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Tag Archives: two-stars

The Lucky Little Labrador Goes to School (2012): …but not for characterization

C. J. Smiles, The Lucky Little Labrador Goes to School (Happily Books, 2012)


That diploma and a quarter… won’t even get you a bus ride anymore. photo credit: my copy

One of the cardinal rules of children’s book writing is to not talk down to your audience. Not only does it show a disrespect for them, but you’d be surprised at how well kids can see through that sort of thing. Smiles’ book has an example that is both more abstract and more subtle than usual, which kind of makes me want to grudgingly admire it while still running it down. In this case, it’s a character; Kevin’s mother is as two-dimensional as they come, nerve-wrackingly shrill until that one moment of revelation when all the sudden her personality changes completely. Ever seen that happen in real life? Nope, me neither. And we don’t do any service to kids telling them it happens, any more than we do service to adults when that sort of thing happens in bad TV shows and movies. The underlying story is a decent one, but the devil, as usual, is in the details. **

The Forest (2016): The Girl Was Never There, It’s Always the Same

The Forest (Jason Zada, 2016)

The top half of Natalie Dormer's face disintegrates into a number of hangman's nooses on the film's poster.

No matter the quality of the movie, this poster is a minor work of genius. photo credit:

The first thing you should know about The Forest is that Aokigahara Forest is absolutely a real place, the mythology surrounding it as depicted in the movie is spot-on, and it has been used as the basis of a number of Asian films (most notably for western viewers, Forest of Death, Danny Pang’s 2007 solo jaunt–though Pang relocated the forest to Thailand for the sake of his story). That may help this movie’s effectiveness for you. And to be fair to The Forest, it is a competently-made thriller with a couple of really good jump shots. However, there are a few things about the movie that left me, no pun intended, hanging.

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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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After the Dark (2013): Before the Robots

After the Dark (John Huddles, 2013)

The cast stand in the foreground, a mushroom cloud behind them, on the movie poster.

The Day After.
photo credit:

After the Dark (also released under the title The Philosophers), John Huddles’ first film in a decade and a half, starts out with an intriguing, sobering, and rather terrifying premise. Zimit (Exorcist: The Beginning‘s James D’Arcy) is a philosophy teacher at an Indonesian school containing some of the world’s best and brightest students. It’s the last day of his class’ senior year, and he’s not going to let them go without one last exercise. There are twenty students in the class, and Zimit makes twenty-one. A nuclear disaster has occurred, and they are within range of a bunker that can sustain ten people for one year, enough time for the radiation level on the planet to subside enough for it to become habitable again. Given a random distribution of talents (the students pick slips of paper from a box describing their professions), an exercise in pragmatism: who gets to go into the bunker? Who lives and who dies?

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Insomnia (2002): …Is Sometimes Its Own Cure

Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

Robin Williams and Al Pacino take up most of the movie poster, with a small nod to the original poster at the top.

One-Hour Photo meets The Devil’s Advocate in the gripping exploration of two actors whose careers had gone well off the rails.
photo credit:

I hate to think it’s true, but having now seen Chris Nolan’s other two films, Following and Insomnia, I’m starting to think Memento—one of the finest films ever made—was a one-shot deal.

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Gone (2007): And Yes, Forgotten

Gone (Ryan Ledwidge, 2007)

A wide-angle shot of our three roadtrippers graces the movie poster.

The horizon: as empty as this film.
photo credit:

I continue to lack an understanding of why this film has ever been, much less continues to be, compared to Wolf Creek. The two films don’t even reside in the same genre of film, much less the same subgenre. Gone is an attempt at a cerebral thriller, far more in line with the various attempts to adapt the Ripley novels than a Wolf Creek-style gore film. The comparisons are sure to create unreasonable expectations in the minds of potential viewers; I can tell you this from personal experience. Not that I would have found the movie good had I known what I was getting into anyway; that just added an extra level of disappointment.

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Abenteuerliches Herz (2002): Gotos =/= Kalanda

Allerseelen, Abenteuerliches Herz (Aorta, 2002)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A phallic rock stands before a stone tablet on the album cover.

Where the demons dwell. Where the banshees live, and they do live well.
photo credit:

It pains me to write this…

Allerseelen first caught my attention seven years ago with the brilliant “Santa Sangre,” a contribution to the Im Blutfeuer compilation (Cthulhu, 1995). I picked up Ultra!’s comp, The Nitha Fields, based on the strength of it, and the two Allerseelen songs on it (“Alle Lust will Ewigkeit” and “Traumlied”) were similarly brilliant. So I acquired their latest album, Abenteuerlichers Herz (Adventurous Heart). And it is painful.

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Capsule Reviews, October 2014

Better late than never, I guess… (and you may note a subtle theme in the last half of this.)

Amye Rosenberg, Lily Pig’s Book of Colors (Golden Press, 1987)

Lily Pig rejoices over her birthday cake on the cover.

I should mention that since I wrote this review almost eight months ago, the Bean’s enthusiasm has not flagged one bit.
photo credit:

The Bean has been lagging behind with colors as he sprints ahead with letters and counting, but that doesn’t stop him from being enchanted with this book. Daddy isn’t, as much, because Lily Pig is drawn, well, downright creepy. I kicked this one up half a star because the Bean asks for it on a fairly regular basis, but this is one I wouldn’t mind seeing get lost behind the bookshelf. ** ½

* * *

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Broken April (1998): How Many Opportunities to Die!

Ismail Kadare, Broken April (New Amsterdam Books, 1998)

A stylized painting of the Albanian mountains graces the book's cover.

Oddly angular mountains reflect the book’s prose.
photo credit: Amazon

Some literature exists in a state of paradox, and usually does from the time of its conception. When an author decides to write a book for an audience that is exclusively, or almost exclusively, alien to your source material, you find the need to explicate about that source material in a nonfiction kind of way that really has no place in a novel (or collection of short stories or poem or film or what have you), and that is pretty much a guarantee that your novel is going to end up sucking; no one is interested in didacticism when they’re reading fiction. On the other hand, integrating lessons about different cultures into fiction without breaking the rhythm and flow of the story is an exceptionally difficult task. It can be done, and the specter I want to drag out of its grave to illustrate this is, of course, All Quiet on the Western Front, though you have to turn your head and squint to make that about a different culture (trench warfare is going to be an alien concept even to most contemporary veterans). I’m not sure I’ve come across a single novel written in the past fifty years that does it correctly. Broken April is the latest novel I’ve read that attempts to balance didacticism and story; it does so in the same way many authors try, and it fails in exactly the same way.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): Scream Queen

[well, this was scheduled to post on October 1, the fortieth anniversary of the movie’s release, but for some reason it didn’t. Better late than never.]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

Leatherface starts his chainsaw in order to butcher a histage on the movie poster.

Here’s your invitation to come join Leatherface.
photo credit: Wikipedia

The first post I wrote when I started var.ev. was about my long and spotty history with Tobe Hooper’s second feature. I’ll try not to reprise too much of that here, so if this sounds disjointed, that’s why (go read the original post for all the stuff I’m leaving out here, I guess). The short answer is that I think of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as the Bob Dylan of horror films. It’s been ridiculously influential, spawning three sequels—the first of which (and the only film in the entire franchise I have yet to see) also directed by Hooper—two remakes/reimaginings/whatever, one of which also came with a sequel (that trilogy of films is considered three of the worst movies ever made by a whole bunch of people—the recent “re-imagined” sequel from 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was succinctly awarded Worst Horror Movie of 2013 by Dread Central), the careers of Tobe Hooper, Marilyn Burns, Ed Neal, and, amusingly, John Larroquette (among others), and…I like pretty much everything that came out of it better than I do the thing itself, in the same way that every cover of a Dylan song I’ve ever heard is preferable to the original article (yes, even U2’s simpering attempt at “All Along the Watchtower”).

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