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Capsule Reviews, November 2014

Only late enough that December’s capsule reviews are coming next Monday…
[update 25Nov2014: and this should have been posted yesterday, but WordPress seems to be having problems with graphics uploads for some reason. I will get there, honest…]

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Paterson (1963): New Jersey Has Never Looked So Good

William Carlos Williams, Paterson (New Directions, 1963)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

A river's small waterfall graces the book's cover.

I was going to put a joke here about plums and falls, but it broke behind the hospital.
photo credit: ginsbergblog.blogspot.com

To hear the staff at New Directions tell it, Paterson is the be-all and end-all of the American long poem; there is no work being done today that is not influenced in some way by Williams’ milestone of American verse. And there may be some truth in that statement, but it neglects to address the question of whether Paterson is, in fact, a good poem; after all, the album title tells us ten million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Well, guess what, folks? Ten million Elvis fans ARE wrong.

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The Pedestal (1966): Ironic Columns

George Lanning, The Pedestal (Avon, 1966)

A woman's disembodied head floats above the titular pedestal on the book's cover.

The Head on the… oh, forget it.
photo credit: risingshadow.net

I first discovered Avon’s series of red-spined quasi-horror tales in the very early eighties; I can remember where I was (North Carolina), and why (we were there with friends of my parents for Thanksgiving break), but the year eludes me. 1983? In any case, one of my obsessions in high school was used bookstores, and I found every one in the small seaside town where we stayed the week. In one of them, I found Helen McCloy’s Mister Splitfoot, a 1969 gothic that was my first red-spine, and to this day is my favorite of the bunch. I have spent many years since going to used bookstores to hunt for more red-spines, among many other things. My most recent find was this little number, which has a great deal more in common with the trip I was on when I bought that copy of Mister Splitfoot than it does with Helen McCloy’s estimable novel.

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Night of the Living Dead (1968): …And All that Came After

Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)

[originally posted 26Feb2002]

A collage of the film's major characters adorns the movie poster.

They’re coming to get you, Barbara.
photo credit: lbcinema.com

How many records has this movie broken, and how influential has it been? Night of the Living Dead is, arguably, the last film to date to have so radically changed the face of filmmaking as we know it. Love it, hate it, be indifferent to it, one unarguable fact remains: Night of the Living Dead is the single most influential film of all time, if for no other reason because it was the catalyst that sparked the induction of the MPAA ratings system. In other words, every film made in America since 1969 has been influenced by Night of the Living Dead.

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The Dark Summer (1968): Polar Vortex

Nancy Buckingham, The Dark Summer (Ace, 1968)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

Our heroine flees the house on the book's cover.

Best hairstyle ever.
photo credit: openlibrary.org

I’ve never been quite sure what it is that defines the gothic genre, and after reading The Dark Summer, I’m even more confused. The Dark Summer (put out by Ace, better known these days for their science fiction offerings, the collectible Ace Doubles—“first in gothics!” is emblazoned across the top of this one) seems to me more a straight murder mystery with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. No old mansions, no supernatural goings-on, no graveyards, not even a single nubile young thing being chased across a moor by an unseen assailant. There is quite a bit, in fact, more of gravy than of the grave of The Dark Summer.

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Bits of Colored Glass (1967): Are Useful for Blinding Yourself

Donald Faulkner, Bits of Colored Glass (Onix Publishing, 1967)

photo credit: nogoodcause.blogspot.com

We can’t show it to you because the Internet fails us (I’ll see if I can find it when I get home and take a picture).

Bits of Colored Glass, Donald Faulkner’s fourth book of doggerel, is not my first brush with one of greater Cleveland’s most infamous purveyors of awful poesy; I read The Casket and the Rose back in 2005, and it was horrific. And yet, I had another Faulkner on my shelf I had picked up at the same time. And knowing that, I couldn’t help myself. I made my bed, etc.

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Capsule Reviews, June 2014: From the Vault

Enemy at the Gates (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001)

[originally posted 12Dec2001]

Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law dominate the movie poster.

War is hell. But war is pretty hell.
photo credit: Wikipedia

It’s hard to tell what you’re going to get when you find yourself watching a Jean-Jacques Annaud film. Some of his output deserves instant classic status; some should never have seen the light of day. Enemy at the Gates balances on the thin line between the two, but does eventually manage to fall on the side of the former.

Annaud teams up with Alain Godard (as in most of his truly fine efforts) to offer up a screenplay about two snipers, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) and Major Konig (Ed Harris) during the 1942/43 siege of Stalingrad. The two are backed by a solid cast of minor characters, including the off-kilter-genius casting of Bob Hoskins as Krushchev. And while Annaud and Godard use the story of Zaitsev to examine the pros and cons of propaganda, they thankfully never lose focus on the real story– two guys trying to kill each other while a war rages around them. It doesn’t sound all that interesting when stripped down, and there are certainly a few places where the film drags, but overall it works much better than one would expect it to. Jude Law is, as always, a pleasure to watch onscreen, and Ed Harris gives one of his better performances (though he can’t seem to decide if he’s supposed to be speaking in a German accent or not). Worth a rental. *** ½


Trailer.

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