Throwback Thursday: “Omni” magazine in the late 1980’s (and that weird Stephen King cover)

Omni in the 1980’s was an absolutely unique magazine dedicated to science fiction and science fact — it was always weird and occasionally wonderful.  Its content was consistently a good deal trippier than anything you’d find in more mainstream contemporaries like Scientific American or Discover — futurism, the paranormal, and short stories that were pretty damned abstract.  (I remember Patricia Highsmith’s “The Legless A” being a real head-scratcher for me.)  And the covers to Omni were frequently awesome.

I had a subscription around 1989 or so — I believe I got a year’s subscription as either a Christmas or birthday present.  I still remember it arriving in the mailbox.  I think I had all of the issues you see below — except the third one.  That issue is from January 1983, and I never had it.  I’m including it here because it’s too interesting not to share.

Stephen King fans will recognize Don Brauitgam’s artwork for the cover of King’s classic 1978 short story collection, “Night Shift.”  Brautigam apparently sold it to the magazine later.  (Interesting, too, is the similarity of the artist’s name to a key character in King’s subsequent “Hearts in Atlantis” and his “The Dark Tower” series — the kindly psychic, Ted Brautigan.)

Anyway, if you were geeky enough to enjoy this back in the day, the entire run of Omni is currently available at Amazon for $3 a pop.  It was available online for free for a while, and I think you can still find all of the short stories uploaded in pdf if you google them — I found a bunch, including Highsmith’s story.  (I wonder if I’d get a better sense of it if I read it today.)

 

 

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A review of the pilot for Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes” (2017)

With all of the (frequently quite poor) buzz about the arrival this summer of “The Dark Tower” and “The Mist,” “Mr. Mercedes” might be the Stephen King adaptation that has slipped under the radar.  And that’s a shame, because the pilot episode suggests it might be one of the best King adaptations ever.  I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

It really is that good.  The show’s first episode begins what looks to be an intelligent horror-thriller that is surprisingly faithful to King’s outstanding novel.  David E. Kelley’s script is excellent.  After a brutal prologues that sets its plot in motion, the story proceeds with three-dimensional, likable characters who are well played by their performers — especially Brendan Gleeson in the role of the grumpy, retired-cop anti-hero who is harassed by a mass murderer.  (Yes, that is indeed the Dad from 2002’s “28 Days Later.”)  Gleeson is just great — even though I found myself wondering why a retired Chicago cop should have a heavy U.K. accent.

The script even surprises us by being incongruously sweet during its odder moments.  Like its source material, the show effortlessly sets up characters that are easy to like.  (An exchange between Gleeson some kids playing hockey outside his house, for example, was truly inspired.)

The story’s plot-driving horror elements are disturbing, too — both in terms of its grisly violence and its sexual taboos.  This is not a show for the faint of heart.

This also seems like it could be a King adaptation that could easily appeal to people outside his usual fanbase.  There are no supernatural elements to this story, or any tangible connections to King’s sprawling, interconnected “Dark Tower” multi-verse.  (The original novel seemed to show us King trying his hand at a Thomas Harris-type serial killer tale.)

The only reservation I might have about “Mr. Mercedes” is what I am guessing about its pace.  The original novel was quite slow, despite being an engaging read.  After its gut-wrenching mass murder is depicted in graphic detail, the plot moves forward rather lethargically.  The one-hour pilot episode here seemed to mirror that, in its apparent loyalty to its source material.  I predict that viewers turning to “Mr. Mercedes” for a fast-paced horror tale will be disappointed.

I think that’s probably a subjective quibble on my part, though.  I’d still enthusiastically recommend this.

 

 

 

A short review of the premiere of “The Mist” (2017)

I couldn’t help but feel just slightly disappointed by the premiere of “The Mist” (2017).  It wasn’t bad … it just wasn’t as amazing as its trailer made it look.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

The first episode’s horror elements felt rote, rushed and cheesy.  The pre-credits teaser was nearly campy.  Director Adam Bernstein just isn’t Frank Darabont.  (Curiously, each episode seems to be helmed by a different director.)  And what seems like “The Mist’s” milquetoast main protagonist is played somewhat anemically by Morgan Spector.

Still, the show displays some promise.  Instead of rushing straight into its otherworldly-monster MacGuffin, it goes to great lengths to set up some interesting human drama, and it mostly succeeds.  Besides Spector’s ostensibly likable Dad, the characters felt fresh and interesting.  (And regarding that human drama?  I strongly suspect the individual accused of the crime here is not the actual perpetrator.  That’s what the clues are telling me, anyway.  It would be devilishly clever, I think, if his accuser turned out to be the one guilty.)  “The Mist’s” attention to characters here is something of which I think Stephen King would approve.

The show also seems pretty ambitious.  It places its diversity of characters in a number of locations throughout its small-town setting, and a couple are embroiled in some kind of interesting conflict even before the titular mist arrives.  For just a single episode, it feels tightly plotted.

Anyway, if you’re curious about what the mist really is … there is an explanation in King’s source material — and I’m not talking about only the vague allusions in the novella of the same name.  Die-hard King fans know it was further described in his “The Dark Tower” series.  It’s been named as “todash space” by the denizens of one of King’s many worlds — it’s a monster-filled limbo that falls between myriad parallel universes: http://stephenking.wikia.com/wiki/Todash_space.

 

 

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“See the Turtle of enormous girth!”

See the Turtle of enormous girth!
On his shell he holds the earth.
His thought is slow but always kind
He holds us all within his mind
On his back all vows are made,
He sees the truth but mayn’t aid.
He loves the land and loves the sea,
And even loves a child like me.

— from Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series

 

A review of the “Westworld” pilot (2016)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison suggested I give the Westworld” series (2016) a try, and I’m damn glad he did.  The first episode was superb, and it’s safe to say it’s reeled me in.  I’d give the pilot a 9 out of 10; this seems like it could be the best science fiction television show I’ve seen in a long time.

I still think the premise is just slightly cheesy — grown men and women spending a fortune to visit a western-themed amusement park with interactive android cowboys.  (I think maybe westerns were a more mainstream genre in 1973, when Michael Crichton’s original film was in theaters.)  And there are times when the show’s central western-themed motifs are a little annoying to me … even though I know the park is supposed to appear superficial and cliche.

But “Westworld” is a highly intelligent thriller — it looks like a hell of a lot of thought went into the script.  Just about every aspect of the show seems like it was well developed — everything from the actors’ performances to the set design.  And don’t let the gorgeous, idyllic, sunny landscapes fool you — there is no shortage of pathos here.  It’s brutally dark in its storytelling.  (By the way, if you happen to be a fan of this show, I must recommend 2014’s “Ex Machina” film — it is similarly cerebral and dark in its outlook.)

Anthony Hopkins is fantastic, as usual; Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton are all very good.  They’re all overshadowed here, though, by two stellar performances.

The first is Ed Harris as a black-clad psychopathic visitor to the park — I had no idea he could be so frightening.  Dear God.  Has he played bad guys before?  I’ve always associated him with nice-guy roles — even his antagonist in 1996’s “The Rock” was misguided and sympathetic.  I’d love to see him get a role in an upcoming “The Dark Tower” film, maybe as one of the Big Coffin Hunters, if they are ever featured.

The second is Louis Herthum, the ostensible “father” of Wood’s heroine.  (They are both androids within the park — I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s all over the show’s advertising.)  Herthum may be a lesser known actor, but he stole the show in a tour-de-force performance, in my opinion.  And that’s no small feat in a cast including Hopkins and this surprisingly vicious Harris.  I haven’t seen a performance that good on television since NBC’s “Hannibal” went off the air.

Anyway, I noticed something funny here.  Steven Ogg plays a bandit who invades people’s homes and murders them … this is basically the same role he plays as Negan’s chief henchman on “The Walking Dead.”  It must be weird to be typecast like that.

Hey … it is only just now that I realized the logo below is a riff on Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.”