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Jordan Hiller on Film

To House -
I'd pay five times cover for your Dark Tower Series
And to Schieman -
What if you found yourself sleeping in your bed


After sitting through the impossibly fluffy Hearts in Atlantis you may ask yourself why such a vacant motion picture needed to be made - and made with Oscar caliber talent no less. The answer does not justify the film itself but it will at least explain its existence. Few people know this but I am prepared to reveal a deep dark Hollywood secret to the world: I'm not clear on all the details involved but basically, evil incarnate, the devil, and a clown with razor sharp teeth got together, spoke to a few heavy hitters in the industry and long story short - If one out of every fifteen productions (television or feature) are not based on or creatively identified with a Stephen King work then some unspeakably nasty things will happen to the movie business. This explains allot, doesn't it?

First things first. Stephen King, the perennial bestseller and the master of horror, is a national treasure. His books are almost always good if not predominantly great, and can be at times arguably brilliant.And just in case one of them leaves you a bit flat - not to worry- there is another along the way within a few months.

As a general rule - and anyone who reads knows this (No, Archies do not count) - the book is better than the movie. If you have you're favorite one exception in mind then good for you - take it home and polish it - the rule stands. Having consumed a sizable portion of King liturgy, I can give the man the benefit of the doubt that Hearts in Atlantis is a heartfelt and moving book which simply did not get adequate treatment when translated to film. Although Mr. King has been praised in recent years for finding some genuine soul in his writing with works like Atlantis and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, he has been equally criticized for what is essentially writing on fumes. Rehashing old stand-bys of past terror and reintroducing them in less than imaginative ways (Dreamcatcher, Bag of Bones). While I personally have not touched a Stephen King book since wrapping up 1994's Insomnia, I can honestly say that I found Hearts in Atlantis evocative of half a dozen King stories and all together familiar and tired.

The story goes like this (Older King story in parenthesis). An adult Bobby Garfield (David Morse, soft spoken and striking as usual) is confronted with his past after the death of a childhood friend (It). His youth, the focal point of the movie, consists of a nostalgic look at America in the innocence of its pre-technological age but with brutality lurking in every corner (The Body - filmed as Stand BY Me). His mother, a memorable Hope Davis, is inattentive to his needs and vicious bullies torment his group of three friends (The lead child is played by Anton Yelchin who doesn't turn me on - mind you most young boys do).

A strange older man (Anthony Hopkins) moves into the room upstairs and seems to be able to get inside peoples minds (Needful Things). The man whispers strange phrases while in a daze and can predict the future (uncannily like The Dead Zone). Finally, the old man is being pursued by eerie and unexplained beings known only as the Low Men (Insomnia) who want to control his power (Firestarter).

Sure those are all decent ingredients individually but the movie does not have the time, nor does the usually reliable William Goldman's script have the depth to flesh out any of the storie's multiple plot points. Watching this movie is like standing off shore and seeing large gray clouds gather and rumble but without a drop of rain falling, let alone the anticipated storm. The strange thing is that a good director normally has success bringing a King book to the screen (Note Frank Darabont's one two punch of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption or Kubrick's The Shining).

Scott Hicks doing directing honors here helmed a wonderful movie called Shine a few years back, which took in seven Oscar nominations. Other than that he has really added nothing to his craft. In fact, his last outing, Snow Falling on Cedars was dead on arrival, so perhaps we can just chalk up Shine as the sun "shining" on a dog's posterior and send the gentleman back to Uganda as punishment for this cinematic blunder. Hicks being a Uganda native and Hopkins being from Greta Britain hurts a story where King surely intended it to be a red, white, and blue slice of Americana. There is something unsettling about the proper Englishman play-calling football legend Bronco Nigertsky as he trudges yard by yard through the trenches to win a game. The scene doesn't fit as it is and has some laughable "relevancy" toward the end of the movie. His strong yet dainty accent betrays the credibility of the character. In fact, the whole movie feels like an outsider imagining what growing up in America must have been like.

Compare the warts and all yet poignant relationship of the kids in Stand By Me to the clichéd robotics of the kids here. The young ones are natural actors especially the stunning Mika Boorem but they are just not given much to do. Someone should inform Mr. Goldman and Hicks that children do allot more than run backwards and splash each other in the surf for fun and they are allot deeper than this shallow bunch. Considering that this is a movie about the preciousness of childhood (hence the allusion to the utopian city of Atlantis) there is a surprising lack of powerful sentiments of childhood beyond what you would find in the average Kodak commercial.

At times it feels like the oldies soundtrack is carrying the burden of the movie. The rest of the movie is just a troubling enigma. A jumble of Kingisms (the Low Men put up strange encoded signs on telephone posts when they are closing in) that King readers can imagine being affective on the page but are reduced to unsubstantiated oddities in a film like this. Key relationships are left open and the assumptions we are asked to make about them is asking us too much. The credit from the audience must always be earned. Hearts in Atlantis is a leap of faith with nothing on the other side.

So that no one needs to make this type of mistake again, here is a breakdown of a good number of the "Maine" man's work that has been captured by the camera.

To get there faster: the great | the good | what the hell? | the weak

The Great

The Green Mile (1999) - Originally a serial publication by King. Haunting prison drama with a super natural touch. Sam Rockwell as an insane prisoner will blow your mind

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - A short story written by King titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Everyone has seen it so there is no need for description. You may be chayav karait if you miss this one. The best Stephen King movie that won't feel like one.

Misery (1990) - Rob Reiner directs Kathy Bates to her Oscar winning performance as a deranged fan keeping her favorite novelist as a souvenir.

Stand By Me (1986) - From King's short story The Body. Reiner again handling King with real flair. The cast gives us the opportunity to relish the blossoming careers of River Phoenix, John Cusack, Kiefer Sutherland, Jerry O'Connell, and Corey Feldman (well, his career was blossoming at the time).

The Shining (1980) - Kubrick and King mesh brilliantly in this chiller about a snowed in hotel and the descent of a man into madness. Unforgettable Jack Nicholson.

Carrie (1980) - A horror classic with Brian De Palma directing. Starring a young Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, and William "Greatest American Hero" Katt. Teenage angst taken to the extreme.

The Good

The Stand (1994) - TV miniseries based in King's epic about post apocalyptic good versus evil. Received warmly by fans who hold this book to be the Holy Grail of King's work. Also, it's Ringwald and Rob Lowe in the same movie!

Needful Things (1993) - Overblown multi-character tale about Satan moving into a quite town and slowly but surely destroying it. The attraction here is the great cast (Max Von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, and J.T. Walsh to name a few). Some frightening moments and a director's cut available.

IT (1990) - King's story about childhood friends who discover the evil that is It in their small town and vow to band together if It ever returns is utterly petrifying at points but a bit uneven overall. Handled for TV with TV caliber stars but all doing fine work, mostly out of their predictable genres.

Pet Sematery (1989) - Sickeningly scary book becomes the same on the screen. Check it out for one of the last performances by Fred Gwynn (Herman Munster).

Christine (1983) - The veteran camp/horror director John Carpenter (same Birthday as me) is behind the wheel of this car from hell chiller. Opportunity to check out 80's relic Keith Gordon (The Legend of Billie Jean, Back to School) in a rare starring role.

The Dead Zone (1983) - Christopher Walken embodies all the absurdity of this peculiar but often creepy tale about a man who can foresee tragedies after he wakes up from a comma.

Cujo (1983) - Well handled story, which should have been more difficult to adapt for the screen about a mother and son trapped in a car and held captive by a rabid dog. Looks like King was a hot commodity in 83'.


What the Hell?

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)- Not based on a specific King book but shares characters from Carrie. Teen angst taken to the extreme again but this time for the Freddie Prinze Jr. era.

Apt Pupil (1998) - King short about a modern day Nazi recruiting a young and devoted….pupil. Brad Renfro plays the Hitler in training and Bryan Singer directs his follow up to The Usual Suspects.

Thinner (1996) - Harmless slice of King brand terror as a gypsy dishes some curse upon a few men and the words turn out to be more than just talk.

Dolores Claiborne (1995) - Bates again playing the protagonist but this time the film, the characters, and the morbid plot is a bit too gloomy to move you. Some cringe-worthy moments. The

Tommyknockers (1993) - Made for TV mini-series about an alien craft's unearthing. Starring CSI's Marg Helgenberger.

The Dark Half (1993) - Classic horror director George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) directs Timothy Hutton in a movie about a writer with a strong and deadly alter ego.

Sometimes They Come Back (1991) - Short story made into feature about a teacher (Tim Matheson) whose new students are suspiciously reminiscent of the youths who murdered his brother many years ago.

The Running Man (1985) - Finally! Schwarzenegger and King together. Check out Arnold as a game show contestant where the game is kill or be killed. Jesse the Body and old Family Feud host Richard Dawson also appear.

Silver Bullet (1985) - I don't know anything about this movie except that Corey Haim is in a wheelchair and werewolves are involved.

The Weak

Sleepwalkers (1992) - The only feature film written directly for the big screen by King. About killer cat-like strangers who seduce and destroy. If the idiotic story won't make you nauseous, the incest will. King appears in funny cameo.

The Lawnmower Man (1992) - The only think King provided for this virtual reality mess is the title.

Maximum Overdrive (1986) - King actually directed this junk about trucks that have gone berserk. Emilio Esteves is the lead.

The Children of the Corn - There are seven movies and counting rooting from this short story by King and only G-D knows why.



For you aspiring writers out there:

The Best Stephen King books still untouched by Hollywood: The Eyes of The
Dragon and The Dark Tower Series.

- Send Jordan your thoughts here

Reviews by Jordan Hiller

Trembling Before G-d


Veronica Guerin

Pieces of April


Bubba Ho-tep

Casa De Los Babys


American Splendor


The Holy Land

Return from India

The Shape of Things

City of Ghosts

Anger Management


The Guys

Assassination Tango

Gaudi Afternoon


Nowhere in Africa

Foreign Sister



L’chayim, Comrade Stalin
part 1

part 2


Divine Intervention

The Pianist

Best films of 2002 1992

8 mile

Punch Drunk Love


Gaza Strip

The Kid Stays in the Picture


Minority Report



Spring Movie Preview 2002

Panic Room

The Oscar Preview 2002

Royal Tenenbaums

Harry Potter

The Man who Wasn't There

From Hell

Training Day

Hearts in Atlantis

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

the others

Planet of the apes

Jurassic Park III


Shrek & Atlantis

The Mummy Returns

Enemy At the Gates


Exit Wounds

15 Minutes

You Can Count on Me

The Mexican

Down to Earth

Meet the Parents

Golda's Balcony HERE

Tribeca FIlm Festival 2003

Daily Coverage: HERE

Photo Gallery HERE

Film Reviews:

A Breach in the Wall

Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas

Paper Chasers

Resisting Paradise

MC5: A True Testimonial

Sweet Sixteen

The Shape of Things

Yossi and Jagger

Persona Non Grata

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