by Steve Rushin

 

I loved this book – but I’m hesitant to recommend it. I pause because although I’m clearly in the author’s target audience, you might not be. If I say “Mel’s Matinee Movie,” do you smile, or do you scratch your head?

Rushin grew up in a middle-class family in Minnesota in the 1970s. I’m a bit older than him, but I also grew up in a middle-class family in Minnesota in the 1970s. Rushin’s love letter to all kid-related things from that time and place naturally resonates with me. I can’t help but smile at references to Metropolitan Stadium, Southdale shopping mall, Fran Tarkenton and, yes, Mel’s Matinee Movie. But again, do you give a rip?

On the other hand, Rushin’s main theme is family life, and his anecdotes about the suburban Rushin clan will likely appeal to a wider audience. One of the blurbs on the book’s jacket compares Sting-Ray to Jean Shepherd’s depiction of family life in the 1930s. I think that’s probably apt. Even if you did not grow up, as Rushin and I did, in the frozen tundra 50 years ago, much of his warm and humorous book is universal.

 

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TV Update

 

I can’t decide if I really, really like Netflix’s foreign import Babylon Berlin, or if I just kind of, sort of, like it. It’s one of those shows that defies a standard “review,” not least because – I admit it – I’m not always quite sure of what I’m watching.

It’s a German production, and therein lies the problem: You need to brush up on your German history to follow the complex plot. And I don’t mean World War II history, but rather pre-Hitler Germany, with its confusing confluence of socialist-Stalinist-capitalist influences.

But there’s a lot to like about this 16-part series, including:

 

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The characters.   Leads Volker Bruch and Liv Lisa Fries (pictured above) are photogenic, charismatic, and sympathetic. Sure, Bruch plays a drug addict and Fries’s role is a part-time hooker, but hey, they’re Donny and Marie compared to the seedy characters in their orbit. Speaking of which, the supporting cast is superb, especially Peter Kurth (below) as corpulent, maybe-good-maybe-bad cop Bruno Wolter.

 

 

The visuals.   It’s an expensive ($40 million) production, and the money shows. The cabarets, mansions, and tenements of 1929 Berlin are rendered in magnificent detail.

 

 

The music.   It’s strange yet mesmerizing. It’s Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It)” — not literally, but that captures the spirit.

 

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I will never understand the appeal of watching B-movies on the Syfy channel. The other day, the network ran Lake Placid 3 which, as far as I can tell, is attractive for two reasons and two reasons only: laughing at the cheesy special effects, and ogling naked starlets. Yet on SyFy, sex and nudity are edited out.

Here is what you’ll see of starlets Kacey (Clarke) Barnfield (the brunette), and Angelica Penn (the blonde) on the SyFy version of Lake Placid 3:

 

 

Here is what you’ll see on the DVD:

 

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BuzzFeed has a scary article about the future of artificial intelligence and how we humans are probably all screwed. Actually, there are quite a few articles and books about the future of artificial intelligence and how we humans are probably all screwed.

Soon, we’ll be seeing videos in which Trump (apparently) confesses that he is in fact Russian, and Obama (apparently) confesses that he was a woman named Marissa before having a 1980s operation in Denmark – and we won’t be able to tell that the videos are fake.

 

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Today’s false story that we planted on the Joker’s Updates bulletin board to get a rise out of Big Brother fans:

 

 

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Voice from the Stone

 

My main complaint with modern horror is that so much of it substitutes sound and fury for genuine suspense. Rather than build tension, these movies assault the senses with loud noise, frenzied camerawork, and gore. But there is an opposite extreme, exemplified by Voice from the Stone, in which the burn is so slow that it induces boredom.

Emilia Clarke looks lovely as a nurse employed by a grieving widower to look after his disturbed young son at their Italian estate, which, like Clarke, is lovingly photographed. But the first hour is so understated and muted that by the time things finally start to happen in the third act, I was nearly comatose. Release: 2017 Grade: C-

 

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Big Brother fans are excited because ousted Trump administration bogeywoman Omarosa (above right) is in the hamster house.

As for me, I prefer the joy of spreading false rumors in Big Brother chat rooms, like this one at Joker’s Updates:

 

 

“Shannon,” by the way, is Shannon Elizabeth. You might remember her from American Pie. If you don’t, these screen captures might jog your … memory.

 

 

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My Facebook page informs me that War of Kings, above, is a “featured game.” I’m sure it’s all about a skillful female hero who fights her way to … ah, who am I kidding? It’s obviously about her shapely ass.

 

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 “(Fill in the blank) Sparks Twitter Outrage”

Can we retire this clichéd, tired phrase already?

It’s too easy for lazy editors to find 23 people who are upset about something – anything – and to then create a stupid story about it.

Exception:

“Twitter ‘Outrage’ Sparks Twitter Outrage”

That one we can keep.

 

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This nasal-voiced, annoying chick on the Match.com commercial who says, “Come find me!” Doesn’t seem all that smart.

I am picturing some creepy serial stalker, sitting at his computer in the basement, watching this commercial and taking her request as a personal challenge.

 

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These two clowns got booted from the Winter Olympics in South Korea for startling spectators with their hilarious Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un impersonation.

Big mistake. They were vastly more entertaining than watching whiny athletes like Lindsey Vonn.

 

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Normally, I might cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles on Super Bowl Sunday simply because I’m tired of Tom Brady and the Patriots and their crab-faced coach.

But man … that would mean rewarding Eagles fans, and Eagles fans seem to be the largest collection of undeserving thugs in the country.

 

 

Go Patriots! … I guess.

 

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When the news is so relentlessly depressing, it’s tempting to just put your head in the sand until it all goes away.

 

Notice I said your head, not my head.

 

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We asked Rip to live Tweet the Grammy Awards. From time to time, he got bored and strayed off topic:

 

 

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Nothing worse than a politician who fails to ease calms.

 

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OK, well … ahem … about that whole “America’s Team” thing in last week’s post ….

Never mind.

 

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TV Tidbits

 

I’ve only seen the first episodes of Counterpart and The Alienist, so it’s too soon to know if they’ll be worthwhile viewing. So let’s review them, anyway:

 

 

Counterpart on Starz is a science-fiction drama starring J.K. Simmons. It might be good if … it avoids the common sci-fi pitfall of letting its plot get too far-fetched. Humorous sci-fi can get by with that sort of thing; serious sci-fi, not so much.

 

 

The Alienist on TNT is a period drama about a serial killer in 1890s New York. It might be good if … it avoids the curse of too many period dramas that fall in love with the setting at the expense of a good story.

 

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Let’s forget about government shutdowns and illegal immigration this week and instead celebrate football and the real America’s Team.

Click here to watch the famous video again. And then watch it again. And again. (Unless you’re from New Orleans, in which case, never mind.)

 

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And while we’re celebrating football, take a stroll down memory lane and savor this ancient photo of Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson enjoying a break in the action:

 

 

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Netflix Nuggets

 

The plot owes a lot to The Silence of the Lambs, and you might well be able to guess the identity of the killer, but France’s La Mante is a well-made thriller that’s often gripping.

Who knew that former “Bond girl” Carole Bouquet could play such a fascinating serial killer? (By that way, that’s not a spoiler.)

 

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 Dalton

 

Fanny Watch

Netflix cranks out tons of rotten horror movies. The Open House is not one of them. It’s no masterpiece (ignore its abysmal customer rating on IMDB), but I enjoyed the creepy atmosphere and an ending that conjured memories of the original Black Christmas.

Plus, actress Piercey Dalton contributes this shower scene to our Fanny Watch:

 

 

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More evidence of the decline of Western civilization:

 

 

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The media were aghast that an American president might utter the word “shithole” in a public forum. Classy Politico, for example, wouldn’t dream of exploiting such a vulgar term. From Politico’s Web site:

 

 

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TV Updates

 

 

Sometimes I get hooked on a show simply because I am entranced by the main characters. It doesn’t matter if they’re robbing a bank, or reading quietly in the library; I just want to see what they’re up to.

Fortunately for viewers of The End of the F***ing World, a delightfully eccentric Netflix import from Britain, the show’s writers are more than capable of finding interesting things for teenage runaways James and Alyssa (pictured above) to do — things like shoplifting, car theft, and offing serial killers.

 

 

Sure, it’s contrived. But God help me, I am once again watching (and enjoying) the crazy geezers on Better Late than Never.

 

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We’re thinking that the presdent of Fox Business Network should consider repatrating some funds to hire a proofreader. It’s something dimmocratic the could do.

 

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Good commercial:

 

 

I loathe that GEICO green lizard, but I’ll have to admit that a lot of the company’s other spots, like the sloth bit pictured above, make me chuckle.

 

Bad commercial:

 

 

Good lord, could Xfinity have found an athlete with less personal charisma than shuffling, mumble-mouthed bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, pictured above? Not “lookin’ good,” Elana.

 

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What the hell is it with all of these weird-ass, sex-related confessions and rumors featuring Michael Douglas?

Is the dude trying to tell us something?

 

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OK, sure. We could do that.

 

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Aval

 

It’s tempting to write off Aval (English title: The House Next Door), India’s homage to Hollywood horror classics like The Exorcist. Much of the dialogue (a peculiar mix of Indian languages and English) and relationships evoke corny melodramas from the 1950s. At some point the story, in which a doctor and his wife learn that someone in their Himalayan neighborhood is possessed, stops making a lot of sense, and a few scenes are unintentionally funny.

However … there’s no question that several of director Milind Rau’s set pieces are chilling, with clever camerawork and stunning visuals. Also in its favor: the movie is consistently entertaining. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

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The Babysitter

grouchyeditor.com Babysitter

 

A 12-year-old boy discovers that his oh-so-hot babysitter is actually a psychotic devil worshipper in this Netflix horror-comedy that starts out silly and grows progressively more ridiculous. But no worries: It’s meant to be silly, it’s well-produced, and it’s often amusing. Oh, and Samara Weaving gives a killer performance as the blonde from hell. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

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Bad Headlines

 

 

Yes, and yes again. Trump and his Republican pals need to stop citing the fucking stock market when crowing about “the economy.”

 

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Trump might be nuts, but CNN seems to be right there with him. Brooke Baldwin freaked out when a guy said “boobs” on her show, but on New Year’s Eve she boasted to a drunk Don Lemon that “my balls are bigger than your balls.”

Lemon, viewers might recall, once complimented Kathy Griffin on her “nice rack.” And then last week, we got CNN’s Randi Kaye laughing and fondling a pot-filled bong on live TV.

Brian Williams, when informed about Baldwin’s “big balls” declaration, assured anyone within earshot that his enormous testicles are listed in the Guinness World Records.

 

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Let me see if I have this straight: Tobacco taxes go up every 15 minutes, but liquor taxes, which haven’t gone up in decades, are going down?

 

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Mark Steyn and Sebastian Gorka: How are these not the same guy?

 

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Formerly great show that is now merely a good show:

Curb Your Enthusiasm

 

Formerly great show that is still a great show:

Black Mirror

 

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Veteran character actor Paul Sorvino wants to pummel Harvey Weinstein for blacklisting Sorvino’s daughter, Mira.

The blacklisting makes no sense to us, either, because we took a look at Mira’s audition tape, presented below:

 

 

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That’s Elizabeth Montgomery, circa 1963. You can’t tell me that Hollywood babes of that generation weren’t the bomb.

 

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