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Blindness (1995): The One-Eyed Man Is King

Jose Saramago, Blindness (Harcourt Brace, 1995)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

The title is collaged on the cover hundreds of times, turning into a gray mass in the middle, on the book cover.

Reading after dark will hurt your eyes, my mother said.
photo credit: Amazon

Over the years since its publication, Blindness has been hailed as a modern classic and made more ten-best lists than anyone not a CPA is going to be willing to count. And I guess I can understand why, but I was far less impressed with the book than most.

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Apart (2011): Mystery of Two

Apart (Aaron Rottinghaus, 2011)

The shadowy torsos of two people embracing merge and drip like wax on the movie's poster.

2gether + 4ever = 6feetunder.
photo credit: IMDB

Sitting not terribly far beneath the surface of Apart is the best young adult movie you’ve ever seen. There are times—more than a few of them—that movie almost managed to come bubbling to the surface. Rottinghaus, normally an assistant editor (he has recently had a steady gig on the hit TV show Big Love), went very, very ambitious with his directorial debut. He almost succeeded. The story, which he co-wrote with male lead Josh Danziger, could have probably used another rewrite or two to help knock some of the less coherent bits into line; that would have made this into something that would have had a very, very good chance of landing pretty high up on my thousand-best list. Yes, the movie under the surface here is that good. Unfortunately, it has a nasty habit of shooting itself in the foot. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it—in fact, I think you probably should, and sooner rather than later—but you may well end up as frustrated as I was at getting the movie we got given how often you can see the movie we should have had.

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Hapax Legomenon (1993): Touching Me with Lotus Feet

Ivan Argüelles, Hapax Legomenon (Pantograph Press, 1993)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

A piece of primitive pottery adorns the book cover.

The largest picture I can find of it on the web.
photo credit: spdbooks.org

The ninth installment in Ivan Argüelles’ long and surreal poem Pantograph is the eighty-eight-page Hapax Legomenon, a book it took Argüelles only ten days to complete. Eighty-eight pages of poetry in ten days leads to one of two conclusions: either the stuff blows goat, or the poet is of a singular construction, the kind of person who can spin out, well, eighty-eight pages of at least salable writing in ten days. Argüelles is very much the latter, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a single piece of his work that is only “salable.”

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We Are What We Are (2013): Free to Be You and Me

We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013)

Papa stands behind the two girls, who are seated at the table, on the movie's poster.

It runs in the family.
photo credit: IFC Films

Less than a minute into Jim Mickle’s reimagining—one cannot call it a remake with a straight face—of Jorge Grau’s fine 2010 film Somos lo que Hay, he has already made it plain to the viewer who has seen the previous film that We Are What We Are is a different movie indeed. The two movies start with the same event; the death of the head of a family. While that death is never explained in the 2010 film (the family gets a visit from the coroner about two-thirds of the way through this version with a cause of death, not that it matters), the two of them are virtually identical in the method in which each family member dies; it starts with a nosebleed, descends quickly into convulsions, and within seconds that person has shuffled off this mortal coil. It is the circumstances surrounding the two deaths that make all the difference. When Papa does in the 2010 film, he is in a large city. He is surrounded by people, yet he is utterly alone and anonymous. (One of the movie’s finest, funniest, blackest scenes is the revelation of what happens to him after his death, which takes place in the following minute or so.) In the 2013 film, Emma Parker (Evil Dead II‘s Kassie DePaiva) is trying to beat a coming storm in a small backwoods town somewhere in Appalachia, frantically grabbing groceries, but still managing to have time to have a conversation with the clerk at the general store. (Yes, this town is small enough to still have a general store.) In the space of a couple of minutes, Jim Mickle has changed the sex of the dying parent and the type of city in which the family lives. This should be creating a string of “what if?”s in the head of any viewer who has seen the original movie. It is to Jim Mickle (Mulberry St.)’s credit that instead of doing this and then trying to shoehorn the rest of the movie into remake territory, he gives us, essentially, an entirely new film based on those “what if?”s. And it is a good one indeed, Jim Mickle’s best film to date.

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Prayer at Rumayla (2002): The Hurt Locker

Charles Sheehan-Miles, Prayer at Rumayla (Xlibris, 2001)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

A tank sits, burning oil wells in the background, as if in contemplation on the book's cover.

Twelve years ago. The beginning of my long friendship with Charles.
photo credit: Amazon

I had some trepidations before cracking the cover on this one; with a very few notable exceptions, I’ve never been much of one for war novels, which tend to either fall into the knee-jerk anti-war camp or the “sis-boom-bah rah-rah-rah” camp. Prayer at Rumayla leans towards the left side of the division, but prefers to let the images and events therein do its preaching, which already puts Sheehan-Miles ahead of 95% of the pack. Despite the book’ s “A novel of the Gulf War” subtitle, this is more a case of the Gulf War being a driving force for the main character’s actions after he’s back in the U.S. after combat.

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American Mary (2012): Do You Have Prince Albert in a Can?

American Mary (Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2012)

Mary, wearing a butcher's apron and a surgical mask, stands with an air gun in one hand and a cleaver in the other, arms crossed, on the movie poster.

Short back and sides.
photo credit: Wikipedia

It took me until ten minutes before the end of the movie to figure it out, but once it did, the whole movie (which, I rush to add, I already loved) made perfect sense: American Mary is one of the best examples of modern Film Noir that I have seen in recent memory. I watched it after I had finished up my Best I Watched list for 2013, and so I made the entirely arbitrary decision to put American Mary at #26 on that list; it may rise in a later revision. Yes, it’s that good.

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Santa Steps Out (1998): Your Childhood Flayed Bare and Skullfucked

Robert Devereaux, Santa Steps Out (Leisure, 1998)

[originally posted 29Mar2002]

The book's title looks as if it is carved into a blurry, spotted  letter to Santa on the book's cover.

The writing is, um, on the wall.
photo credit: fright.com

My reverence of Robert Devereaux’s first novel, Deadweight, borders on the worshipful. After recently re-reviewing it, both one of my best friends and Devereaux himself e-mailed me and told me exactly the same thing: to get my hands on Santa Steps Out pronto. So I did (well, a little less pronto than I should have). They were both absolutely correct.

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