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Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Nuclear Comeback (2007): It’s Clean, Except When It Isn’t

The Nuclear Comeback (Justin Pemberton, 2007)


photo credit:

Cheap, sustainable (until well after humans die out), plentiful power…what’s not to love? Well, aside from the meltdowns.

Here’s a short documentary on nuclear power being aired in America on the Sundance Channel. What that said to me was “unthinking knee-jerk anti-nuke flick”, but I figured I’d watch it anyway. I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. Who would expect a clearheaded, balanced look at the subject on Sundance? That, however, is exactly what you get, and for a movie that’s basically tracing the history of a public relations nightmare, it’s surprisingly fascinating.


photo credit: Sundance Channel

Just another day at the Karen Silkwood Memorial Plant…

When you think of nuclear power, what comes to mind? Three Mile Island? Chernobyl? Probably. After all, they were the biggest nuclear-related new stories of the seventies and eighties. They were so pervasive that the term “meltdown” entered the popular consciousness as a term for someone losing it. Going nuclear, as it were. But the fact is that nuclear power plants never disappeared. You don’t see them in America much, but in the rest of the world, a number of them have been operating

photo credit: vimeo

Pretty as a British landscape! Waitaminute…

quietly ever since. And there’s one huge upside to nuclear power in our increasingly environmentally-challenged culture: the (almost) complete lack of a carbon footprint left by nuclear generation of energy. One day, some brilliant mind in a nuclear marketing department somewhere said “hey, you know, we might be able to use this to get society to look at us in a positive light again”, and a marketing campaign was born. Not in America, of course, where anti-nuclear sentiment runs even higher than it does just outside Chernobyl, a city that remains deserted twenty-three years after their nuclear incident. But Oceania? They got a faceful of marketing, and New Zealand filmmaker Pemberton wanted to take a look under the surface and see if there was actually any substance to it all. Turns out there is; like most marketing, it’s probable they’re overplaying the benefits, but it’s not all blowing smoke. The question is whether the ecological benefits of going nuclear are worth the obvious risks, and that is much murkier territory than simply talking about greenhouse emissions. However, Pemberton attempts not to take a position at all, letting both sides tell their stories, and does an admirable job at steering the kind of middle course we here in America don’t even expect any more. It’s an impressive job, and no matter which side of this fence you’re on, it might make you take a look at the other one in a more thoughtful light. Recommended. *** ½



The Baby (1973): You Weaned Him When?

The Baby (Ted Post, 1973)


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“There Shall Be Mayhem Wherever He Goes!” …which is all well and good except he never leaves the yard.

Veteran TV director Ted Post (Hang ’em High, Good Guys Wear Black) and screenwriter Abe Polsky (The Rebel Rousers) turned in this 1973 gem, one of the few movies I have ever seen that I can truly say defies description. IMDB lists it as a horror/thriller; it is that, but only for about ten minutes of its length. Pieces of it are melodrama, absurdist comedy, even a minor dose of courtroom thriller. But the one overarching genre that defines the whole film, were such a genre to exist, would simply be “weird”. This is an unforgettable, if low-budget and amateurish, movie.


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“I know they said not to play with my balls! BUT I WANNA!”

Plot: the Wadsworth family—mom (Strangers on a Train‘s Ruth Roman), sisters Germaine and Alba (High Plains Drifter‘s Marianna Hill and The Way We Were‘s Susanne Zenor, respectively), and Baby (Chaplin‘s David Mooney), are recipients of social assistance because Baby is, in some way, mentally defective. Their old social worker leaves the case, for reasons we are never given, and Ann Gentry (The Loved One‘s Anjanette Comer) takes over. She immediately takes a liking to Baby—who’s actually twenty-one years old, though does not walk or talk, sleeps in an adult-sized crib, and wears diapers—and quickly becomes convinced that, far from being a medical problem, Baby is being kept in this state through the family’s negative reinforcement. She beings to wage a war against them to get custody of Baby, but soon finds out the Wadsworths are very accustomed to playing dirty when it comes to fighting the state…

The movie, which has faded into obscurity over the decades, is mostly remembered now for its twist ending; in fact, when we got to it (while it’s perfectly set up, I gotta say I never saw it coming despite the rest of this sentence), I got the feeling I’d seen the movie before, despite being almost positive I haven’t; either it’s been copied somewhere or I’ve read about it in the past. I’d read online about the movie’s big twist ending while watching it, and so I knew something was coming, but… wow. That was perfect. One of the best Big Twist endings of all time, right up there with The Usual Suspects and the original Ocean’s Eleven.

photo credit:

All tuckered out from a day of tire-swingin’!


Unfortunately, much of the rest of the film doesn’t match it. There are a number of times during the film, most notably during Baby’s birthday party, where Polsky seemed content to go for shock-for-shock’s-sake. (Consider the character of Dennis, who spends the entire party sniffing after Alba like a hound in heat—even after she, oh, requests he hold his finger over an open flame for a full minute in exchange for sex.) The acting, in general is wooden, this despite Post having landed some of Hollywood’s solid B-list talent. Having recently seen Good Guys Wear Black, though, I feel quite comfortable putting the crappy acting down to Post’s directorial (lack of) skill. The outdoor lighting is washy, though that could easily be a problem with the DVD transfer, and the indoor lighting is often murky. The pacing of the first seventy minutes of this eighty-nine minute movie are confusing at best. In other words, there are a whole lotta problems with this movie…and I’m going to tell you to ignore every last one of them and watch it, because that ending is such a killer. Trust me on this. ***


The long-form trailer.

Fire in Babylon (2010): My Bat Was My Sword…

Fire in Babylon (Stevan Riley, 2010)

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How a ragtag band of amateurs took on the world…and won

My bat was my sword at that time, and it’s people I wanted to put it to.” –Sir Vivian Richards

With the Caribbean T20 Championships having just finished over the weekend as I write this (Trinidad and Tobago three-peated for the victory, and honestly, Guyana didn’t make them work too hard to get there in the final), it seemed like a perfect time to watch Fire in Babylon, Stevan Riley’s documentary about the rise of the West Indies cricket team during the seventies. You’ve got cricket, you’ve got human rights, you’ve got Bunny Wailer, what more could you possibly ask for?

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Vampires in the Lemon Grove (2013): Improving upon Perfection

Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Knopf, 2013)

Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

photo credit: Goodreads

Coming February 13, 2013.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been known to tear up at the odd film now and again, and certain songs can get me sniffling. Okay, both of those things are understatements. And even TV shows can do it. You know the episode of The Vicar of Dibley where [SPOILER ALERT] Hugo and Alice get hitched, so David is the guy ending up sitting there listening to Geraldine’s joke? And at the very end of the sequence, he just looks at her and says, “Stay.”? [/SPOILER ALERT] I bawl like a baby. Every time. Hell, I’m tearing up now just thinking about it. But that sort of thing doesn’t really ever happen to me with books. I can remember, in forty-odd years of reading, crying at maybe three or four books. I can now add “The New Veteran,” the penultimate story in Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, to the list.

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Baby Rosemary (1976): Not What You’re Thinking…

photo credit: Oregon State University

Baby Rosemary (John Hayes, 1976)

[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]


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As is usually the case with copywriters, the guys who designed this poster obviously never saw the movie.

Despite the obvious promise of the title, John Hayes’ 1976 porn film Baby Rosemary has nothing at all to do with Roman Polanski’s decidedly non-porn 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby. This is, of course, a great disappointment, as a porn parody of Rosemary’s Baby made back in the days when porn was still a transgressive form of filmmaking would have had the potential (or, at least, the chance) to be a great piece of work in itself. Alas, while such a thing may exist, this ain’t it.

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bEAR (2000): Reaching in the Darkness for the Word, the Line, the Way

Alicia Cohen, bEAR (Handwritten Press, 2000)


photo credit: Handwritten press

This extremely small graphic from the Handwritten Press website is the only cover image I could find on the web. WordPress won’t upscale it automatically.

Warning: here’s another case where my original rating of the book was affected by a bad conversion from PDF to epub; when reading ebook poetry, especially if it looks as if the author has no sense of structure, check the file you have against the original (if the original can be found online); you may have fallen victim to a bad conversion process, as I have with at least three or four books in the past year.


That said, even given the chance to read it with its original structure, Alicia Cohen’s bEAR does leave something to be desired. I get the feeling Cohen is working the same poetic veins as authors like Timothy Donnelly, looking for the proverbial magic words, that place where meaning is overtaken by the sonics of it all—that place where how good it sounds makes the “meaning” of a poem, well, meaningless. (As if any one person, including the author, is capable of dictating the meaning of a good poem in the first place. Ludicrous.) I’m not quite sure she’s there yet, though admittedly that’s an extremely subjective judgment to attempt to make:

“I’d say sweet, sweetroll


.never paint what’s not
………..there sweet heart
come here I am


it’s been so long
tired and cold
(–from “Saint’s Pockets”)

[ed. note: sorry about the leading periods, Amazon will lose the formatting without them.]

I feel a reaching for something there, something that’s out beyond what words normally mean when we string them together to make regular sentences, and that is an instinct to be praised for its very existence; the problem is that if you haven’t quite broken through that barrier yet, as so few poets have ever managed to do (the aforementioned Donnelly is an excellent modern example, or if you want to go back a few years, Rene Crevel and Robert Desnos excelled at this discipline), you end up with meaningless banter rather than a way to tap into any suspected otherworldly power. I think Cohen is on the right track here, but I don’t think she’s quite found the path yet. ** ½


Download the free ebook from Handwritten Press.

The March Hare (1956): Restoration, Please!

The March Hare (George More O’Farrell, 1956)

[note: review originally published 28Nov2008]

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Ascot, where dreams are made…and lost.

And so, thanks to a wonderful Cleveland TV station called The Cat (channel 35, for you Clevelanders), I find myself reviewing the second movie in three weeks that has, as of my writing this, less than ten votes on IMDB [ed. note: the other is Tom Doades’ 1972 sci-fi extravaloser Six Hundred Sixty-Six, which hasn’t made it out of the vault yet]. One IMDB reviewer laments that the movie never got a home video market release, and asks why; given the print I just saw, I’m guessing it’s because the film stock is far too degraded for remastering. Much of the color has been washed out, and it seems as if certain pieces had to be discarded altogether (judging by the conversation, at least thirty seconds of the first big love scene between Peggy Cummins and Terence Morgan has disappeared; I’m guessing it’s more like a few minutes. There’s also at least one more scene where the cutting is far too abrupt, and doesn’t fit with the editing in the rest of the film.) I agree with that reviewer that it’s criminal that this movie wasn’t saved, and I hope someone discovers a more complete master somewhere.

The March Hare is a gently amusing tale of Sir Charles Hare, a broke Irish baron (Morgan) who made and lost his fortune trying to crack the races at Ascot. (For some background reading on the Irish obsession with Ascot, I highly recommend Bill Barich’s A Fine Place to Daydream.) His aunt and uncle, sorry to see his estate broken up, purchase one of his promising colts, intending to surprise him with it when it’s of racing age, and turn it over to Lazy Mangan (Cyril Cusack), an affable drunk who introduces the colt (whose name provides the movie’s title) to the Queen of the Fairies, and secures a magic word which makes the horse tractable. Meanwhile, Hare’s estate has been bought by McGuire (McDonald Park), a wealthy American looking to get into the horse breeding business. As Hare is moving the last of his belongings out, he runs into McGuire’s beautiful daughter Pat (Cummins), who, thinking he’s one of the farmhands who’s now jobless, hires him as her personal groom. So Mangan’s got the colt, Pat’s got Hare, and everyone wants to get to the English Derby.

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The single screenshot of the movie I could find online gives you an idea of the current picture quality.

Looking at it half a century later through eyes that have been conditioned with years of political correctness training, the drunk-Irishman stereotype does play a little old, but Mangan is such a great character that it’s easy to look past this. Pat and Hare’s comedy-of-errors romance feels a bit forced sometimes (though, again, that could be because pieces of this print are obviously missing), but it’s as deeply felt as one would expect from a genre film based on a genre novel (T. H. Bird’s now-obscure Gamblers Sometimes Win, which I am now trying to track down). Paul Vincent Carroll’s script is wry and quick, and all the principals act well enough to make it work. I just wish I could have seen it in its full glory; as it stands, the quality is on a par with the Lone Star westerns that haven’t been restored yet. This is a fun little movie; no deathless classic, mind you, but an enjoyable piece of filmmaking. ***

Trailer? One can only wish.

PfB 300: A Simple Thank You.

Yes, it’s true… three hundred posts, almost all of them reviews (I told you I had a backlog!), and still going strong. (The vault has been pared down considerably, but still has fifty-odd reviews to go before it’s totally cleaned out.) And y’all are nuts enough to follow along. Almost fifty of you at this point, which after only three months and change is way beyond where I expected it to be.

So thank you, those of you who keep hanging around. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled reviews.

The Hunger Games (2008): Battle Royale with Cheese

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (Scholastic Press, 2008)


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Murder, mayhem… and fashion!

Okay, so, yeah. I guess I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And honestly, when it comes to YA series with fuss these days, I pretty much expect to be disappointed, as they range from the mediocre (Harry Potter) to the downright awful (Twilight). So in that respect, I have to admit I was kind of pleasantly surprised by The Hunger Games, the first book of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy about Katniss Everdeen’s adventures in some sort of post-war society (we’re not given details about what happened to the world in this first novel). On the other hand, it’s kind of Battle Royale lite, and given what a fan I am of Takami Koushun’s novel, I was kind of disappointed in that regard. That said, there are a lot of pretty durned good books that are based on other books (Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, of course, is a direct descendant of King Lear, for example), so I’m not going to ding it too hard for that, despite Collins’ insistence that she was entirely unaware of Koushun’s novel (or the smash-hit cult film based on it).

Plot: Katniss Everdeen is sixteen years old, living on the fringes of District 12 in the continent of Panem, a post-apocalyptic North America (District 12 corresponds in modern geography to the Appalachians; basically, Katniss is from Kentucky/West Virginia/somewhere in there). She and her best friend spend their days slipping the fences that separate the “civilized” parts of society from the wilds, hunting the beasts that the fences are designed to keep out, and selling the meat on the black market. Despite the illegality of her way of making a living and the stigma attached to her family since her mother, once a noted herbalist, went insane following the death of her husband, Katniss is a popular figure in District 12. The year’s selection contest for the Hunger Games is coming up, and this is the last year Katniss is eligible; one more year and she can breathe a sigh of relief. On the other hand, her sister Primrose is old enough to be eligible for the first time…and when the selection comes around, inevitably, Primrose is chosen. Katniss steps up in her place and joins Peeta Malark, the son of the local baker, as the tribute from District 12.

Then come the games themselves, and if you’ve read Battle Royale or any of the other pieces of literature that pursue this same line of thinking, you know what’s going to happen: everyone gets tossed into an arena, and everyone fights until there’s only one person left. It’s an inherently interesting concept, as long as the author is capable of building solid, three-dimensional minor characters. Collins is, though perhaps she’s not as good as Koushun (and this, by the by, is where the film adaptation of Battle Royale fails; we lack a sense of many of the minor competitors). But we get to know Katniss and Peeta’s opponents without the team ever conversing with them, through Katniss’ keen sense of observation; she finds unexpected allies in interesting places, expected enemies in even more interesting places, and comes to realize that she’s not the only cunning contestant to be found on the grounds. Overall, we’ve got a bunch of interesting characters in an interesting situation, well-written enough to keep the suspense ratcheted up without the whole b ook deflating when we pause briefly once in a while to advance the are-they-or-aren’t-they? romance subplot between Katniss and Peeta (unfortunately the book’s weak spot; it advances rigorously along old-Harlequin-formula-romance-novel lines).

While writing this review, I’ve actually talked myself into revising my initial rating upwards a bit; I realized some stuff about it I didn’t while I was originally reading the novel. It’s a nifty little thing, perhaps not as deserving of the incredible amount of hype as it could have been, but certainly not a disappointment in most ways. It’s good enough to make me look forward to reading the other two novels in the trilogy. ***


A New Direction: My Plan for a Better Pennsylvania (2006): Pie in the Sky

Lynn Swann, A New Direction: My Plan for a Better Pennsylvania (Lynn Swann for Governor, 2006)

[note: review published sometime before June 17, 2007]

photo credit: Sports Business Daily

Football, politics, it’s all about the screen.

Well, we all know how the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race ended up in 2006. It wasn’t for lack of trying on Lynn Swann’s part, but I have to say, I’m not sure whether this little self-published tome did more to help him or harm him at the polls.

First off is the introduction by his wife. I’m not sure whether he’s just a far, far better writer than she is, or whether the editorial staff had taken the day off when she submitted the intro, but it’s godawful. It’s awkwardly-written and full of grammatical errors that make it even harder to read than it otherwise would be; not the best way to unveil your long-range plans as an elected official.

That all changes when we get to the body of Swann’s text, which was proofed to at least the level of most average major-label publications these days (in other words, you’ll find an error here or there, but not terribly many). His thoughts and ideas are presented in a clear, if somewhat dry, manner; the tone of the text makes its slight 144 pages about the perfect length for it. While most everything he’s saying is good common sense (though there are some places where he’s either obviously playing the crowd or has bought so far into common-acceptance rhetoric that I’d have been scared to have him in office—no more so, though, than some of the morons we elected in 2006, and certainly not more than the guy who’s still sitting in the Pennsylvania governor’s office), it becomes obvious pretty quickly that Swann sees a pie somewhere pretty far off the ground, and he’s not afraid to reach for it without too much of a safety net. There’s a great deal of talk about cutting taxes, but where’s the make-up coming from? While he’s certainly correct in saying his plan would revitalize the currently stagnant business climate in Pennsylvania, there would be some hungry years waiting for those new businesses to get profitable. Reforming your state’s schools is a noble goal, but where’s that money going to come from while you’re waiting for those businesses to grow? And so on, and so forth.

A little more thought should probably have gone into talking about the dark side of all this—specifically, how the government would be able to operate during those lean years. Of course, if Swann didn’t think there were going to be any lean years, that would have been a problem in itself.

On the other hand, though, we can all be more than thankful that Ed Rendell didn’t write one of these books. It’s bad enough having to listen to him speak. ** ½