Monday, 7 November 2011

Christine, by Stephen King:

Ever wondered about those guys who say: “I love my car”, and look like they really mean it? Have you ever sympathized with wives and girlfriends who had a pained expression on their face as they complained: “He loves that car more than me”?
Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury, as red as the blood spilt during every term of ownership, in one of author Stephen King’s best horror stories about man’s abiding passion for cars, the need for speed, a greedy jealous love, and an obsession that turns into possession.
Arnie Cunningham is a lonely dork, bullied and rejected at school because of his looks and demeanor, in a plot thread reminiscent of King’s earlier book, Carrie, with the tormented being pushed to breaking point and taking bloody revenge on their tormentors. In Christine, the bullies are rebel Buddy Repperton and his gang, who torture weaker kids whenever they get the chance. Arnie’s only friend is football playing jock, Dennis Guilder, who narrates the story as a witness to the unfolding horror and ensuing tragedy. Arnie’s talent and passion is for auto-mechanics and he yearns for his own set of wheels. When he sees Christine, rusting and rotting away, in caustic old timer Roland D. Lebay’s driveway, it’s love at first sight.
Unknown to Arnie, Christine is possessed by a malign evil force that at first seduces and then destroys every owner.
Arnie’s attitude changes with his taste in clothes. His mood becomes darker and belligerent as he fixes up Christine, wins the most lusted-after girl in school, Leigh Cabot, and then alienates both his parents and Dennis.
For a while, Christine becomes the only good thing in Arnie’s life. She makes him feel invincible. But, like some bad people in society; the narcissistic, the sociopathic, those with no conscience who use, discard when there’s nothing left, then move on to the next victim, Christine is spiteful, seductively evil and relentless in her quest to take her owners on a fast ride straight to hell.It was filmed and directed by John Carpenter in 1983 and still stands as one of the most memorable movies of that decade, with an effective soundtrack and some great moments, particularly in the scene where the car rebuilds itself as Arnie watches on, and other scenes where the car communicates via the lyrics of rock ‘n’ roll songs from the era it was built.
Like Arnie points out: the thing about love … it eats … it has a voracious, all-consuming appetite, leaving no room for anything or anyone else.How far will you go for your love?

When you look at that prized possession in your life, that which Stephen King might have referred to in another of his stories as a “needful thing”, ask yourself a question:
do you own it, or does it own you?

Megan’s Way, by Melissa Foster:

Beginning in Cape Cod, 1988, Megan and Holly are teenagers and best friends enjoying the lights and laughter of a carnival. Acting on impulse, they find themselves inside the tent of an old psychic woman who delivers them a cryptic and chilling premonition. Spooked by what they hear, the two girls flee from the carnival.
Time then skips forward to 2009. Megan is now 38-years-old and a single mother earning a living as a freelance artist, as she raises her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia. Megan is gravely ill. The cancer she had once beaten has returned with a vengeance and she knows instinctively that her time is short. Faced with her own imminent mortality, and the prospect of the end coming sooner than she wanted, she must deal with the problem of who is to be Olivia’s guardian after her death.
Author Melissa Foster is a fearless writer who has produced a highly-charged emotional roller-coaster that will break readers’ hearts, as they progress through the story, and are made aware of the best and worst of human emotions and behavior. The author tackles controversial and sadly only too real issues, particularly in the part when Megan has to rescue Olivia from the clutches of a predatory rapist who has stalked her via an internet chat-room. This is an important issue: to raise parents’ awareness of the potential dangers of children being allowed to surf the internet, and the need to protect them from deviants who prowl cyberspace and hide behind avatars and aliases.
This is also a story of pain on duel levels: with one focus being on the physical and emotional agony that terminal illness brings, not only for the victim, but also the anguish experienced by close family and friends. This is coupled with the drama of the guilt the characters have over decisions they have made in the past, and the consequential stress of whether they should reveal these secrets to each other.
There are many themes for discussion: the many stages of life, those we meet and fall in love with along the way, the complexities of human relationships, the pain of illness, the mystery of death … including the transition of the soul after.
The overall message is that love overcomes all pain, and that death, no matter how agonizing and lingering, is only a temporary separation from those who have passed before and are waiting for us to follow them to that ultimately better place.
Nothing in this world lasts forever. Sooner or later, death takes all those we are closest to. It’s how we choose to come to terms and deal with that period of temporary loss and separation that is important.
The story includes an interview with the author, and a list of eight questions that make this story an excellent choice for post-reading discussions in book clubs.

The Abomination Assignment (The Bowin Novels), by Lee Holz:

Covert government assassin, Dr Thomas Bowin, is also a reputed neuroscientist in his official “day job”. He’s unassuming and unremarkable to those who see him and don’t know him. However, that’s often how his would-be killers underestimate him. When the heat of the moment demands deadly force, Tom Bowin is fast and lethal. He leads a double-life, and is cold, exacting and patient in his work when sanctioned to find and kill terrorists, calculating all the risks to himself in order to get the job done as swift and clean as possible and then slip away undetected. He’s good at what he does, too. A real professional, deadly with weapons and at hand-to-hand combat, he makes his first murder in this story look like just another fatal mugging that could happen anywhere – a robbery gone bad.
What I enjoyed about this story was that it made me ask myself how many of these agents and operatives could be living among us, leading double-lives just like Tom Bowin, as they move through society, some of them working mundane jobs, the unassuming man next door who no one really gives a second look. Also, as Thomas Bowin – the contract killer of this story – justifies his actions to himself, what effect does it have on him as a human being as he leads a solitary existence, reflecting on his propose and loneliness? It seems to me that they are detached because that’s exactly the way they need to be in order to do what they have to do.
I have read many books of the same genre, but The Abomination Assignment had me engrossed and unable to anticipate the ended.
The story is told with a good, even pace and kept me engrossed from start to finish.
James Bond is for adolescents. Those stories are fine in a fun, lightweight way, but thrillers like The Abomination Assignment offer readers a realistic, gritty view of the world where detached and ruthless men are needed in the fight against terrorism, in order to stop fanatics who are prepared to slaughter countless innocent lives.
Recommended to readers who enjoy a detailed and intriguing adventure thriller.

The Honeymoon Assignment (The Bowin Novels), by Lee Holz:

Well-written sequel that is solid enough to stand alone from the first story and loses nothing of the punch of the original, as the reader follows covert government agent and assassin, Tom Bowin, accompanied by his wife, Alice, on a new mission.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading these intricately-plotted, cut-to-the-chase thrillers that put the reader right into the heat of the action from the very start of the story.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Halloween … an appropriate night to revisit my favorite hotel.

Many people say that movies, not matter how great, lose something every time we watch them. That may be true of many movies, but not all. In 2010, one of my all-time favorite movies, The Shining (1980), turned 30-years-old. Like everyone, at some time during their life, I asked myself where all that time went – (into the past, I’m reliably informed) – and why it all had to go by so quickly – (because I got busy with stuff, I am also reliably informed). A lot has happened in three decades; good, bad, ugly, tragic, joyful … just like it has all through history, as it will no doubt follow with each year that still comes to pass; a mix of sadness and delight for everyone.
I remember one Saturday afternoon back in 1980 so clearly. I was 12-years-old, an avid reader, and already bitten by the writing bug, sitting on the couch reading the arts and cultural section in the middle of the newspaper because it covered the latest book and movie releases. That particular weekend there was a two-page spread on the release of the latest Stanley Kubrick movie. The release of one of Kubrick's movies always seemed like a major cinematic event in itself. That year it was The Shining, adapted from the novel by Stephen King, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and ‘Scatman’ Crothers. The news report didn’t give too much of the plot away, but just enough to hook my interest, and I had to know what was behind that now-famous maniacal grin that Jack Nicholson pulls so effectively, when he presses his face into the splinter gap in the door and says: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”
The tagline on the poster repeated in my mind: “The tide of terror that swept America IS HERE”. In the weeks that followed, I saw a short “teaser trailer” on TV, a series of flash images: Jack running through the snow, hefting an axe, a young kid peddling a trike through narrow corridors, a woman holding a knife and running for her life through other corridors … I was hooked even before I’d seen the movie in full. I had to know what this story was about! In those days, 18-rated movies were given an “X” certificate. Back then, I was not even a teenager and there was no way I’d get to see it on the giant cinema screen. VCRs had been on the market for a while by then, but it would still be at least another year before the movie would be released on video cassette for rental, so I knew I had to wait.

In the meantime, I went out and bought the new edition of Stephen King’s source novel and read it before seeing the movie.

My first copy of the novel was the movie tie-in edition, with a yellow jacket and cover art from another version of the movie poster.
In the center of the book was eight pages of black and white stills from the movie.

Sadly, that copy fell apart decades ago because paperbacks will only stand so much re-reading before they disintegrate.
I would later buy a replacement copy of that particular edition and I keep it stored away because it’s now collectable.

These days, when I feel like rereading the novel, I have a cool hardback copy with a cover art image reminiscent of jolly Jack Nicholson’s grinning face from the movie.
The story is one of the best I’ve ever read: Jack Torrence is an ex-school teacher, a wannabe writer, and recovering alcoholic. On the edge of bankruptcy and losing his family, Jack is desperate for work. His friend, Al Shockley, puts in a good word for him and helps him to secure the job of winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel, which is isolated in the mountains and cut off during the months of heavy snow. At first, it seems the perfect solution to all their problems: for the months they are residing at the hotel, they have no rent to pay, plenty of food stored in the hotel pantry and freezer, they are being paid to stay there, once the snow cuts them off Jack will not be tempted to frequent a local bar, and there is no alcohol on the premises either. It is a time of quiet, almost monastic, solitude in which he and his wife, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, can recover from their troubles while Jack finishes his play.
The Shining of the title is the psychic ability Danny is born with, a gift shared by the hotel cook, Halloran. Danny experiences terrifying and prophetic flashes, but he is too young to properly interpret the visions. Jack also experiences similar visions, which suggests that Danny inherited the power from him.
From the back-story we learn how the marriage is in trouble, made worse when Jack lost his previous teaching position because of an alcohol-related incident. He also has a violent temper. However, they remain optimistic about their future … until they are shut in for the winter, the snow cuts them off from the outside world, the hotel begins to come to life and supernatural forces start to work against them.
They each occupy themselves as best they can through the following days and weeks, as the snow gets deeper, the wind howls, and time seems to stand still: Danny plays on his tricycle, using the long, deserted hotel corridors as a grand prix circuit, and plays with his cars and fire engine. Wendy cooks for the family, watches TV and attends to the daily routine of the hotel heating system.

Jack settles in the cavernous Colorado Lounge and makes it his own study as he tries to work on his book.

Jack’s gradual mental disintegration is frightening to watch. “Cabin Fever” is a real condition and frustration, isolation and boredom can have a debilitating effect on the human psyche. The eerie winding hotel corridors move in tighter as the evil force turns the family against each other.
There are several differences between the novel and movie, particularly with the endings, but both work in their own right.
Stanley Kubrick’s direction gives the story a suitably chilling atmosphere. The camera work is flawless, particularly the breathtaking fly-over of Wild Goose Island at St Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, in the scene that opens the movie. This is followed by the aerial shots over the beginning titles, with the camera following Jack in his VW car as he follows the winding mountain roads, which lead him to The Overlook Hotel. The exterior of the hotel was shot at The Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon.
This is far more than the average brainless stalk-n-slash story. The build up to the horror is slow and deliberate. As in real life, these things can be the result of a gradual build up of events.
However, The Shining is, at its core, a ghost story, with the ending of the movie version even hinting at … ah, but that would be telling.
To those who haven’t yet seen Jack Nicholson swing that fire axe and breaking through those doors with practised expertise, a skill acquired from his real-life time in the fire department, along with all the eerie pleasure and superb photography this movie has to offer, all I can say is save a dark evening, keep the lights off, turn up the volume on this one and enjoy a truly great movie.
I took this photo for posterity and the purpose of this blog, because wherever I go, the opportunity to watch and enjoy the movie always comes up. I was able to pass some time of a plane flight, with the screen on the back of the seat in front of me. It was a long flight and I was able to pass the hours with The Shining, followed by Stanley Kubrick’s 1963 black comedy masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963), and Ridley Scott’s swords and sandals epic, Gladiator (2000).

I spent a night in a hotel and, as I was relaxing on the bed watching the weather report on the TV news, propped up with pillows behind me, a scene from The Shining flashed into my mind. Here I was, reliving a scene from that movie: the part where Scatman Crothers, as Halloran, is relaxing in his hotel room, also watching the weather report on the TV news.
When I returned home, I re-watched the movie … again! It was partly to check my photo with the scene, which I could have done by using the scene selection and jumping to that particular section of the movie. But I didn’t. I watched the whole movie again, pausing when I reached that scene to compare my picture with it.
There was no portrait of a beautiful and voluptuous woman above the TV in my hotel room, or lamps on either side of the TV, or pillow beneath my feet ... but still - pretty close!
The Shining, both novel and movie have never lost anything for me over the years since 1980. Reading a favorite book and seeing a favorite movie can be like being visited by an old friend. It takes me back to other times in my life when I have either reread the book or watched the movie again. During the late 1980s, I was lucky enough to see it on the big cinema screen, a repeat screening, double-billed with The Border, a crime drama Jack Nicholson made in 1982, co-starring Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine and Warren Oates, another under-rated classic.
I wonder when I will watch The Shining again, where I will be in my life when I take another walk through those fictional hallways, what other goals I will have achieved by then, what news I will have from my friends, and what will be new in the world.
It was a great Halloween … an appropriate night to revisit The Overlook, my favorite hotel … not that I need an excuse to revisit that particular hotel any time.

Shine on everyone!