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Another Toronto Film Festival has come and whooshed by!
I’ve been asked what my favourite films from this year’s fest are. And what a coincidence – I made a running video about them. Another coincidence? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award was my top film too. Frances McDormand needs to win all the awards for her role in it, where she plays a grieving mother who takes up a drastic move to solve the mystery of her daughter’s brutal death. Sam Rockwell, too, shines, in this film from director Martin Mcdonaugh, who brought us In Bruges and Seven Pyschopaths.

“I was about 8 miles from here when I started to write The Dark Tower” Stephen King said, wearing a cap with the city’s name emblazoned on it. “Bangor is home.” I went to Maine for the first time ever, to see sites and places that have inspired the King of suspense and the supernatural.
King grew up in a little town in southern Maine, “with more graveyards than people,” as he describes it, and no running water. He came to the University of Maine in 1966, and soon he and his wife Tabitha settled in Bangor, with its population of just over 31 000 people.
Taking a tour of the area, with the very knowledgeable and affable Stu Tinker, of SK Tours, you’ll see the influence the area has had on King’s writing – directly or indirectly. From the RM Flagg Kitchen Store on Route 2 – a road King would drive on daily to get to his job as an English teacher at a high school in the next town – to the truck stop that gave him the setting for his short story Trucks, which became Maximum Overdrive, his directorial film debut. The beauty of having Stu as your tour guide is the familiarity he has, as a life-long resident of Bangor.
Stu will tell you that King has never even set foot inside the kitchen store that gave him the name for the overarching evil presence in his books. He’ll show you the exact bench King sat on when he wrote parts of It, in the shadow of the town’s large standpipe. He’ll also let you know if he thinks King will be home as you pull up to the author’s house on West Broadway, with its gargoyle-protected gates and huge lawn.
King wasn’t home when we stopped by, late Tuesday afternoon, to take photos outside Bangor’s most famous house. It’s a stark contrast to the trailer home we’d driven past earlier in the day, where King and his wife first lived, barely able to pay the rent. To see the place where King had written – and then thrown away – the manuscript for Carrie is quite eye-opening. His wife Tabitha fishing it out of the trash is the reason the world today knows him as the master of supernatural and suspense that he is.
We meet King before the cinema screening. He walks into the room, unannounced and unassuming, takes a seat and says: “So I think the way this is supposed to go is that you’re meant to ask me a few questions and I’m meant to sign a few of these.” He takes off the sharpie lid and begins to sign copies of The Gunslinger. The film based on the 8-book-opus has travelled a rocky road to reach the big screen – taking more than a decade and several setbacks to make it. “I never really thought about it that much,” says King, when asked about it. “There were times when people would express an interest in it and then it would go away again, and then interest would come back again when Peter Jackson had success in The Lord of the Rings movie. I thought ‘well, maybe.’ But it never seemed like a movie-movie idea to me.”
King has given the film – and director Nikolaj Arcel – his thumbs up. “It was complex and long, and they’ve done a wonderful job here telling a story that’s coherent and it holds on to the elements of the novel, The Dark Tower. The purists may not like it – I can’t tell about that for sure, because it doesn’t start where the books start. But at the same, they’ll fall right into it because they’ll know exactly what’s going on.”
He believes the film is a chance to look at the novels with fresh eyes. “In the various stories the plots are fairly complex and the characters interact, and they go back and forth, and I think that the screenwriter Aviva Goldsman picked out what seemed to him to be the most accessible and most human relationship – and that’s between this old guy Roland who’s been around for a long, long time, and the kid. And they had wonderful chemistry, and it comes through.”
He’s aware that fans of The Dark Tower are very loyal to his work but that the film is geared towards appealing to others too. “Many decisions had to be made about the film,” he says. “Some of those are related to telling a story that the general public will get, not just the hardcore Dark Tower fans – the guys who show up to the fantasy conventions with Roland tattooed on their arms. Of all the books I’ve written, the fans of The Dark Tower books are the most zealous, the most fervent fans of all, but they make a small sub-group of the people who read books like The Shining or Misery. They’re an acquired taste – they are fantasy, after all!”
Fan reaction has been a constant during the development of the film. When asked about the dissatisfaction some voiced at the casting choice of Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, The Gunslinger, King says he found it problematic. “It’s weird, why shouldn’t Roland be black? Why couldn’t it be a black guy to do this?” King questions. “What I said in a tweet after all that discussion started was that I didn’t care what colour he was, as long as he could command the screen, draw fast and shoot straight. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t even see people when I’m writing, because if I’m writing about a character, I’m behind their eyes. Unless they walk by a mirror or something, I don’t even see what they look like.” He went on to add: “You know what’s weirder than that…you know this show, Game of Thrones? They’re all British! I mean, Westeros is basically England and nobody ever questions that. To me, the idea that a black man would play Roland is minor compared to that.”
King does hope the next iterations of the story becomes R-rated. “I understand the rationale to make it PG13 – you want to get as many people into the tent, but I really think that’s where the movies need to go now.”
As for where he goes next, King is looking forward to touring a book he wrote with his son, Sleeping Beauties. “It’s nice to be able to write a book with your son,” he says. “He told me what to do and I did it. It’s a preview of the old age home,” he chuckles, before putting his Bangor cap back on and exiting the movie theatre.

Living in New York can – at times – be like living in your own episode of Sex and the City (like when the sailors come into town for Fleet Week, or your very favourite shoe repair store closes down). It’s been 20 years since Candace Bushnell’s book first came out, inspiring the TV series that became a hit the world over. I got to interview the cast when the two films were coming out (the 1st one I liked, the 2nd one, not so much…) and they did not disappoint – sweet and sassy women. Running around New York now, I often think of scenes I know so well, so I thought I’d make this week’s episode all about SATC – Manolo Blahniks not included.
One of the first things I did when visiting NYC for the first time, was go on the SATC tour. You meet outside The Plaza, and jump into a bus with a bunch of other girls – and maybe one or two guys, and see the places where the show filmed. But you know how I like to run around everywhere, so I took a few of those places, added in a couple others, and now present to you, The Rundown: SATC-style. Manolo Blahniks, not included!

It was the second of two nights Kendrick Lamar sold out at the Barclays Center – a date added after his first one sold out instantly. A date for Kung Fu Kenny to celebrate the biggest success of his career so far: a two-times platinum-selling album and a number 1 single in Humble.
It was a different show to the one he last put on in NYC at the Panorama festival, which I just realized I saw on exactly the same date a year ago – 23 July. Aside from this being his first big headlining arena tour, there was a different atmosphere. That show was more political, coming in on the weight of the presidential election and the rise of Donald J Trump. Videos of George Bush and police brutality played in a black and white backdrop to Kendrick’s rhymes. It was a moving and urgent and felt more like a conduit for outrage and support.
Last night’s show felt lighter, even if Kendrick himself felt more formidable. He had more bravado, which – granted – he’s earned since releasing a big-on-swagger track like Humble, and he seemed to grow to fill out the arena. With just his rhymes and only two guest appearances (Travis Scott for Goosebumps and 2Chainz for a frenzied rendition of his new single, 4 am), Kendrick demonstrated his prowess as the greatest rap talent we have right now. His words, his stories are all he needs. He wove them altogether into a kung-fu story, wearing a yellow and then red tracksuit that looked like Bruce Lee’s iconic jumpsuit. Short videos played in between the tracks, as “Black Turtle” made his quest through songs like DNA, ELEMENT, LOYALTY, LUST,  and LOVE, and then older material like Swimming Pools, Levitate, Backseat Freestyle, and of course the Collard Greens cover. It was most thrilling to hear him jump from XXX to m.A.A.d City at the part where Bono usually comes in.
He made sure to thank his Day Ones, as he always has, and remembering the love the East Coast showed the West Coast when he first started playing here, noting his gigs at SOBs, before ending with an encore of GOD. Stay humble.

Ever since Sundance earlier this year, the song I Get Overwhelmed by Dark Rooms has been on high rotation on my list of favourite songs. In the film, Casey Affleck plays a music producer who makes this track and then plays it for his wife, Rooney Mara. The images of him giving her his headphones to let her in on his creation is one of the intimate moments they share during the film – before he dies in a car accident. The film only plays snippets of it, but they were enough to burrow into my mind and come along with me when I left the cinema, and Utah itself. For me, the song was one tangible thing to hold onto after seeing the film, which is about all things intangible.

 

At its basic premise, after he dies, Affleck’s character becomes a ghost, who haunts the house he and his wife lived in. It’s such a simple premise that the ghost even looks like one a little kid would dress up as. A big, thick sheet, with two eyes cut out – no fancy film tricks at play. And yet the sheet acts as a blank canvass for director David Lowery’s meditation on life – on love and time and memories and hardships and joy.
I struggled to describe this film then, and I still struggle somewhat now. I remember walking out the cinema and bumping into a friend who didn’t like it, and I physically had to turn away from her because I couldn’t bear to hear that she didn’t get it. I had such a visceral response to this film – in as much as it is an ephemeral film. It’s the kind that needs to be experienced to be appreciated – in a way, to let the spirit of it take hold of you. Its final moment quite literally took my breathe away.
But it remains a film made up of things hard to describe, hard to grab a hold of. That the film’s distributor A24 has created A Ghost Store, in a small building on NYC’s Lower East Side, feels like a way to make the intangible a little less so. I do feel the mini-ad for the store does somewhat give away a little of the film’s magic, but it’s nonetheless a memorable experience to take part in – and, just like experiencing the film, very personal. You go in and literally “get fitted” for a sheet of your own, by answering questions. It’s a clever way for the film to team up with a brand, yes, but it’s also a great way to build up anticipation ahead of the film’s release, when it comes to life on big screens across cinemas.

Me, “checking out” the store.

A Ghost Store is currently open in NYC and you can find out more about visiting it here. In the meantime, the film comes out July 7th.