Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

by Bryan Gruley

 

A 15-year-old autistic boy goes missing and his parents receive cryptic texts and e-mails, including an apparent ransom demand.

Bleak Harbor was just … average; not terrible, but certainly nothing special. There is a lot of texting and hacking and computer sleuthing, which I suppose modernizes the plot, but this is a story we’ve read many times before. There is, of course, a “big twist” near the end. Alas, the unexpected turn isn’t particularly credible.

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

The Monster

grouchyeditor.com Monster

 

It’s a simple title and a simple story, but sometimes that’s all you need. The Monster, in which a troubled mother and her 10-year-old daughter are terrorized by a creature in the woods, owes a debt to similar filmssubstitute the creature in Alien for the rabid dog in Cujo, and you have the gist of it — but what’s a pleasant surprise is the relationship between mom and her kid. Believe it or not, they seem both real and intelligent. In a horror movie. Go figure. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

Game Night

 

These days, Hollywood has a difficult time making what used to be called the “screwball comedy.” In the past, screwball characters were lovably goofy as they bumbled and stumbled through silly plots. Think Bringing Up Baby. Today, the main characters in this kind of farce aren’t merely goofy; they tend to be borderline psychotic.

Still, the nut jobs in Game Night — a group of clueless suburbanites obsessed with party games — are fairly amusing, and their dialogue is often witty. And if there’s a better character actor out there than Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, Fargo, Black Mirror), I’d like to know who it is. Release: 2018 Grade: B

 

**

 

Murder on the Orient Express

 

I like actor Kenneth Branagh, but he isn’t my favorite “Hercule Poirot.” That would be David Suchet. And I enjoyed director Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, but it isn’t my favorite interpretation of Agatha Christie’s famous mystery. That would be Suchet’s television version or, possibly, the 1974 movie with Albert Finney. 

Outside of some spectacular (often computer-generated) scenery, the latest film doesn’t offer much new, but so what? Some stories are like comfort food; no matter how many times you’ve had it, and as long as they don’t change the ingredients, eventually you come back for more.  Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

De Palma

 

It’s probably not cool to praise director Brian De Palma in the “Me Too” era. De Palma took shots for alleged misogyny and violence against women (in his films, mind you) long before anyone had heard of Harvey Weinstein. To hell with that criticism. If I want vanilla at the movies, I’ll go see a boring superhero flick.

De Palma, like the man he’s often compared to, Alfred Hitchcock, was above all a master craftsman. His obsessive attention to detail, along with a firm grasp of what looks great on film (yes, including the naked ladies), allowed him to shine in the 1980s. My only complaint about this documentary, in which De Palma discusses each of his films chronologically, is that it’s much too short. Release: 2016 Grade: A-

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

by Charles Krauthammer

 

I used to watch Charles Krauthammer spar with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News and be reminded of Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-bound, hawkish lunatic from Stanley Kubrick’s movie. I thought of Krauthammer as a conservative villain. Problem is, that’s about as much as I thought of the psychiatrist turned political pundit; I certainly didn’t listen to what he had to say. That was my mistake.

I still don’t agree with everything he has to say in Things That Matter, a collection of his essays from the 1980s until 2014. But I respect his opinions, whether about domestic policy, international issues or, well, his love of chess. Krauthammer’s essays are sprinkled with wit and, yes, wisdom. The man did his homework.

As might be expected from a conservative columnist, there is much criticism of Obama in the book. My guess is that, were this book more current (Krauthammer died in June), he would also deploy his rapier wit against our current president.

I wish he was still around to appear on cable news. If nothing else, his calm demeanor would be a welcome respite from all of the shrieking hysterics.

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

 

I’ve always felt that the most underutilized weapon in the horror-filmmaker’s arsenal is the soundtrack. By that I do not mean the startling din that accompanies “jump scares” in too many fright flicks. In the typical horror movie, ample care is devoted to atmospheric visuals and special effects. But the soundtrack is usually relegated to secondary status.

When filmmakers do give sound its due, the results can be chilling: the ticking clock and howling wind in Black Christmas, the pitter-patter of alien footsteps on a ceiling in Signs.

So kudos to director John Krasinski and company for understanding the value of sound – or in this movie, the lack of it – to building suspense.

Krasinski co-stars with real-life wife Emily Blunt as the parents in a family of five struggling to survive an alien invasion. The aliens are blind, but they have super-sensitive hearing. The scattered humans who still exist do so only because they’ve mastered the art of absolute silence. This is no easy feat when there are young kids in the family, and when every snapped twig can mean instant annihilation.

 

 

Early on we learn that mom is pregnant. This instills a sense of foreboding because at some point there will be a baby. When every stifled sneeze is a potential death sentence, what will happen when the infant begins to cry?

A Quiet Place gets a high grade because it has several prolonged, agonizingly tense scenes, and that’s a special thing. My grade would be higher but the script is marred by inconsistencies. Sometimes the monsters come at the drop of a pin. Other times a loud bang doesn’t seem to interest them.  Also, once a family member discovers an effective alien repellent, why not use it more often?     Grade: B+

 

 

Director:  John Krasinski  Cast:  Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Leon Russom  Release:  2018

 

 

Watch the Trailer:

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

by Jefferson Farjeon

 

A gathering of upper-crust Brits and their servants fall under suspicion when foul play interrupts a weekend retreat. This 1936 whodunit is pretty much what you’d expect, if what you expect is an English country-house murder mystery with Agatha Christie DNA in its bones. Farjeon is no Dame Agatha, but a few of his characters – in particular an acerbic journalist named Bultin – are amusing.

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

Cam

 

I am not particularly tech-savvy (surprise!), and I’ve never been a webcam girl (gasp!), but despite these handicaps, I recognize a good cautionary tale about technology when I see one. Cam, in which a sex worker’s (Madeline Brewer) online identity gets hijacked by a mysterious doppelganger, is like Black Mirror with boobs. Some of the computer-related details might or might not be accurate, but that hardly matters to an ignorant Luddite like me. Release: 2018 Grade: B+

 

 

**

 

Crooked House

 

So you’re adapting an Agatha Christie novel for film, something that’s been done, oh, maybe 500 times. Also problematic: This Christie whodunit, Crooked House, has no Hercule Poirot, no Miss Marple – just a cast of shady suspects. So how do you make your movie stand out?

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner does it by emphasizing showy visuals and hammy performances from veterans like Glenn Close and Gillian Anderson. The actors do not disappoint, and the movie is certainly watchable. But it’s not all that memorable, either.   Release: 2017  Grade: B-

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

 

Hedy Lamarr: Was she a typical story from Hollywood’s “golden age,” a self-centered actress who succumbed to drugs, vanity, and other trappings of wealth and celebrity? Hedy Lamarr: Was she the (unacknowledged) inventor of a groundbreaking military technology called “frequency hopping”? Was she the victim of shallow, sexist male contemporaries?

Answer: Probably all of the above. Lamarr was a fascinating woman, but this documentary reminds me why books are usually better suited to subjects like her. Lamarr’s life was simply too complicated, too interesting, to be captured in an 88-minute film.    Release: 2017   Grade: B

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

by Arthur Conan Doyle

 

When I think of Arthur Conan Doyle, like most people I think of his most famous creation, the indomitable Sherlock Holmes. Or perhaps I think of the author’s storied fascination with the paranormal. I did not, until now, think of great adventure tales, in the vein of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. The Lost World, however, is a genuine classic of the genre, with its short but thrilling depiction of four men discovering a prehistoric land in the depths of Brazil, and their dual struggle to survive that environment and to convince the outside world of its existence.

The story, published in 1912, is old hat in 2018, of course. Large chunks of the narrative are politically incorrect, what with its quartet of European white men dominating and condescending to numerous people of color. But the adventure is the thing in Lost World. And by George, what a delightful twist ending – “Lake Gladys,” my ass!

 

© 2010-2019 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

 

Share