it… and saw it another five times in the theatre, and numerous times since, and I teach it in my class on Adaptation.

I felt the same way when I heard Greta Gerwig was doing yet another adaptation of Little Women. “Really? Do we need this?” Gerwig gets the last laugh. I cried my way through Little Women, one of the most deliriously romantic and beautiful movies I’ve seen since, well, Joe Wright’s Pride And Prejudice. I loved the time jumping, which made the story hit even harder for me this time. The innovation made the story feel fresh and new. Little Women also sports another impeccable cast. What great acting! (And Tracy Letts again! Loser!) 

Little Women is glorious.


POPE 03.jpg

Forgive me, but I have to say something very cheeseball. The Two Popes, alternately very funny and deeply moving, is “a movie for our time.” It’s the true story of two good men with wildly different views of the world and culture who somehow find a way to discuss and debate their differences without foaming at the mouth. Neither likes the other. But forced to spend time together by external circumstances, they begin listen to one another. Eventually each is changed by the other. Remarkable. Two of our finest actors, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, are better than you could imagine which, given the two actors, is saying a lot. Gorgeously shot, The Two Popes is a quiet, subtle stunner of enormous power.

You can also find The Two Popes on Netflix. Oh, and don’t turn it off when “it’s over”… the end credit sequence is pure joy.



No one saw Doctor Sleep, which is such a shame. Easily one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King book ever, writer/director Mike Flanagan, who created the dazzling Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix, took King’s most personal novel, a sequel to The Shining, and gave us one of the year’s best and most wrenching movies. King, of course, hated the Kubrick adaptation of The Shining, which threw out the incredible ending of the novel and replaced it with a big fat nothing burger. Flanagan, however, knew Doctor Sleep had to at least use Kubrick’s iconic imagery, given the belated popularity of Kubrick’s film, a flop when it was first released. Without given much away, Flanagan brilliantly restores King’s original ending of the novel by using Kubrick’s hotel. It’s incredible.

I also must mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as Rose The Hat, Doctor Sleep’s villain. Ferguson somehow makes Rose as sexy and attractive as she is evil. Her performance is a stunner. So is Doctor Sleep.



Yes, I’m including this terrific “Jaws-like” thriller. It may not be an Oscar-worthy movie but when something is this well crafted and gripping, with surprisingly good character depth, it ranks as “Best Of” for me. Crawl is an absolute blast.

Note: I have a feeling both The Farewell and 1917 will end up here. They are the last two movies on my big list I haven’t seen. 

Other noteworthy mentions:

I must commend Brad Pitt’s remarkable work in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. He’s so good in this movie his work seems effortless. It’s not. And while my favorite, QT, didn’t hit this year end list, the extended sequence in OUATIH at The Ranch is one of the best pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen in years. Margot Robbie was also wonderful… the whole cast, really.

There’s Renee Zellweger’s performance in Judy. I didn’t think anyone could match Judy Davis’s genius in the 2001 TV version of Garland’s life but Zellweger certainly did. Such a pleasure to watch. And a very good film!

It’s scandalous that Paul Walter Hauser isn’t getting every acting nomination in the world for his phenomenal performance in Richard Jewell, another terrific movie Warner Bros mis-marketed. (Someone in the Warner’s marketing department is in a lot of trouble right now…)

Robert Pattison and Willem Defoe were both stunning in The Lighthouse. 

It was a divine pleasure to see Joe Pesci back on screen in The Irishman. He was so damn good. Al Pacino really captured Hoffa well, his best performance in a long time. I found The Irishman at times very good but often interminable. I realize a lot of people who love it are watching it in pieces on Netflix. That’s a TV show, not a movie. And I do think this would be a great TV show. I had to watch it all at once in the theatre, without even an intermission. It felt like 10 hours, not 3.5.

Let me know your favorites!


The Grand Romances of Stephen King

18 Feb

Yes, constant reader, that’s right, it’s true. Here, come sit beside me and let’s talk. There’s a story within the story. The Master is a romantic at heart.


I was 12 years old when Ann McPherson handed me a copy of The Shining. A wonderful woman with a joyous and infectious laugh, Mrs. McPherson was one of my mom’s best friends. She lived a few doors down and often dropped by our the house in the late afternoon. She treated me as an equal, for which I adored her, and we shared an intense love for books. Earlier that year Ann gave me Robin Cook’s Coma, a terrific thriller I finished in two days while my parents banged on my bedroom door trying to get me to emerge. (It may be the one time in my life I willingly skipped a meal.) After Coma, I was ready to read anything Mrs. McPherson recommended.

The copy of The Shining she handed me was the initial paperback release. The cover was in reflective silver with the outline of a young boy’s head. 


shining cover

How awesome is this?!


I looked at the cover over and over, tingling with anticipation. I figured they must have spent some bucks on this cover if it reflected! Incredibly cool! The cover read A Masterpiece of Modern Horror. The marketing team earned their salary with that phrase. I was scared already. And a young boy as the centerpiece? Talk about primed.

Primed indeed. The book changed my life, not only because it remains one of my favorite novels of all time, not only because it has haunted me since, but because it introduced me to the man who has influenced my life as much as anyone on the planet. 


I love this.

What strikes me now about The Shining, which I’ve read umpteen times, is the novel’s humanity. As dark as Stephen King can go – and, oh my, can he go there: try Cujo, one of his best and easily his darkest novel, it’s shattering – his novels have enormous power because he has such a clear love and respect for people, their dreams, their emotions and their love. In The Shining, Jack Torrance’s fierce love for his son Danny (completely missing from the cold, emotionless Kubrick adaptation) drives the novel. Jack’s fierce love for his son is also what ultimately saves everyone from hell. Certainly, yes, terrible things happen in Stephen King novels. (Is life any different?) Yet there is a compassion surrounding the events and the characters that surmounts the horror. I’ve read almost everything in King’s canon and can attest that this love of humanity is evident in just about everything he writes.

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Summer Reading 2014

10 Jul

Time for another yearly post that is always popular: summer book recommendations. I’ve been tearing through a stack of novels the last few weeks and have come across some true finds. Hopefully there will be one or two you might find as enjoyable.


some of the books I am reading this summer


I have two picks from Michael Kortya, whose two last novels, The Prophet and Those Who Wish Me Dead, are terrific. The Prophet, in fact, is one of the best books I’ve read in years.


Michael Kortya signing copies of The Prophet

One critic described The Prophet as a cross between Friday Night Lights and In Cold Blood. I could not put it better myself so I’m stealing it here. The novel is a thriller about a killer stalking people in a small town. But the book is really about two estranged brothers, one the popular high school football coach, who warily come together in an attempt to solve the mystery. The book was very, very suspenseful and quite emotional as well. I found myself rather verklempt at the end. The guy can also write one hell of an exciting football game! This is a perfect summer read. It’s a great thriller but it’s much more than that, I found it a deep and emotionally resonant novel that goes way beyond the thriller genre. The Prophet is a great novel, period.


Kortya’s next novel, the recently released Those Who Wish Me Dead, is an exemplary summer thriller, the kind the cliched phrase ‘Don’t start it unless you have time, you will not be able to put this down!” was made for. It starts off with a bang and never lets up. (I think that also is one of those cliched phrases.) Ignore the bad literary criticism and check this one out, I loved it. 




William Kent Krueger’s latest novel quietly blew me away. If you’ve read Peace Like A River (and if you haven’t, stop everything you are doing right now and read it, you must!) imagine Peace but with a mystery layered into the mix. “All the dying that summer began with the death of a child…” starts the novel and there is indeed a lot of death. Don’t let that deter you, Ordinary Grace is a beautifully written coming of age novel, written from the 1st person perspective of the son of the town pastor. Krueger grapples intelligently with God, faith and, yes, grace, but without a trace of sentimentality. It’s a tough novel but not tough to read, if that makes sense. The mystery keeps it driving forward and the richness of Krueger’s writing is continually surprising. To Kill A Mockingbird also kept coming to mind though here the narrator is a teen, not a child. Ordinary Grace is a wonderful novel that makes me excited for Krueger’s next. Oh and it just won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of the year. It’s that good.



And here we have another ‘wow’. The most emotionally devastating novel of the bunch, Remember Me Like This is a gorgeously written, deeply nuanced novel about a family grappling with the disappearance of their teenage son. It’s not what you would anticipate from that pitch-line, however. One of the many twists is that the novel starts four years after the boy disappeared. Rather than watch the family implode when the boy cannot be found, we start well after the implosion: where most novels would end, this one begins as all hell once again breaks loose in a surprising way. Also a mystery of sorts, it’s an extremely involving narrative that keeps wrenching your heart with revelations and conflict. Set in Corpus Christi, Texas, I can heartily affirm the author nailed the milieu perfectly, given I myself grew up on the gulf coast of Texas. Bret Anthony Johnston’s first novel, Remember Me is the announcement of an extraordinary talent.



And then there is Stephen King’s latest. I don’t know how the man does it over and over but this novel is so $#%* awesome, just like his last two novels, Sir King is getting his own entire blog post coming up next, The Grand Romances of Stephen King. That’s right, The Grand Romances of Stephen King is the title, I’ve already started it, but feel free to run get this novel as fast as you can. Mr. Mercedes is, ahem, a killer.

Have you any books you’ve read this summer you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading!

Summer Picks 2013

6 Jun

We are back! Thanks much for the patience, the Cinema Language seminar was such a success we are doing it yet again in November. In the meantime, I want to give you a few recommendations to get you through the summer. No food this time, as we have a lot of food upcoming, including a ‘Food on the 4th’ menu.

It’s been a great Spring for reading, at least for me. I’ve been blessed with one terrific novel after another. What better time to have a few good books to read than in the summer! Here are a few good reads to get you through:


 I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

                                                                                                                           Hazel Lancaster


I am a little behind on this one. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green made a big splash last year and the film adaptation is in full swing. If you have not yet read it, Get. This. Book. It’s a stunner. Time Magazine’s #1 Fiction Pick for 2012, this book is frequently hilarious, wonderfully romantic and absolutely devastating, sometimes all at once. Yes, the novel is about a 17 year old girl, Hazel, who has cancer. But don’t let that deter you, it’s an easy, thoroughly enjoyable read. Easy as it is, the prose is beautiful and remarkably profound. The Fault In Our Stars was so good that when I finished it, I flipped back to page one and read it again. It’s that good.

A quick aside: this book makes me wonder who determines how books are classified. The Fault In Our Stars is marketed as a ‘young adult’ novel, yet it is one of the more adult and thematically mature books I’ve read in a long while. It’s not that teens shouldn’t be reading it! I’m thrilled they are reading it and that it was so popular. But the ‘young adult’ designation certainly deters some adult readers. It did me. Some people say the designation is because of the age of the main character. Hmph. Just because it’s about a 17 year old girl shouldn’t automatically make it a ‘teen novel’.  To Kill A Mockingbird isn’t a children’s novel just because Scout is a child. I’m curious about this, given so many ‘teen novels’ seem anything but. I said the same thing about the brilliant “Hunger Games” trilogy, a must read if you haven’t yet. That trilogy is one of the darkest and most morally complex stories in print. ‘Teen Novels’? No way. At any rate, do not let that designation cause you to stumble with Fault. Read this book!



NOS4A2, published in April, is also one of the most remarkable novels I’ve read in a long time. If I wasn’t so amazed at his talent, I would be green with envy over Joe Hill. This is his third novel: three novels in a row, each novel was one of the best of its year. Damn, can this guy write!

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Labor Day Food and Film

31 Aug

Another holiday weekend has arrived. Memorial Day weekend last, I drove through six national parks on the way from LA to Chicago with one of my best friends. This weekend? I’ll be marathoning… a Homeland marathon, a Sherlock Marathon and a Downton Abbey marathon. It’s couch potato city with what I am told are the three best TV shows currently available. I’ll keep you posted on the Facebook page.

I imagine many of you will be a little more active. Whatever the case, as with Memorial Day, I wanted to give you food and film and also some books to help you enjoy your weekend.

First, Food:

I’ve written once already about Suzanne Goin, an amazing chef and restaurateur who has created some of my favorite dishes in the world. The recipe below might be my top of the tops. No holiday weekend is complete without grilling and what could be better to grill but burgers? What also could be better than pork? Goin’s pork burgers are the best burgers I have ever had, bar none. And I’ve had, oh, one or two. These burgers take a little prep and work but trust me, the end result is worth a little extra effort. As Food Gal writes, (thank you to Food Gal for this link to the recipe) Goin’s pork burgers are “Heaven on A Bun”.

Click here for the recipe and the remaining choices!