Stand By Me (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
An interesting coffee shop discussion might be started by asking, "Which book has been directly responsible for the most good movies?" Now, don't go trying to trick it out with some answer like Shakespeare's Fourth Folio, but think about it for a minute. I don't know the answer, but I sure have a good candidate to fan the conversational flames. In 1982, Stephen King responded to those who felt him nothing more than a genre writer by publishing a book called "Different Seasons," which consisted of four novellas, or which two were uplifting tales with no evil or supernatural elements. Those two have been made into all-time classic movies in the IMDb top 250, and another has been made into a pretty damned good flick. The two classics are The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, and the third, which is more similar to King's usual dark-toned pieces, is Apt Pupil. Trivia buffs may wish to note that the fourth story, as yet unproduced, is called "The Breathing Method," and it is the only supernatural story in the collection.
Shawshank is rated higher than Stand By Me on the IMDb list, but I think Stand By Me is a better film, if only because it is so much more genuine. Shawshank has some powerful moments but is, after all, artificial and a work of pure imagination. Stand By Me is real. It is, in essence, Big Steve's own childhood. I guess you probably know the general idea. Four twelve-year-old kids go on foot some 20-30 miles to find a dead body which they are not supposed to know about.
Maybe that specific story never really happened to Mr. King, but Stand By Me rings about as true as a work of fiction is allowed to do. It is, after all, a story which takes place in 1959 about four boys who were born in 1947. It's Stephen King's story, so you'd expect that description to fit him perfectly, but the rest of the team falls neatly into line as well. The director, Rob Reiner, was born in 1947. The actor who plays Stephen King as an adult, narrating the story about his youth, is Richard Dreyfuss, who was born in 1947. Everyone who was guiding the film knew what it was like to be 12 in 1959, knew what rang true and what did not, knew how the rooms would look, what the kids were interested in, how the kids would talk, how they would relate to the older bullies, and which songs they thought were cool. All of that shows. I was born in 1949, and I can attest that they got it right. At least three of the episodes in this film are virtually identical to things that happened to me when I was about the same age.
Stephen King obviously took real boyhood stories and ... well ... maybe he embellished them a bit. I suppose if I retold my own railroad trestle yarn in a short story, I'd also have the train arrive, because it isn't much of a story if it just ends with me being a pussy, afraid of heights, and relieved as hell to make it across.
Excellent film. Of course, I am the direct target audience for this film, so take it with a grain of salt if you will, but I like it very much.
A few notes on the writer and director.
Back in the 1970s and early 80s, would you have guessed that Big Steve would become one of the greatest sources for quality films about real people in real situations? As of 1983, his only respected films were his horror/supernatural stories:
Since that time, his best three films have been heartfelt mainstream dramas with no hint of the supernatural.
And they are three very good films indeed. Shawshank is currently rated #2 of all-time at IMDb, training only The Godfather. The other two are in the top 200.
I don't know what happened to Rob but his own career seems to be moving in the wrong direction.
Here is his complete filmography up until 1992:
And here are his results since then:
In the late 80s, Rob was like Rumpelstiltskin in that he wove everything he touched into gold. His movies were not only critical successes, but they were box office smashes as well. My theory is that he was struck by lightning in 1993, or maybe he was hit on the head by a falling coconut, like Gilligan, and lost his memory of how to pick projects. Whatever the explanation, he suddenly pulled in with North in 1994, a complete fiasco, and a precipitous drop from the quality of his previous projects. Before that, his lowest-rated film was a very respectable 6.70, and his other six films were all major successes at 7.50 or higher. North scores a bottom-dwelling 4.14, and prompted Roger Ebert to write: "North is a bad film - one of the worst movies ever made. But it is not by a bad filmmaker, and must represent some sort of lapse from which Reiner will recover - possibly sooner than I will." Reiner never made another film that bad, but he never would recover. He never came come close to 7.50 again and since Y2K he has not even been able to reach 5.50. In fact, if you toss North out of the equation, you'll see a very disturbing trend in his chronological filmography over the past 20 years ...
Yup, except for the aforementioned North, every movie has been worse than the one before it!
I would love to see him get back on track, because I sure love his best four films, but it just isn't looking promising, is it? His last 7.5 film was 13 years ago, and his last "top 250" film was 19 years ago.
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