“Me and Lil’ Stevie” Paw Through A
BAG OF BONES
(ESTABLISHING SHOT of a lakeside cottage, deep in the woods of Maine. Camera begins to move away from the cottage, turning left and slowly panning towards the huge lake next to it. The moon is reflecting off the choppy waters of the lake, giving the mist coming off the lake’s surface an ethereal glow. The water begins to roil and bubble with turbulence until a figure comes gushing through. It is a man carrying a ventriloquist dummy in the shape of the Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Peter: (Panting and gasping) Holy Crap! Are you trying to drown me?
Lil’ Stevie: (Chuckling) Hey Peter, what’s the only kind of wood that doesn’t float?
Peter: How should I know?
Lil’ Stevie: Natalie Wood! Get it? Hyuk hyuk hyuk…
Peter (frowns): Greetings, Constant Viewers, and welcome to another addition of “Me and Lil’ Stevie”. Today we’ll be discussing the Mick Garris television mini-series BAG OF BONES, which was JUST AIRED this past week on the A&E cable channel!
Lil’ Stevie: I know! Isn’t that great? We finally get to review something brand new!
Peter: Well, it’s funny that you say that. The novel was actually released in 1998, and shortly after, Bruce Willis optioned the film rights. This, to me, was fabulous because I absolutely love this book and couldn’t wait for it to be released as a motion picture. Willis never did anything with it. He sat on it until the rights expired, well over a decade later. So I spent a decade watching and waiting, pondering which actors and actresses would portray the roles and how closely the screenplay would follow the novel. That’s a huge amount of build-up, which made it tough for me to be objective when it came time to watch the movie and write this review.
Lil’ Stevie: It’s okay, Peter…you can say it. This movie ROCKED!
Peter: Not so fast, Lil’ Stevie. Let’s give this a fair review. The book centers around author Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan, television’s REMINGTON STEELE 1982-87), who…You know something? A hell of a lot of King’s books center around authors.
Lil’ Stevie: No, they don’t.
Peter: Um, yes they do.
Lil’ Stevie: Name five!
Peter: Jack Torrence, Ben Mears, Mike Enslin, Bill Denbrough, and John Marinville.
Lil’ Stevie: Name two more!
Peter: Scott Landon and Thad Beaumont.
Lil’ Stevie: You stink!
Peter: Anyway…Mike is an author who loses his wife Jo (Annabeth Gish, MYSTIC PIZZA, 1988), when she is accidentally hit by a bus while crossing the street…
Lil’ Stevie: In my novel she has a brain aneurysm…
Peter: …while Mike is doing a book signing for his latest release. Mike runs out of the bookstore and holds his dying wife in his arms, and as he does so he notices the early-pregnancy test in the bag she just purchased at the drug store. This sets into motion the first part of the mystery behind the story; the Noonans were suffering infertility due to Mike’s low sperm count. So had Jo, perhaps, been cheating on him?
Lil’ Stevie: (Whipping out the book copy of BAG OF BONES), it says right here in my book that…
(Peter reaches out and snatches the book away from Lil’ Stevie.)
Lil’ Stevie: Give me that…it’s my dust-catcher!
Peter: We’re reviewing the movie, not the book! (Throws the book into the lake and watches it as it sinks). Mike is devastated, and can feel his world slowly coming apart. Jo was the inspiration behind all his novels, and now that she’s gone, he’s seized up into a terrible bout of writer’s block. He’s also hitting the bottle too hard, and is beginning to have some pretty vivid dreams about their summer home; the cottage by Dark Score Lake that he and Jo inherited from his grandfather up in TR90.
Lil’ Stevie: “Sara Laughs.” That’s what their cottage is called in my book.
Peter: Yes, but in the movie, they never utter the name Sara Laughs even ONCE. Crazy!
Lil’ Stevie: (Sighing) I’m used to it.
Peter: At Jo’s funeral, Mike is approached by his agent, Marty (Jason Priestly, BEVERLY HILLS 90210, 1990-2000), who, in a smarmy, tactless way, reminds Mike that Jo would want him to go on with his writing. Lost in his misery, Mike goes drinking with his brother Sid (Matt Frewer, who played the “Trashcan Man” in Garris’s miniseries of THE STAND, 1994), who tries to be supportive and echo Marty the Agent’s sentiments about what Jo would want.
Lil’ Stevie: In my book, it’s actually Jo’s brother, Frank! And that’s not even mentioning Mike’s agent’s real name was Harold.
Peter: Did you want to go for a swim?
Lil’ Stevie: I’ll behave.
Peter: There are too many differences between the book and the screenplay. Only note the important ones. Mike is haunted by dreams of his late wife, and of their cottage. And since he’s got writer’s block and is stewing about Jo’s unexplained pregnancy, he decides to go up and pay the cottage a visit. But not before a phone call from Marty, who drops a bomb about the summer publishing schedule and insisting that he complete a new manuscript in three months. Mike knows he can’t, so he dusts off a trunk-novel (an old unsold manuscript he’d squirreled away) to keep his agent happy, then hot-foots it up to TR90 to get his mind clear.
(Note: Clarification of TR90. Because the township is too small to have a name of its own, it’s referred to as the map grid square the location falls under. So basically, on the map of Maine, the location would fall in grid square 90. )
Lil’ Stevie: Enter the second part of the mystery!
Peter: Mike arrives at the cottage and begins to experience some paranormal activity in the shape of the bell-ringing, fridge magnet-moving ghost of his late wife. He can ask rudimentary questions that require the response of once for yes-twice for no. He also encounters and saves a little girl who was walking down the middle of the road. The little girl is Kyra Devore (Caitlin Carmichael, TRUE BLOOD, 2011), the daughter of Mattie Devore (Melissa George, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, 2007) and granddaughter of local billionaire and deranged madman Max Devore (William Schallert, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, 1967). It turns out that Max is trying to legally obtain custody of the child because Mattie shot and killed her husband, Lance (Max’s son), when she caught him trying to drown their child. More than that, Max Devore has the entire town pretty much in his pocket, and when the townies see Mike save Kyra, they can’t wait to pass the news on to the twisted old man. When Mike saves her, he is unwittingly dragged into Mattie and Kyra’s dilemma, and is urged by the ghost of Jo to help them.
Lil’ Stevie: So far, so good. Pretty frightening stuff, huh?
Peter: Actually, not so much. This is all taking place in Part One of the series. It’s all about set-up and character development. And at the same time, Mike begins having dreams about Sara Tidwell…
Lil’ Stevie: Sara Laughs!
Peter: Sara (Anika Noni Rose, DREAM GIRLS, 2006) is an African-American jazz singer who had performed at the Dark Score Fair at the height of her singing career and disappeared immediately after. In some exposition through more poltergeist activity, we learn that she, too, haunts the Noonans’ cottage, and she is not too thrilled that Mike is staying there. By the end of Part One, we’re directed toward an understanding that the mystery of Jo’s pregnancy, her subsequent solo return to Dark Score earlier that year for a fact-finding mission, and the strange disappearance of Sara Tidwell are somehow all connected. Is this fair to say?
Lil’ Stevie: More or less. And let me just add that it burns me up just how much stuff got cut out of my book. Sara’s back story was lovingly detailed and fascinating. Her husband, ‘Son’ Tidwell, was also in the band, and I had even suggested that ‘Son’ was actually her brother, and that the two were in an incestuous relationship. Sara’s character in the novel is far more colorful and interesting that what we are presented here.
Peter: Fair enough. On to Part 2! By now, Mike has found a way to somehow start writing again. In a quick montage, we see him at his computer, whipping out page after page of fresh, new material, and we see that he’s actually managing to find happiness again. But the cogs are turning in perfect clockwork concerning the evil Max Devore and his pursuit of bullying his grandchild away from his daughter-in-law, Mattie.
Lil’ Stevie: Do you like the name Max Devore? It almost sounds like Max Devour…something that might eat up enormous amounts. Say, like an entire town…
Peter: Schallert’s turn as Devore is wonderfully upsetting. For a character in his nineties and bound to a Hoveround scooter, he comes across as mercilessly omnipotent. And his sidekick, Rogette Whitmore (Deborah Grover, THE GATE, 1987), is equally lethal and upsetting. One of the scenes in the book that really stood out for me was when the two attack Mike out by the lake, and Rogette hurls rocks at him after knocking him off a cliff and into the water. It was one that I knew was coming in the movie, and it’s wonderfully effective…just as scary as any of the ghostly activity back at the cottage. She even laughs at Mike as she pelts him with stones.
Lil’ Stevie: Watching it made you cry like a little girl!
Peter: I DID NOT!
Lil’ Stevie: Did too! I think you don’t even like old people!
Peter: Whatever. The whole bullying tactic is important…it shows that Max Devore is pretty much insane with power. And how can one NOT be, with pretty much unlimited finances and resources? But not being able to get his way is part of the fury that is driving him. He has no interest in raising Kyra Devore. He wants to punish Mattie for killing his son, and he wants to end the Dark Score Curse, which we will come to discover was the result of the missing piece of the puzzle that is driving this mystery. Yet, the tables are turning in typical King fashion. Mattie’s lawyer has discovered a paper-trail of shady finances linked between Devore and Kyra’s court-appointed guardian ad-litem, which means that Mattie will legally get to keep her daughter. But as the evil Rogette points out, Max Devore NEVER loses…
Lil’ Stevie: Brace yourselves, Constant Viewers! Oh yeah, and from here on, we should probably sound a SPOILER ALERT.
Peter: In one of the very few moments in the movie where exposition is given WITHOUT Mike Noonan in the picture, we get to see the gruesome bathtub suicide of Max Devore…a twist in the story we never see coming. Rogette administers a lethal dose of morphine, kisses him goodbye, and then places a plastic bag over his head. And then Max Devore becomes ANOTHER malevolent spirit for Mike to deal with. With Devore now dead, Mattie believes that all her troubles are over, but even from the grave, the old man is STILL calling the shots!
Lil’ Stevie: Who’s a brilliant author? Let me hear it!
Peter: Through a few more dream sequences and ghostly scenes in the cabin, Mike starts to finally unravel the mystery. And through a trip to the senior citizens’ home to visit one of the mourners at Devore’s funeral, Mike finally learns what really happened to Sara Tidwell and how the Dark Score Curse came about. The rest of the puzzle finally falls into place, and just as Mike and Mattie finally get to celebrate the closure they are coming into, Mattie is fatally shot in the face by none other than the town officer. The whole town is trying to end the curse, and is hunting Kyra down with the intention of killing her. And Mike, to his horror, realizes that he is a part of the curse through the bloodline of his grandfather, who was there the day that Sara Tidwell was raped and she and her daughter were murdered out by the lake. The rest of the movie is Mike’s attempt to end the curse and save Kyra’s life, and finally exorcise the ghosts that are haunting him.
Lil’ Stevie: Amen, brother! There sure is a lot of story behind this story.
Peter: I’ll say! And I have to admit that releasing this as a two-part miniseries was definitely the way to go. A lot of stuff did get dropped from the novel, but it works in order to keep the pacing. The novel is told entirely through first-person narrative, and that can be tricky to translate from book to screenplay. I have to give Matt Venne a lot of credit for a job well done.
Lil’ Stevie: And credit to Mick Garris as well. He’s come a long way since he sank his fangs into filming my works.
Peter: That’s fair enough. Props to Garris as well. This movie is beautifully filmed and offers some truly terrifying moments. I particularly liked the cottage, and how Jo’s artwork is displayed throughout. Most of her works are portraits of faces, giving the feeling that the house is constantly watching you (as if the ghosts weren’t enough). I had my doubts that Garris could deliver, especially since he had a minimal budget to work with, but this addition to the King legacy is rock-solid. But I had two bugaboos I did want to bring up…
Lil’ Stevie: You just can’t stop yourself from complaining, can you?
Peter: Foremost is the casting of Brosnan as Mike Noonan. First of all, he’s around two decades too old to portray the character that King created for the book, and second (and more important), HE’S SPEAKING WITH A BRITISH ACCENT! He’s from Maine, and his brother speaks with an American accent, but Brosnan can’t seem to drop it to make the movie feel more realistic.
Lil’ Stevie: It’s just like Madonna.
Peter: What the hell are you talking about?
Lil’ Stevie: It just means he’s educated. After Madonna became a parent and decided to scrap all her slutty ways, she suddenly started speaking with a British accent. It just signifies that she’s educated and proper now.
Peter: You’re an imbecile! My second problem is with Garris’s love of CGI effects. Mattie’s post-mortem return at the end as a ghost made of water droplets, and the Green Lady (the tree that marks the burial site of Sara and her daughter’s remains) both look so fake that it almost made me feel embarrassed for King. It looked silly, and detracted from the horror and the emotion that the story was building up to.
Lil’ Stevie: Well, what do you want for nothing? A rubber biscuit? It’s not like we had to pay to see this. And this really was a great adaption of my book.
Peter: You mean it was a great adaption of King’s book. And it was. I’ll definitely add a copy of this to my DVD collection once it gets released. The good news is that you, too, can watch this movie for free right now by going directly to http://www.AETV.com and clicking on the BAG OF BONES video link.
Lil’ Stevie: They can?
(In the background, a tiny bell rings once.)
Peter: Once for yes, twice for no!
(A tiny silver bell comes flying out of the darkness and hits Peter right between the eyes.)
Lil’ Stevie: (laughing) Did that hurt?
(Peter pokes Lil’ Stevie in his left eye)
Peter: Once for yes…
(Then pokes Lil’ Stevie’s other eye)
Peter: Twice for no! Thanks for joining us, folks!
CAMERA FADES OUT.
© Copyright 2011 by Peter N. Dudar