Problems in the Canadian Backwoods

Solo: written and directed by Isaac Cravit; starring Annie Clark (Gillian), Daniel Kash (Ray), Richard Clarkin (Fred), and Steven Love (Marty) (2013): Surprisingly competent straight-to-video cheapie filmed in the terrifying woodlands of Ontario, Canada. 17-year-old Gillian, nursing some tragedy that one knows will be revealed before the end credits, takes a job as a camp counselor somewhere in Ontario’s cottage country. She knows nothing about camping.

Before the kiddies arrive, new counselors have to spend two nights alone on a small island to prove their camping ability. As all the counselors seem to be at the camp when this Solo occurs, I guess that either the camp never hires more than one new counselor a year, or the experienced counselors have a lot of down time before the kiddies arrive.

Anyway, 25 years earlier, a girl disappeared on that island, never to be seen again. Now, it has a reputation as being haunted. Man, this is the best summer job ever! So Gillian goes camping, and various things happen.

Annie Clark does a solid job as Gillian, and the rest of the acting is fine. The plot creaks a bit at times — there’s nothing really new here, but writer-director Isaac Cravit shows talent throughout. And at about 80 minutes, the movie certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. Lightly recommended.

The Name of the Game: written and illustrated by Will Eisner (2001): One of the American comic book’s seminal giants, Eisner’s career went from the late 1930’s to the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. He’s an unavoidable figure in comics.

This late-career graphic novel is a fine example of Eisner’s strengths and weaknesses. It traces the fortunes of several Jewish-American families from the middle of the 19th century to the 1970’s. The ‘Game’ of the title is marriage, arranged and otherwise, through which families rise and fall.

For most readers, The Name of the Game will be a historical primer on the Jewish experience in the United States, centred on the various nationalaties of the immigrants, and on the hierarchies within the overall Jewish community. How and why these hierarchies occur and then mutate slowly over time is one of the book’s most fascinating and illuminating strengths.

Its other great strength is Eisner’s consummate skill at propulsive story-telling. The art and the dialogue carry one through the story effortlessly. It’s a testament to Eisner’s control of the graphic medium and to his facility with simple, unadorned prose that a book with so much historical information nonetheless zips by. I read it in one sitting, and really wanted more when it was over.

The problem? As with pretty much all of Eisner’s non-genre work, there’s an essentially superficial, glib, and melodramatic approach that surfaces again and again. A couple of sequences cross so far into bathos that they become inadvertantly comic, making the death of one major character feel like the punchline to a really bad joke.

The bathetic elements don’t detract from the fact that Eisner was a master of comics form and structure. He wasn’t a deep thinker — but he was a consummate model of storytelling and entertainment. Recommended.

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