Day 1D: Nasty West Virginia, Round One
The west subdivision gives us…
Lucy Cousins, Maisy Takes a Bath (Candlewick Press, 2000)
I’ve always found the Maisy books to be a little odd, and this one is possibly the oddest of the bunch. Tennis-playing Tallulah wants Maisy to come play, but Maisy’s taking a bath, so… hey! Let’s hop right on in with her! Umm… all right. Creeptastic! I’m thinking this one may quietly find its way to Half Price Books in the near future. * ½
This is great stuff. A bear loses his hat, and wanders through the forest asking various animals (including one guy I couldn’t figure out what it was… an armadillo, maybe?) whether they’d seen his hat. Adults will pick up on the culprit very quickly, but kids might not. Once the bear’s memory is jarred, he realizes he has seen his hat, leading to a Sergio Leone-style confrontation and a great, great punchline that’s probably the best I’ve seen in a pre-lit book since Emily Gravett’s Wolves (it’s just as mean-spirited and just as funny). Parents who are overly sensitive to violence will probably want to check this one out at the library before adding it to the permanent collection, but others… well, you may not need a kid to enjoy this one. One of my favorite books of the year so far, on any reading level. ****
George Harrar, Reunion at Red Paint Bay (Other Press, 2013)
Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.
I finished reading this book just before the turn of the new year, and here it is late April and I’m just starting to write a review of it; I’ve never really been able to come up with anything compelling to say regarding it one way or the other. It’s your basic thriller with pretensions to something larger (and while a number of reviews, notably Booklist’s, give away major spoilers in that regard, I will avoid doing so here in case you haven’t read those already), but it never quite gets there; it almost seems as if Harrar, once he’s finished with the setup, doesn’t know what to do with the payoff. Questions are raised, but not only are no answers forthcoming, I sometimes wondered if Harrar was certain exactly what questions he wanted to ask. None of which makes this an automatic pass-over, as the mystery/thriller angle is still solid, and the setup is good stuff. But when the cliff comes rushing up, Harrar didn’t even attempt to turn the wheel. ** ½
The Haunting of Whaley House (Jose Prendes, 2012)
The Haunting of Whaley House (and sing this with me if you know the words, kids—you probably should by now) is one of those movies that starts out very unsure of the kind of movie it’s trying to be. Unlike most of them, though, that seem to settle into some sort of groove after a while, this one makes every possible wrong choice and comes up with a plotless excuse for (terrible) special effects that I can’t quite believe someone was desperate enough for money to release.
The movie starts off looking like it’s going to be a comedy. Spoiler alert: the biggest mistake made during the making of this film was abandoning the comedy angle and going for a straight horror film, because the opening scenes of this movie—while still well below average—are its best. As soon as it tries to go serious-horror, it fails, and fails miserably; there is not a single original idea to be found here, the special effects are ghastly, the acting is awful, etc. I could write a thousand words about how bad this movie is, but I can show you in a single sentence: Jose Prendes’ next job was writing Hansel & Gretel, the Asylum mockbuster aimed at the Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters crowd. What more do you need to know? *
When you see the Asylum logo in the first few seconds of this trailer, you know you’re in for shit.
The Mysterious Mr. Wong (William Nigh, 1934)
I know that when reviewing a film from the so-called good old days, a reviewer is supposed to look at the moral structure of the film from a contemporary standpoint and rationalize that, say, a movie’s casual racism is just a product of its time. And mostly, I try to do that. But every once in a while I run across a movie that’s so ridiculously “politically incorrect” that I can’t imagine that even when it was released there weren’t people who were left gaping at how incredibly racist the movie they just saw was. The Mysterious Mr. Wong, a dumb, no-budget Bela Lugosi vehicle, is about as close to a perfect definition of that sentiment as one would ever fear to come across. Do yourself a favor and avoid this if you have a racially sensitive bone in your body; it goes out of its way to offend, well, pretty much everyone. On the other hand, it does have that bloody-car-accident draw to it, where one can’t believe that anyone involved in the making of this didn’t go home and shower with steel wool every night to get the stink off. *
The full movie, available on Youtube. (Actually, this would seem to be a cut version, as it runs less than fifty-one minutes, while the version available at Netflix Instant as I write this runs sixty-two.)
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
What is there to say about the magical Metropolis that has not already been said? Not a damn thing, most likely, which is going to do something very rare: shut me up. I’m just going to point you to everything from Roger Ebert’s Great Films entry on the 2010 restoration, which adds almost half an hour of footage long believed to be lost (it was found in Buenos Aires in 2008; it had been cut from the original by German censors, who found it objectionable—not terribly surprising in interbellum Germany), or Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 2002 review from the Chicago Reader or Thomas Elsaesser’s book-length deconstruction of the film and for my part, I’m going to simply implore you to watch the silly thing, in its full, restored glory, and if you are at all a fan of fantasy, science fiction, or horror film, marvel at how incredibly influential this movie has been—you will recognize the source of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of things you’ve seen in movies since then.
Note when I say “restored” that I don’t mean the new footage is as pristine as it was in 1927. Far from it—the footage recovered in Argentina was not handled all that well (in fact, there was over an hour cut from the film; half of it was not salvageable from the Argentinian print, and what happens in those bits is supplied to us via intertitles), and the difference between the bits included here from the 2001 remaster, which look very good indeed, and the bits from the 2010 restoration is palpable. And it doesn’t matter one bloody bit, ghosts of hairs and scratches on the celluloid and dust motes abound and it’s still riveting stuff, the kind of movie you can watch in the 2010s and still understand that when people went to the movies in the 1920s, some of them thought they were seeing actual honest-to-filmstock magic happening. And perhaps they were. One of the all-time greats. **** ½
Official trailer for the 2010 restoration.