Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Round-Up#40

Book Review: The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine: How do I describe this book? It won't be easy, believe me. I think it could be described as a Historical/Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel set in Detroit during World War II (1943, to be exact). But that above attempt at categorization is irrelevant and unnecessary, really. Because what this novel really is, is a very good, evocative, charming, melancholic story.

The plot: A young man, Jared, who wants to enroll in the army but can't due to an accident he had as a child that resulted in him cutting a nerve in his hand, takes a job at a Detroit Ford Factory where Golems are made by a Jewish shaman and sent to battle. But, soon, Jared finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of espionage and psychic visions; a game which involves a magical red dwarf that might hold the key to winning WWII, and which eventually takes its toll on his already shaky marriage. Oh, and there's also a dragon.

Yes, I know. The plot sounds insane, and it really is. But this novel isn't really about the plot. Author Alex C. Irvine is more concerned with the characters - which are all wonderfully drawn and memorable - and the lush, elegiac atmosphere he creates. His evocation of WWII era America as seen through a nostalgic, fantastical lens is rich, gripping, and ultimately moving. This is a novel about a time and a place, flawed characters doing their best during a bad time in their lives, and shattered dreams, as told by a superb storyteller who makes it all look easy when really it isn't. My only gripe is with the climax, which is overly complex and doesn't tie things up neatly enough. But by that point in the book it almost doesn't matter, as you'll have gone through a deluge of smooth, well-crafted prose, and spent a good amount of time with characters you'll hate to part with. An undiscovered gem by a supremely talented writer.

Film Review: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1: I'll make this as brief as possible: If you haven't watched the previous six films in the Harry Potter series, don't even bother with this one, because it won't make a lick of sense to you. By this point in the series, the filmmakers don't even attempt to bring you up to speed; they plunge you straight into the proceedings with a swiftness that is almost brutal. And from the dark and disturbing opening scene featuring Voldemort and the death-eaters torturing a beloved character, to the sad ending, this is undoubtedly the darkest and most effective out of all the Harry Potter films.

But that doesn't mean that the film is perfect, or even very good. It means that compared to the others in the series, this is the most accomplished, stylistically and narratively. But director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves fail - like all the directors and screenwriters who have attempted this task before them - to overcome J.K. Rowling's labored plotting and penchant for deus-ex-machinas, which makes the pacing erratic and the characterization at times forced, since characters seem to develop suddenly, without explaining why exactly they happened to change.

But Yates succeeds in making the film move very quickly, despite the 2 hours plus running time and the plethora of plot lines and revelations one has to endure. Although the film's ending is abrupt and disappointing, it is somewhat understandable considering that this is the first half of the film, with the second half coming out next summer.

To sum up, this one is for the fans and only the fans. Everyone else, you've been warned.

Extra! In A Lonely Place: This edition's Extra! selection is Nicholas Ray's superb psychological drama, In A Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. This is a film to be savored for its atmosphere, its astute depiction of an innately violent character (wonderfully played by Bogart in a career-best performance), and its surprising, heart-wrenching ending. A masterpiece. * The film is now available in a special DVD edition, featuring a gorgeous, remastered transfer and a featurette presented by filmmaker Curtis Hanson (L.A Confidential). *

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

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