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Liberty Stands Still (2002): At Least She’s Not in a Phone Booth

Liberty Stands Still (Kari Skogland, 2002)

[originally posted 11Nov2002]

Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino each get about half of the DVD cover's real estate.

The tension’s so thick you can cut it with a large red wedge.
photo credit: Wikipedia

This movie, whose US run was a stint at the Palm Springs Film Festival, is hard evidence that even if you’re on the A-list, they still won’t release everything you make. Wesley Snipes heads up this thriller, backed by B-listers Linda Fiorentino and Oliver Platt, and still the biggest market it played was Italy. (Its Japanese release was also limited.)

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Red Dragon (2002): Coattails

Red Dragon (Brett Ratner, 2002)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

Francis Dolarhyde's inked back dominates the movie poster.

Not too red, but definitely horny.
photo credit: impawards.com

It is the rare film that succeeds not because of its director, but in spite of him. The latest of such films is Red Dragon, a thriller helmed by a comedy director (Ratner is best known for the Jackie Chan vehicle Rush Hour and its sequel). It also succeeds in spite of there already being a perfectly capable adaptation of the book in Michael Mann’s wonderfully impressionist Manhunter (1986). It succeeds for one reason: The Silence of the Lambs.

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Paterson (1963): New Jersey Has Never Looked So Good

William Carlos Williams, Paterson (New Directions, 1963)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

A river's small waterfall graces the book's cover.

I was going to put a joke here about plums and falls, but it broke behind the hospital.
photo credit: ginsbergblog.blogspot.com

To hear the staff at New Directions tell it, Paterson is the be-all and end-all of the American long poem; there is no work being done today that is not influenced in some way by Williams’ milestone of American verse. And there may be some truth in that statement, but it neglects to address the question of whether Paterson is, in fact, a good poem; after all, the album title tells us ten million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Well, guess what, folks? Ten million Elvis fans ARE wrong.

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Apocalypse Now Redux (2001): Director’s Mutt

Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 2001)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

The movie poster for Redux is identical to the original, except with the word "Redux" added.

Run through the jungle. For another hour.
photo credit: fansshare.com

It is a long-known fact of Hollywood life that directors and studios are most at each others’ throats when it comes time to edit a film for final release. Judging by the various directors’ cuts I’ve seen over the years, ninety-nine percent of the time, the director is right (anyone who’s seen both the theatrical release and directors’ cut versions of Profondo Rosso knows exactly what I’m getting at, and it’s hard to argue with the superiority of directors’-cut releases of such films as Aliens, Bladerunner, etc.). One percent of the time, the director is wrong. Francis Ford Coppola’s new, fifty-three-minute-longer, cut of Apocalypse Now rides right on the line.

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Everything’s Eventual (2002): Including the Dark Tower Series Not Being Over

Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual (Scribner, 2002)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

A drop of blood has dropped into a glass of water and is spreading on the cover of the book.

…including the decline of Stephen King’s career, but we’re still waiting on that one…
photo credit: Wikipedia

Rumors of Stephen King’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. 2002 is gearing up to be another highly productive year for King, and he starts us off with his first short story collection since 1993, Everything’s Eventual. It sure is nice to know that King doesn’t feel the need to turn everything into a novel, and while his short stories have gotten longer, they still pack the punch that the early tales did. However, they pack it in a more literary style. This is great stuff. It’s still recognizably King, but it’s New Yorker King rather than bargain-basement porn-mag King (check the prepub credits in Night Shift).

After reading the title story in this collection, I briefly fantasized about a world where the millions of people who reflexively buy King’s works who’ve never so much looked inside a literary magazine would bring away from this (and other such tales in this volume, notably “Luckey Quarter” and “Lunch at the Gotham Café”) an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of the modern short story such that they could crack the binding on the new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, say, and not feel out of place. (From there, it’s one step to getting them to like poetry, and than I can take over the world at leisure.) I came to my senses a few minutes later, but there’s still something to be said for it. Up till now, King’s stories have always been well-defined pieces of work, with strong beginnings and endings and enough happening in the middle to keep people reading. No one would ever accuse, say, “Survivor Type” or “Grey Matter” of being an ambiguous piece of writing. But King was already showing his literary hand as far back as Skeleton Crew (with the haunting story “Nona”), and he tipped it last year with the brilliant “Blind Willie.” Now comes Everything’s Eventual, and he’s laid it on the table; this is the new King, the one I’ve been waiting for during the last couple of transitional releases. These stories are ambiguous, they require thinking (and sometimes leaps in logic) from the reader, and they’re simply better-written than his early work. King the literary author has finally caught up with King the storyteller.

As seems almost obligatory these days, yes, there’s a Dark Tower story. However, it doesn’t feel as invasive as most recent Dark Tower references, because it’s actually set in Mid-World (rather than showing up as a reference, as in “Low Men with Yellow Coats” or Bag of Bones). It’s also very much in the style of early King, despite actually being in a series, and thus begging for loose ends. Oddly, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” stands on its own more than any Dark Tower material since the first book. Go figure.

King’s back, and better than he’s been since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I knew he’d get there sooner or later. ****

The Circus in the Attic (1947): Nothing Seems Real to Me

Robert Penn Warren, The Circus in the Attic (Dell, 1947)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

The title, in garish colors, adorns the book cover.

“But dear, it clashes with the drapes!”
photo credit: Amazon

The back jacket of the book says, “These stories come from the pen of one of America’s half-dozen great writers.” Given the time period of the book’s release, that was really saying something. Something accurate, but something nonetheless. Penn Warren (who won the Pulitzer two year’s before for All the King’s Men) wrote the stories in this book over the course of fifteen years. Most were previously published.

The book is framed with two novellas, the title story and “Prime Leaf,” with a number of shorter works in between. As with most of Penn Warren’s work, the tales are about depression-era and WW2-era life in the American south, people going on about their day-to-day business. A number of the stories deal with the same town, and the same characters pass in and out of them, so the reader gets the feeling of getting to know different aspects of the town as he goes from story to story.

Part of the magic of Penn Warren’s work is the ability to simultaneously expose to the reader the quiet dignity of the proletariat and the basic stupidity of human nature. Not an easy thing to make the reader respect the people he’s laughing at. But that’s exactly what happens time and again in this book. The characters do dumb things for various reasons, but we always understand what those reasons are, and most of the time we can see how the character gets from the reason to the justification to the act without a problem. And while there’s always a moral to be had, Robert Penn Warren is certainly not Aesop. The moral is there, waiting to be found, but the reader who’s not interested in the morality of the tales is allowed to go off on his merry way and not contemplate the deeper meaning of what’s here. That, too, is part of Robert Penn Warren’s gift. *** ½

Hart’s War (2002): Pyrrhic Victory

Hart’s War (Gregory Hoblit, 2002)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

Willis and Farrell's faces adorn the movie poster.

In 2002, Bruce Willis was the front, and Colin Farrell was the back. Can you imagine?
photo credit: thevelvetdream.wordpress.com

Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Fallen) gives us the latest film in his inconsistent career with Hart’s War. Hollywood has a storied history of trying, and failing in spectacular fashion, to adapt John Katzenbach novels to the big screen effectively. While Hart’s War isn’t as stellar a failure as Mean Season, it’s not much to write home about, either.

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