Monday, January 6, 2014

Doctor Sleep

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
John 8:7

Far be it from me to criticize the work of one of the best American authors of the last hundred years... but I'm going to anyway.

(Warning: spoilers, spoilers everywhere...)

When I heard that Stephen King was, after over 30 years, finally publishing a sequel to his classic The Shining, I was excited. Unhealthily excited. As a matter of fact, that phrase might be an understatement. I reacted with the inappropriate level of enthusiasm that some of my adult friends displayed upon the release of every new Harry Potter book. Despite my euphoria, I had to wait patiently for over a year from the time the announcement was made to its actual release date and then had to stay composed for another torturous period of time as I was too busy to give it the attention it deserved... until the holidays.

So, like a child at Christmas, I ran into Barnes and Noble at my first commit-able moment and bought it!

My patience was rewarded through the first hundred pages or so... as Doctor Sleep begins a few years after Danny "Doc" Torrance, his mother Wendy and his Shining friend/mentor Dick Hallorann escape the clutches of The Overlook Hotel and the troubled/haunted Jack Torrance. THIS was why I bought the book! What happened to Danny and co.?  How do you possibly go on after such a profound and terrifying experience? Give me more!

Flash forward to a few chapters and decades in... Danny is now Dan. And much like his father, Dan has become a raging alcoholic- picking fights in bars and waking up next to unnameable, strung-out women before reaching his "rock bottom." Dan begins to try to change his life. He enters AA and begins to win over his old demons, when an old "friend" inexplicably shows itself... The Shining.

My excitement grew... THIS was what I wanted from a sequel to the original!

Enter Abra Stone. A few hours away from the New Hampshire town where Dan now resides, a little girl is born. A girl with powers that not only match Dan's but far exceed them.

Enter The True Knot. A group of geriatrics with supernatural powers that travel the country and feed off children who have either The Shining or something close to it.

What follows in the rest of Doctor Sleep is a truly unworthy follow-up to his masterpiece The Shining. The True Knot makes for quite possibly the least frightening villains of all time, while Abra- an annoying character who bounces back from being an innocent little girl to a girl with a mouth that would make Reagan McNeill blush- not only usurps Dan in the importance of the story but also reduces him in the story's climax to an Also-Ran.

Even The Shining... the powers that Dan and now Abra possess go from being believable and seemingly grounded in some reality, to being some fantastic all-encompassing wizard-like ability that does not ring true for one solitary moment.

Additionally, all reference to the original work after the first few chapters feels tacked on and disjointed. In what I can only consider a MORTAL sin in King Lore, one of Dan's tormenters from his days at The Overlook Hotel actually SAVES him at the end... a move that is as unmotivated and ridiculous as it could possibly be.

In his author's note, Stephen King warns against comparing this book to Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining (and simultaneously gets a proper little dig in at the late director). Well worry not Stephen, for I am as well-versed in your novel as I am the movie... and I still did not like your sequel.

He also references the movie Psycho and its "only brilliant sequel"- Mick Garris's Psycho IV. I find it interesting that he does this... what made Psycho IV a somewhat worthy (I would never call it brilliant because of its low production value) sequel is because- unlike the other sequels- it was not an attempt at capitalizing on the original's shock value but an attempt to show Norman Bates's struggle with himself and his humanity.

THAT is what the sequel to The Shining should have been!!! The original book focused on Jack Torrance- a good but extremely flawed man who was tempted by and ultimately succumbed to demons- his and The Overlook's.  What I wanted to see from Doctor Sleep was Danny Torrance- now grown and wrestling with his own demons.

Would he suffer the same fate as Jack Torrance?
Would his alcoholism and inability to control his own life overtake him in such spectacular fashion?
And if so, would Danny be able to use The Shining to his aid... or would it only increase the wattage of the terror he could cause?

If you advertise that you've written a sequel to The Shining, this is what we expect.

BUT Doctor Sleep was about The Shining... and it wasn't at all.

It was about Danny Torrance- now grown into a broken, shell of a man... and it wasn't at all.

It was about The Shining- the special powers that were both terrific and horrific at once... and it wasn't at all.

It was about Danny, having outrun his demons before, now facing them once and for all... and it wasn't at all.

I'm going to assign to Doctor Sleep the same fate I dealt to the Halloween movie franchise. The original was a classic in a league of its own, while Halloween 2 was decent enough yet contained new information that actually made the original a little more frightening. And finally H20, released in the 90s, rounded out the story of the first two films to make it a nice, well-done trilogy. All of the other movies in between and after do not, in my mind nor in my wallet as a consumer, exist.

The Shining and the story of the Torrances will, in my my mind, just have to remain complete once The Overlook Hotel burned to the ground; and Doctor Sleep, I'm afraid, will just have to be shut and locked away in some shiny metal box in the deepest corners of my mind.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Verbal Hootenanny Returns

Sometimes life happens.

I love writing.

All types of writing. I get a kick out of short stories, novels (yes I've actually written one when I was younger and never pushed to have it published), screenplays, blogs- heck, I even enjoy writing tweets and facebook status updates.

There is just something about the act of creating coupled with the diligent sound of fingers flying rapidly and purposefully across a MacBook keyboard... A sound of progress, of successfully expressing myself and saying what needs to be said.

So when I look back through NVH and discover my last post was almost a year ago, I feel I've let myself and others down.

Don't get me wrong... I haven't stopped writing. Or acting. I've been keeping myself very busy with projects (webseries, tv shows, short films, feature ideas) and so on. As a matter of fact, 2013 was a breakthrough year for me on the writing front: I was both an actor and writer in a very successful live sketch comedy show. After years of trying to understand the sketch comedy beast, I finally conquered a personal white whale and had a number of my sketches included- both of which were as well-received as I could have hoped them to be.

There's nothing like the sound of people intentionally laughing at something you've written.

2013 also saw me take on a few projects that did not go over as well as planned.

In the early part of the year I was invited by a good friend of mine to join him as a writer on a developing online news site. While this style of writing was never really on my radar, I was offered the opportunity to cover the world of Entertainment (read: film reviews and Hollywood news).  Since this fit so comfortably in my wheelhouse, I said "what the heck" and went with the flow.  For a while, this "job" offered both creative release and the promise of professional advancement.  After 4 months, however, doubt began to creep in about the site's ability to actually advance me in any way, shape or form. Over the next 2 months, most of the staff was gone- fed up by the board's failure to follow through on their word.  I followed soon after.  While you may be thinking "sounds to me like it was all about the money for you, Nate" you would be wrong. The issue became about trust. When a group shows little interest in keeping up their end of a bargain, I no longer feel comfortable in sharing my work with them. It is as simple as that.

I also had the privilege of being a part of an online podcast in 2013. Radio has always been a love of mine. When I was 12, I used to use a karaoke machine someone had bought me for Christmas to record my own radio shows. In college, I worked for the LSU radio station (91.1 fm KLSU)- starting as but a lowly news reporter and eventually earning my own on-air talk show.  While this podcast had the makings of something big... it taught me a valuable lesson: people, no matter how close you may be to them, will never change. And those who don't recognize their character flaws are, like history, doomed to continue to repeat their patterns.  Sadly, after 10 good months, this podcast that I had grown to love and care about was brought to a mutually agreed-upon close.

As you can see, life does indeed happen- and that, dear listeners, explains my absence from Nate's Verbal Hootenanny.

But fear not, much like the fabled Stella, I too will get my groove back.

NVH has returned for 2014 and promises to bring resurrect this fiery ol' ho-down of ramblings to your screen.

So sit back and let the Hootenanny begin!