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Capsule Reviews, June 2014: New Reviews

I’ve been meaning to change the format on these for a few months, but as usual I didn’t get around to doing so until pressed for time. Instead of posting each capsule review separately, as I have been since the inception of the blog, I’m going to do ten per post in the interests of space and the sort of thing, and see if it has any negative effects on page hits, etc.

The Telling (Nicholas Carpenter and Harry Grigsby, 2009)

Three of the sorority's sisters loom over a pledge sitting in a chair on the DVD cover.

Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
photo credit: mrqe.com

There has been a long tradition, especially since Creepshow in 1982, of America attempting to do horror anthologies and failing miserably. The rest of the world has long since passed us by where they are concerned; the idea of America turning out something as good as, say, Rampo Noir is practically unthinkable at this point. The most recent anthology attempt to come past my poor, abused eyeballs is The Telling, which may be the worst horror anthology attempt I’ve ever seen. The framing story is woefully transparent (it doesn’t help that the synopsis to be found on Netflix Instant gives enough of the game away that you’ll be looking for it), and the three stories themselves are shockingly unoriginal; I didn’t think anything Hollywood could do would shock me these days, but Carpenter and Grigsby were aggressive in being unoriginal here—we have a talking doll story, the tale of an actress who takes a job she regrets, and a slasher short. Seriously, guys, a talking doll story? If Telly Savalas were still alive, they’d have probably asked him to make a cameo in it. Sheesh. Add in the kind of acting that tells you in no uncertain terms that the casting director was after looks and not talent and one of the worst indie-rock soundtracks in history and you end up with this ridiculous mess of a movie, which gets a half star only because I finished watching it and it was not patently offensive. ½


Trailer.

* * *

Niagara Falls (Diane Garey and Lawrence R. Hott, 2006)

A picture of Niagara Falls adornes the DVD cover.

I only want what is best for you.
photo credit: Netflix

Niagara Falls has a copyright date of 2006, and was produced jointly by PBS and the Niagara Tourism Commission (on both sides of the divide). The only reason I have to doubt the first part of that is that according to IMDB, the film was nominated in the Best Documentary category at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1985. That would make a little more sense given the criticisms to follow, but it still seems too recent; for a PBS production, this feels like early seventies, maybe 1975 at the latest, when they were still trying to figure out how to do that whole documentary thing. Garey and Hott produced something that feels for all the world like a no-budget tourism video, highlighting the stock “quirky” characters in interviews (along with, thankfully, a few folks with better heads on their shoulders), inked cardboard cutouts over scenery shots, etc.

One of the true treasures of Netflix’s DVD program, and one of the greatest shortcomings of the streaming catalog since its inception, is the inclusion of weird little things like this in the former and the complete lack of same in the latter (you’ll never see something like World Cup in Africa: Who Really Wins? streaming unless something fundamental changes; it is in the DVD catalog, on the other hand, and has been for years). As far as I’m concerned, the more ridiculous, the better. There are those who will think this is absolutely wonderful (my mother in law is one of them, almost certainly), and I am concerned that if Netflix abandons the DVD service, these things will lose the only real outlet they have for getting to the public. If this is up your alley, and you’re a subscriber to Netflix’s DVD mailing program, give it a go. Otherwise, you can give it a miss. **


Trailer.

* * *

Clear Lake, WI (Brian Ide, 2009)

A sepia toned photograph of Clear Lake adorns the movie poster.

It looks so… boring. (Spoiler alert: it is.)
photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes

Entirely forgettable serial-killer movie that wants to cross subgenres into the teen-sex-comedy world, but fails in both respects. Promising setup—an aspiring documentary filmmaker gathers together the survivors of a quarantined town, all of whom were under the protection of a local crazy preacher (Michael Madsen, slumming it), and takes them all back to Clear Lake (where, of course, they start dying). I’d like to blame the movie’s problems on a lack of budget, but I’m not sure Ide (The Ride) and screenwriters Morgan Simpson (Redemption Road) and Geoff Bullens could have pulled this off with A-listers and a Michael Bay-level budget; there’s just not enough to the story, and what there is was tired and predictable thirty years ago. Could possibly have some use as a sleep aid, but otherwise avoidable. * ½


Trailer.

* * *

Borderland (Zev Berman, 2007)

A woman's body is cut off at the neck by the movie's title, above which is the head of a goat, on the poster.

I TOLD you you didn’t want to see me before my morning shower.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Forgettable thriller/torture-porn piece about a trio of clueless college students who head for Mexico to pursue extracurricular activities and end up running afoul of a gang of supernatural drug dealers. (No, really.) There were a few interesting set-pieces, and adding a supernatural element made some of the torture-porn elements of the script feel amusing rather than tiresome and overdone, but the simple fact is that a few days after I watched it, I had two or three images left in my head and had to go read a couple of synopses of the movie to remember anything about it. Not worth going out of your way for, but empty calories for those who enjoy this sort of fare. **


Trailer.

* * *

Margo Lundell, I Can Do It ABC (Golden Press, 1994)

The book's narrator furiously pedals her tricycle on the book cover.

prepare for liftoff!
photo credit: Amazon

One of the ABC books that distinguishes itself by coming up with something inventive to do with X; on the other hand, in order to do so, it breaks most of the rules it has set for its own internal consistency. Also, the book is related in the voice of the main character, a six-year-old-or-thereabouts girl who, if you encountered her in a film, you would probably characterize as kind of shrill on occasion. For some reason this one has a tendency to stay in the car and get read on long trips, but whatever works, right? ** ½

* * *

Carolyn Crimi, Principal Fred Won’t Go to Bed (Two Lions, 2010)

Principal Fred is throwing a tantrum on the book's cover.

Five more minutes!
photo credit: ecollection.imcpl.org

For some reason, the Bean was not nearly as fond of this one as I was (and as unfortunate as it is, I did knock points off for that—as I ave often said, when it comes to pre-lit these days, the Bean is the final arbiter of taste at Goat Central). It’s a simple and obvious idea, and it’s probably been done a hundred times before, but I’ve never seen it until now: take an adult who is normally in a position of power over kids—in this case a school principal—and map toddler behavior onto him. I found the result hilarious. One of the first times I was ready to read a pre-lit book again right after we’d finished, but this time Bean was having none of it, and in fact I never got in another perusal of it during storytime before it had to go back to the library. I’ll try it on him again when he’s a bit more grown, because from an adult perspective, this one’s pretty boss. According to the two-year-old, though, not so much. ***

* * *

Charles Schulz, Christmas Is Together-Time (Appleseed Press, 1964)

The Peanuts gang come together around Schroeder's piano on the book's cover.

Note: this is the cover of the REAL first edition.
photo credit: ebay

Not exactly sure why Appleseed Press is marketing their printed-in-2013 version of Christmas Is Together Time as a First Edition when the book originally appeared almost a half-century before, but there you go. In any case, this is one of the little sixties books Schulz put out that contains a single frame on the left-hand page of each spread and a phrase on the right. I have to say that I didn’t like this one as much as Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, though that could easily be a function of my reading this one for the first time as an adult, while Warm Puppy was one of the books I had as a child that I wore out multiple copies of, but Peanuts fans, of course, will find it enjoyable. I’d use Warm Puppy, or for older kids one of the Complete Peanuts collections from Fantagraphics, to introduce them to the magic of America’s all-time favorite loser. ***

* * *

Michael Teitelbaum, If I Could Drive a Loader! (Scholastic, 2001)

A loader addresses a large pile of gravel on the book cover.

I still can’t figure out whether the pictures in this book are photorealistic, actual photos, or a mixture most of the time. Pretty impressive.
photo credit: Amazon

Having a big equipment-obsessed two-year-old means, pretty much by default, we have at least a half-dozen pre-lit books about big equipment lying around. If I Could Drive a Loader! rivals Working Hard with the Mighty Loader for favoritism at storytime with the Bean. I’m okay with both of them, and they both stand up to repeated readings well, but where If I Could Drive a Loader! shines is in the illustrations, which I’ve been staring at for months now and still can’t quite figure out. Half the time they look so photorealistic that it seems to me they stuck some illustrations on top of actual photographs, and the other half of the time they just look like Bill Thomson-style illustrations that are painfully photorealistic in some parts and impressionist in others. The actual text is a little on the shallow side, but I’m not going to knock a pre-lit book too hard for that, and compared to some of the ones we have it’s Pulitzer material. I had originally given this one two and a half stars, but I created that header months ago and am just now getting around to writing this; it’s become such a frequent read, and has stood up well enough, that I kicked it up a half-star for the repeatability factor. A pretty good one if your kid is into heavy machinery. ***

* * *

Todd Parr, The Feel Good Book (Little, Brown, 2002)

A fifties couple, illustrated in Parr's distinctive style, dance the night away on the book's cover.

“…and they’ve been on their feet for forty-seven hours!”
photo credit: goodreads

Back when I reviewed The Family Book, my first brush with Todd Parr’s work, I wondered whether my view of Parr would change if I found a book of his that had an actual plotline and some character development. The Feel Good Book is not that work. In fact, The Family Book and The Feel Good Book follow the same formula almost in lockstep, less a story than a list decorated with Parr’s distinctive illustrations. Maybe because he’s older now and used to being read stories that have an actual story to them, the Bean wasn’t having this one as much as he did the other (that one, too, he seems to have grown out of a year later); we read it no more than once a week or so, and he never requests it a second time. I’ll keep looking for that Todd Parr book with a storyline and relegate this one to the back of the shelf. ** ½

* * *

John Montgomery, The Goat Who Ate Everything (McDonald’s, 2013)

The titular goat poses on the cover of the book, which has a bite taken out of it.

NOM NOM NOM (says the guy on a diet who ate two doughnuts for breakfast).
photo credit: beblogalicious.com

Oh, man, McDonald’s is giving out books with happy meals now, and they’re about as good as Big Macs. I grant you, I hold poetry to a higher standard than prose (and, from another perspective, I hold poetry to a higher standard than most people do), but man, this is just awful. For one thing, it’s never quite sure whether it even wants to be poetry; every once in a while a page rhymes, then Montgomery goes back to prose, then back to rhyming. That sort of thing drives me bonkers. The moral of the story isn’t awful, though it has the faint but distinct odor of hypocrisy coming from a restaurant chain whose major claim to fame is a burger combo that contains ¾ of the calories the average adult needs per day (and most of them from empty carbs). Ridiculous on every level. *

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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