Reviews — February 21

Not to make it more than it is, but Guillermo del Toro’s 1997 sci-fi horror film “Mimic” comes with an unusual pedigree: The director reports on the commentary track that the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould once asked students this extra credit question on a test: “What Hollywood movie got right the reason why insects could grow larger?” The correct answer was this week’s pick: Guillermo’s movie about massive cockroaches in New York City’s subway system.

I’ve been working my way through Guillermo’s filmography ever since I discovered his amazing book at the McMinnville Public Library, “Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions.” I can’t get too excited about his breakout “Cronos,” an overrated film if you ask me.

“Mimic,” on the other hand, is an underrated and enjoyable sci-fi/horror hybrid, perfect for those who appreciate fare like “Alien” and “Predator.”

There’s nothing original going on here: A well-intentioned scientist (Mira Sorvino) fiddles with cockroach DNA to eradicate an epidemic, and three years later a new problem emerges: Insects bigger than NFL linemen. What bumps it a degree or two above B-grade shlock is Guillermo’s stylistic stamp, which has justifiably won him a reputation as a thinking person’s horror director. One of the Mexican director’s more commercial efforts, “Mimic” is exciting, albeit gruesome fun.

“Mimic” (1997) Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin, F. Murray Abraham and Norman Reedus (of “Walking Dead” fame). 105 minutes. Rated R for violence, sci-fi gore and language.


Lee Martin does a terrific job setting the scene for “The Bright Forever” — not just in describing the physical setting, an Indiana town like so many others, with a courthouse square and neighborhoods on the right and wrong sides of the tracks; but also in taking us back to the relative innocence of early 1970s small town America, when no one thought twice about letting a 9-year-old pedal off by herself.

This is a heartbreakingly real book that examines when responsibility begins and ends. 

Katie, the 9-year-old in question, heads to the library after dinner to return some books. She never returns.

Is it her older brother’s fault? After all, he ratted her out for not getting those books back in time. Is it her parents’ fault for letting her go — or for giving her the bicycle in the first place? Is it her tutor’s fault? Is it the fault of the people walking and driving through downtown, some of whom must have seen her park the bike after its chain came off? Is it the chain’s fault?

The police question the tutor, a longtime teacher who had both the chief and Katie’s dad in his classes. And they search Katie’s house carefully after a worried woman shows them a photo, taken after the disappearance, that seems to show the girl trapped in her own bedroom.

And they quickly arrest a ne’er-do-well whom virtually everyone considers bad news. He’s been in trouble before, and readers learn that he’s blackmailing the one person who — despite everything — considers him a friend. Is it the ne’er-do-well’s fault? His wife’s fault, because she fails to see his failings? His friend’s fault, for letting himself be used?

Various characters tell their sides of the story in “The Bright Forever,” alternating with chapters in which Martin moves the narrative forward on his own. The style offers readers more insight into the people who make up Katie’s town, which is far more complex than it first appears to be.

A note: I understand some people have compared this book to “The Lovely Bones.” I don’t see the similarity, other than that both deal with the disappearance of a girl and both are good books.

“The Bright Forever,” by Lee Martin, Three Rivers Press, 2005.

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