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Capsule reviews (new), July 2014

Better late than never…

Homicide for Three (George Blair, 1948)

Audrey Long looks horrified in an artist's rendition on the movie poster.

Mortafella?
photo credit: moviepostershop.com

Barely-feature-length mystery potboiler featuring a honeymooning couple (Warren Douglas and Audrey Long) who get caught up in a game of mistaken identity after being lent a hotel room when they arrived in New York at the wrong time. Hijinks ensue. There is nothing at all about it that would set it off from hundreds of its peers, but on the other hand, if you’re looking for a quick and easy mystery with some amusing moments and a decided lack of time investment, this will fill the bill as much as any of those others would; certainly worth a look if you happen upon it one one of the subscription streaming services, where it appears with some regularity. ** ½

* * *

Invisible Invaders (Edward L. Cahn, 1959)

A tower stands in the middle of the desert, sending out waves, on a movie poster.

No nukes is good nukes.
photo credit: willardswormhole.com

Nauseating anti-nuke propaganda that would have just been mind-numbingly stupid before Cahn dug into his fifty-cent special effects budget in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Then it becomes terrifying. I can just imagine the announcer on the trailer: “You truly will not believe how crappy the special effects in the movie are!” A quarter admission in the fifties got you two flicks, a newsreel, some cartoons, and maybe a two-reeler if it was a slow week. If one of those movies was Invisible Invaders, you still would’ve been justified in demanding your money back. Wooden acting, flat-out bad camerawork, and just wait till you see those effects. On second thought, I hope you never do. ½

* * *

The Traveler (Michael Oblowitz, 2010)

Val Kilmer looks somewhat perplexed on the movie poster.

Weird science.
photo credit: renaud-bray.com

Not long ago (as I write this, anyway), I did a capsule review of a Glenn Ciano movie called Inkubus, [ed. note 17Jul14: I haven’t posted it yet, I’ll try and remember to get it up in the next batch] with Robert Englund as the titular creature, who walks into a police station and confesses to a litany of crimes, then basically dares the cops to arrest him. Sound familiar? It probably should if you’ve seen The Traveler, released the year before, with Val Kilmer in the Robert Englund role. Nothing Satanic about this one, though (spoiler alert! well, kinda, if you didn’t pick up on the title), but otherwise there are enough similarities between the two that more than once while I was watching this, which I saw a couple of months after Inkubus, I wondered if Ciano was familiar with Oblowitz’ film; I wouldn’t go so far as to call Inkubus a Traveler mockbuster, but the line’s pretty thin there. The Traveler gets a slightly higher rating because Joseph Muscat, turning in his first feature screenplay, put a bit more thought into the characters; they’re Chinet(TM) instead of cardboard, but still. **

* * *

Julie Roseboom, Mikey the Mixer (Paradise Press, 2002)

photo credit: nogoodcause.blogspot.com

We can’t show it to you because the Internet fails us (will try and get a picture of it tonight).

If you have a construction-equipment-obsessed child, by the time s/he is two years old you have probably amassed a small armory of books about construction equipment. We have a lot of them (I haven’t counted, but if you add the big-truck books, probably upwards of two dozen). The vast majority of them are written, seemingly, for kids of about six to twelve, but the Bean, who’s still a few months past his second birthday, is gaga over them. Mikey the Mixer is the exception—it’s a board book with exceptionally simple pre-lit language (think Pat the Bunny level here). I guess it’s not terrible, but every time we pull it out I’m left wondering why it’s necessary if we’re reading the Bean so many construction-equipment-related books that use more didactic/less simplistic language that challenge him so much more than this one does. **

* * *

Nancy Parent, The Ambulance (Paradise Press, 2000)

The titular ambulance goes down the road on the book's cover.

Best pic I could find online–will have to take a picture of this one, too.
photo credit: Amazon

I’m trying to figure out what this six-page(!) nonesuch is attempting to be, and so far I have failed every time. What we have here is setup—an ambulance is called to the scene of an accident between two bicycles, and offers to take them to the repair shop. They get loaded into the back and…um, where’s the resolution? The book just ends, in about the most frustrating manner it could. Would have been nice if there had been a full story here. *

* * *

Sanders Kleinfeld, HTML5 for Publishers (O’Reilly Media, 2011)

Another O'Reilly animal cover.

Ocelot-a technical jargon! (Well, not really.)
photo credit: O’Reilly Publishing

A very high-level overview of three specific new features in HTML5; the title is a bit misleading in that regard. If you’re interested in learning the basics about canvas, audio/video embedding, or geolocation, this is an interesting starting point—but eventually you will find yourself needing to grab a more in-depth resource. In other words, if you already know you are interested in incorporating these things into ebooks, you can simply skip this and dive straight into something that goes into more detail. On the other hand, if you just want to explore the possibilities, this is a quick, easy read that will do just that. **

* * *

Bryan Hufford, Write Fast: 21 Powerful Ways to Cut Your Writing Time in Half (No publisher listed, 2013)

A pair of hands on a keyboard graces the book's cover.

Step one: touch the keyboard. No, feel it. Like a lover.
photo credit: Amazon

points off: no publisher listed either on the Amazon page or in the book itself.

Now I will certainly be the first person to admit that where my perception of this book falls, YMMV. Take this which as much salt as necessary, given that. Much of Hufford’s advice here revolves around the idea that instead of writing your stuff out, you should dictate it into your phone (or whatever) and then transcribe it later. For people who find it equally easy to communicate in speech and writing, this is most likely a fabulous idea that will work well for them. (Hey, middle management in the fifties had secretaries for reasons other than looking great packed into an argyle sweater.) That’s not everyone, however, and if it’s not you, you probably won’t get as much utility out of this as you would if it were. I find it far easier to communicate in writing than in speech, and generally type faster than I am capable of talking (at least, when I want to speak coherently); it’s one of the main reasons I write. I’m trying to look for a silver lining and thinking that maybe trying Hufford’s ideas here will help my ability to speak (or lack of same) catch up with my ability to write (or lack etc.). From that perspective, maybe for people who struggle to get their words down on paper, there may also be value here; dictate, transcribe, and pick it up (after all, practice does make perfect). Those would, however, be presumably unintended positive side effects; looked at from what I assume is the book’s intention given its title, it’s a vertical-market work in a vertical-market niche, which makes its utility somewhat limited, but if you fall into the crowd who can use it, go for it. **

* * *

Ponder Goembel, Animal Fair (Marshall Cavendish, 2010)

The monkey and his compatriots decorate the book's cover.

ANOTHER I need to take a picture of when I get home!
photo credit: Amazon

I didn’t realize, when I first read this one to the Bean some time ago, that it is based on a traditional song. I find that kind of odd, since the rhythm seems a tad quirky at times (especially when put up against I Took the Moon for a Walk), but we’ll roll with it because of Goembel’s illustrations. For the most part, of course, they illustrate what’s going on—when the bears are juggling pears, that’s the picture—but there’s a little wordless subplot going on between a couple of skunk performers, and the monkey is getting into mischief on every spread, which makes the last verse a little more satisfying. It took the Bean quite a while to get into this one (we first read it in August 2013, and I’m finally getting round to writing this review in January 2014), but it’s started becoming a semi-regular feature at storytime; maybe two and a half (actually, twenty-seven months) is the right age for it. Give it a look at the library before deciding whether to add it to the permanent collection. ** ½

* * *

Justine Korman, Working Hard with the Mighty Loader (Scholastic, 1993)

Steve's loader is shown on the book cover.

If you are reading this to your child, you may be tempted to replace the final line with “Steve needs a day off.”
photo credit: Goodreads

Are all kids as obsessed with construction equipment as the Bean? We read this one a great deal. It’s got a few structural issues, but is otherwise pretty nifty—Steve, the protagonist, owns his own loader (this seems to be a common theme in pre-lit loader books, are loader operators really subcontractors who own their equipment?) and over the course of six days one week, goes to six different jobs where the kids learn not only about the various things a loader does, but how it interacts with other equipment at various sites. The only thing that stops me from giving it a hearty recommend is the structure—the job on Monday takes up a good third of the book, so the other days are rushed, and with the slow pace of the very first job, the Bean got impatient with it until we had read it enough for him to be familiar with the story. But over the last couple of months it’s become a storytime favorite, so repeated exposure is the key to this one. ***

* * *

Kate and Jim McMullen, I’m Dirty! (Joanna Cotler Books, 2006)

The muddy loader has a big grin on his face on the book cover.

Kids who play in the mud will love this as much as their parents will hate it.
photo credit: Amazon

Another entry in the “kids who love heavy equipment” subgenre. The subject of this quirky little tome is a backhoe loader who’s, well, kind of conceited, judging from the first four pages. There’s a quick section about counting backwards from ten, then the dirty part kicks in. I was a little jarred by the subtlety of some of the dirt references when juxtaposed with the ones that hit you in the face with a week-old dead haddock, but the pre-lit crowd is probably not going to notice things like that. The Bean liked this one well enough, though it didn’t have the staying power of some of our other truck books; he may pick back up on his enthusiasm for it later, though. ** ½

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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