Castle Rock is great and they should stop now.

 

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When episodes of Castle Rock started streaming on Hulu, the timing was perfect for me. I had been catching up on the sprawling world of Stephen King audiobooks, and some of the less egregious movies. If an audiobook really impacts me, I’ll usually buy a paperback so I can underline and dogear the good parts. King’s novels are a fun way to spend an afternoon, but it doesn’t bother me if they don’t make it into long term memory.

Castle Rock is a little different. It’s got a complicated mythology, and J.J. Abrams is involved, so the comparisons to Lost are inevitable. Also like Lost, as the season’s 10 episodes pass by, two more questions are opened up for every one that is answered. Early on it is exhilarating, but by the end you can’t help but wonder if they are ever going to be able to tie up all these unresolved plot threads.

I liked Hulu’s method of parsing out one episode a week. Being at work on Wednesdays and anticipating getting home to watch the latest episode with my wife really did make it more enjoyable. We’ve had a lot more conversation about the show than we would have if the whole season was released at once. There’s no way we could have had the self control to resist plowing through the whole thing in a weekend if we had the option.

Overall I think the show is well acted, and has a way with cliffhangers just satisfying enough to keep you from feeling cheated. Great show. Liked it a lot. But I think they should stop now and not make a second season. To get into why I’ll have to get into the plot so fair warning: Spoiler Alert.

They have opened up so many plot rabbit trails now that it feels like the show is at risk of losing any clear direction. Lost kept doing this to the point that it really didn’t matter if there were answers to all the questions or not. I say this as a fan of Lost, who actually didn’t mind the ending. In a bonus scene from the series Ben shows up at a warehouse and has a conversation with two Dharma Initiative employees who serve as stand ins for the audience to ask about all the unresolved questions from the show. I finished watching the scene, shrugged and thought, oh, ok. It made me wonder why they opened all these doors when they didn’t have any bearing on the main story, so much so that they didn’t even need to be addressed in an episode of the show.

Right now Castle Rock has enough unanswered questions that I think a viewer can guess at how it all could tie together. Here’s my best effort. The show has made it clear that Castle Rock is a place where bad things happen, and it seems to be related to “The Kid.” For some reason, when he was hidden away in the bowels of the jail, the evil of the town was kept in check. When he is released things start to hit the fan again. My impression is that the way the kid seems withdrawn/lost in thought means that it is more complicated than he is evil personified (“the devil” as he is referred to by some in the show). To me this is backed up when he says something to the effect that he should be locked back up. Sure he has a creepy stare, and kills people and causes psychotic delusions, but it seems more like he is a guy who is possessed rather than entirely evil.

Meanwhile, I suppose the explanation about the voice of God in the woods is more or less what Odin Branch says- something like a connection point in all possible worlds.

How this ties into “The Kid” and the evil influence on the town, here’s my best guess… It doesn’t seem like the idea of a connection spot between possible worlds should be inherently evil. So maybe some evil spirit/force/whatever is using it as a passageway between these timelines. Somehow this force took possesion of “The Kid.” When he was locked away, the town was no longer under it’s influence.

Also I guess in this world psychic powers are real, because of Henry and Molly’s connection. That’s not a plot point, but just an observation. Maybe Ruth’s movement in time is related to a psychic-type sensitivity that she has living close to the “voice of God.”

I doubt this explains every single unanswered question, but enough of them. I’m not 100% that this is what the show writer’s had in mind, but most of what I’m inferring seems to be a short leap from what’s been revealed.

Regarding the final episode: “The Kid” tells a story of being an alternate-timeline Henry Deaver and tells this whole backstory. At the end he asks the listener/audience if they believe him. It actually is a pretty cool way to end the story, because it is ambiguous. My thought: it is a lie. Please Oh Please J.J. Abrams do not do another stupid “Flash Sideways” plot device like in Lost! This would only exponentially open up loose rabbit trails in the plot that could never be resolved in a satisfying way.

(Here, in a plot twist worthy of Castle Rock, is where I realize that there are actually ten episodes in Season One, not nine. I haven’t seen episode ten yet).

To Be Continued…

 

 

 

“Mandy”Review: 3 out of 5 Hallucinogenic Wasps

7A53E88F-D1F6-4417-A092-6C444BF5EE69“You have got to see this,” my wife said, handing me her phone with the trailer to Mandy cued up. So I did…and here we go. Fair warning: spoilers ahead.

What I liked

First I love the concept behind Legion M, and thought Colossal was pretty cool.

Also, the visuals in this movie were incredible. That alone made it worth watching for me. Whole scenes were illuminated in pulsing reds and blues which really worked well. After reaching the climax under blinking red radio tower it makes you reconsider the earlier scenes in red. Is it foreshadowing? Is the director saying it was fate for the story to unfold as it did? Is it a statement about the nature of time itself? I dunno, but it’s cool. Given the themes of high emotion, dreams, imagination and various hallucinogens, the trippy visuals work- like the alien sky, and the slowing of time when the cult leader sees Mandy for first time.

I also really enjoyed the nods to classic 80’s moviemaking. This extended from little touches like the shot of the psycho biker clearly “riding” stationary in front of a green screen, apparently down to the camera and shooting format itself. It’s a great idea for a movie set in the 80’s and works well. Even the style of gore feels imported out of the 80’s- think melting heads from Raiders of the Lost Ark and voluminous movie blood. Compared to the forced nostalgia of Summer of ‘84 this really nailed the feel of the decade.

What I didn’t like

There’s this great part in Big Trouble in Little China where the bad guys (with a damsel in distress in the trunk) attempt to run over Kurt Russell and his sidekick. They dive out of the way just in time. Russell rises and with an icy stare says, “Son of a b*tch must pay.” It’s simultaneously hilarious and and exciting at the same time. It works because it is true to the character in the story: a macho dude who is a little ridiculous.

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In Mandy there are some lines like this that feel natural and earned, like, when Cage is warned that he is almost certainly going to die taking on the bikers and replies, “Don’t be negative.” Others feel so forced and out of place because they just don’t fit the character. When Rad (a.k.a. Nicolas Cage) calls one of the demon bikers a snowflake before tripping him into an abyss it just comes off weird (wait, did they have Twitter in the 80’s?). It feels too self aware, bordering on Sharknado territory. Believe me, I hate it when people nitpick movies, especially when it’s assumed that there will be major suspension of disbelief in a movie this nuts. Still, it might be a quotable line, but when Nicolas Cage gets slashed across the chest and he shouts that they just ruined his favorite shirt, it undermines the stakes that they set up. Wasn’t that the point of the extended scene of him crying when Mandy was burned?

Consider the backstory of the crazy bikers, which works great. They’re killer psychos because of bad batch of LSD. For the rest of the movie they are comprehensible by this logic. If one gets shot by a crossbow, he may just stand there like he doesn’t care. On the other hand, early on Red is presented as a pretty unremarkable guy. He just lays there when the bikers break into the cabin and gets knocked out. He has no super strength to get him out of his barbed wire when he sees Mandy killed. Then a few scenes later he’s forging a weapon, a crossbow sniper and skilled at chainsaw fencing. Buy the time he catches up with the cult there is ZERO tension because apparently he’s got no human limitations.

Final Thoughts

I’ll leave aside a discussion of “fridging” of Mandy. I’m not sure if this is an intentional nod to another 80’s trope or lazy writing. The movie was certainly more tasteful when it came to leering at the female victims. I’m including the non-complicit cult member along with Mandy here. Considering how every other aspect is so over-the-top, this feels intentional, and contrasts with entire scene with Jeremiah’s junk in full view.

Overall the movie is packed with fascinating visuals, and overflowing with ideas. It is certainly flawed, but worth checking out if you have a strong stomach.

Review: “Someone Like Me” by John W. Quinn

Every now and then I come across a really special book. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of being pulled into a gifted author’s world. Usually when this happens it’s with books that are already rightfully famous. You’re not going to blow too many minds if you tell someone that you just finished To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s a masterpiece…yeah…maybe that’s why everyone has heard of it…

So it feels especially exciting to find a special book that isn’t already in the canon of Great Works. That’s how I felt reading Someone Like Me by John W. Quinn. It is one of those rare memoirs with a great story and told well- a man born with cerebral palsy, who against all odds (with the help of seemingly endless determination) hid his diagnosis to make a 20 year, highly successful career in the U.S. Navy.  Honestly, the less you know going into it going in the better, so I won’t reveal much more. I will tell you that I read it in one day, and that it is among the best books I have ever read.

Early on the author writes, “I didn’t even know where to put the commas or the quotation marks when I began [writing the book].” He may well be a naturally gifted story teller, but I think a big part of how Someone Like Me came out so engaging and well crafted is that the author was an avid reader. There’s something about spending time in the company of great writers that just rubs off. Knowing where to put the commas and quatotion marks is pretty minor stuff compared to the magic of a great story. The pacing is excellent, keeping you engaged through his formative years and early struggles. He shares small details that keep you invested, and insights into family members’ emotional lives that make you care without ever getting bogged down. As we pass into adulthood he is careful to never give the reader what they have been trained to expect from a lifetime of “uplifting” stories: an easy solution. As an 80’s kid I learned that The Karate Kid won his big fight and everything was ok, The Goonies found the treasure so the neighborhood was saved, and with enough bullets John McClaine can not only take out the terrorists but also save his marriage. In Someone Like Me you see the more complicated truth: heroism doesn’t make you perfect, or fix all of life’s problems.

The author closes the book with two simple thoughts, but by following the course of his life they have become invested with the weight of truth. I can’t just help you skip to the end of the book and tell you what they are. You have to get there yourself. I promise you this- it’s worth the journey!