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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (1999): Cornwell’s Dope

John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (Viking, 1999)

[originally posted 14Nov2001]

Pius XII heads for a meeting with Der Führer on the book's cover.

“Don’t you think a red carpet was a bit…tactless, boys?”
photo credit: Wikipedia

I feel guilty abandoning this book. The subject matter is tailor made to suit my tastes, and so many reviews of the book have focused, incorrectly, on Cornwell’s seeming obsession with attacking the Roman Catholic Church and his methods of research, that I couldn’t imagine not liking it when I picked it up. But quite simply, Hitler’s Pope is an unmitigated disaster.
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Donner Pass (2012): Would You Like Fries with That?

Donner Pass (Elise Robertson, 2012)


An artist's rendition of Desiree Hall brandishing a pickaze while confronting the killer decorates the movie poster.

“Come any closer and you’re gonna wish you were anthracite, baby!”
photo credit: IMDB

I’ve seen any number of reviews of Donner Pass that all seem to center around the same idea: good story hamstrung by bad acting. I’m not convinced this is the case on both counts; at least two of the actors here turned in performances that I quite liked (even if I found one of the characters portrayed an intolerable ass), while there were a number of aspects of the story I found infuriating. That said, the main mystery here is a pretty nice twist on the wild-mountain-man theme, and if you’re looking just at that aspect of it and squinting right, okay, I can see where those reviewers are coming from. One way or the other, though, we’re all ending up in the same place.

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Head of a Sad Angel (1990): Last Will and Testament

Alfred Chester, Head of a Sad Angel: Stories 1953-1966, edited by Edward Field (Black Sparrow, 1990)

[originally posted 11Jul2001]

An artist's rendition of the head of a sad angel adorns the book's cover.

One of those rare books where the cover is just plain informative.
photo credit: Amacon

Alfred Chester is something along the lines of the godfather of what we now know as eighties literature. Warmer than Bukowski, more detached than Faulkner, closer to the point than Sherwood Anderson ever got, the novels pumped out thirty years later by such authors as Ellis and McInerney could have been tarred by the same brush, though Chester mixed a kind of hard-boiled romance with his stark realism. And yet, as Edward Field reminds us in his introduction to the book’s nonfiction appendix, Chester was almost totally forgotten by the time of his death in 1971, at the age of forty-three. The fact that an obscure, unknown, then-out-of-print writer could have still influenced a whole (albeit a bad) genre should tell us something: specifically, that Chester is possibly the most neglected important American writer of the twentieth century.
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Dredd (2012): Draining Day

Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012)

Karl Urban, in full Judge Dredd gear, stands atop a burning building on the movie's poster.

Commit a crime, I lock the door.
photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes

I am one of the few who actually likes, in an entirely non-ironic way, Danny Cannon’s cheesy 1995 Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone in the title role. It’s a silly movie, but if you took it seriously, you were kind of missing the point. It’s meant to be over the top, and it succeeds gloriously. Because of this, I was maybe a little more wary of the 2012 reboot than I needed to be, especially when the glowing reviews started pouring in. So it took me perhaps longer to get round to watching it than it should have. Ultimately, you can count me up as yet another convert to the cause; while the film is not without its (minor) problems, Karl Urban filled those shoes far better than I ever thought he would, and the breathtaking cinematography from Alex Dod Mantle (who also worked with writer Alex Garland on the similarly-gorgeous 28 Days Later…) pushes it over the top from acceptable to incredible.

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Witchcraze (1994): Build a Bridge Out of Her!

Anne Llewellyn Barstow, Witchcraze (HarperCollins, 1994)

[originally posted 11Jul2001]

An artist's rendition of two Puritans suspended from the gallows adorns the paperback cover.

“If she weighs the same as a duck…she’s made of wood!”
photo credit:

I mentioned on a discussion board a couple of weeks ago that I’d started this book, and was immediately told by three different feminists to drop it as fast as possible. So as I continued on, I did a little outside research, and what I found was appalling, to say the least. After reading enough of the book to find myself agreeing with its naysayers, it got added to the pile for the Fifth Annual Gahan Wilson Bookburning (named for Gahan Wilson’s late and much-lamented book review column in the now-defunct Twilight Zone magazine; September’s column was his reviews of those books he’d read over the year that deserved to be converted into heating material).
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Self Storage (2013): Access Code, Please

Self Storage (Tom DeNucci, 2013)


Eric Roberts starts an autopsy while Michael Berryman looks on on the movie poster.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta do these things yourself if you want ’em done right.
photo credit:

I was sitting on the couch today watching movies and writing my review of the execrable pile of dog dung that is Infected, and when I clicked on Tom DeNucci’s name, I saw that he was involved in Self Storage, a movie I had just added to my Netflix queue a few days before. Thus it was that I found myself watching Self Storage a few hours ago. It is not by any means, as awful a film as Infected. Not a great film, by any means, but not a terrible one, either. Though take with as much salt as necessary, given that I’m a sucker for Michael Berryman.

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Eyes Wide Shut (2000): A Prescription for Watching This Movie

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 2000)

[originally posted 28Jun2001]

Cruise and Kidman in a kinda-sorta liplock on the movie poster.

Stanley did a bad, bad thing…
photo credit:

The good news is: it’s not as absolutely downright awful as everyone said it was.

The bad news is: large parts of it are.
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The Raven (2012): Never, Ever, Evermore

The Raven (James McTeigue, 2012)

John Cusack looks over his shoulder in a dimly-lit room on the movie poster.

“‘Tis some visitor”, I muttered,
“Rapping at my chamber door,
Only this, and nothing more.”
photo credit:

I had a review of The Raven written a couple of weeks after I watched it. Most of one, anyway; by the time a couple of weeks had passed, I’d forgotten enough that I knew I needed to go back and re-watch a few scenes in order to make sure I had certain facts straight. But the fact that after such a short time I had forgotten so much about the movie was telling, and informed that review. Then my computer ate it. And so here I am starting it again, months later, after I have rewatched those scenes in order to fill in the blanks. Now I have the opposite problem; I’ve forgotten most of that initial review. But I can guarantee you that the new one will be equally informed by how much I had forgotten about The Raven so quickly after watching it.

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Legacies (1988): Wasting Away (on the Thin Ice of a New Day)

F. Paul Wilson, Legacies (Tor, 1988)

[originally posted 28Jun2001]

Repairman Jack's silhouette overshadows the facade of a high-rise on the hardcover book jacket.

There are six million stories in the naked city…
photo credit:

Wilson brings back one of his hardcore fans’ favorite characters, Repairman Jack, and weaves three of Jack’s jobs into a tightly-wound tale of family manipulation and, as always, saving the world one step at a time.
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Senritsu Meikyû (The Shock Labyrinth) (2009): The Drudge

Senritsu Meikyû (The Shock Labyrinth) (Takashi Shimizu, 2009)

A carpeted hallway drops off into a chasm, and one of the film's characters hangs by the edge of his fingers, on the movie poster.

Apparently, it was originally released in 3D. Somehow I don’t think that would have made it any better.
photo credit: IMDB

Takashi Shimizu has an overblown and entirely undeserved reputation on this side of the pond thanks to having directed the Grudge series of films, which are overrated garbage in the Japanese iteration of the series and overrated even more unwatchable garbage in their American remakes; the only good thing to have come out of the entire series is that it showed Hollywood that it was a financially viable idea to have directors come over to Hollywood and remake their own films (in other words, you have Shimizu to thank for Gela Babulani directing 13). While I will admit that Shimizu has directed one mildly watchable feature (Marebito), everything else I’ve seen from the man is awful. The Shock Labyrinth, which came and went with nary a whisper, may finally be the film that shows the public that his reputation is entirely undeserved.

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