Later by Stephen King – A Book Review

I erroneously declared years ago that Stephen King’s best fiction writing days were behind him. As with Elevation, he continues to prove me wrong.

I thoroughly enjoyed Later for a few very simple reasons. First, it’s a short, concise, fast read. Second, it sticks to a main plot and does not deviate at all. Third, it’s a flat-out good story.

When you first start reading Later, you’ll be a little concerned that you’ve already experienced this story. It’s about a child who sees dead people. Of course, nobody has their finger on pop culture’s pulse more so than Stephen King and he references The Sixth Sense very quickly in Later. He is fully aware this premise has already been explored. However, because this book is part of the Hard Case Crime imprint, it tries to focus mostly on a crime element.

The main character is a young boy named Jamie who is recruited by his mom’s cop-friend, Liz, to help stop a mad bomber from killing hundreds. Why bring in the boy, you ask? Because the mad bomber is dead but the bomb is still set to go off. At that point, Stephen King can’t help himself and the already supernatural premise becomes more about seeing dead people than crime, but that’s okay. He could have published this book separate from the Hard Case Crime imprint, it’s not necessarily reliant on a crime or a hard-boiled mystery, but it works just fine as it is. I’m certainly not complaining!

Well, on that note, I do have one small complaint. It’s briefly mentioned early on that Jamie doesn’t know who is father is–it was something of a throw-away line. King’s only narrative detour arrives when he tosses in a monkey-wrench at the very end regarding that father. For me, it proved really distracting and detracted from the overall story. I would have left it out and leave well enough alone, but I’m obviously not King’s editor.

Overall, though, I truly loved reading this book. Short fiction Stephen King is a powerhouse–all that imagination packed into a tiny container. It’s honestly so much fun. If you’re a King fan, Later is top-notch King. If you’ve never read King (which is unlikely, I know), Later would be a wonderful first experience. The narrative voice is on point, the story is interesting, the pace is perfect, and it’s just creepy enough without scaring the pudding out of you.

Star Wars – The High Republic: The Rising Storm – A Book Review

In this second novel of the The High Republic series, author Cavan Scott continues the story initiated in The Light Of the Jedi. Set roughly 200 years before The Phantom Menace, Marchion Ro and his Nihil minions still plot against the Republic. They will do anything to disrupt peace, including a brutal attack against civilians at the Republic Fair, a moment meant to bring the galaxy together.

The first half of The Rising Storm focusses on setting up the Republic Fair and further establishing characters such as the Jedis Stellan Gos, Elzar Mann, and Bell Zettifar. It also allows us to better know Chancellor Lina Soh, reporter Rhil Dairo, and a new character named Ty Yorrick, whom we are led to believe received Jedi training in her youth before going renegade.

To be honest, the first half of the book goes into such detail regarding the Republic Fair and those characters involved that it began to get just a touch boring.

… And then the Nihil attacked.

The second half of this book is nonstop, full-on action. Scott proves masterful at maintaining plot and story amidst constant unfolding physicality. Writing action is no easy feat, but he pulls it off very well. The first half took me a while to get through; I couldn’t put it down during the second half.

There are also some surprising character beats throughout the novel. Characters change. Characters suffer. Characters die.

Which leads to my only general complaint about The High Republic. As potent as some of the characterization is, I cannot connect to most because I simply can’t picture them in my mind. I’ve been a Star Wars fan my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I have memorized every species ever mentioned. I think including a sketch of each character included in the book would be very helpful and assist me with picturing them better in my mind, and therefore helping me bond with them. Yes, I know there are many websites out there with official art, fan art, etc. I’m afraid I’m not willing to put quite that much effort into it. A character guide within the book would be most helpful to those of us unwilling to invest time on the Internet.

In the end, I’m enjoying The High Republic series and The Rising Storm is an exciting installment to the overall tale. I’m not sure where exactly all of this is going or how long it’s supposed to last, but I’m definitely along for the ride.

Nightmare Alley – A Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. I try to make it to the theater for any of his work. Unfortunately, Nightmare Alley was in and out of the theaters so quickly that I couldn’t free up the two and a half hours necessary to take it in. Luckily, it’s already available on HBO Max.

Here’s what I’d like to say up front: I loved the acting, the costumes, the cinematography, and even the story itself. Conversely–I didn’t care for the movie as a whole.

Let me quickly summarize this 1947 remake … without spoilers, of course. Set in the days before WWII, Nightmare Alley follows Cooper’s character, Stanton Carlisle, as he finds himself adrift and working at a carnival after Clem Hoatley, played by William Dafoe, offers him a position. He falls in with Toni Collette’s character, Zeena the Seer, whose husband teaches Stan little tips and tricks which make people think he can read their minds or communicate with those beyond. Stan develops a relationship with Molly Cahill, played by Rooney Mara, who can seemingly endure electrical jolts. Among many duties, Stan finds himself helping Clem with the carnival “geek,” a nomad they drug, treat like an animal, and then present as a freakshow. Stan hones his mentalist skills to such a degree that he leaves the carnival with Molly in tow and starts his own act. Stan achieves success he never expected, but soon crosses paths with Dr. Lilith Ritter, played by Cate Blanchett. At that point a series of selfish deceits, deceptions, and cons take place, which ultimately seem to convey the message that no one can escape their destiny.

This is a beautiful movie to behold. The texture is so rich, you feel as though you can reach out and touch what you’re seeing on screen. Furthermore, the costumes are gorgeous, the scenery is exquisite, and the cinematography is fantastic. As you can tell by the names above, the acting is topnotch. (There are even more excellent actors in this movie that I didn’t mention.) The story itself is really, really good and the ending, in my mind, is perfect.

Yet, even with all of that being said, I can’t say I like the movie as a whole. In the end, I think it was simply too long with too slow of a pace. Though I loved the conclusion it reached, I think it unnecessarily took too much time getting there.

Though exciting at times, I wouldn’t call it a thriller. Though creepy, it’s not a supernatural tale. Though mysterious, I wouldn’t even call it a mystery. Though accurate to it’s era, it’s not a traditional period piece. In the end, I find the film to be an exceptional example of irony. However, I’m not sure that’s what they primarily intended.

Of course, I encourage you to draw your own conclusions. There’s a lot to like about Nightmare Alley, and you may appreciate the films as whole more than I did.

Last Night In Soho – A Movie Review

Last Night In Soho featured some of my favorite talent. Edgar Wright–who directed Shaun Of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Baby Driver–directed this film starring Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy. Many were saying Last Night In Soho was Wright’s foray into true horror, but I found that hard to believe. All of his previous films had a certain level of humor that I felt would make out-and-out horror unlikely.

In the end, Last Night In Soho did indeed achieve horror, but not that of the supernatural kind. It instead explored the horrors that can unfold as one chases the allure of stardom.

Before I continue, let me briefly summarize the film’s premise. Thomasin McKenzie played Eloise, a young woman who was able to see her dead mother in mirrors and who loved the 1960s as well as fashion. In fact, she’d been accepted into fashion school in London. After arriving she soon realized dorm life was not for her and promptly moved into a flat. During her first sleep in the flat, she was somehow transported back in time and saw through the eyes of Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Sandie was trying to become a singer, and in doing so, crossed paths with Jack, played by Matt Smith. Jack was said to be a talent manager. At first, Eloise fell in love with the chemistry shared between Jack and Sandie. They encapsulated everything admirable about the 1960s. That initial sheen quickly wore off, however, as Jack proved to be something unexpected and Sandie followed him in a downward spiral. Eloise became obsessed with them, as well as what happened to them, to the point that she could no longer differentiate between past and present … or perhaps it was the other way around?

As I said, while there are supernatural elements in Last Night In Soho, it was the depravity of people that truly horrified me during this film. Both Sandie and Eloise were pushed to their limits, and you’ll be surprised by the actions taken by both.

Of course, Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy are presently movie stars in every sense of the word. I appreciated the dark journeys they portrayed, but when their characters were initially introduced and all was well … I could have watched them for hours. They both simply oozed charisma, especially when they were at their most charming.

Of course, as you would expect, Edgar Wright flourished when it came to direction. The manner in which he depicted Eloise seeing through Sandie’s eyes was mesmerizing, especially with mirrors and reflections. The music obviously triumphed. Like James Gunn, Wright seems especially talented at choosing just the right songs at just the right moments.

However, the film failed me somewhat in terms of tone. It seemed as though it couldn’t quite settle on whether it was a horror film, a crime drama, or a supernatural mystery. As a result, it didn’t achieve the tonal consistency necessary. Furthermore, I became distracted by the fact that the supernatural “rules” established early in the film were ignored by film’s end. Again, that lack of consistency detracted from my experience.

I must admit, though, that I appreciate Edgar Wright for trying something different. It would be very easy for him to keep making the same movie over and over again, but with Baby Driver and now Last Night In Soho, he continues to push himself. I find that admirable.

I think Last Night In Soho will prove a different kind of experience for each viewer. The supernatural element wasn’t particularly scary, but the very realistic vagaries certain characters endured struck me as quite disturbing. Even with that said, the costumes, the cars, the music, the scenery, and the megawatt movie stars were truly something to behold.